Seeds in a sandstorm

A writer contemplates love and disaster in a city of transients.


Las Vegas is a city of transients. Walking down the Strip is like wandering around an international airport. But even on the margins of the city, where residents try to raise their families, many are in various stages of just passing through.

I was stuck there during the limbo between grad school and the rest of my life. I never liked Vegas, but my mother and sister lived there, and I was job hunting. I spent hours in coffee shops sending out applications, a journalist with a graduate degree in environmental education. In the evenings, I bunked with my family and ate all the Filipino food I wanted. I would stay, I told myself, until I found a job or my student visa expired.

“People stop here a while and end up staying a bit longer,” the locals liked to say. That’s what Laura said one day as I helped her and Ellen, another volunteer, prep seeds for propagation at a botanical garden. We were planting delicate seeds in peat pots — tiny, furry things that drifted away at the hint of a hot breeze.

“This is the most common story,” Laura said, as we dug into mounds of potting soil. “ ‘I was just passing through, and my car broke down. By the time it got fixed, I had a job.’ Kind of my story, too.”

Kind of? I waited for her to go on. But she just smiled. The way she rolled her r’s reminded me of a friend from Johannesburg. I itched to ask Laura where she was from, but I felt I shouldn’t pry.

Instead, I learned that she mends torn upholstery and fixes broken furniture, a curious occupation in a city that prizes the new.

“What brings you here, Ellen?” I asked the tall, quiet woman beside me.

“Just a job,” she said.

“What kind of job?”

“I’m a geologist,” she said. I was about to ask her more about her work when she threw the question back at me.

Originally published in High Country News. Read the full essay here. Photo by Ken Lund.