Is my face red! Not really from embarrassment, though that contributes. It's just that I forgot to wear my hat again.
I told you about my doing that once, back about a year and a half ago, in writing about getting ready to move out here. I'd walked about 6 miles on a sunny, late May day, without wearing a hat...
This time I joined a protest rally called "Walk Against Waste"—a 10K walk around the block, so to speak, some of us with signs and placards, some handing out leaflets. I contented myself with wearing a "Walk Against Waste" tee-shirt.
But to explain what the hell I was doing walking around in a tee-shirt and no hat, I'll have to go back a little ways. In fact, I'll go back to what I wrote originally for an earlier Apathy, but failed to get ready in time to send out. Robert Lichtman, and possibly a couple of others of you, may have seen an earlier version of this tale already—I converted it to a column ("Vegas Notions") in Glitz, Arnie Katz's FAPAzine.
It began like this [Slow dissolve...]
Strange as it may seem, there is still snow atop Mount Charleston, as I write in late July. It's just a bright spot or two from my perspective when I drive, or ride along with Joy-Lynd, in certain areas of Las Vegas eastward from where we live — points where an intervening ridge does not block the view of the mountain. Last year, when she and I arrived in early June, snow had long been gone from up there.
Despite being surrounded by mountains, the Las Vegas horizons are not narrow... The talk about "spacious skies" out here In The West seems to be true. Only some of the mental horizons are narrower than they need be, but you'll find that anywhere, I guess.
We are selfishly much appreciative of the climate here. [I know, this is starting to become a theme song from me, isn't it?] We've had a number of days that are cooler than normal, which is to say, in the upper 90s and occasionally reaching 102 or 104, while "Normal" for the time of year is 106 or 107 — We are expecting 111 this weekend (Aug.1). We do feel the difference, but until now it has been pretty comfortable all the same. Denizens of the East Coast suffered dreadfully with temperatures in the upper 90s combined with humidity levels not a lot lower than that a week or two ago.
We do remember how it was...
However, I guess it's been nothing like the misery of those in the flood-driven areas along the Mississippi and associated river areas. As I was writing an early draft of this, the news concerned additional flooding on the Missouri, at Kansas City and Saint Joseph. It is terribly easy for some of us not experiencing that calamity (and who have never been through anything like it) to be complacently happy that we are not there. Happily, I know there are many people from this area and nationwide, more socially conscious, who have gone to help out or have otherwise materially supported the relief efforts.
Hey, hey, Willie Nelson! And Wayne Newton — I thought you'd retired to Limbo, but it just turned out to be Branson. [Any other W.N.'s out there?]
As happens occasionally, my own mental/social perspective has broadened a leetle itty bit, quite recently as I write. It was through no special effort on my part, however, but rather due to Joy-Lynd's new job. A moment of background...
It's generally known, I guess, that the Department of Energy is studying a location here in Nevada, called Yucca Mountain, for use as a national repository for nuclear waste. It's roughly 100 miles NNW of Las Vegas (by highway, or 85 miles as the flies croak), on the edge of the Yucca Flats testing area. I've eye-measured it on a topographical map at about 25 or 30 miles from the actual bomb-testing site, though I'm told it's actually closer than that.
Joy-Lynd recently joined a non-profit Nevada watchdog organization called Citizen Alert, as volunteer coordinator and executive assistant to the director. It's the first full-time job she's succeeded in finding, here... Well, she started a couple of others, but they didn't work out. This one looks like a winner, partly because it's something she really has a rapport with. As she tells people at the drop of a hat, it's the first job she's had where she isn't mainly helping other people to get rich.
Initially I had the impression that Citizen Alert originated as an outgrowth of the Downwinders, an organization (I don't know how formal) of people who lived downwind of the above-ground atomic testing done at Yucca Flats back in the '50s or so, including several Native American enclaves. (The test-site itself is located on Shoshone territory, a matter still under considerable dispute.)
I've learned since that, while the two groups work together and have some overlap in personnel, CA came out of another effort by a group of women working as part of a grass-roots movement against some other ecological disaster-in-the-making. I still haven't studied its history, but picked up some of this from Joy-Lynd, from Chris Brown (Joy-Lynd's boss, the director), and in conversation with Raven, a fan who is on the CA board (met at one of Arnie & Joyce's monthly socials, and continued friend). It was Raven who recommended that Joy-Lynd approach CA when the job became available. (She did not involve herself with Joy-Lynd's hiring.)
