The World is Watching

A year or so ago, DivaTeen discovered the world of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and her world turned upside down. She told me that I needed to listen to the soundtrack, that I would love it foreverandeverandever, but I kind of held off. I am always wary of the way that popular culture presents history, and I get irritated by little inaccuracies and inconsistencies. I mean, I was happy that it ignited a passion for history in my daughter. That’s what good pop-culture history is supposed to do. But for myself, I didn’t really want to dive down that rabbit hole and be disappointed.

I freely admit that I was an idiot.

I ended up needing some songs for a racial justice workshop series that I was helping to facilitate, and DivaTeen again recommended Hamilton. So I listened to a couple of songs. And then I listened to a couple more. And now I’m hooked. DivaTeen often asks me if I’m a Hamilfan, but I’m not sure fat middle-aged women should call themselves Hamilfans. But I do listen to the soundtrack at least once a week in my car.

I was reminded of Hamilton last week when we went to the Hoover Dam. Specifically the song “History Has Its Eyes On You” from the first act. It’s basically George Washington talking about how history was watching what was going on and how you don’t have any control over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” During the dam tour, the guide noted that the marble floors, art deco styling, and observation balconies were created during the building of the dam specifically because they knew that the world was watching and would want to come see history being made. And they did. They came by the thousands, by the millions, to see this marvel of modern engineering. Today we view it as history. And we discuss how it should be presented. And we talk about what has been left out of the story (anybody who wasn’t white, for starters) and what should be added. But when the dam was being built, they were actually making history. And they knew it. They knew that history had its eyes on them.

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Pretty little dam gizzards from the tourist observation deck.

And it got me thinking, you know, because we know when we’re making history. We know when we are in the thick of these insane, life-changing moments. And we’re in one now. For those of us who are in resistance to this current administration, we are all making choices today and every day about what our movement looks like and what our actions will be. What our country will be. What it means to be American. In a large part, we now tell our own stories. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what my story should say. I have a horrible habit of overanalyzing every situation to the point of inaction. And I don’t think I want my legacy to be “She thought about shit but didn’t do shit and wasn’t shit.” My actions might not be THE narrative, but they are part of my narrative. And my narrative is part of the larger narrative.

So is yours.

On Friday afternoon, I went to the 1st Annual March to Reclaim King’s Radical Legacy hosted by Minister Stretch Sanders of All Shades United. I thought it was important to take the kids so that they could learn a little bit about what the Civil Rights movement was about and how the struggle in the sixties wasn’t the end of anti-Black racism in America. It wasn’t even a pause, and I wanted them to see that the struggle continues today. And I wanted them to understand that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t just fighting to end segregation, but for economic and social equality as well. Mainstream history presents Rev. Dr. King as a benevolent grandfather figure who non-violently brought equality to Black America. It doesn’t teach that Rev. Dr. King was considered one of the most dangerous men in America in his time. That he was a “criminal.” And it doesn’t teach that “non-violent” isn’t the same as “peaceful,” or that non-violence was actually exceptionally violent and that the perpetrators of that violence were most of mainstream white America. And it certainly doesn’t teach the history of anti-Black racism in America that began with slavery, morphed into Jim Crow, transformed into segregation, and is still with us today in many forms – including economic inequality, police brutality, and mass incarceration. It doesn’t teach us any of that shit.

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Min. Stretch Sanders at the podium.

I thought it was important for my kids to learn about these things. This is their history. More importantly, this is their community. So I brought them along while I met up with some folks from our local Showing Up for Racial Justice group and the local Unitarian Universalist Congregation to participate in the rally.

At the rally, we listened to a number of really interesting and inspiring speakers. Then I had to take Middle Little home because his autism had him all overstimulated. DivaTeen stayed with friends (thank you, friends) who took her home after the rally. They marched and listened to more speakers. All of the speakers were great, but I have to give a special shout-out to one amazing young man, Dylan, who blew me away with his eloquence and his fire. Such an amazing young speaker making history at such a young age. I hear people complain a lot about the the entitlement and laziness of the younger generation, but all around me I see people like this awesome young man and it fills me with hope. This generation is going to BE the change. I believe it.

