I’ve stayed in some pretty strange motel rooms in my day, but this is the first that came furnished with a four-drawer filing cabinet. One of the files is labeled “Case Files,” the other “Inactive/Denied Files.” The other two locked drawers aren’t labeled. I’m guessing they contain files regarding “Cold Cases” and “Missing Persons.”
Atop the file cabinet is a table lamp. Both the lamp and the television set are activated by a wall switch next to the door, which has no deadbolt. The TV remote doesn’t work. Perhaps the battery is dead—same as the one in the smoke detector, which I know doesn’t work because if it did, it would be screaming bloody murder because the bedding, drapes and carpet are just oozing stale tobacco fumes. Even the tile in the shower stinks. Hard to believe guests have been smoking in there.
I could go on, but why bother? The Desert Palms is the sort of place you only stay at once and only then because you can’t find a room anywhere else in town. First thing in the morning you’ll be hitting the road and of course you’ll never return. Repeat business isn’t part of the Desert Palms’ business plan.
Normally I stay at the Oasis, but to my shock and horror the Oasis has been bulldozed. Gone are the outdoor pools and fountains. Gone are the balconies, the shrubbery, the grass and trees. The shade! All that remains is an outsized billboard, a parking plaza with a sky bridge to nowhere, and dozens of room keys scattered in the dirt. I pick one up and dust it off. A souvenir.
The Desert Palms has a pool and even a water slide—but I’ve not been able to try it because it’s surrounded by a chain link fence and the gate is padlocked. Just as well, I suppose. It looks kinda dangerous.
So I decide to take a walk along Mesquite Boulevard, and what I find surprises me. For instance, there are no prostitutes or pickpockets working the sidewalk. No salacious pamphlets are being handed out. There are no traffic jams, no flashing lights, no buzzing neon. Mesquite is like Las Vegas would be if, say, Bugsy Siegel were a Mormon.
Oh, there are three or four casinos along the Interstate, but that’s not the main draw. Most people who move to Mesquite do so because it doesn’t get cold here in the winter. Also, the streets are uncrowded, so you can putter about in your golf cart to and from the senior center without ever having to yield to a stretch limo. When your grandkids come to visit, they won’t even realize they’re not in Kansas anymore.
A few years back someone came up with the idea of setting up a smut shop in Mesquite. Why? Because that way people from Utah wouldn’t have to drive all the way to Las Vegas in order to purchase pornography. However, no sooner had Pure Pleasure opened its doors than a picket line formed on the sidewalk out front. Twenty-four hours a day it was manned by picketers armed with pencils and paper in order to write down license plate numbers. Because most of the customers—like the picketers—were from neighboring St. George, this proved to be a very effective tactic, and before long Pure Pleasure went the way of the Oasis.
Along my walk I encounter a nicely-furnished, well-lit Chinese restaurant just a few doors down from the Desert Palms. Then I come upon the city hall, with its lovely grounds and a flowing fountain that features three bronze Indians. I can’t find a signature, but I happen to know who sculpted the Indians. His name is John Fred Prazen, one of three Prazen brothers who learned metalcraft at the knee of their father, owner of the Pioneer Welding Company in my hometown of Price. Gary, Richard, and Fred all grew up to become highly accomplished artists.
In 2002 I visited Fred’s foundry, intending to write a story about him for Nevada Magazine. Tragically, Fred died before the story got into print and then Nevada Magazine came under new management and is no longer interested in whatever it is I do out here in the desert. Then finally, down came the Oasis!
Is there a moral to this story? I think so. The moral is, nothing lasts. People come and people go—in most cases leaving no trace behind save stained bed sheets and a lingering odor. Others—like Fred—leave behind a thing of beauty. And even if hardly anyone ever takes notice, it’s still there, ten years after his death. And will remain, god willing, for many years to come.