Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Desert is Hot and Endless

Las Vegas is a place where adults want to act like children while maintaining their right to participate in very adult activities.  It’s basically an arcade that serves booze and continually offers the services of prostitutes.  Except in this arcade, you can lose your next five mortgage payments by the time it takes to get that elusive free drink from the cocktail waitress.  And that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?  Just dancing along the railing without a safety net while everyone cheers you on.

I don’t know why our hotel room was pink, but it was.

I managed to make it out of Vegas with a semblance of health, a fixable hole in my bank account, and an absence of self-loathing that might result from a blackout night turned into an uncomfortable and awkward morning next to a prostitute.  I’m going to thank my wonderful girlfriend for keeping me from losing all of my money and drinking until I melt since I was only unsupervised in the casino for a few hours which kept my poor choices at the roulette wheel from completely screwing me over.  The 50/50 chance of choosing red or black is too enticing when you have a handful of cash and no one to tell you to stop.  And apparently 50/50 is just not good enough odds for my poor decision making.

Our days were filled with a mixture of 15 dollar margaritas by the pool and trying to find a Dairy Queen while our nights were filled with a mixture of trying to find the loosest slots we could while also trying to find a punctual cocktail waitress.  The magic idea of legal public drinking (want to shotgun a beer on the sidewalk in front of a cop?  This is the place for you) kept us occupied and out of crippling debt. 

The downtown area (also known as “Old Vegas”), although considerably smaller, was a bit more our speed.  There were giant ziplines and music stages set up and lined with casinos, liquor stores, strip clubs, and street performers (we saw a guy exploiting his double-jointedness, but it has to be more than double-jointed that allows you to spine your hand in a complete circle, right?  Maybe quadruple-jointed or something).  There is a canopy covering the equivalent of four city blocks that is rigged for music-themed light shows that is very impressive while also being a little cheesy.  At least they jam Heart or maybe The Doors instead of Lady Gaga or something equally shitty. 

The prices were lower and the blackjack tables, only five dollars per hand, were where I learned that everything in a casino is ruled by the video cameras.

“You have to make either a big swipe or knock so the camera can see what you want.  Otherwise I’ll lose my job,” said a somewhat patient dealer as it became apparent that I had no idea what I was doing.

We eventually hopped back on the bus which basically stopped moving when we again reached the strip.  I don’t know who drives down Las Vegas Blvd at midnight on a Friday, but apparently it’s a big destination for a lot of people.  I imagine most travelers would be checked-in to their hotel by that time and the locals probably avoid the strip at all costs, so the only people left would have to be drunks returning to their side of town after hitting a whorehouse or the bail bondsman.  Either way, the bus was going slower than a wheelchair so we got out and walked back.

The other nights were a variation on this theme:  Gamble until the losing gets repetitive and then try to find a decent bite to eat before falling into the surprisingly comfortable hotel bed and trying not to think about bedbugs.

I have heard stories from friends of mine about the city, but I was still unprepared for a few things.  The first is how much walking it takes to get anywhere.  Even going two hotels over can take a half hour or more because crosswalks aren’t guaranteed, leaving you to crisscross on walking bridges or cut through hotels and their endless mazes called casinos.  The aggressive prostitution was also a bit of a shock.  The sidewalks are full of magazine stands advertising women as well as the people handing out what at first look like baseball cards, but instead of a dude with a glove there are naked women with tiny stars covering their nipples.  Of course, these are not collectibles but advertisements. 

Hunter Thompson said he went to Las Vegas to find the American Dream, and I think he was on the right track.  You might not be able to find it but there is still evidence that it’s out there, and it’s uglier than we might think.  This evidence is found in the man still at the blackjack table at eight in the morning wearing a face that looks like a transplant; or the group of women that are fat, but not so obese that they can’t stand yet they still rented the handicap scooters and are filling the length of a hallway; or the woman dressed as a cat that has been sitting in the 100 degree sun all day trying to make a few dollars from the palm fronds she has origamied into crosses and flowers.  There’s this mix of hopeful and desolate around you at all times while the city itself tries to convince you of its exceptionalness and constant wealth.  But, of course, they want you to see the wealth while keeping your grubby little fingers off of it.  And they perform this act of sleight of hand very well. 

But is that a bad thing?  I don’t really think so.  It would be easy to rail against the casinos for offering the possibility of instant wealth that someone on the lower side of the economic scale finds irresistible.  But I won’t do that.  Because I think this sense of hope is a good thing.  People might fantasize about winning big in the casino, but are we really heartbroken when it doesn’t happen?  We expect to walk out with a few hundred dollars less than we came with.  Ending up in the black at all is an accomplishment in itself.  And we don’t feel disappointed when we lose because it’s just the price to play.  Get your free drinks, play a game, and get the fuck out before you bet something you can’t afford to absorb.

1 comment:

  1. You're a superb writer and your stories are dazzling diamonds in a inoculated, cold, one sided and bleak world. Please keep writing, it helps to know there is still intelligent life out there.