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Thursday, August 25, 2005


Loathing and Loathing in Las Vegas

I'm flying to Las Vegas on Saturday.

Let me tell you a story about the last time I was in Las Vegas.

It was the summer of 2002. I had just quit a horrible summer job at a "hotel" in the dead center of Yellowstone National Park. For the first time in my life I had absolutely no place to be. No obligations, responsibilities and nothing better to do than roam the Mountain Standard Time Zone. It didn't help matters that I had a copy of On the Road and a grocery bag full of similar tomes sitting in the back seat.

At Twin Falls, Idaho I made a spur of the moment decision to turn south instead continuing west towards the green, green grass of home. My plan was to spend a day or two sucking up culture shock in Salt Lake City before cutting over to San Francisco. After I pulled into a gas station near Brigham Young I started talking to a worn-out hippie behind the cash register.

ME: "How much further to Las Vegas?"

HIPPIE: "The way my wife drives or I drive?"

ME: "Uh, the way you drive?"

HIPPIE: "With me behind the wheel, seven hours. With her, five."

It was 6 PM. I did the math and figured I be poolside at the Mirage by midnight.

At a quarter to twelve I was somewhere in Arizona. Nothing but black all around the car with white SUVS blazing past at 90 MPH. Then the engine curled up and died. No coughing. No sputtering. Instant vehicular death in an dark and empty desert. The speedometer spun over to "0" and I had just enough time to crashland on the shoulder.

I wandered through sagebrush and past no-doubt imagined rattlesnakes while trying to get a clear cell signal. An hour later a wild-eyed truck driver showed up. I debated whether or not to get in the cab with him or hitchhike into the next town. Vegas was 50-some odd miles away and he'd been rousted out of bed for this fare. His plan was to ditch the car and I in a nearby border town. After I told him that AAA was footing the bill, he agreed to drive me to Sin City.

Along the way he gave me a rundown on every whorehouse in the area. He was a 250 pound Vegas info dispenser. Buffets, shows, food and drink specials, how to pick out a slot machine and how sneak into pools without a keycard. He claimed to know the ins and outs of the entire city and painted Las Vegas as an X-rated wonderland- a Pleasure Island without the nasty, donkey metamorphosis hangovers. As the truck rose to crest of a pitch-black mountain chain, the other side of the desert was a rolling sea of puke yellow light. Somewhere inside the Luxor Hotel was spitting a spotlight a million miles into the night sky. Vegas looked completely alien, like a sci-fi city on the cover of a crappy paperback.

After taking a look at the engine, the driver dropped me off in the Circus Circus parking lot. He was convinced I'd merely run out of oil. All it would need is a few quarts of Pennzoil, provided it wasn't destroyed. The pump jockeys at the Bozeman Jiffy Lube had apparently forgotten to screw on a cap somewhere, thus causing the catastrophe in progress.

Final tab for the tow: $330. Thanks, AAA!

I stayed up all night, killing time in order to cheat Circus Circus out of the price of a quarter-night's worth of hotel room. Having spent the previous two months in the middle of nowhere, Vegas was like wandering out of the Middle Ages into Manhattan. I hadn't watched so much as a TV commercial in weeks. I remember stopping in the middle of a crosswalk near the McDonalds, a Seigfried and Roy video ad glowing on the horizon and a million neon lights all over the place. Standing there in a pair of dusty hiking boots, it was kind of like looking at the face of God and discovering he's a con-diety in an Hawaiian shirt and two dollar sunglasses.

That night I was chased out of Caesar's Palace by a security guard that looked exactly like Kumar Pallana (the Indian actor from all those Wes Anderson movies). The next few days dished out more of the same. I watched a shouting match break out in a lobby between two newlyweds and a drunk British tourist. He took off running as a bike cop chased him through the casino. Oil didn't solve the car's problems. The fuel pump was ruptured and I spent an entire day in a series of tow trucks. I ran up a $200 phone bill and $500 auto repair bill.

My fate wound up in the hands of an oil-soaked mechanic who may as well have been Mark Borchardt. I dragged a sixty pound trunk across a hundred-acre parking lot in boiling heat after he refused to let me use his phone and the teenaged valet at the steakhouse next door scoffed at my pathetic request for a cab. In the middle of this misery, a broke gambling addict begged me for money but apologized after I fired back with my own sob story.

The fabled Merry-Go-Round bar at Circus Circus was boarded up. I spent four days wandering through casinos that were all the same despite their billion-dollar facades- consisting of nothing more than a gambling floor, arcade area for the kiddies, a few restaurants and a touristy garnish like a water show or a fake Eiffel Tower haphazardly tossed on the side. Despite betting a mere dollar during the trip, I left that town a whole lot poorer and made the drive to LA in 110 degree heat with a lukewarm Mountain Dew and no air conditioning, expecting to crash and burn five miles from one of those yellow emergency call boxes.

The .99 cent margaritas were pretty great though.

Still, Las Vegas sucks. I hate it.

But I'm willing to give it another shot. Why not? What's the worst that could happen?

Oh, wait, Joe Pesci in Casino. Right, right.

Nevertheless I'm heading back there in a little under 36 hours. I'll be touring southern Nevada, Arizona and parts of California with a return trip scheduled for the 5th. This will probably be last post on this blog until sometime after Labor Day.

So, yeah, see y'all then.


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