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The Sweet Angel of Revolution: a Vegas Tale

“The sweet angel of revolution whispering in your ear. What does that sound like? I don’t know. I don’t believe in angels. But if I did, it would probably sound like this…” – Boots Riley

It was Monday morning, day four of the writing business conference that had taken me to Las Vegas proper for the first time in my life.

Oh, I’d been through Vegas over the years: heading to the Las Vegas Catholic Worker for a radical conference in honor of Dorothy Day’s 100th birthday. Flying there en route to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site and Creech Airforce Base to meet with representatives of the Shoshone Nation and get arrested on radioactive soil. I’d stood and prayed in the Sekhmet Goddess Temple with Pagans and participated in guerilla, gender-swapping Eucharist with radical Catholics, broken Pesach bread with Jews, and walked for miles beneath the harsh and beautiful desert sky.

But I’d never actually been to, you know, the place people think of when they say the words “Las Vegas.” Bright lights and gambling. Alcohol and excess. Addiction central.

It took an intrepid crew of writers to finally get me to the constant, blaring music, the ‘80s cover bands on outdoor stages, the slot machines around every corner, the cigarette smoke, the roving bands of desperate, yard-long-drink lubed revelers, and the old downtown town that looks like some noir Hollywood film set.

On the Monday in question, I awakened at 5:15, staggered through the casino to the gym, staggered back, showered, had half a cup of tea, and by 7:45 was finally on my way. Backpack on, ready to face the great outdoors, I headed to a downtown cafe for a writing date before the conference began again.

I stepped from the elevator into the lights, swirling rust and golden carpets, glass sculpture chandeliers, and slot machines. Passing bar televisions blasting sports to empty rooms, inhaling the scent of last night’s cigarettes, I was heading toward the shark tank when I heard a familiar voice. Singing. Loudly.

It was the voice of an angel. An angel I recognized. An angel known as Silk-E.

“Woke up this morning, brushed my teeth and spit out the lies…” she crooned. I looked around. Surely this Vegas hotel wasn’t playing The Coup?

“We comin’ with tens of millions, them villains be oh so shady…” she continued. Wow. Had the success of Boot’s Riley’s indie film “Sorry to Bother You” influenced some cog in the Vegas machine? Had a worker bee tasted the nectar of freedom for a moment, and slipped a radical song in among the cavalcade of pop music, commercials, and old R&B?

As I rounded the corner towards the beignet stand where workers were setting up for the morning, I realized what was happening.

The music was blasting from my backpack.

Somehow, through some random key press, or glitch in its internal operating system, my iPad had turned itself on, and begun blaring the potent cocktail of rock, hip hop, and soul. Party music for radicals. Thing is, though, it was not playing the song I’d listened to on repeat while writing the morning before. This was a song from it’s own computer brain. A song of joyous revolution.

I slung my backpack from my shoulders and, standing next to the shark tank and beignet stand, on the swirling, gaudy carpet, beneath the fake Chihuly chandeliers, I laughed.

This was Vegas, baby, a place where anything could happen, en route to anywhere.

Pulling my iPad from my pack, a message flashed on the screen. There was an operating error and it was shutting itself down.

Clearly, the universe was sending me a message: electronic devices sometimes have minds of their own.

Or: even errors contain hidden gifts.

And: We carry the revolution with us, and its joyous song can burst through when we least expect it.

Anywhere. At any time. Even in Las Vegas.

I zipped up my pack, pushed open the heavy glass doors, strode through the cigarette smoke airlock, and stepped out into a gorgeous morning. The air was fresh and clear after a nighttime rain.

The sweet Angel of Revolution had whispered in my ear, just like Boots Riley said she would. Well actually, she’d blasted her message, singing loudly to anyone within range who was paying attention.

But sometimes that’s exactly what is needed to bust through.

The sky overhead was blue. The murals climbing the building walls were bright.  My writer friends were just ahead, half a block away. It was going to be a good day.


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