“This old town’s filled with sin; it’ll swallow you in, if you’ve got some money to burn…”
The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Sin City”
Looking back over the past week, I wonder what I might have to say about Las Vegas that hasn’t already been covered by Hunter S. Thompson or John O’Brien. I also wondered what fetid Truth each of these writers might have discovered about that fabled city in the fading light of America’s West that drove both of them, finally, to suicide.
I think I may have found at least a partial answer to that question…
She called me on Monday and told me she had decided that, “we should leave tonight.”
So…I hustled home, without a chance to rest, relax or even kick off my shoes, to find my bags packed, the tickets in hand and all the arrangements made for an early departure.
She had booked us a room for one night, at an alarmingly low rate, at a less desirable hotel before we would move on to our Real Accommodations at the Paris.
We raced to the airport and still had to lollygag about waiting for a nine o’clock flight out.
Luckily, or so I thought, we got bumped up to First Class and I took it as a Good Sign.
But I was informed by the stewardess that I was in danger of being Cut-Off because I had consumed three drinks in the first hour of the flight. So I turned to the window and took out my notebook. I had planned on making various entries that might serve as a kind of brief travelogue of the trip. I made one short entry before I fell asleep:
The cities flicker beneath us as we make a slow crawl across the night of the American sky; moving on, racing the sunset.
Ironically, the surly stewardess woke me up about twenty minutes out from Vegas by poking me and handing me another, unsolicited, rum and coke. Chagrinned, I downed it…which, in retrospect, may have been the start of my troubles.
We landed at about eleven o’clock local time and caught a shuttle to a hotel/casino called Terrible’s. And it lived up to the name. I took time to make another entry:
Off the plane; the arid climate embraces you with its salty arms and dust-dry windy kisses. The neon and high-rises hide the red rock mountains and open vistas of the Badlands and it’s all too easy to forget that you’re in the desert. I dried up in an instant.
And so it began. Our lips were chapped and we were thirsty and hungry. We checked in and drifted through the casino looking for a place to eat and get a drink of pure, cool water. I was already dehydrated from the drinks on the plane and I knew that food and water were what we needed.
The water was undrinkable; a heavy sort of viscous fluid filled with the bitter tang of sulfur and heavy salts that were everywhere you turned, even on the breeze of the cool night. So…I ordered Sweetened Iced Tea. I forgot, too late, that I was no longer in the South and these yahoos on the West Coast didn’t really know much about “Sweet Tea.” I was then served a tall glass of weak, brown liquid that had been steeped in some kind of strange desert lilies and fungus-ridden cacti and tasted, for all the world, the way a funeral parlor smells.
We left with our food half-eaten and our throats dry and decided to get some sleep.
In the elevator, I made another entry:
The smell is almost unbearable. Everything here is redolent with the acrid aroma of human grease and the stench of human failure. All the brass rails have been rubbed smooth and dull by too many drunken hands still clinging to some elusive and ever-diminishing dream here in the desert and no amount of polishing by the underpaid Hispanic maids will ever bring back the luster.
I wasn’t very impressed at this juncture or maybe I was just in a bad mood; jetlag or something…but I still had high hopes and she was, after all, very excited about the trip. Besides, we’d be checking in to better accommodations in the morning.
We settled in and tried to sleep but the creepy couple in the next room kept us up all night talking loudly through the paper-thin walls in rising voices that had all the intonation of a swelling argument on the cusp of a physical resolution. And, on top of that, I developed a severe case of heartburn.
We woke up early…too early. Still groggy, we went down to breakfast and to meet up with the members of her family who were meeting us out there. So we ate again and I was still thirsty for plain water and I still didn’t get any.
After that…well, we had to start gambling. Right there at Terrible’s. After all…it’s Vegas.
That’s when I discovered that gambling is fun for about fifteen minutes. And, strangely enough, that’s usually the exact amount of time it takes a rational person to deduce that you’d probably get just about the same result from digging a hole in the ground and throwing money down it. I was completely bored with the slots and I lost ten bucks at roulette so fast that I almost missed it happening. She wanted to keep playing…so I just roamed around the casino and watched. I took out my notebook:
It’s all electronic now; vouchers and Club Cards…Total Rewards. No coins, no tokens; only bills worn down to fine, furry little things; soft like chamois. Eventually, they’ll get so thin that they’ll just disappear into nothingness. Where’s the clink of the coins; the ratcheting of the levers? What good are “Winnings” if you can’t lug them around in a bucket and actually feel their weight in your hands?
I was suddenly exhausted. I took a stool. This casino was sucking all the energy out of me. Maybe it was jetlag after all or dehydration. Either way, I was starting to not feel so hot.
