(Special Rough Draft, Pre-Edit Version, please forgive errors)
I’m in hour 29 of a reverse sensory deprivation jag brought on by discount travel packages and short trips backward and forward in time and reason. I took flight from the desert at 12:00 am Nevada time, hitting DC at 7:30, and have somehow convinced myself the best way to regain my equilibrium is to force myself awake for 48-ish hours. My fear being that if I take a little nappy-pooh, my internal clock will spin horribly awry and I’ll have to take the beer cooler lock-down shift at 7-11 and I look bad in smocks. So I want to spill this tale while I’m still juiced on Vegas time and geist. I’m no frequent traveler and that’s probably why this whole thing shook me, all I was looking for was an affordable vacation and what I wound up with was a minor, disturbing, not altogether unpleasant journey into the American belly. Others have excoriated Vegas, not without reason, but like kicking a dog those observations say more about kicker than the kickee. I’m not that guy. The only reaction to this nicotine fueled neon mess that’s “right” is laughter, sardonic perhaps, but laughter nonetheless. And if you’ve got a beef with a good chuckle, baby, you’re past hope.
But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? I’ve been laboring under a sysiphean debt (courtesy of an insane harpy, but compared to continued interaction, I got off cheap) for a little under ten years, and it has pretty much kept me out of the amusement travel game throughout that time. Last week a convergence of three things, the pending retirement of the debt, a week off, and a profound desire to celebrate the pending retirement of debt got me all itchy to join the world of vacationers. I hopped on Expedia.com and just started randomly plugging in destinations I’d thought about visiting, the cool ones like Amsterdam and Paris were a little pricey for spur of the moment bolting, then I thought of my friend Todd who the week before had emigrated to the desert. Boom, there it was, round trip, car and hotel for four nights for a grand. Perfect. Had to grab some luggage, swim trunks and sunglasses and I was jazzed. Not so much about going to Nevada, just about going, and being gone.
August 11, 6:00 am DC
Cut the alarm and hop to, shower, shave, score some coffee and strap on my vacation sandals. The cab driver is a little late, not much but I’m ancy, so I buzz Red Top and am assured he’s in transit. Can’t tell if he’s Indian or Pakistani, and I don’t risk the guess given dense animus the wrong one could engender. As we cruise past the Iwo Jima and Arlington Cemetery I give a mental salute of respect and thanks to my father and his fellow soldiers for dropping the hammer, and freeing me to get fat and happy in a country where my biggest problem is traffic. The skyline of DC looks peaceful reflected on the Potomac, the brilliant sunrise back-lighting the manifestation of our higher dreams, human scaled. Arriving at National I’m reminded of how lunkheaded and ham-fisted renaming it “Ronald Reagan National Airport” was. Hey, I liked the guy too, but you don’t see me naming my apartment after him. Congress, damn tourists. The cabby drops me at the America West gate, we part with a smile, his perfunctory mine demented from anticipation. Arriving two hours early may well be the judicious route in the current climate of security consciousness, but lemme’ tell ya’, when it only takes ten minutes from check-in to gate it makes you wonder. I check the terminal out for the kitties; a little early morning flirt might distract from the grinding boredom, but no luck. I content myself with some observation and java, till the 8:30 lock-down. The Airbus is as comfy as these tall man torture chambers can be, I don’t have to duck walking to my seat, my knees don’t touch the seat in front of me, but the armrests do make themselves known. The attendant asks me to do a little Chinese fire-drill so some guys can be next to their wives, then I pull out Chandler’s “The Little Sister” and do my best to zone out the next four and a half hours.
