Inspired by a Trip to Vegas: 'I'll Fly Away'

Dan at the Grand Canyon

hide captionBPP Producer Dan Pashman at the Grand Canyon's North Rim.

Bryant Park Project producer Dan Pashman was out for a week on vacation. But does Dan ever truly stop working? He came back from his trip to the American Southwest with a sunburn, 35 story pitches, and the Best Song in the World Today:

I went out West with my wife Janie to visit Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the Grand Canyon last of the three, and we stayed at a lodge that's right on the North Rim.

We woke up every morning on the edge of the Grand Canyon, this mind-boggling work of nature, beautiful and massive, created over hundreds of millions of years with absolutely no human involvement whatsoever — just nature at work. On our last night, we went to a cookout where this husband and wife team, the Cochrans, performed. It's a long tradition — musicians coming to entertain tourists at the Grand Canyon, playing traditional American songs — and the Cochrans finished their set with the classic spiritual, "I'll Fly Away."

So the Grand Canyon was really nice. And the next day we left. Our flight home was out of Las Vegas, and for various logistical reasons, we planned to spend about 24 hours in Vegas before leaving. So we went from a place created entirely by nature over several hundred million years, to a place created entirely by humans in a geological instant.

Now, my wife and I aren't big Vegas people — we don't really like gambling or clubbing — but I got us a room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, which I heard has a man-made beach, and we love the beach. So, I figured after hiking nearly 40 miles around various canyons, drinking a beer on the beach wouldn't be so bad, right?

Just one problem: This was a Vegas beach.

That means techno music was blasting, the sand was strewn with trash, lounge chairs were crammed one on top of the other, and beers cost seven bucks.

A fight broke out at the pool, right next to us, between two hooligans, one of whom was wearing a "Buttweiser T-shirt," which proclaimed him the "King of Rears."

That night, we decided to go to an Italian restaurant in the hotel for dinner. It took us half an hour to find it, because they don't provide maps or directions at these places. Basically, they hope that you'll spend so much time wandering aimlessly, that you eventually lose all hope of eating and sit down at a slot machine. When we finally got to dinner, I ordered pasta, and it came so fast that it must have been microwaved. Water just doesn't boil that quickly.

After dinner, we skipped the gambling and headed to the roller coaster at the New York-New York Hotel, three hotels down the Strip. Simple, right?

Nope. Because there's no sidewalk on the Strip. That would allow you to walk in a straight line, which is the last thing they want. You have to go through the casinos. A day earlier we were hiking the Grand Canyon, now we were traversing the catacombs of King Tut's Luxor, the turrets of King Arthur's Excalibur, and a footbridge littered with MTV Spring Break castoffs.

We finally made it to New York-New York, and I will say this: the roller coaster was pretty great.

We eventually got back to our hotel, where we dropped a few bucks into a slot machine. My wife won $50 — awesome — and we decided to buck the most common Vegas trend of all, by walking away in the black. So, in the end we did find our own little slice of fun, I guess. But we were ready to head home.

The next day we were on the plane waiting to leave, when the pilot announced that our plane had too much weight on it to take off in the intense Vegas heat. Something to do with air pressure and mountains. He said some passengers would have to get off the plane.

I'm not sure how Delta failed to account for heat in Las Vegas in June, or how they failed to account for fat people in Las Vegas at any time of year, but they did. Fortunately my wife and I were not among the unlucky half dozen who got the boot, and as the plane finally lifted off from our own personal inferno, I plugged in my iPod and tried to transport myself back to those halcyon days at the rim of the Grand Canyon.

"I'll Fly Away" was written by Albert Brumley in 1929, and since then it's been covered by just about everyone. As Steve Goodman says, "This is the song that proves you don't have to know very much about Jesus to like spirituals." I'll go with the Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch version, off the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. This is "I'll Fly Away," the best song in the world today.

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