The essentials: Wind, rugby, old friends

Trash bag
This fan is properly dressed for Sunday’s weather at the Las Vegas stadium.

Just spent three days in Las Vegas, America’s most non-essential city. Great place for fun, but when the day comes (it was yesterday) for the country to conserve its water, Vegas is the first place that should lose its Colorado River ration card. But enough about green golf courses, fountains and swimming pools in the desert, let’s get to the important stuff.

Fiji was down 15-0 to Australia in the finals of the sevens rugby tournament at Sam Boyd Stadium, and it looked like the island nation that put excitement in the abbreviated game was going to get blown with the desert wind that was tossing food wrappers, trash bags and dust around the stadium. Australia made their way to the finals courtesy of two penalty tries in their semi-final game against South Africa. But their luck ran out in the second half of the final game. Actually, what happened was that Fiji ran away with the game, scoring twice on 100-yard runs. The game ended with Fiji up, 21-15.

Fiji made it into the finals by defeating the U.S. team in the semis. The fourth place finish leaves the U.S. in fifth place in the international series, which continues in Vancouver, B.C., this next weekend.

The gang
Some of the Ohio State alum before the wind blew.
And then the cold came.

The sevens game is the version of rugby that will be in this summer’s Olympic games in Brazil. Rugby was last played in the games in 1924 (the full game of 15 players a side) and the defending champs are . . . (drum roll, please) . . . the United States. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal story, Fiji could win its first Olympic gold medal by coming in first in sevens in Rio. Fiji loves the game, and on Sunday night the lobby of the Monte Carlo hotel was filled with Fijians having their pictures taken with the Las Vegas trophy.

Fiji trophy
Pictures with the trophy.

Staying through the final game Sunday afternoon required a commitment from a hardy bunch of fans. The sun can shine at Sam Boyd Stadium, but the place can also create a tornado effect when the wind kicks up. On Sunday afternoon, the wind was doing a Rockettes’ routine and anyone not dressed like a Bedouin herder was in trouble.

Howling winds, streaking Fijians, flag-waving fans and lots of former Buckeye teammates around me. The senses bombarded. The heartstrings plucked. These are the essentials of life.


I promise this has something to do with rugby

Fields Wagon
Courtyard at Fields Station

When you are staying in a place where the “Last Gas” signs end with three-digit figures, the day starts at about 5 a.m. That’s when the drivers who realize they don’t have enough gas to make it 100 miles stop and wait for the Fields Station in Fields, OR, to open at 8:30.

For those staying in the two rented rooms there, it meant early-morning company, which ended up being four men, strangers to each other, sharing coffee and man talk about vehicles, guns, women and – because we were all of a certain age – creaky knees, sore shoulders, blood clots and deafness among other health-related topics.

First there was Will, pulling a trailer with his 1985 Harley on board and heading from Rogue River, OR, to Colorado to take care of his folks. That meant selling many of his possessions and taking leave from his lady, a perfect companion, he said, who rode an 1,100-pound Harley herself even though she had to stand on tip toes to keep it upright when stopped. The ’85 Harley is special to Will; his father built the engine.

Will, in his 60s, is a recently retired steel fabricator and a longtime member of the Gypsy Jokers. He has a special pocket sewn into his jacket to hold a medallion given to him when he was 12 by Sonny Barger, the sometimes-imprisoned founder of the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angels.

Will is a kind-hearted soul who made an earlier stop to help a stranded motorist out of gas by the side of the road. They siphoned some from Will’s tank with Will figuring he had plenty to spare.

He didn’t. He soon found out that after the “Low Fuel” light comes on in his car, followed by a bell dinging, there is a loud buzzing alert that says you are within three miles of ending your forward motion.

Barney got there around 7, claiming that he “usually didn’t do stupid things” but blamed tiredness for his ending up parked in front of the two non-operating gas pumps at Fields Station.

Barney, 73, had retired – again – within the last few months. He said he had worked as a mercenary, a Ford engineer for 37 years, a marina maintenance man, in security and as a tow-truck driver for RVs.

He was on the road looking, he said, for a place where he could hunt, fish, settle down. And perhaps there was a need to find more. Last year was a tough one for Barney. His dog died, and then a month later, his wife of 21 years passed away.

“We came to Las Vegas and ended up staying there because she was sick. I’d get her medicines, take care of her and she could be impatient with me, giving me hell one minute but then hugging and loving me the next.”

He met her in a K-Mart where he had gone to buy ammo for a shoot with the military. He knew she was sick from the beginning: “I could hear her lungs cracking.” But she lived with failing lungs until January 2015. He could tell you the day and hour of her death as well.

“I heard my dog barking when she was dying.”

Would finding another woman be part of his search?

“No, I still have her inside me.”

Scott in the room next door was up early to greet our visitors. He’s a postal worker from the Portland area, in southeast Oregon on vacation to visit hot springs with his uncle, who lives nearby. When the station opened and we went in for breakfast, he pulled a map from a self and pointed out the many springs in the area.

I’ve got to go back and visit them. But after Barney bought us breakfast, I was on the road, headed for Las Vegas and the sevens rugby tournament this coming weekend, which is why this is still on my rugby blog and not over on jbsaulog where I have recorded previous travels.

We’ll be going there soon.