Saturday, December 30, 2017

Personal Successes and Failures of 2017

A long time ago, I had a conversation with a person who was my very good friend at the time, which still haunts me. I had asked her, on some listless evening where we were just hanging out on the porch, what her favorite accomplishments were. I asked her this because I was thinking about what those were for me— mostly artistic projects that I felt proud of creating, and I wanted to hear what those were for her.

Her response was that I was self involved for dwelling on such things, that I was a bad person because I should spend more energy on being kind to others and stop being so self-obsessed. This friend, not much later, told me that she didn’t want to have anything to do with me, which is a whole other story. Anyway, ever since then I’ve always been so wary of “bragging” about things I’ve achieved, even though I do at the same time feel that it helps me keep track of where I’m going in my life, where I want to get to, etc.

So, anyway this post is going to be all about me, so won’t be of much interest to the general public, unless you have interest in me as a person.

With that, here are the things I’m proud of accomplishing in 2017. To avoid being too braggy, I’m leaving out patting myself on the back for the few times where I’ve been “a good person”, so I’ll just silently note those for myself.

2017 accomplishments 

1.) Had my play performed in a college production

I wrote “Goodlife Pharmacomm” back in 2013 for a performance festival curated by my late friend Jaime Carrera. I got a bunch of my friends to help me create it, and we presented it in the basement of a Mexican grocery store that doesn’t exist anymore. A few years later, my friend May Mahala, who had been one of my collaborators, said that she thought the play was worth bringing back. With her help and support, I presented it at the the ASTR conference in Minneapolis last year, and then this spring, May directed it at the college where she works, the University of the Pacific. She even flew me out there to see it, and the whole thing was a blast. I loved seeing May’s take on the play, it was very fun to hang out with her and her family in Stockton, and I got to seem my other friend who lives in the Bay Area. Overall, a great trip.

2.) Stretching myself as a writer

My freelance writing career chugged along at a steady pace. The year started out with a mentorship with a wonderful arts writer named Rachel Corbett through an Arts Writers program, who helped me figure out how to write longer-form pieces, and kept me honest about using cliches! When I look back at some of the arts writing I did this year, I see that I was trying to go a bit deeper.

For example, I worked with Rachel on this piece:
Basking in the Legacy of Merce Cunningham at His Retrospective

As well as a few others, one which hasn't been published.

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 I also did this with non-art pieces. Toward the end of the summer, I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing some personal essays, in a longer, more literary style. One of those pieces actually did get published, in a publication called Hoosier Lit. The other one I’m still working on and we’ll see if I can get it up somewhere in 2018.

3.) Bylines!

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I wrote for a bunch of new arts publications, including American Photo, American Theatre, Art Asia Pacific, First American Art Magazine, and Lit Hub, in addition to my ongoing writing for the Star Tribune as a dance critic, occasional theater critic, and generalist, and Hyperallergic, where I wrote reviews and also wrote about the Scaffold and Jimmie Durham controversies at the Walker.

I also wrote a couple of online pieces for Prevention Magazine, nurturing my health beat, and wrote for a bunch of local publications, which, besides the Strib, included The Growler, SW Journal, Women’s Press, MN Parent and wrote two, count them two, cover stories in City Pages (not including Fall Arts Guide and Artists of the year).

4.) Trip to New York.

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This isn’t so much of an accomplishment as it was just a great time. This film I acted in a few years ago, In Winter, was released this year, so I decided to go to New York when it was shown at a festival in Queens. I stayed with my cousin in her gorgeous apartment in Chelsea, visited a bunch of galleries and museums (highlights were seeing Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Table at the Brooklyn Museum and this amazing sound exhibition at the Rubin Museum that paired ancient objects with contemporary sound pieces), and saw my friends. The last night I was there, I hung out with some old theater collaborators that I knew back in Chicago. We kicked around in Brooklyn, and took an enormously expensive Uber ride back to Harlem where my friend Jaclyn lives. So worth it.