The Yucca Mountain Repository is one of several bones of contention that Citizen Alert is actively opposing. Others include a report that a local Lockheed plant is planning to burn plutonium and toxic wastes; this came from a Lockheed employee who was of course promptly fired as a whistle-blower. Someone else locally is storing toxic wastes in above-ground open pits to evaporate into the air. ...Etc...
[note: Lockheed recently publicly announced that they had decided to be good neighbors and shelve some proposed plan to burn plutonium at their plant. As though there had never been any pressure on them at all, just a smart internal decision. CA's position is, Fine!—let them put a good face on it, so long as they in fact do the right thing.]
The DOE is currently doing a heavy promotional job on behalf of the Yucca Mountain study, which goes under the technical name of Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Project, or Yucca Mountain Project for short. (YMP for really short.) A local talk radio station (KNUU, or K-News, AM), which runs interminable hours of Larry King (acceptable, if boring) and G. Gordon Liddy (!what an ego!), among others, airs in commercial spots pieces of the DOE's media blitz, which sometimes cheerfully tries to assure us that the Yucca Mountain Project is a Good Thing, and at other times attempts to convince the good people of Nevada that nuclear power is "clean" and "safe" and that everybody benefits from nuclear industry. (That's when the station isn't running similar spots from the Plastics Council.)
DOE's promotional efforts also include a Yucca Mountain Information Office (or YMIO — as with most government efforts, the DOE loves to refer to things by their initials), chock full of pamphlets, exhibits, models, etc., in Meadows Mall, one of the major shopping centers in Las Vegas. (Irrelevantly, it happens to be a mile or so from the Katz domicile.) [...and ours, now, six years later.] There are also similar offices in a couple of other towns in the vicinity of the dump. Excuse me: repository.
Normally, Joy-Lynd mans the office (so to speak), but she's expected to go to meetings and things at other times, as well as oversee the volunteer efforts, like petition tables, protests and other special events. It fell by chance that one of the first things Joy-Lynd was asked to do on behalf of Citizen Alert was to attend a meeting concerning Yucca Mountain to be held at the local DOE office (not at the YMIO).
She arrived about five minutes late, finding herself in a meeting room with a U-shaped table with people sitting all around. The only empty seat was next to the coffee and doughnuts. She took it. The, uh, seat, that is.
As she sat, she realized that people were looking at her. A man next to her said, "We're introducing ourselves."
"Oh," she said. "Hi! I'm Joy-Lynd Chamberlain!"
Pause. "Who are you with?" inquired the master of ceremonies person from the dais.
Ah! "I'm with Citizen Alert," she asserted proudly.
Longer pause..."Young lady," quoth the MCP, "this meeting is not open to the public."
Oops. Not especially disarmed by flattery, and mentally berating Chris Brown for getting her into this, Joy-Lynd briefly considered gathering her things and herself together and walking out. But then she thoughtNo, wait! I'm with the kind of organization that doesn't tuck tail and run.
Besides, as she subsequently explained, she was sitting right next to the coffee and doughnuts. No way!
So she remained, until the leader grudgingly said "Well...as long as you're here..." and went on with the presentation. It seems the meeting was intended for selected county officials, to bring them up to date on current DOE thinking. There weren't even any state officials, much less Native American representation. But, by law, all such meetings are supposed to be open to the public, as, happily, one of the attendees (an activist from another organization) pointed out a little later in the program. In fact, she advised the chairman of just that fact (as well as pointing out the shortcomings in the invitation list) and suggested he owed Joy-Lynd an apology.
"Well," he acknowledged, grudgingly. "I'm sorry if I made the young lady uncomfortable."
And during the course of the meeting the Young Lady made Citizen Alert's presence known.
"You mean to say you're building the repository between those three faults?" she more or less said at one point, circling the spot on the chart from across the room, using her laser pen.
"Yes, yes, it's quite all right. Originally, we had it crossing one of them!"
"Yeah, right!" said Joy-Lynd, using (as she is wont to do) the ASL1 sign for its equivalent, the forefinger sweeping out from appropriately scornful lips.
Raven suggested later that Chris Brown had been testing her under fire, as it were, to see how well she could think on her feet. She's pretty good at it — better than I, for certain (to me, ad lib = flub). Chris denies he had any idea it was supposed to be a closed meeting — but he says she did good.