It was a wonderful, uplifting, inspiring rally. It was amazing to see people of all different shades, all different ages, all different abilities, backgrounds, and social groups – such a diverse group of people – come together in the spirit of hope and service and power and change. Some of them were clearly seasoned activists, and some were taking their first tentative steps towards showing up, towards speaking out, towards being the change that they wish to see in the world. Each one of them making a bold step towards writing their own story. Hopefully one of many steps. Hopefully marching towards a tidal wave of change.

So I’m curious… what will your story be? Will you sit back and watch whatever unfolds, or will you add your spark to the fire? Will you shape history, or will you allow yourself to be shaped by it? What you do today could affect untold futures, so what will you choose to do?

Remember, the world is watching.

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The Damn Airport, the Damn Pet Cemetery, and the Damn Dam: Part 3

You can read about the damn airport here.
You can read about the damn dam here.

This post is about the damn pet cemetery.

After spending all day at the Hoover Dam with my bestie Crazypants Clems and the Clems family, my kids and I decided to make one last stop before heading back to Las Vegas. It was starting to get dark, but that’s probably the best time to visit an abandoned pet cemetery. Right?

I first read about the pet cemetery on this post on the Places that Were blog. If you decide to go, bookmark that blog post because there is a map that you can click on and it will navigate you right to where you need to go. This is important because the pet cemetery is in the middle of the fucking desert right off the highway a couple miles south of Boulder City. And you’ll miss the little dirt road turnoff if you don’t know where to go. Plus, the entire blog is hella cool.


When you pull off the highway, you’ll see a fence and a couple of these signs. Some of the burials were fairly recent, so I don’t think anyone gives a fuck that they’re not supposed to bury their pets here. The entire stretch along the freeway is fenced, but it’s not electric (I touched it) so you can just crawl through the fence to access the cemetery. That’s what the kids and I did. #momoftheyear

I’m pretty sure it’s all BLM land and there weren’t any “No Tresspassing” signs, for those of you that are concerned about that sort of thing.


The place was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be – it was at least several acres. And most of it was really run down. I plan on returning, and I will definitely wear boots. There are lots of rusty nails and sharp things to step on.


I did a little reading up and learned that the first pet burials took place in the 30’s. I guess there was some kind of local effort to make it an official pet cemetery, but nothing ever came out of it. It is protected land now – my guess is desert tortoise – which is why people aren’t supposed to bury pets here anymore.


Most of the graves I saw were from the 60’s and 70’s. Some of the headstones were clearly homemade and others were pretty elaborate. Many of the markers were either missing or too faded to read.


This was one of my favorites. Our pets are our best friends, aren’t they?


I thought this one was cool because his tags are mounted in the stone. I bet he was a pretty boy.


Here is a family plot. They lost three dogs in three years. Sitting on the headstone, unattached, is a shell bracelet. I wonder if the Townsends still come to visit Chris, Merry, and Nora.


This one had an open bible on the grave with an angel watching over it.


This rusted, collarless bell was actually the saddest thing I saw there.

Some of the websites mentioned that there were rumors that the mafia buried people here, but you can’t throw a rock in this town without hitting something with a purported mafia connection. So I’d take that with a grain of salt. The scariest thing we came across was the sunset, and when the sun started to dip behind the mountains we hopped the fence and headed home. I’ve seen that movie before, and it didn’t turn out so well.  No way in fuckity-fuck was I gonna be caught there after dark.

It was a good day. One of the best, actually. Forty is going to be fucking awesome.

The Damn Airport, the Damn Pet Cemetery, and the Damn Dam: Part 2

You can read about the damn airport here.

At the airport, we got a text from Crazypants Clems that she was coming into Boulder City, so we headed towards the Hoover Dam to meet her there. On the way, we stopped at the Memorial Bridge, or as I like to call it, the Bridge of Nope. Because there was no fucking way I was walking out on that thing. The kids did, however, and took this pic of the dam.

View from the Bridge of Nope.