Aug 11, 10:27am McCarran International Airport (LAS)
Jesus, this place is nuts. Sunday must be a big blast off day, cuz’ the joint is packed, and the slots are humming. If you’ve got a beef with legalized gambling, you sure as hell won’t find fellow travelers here, can’t tell if these slot monkeys are trying to break even before they split or get a jump on the big winnings to come. Supposed to meet Todd at the gate, but I’ve got that vibe that he’s not going to make it. I hang for awhile at the security check-point, but I’m not full of hope, the Ellis Island mass yearning to be free stretches beyond my field of vision and the sight lines suck. I cross my fingers and hope he’s savvy enough to check the America West baggage claim area, and slip into the flesh current flowing to the escalators. Hanging at the turnstile I become aware of the women, it’s subtle at first, like the gin in a gin and tonic. At first I ignore the spectacle, assuming my long flight has made me overly receptive to any form of beauty. A particularly bodacious blond drives it home; this place is packed with kitties, of every race, class and taste. Ranging from cute to pretty to lovely to gorgeous (the six foot redhead on the cell) to hot to HOT. Park Avenue to trailer park, Bombay to Bangkok. I also notice the men, sure there are some meat muffins, but for the most part (with the exception of the Japanese guys) the men don’t create a visual balance for the estrogen. The men, on first blush, fall into four camps irrespective of age: biker, greasy, grandpa, post-grad frat boy. The only thing on their side is they outnumber the women two-to-one, however I doubt that’s the particular victory they’re looking for. But I got no time to ogle or dawdle, I’m still trying to keep myself visible to the greatest area in the off chance Todd shows up, and the bags are dropping. One of the many benefits of being a big man (fitting comfortably on mass transportation not one of them) is that if you adopt a certain physical attitude people don’t bump or jostle, you get a nice little halo of space around you. Just right for things like getting your bags. I score my case, and go to the courtesy phone to page Todd one last time. Nothing. Well, can’t stay here all day, and for some reason my freshly charged phone is beeping low battery so don’t want to burn what’s left. I hit the exit for the shuttles, and am treated to my first blast of desert air, and mixed with diesel it makes quite an impact. I’m again rattled by the sheer number of humans, pressing and pushing, trying to win some secret race. I’m on vacation baby, I got all the time in the world, and if I ain’t gettin’ paid I ain’t hustling. The Alamo bus gives me my first taste of the importance of AC in this blast furnace of a city, and it feels good. The rental process goes smoothly, with the exception of the bitter old info lady I bum a pen off of, there’s no grin comin’ out of here today. In response to her query I tell her I’m from VA, she rolls her eyes and says, “I know all about Virginia, my daughter lives near Richmond, can’t stand the weather. I need it dry.” I just nod and grin and wonder what makes living in this beef-jerky smoker of a town so appealing. I ring Todd’s apartment from the pay phone, get the machine and let him know I’m rolling and will be in touch later. The Mitsubishi Eclipse is as nondescript as a car can get, but I fit behind the wheel and that’s all that matters and I’m gone.
August 11, 11:45 am, The Strip
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it’s just what I expected. I just kind of drove up The Strip and let the town soak into my senses, and not for the last time, I have the feeling I’ve been here before. Vegas is so hard-wired into American media culture, like New York or LA, that you “know” Vegas by the time you’re 10 and take it for granted from then on. My first jolt of Indianapolis was more “interesting” than this cruise up the strip, it was far more foreign, and after two years it remained foreign. But as I moved past the Aladdin and into the belly I get my first inkling of why it’s pointless to disdain Vegas, I’m grinning and I don’t know why. Like a homeless guy with disarming charm and humor putting the bite on you, this place makes an art of unpretentious pretension, or is that the other way round? Swarming masses of the lumpen proletariat surge like blood through concrete arteries, traffic is thick and I’m moving slow, but I’ve found a speed metal station on the radio and all seems right. Being a man, I haven’t bothered to call and see when I can check-in, I just assume it’s around 3:00 pm and “plan” accordingly. My “plan” was represented by a loose concept of driving around, seeing the “sights” till I was able to contact Todd and make sure all was cool and that nothing more horrible than lateness caused the missed connection. Once you get passed Stratosphere (a Space Needle knock-off) you’re into a hard-core district of strip joints and wiry sun-baked bums, tough looking cookies without the heroin glaze of the east, I get a blast of discomfort. The billboards evince a ferocious pride in the nudity of the strippers, you’ll see chicks and they’ll be NAKED, must play big with the boys struggling under the tyranny of the pasty-and-g-string jackboot. I’m drifting down a seriously dull corridor of concrete that appears to be “downtown” Las Vegas, and I keep drifting, there’s nothing here to see. Around 1:00 pm I find myself in a rough part of outskirt, and clock on nirvana, 7-11 baby. I get a perfect pull of Slurpee (Coke and Cherry, mixed not stirred), and notice I’m once again surrounded by slot machines and the hard, hollow eyes of men too young to look so old. And ice ain’t free, Chico, there must be eight hand scrawled notes to that effect, and to put a fine point on it the guy in front of me is buying a 40 of the Bull and a Coleman of ice (25 cents). I hop in the car and try to milk a call out of my cell’s battery, and as I talk into the machine again, and unfamiliar voice picks up and hands the phone to Todd. He got a late start and took a wrong turn, and since he’s only been in town a week, I really can’t blame him. We decide to hook up at the Bellagio, he’s always wanted to see it and I just watched “Oceans 11”, so it fit.