1. American Sign Language
It was from the YMIO that Raven, Joy-Lynd and I (and a substantial number of others) embarked in one of four or five buses way too early on Saturday morning, July 24, for a DOE-sponsored tour of Yucca Mountain. This was not really the way I wanted to spend the day, but Joy-Lynd was enthusiastic about it, and I acquiesced. I rationalized it with the argument that I might as well have some idea of what all the fuss is about.
There were elaborately printed materials left on the seats, and a chap who resembled a caricature of the Typical Civil Servant on Holiday manned a microphone at the front of the bus, discussing the materials point by point and page by page.
| The passengers also included a few caricature types, including a Young Activist Couple that, it turns out, were among the volunteer corps for Citizen Alert. She was slender, wearing a tee-shirt stating boldly: Ivory should only be worn by elephants. He resembled a twenty-five-year-old preadolescent.
There was also a group of young people, in their early teens at best, who were learning to be park guides for a city park in Las Vegas, and were supposed to be getting clues on how to do it from the tour guides on the trip. Their leader, an earnest woman of Native American extraction (though Anglo appearance), was among those who had many questions to ask throughout the tour.
Yucca Mountain itself extends out of the boundaries of the test site reservation, but because most of the research facilities are within it, I had to leave my camera at a guardhouse. Seems I was the only one who had brought one along, and that was inadvertently — I often keep a little disposable one in my shoulder bag, just in case. [Not recently, however.]
We all were wearing tags with little electronic doohickeys encased in them, which a guard wearing a desert storm camouflage tee-shirt checked before the bus continued, and which he (or someone just like the electrician) collected when we left. They'd been provided at the YMIO when we signed up that morning [name, place of birth, social security, are you a citizen yes or no...].
I initially had the idea these were locator gadgets in case anyone got separated from the group. Turns out they were in fact dosimeters. Everyone entering the test area has to wear them. But they aren't the type that shows a darkening patch in a window... Any information they provide is kept to the internal records of the DOE or military or whatever. It's a disturbing thought that they want and invite visitors to their area, but are keeping to themselves any information on possible radiation exposure. Joy-Lynd is irate about this — and is convinced that, in fact, we were exposed to radiation/fallout while we were there.
I'll let you know if I discover I can see myself in the dark. [So far, no extra bioluminescence at our house.]
I'll not give you a full, blow by blow-hole accounting of the whole trip. (You may find the highlights seeming interminable as it is.)
Our first stop was the Sample Management Facility (SMF) which takes sample cores from various drill sites around the area (some going down 12,000 feet or more) and enters their geological and hydrological data into the amazingly detailed below-ground mapping system. There and at the USGS Hydrologic Research Facility (our next stop) we saw wonderful displays and topological maps measuring everything from where and how much water fell in the last thunderstorm to which mineral layers transverse the areas around and under the mountain itself and much of the surrounding territory.
| We saw some reclamation plots, with a talk on the environmental studies taking place in
conjunction with the project. Throughout the tour they kept emphasizing how, regardless of the disposition of the project itself, they intend to put everything back the way they wuz. "Minimizing the environmental impact" was pretty much the expression. Yeah. Right.
We had what I guess was GI lunch at a lunchroom in the Field Operations Center — a lunchroom conveniently set up with some more displays, dioramas and cutaway models of things like the dumbbell-shaped casks in which unstable radioactive wastes would been transported across the country to be stored in the repository. (They haven't yet quite figured out yet if these casks are to go into the storage unopened or if they're just for transportation and the wastes will be transferred into other systems for final storage.)
Perhaps the best part of the trip was going up to the top of Yucca Mountain. It's about 5,000 feet up from sea level, and we had to transfer to minibuses to make the climb. The crest is a relatively narrow ridge — say 50 to 60 feet before the slopes drop away on either side — and several miles long. The mountain is formed of tuff, compressed layers of volcanic ash and other material from a volcanic explosion a few million years ago — not unlike Mount St. Helens, but about 20-25 times the force, we were told. The caldera from the volcano itself is several miles wide, to the north, with a peak called Timber Mountain at the center.
There are several small, dormant cinder-cone volcanos in the immediate vicinity. A couple of them are recent enough — in the 10,000 year range — to have retained their distinctive cone shape; the rest were last active between 300,000 and 1.2 million years ago, and are just dark, weathered humps. Project studies indicate no pockets of magma beneath any of them.
