Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Sinks In Vegas, Stays In Vegas

I was asked to write about a memorable experience I had in Las Vegas. The thing about Vegas is that you can never go there and NOT have a memorable experience. The hard part was trying to narrow down my many trips over the years to the “best” one.

The most unforgettable time in Las Vegas wasn’t the time my ex got a royal flush on the draw poker machine and won thousands of dollars (what a thrill!); or the time when I met my friend, Michelle, who drove in from Colorado, for Elton John’s “Red Piano” concert. Great, GREAT time!

Hands down, the memory I will carry with me FOREVER was the time we sunk our SUV into Lake Mead and my now-teenager, who was only 8 months old at the time, almost drowned in the back seat.

True story.

One very hot day in July, we drove to Las Vegas from Orange County for a weekend of boating. We had just bought our boat a few weeks earlier and we were very inexperienced in the art of boat-launching. The ex’s friend, John, a veteran sailor, never showed up to help us launch, although we waited and waited for him, so the ex decided that we could handle it without John. By “we” I mean me, him and our 8-month-old daughter sipping sweetly on apple juice in the back seat of the car.

The line of cars waiting to launch boats was agonizingly long, and the 100+ temps were trying our patience. So the ex decides that he will launch the boat a little ways away from the main launch area, where it looked plenty deep. He was pretty pleased with himself that he had discovered a launch spot no one else seemed to know about. He put the car in reverse and backed the trailer into the water.

All of a sudden, the rear end of the car disappeared and the boat flew off the trailer. What we didn’t know at the time was that the pavement underneath the water had a dangerously steep drop-off, and the Parks and Rec Department was supposed to have blocked off that area weeks ago, but they never got around to it.

OK, so imagine you’re my husband, and you see your brand-new 22-ft. open-bow baby Mariah heading toward the rocks as your car is sinking, rear-end first, into Lake Mead, with your human baby in the back seat and your wife riding shotgun. What would you do? Hopefully, not what the ex did. He chose to save his BOAT! (And now you can understand why I divorced that man.) He panicked and jumped out of the driver’s seat and started swimming toward the rocks as fast as he could to rescue his new boat. Unfortunately, he forgot to put the car into “Park,” so when he jumped out, our SUV continued to roll backward.

Super Mama here, in the passenger seat, immediately leaped into the driver’s seat, put the car in drive and tried to reverse the inevitable calamity. By that time, the car had taken on a lot of water and the gas pedal was under about 2-3 feet of water, and wasn’t doing its job. We were sinking fast.

I did the only thing left for a mother to do. I spun around toward the back seat to save my baby, who by then, had water up to her knees. I pounded on the car seat’s release button, which, thank God, was working perfectly and yanked my daughter out of the back seat. I then screamed to my husband, “Help us!” who finally realized that maybe he should be more concerned about his family drowning than his new boat picking up a few scratches.

By then, a crowd had formed on the dock and I heard a woman scream, “There’s a baby in there!!”

The ex swam back to the car and arrived just in time for me to pass our baby daughter to him through the window (which, thank GAWD, I had rolled down right before this fiasco). I grabbed my purse, popped out the portable CD player, and had seconds to swim out the window before the car was completely submerged in water.

I stood dripping wet on the dock with a death grip on my baby daughter. I stared, unbelieving, at our red SUV at the bottom of Lake Mead, thinking, “What if I hadn’t rolled that window down? What if my daughter’s car seat buckle had jammed? What if . . .?” Shaking and crying from post-traumatic stress, I was barely a shadow of my former brave self, the one who had acted quickly and calmly during a life-and-death crisis less than five minutes ago.

The Parks and Rec ranger drove us to the Las Vegas Hilton where we had reservations. A few good Samaritans down at the lake had helped the ex retrieve our water-logged bags from the back of our submerged SUV. We looked odd and rather comical standing in the lobby of the Hilton, three wet rats holding suitcases filled with water. People stared. I imagined fish tumbling out of our bags.

This story ends with a plug for the Las Vegas Hilton. I wanted everyone to know how nice the staff was to us that day. They went out of their way to dry our tears and our clothes. Housekeeping washed all our lake-soaked clothing in the hotel’s laundry facility, and returned them to us pressed and folded. What’s more, the Hilton upgraded us to a bigger suite because they wanted us to relax and forget about the near-drowning incident. It kind of worked. Especially the complimentary champagne and cheese tray that was delivered by room service.

But obviously, I haven’t forgotten about it, and I never will. More than a decade later, I still feel that panic. I still wonder what would have happened had I not rolled down the automatic windows just minutes before to cool off my hot baby in the back seat.

I look at her now, my baby, nearly Sweet 16, and I am dearly grateful for happy, dry endings.

This is a TravelingMom dedicated post.

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