Personal Journey: Ersatz Paris and Zion thrills with my brother

Dave and Tim Simpson. "He's never seen the West and it's important to me that he takes it all in. . . . He stares at his phone, changing songs."
Dave and Tim Simpson. "He's never seen the West and it's important to me that he takes it all in. . . . He stares at his phone, changing songs."
Posted: February 24, 2014

I circle the Las Vegas airport for an hour waiting for my brother, who is flying in from Philly. When he finally emerges there's no time for a hug; the traffic controller is yelling.

Driving the Strip to our hotel, seeing all the lights, I can feel the pressure of Vegas. But it's midnight and he's tired and hungry. So am I.

We find an off-strip casino-steakhouse. My brother, who is three years younger, insists on paying for the meal. I order a burger. He tries to order the prime rib. They are out of the prime rib. He orders chicken.

We get back to the hotel at 3 a.m., which I think is acceptably late.

As we stand in the next morning's heat, the Bellagio fountain plays Celine Dion. The spouts look like columns or swans or ribbons. How close must two objects be to be falsely interpreted - like all the little drops of water - as one thing?

We eat at the bistro under the fake Eiffel Tower. I can see the fountain exploding behind his head. We acknowledge the falseness of all of it. But we drink mojitos with breakfast, and it really is great. Neither of us has been to Paris.

We drive northeast into Arizona briefly, and then Utah. He's never seen the West and it's important to me that he takes it all in. As he stares at his phone, changing songs, I fight the urge to point to every big sky.

At Zion National Park's resortlike campgrounds, we set up a tent for the first time in our lives. It's not pretty but I like doing it, sharing the ignorance.

At one point, when he's wandered away, he calls me to tell me there is a deer in between us. I see the deer, and him on his phone across the campground behind the deer.

"That's all," he says, and he hangs up.

He starts a fire. We watch a meteor shower and drink hard ciders. I see probably 50 shooting stars. He sees three.

At sunrise, we take a bus through the Disneyland that is Zion to our haphazardly selected hike: Angels Landing. We learn, after getting off the bus, that six people have died here in 10 years.

The hike culminates in a cinematically narrow half-mile stretch with safety chains and 5,000-foot gulfs. We are most alike in this moment: the most scared people on this trail. We freeze up for a moment. A tweenage boy literally jumps past us.

At the top, overcome with anticipation, I find it hard to connect with the view. Its magnitude is obscuring. My eyes hurt from the sun and from registering all the danger. It looks better online. We spend less than five minutes up there.

What, I wonder on the way down, was the point of that terrifying climb? If you had told us as grade-schoolers, sharing a bunk bed, that we'd have a car, booze, prime rib or even chicken, and the open West, and big skies, it would have been enough.


Dave Simpson writes from Los Angeles.

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