The crest is topped with ordinary desert vegetation and high-silicate rocks, the kind that clink like china when struck. The view was wonderful, if pretty desolate, on all sides. Eastward, the land clumps up to culminate rather impressively at the peak of Mt. Charleston. Facing west, we could see the successive ridges of the Funeral Mountains, about 25-30 miles away (a couple of those cinder cones in the middle distance), and the Panamint Range, 60 miles or so off. Between them is Death Valley.
There's lots of names like that in the area. Back to the east side of Yucca Mountain, 20 or so miles across Jackass Flats, are Big Skull Mountain and Little Skull Mountain. There was recently an earthquake, 5.8 on the Richter scale, its epicenter some six miles under Little Skull. We were assured that it did not affect the proposed repository site at all...
The repository, by the way, would be located about 1,200 feet beneath the crest of Yucca Mountain, and about 800 feet above the water table. It's the water table, or saturated zone, that concerns many who fear what might happen if the repository should fail before its allotted 10,000 years is up. That's the presumed time before the accumulated half-life of the radioactive wastes brings the radiation down to the level of, say, a mere uranium mine.
That's how it was explained to us tourists, anyway. But it seems that's largely the governmental dependence on statistics talking. Ten thousand years is something like an average of the various isotopes' half-lives. In reality, while some will be long decayed out by that time—Cesium 137 and Strontium 90, for example—plutonium, I was told by Chris Brown "won't be anywhere near uranium after only 10,000 years."
The DOE's answer to this is that the mineral layers below and surrounding the supposi— pardon me, the repository — are largely composed of zeolite. That's something used in water filters to soften water by extracting the minerals by some sort of ion exchange, and it would presumably be effective in preventing the radioactive nucleotides from getting down to the water level. And even if it did, somehow, get loose from the repository and past the zeolites, which would take thousands of years, it would take thousands more years for any of them to pass on to any surface springs, and by that time they would have no more strength than any of the normal background radiation we have today... 'kay?
Well. That's the theory, anyway.
So, anyway, we all piled down off the ridge and got back into our regular tour buses. Our Junior Guides and their leader regaled us with their sincere, heartfelt and seemingly interminable rendition of The Greatest Love... "I believe the children are our future..." They'd intended to sing it together (as their 'theme song') on the mountain. Dunno what prevented them from it.
We next went to see one of the drill sites where they're probing down a couple of miles — one of the sites where the core samples we'd seen earlier came from. They have to use dry bore techniques using air instead of water in the unsaturated zones above the water table, in order to avoid contaminating the system. The boreholes will be used for testing instruments later.
By this time most of us were pretty tired and exhausted. Temperatures were in the upper 80s to 90s, and though it was only getting on to 2:30 in the afternoon, we'd had a longish day already. Thus it was with some relief that I (at least) greeted the announcement that we'd bypass the scheduled stop at Exploratory Studies Facility construction site, where the first 200 feet of a five-mile tunnel has been dug.
The buzz is that Somebody — a V.I.P. or government official or some sort—had found out it wasn't safe to go in there and had it closed off to civilians.
They did stop the buses there long enough for us to see the tunnel exterior and the construction equipment surrounding it — and, of course, for the requisite 10-to-15-minute lecture — and then we were on our way home.
I dozed off before we got to the guard house; roused myself while we gave up our tags and I got my camera back, and then sort of wove in and out of reality for the hour and a half trip back to Las Vegas and the YMIO. The intermediate landscapes were scenic in their desert(ed) sort of way, but in neither direction did I pay much attention.
They gave us a questionnaire to fill out on the way back, on which I expressed myself most blandly and superficially— What did I have most difficulty in understanding? Dunno, guys, I'm still trying to absorb it all. That kind of stuff.
Thing is, there were different things being said at that closed meeting Joy-Lynd attended than what we had been told; things like a mandate already set up for actually building the repository within a certain time frame, though we had just been told (over and over again) that only when the current testing confirms the safety of the location will it be done. Things like that tend to confuse me.
The fact is, I'm a poor litmus test for reality anyway, and I was pretty much still under the spell of the presentation. Right at that point, I was almost convinced that it all certainly was a Wonderful Thing, and was having trouble figuring out what anybody's objections to it were. But I know myself enough now to recognize that I was going through this, so quite deliberately refrained from committing myself to an opinion.