5.) The last time I did #nanowrimo I was living in Chicago, circa 2005. I wrote a romance novel set in 17th century Italy where the male hero was modeled after this guy I had a fling with, but it was over by the time I finished. I dropped off a copy at his front door, and haven’t done anything with it since. I wrote one other novel subsequently (not a nano), a children’s novel, and similarly have done nothing with it. This time I actually wrote an outline beforehand, which helped it to not be so wandering. It’s an erotic science fiction thriller, about cloning. My plan is to edit it in the coming months and actually try to do something with it (i.e. get it published) though I have no idea how to go about that. Meanwhile I have an idea for a nonfiction book, and also don’t know how one gets a book deal. So that’s a semi-goal of 2018.

2017 Failures

Over the summer, I was asked to be a speaker for a discussion about arts criticism as part of LaLa Fest (one of two times I was a panelist this year, in addition to a Pen America talk about fake news… file under: accomplishments), and I ended up having an interesting conversation with Maren Ward afterwards. We were hanging outside the Fresh Oysters Performance Research (next to Open Eye), and she was talking about this performance conference she went to where failing was encouraged. Anytime someone failed while they were performing, the audience was encouraged to clap. This sounded so great to me, so I’m trying to remember that my failures are just as important as my successes.

1.) Writing Failures
With my writing, I had a few failures. In some cases, it was because things just didn’t work out with a source, and I ended up doing a lot of leg work for a story that just ended up back on the drawing board. I also, in my attempts to write a personal essay, ended up with pieces that just aren’t ready for publication. I’m okay with these failures, and recognize them as part of my process, though they can be pretty frustrating.

2.) Bad Feminist Failures
2017 was a watershed year for feminism, what with the take-down of Harvey Weinstein and the subsequent assholes that were outed after him. For me, I recognized how much I’m still trapped by misogyny and rape culture, even as a survivor myself. Both as a journalist, and in one case as a moderator for a Facebook group, I had to work through some internalized sexism. I appreciate the discussions I’ve had with other women (and trans and nonbinary folks) when I’ve been questioned on decisions I’ve made and things I’ve said. I’m not getting into specifics here, but suffice to say it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot!

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3.) White Lady Failures
I feel like working on my own privilege and subtle racism is something I’ve worked on for quite a while, and this year was no different. I am forever grateful for Black and IPOC folks who keep me honest, keep me learning, and don’t let me get away with shit.

4.) Health
I wouldn’t say this was a failure, but don’t know how else to categorize it. I’ve been lucky. No major health incidents, except getting a few nasty viruses. The good thing is that I continue to have health care (and I’m so so grateful that my loved ones have it too). But, I will own that I haven’t taken great care of myself. I continue to smoke (bad!) and I probably drink too much. I do get on my bike in the warmer months, and I went swimming quite a few times this summer, but I really need to up my exercise game. I made strides with my yoga practice, and hope to increase that next year. Meanwhile, I need to work on accepting my body in its current form and not dwell on the fact that I happen to look my age.

Other stuff:

Some really shitty things happened this year. I had a couple of friend flame-outs, I dealt with terrible things happening, my uncle died, and I have like a lot of people been horrified by the state of our country/world. On the other hand, I survived most of it, I don’t have it as bad as a lot of people, and I’m ready to face next year with as much strength as I can muster, along with charm and vivacity as always.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sheila's look back on 2016

Shelly Mosman asked me to stop by her studio after seeing me wear this coat at the Walker Art Center recently. I'm looking forward to possibly working with her next year. 

As in past years, I’ve been engaged in some intense year-end rituals these past few days. I get no small amount of pleasure from filing my 2016 folders away and making way for a clean slate that is 2017. I’ve been writing lists, checking to see how many of my goals from last year that I accomplished (a sobering practice), and reflecting on the highs and lows that this year brung.

In the personal sphere, it was a shit show, but in terms of my career it wasn’t so bad. I definitely hit some of my goals and had other accomplishments that I hadn’t even planned.

