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Work of Art — It’s a shared experience

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By Art Trujillo

Something clicks when people are faced with a kind of commonality that matters. The flooding in Las Vegas proves  that such is true.

Let me explain:

I first noticed this we-have-something-in-common phenomenon when I was a few years younger and a student at the University of Missouri. The Columbia campus is so spread out that a bicycle becomes the main means of transportation.

Have a car? Forget it! Some dormitories are a mile from the classrooms.

So, I got used to riding my bike. The many miles I clocked convinced me that other bikers felt as I did: Riding is not for pleasure, and we don’t generally acknowledge one another as we pedal.

In the summer, Columbia is like one of Dante’s rings in The Inferno. It’s far worse than even the hottest day here, and it’s humid. On the rare occasion that we had rain, it came down out of nowhere and with a vengeance.

The tiniest cloudburst created a sea of drenched bicycle riders. The 10-speed bikes of that era lacked fenders, meaning that moisture the tires picked up immediately was transferred to our backs. I met a coed on a narrow street who gave me a kind of acknowledgement that said, “I know what you’ve been through. I just got soaked myself.”

Soon, I’d give the certain look or make a certain gesture that conveyed the message that I knew what other students had been experiencing, dodging potholes and trying to unfold umbrellas.

We all had that in common.

It’s amazing how that unspoken message — a wink, a nod, a shrug, a glower — got the attention of others. Had there been no rain, we bikers would have simply tooled on, unaware of one another.

That same feeling hit me as I arrived at the Bridge Street bridge Friday morning to take photos. It was Joseph Baca of Radio KFUN, who stirred everyone’s looky-loo curiosity by announcing the roaring of the Mighty Gallinas, as he took his pre-dawn constitutional.

What was it on Bridge Street that made everyone suddenly friendly, or at least willing to talk? Well, we all had something in common, that gee-whiz moment when we realize we’re standing atop an old bridge that hasn’t been put to such a test in 50 years.

The oh-my-gosh moment was also happening on Mills, where a policeman told me, “The integrity of the bridge is in question, so we’re not allowing anyone on the bridge.” Clearly there might have been thousands of gawkers, cell phones in hand, wanting to take a closeup of the riverbanks to email to their friends.

I probably wouldn’t have chatted with the throngs, but this occasion, the roar of a once-almost moribund river made it different.

The first person I saw was Artie Geoffrion, on Bridge Street and to whom I said, “You ought to put on swimming trunks and take a dive.” Next, I saw Cathy Stauber, whose wordless expression said she was debating whether to keep her nearby office open that day. And I saw Mike Trujillo, to whom I made the same, tired swim trunks suggestion. Muina Arthur was there, camera in hand.

And at the other bridges Friday and Saturday, I found dozens of people willing to chat about — what else? — the flood.

There was Manuel Benavidez surveying the trash that flowed along the cascading Gallinas at the Independence Street Bridge. Throughout the weekend, the curious kept arriving. I saw Dora Duran, Theresa Lucero, Tom Clayton, Vivian and Juan Arredondo, Phyllis Ludi and Susan West.

In cases like this — a flood, with the real possibility of devastation, injury and death — people automatically open up. We need no introduction, none of that “Hi. I’m Art...” pronouncement. We simply get to the point: “Have you ever seen anything like this?” “Did you hear that despite all this, Storrie Lake has gotten only three drops?”

It was a shared experience in that all of us who went for a close-up look at the raging current, willingly talked about it. We swapped stories. I became acquainted with Chris Duran and Stephanie Madrid, where El Camino Road meets Cinder Road. There was an abandoned car whose tires were visible when we arrived but was on the verge of flowing away by the time we left.

Ernest Gutierrez, who lives north of Cinder Road, said flooding might have been even worse near Montezuma. It seemed all day that people whom I know but really don’t know, became friendly once one of us broached the subject of — what else?

The irony of Friday’s activity rests in the deplorable drought conditions that existed as recently as June. It’s reminiscent of the prayer group who got their wish, but it rained so heavily that the people praying thought of asking the Lord “to take some of it back.”

The condition in early summer was so dire that in the field, where I often take walks, a couple of bushes fought over my dog.

Sharing experiences: It was enjoyable, an outing, an excuse to get out and visit. I saw Carol Johnson, Susie Mossman, Jody Stege, Officer Pam Sandoval and others. At the same time, I was aware of the many police, fire, rescue personnel and city workers and other first-responders whose otherwise relaxing weekend became something quite different.

And of course, the oft-repeated chorus, both in person and on social media, dealt with speculation over whether the erstwhile Storrie Puddle would once again become a lake.

Sean Weaver, director of University Relations at Highlands University, and a Facebook friend, asked, “OK, fellow Las Vegans: How many of us drove out to Storrie Lake today to check the water levels?”

Well, I did, hoping to see that Moby Dick had jumped in for a swim. I saw perceptible changes. Now that the diversion channel glitch is fixed, there’s a chance that the lake’s levels will rise appreciably.

It’s great to trap some of that water that’s been passing through our town.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to art@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.