 We hiked back down and Middle Little checked out a neon green Corvette and a white Ferrari in the parking lot. The white Ferrari was most definitely NOT a Porsche as I was very not-so-kindly informed by Middle Little who seriously and rightly doubts my intelligence when it comes to motor vehicles. We met the Clems family at the bridge and then headed over to the dam. After we peed in real bathrooms (not the kind that were basically holes in the ground) we went down and paid for the $30 tour. Splurge, baby. You gotta treat yourself to the finer things every once in a while. We had an hour and a half to look around before our tour group got together so we hung out in the visitors center.  I also may have played a little Pokémon Go.

The first thing we did was watch a movie. I don’t remember a whole lot about it except for some line about touching the calloused concrete skin of the dam and watching the water sparkle like jewels behind her crown. I’m pretty sure that the script was written by a romance novel writer. However, I tried the “touch my sparkling jewel with your calloused concrete skin” sexytalk with my husband when I got home and he was not. turned. on. at. all.  

What a diverse group of white people!

One of the things I noticed about the visitor’s center, and it carried throughout the tour, was that everything was presented from a really Eurocentric point of view. It was all about taming the raging wild river with American ingenuity and making the desert bloom. As if nobody was here and there was all this wasted water and then white people came and made everything better. Yay white people! The presentation reminded me of when I visited Little Bighorn in the eighties and it was all like CUSTER! CUSTER! CUSTER! oh yeah and some Indians too. Except here there were no “Indians too.”  From a public history standpoint, I found the presentation extremely troubling, particularly given the history of the struggle of Native Americans for access to water rights to the Colorado River. Struggle that is still happening today. Not to mention sacred spaces and other lands that were covered by lake water as a result of the Hoover Dam and other dams on the Colorado River. The story of American ingenuity and engineering is great and all, but why are we not also exploring what the cost is and who pays for it? 

So it was kinda fucked up.

After going through the visitor’s center, we took the tour through the dam and power plant. I’m not going to bore you with all the details, but there were a couple of things that I found interesting.

Oh look, here are the Native Americans. Appropriated in the floor designs.

The floors were fucking amazing. They were made of terrazzo marble or some shit. The marble was black and white in the power plant and pink and white inside the dam. 

Straddling the power plant and the dam.

They used a designer named Allen Tupper True to help with the interior, and he designed the Native American themed (but still very Art Deco-ey) floor inlays. You can read more about the design here. The Hoover Dam wasn’t the only thing True did. He was pretty well-known for his murals, his design on the Wyoming license plate, and his Native American inspired artwork. He made quite a bit of money selling paintings that depicted Native American life before contact with whites. No, I’m not kidding. He’s actually kind of an interesting guy, and if artwork of the American West is your thing, you can check out this website

Another thing I really loved about the dam tour was being inside the engineering hallways inside the dam. It was cool because you got to see marks in the wall left by the inspectors and how the concrete blocks that make up the dam were grouted together. As cool as the marble floors were, the cramped little tunnels felt more real.

Math is only cool when it’s graffiti.

Ventilation tunnel created by pouring concrete over a cypress wood mold.

Where two blocks come together. Brass tacks inserted to gauge alignment upon settling.

After the engineering part of the damn dam tour, we went to the top via the crowdedest little elevator imaginable. Everybody else looked around. Being afraid of heights, I mostly freaked out while everybody laughed at me. Then we went to the old visitors center and watched the presentation there which consisted of a really fucking cool papier-mâché-or-something topographical map with lights narrated by someone in “booming nineteen-sixties authoritative male” voice. It might have been my favorite part of the whole damn thing.

What is this? Why is it so awesome! Where has it been all my life? AND IT HAS LIGHTS THAT LIGHT UP!!!

 By the time the last presentation was over, our sore-assed feet were ready to walk the fuck back to our cars. So we did.  And we grabbed lunch. And laughed a lot. And talked about cat hair pie. And hugged. And made plans to meet in a couple of weeks to hike out to a concrete arrow and I’ll tell you all about that later. And I’ll tell you about the awesome freaky pet cemetery tomorrow. 

Also, I’m sorrynotsorry for all the damn/dam jokes. They’re kind of like penis jokes – when you come (heh-heh) across one, it’s really hard (ha) not to say it. Plus, they made me laugh when I was like seven and visited the dam the first time and they still make me laugh all these years later. 