August 11, 2:30 pm, The Bellagio
Thank God for valets and free parking, after being knotted up in the traffic fist of The Strip, the last thing I wanted was spelunking my way out of a cavernous garage. The entrance is opulent and massive, huge revolving doors expel and inhale human cells like heart valves, and I enter my first casino. The impression of duality that’s been an amorphous shadow in my lizard brain is distilled upon entering, this is the most expensive cheap place I’ve ever been, it’s like it was built with demolition in mind. I touch surfaces that appear to be stone, or wood, or marble and to the touch they’re all composite materials. Like a bald, flat-chested woman decked out in a great wig and those silicone, bra-stuffer funbags they sell at Victoria’s Secret it’s like a visual bait-n-switch. The mistake is in the touching. I see my dear friend crossing the vast lobby beneath the canopy of garishly colored glass flowers, an ill-conceived and well-executed art installation, and it’s good to see his face. We bum around the casino, talk the talk of old friends, and take in the scene. These babies go on forever, blackjack, roulette, baccarat, keno, the omni-present slots and smoke. This is one smoky town; being an ex-smoker I can see why, smoking and tedium are passionate lovers. And if I was working a slot, a pack of Camels would be the second thing I’d look for, right after the black jacketed, heavily cleavaged cocktail waitress. Todd suggests hitting the Bellagio’s much touted art gallery, which coming from a city of museums doesn’t really jolt, but I shrug and go. The ticket booth is underwhelming, it looks more like a clean, pre-Gulliani Times Square peep-show entrance than a gallery, we bail. We’re both starving, and after some wandering settle on what looks like the main restaurant, it certainly has the longest line. We’re seated in an airplane hanger of a restaurant, very full, very cheesy but the forks look first class. I get my first taste of Vegas pricing, the slightly overpriced for the slightly under-classed my twelve dollar burger tastes strangely like a six dollar burger, but I’m on vacation. I’ve been fantasizing about sitting by the pool and having a drink for the past week, I’m not sure why this was my central thematic vision, but when these bugs get into my head I’ve learned to let them burrow. We pay our bill, and as we split, pass a terribly handsome young couple in full wedding plumage having their formal portrait taken in front of the main fountain. Todd says some congratulations to the puffed-up father standing just out of camera, he thanks him and the pride that beamed out of his eyes was infectious. I glance back at the couple; their smiles are a mixture of pure joy and dream, very real emotion in a very fake, very overwrought space. We head back to the lobby and into the heat.
August 11, 5:45 pm Aladdin check-in
I lose Todd heading into the pipe, I go valet, he goes self-park. I don’t think about it till I realize we never mentioned a meeting place, but he’s a bright man and the serpentine line of humanity at the desk tells me I’ll be easy to find for the next thirty minutes or so. It’s a veritable UN of revelers in line, every race and creed, every face a smile. Very little bitterness around here, this is the starting gate, fun’s gonna’ be had and fortunes won, even if it kills ’em. My desk lady is an amazing mix of perky and efficient, and she wants me to have a good time dammit and she’ll do what it takes to make it happen, these people rock. Takes Todd another 15 minutes to track me down and we head through the casino to the elevators, the Aladdin is a bit giddier in it’s presentation than the Bellagio, I dig it. The suite is most excellent, pool view, bathroom bigger than my apartment bedroom, and the faucets are little silver “lamps”, what’s not to like? We trunk up, and head for my tiny dream, sun, water and booze. My dream comes true. Looming over the sparkling water and well oiled skin, just beyond the faux minarets of the pool wall, was a gaudy sheet metal hot air balloon (the old fashioned kind, like in “The Wizard of Oz”, I have a vague memory it’s associated with a French cat named Rozier) emblazoned with the work “Paris” and a maxi-mini Eiffel tower. I howled with laughter and toasted the city with Todd. Our “hostess” was Hannah, a cute little morsel from Wales, bleached and tanned to Californian perfection, in a blue bikini top that had it’s work cut out for it. There’s an amazing spectacle of breast enhancement surgery, and I mean that in a good way, in a sweet little suit frolicking with her girlfriend and a male companion directly across from us. Todd and I linger on the sight, debate the sexuality of the male in a bout of wishful thinking that he may be “just a friend”, for about an hour and head back for some grub. The thing that took Todd so long to find me at check-in was that the parking lot opened into something called “Desert Passage”, a labyrinth of shops that circumnavigates the Aladdin. And after we entered, I saw what slowed him down, this thing was huge and the vague curve made it seem endless. And on top of the size, was a truly jaw-dropping architectural gag that you were walking down some “Arabian nights” bazaar complete with trompe l’oeil “sky”. The effect was hallucinatory, and I again found myself laughing, not for the last time the question “what the hell is this?” ran though my mind. Todd asks the interesting question “So, if you’re from the Middle East and you’re walking through this, what’s your reaction? ‘Hey, it’s like home?'”