Now— all together, all of you who know me
"So what's new, Ross?"
Yeah, yeah. On that note, I'll say so long 'til next time.
So of course the "Walk Against Waste" was a Citizen Alert project with the objective of increasing funds to support the continuing fight against the Yucca Mountain Project. Joy-Lynd had been working on it for weeks.
She has been just a part-timer (30-hour weeks) until this month, during her probationary period, but her actual hours have been much more than that. Hopefully, she'll be working (and paid) full-time by the time you see this.
The emblem for the Walk Against Waste demonstration reproduced here was her interpretation of what was discussed at the meeting in which a design was presumably decided on. The artist who created the one finally used changed it somewhat, using construction paper cutouts and stuff, and then Joy-Lynd had to re-recreate it all over again, using a couple of graphics programs (Harvard Graphics, WP Presentations), for reproduction on stationery, flyers, and the like. This involved tracing the original piece, getting the tracings scanned, then laboriously cleaning up the scan.
The tee-shirt design was a further evolution where, for each color, she outlined the visible components of that color in black, deleted the rest, printed out the outlines, and filled in the outlines with solid black... A long way to do separations, but the only way under the circumstances. [She and I both have scanners and could have done all this in a fraction of the time now, but that's the way destiny plays with us...]
After all that effort, the tee-shirt printers decided to go their own way, misplaced elements, and generally screwed up and had to do it over and over again until CA and the artist settled for second best because of time constraints (they were delivered the day before the march). The result actually looks pretty good, but it doesn't match the vision.
On Sunday, Oct. 17, I helped Joy-Lynd bring tables and chairs to the UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) campus. Our neighbor, Deborah Higben, and her two sons, Jonathan, 17, and Cody, 12, joined us — Cody on his roller blades. (I've mentioned them before—we all went to see Jurassic Park together and Jonathan fell asleep during it. I later learned this was due less to boredom than to his having had a couple of beers earlier.) [We've heard nothing from the Higbens since soon after that; they moved out of that apartment complex even before we did.]
After some talks by Chris Brown, a representative of Nevada's senators, a state senator and a high school girl I saw once at a CA social occasion, plus some renditions of "Walk" songs by a 3-piece country combo (I'm Walkin' the Floor Over You, Fat's Domino's I'm Walkin', etc.), Cody and a couple of other, older, roller-bladers took point and the walk started. I got started late (big surprise, right!) but walked with an woman from another activist organization (Nevada Desert Experience) a few blocks, then joined Deborah and Jonathan to the first of the three water stations.
I learned there that Joy-Lynd had volunteered me to stand next to a construction site near the next water station, where the sidewalk was gone, and direct marchers not to walk on the street but in a sandy stretch to the place where the sidewalk recommenced. This was clearly stated on the route map most of us carried, but I acquiesced to being driven to that place, thereby cutting about a third of the route out of my walk. In reality, there was a stretch of only about a yard on the street that some tourists used to get to the edge of what was to eventually be a concrete curb, but none of the Walkers Against Waste even looked like they were going to do it, so my standing there only served as an opportunity for the sun to beat down on my forehead more steadily.
I did my job, then walked the rest of the way with another woman, originally from Boston, and about my age, so we had quite a bit to reminisce about from our years living in The Hub. She was an animal rights activist, a vegetarian who felt she had to take every possible opportunity to get in her digs at the disgusting habit of eating meat. She made me feel quite the carnivore, but I didn't expose my flesh-tearing fangs at her except for a pleasant smile when we went our different ways back at the UNLV campus.
Actually, come to think of it, I was eating an apple for the early part of that portion of the walk. A case of apples (the best, glossy red delicious apples I've ever tasted) and a case of oranges had been donated by a local produce wholesaler; I'd been with Joy-Lynd when she went to pick them up one afternoon. The local TCBY distributor donated a case of frozen yogurt, vanilla and chocolate, in individual-serving cups, which were available to the walkers on their return.
I didn't really regret having left my hat at home, even later that evening when I realized I was in for another session with sunburn emolients. I was tired and my legs were stiff, and I was just glad to head home and conk out. Joy-Lynd, though she didn't do any of the walk because of her bad leg, nevertheless was more exhausted than I after her days of preparation under pressure, and as I understand it hadn't even had much chance to relax back at the start/stop location. So she, too, was pretty much out of it once she got home.