Let’s start with the career highlights. The story I’m most proud of is my piece for Fusion about a makeshift school started at the No-DAPL camps. I have to pat myself on the back for reading about the news from Standing Rock, wanting to cover the story myself, and finding an outlet that would pay me enough to actually go there and write about it. It was a short trip, but it was a powerful experience to see the movement happening out there, and to write a piece which I think was pretty unique.

Here it is:
Amid Dakota Access Pipeline protests, a makeshift Native school empowers young activists

I also, by sheer luck, reached my goal to write for Salon. An editor there had reached out to my friend Mary Turck to cover the Philando Castile killing, and she couldn’t do it, and passed them on to me. So I wrote that and also another piece for Salon about Bernie supporters who were planning or thinking of voting for Jill Stein.

Here are those two pieces:
Mr. Rogers with Dreadlocks”: A grieving community remembers police shooting victim Philando Castile

Minnesota’s Bernie voters turning Green: Jill Stein courts progressive voters in an uncommonly independent-friendly state

Besides my piece for Salon, I wrote two other pieces on the police brutality beat for Complex:

How Michael Brown's Death Affects the Way Black Parents Talk to Their Children About Racism

Underground Police Brutality: Why There Won't Be Justice for Freddie Gray

I did a lot of arts writing this year. I got to write profiles of Rory Wakemup, Rosy Simas and Karen Sherman for the Star Tribune, in addition to my reviews for that publication. I had a lot of fun covering Lee Kit’s “Hold your breath, Dance Slowly” at the Walker, for Hyperallergic (Slowly Dancing to an Exhibition About Love) in addition to these other pieces for Hyperallergic:

The Salvaged Belongings of a 1980s Punk Drummer

A Dance of Constant Movement, Propelled by Light

A Public Display of Our Private Belongings

Five Years After His Arrest, a Chinese Artist Continues to Tell the Truth 

Why Can’t Artists Deduct Donated Artworks from Their Taxes?

Nine Mexican Women Fight Stereotypes in Their Printmaking

From Challenging Kant to Elevating Moss, an Artist Upends Hierarchies

I also wrote some arts features for the Growler, in addition to my work with City Pages, and had a piece that took a year to write published on MN Artists (Truly "Public" Art is Messy Business). I continued my contributions to the Minnesota Women's Press, which is always a pleasure. In December, I was pleased to learn that I was accepted into an arts writing mentorship program, funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation. In 2017, I’m thrilled to be working with Rachel Corbett, a fantastic writer and editor based in Brooklyn.

In the miscellaneous category, I wrote a food feature for L.A. Weekly (A Food Stylist Takes Us Behind the Scenes of a TV Cooking Show) and wrote about Collin Mothupi for Macalester Today.

Creative ups and downs

One of my goals for 2016 was to act in one project, which I randomly did because a friend of mine dropped out of a feature film and asked me to take her place. The film is called “Lake Street Detective”, starring Paul Dickinson, and I’m playing a wealthy CEO. This year I got to see the short film I acted in, directed by Pablo Jones, called “The Mountain”, screened at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. I also hear that a film I was a part of a number of years ago, called “In Winter”, finally is just about done and is going to get submitted to festivals soon.

In the fall, I had the wonderful opportunity to present a play I wrote back in 2013 for the American Society for Theater Research conference. The play is dystopian fantasy, and it was originally created for the Outlet Performance Festival that my friend, Jaime Carrera curated (Jaime passed away this year, more on that later). Next year, I’m looking forward to flying out to Stockton, California to see the play performed by students of May Mahala, my friend who has been one of my strongest supporters over the years.

Speaking of students, I had a mostly fantastic year teaching theater. Highlights include summer camp at Stages Theater, where I was immersed in princesses and fairies all summer, and an incredible experience this fall doing a residency with Barbara Schneider Foundation. For the latter, I designed a residency at Avalon, a charter school in St. Paul, working with students to create a play about mental illness and crisis intervention. It was an incredible experience, and I was so proud of the kids for the work they accomplished.