. We settle on the La Salsa Cantina, mostly due to the two-story neon margarita, a successful lure after the heat by the pool. The icy drink hits the spot, and we witness the parade of low slung jeans and tight, thin t-shirts with nodding approval. Strange couplings everywhere, the obese bald-faced man-boy and crazy-hot brunette stood out, “she’s gotta’ be a hooker” I blurt trying to make myself feel better in the face of such cosmic mocking. The drinks and jet lag begin to catch up with me, and after some more wandering and gawking, I bid Todd a goodnight and get lost in the casino looking for the elevator. I’m toasted, but try to stay awake to reset my body clock, I watch Aladdin info-mercials about services I have no intention of availing myself of, turn on the too dim lamp, read about two words and hit the wall at about midnight Vegas time.
August 12, 5:00 am, Casino Walk (part 1)
Well, guess the body clock reset is a bust, I lay in the bed trying to will myself to sleep. No dice. I meditate on the “why” of this place, let’s face it, it’s cheap, tacky, banal and inelegant. Yet it’s infectious, like the strippers, it’s naked. The ambition, the greed, the lust for easy cash, well, the lust in general mine included. Naked. It’s not about what Vegas is, it’s about what the homes of these travelers is not. You gotta’ want to get out, disappear, escape something soul grinding, for Vegas to work it’s full mojo on you. You can have fun and a good time if you’re happy, but if you’re dead-ending, it’s like going to a temple. What the hell am I thinking? This is just gibberish, the ranting of a mind trying to grasp smoke. Well, I’ve looked at the clock about 40 times, and my ruminations have yielded nothing of value. Shave, shower, sun block and slap on the sandals, grab the disposable camera and head out for a little exploration. It’s 6:30 am, the casino holds a few die-hards and new arrivals, it’s easy to tell them apart. I grab a latte at Starbucks, and slip out to Las Vegas Blvd. I head south, turning left at the Bellagio’s funky escalator/triumphal arch, and into somebody else’s dream. Sun’s coming up, and out here, you know it. First up, a giant clown head at the Boardwalk signals what I’m in for, not to mention the disembodied “psychic” Natasha in a glass case. The clown head has cracks on his white bald noggin that look a lot like varicose veins, I gotta’ keep moving. The fountains and Italianate statuary in front of Monte Carlo is wet and polyurethane composite, remember to squint and don’t touch, it’s better that way. I don’t know what the New York, New York people were thinking when they were cutting the checks, this is just wrong. I mean, sure, it’s a spectacular recreation of another city’s imagined skyline, but it’s like putting a Godiva wrapper on a Snickers. Then, there’s the Excalibur, sort of a cross between Disney and Arthurian legend, sifted through a dinner theater production of Camelot. The red, blue and gold upside-down ice cream cone architecture just doesn’t pull off the fantasy. Now, the Luxor is a different story, this is makes a nutty statement that deserves to be heard. The sphinx and obelisk out front are appropriately lunatic, and the black glass pyramid is a simple, cool riff on a classic form. But like much of Vegas, the Luxor needs darkness to live, the bolt of white light shot from the apex and the twinkly landing strip lights that run down the edges are like a comic book villains lair. And as an added bonus, it’s got the Blue Man Group. It rocks. Then you’ve got your Mandalay Bay, and if I didn’t have pictures I’d have forgotten it already, it’s big, shiny and has palm trees. It feels like they ran out of other cultures to rip off and said “ah, forget it, just put up a big hotel, they’ll come anyway”. I keep heading south for a way, but my dogs are starting the low throb and my belly’s giving me the hairy eyeball. When I cross the street, I spot a lonely billboard in a vacant lot, “Microsurgical Vasectomy Reversal, Money-Back Guarantee”. Again, I howl, the melodramatic domestic scenarios conjured by these simple words would fill a sweeps week on Lifetime. I turn and am confronted by the Happi Inn Motel, complete with an in-house psychic, and wonder why the Aladdin hasn’t got an in-house psychic, but keep moving.