The walk was the top story on the five o'clock news on Channel 3 (the local NBC affiliate). I taped it, and a late, much shorter version aired later on the 11 o'clock news. Cody Higben had been interviewed by the reporter and was captured roller-blading in the vanguard of the walk, so we let Deborah and her family borrow the tape— We expect to be able to make a copy of it for them for later. Cody also appeared in a newpaper shot, which was an additional thrill for them. [I have no idea where that tape is now. If it turns up, we should be able to capture a frame or two from it to illustrate this story.]
Neither Joy-Lynd nor I (nor Deborah nor Jonathan) showed up at any point in the tape, or the newspapers. Oh well!
In subsequent days I found myself limping somewhat, and my right knee is still out of sorts with the rest of me, as I write a couple of weeks later. The sunburn is gone and even most of the inevitable results of it.
Both Joy-Lynd and I did a little extra walking — a couple of miles each way — on Wednesday evening, Oct. 27th, in order to get what we both figured would probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were close by, about 800 feet or so, in front of the Aladdin Hotel, or just down the block, when they imploded the Dunes Hotel.
Some of you might have caught it on the news. We can't get away from it — it seems like every local newscast since has found some excuse to run the footage. That's not counting promo spots for the stations themselves.
It had been promoted for some time. Steve Wynn, owner of the Mirage and the new Treasure Island Hotel/Resort, had acquired the bankrupt Dunes a while ago, and had the idea of blowing it up as part of the opening ceremonies for Treasure Island.
They actually opened the resort a day ahead of time, capturing all the news as the stations covered the first "battle" of the British Man o' War and the pirate ship Hispaniola in the bay in front of the hotel. This was done for the opening-day VIPs and special guests at about 6 p.m., then the hotel was opened to the public at 10 o'clock.
We had seen much the same kind of coverage for the opening of the Luxor — the new, pyramid-shaped hotel/resort — a few weeks ago. That opening, it appears, was overly rushed, as Joy-Lynd and I learned as we stood in the crowd waiting for the destruction of the Dunes.
We had gotten into conversation with a young couple from southern California who had come especially for the event, and who had checked into the Luxor. It seems that not everything was really complete there even yet, including service staffing. Their bed was unmade and the room not set up for new guests when they arrived, at a time when the clean-up staff was going off shift. A number of the entertainment facilities were not yet working. And public telephones were not yet connected, as they discovered when they learned that their home town was among the ones burning, and they tried to call home. [Readers may recall this as one of the worst, or at least most publicized, of the annual brush- and forest fires in southern California, when several stars lost homes near Malibu].
Photo by John Garzinski, Las Vegas Review-Journal
The Dunes actually consisted of two hotel towers, only one of which was to be destroyed at this time. Behind them was a large golf course, stretching south and west of the Strip. The event began at 10 p.m. with fireworks — touted as the largest display ever shown west of the Mississippi. These were shot from the tops of both towers and about three locations along the near side of the golf course — parallel to the strip, and practically overhead for us. We were absolutely perfectly placed for them.
And they were fantastic! I feel they were at least comparable to the Liberty Celebration display in New York, which I was fortunate enough to have been there for — though not quite as close. The six-minute display was like anyone else's Fourth-of-July finale made continuous (though artfully done, with its own lulls and crescendos). Everybody was cheering at the top of their lungs and whistling and laughing and dancing and jumping up and down, while the blossoms blossomed and the flashes flashed and the thuds thudded through us all. Joy-Lynd and I were hugging as we watched and shared the experience, though I know I also did some jumping up and down and dancing, myself. Wow! Yeah!
And then came the anticipated lull. We didn't hear Steve Wynn's amplified voice tell the captain (on the pirate ship back at Treasure Island, a mile or so away) to ready his cannon and fire, but there were two or three fiery explosions from between the tower and the tall, 170-foot, phallic, flashing neon Dunes sign. ("No vacancies," the sign announced.) Then the sign itself erupted in flame and, moments later, tilted toward the tower, and crashed.
A jacob's ladder of interior explosions ran up the 22 floors of the tower. And then the entire tower was itself was engulfed in flame — the heat breathed in our faces from over 250 yards away. Just as suddenly, the flames curled away and were gone. The formerly white tower stood black and stark against the smoke, some flickers still dancing within.