The Damn Airport, The Damn Pet Cemetery, and the Damn Dam: Part 1

I haven’t been blogging for a long time, and I felt bad about that.

Then I came on here and saw a post that I had started and never finished, and I felt bad about that.

But this month is my birth month, and I feel good about that. I’ll be 40 in a couple of weeks, and I feel really good about that.

My Mormon bestie, Crazypants Clems, wanted to take me out for my birthday and she asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to do something history, and she suggested the Hoover Dam since it is an hour away from me. And I loved the idea. We planned to meet up there early-ish so we could do the Dam Tour .

Of course, I immediately planned a couple of side trips to see what else there was to see in and around Boulder City. I especially love what I call “Dirty history,” which is history that isn’t yet museumized. You know, those funky little places that are kind of off the grid and don’t show up in glossy brochures? Those places make my heart happy.

I found this cool little blog called Places that Were and decided that I was gonna check out the abandoned airfield in Boulder City and the Pet Cemetery just south of town. The website was super-awesome in that you could look up shit on your phone and then just click on the map of the location to get directions to where you were going. Which was really helpful because the pet cemetery was in bumfuck nowhere and really hard to find. Using the map on that site allowed me to know exactly where to pull off the road onto the shitty dirt road street that led to the field of death pet cemetery.

There’s a lot to get through here, so I’m gonna just give my basic impressions and then link to sites where you can get more information.

We visited Bullock Airport first thing in the morning. It’s right off the main highway that runs through town (93?). You wouldn’t even notice it if you didn’t know it was there. It’s behind a trailer park and some buildings on the side of the highway. I turned in at the back of the old hangar and parked there. In front of me was one of the old runways (above right) and then across the runway are a bunch of concrete slabs where buildings used to be (above left). The runway is pretty much dirt and gravel now. with some more solid asphalt or concrete in the center. Which is appropriate since it started out as a packed-dirt runway and it’s pretty much returned to that state. The only people who are using now it are the people who are dumping old TV’s, shopping carts, and whatever in the grass and whoever was camping out on one of the concrete slabs (we saw remains of a camp fire). It’s not super junked up, but I’d recommend wearing boots if you go out exploring. Same goes for the pet cemetery.

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X marks the runway.

The airport, named after Noel Bullock, was built in the thirties and ran continuously through the late 40’s, with TWA providing commercial service. It was also used by the Navy during WWII and had an ammo depot onsite. After TWA stopped running service, the airport was under intermittent use by local flying clubs and whatnot until 1990, when the new airport was built further South. When I was reading about the airport online before actually going, I thought it was weird that TWA provided service to Boulder City into the late 40’s. Like why the fuck are so many people going to Boulder City in 1945? But then when I took the dam tour, they mentioned that today the Hoover Dam is considered a side-trip to a Las Vegas visit. But in the immediate years following the 1935 completion of the dam, it was the primary destination for many travellers. In fact, the airport offered flyover dam and Grand Canyon tours as soon as it opened. In the 1940’s, people came to Nevada to see the dam, not Las Vegas. In that context, it makes sense why there would have been a commercial airport in Boulder City.

There are a couple of buildings still standing. One is the terminal, in use by the local Elks Lodge, which I did not get a picture of. The other is an old hangar bearing a plaque honoring Paul Fisher of the Fisher Space Pen for donating funds for the hangar’s restoration.The Fisher Space Pen was used by NASA because the pen can write in space. It can also write on butter, which is far less impactful, but also far more interesting. Paul Fisher lived in Boulder City towards the end of his life, and died there in 2006.

The hangar was locked up pretty tight, so we didn’t get to see the inside. Sadface. But if you’re in the area, then I think it’s worth stopping by and taking a look. It’s kind of neat to see the bones of the buildings and the runways and imagine what it was like when it was bustling with people coming from across the country to see the dam.

I’m going to take a break today and write about the Boulder Dam tomorrow, probably. If you’re interested in reading more about the airport, check Paul Freeman’s Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields site (scroll down) or Boulder City’s Lost Airport on Places that Were.