August 12, 8:48 am, Breakfast at Denny’s
I’m a big man with a big hunger, and baby, there’s nothing like Denny’s to solve that ugly situation. I grab a copy of the Las Vegas Review-Journal from the box, and sweating like a farm animal, ready to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi. The joint is jumping and as I wait to be seated, and am passed by a vision of such beauty she seems unreal, tall in red tank and simple grey stretch pants she looks like an athletic seraph. I shake my head, and try to settle down, after the aesthetic and visual nightmare I just walked through real beauty is almost disturbing. No table for Johnny, I’m escorted to the counter. There she is, I have a choice between the seat next to her or one further down next to ululating children, I choose her. I try, as best a six-four man with a backpack can, to subtly slide in-between my angel and some guy I’d forgotten before he left. Subtle was outside of my grasp, I rattled and limbo-ed onto my stool, and plopped the paper in front of me. I try to focus on the menu, but it’s pointless, all of my mental energy is focused through my peripheral vision, her fingers lightly holding the spoon stirring her tea the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen. If I don’t engage this woman I’ll kill myself in the near future, so I blurt out “Pretty toasty outside, and how are you this morning?” like a retard. She says “fine” in a tone that indicates further conversation would be preferable to having her nails torn out, but little more, polite but vaguely horrified. I grin and as my ego collapses, order the “All-American Slam”. Her fingers work her knife, spreading the contents of the plastic tub of jelly across her toast, in a way that wasn’t American. Too elegant, too delicate, too civilized. And when she started to dunk her toast in her tea, bringing it to her lips in a deft arc, I figured her for a Brit. I tried to make my body English as open and nonthreatening as I can, as I sucked down my cup of joe like a dockworker. An eternity later, she asked if I was from the area, and would I know if there’s an Internet cafe in the area? Her voice, I won’t bother trying to describe it, believe me if you’re a male you’ve imagined this voice. I tried to force air into my lungs, vital for conversation, and said sadly no, I’m just visiting. She was a French woman, teaching French, in Australia and in town for the wedding of her friend. At Denny’s to avoid rattling her friends out of the sack too early. We chatted for what felt like hours, but only about 30 minutes, I can’t recall a conversation I’ve enjoyed more. I impressed myself in an attempt to impress her with this observation; “Do you know what Vegas is? It’s the expression of raw ambition, primal energy and avarice uninformed by imagination. The quintessential American expression of will over reality.” I wanted to spend the rest of my vacation with this charming, witty and lovely woman, perhaps longer than that, but I couldn’t drum up a viable reason to insinuate myself into her friends wedding, and resigned myself to a special moment. As she left, I imagined I saw a wistful look in her eye, but I imagine lots of stuff. She’s been on my mind, a lot, since she pushed those doors. Well, enough of this fruity interlude time to re-enter the beast.