We finally moved on to the Paris and I stopped long enough to drop my bags and went straight to the bar and ordered another glass of ice cold water. I guess I had assumed that a better hotel would have better water. No. Same swill. Undrinkable. How the hell could Vegas run without potable water? Didn’t anybody else notice that it tasted like a salt lick in a glass? She noticed it too and it looked like we’d be thirsty for the whole trip. We were spoiled I guess. In the South we use artesian wells and the water is more or less filtered by nature before it ever touches our lips. Not to mention that we were coming from an extremely humid climate into one of the driest parts of America. We neglected to pack two very important amenities: Lip Balm and sunglasses. But still, we’d survive.
Everybody else was ready to start gambling again and I was worried about how much money she had already lost. But it was no use. It was all over now and I knew there was nothing I could do about it. Best just to let her run loose and hope that she’d learn the lesson for herself. (Pipe Dream.)
After a long while, I finally convinced her to walk with me outside where we could see some sights, get some pictures and take a closer look at some Real Landmarks. We headed for Caesar’s Palace.
That’s when I began to notice that I was dying of thirst and I knew that I wasn’t so out of shape that this one walk could sap all of my strength so quickly. I felt like a truck had run over me.
We got back to the hotel and they all wanted to hit the other casinos and gamble even more. I dreaded another minute in a casino like an ass-whipping. I went back to the room and crashed. I slept until dinner.
I awoke parched of course. I still felt tired and sore and much worse than before. “Must be jetlag,” I thought. I had to have water. I finally broke down and paid the $5.50 for bottled water. It was just another reminder of all the fallacies I’d heard about Vegas. Various friends and well-wishers had assured me that, “Everything’s cheap in Vegas. They make all the money off the gambling.” Grade A Bullshit. (The only thing that was cheap was the prime rib.) But I drank the whole bottle in one gulp and felt momentarily refreshed.
I decided, “What the hell?” so I stopped and crammed a dollar into a machine. A waitress came by and brought me a drink. Sweet. Rum and Coke but, of course, the fountain Cokes were made using that funkified Vegas Swill Water and it made everything seem barren. Not only that, but the “complementary” drinks for “Players” were just strong enough to give you the impression that you might get drunk but still weak enough to hold you just below a buzz that seemed more like a bad headache than anything else.
I got tired again. Back to the room. I slept again. Jetlag? I thought. Dehydration? Sure, why not? I don’t travel often and maybe this sudden rush was catching up with me.
I woke up a few hours later sweating buckets. I had stained the sheets a dingy, dark yellow with my sickly, east coast emissions and my hair was matted to the side of my head. I felt the dull throbbing in my temples and the aches in my body. I had a fever. I was ill.
My first Real Vacation in years and I got sick. Very sick. Too sick to hold my head up it seemed. I flopped again and started to finally accept the Real Lesson Vegas was teaching me about my luck, or, at least, about my faggoty-ass, personal luck. I realized that I should’ve expected it all along.
Thankfully, she had her family to run around with from casino to casino, throwing away more money than ever now that I wasn’t around her stop her. I was curled up in bed with the shakes and cold sweats. But she did hit for $195 on three-card poker. (A miracle after all the loot she blew.)
I did manage to pull myself together long enough to see the nine o’clock Cirque de Soleil show, “Mystere.” Our tickets, a gift from a friend, were front row center and the show was amazing and she dressed up for it and she looked beautiful. But that was about all I could muster.
So…she tooled around Vegas and wasted too much money on nothing and saw all the sights while I huddled in the room and tried to break my fever.
We caught an early flight home after two and a half days and I was still thirsty when we left. We landed without event and rushed home were I fell into fitful sleep on the couch with a temperature of 102. I still thought we were in Vegas at one point because I swore I could still hear the constant, ubiquitous, neon drone of the casinos.
I didn’t find Skinny Vanilla. I didn’t see anything even remotely close to pornography. I never got to use any of my made-up names. All I got to see was the tacky, tawdry Vegas that tries so hard to enchant and enthrall but falls utterly short once you realize that it’s really about pure, hard-handed commerce and nobody ever really gives a shit if you’re having a good time or not; as long as you keep dropping the dollars. You just can’t believe some of the weird-ass things you can see there.
Maybe…maybe it was all psychosomatic; maybe I expected to be sickened by Las Vegas and so I was. (She sure thinks that’s it.) But me? Well…I think it’s just another Fine Example of how the Universe loves to keep smacking me with that good old Charlie Brown Karma.
In any event; I’ve had enough Las Vegas to last me for a good, long while.