I had some dismal failures too, this year. In the spring, I co-wrote and directed a series of videos that my partner and I shot and began editing. Unfortunately, due to a number of personal issues that came up, we didn’t complete the editing process and I don’t think it will ever be finished. Then, this fall, I was given the go-ahead for an investigative piece in which I poured hours and hours of work. I did finish the piece, but it didn’t feel ready to submit, and now I think too much time has passed. One of my goals for the new year is to try to re-visit the story and hopefully get it published.

I’ve alluded to some of the negative things that happened this year, and there were plenty of them. Besides the horrifying results of this election, which spiraled me into a depression, I lost an uncle and my grandfather, and my friend Jaime Carrera passed away. I also had some real drama happen in my personal life, and I became estranged with at least two, possibly three friends. I truly hope that next year will be an improvement.

Other than that? I took a trip to San Francisco and got to see my dear friends Sasha Warren and Martha Lincoln, and spent some time with my Aunt. I drove up the 1 and saw the beautiful huge trees and the ocean, took a stroll down Haight-Ashbury, and spent some time in City Lights Bookstore. I wasn’t able to find a place that would take an article about my trip, which was a disappointment, but I’m glad I was able to go. I’m looking forward to traveling to California again this year, and hopefully do at least one other trip before the year is out.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Wisconsin Dells

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This is the Vegas of Middle America,
a giant playground made of water
for the pleasure of children,
their poor parents and the young at heart.

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Strip malls lined with faux coliseums
Depictions of the indigenous coaxed
within the colonial gaze
and Noah with his menagerie
make up the city's landmarks.

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The masses converge at the indoor
Mt. Olympus Water Park
In the middle of February.
Molting their puffy coats
They don trunks and swimming skirts,
And Parade amidst the Tiki adornments
And plastic palm trees.
They are waited upon
By teenaged life guards that quell
the simmering discontent.

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Ten dollars gets you a locker.
It's not big enough for your belongings
so just hope that no one robs
you as much as the one percent has
stolen your humanity.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


You can legally fuck her before she can vote
Before she can choose where she wants to live
Before she can have an abortion without
the permission of her parents.

You can fuck her before she can legally
change her gender to a he

We say: we trust you to make decisions
about the dicks that go inside your body
but we don’t trust you to make decisions
about who should lead the country
or make the laws that govern your body

She’s a party girl. Look at those boots,
that skirt. that pair of of delectable lips.
Her tits are big, her clothes fit her better
than they will for the rest of her life.

But open a bank account? She’s not old enough
to have that responsibility.
Buy porn magazines so she can find out
what turns her on?
Not that either.

We don’t trust her to smoke, or drink,
or gamble or own a gun
or watch an R-rated movie.
We don’t trust her to run for public office.
But we trust her to fuck.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year! I'm not feeling quite as enthusiastic about this year's fresh beginning as I usually am at the beginning of January. That's in part because I'm still smoking, despite several recent attempts to quit. I am drinking a LOT less, however, and TRYING to cut down on the cigs. I'm also a tad disappointed in myself with how little theater I did this year. I started out strongly, performing with Teatro del Pueblo at Orchestra Hall, but that was pretty much the only play I was a part of, though I was in one other small improvisational project and acted in a short film, which was screened at the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival. I did make some strides with my writing: contributing to the Star Tribune, which has been fabulous, and contributing to Hyperallergic, Classical MPR, City Pages, etc. I've had some bigger projects that I've felt proud about, which somewhat makes up for my lack of creative output. In 2016, I do have a project in the works that is going to end up as a video series. I'm thinking about race, and about being a white ally. My boyfriend is helping me out to create a video series that looks into these topics in short, informative and hopefully entertaining video snippets. How will we pay for this? I'm not sure, but I'm excited to get started!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Freedom Train

It has become an annual tradition
set amidst the backdrop
of Starbucks and Barnes & Noble,
Jamba Juice and Nickelodeon Universe.

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I was there for the round dance of 2012
With drumming and a thousand Native voices
filling the rotunda for treaty rights.
And the next year when they arrested two women
who had organized a protest that never happened.