August 12, 9:30 am, Casino Walk (part 2)
I pout at my loss as I pass the Tropicana, there’s some dude crawling on his hands and knees on the grass behind the bus stop. I’m too far away to figure it out; he’s on the bus before I get close. The Trop looks old school and anachronistic in this sea of cartoon-ish culture raping, simply a resort hotel with gambling and topless Folies Bergere girls at 10. I kind of like it, but I’m here for the freak show, so I push on. A hotel worker clutches his head in silent despair at the bus stop, reminds me real people live here, people who care about the job. Hope it works out for him. At random intervals, the intersections of The Strip are blocked from pedestrian traffic, and you’re detoured to little overpasses that just so happen to dump you into a casino. Such is the case at Tropicana Ave. and Las Vegas Blvd., but I’m kind of impressed by the hammered bronze (probably plastic, but I’m getting into the mood) sculpture of Leo the Lion in front of the MGM Grand, so I drop in for a visit. This place rocks, good interior better air-conditioning, there appears to be some kind of wild life glass enclosure mixed into the shopping area, but no beast to be seen. I cruise the casino but it looks like all the others, same slot monkeys, same blue smoke haze, just a little more coherent. I bust past the Aladdin to Paris; this place is the ultimate expression of the “Godiva wrapper on a Snickers mistake paradigm”, architectural flight of fancy cut low by its real purpose. Let’s face it, what building can compete with flashing, dinging boxes named “Frog Wild” and “Slingo”? I pass out the heavy doors into the convection oven of the day to find more. Bally’s is more of the same, gloss on an ugly pair of lips. In the Barbary Coast I find the real deal, a casino built to be a casino. Low ceilings, dark and focused on gambling. I don’t see no damn boutiques, no animal cages, no glass flowers. No, I see a big rectangle of darkness, low ceilings and greed, I love it. The pit boss is a bald guy who looks like he could slice me into a tuna roll without breaking a sweat, wish I could buy him a drink. But I’m looking for things I won’t find, and the pool calls my name, mustn’t tarry. I’m curious, but I’m on vacation, baby. I plow through the Flamingo and Harrah’s only to be confronted by The Venetian. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, what the hell is this? It’s like the Medici’s cross-dressing, crystal meth addled nephew’s summerhouse, but with less class. I wander though and wonder “how did shopping become a family attraction?” That’s been bugging me for the last few hours, who would bring a kid to this bordello of a city? I’ve seen hundreds of kids, and as far as I can tell they’ve got a water park, two roller coasters and a bunch of perfume and knickknack shops to hang in. Philip Morris must be giving out coupons. I’m growing weary, both my legs and my nerves, I give up the quest to explore The Strip in its entirety, and cross the elevated walkway to Treasure Island. Mostly because I like the whole pirate, skull-and-crossed-sword facade, and this is a logical place to turn back. I stand and stare at the grinning skull, then the “port” that makes up the front of the place, but lose interest before I enter the casino. Any place that so openly uses the iconography of thieves and killers as it’s “hook”, may simply be too honest for me. I scurry over to The Mirage, and almost immediately regret my decision not to trust the pirates. The Mirage is the home of Siegfried and Roy, and I’ve seen those dudes on the tube and they seem like nice flamboyant entertainers, but there’s something creepy about the whole lion tamer thing. I’ve never liked the notion of simply breaking the will to kill out of predators, it’s just sad, like the guy down the street dreaming of reversing his vasectomy. The complex is handsome enough, and it’s obviously popular with the visitors, but I think the numbing similarity of one pit after another has begun to cripple my observational skills. As I’m leaving I see a bunch of yokels crowded to another glass enclosure, and snuggle in to see what’s what. There’s an awesome white tiger in one of those “habitats” that seem more like hotel pools than the Serengeti he looks bored and pissed, and having spent a long time on an aircraft I know how he feels. There’s living, and there’s not being dead, and this proud and powerful cat knows the difference. As I turn to go, he lifts his tail and lets loose a massive into the pool, the crowd giggles and titters and I just walk. I’ll never top the simplicity and precision of the cat’s commentary. They’re building some Coliseum looking structure on the grounds of Caesar’s Palace, and as I cut to avoid it I walk across a patch of grass so soft and lush I think I know why that guy was crawling around back at the Tropicana, cuz’ it just feels good. I pass by a “sculpture” of Caesar, and I wonder, even at the height of the Roman Empire, did they pull in anywhere near the coin this factory makes in a year? Probably, but I bet it cost them plenty in horses and soldiers. I’m getting delirious from the heat, bodies and deja vu created by entering wildly disparate buildings with identical purposes. It’s like a street full of drug stores decked out to look like missile silos. I shake it off and trudge. Enough of this, I’m rattled and need to toast my flesh in a more organized fashion. Hannah, baby, here I come.