The crowd waited, expectantly. And then, sure enough, it fell, collapsing deliberately back into the smoke, into the grounds beyond it, away from the street and the onlookers, and a great, dark, billow of smoke and dust rose up into the clear sky and across the Strip, dimming the flickering Vegas skyline.
We had driven to the Citizen Alert offices, half a block from Harmon and Paradise Road (location of the Hard Rock Cafe), and walked from there to the Strip. The walk back was frought with danger; wishing to avoid the thick of the crowd, we had crossed to the far side of Harmon, but most of that side of the road had no sidewalk. Although Joy-Lynd had her cane with her she could not walk on the sandy shoulder, and the vehicular traffic was heavy and occasionally impatient, brushing all too close to us in an effort to beat a light or just get to the next intersection.
The dust cloud put a halo around all the lights. We could smell and taste it. A car passed us with its radio on and Joy-Lynd chuckled: the music was Dust in the Wind.
Once we got to the car, we had no trouble with traffic at all. The cloud was drifting east; we went north and then west, retracing the deliberately circuitous path we'd taken earlier. It was noticeable when we left the cloud behind: the night was clear and almost cloudless, broken only by the near full moon and the spear of the great light atop the Luxor. [When that light was first run, it was touted as the brightest in the world; they claimed an anstronaut would be able to read a newspaper by it. They also had to shut it down every so often, like every hour — whether it was overheating or for some other reason I don't know. They haven't had to do that for a long time now; the light still spears up from the tip of the pyramid every night, but they did cut back its brightness level and it's no longer quite as prominent a feature of the Las Vegas skyline.]
When we got home, a tape I'd left in the VCR was still running; the intention was to capture all the TV coverage of the event we could. In my sieve-like mind it was already fading into unreality. My memory of it is now substantially overlaid with images from the screen—many of them excellent, but hardly comparable.
I drove up Flamingo Road, past the site, a couple of days later. The rubble of the tower is largely hidden behind the still-standing Oasis (the casino and, I think, showplace adjunct of the Dunes Hotel), but, even fallen, the great flat minaret-shaped sign dominates the scene.
— 1993All of that was soon gone as well. Until recently it was a wide stretch of essentially undeveloped land. Now — It's the site of the super-luxury resort hotel, the Bellagio.
Joy-Lynd lasted a while at Citizens Alert, but that organization suffered from the bane of many non-profit organizations: internal politics. How and the specifics of why she left would be another story for another time, had I the heart to tell it. It rather broke her heart, as well, and she has settled since for living on her Social Security Disability and what income I can bring in. That, too, is another story, and definitely one for another time — and perhaps place.
The DOE has kept up its fight for building the nuclear waste repositories at Yucca Mountain; it's had its setbacks and triumphs in the subsequent years, and, quite frankly, I've lost track of the current status.
I's February 2002, and President George W. Bush has made statements indicating he wants the project to go ahead. Everyone I know of here in Nevada is still opposing it. We'll have to see. Certainly, the work has continued on it all this time ... some film clips show the tunnel leading to the interior depository much deeper than when we visited it almost 9 years ago now.
4/2/13 entry --
Quote from Wikipedia (citation reference numbers removed):
The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository was to be a deep geological repository storage facility for spent nuclear reactor fuel and other high level radioactive waste, until the project was defunded by Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010. It was to be located on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 80 mi (130 km) northwest of the Las Vegas Valley. The proposed repository was within Yucca Mountain, a ridge line in the south-central part of Nevada near its border with California.
Although the location has been highly contested by both environmentalists and non-local residents in Las Vegas, which is over 100 miles (160 km) away, it was approved in 2002 by the United States Congress. However, under the Obama Administration, funding for development of Yucca Mountain waste site was terminated effective via amendment to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, passed by Congress on April 14, 2011. The US GAO stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons. This leaves United States civilians without any long term storage site for high level radioactive waste, currently stored on-site at various nuclear facilities around the country, although the United States government can dispose of its waste at WIPP, in rooms 2,150 feet (660 m) underground. The Department of Energy is reviewing other options for a high level waste repository. The Blue Ribbon Commission established by the Secretary of Energy released its final report on January 26, 2012. It expressed urgency to find a consolidated, geological repository, but also that any future facility should have input from the citizens around it.