I missed Black Christmas last year
but covered the trial afterward.
Today I have no notebook.
I’m not working, but I can’t stand still.
I work the room. Chatting with my artist
friends who have shown up to
mingle by the Christmas tree.
Alleen is in town for the holidays.
Carl’s having a baby soon.
Corrie gives a rundown of his new job.

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Shoppers line up along the tiered balconies
Watching through their cell phones
the ground floor of the rotunda
where bodies mill about
under the hovering proclamation:
“This demonstration is not authorized”.

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The storm troopers create a circle
around the people who have gathered here
Later, a photo on Facebook reveals
the riot-gear welcome brigade
under the Mall of America sign.
There will be memes, it’s that kind of day.

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There’s shouting. A young man is being
taken away by three cops in bullet proof vests
One of them drops his helmet
and they have to stop for him to pick it up.
A crowd forms around the scuffle
but we are being told to move away
to head toward the trains
A short, black woman waves her arms
to us that it’s time to leave

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Inside the freedom train,
the light rail to justice
We tetris together. There’s a song
but it dwindles.
So far, this has been a quiet protest
No chanting, no speeches.
We are heading somewhere
but I don’t know where.

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I’m afraid in the not knowing.
But I know I’m in the right place.
I don’t know where I’m going.
But I know it’s the right direction.
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Friday, October 16, 2015

From Denver to Vegas in a Budget Truck

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Remember that time we flew to Denver and drove a truck to Las Vegas, then flew home, all in two and a half days? Yeah, that sucked.

In the future, we will tell ourselves this. Actually we already have told ourselves this. How did we actually do that? What set of circumstances made such a ridiculous journey necessary?

It was for my boyfriend's work, of course. He’s done these types of trips before, and I’ve always worried endlessly about him for various reasons. This time, he asked me to come, and since I’ve said no the last couple of times he’s asked, I agreed, even though because of my schedule, I had to be back on Wednesday, so I couldn’t spend an extra night in Las Vegas with him.

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Therefore, my Vegas experience was limited to about three hours, which was just about the perfect amount of time. That city has never been one that has enticed me in any way. Gambling? Bright lights? Hookers? Uh, no thanks. I’d rather go to New York or San Francisco.

Hector actually asked me to come to Las Vegas earlier this year. It had been a hard spring, and despite my preconceived notions of Vegas’s unpleasant debauchery, I actually was looking forward to it. It would be a chance for us to have some fun, go out, relax, and maybe I could do some writing about it.

That trip didn’t end up happening, so all I got was the three hour version. But that wasn’t even the best part of the trip.

We arrived in Denver on Sunday night. Hector had to load the set up for his work the next morning, so the main thing to do was relax. At the same time, I knew our eating options wouldn’t be great on the road, so I put the pressure on to go someplace nice.

There’s a place I found called Tamayo, a fancy Mexican joint, that I felt would satisfy Hector’s tastebuds and my need for a heightened experience. There’s always a danger with my boyfriend anytime you go to someplace that serves Mexican food, because he’s quite critical, despite the fact that he’d prefer to eat that type of food over anything else. But the Yelp reviews were stellar so I thought I’d risk it.

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We took an Uber to get there, and I liked it right away. There was a bright mural that took over the front wall that I thought was neat, and a long bar with almost nobody there, so we had a chance to chat with the bartender.

What Hector really wants, almost always, is carne asada. The only option they had for that was a dish with beef doused in a mole-esque sauce. Hector was skeptical, as was I. He makes killer mole and carne asada, but one time when he put mole on steak it didn’t taste very good. We ended up liking it, though, because the mole was really more of a light sauce than a traditional mole. What was annoying was that they charged extra for tortillas. Who eats carne asada without tortillas? Just lump it in with the cost of the entree, dummies!

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We also had Mexico City-style corn on the cob, which was delicious and spicy, and I wanted to have an extra helping.

We pretty much crashed right away to start our day in the morning, which started with a  trip to the Budget Truck place. Oddly, it was located in a furniture store, and the guy running the joy kind of cracked me up. He was on the phone when we got there, mouthing off to a surly customer.