August 12, 1:30 PM, Aladdin Swimming Pool
Oh God this feels good. I’m saddened to see Hannah isn’t here, but Kitty is doing a find job pumping me with Tidal Waves. They don’t taste particularly good, but they’re blue, and for some reason that wins the day. Oh, and they pack a wallop. Unbeknownst to me, I’m on my way to a sixty-dollar bar tab, and it’s a fine trip. Nevada in August appears to be a straightforward proposition, it’s hot, the sun comes up, it gets hotter. But if you’ve paid money to fly into a desert, you’d best not be complaining about the heat. A lithe little beauty stretches her well formed limbs on the chaise next to me and I think the day’s looking up. She’s open, chatty and delightful, so I assume (it turns out, correctly) that she’s married. Ileana’s from Ohio, she sells real estate for developers and digs it. Her hubby is up in their room, enduring a web conference; it’s like his penance for vacationing. We chat and drink, my eyes surf the powerful sea of skin, and not a single one is un-coupled. And that’s just fine by me baby, I’m pool-side, I haven’t engaged a computer for two days, my tongue is blue and I’ve got a big grin on my yap. Rocco (Ileana’s Mr.) strolls out an hour later and he’s an engaging cat. A lawyer in the big O, I’m shocked to learn he’s an Ohio native, he’s got NY tattooed all over him. I clock onto a European (I hope) guy in a micro speedo, and if there was ever an argument for nudity, it’s a fat boy in a speedo. I grab my drink and hop in the pool, Rocco and I discuss the finer points of the Simpsons, Kitty brings another Wave. These guys don’t run a tab, and they’re very good about snagging the empties, so I’m at a loss as to how much I’ve been drinking. All I know, is I’m unaware of the passage of time, and I’m waxing mentor to Amy who’s since joined us by the pool, about her career path. I certainly hope she was aware to disregard anything I was babbling. Like describing the taste of chocolate, or the perfect kiss, it’s really pointless to try explaining the bliss I was experiencing. I was free of deadlines, time was an abstraction due to the jet lag, my fingers were wrinkling, as was my brain.
August 12, 5:15 PM, Aladdin Room 873, bathtub
I’m sooooooo toasted. I’m a lightweight with the booze, and I’m being reminded of that now as I sit here rubbing bath gel over my calves, washcloth hanging off my face. An absurd spectacle I’m glad isn’t captured on film. But the one thing about inebriation, it makes the most common of experiences unnaturally interesting. I’m in the tub for thirty minutes or so, mostly because I fit and I want to take advantage of a bathtub I fit into. I’ll have to get me one of these the next time I buy a house. I spend another thirty minutes in the very nice shower, I feel kind of guilty abusing water in such an arid climate, but not guilty enough to turn the handle. But all the primping and shaving and oiling doesn’t mask my utter annihilation. I’m supposed to meet Todd tonight, it ain’t gonna’ happen. Need food. I figure a big drunk will go virtually unnoticed in this joint, so I’m free of inhibition as I stagger to the elevator, the three dimensional flying carpet pattern of the rugs is more of a challenge than I thought. I have no idea what the name of this lobby restaurant is, it certainly has a nutty mix of cuisine, I settle on some pot stickers and a chicken penne. I realize I’ve blown my game-plan to party when the city was in full swing, it’s six-thirty and if I go face down I’m not coming up. I push it a little further, get back to the room and fall akimbo on the bed. The ringing of the phone is unreal, I think it’s my cell and after a moment of fumbling, I grab the receiver. It’s Todd and thank god he’s not into it tonight either, had a long day, we’ll hook up before I blast off tomorrow. I sleep the sleep of the damned, still grinning.
August 13, 3:30 am, Aladdin Room 873
Well, this ain’t right, three-thirty and I’m wide-awake. Still a little groggy from the Tidal Waves, but I’m not asleep and I won’t be any time soon. I hop up, bag a quick shower, and slip into my all-black Vegas suit. I hit The Strip to see what Vegas at 4:00 am has to offer, I figure something must be happening in this much vaunted 24-7 fun engine. I’ll tell you this; large people like to walk the streets early, may be trying to avoid the heat of the day. Lots of waddling going on, reminds me I better watch the calories when I get back. It’s a lonely vibe on the street, some workers, some drunks but the vastness makes your aware of yourself by yourself. I notice the fake Arch de Triumph at Paris for the first time, how’d I miss that mother? I cruise the Paris casino and it’s sparsely populate, in fact, I realize that since I’ve been here I haven’t seen these things packed and hopping, and lament my inability to manage the sleep thing. I wanted the full bore freak show this place promises, but you gotta’ time it right. I score an eye-opener from the hottie in the cute little blue gendarme outfit, her smile is like an early sunrise, and though I promise not to resist she declines my arrest. Meow. She reminds me that in a city driven by fantasy, it’s tough to cast the supporting players. All of these places have cute little outfits, some sexy, for the wait staff to inhabit. And of those inhabitants, only about forty percent really pull it off, some of them are downright matronly and nothing blows a fantasy than thinking of your Mom shilling booze and chips in a casino. Go to Bally’s and return to the Aladdin, my dreams of a happening are dead, I overslept the city that doesn’t stop. I look at the few hangers on at the blackjack tables, eyes swollen from booze and smoke. The rattle of metal on metal rings behind me, grandma’s scooping the booty into the plastic big-gulp cup. I dawns on me that I’ve got a midnight flight coming up, and waking up at three-thirty may take me over the edge of sanity. I return to my room and keep my eyes closed, it’s not sleep, but it is rest. The sun rises and so do I.
