I touched down into Vegas late on Friday night after spending most of the day at K&L meeting with guys like Dr. Bill Lumsden from Ardbeg/Glenmorangie. The entire whisky making world was in the Bay Area this past week for WhiskyFest, but while the malt-thirsty hoards descended upon San Francisco to fulfill their longing desires, I was 35,000 feet in the air with my wife heading southeast. I was tired when we arrived having worked all day, but seeing that the airport rental car center is only about half a mile from Mandalay Bay, I forced myself to take a detour and head down Las Vegas Boulevard to visit the site of the shooting. I didn’t want to ignore it, or avoid it while I was here—I wanted to confront the anxiety immediately. As you pass the famous Las Vegas sign at the entrance to the Strip, you can see the flickering of numerous candles lining the various tributes and shrines to those murdered at the massacre. Then I saw the fifty-eight white crosses placed in a long row beyond the main gathering, each adorned with the name of the victim. I had read about the retired carpenter from Illinois who had made similar memorials after the Orlando shooting, but to see the markers in person had a somber effect on me. It was both moving and numbing simultaneously—sobering, yet surreal. There were hundreds of people gathering to pay their respects, moving down the center of the road along the divider across from the airport fence. A huge billboard flashed “#VegasStrong” above the in the distance. At the corner next to back of the concert area, a man pointed up at the thirty-second floor and made a motion toward the side of the stage, as if trying to decipher what happened with two friends standing nearby. I was stopped in the left lane at Hacienda Ave, waiting for the stoplight to make my way west back toward Summerlin, watching everyone around me attempt to reconcile the impossible reality with everything they’d seen and read.
Everywhere we went this weekend, the vibe was extra friendly and supportive. Vegas is already a friendly city as is—the kind of place where complete strangers say hello to you while shopping for groceries at Target in the early morning—but the mood was extra congenial. My parents were in town to visit, so my wife and I took them to all of our favorite spots: Echo & Rig, China Poblano, Grimaldi’s, Milk, topped off with happy hour martinis at the Red Rock Casino by the pool on Sunday evening. Our waitress ended up sitting down on the chair next to us for most of the evening, chatting with us about life as the hours went by. My mom remarked on how charming she was. As my wife and I waited to fly back yesterday afternoon, we had dinner at the pub toward the end of the terminal and ended up sitting next to two Las Vegas policemen who were finishing up their meal and waiting to pay their bill. When the waitress finally came by to drop it off, she thanked them for their service and covered their check. As the two officers thanked her for the kindness, they struck up a conversation about the white crosses we had seen on my way in and the waitress added that she had spent the last few evenings visiting the shrine after work, adding small decorations to each of the individual memorials. She said it brought her peace to spend time out there with others looking for collective comfort from the crowd.
But no sooner does one region begin the healing process when another gets its own tragedy. The fires that have gutted parts of Napa and Sonoma, affecting many of our friends here at K&L, have crippled the California wine region and devastated thousands of lives up North. We met this morning in the Redwood City store to talk about some fundraising options to see what we can do to help, so look for some raffles and various other donation options in the near future. There's still more recovery work to do.