After he got off the phone, he asked us: “Where you headed?”

“Las Vegas.”

“Oh, you mean Lost Wages?”

Har har. He picked up the phone before he finished with us (Budget employees take forever), he answered the phone and started complaining to his boss about the guy he had been on the phone earlier. “I told him to sock on a rock!” he said on the phone.

Finally, we were on our way. We loaded up the set and started on our crazy journey.

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Honestly, the drive was scary as shit. Driving up and down these mountains, especially with the amount of road construction, was enough to give me a heart attack, especially in the truck. It was gorgeous, especially when we were still in the rockies, climbing up and down these breathtaking passes of rock and sky that took my breath away, but I got a stomach ache thinking we were going to tip over at any moment.

There were also some things we saw that Hector said meant they were fracking, which was quite disconcerting. To think they can just tear apart some of the country’s most gorgeous scenery to make a quick buck is awfully sad.

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Still, the light was beautiful as the sun set against the pine trees and the yellow trees on the rocks.

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We stopped the first night in Grand Junction, where we had a decent hotel and Hector had a chance to watch the Chargers game (they lost). We decided to order Chinese food, and when I placed the order, the woman over the phone said that it would take an hour and a half since there were two orders ahead of us. “We’re slammed!”, she said. Hilarious! I guess that’s small town for you!

The drive on the second day wasn’t quite as scary, although the first part of it was every bit as beautiful. By that time we were in Utah, and there were long stretches of what seemed like desert, but with these ghostly rock formations reaching up into the sky. Some of the rocks were bright red, and there was one stretch of rocks that rippled like waves, and I thought that was really cool. No wonder they call this God’s country, is what I thought.

I forced Hector to stop at this “Viewing Area” where we were supposed to be able to take a look at “Ghost Rock” or something like that. It actually wasn’t such a spectacular view, because there were trees in the way, but there was a Navajo lady selling pottery and jewelry and we ended up getting two pots and a necklace. Because, why not? I asked her if I could take her picture and she told me no way. I felt like an asshole white tourist for asking, but she wrapped up our purchases very nicely. She told us her relative made them- which I’m choosing to believe (there’s a nagging feeling in my stomach they might be mass produced but I don’t care, I really like them).
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By the time we got into Nevada, the drive got a lot more boring, and by that time we were so extremely tired of driving. I just wanted it to end but we kept having so much longer to go! It didn’t help that traffic was slow.

We made it into Las Vegas at about 8:30 p.m., and amazingly found a parking spot right on the street. Apparently, not many people drive in the city. We checked into the “D”, and after some anxiety about what to do in the short amount of time, we decided to just walk down Fremont Street and see what there was to see.

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What we saw was the fall of Rome. I mean, it was everything I pictured it I guess. As we walked out of the hotel area, we saw the drones at the slot machines and the go-go dancers looking bored. One of them, in a red-sequined bikini, was actually dancing, but the others seemed tired and were lethargically going through the movements.

On Fremont Streets there were lots of entertainers hawking whatever gimmick they had to make money on. There were some people in costume- pirates and the like, and mostly naked girls in feathers etc., charging people for pictures. There were musicians- a really good saxophonist, and a terrible group on one of the stages. There was actually one guy that was handling a Native American marionette, which was fascinating and also horrifying. Las Vegas hasn’t seemed to caught on that cultural appropriation is not cool.

At some point, Hector had to go turn over the keys to the theater guys at the venue, but then we were free to get some burritos at a place called “Nacho Daddy”, which was frequented to what seemed to be mostly working girls. We chatted with a fellow that was explaining that he somehow makes money by shaking people’s hands or giving them high fives. Apparently someone had written up a newspaper article about him. He seemed nice enough- and Hector talked to him about peppers and Mexican cooking. He also, in the spirit of the moment, bought me a “Nacho Daddy” t-shirt, which is embarrassingly sexy and I probably will never wear.

And that was that. We finished our food and headed back to the hotel (where we didn’t sleep the night), and from there we were back at the airport.