August 13, 10:00 am, The Valley of Fire and the last of the day
I’m zooming up Rt. 15 North, heading for a national park called the Valley of Fire. I think I’ve had enough of The Strip for this trip, need to break the dark spell cast by the artifice and human desperation. I pull off to grab a bite and some bottles of water, and am delighted to see they have taco’s at Burger King, regional difference is getting harder and harder to find. Four boys, ten or twelve years old, are in front of me and they’re working the burger girl like a coed in Paris. These boys are smooth. I’m guessing they’re Mexican-American, they switch back and forth from Spanish to English like I breath, and they possess more confidence and swagger than I’ll ever hope to have. Good lookers, smooth patter, these boys own this Burger King. Again I’m smiling; this place just does it. I drive and chow, drive and chow, there ain’t nothing but desert to see. And it’s not particularly attractive desert, just looks hot, hard and dangerous. And I think of the people who settled this land, where they nuts, this isn’t a living space it’s a dare from nature. And what made them take the dare? It’s beyond me baby, I crank the AC up a notch. The road into the V.O.F. also takes you to Lake Mead, and I tinker with the notion of doing them both, but dismiss it in favor of one last pool jaunt. A man’s gotta’ have his priorities. I drop my five bucks at the ranger’s booth, and kick up some dust heading down. The Valley is suitably impressive, sandstone blasted by itself reduced to particles, and the color of Virginia clay. I putz around, take all the turn-offs to see more rocks further away, take a half mile hike to see some Indian pictographs. The silence like being submerged in still water. I run into a nice couple from New York, handsome black man and pretty blonde, she points down the trail and asks “is it worth it?” “How bad you want to see pictographs?” I reply. She says, “I get it, thanks.” Her husband gives me a little wink of thanks. Only takes about two hours to “do” the Valley, and I think that if I was a Vegas entrepreneur asking God for “a little nature thing for the day trippers, you know, like a valley or mesa vibe, nothing crazy, don’t want competition, but don’t want ’em feelin’ trapped. What d’ya say, Big G? Got something for me?” Valley of Fire, baby, V.O.F. I take the obligatory snap shots, I sweat, I drive, I main line H2O. Driving back I get a jolt of sadness that it’s coming to an end, but know that there’s little more than more of the same if I were to stay. Hanna’s back at the pool, I have her get me a Tidal Wave, for old time sake. I notice a white blonde in black knit bikini, she’s got that Grace Kelly vibe, I like it. She lingers midway into the pool, slowly putting her hair back in a clip, nothing as pretty as a woman fiddling with the back of her hair. A graceful pose. I let my mind wander to the mundane facts of leaving, need to shower and pack, checkout. Meet Todd for dinner at the Outback, get a jolt of suburban LV, and bust a move for the airport. I get my final, most potent dose of Vegas girls with the arrival of a couple of the most ridiculously hot kitties ever stuffed into bathing suits. The brunette, if seen in isolation, would be a labyrinth of beauty you wouldn’t try escaping. But next to her friend, she looked like a boy. The blonde wasn’t a women, she was a totem. About six feet, blonde hair swept into a casual bun, long perfectly articulated limbs covered with soft smooth skin that looked flavored. I almost laugh aloud; it was like a helicopter landed in the pool. And her body-oiling act was brilliantly choreographed for highest effect, I’ve seen all I need to see, I pack up and head out. I smile as I pass her and say “thanks”, she just smiles back and waves bye.
Vegas, baby, Vegas.