December 4 – 8
I was in Las Vegas and an alternate possible life opened up before me. I lilked the RV park very much. It was clean and friendly and not particularly close to the Strip or Downtown (which are two different things, huh) but it wasn’t hard to get around. The people were nice and I could have stayed there for a long time. Most of the people in that park do live there. It’s eminently livable. I made a friend, the guy in the trailer adjacent to me, who was single, about my age, living in a small camper. We even had a tentative date to go explore Red Rock Canyon but alas I left before we managed it. That was the first day. On my second day in Vegas I went to an arts building and chatted for a while with the building manager who asked if I was an artist and then if I was interested in a show, because she has openings. On my third day, I went to a used bookstore called the Amber Unicorn and traded some books. The owner was interviewing a young man for a job and it almost made me weep with nostalgia. I thought, I could get that job. I could get that job RIGHT NOW and put up a show in the arts building and stay in the nice park where I am and just, live here.
It was like a ready made life there, waiting for me. And maybe I should have gone for it.
Except I don’t much want to live there. It’s . . it’s. . there’s no THERE THERE. This is hardly revelatory; it’s one of the two great Las Vegas stories (the other one, almost exclusively male and not necessarily in this order, is I got totally drunk, lost my life savings, met a stripper, got beat up and discovered the TRUE MEANING of life.) I did not, sadly, discover the TRUE MEANING of life. But I did drive around and around Las Vegas for several days. I did a bunch of necessary but annoying grown up errands. I went down to the Strip on two evenings and walked up and down, trying and more or less utterly failing to capture it in pictures. I also tried to experience Downtown but I never could find it. I went to a dark, smoky tiki bar and had a rum drink. I gambled (a very little bit. I lost $5 and then I won $12.) I went shopping. I ate, as has been described at way too much length in this blog. I did Vegas, more or less, or as much as I, being me, am capable of. And I came away without much to say about it, except this: it’s a mall. It’s a big mall, granted, but it’s a mall. The whole damn thing is a giant mall.
It’s just shopping center after shopping center, almost all of which have a Ross Dress for Less – seriously, how many do you need? I went to one. I was wearing a sweater I bought at the Ross Dress for Less in Asheville, about, hmm, two years ago, maybe three. And there on the rack it was, the twin of my sweater (which is a sort of neutral cardigan drapy thing, not super spectacular, but useful) and I thought, huh, nobody, but nobody, in their right mind would consider that Asheville would get clothes before Las Fucking Vegas so that means this sweater has been sitting here for YEARS and what the fuck? And since the laws of probability are against me stumbling into the only two Ross Dress for Lesses in the world that have that sweater, it also means that there are copies in every Ross Dress for Less in the World. So they all have the same things and since there are, seriously, like 30 stores at least in Las Vegas alone, that’s a lot of sweaters. How many times do you need to walk into a store and see the same sweater? But they just kept on repeating. It was unsettling.
And then there are the feral children. For some reason, I kept ending up in shopping centers near schools and thus I got to see kids leave school – elementary schools now, not just middle and high schools – by themselves. You never see this anymore. But there they were, kids, young kids, walking home from school alone through the endless strip malls. And half of them were riding bikes without helmets on these crazy insane busy roads (Las Vegas drivers are. . . well. Good lord.) and weaving around through traffic until my heart was in my mouth and I thought, WTF? Where the hell are the parents? These kids were clean, mind you, and well dressed and not tattered waifs from the Dickensian slums. They weren’t street kids like you see in Baltimore although there were some of those as well. I saw kids, lots of kids, in the casinos too and running loose on the strip like they owned the place. I haven’t seen anything like it since my own feral childhood in the seventies.
But, you see, if the whole place is a mall, it makes sense. Parents feel secure letting their kids run loose at the mall. That makes no sense – I mean, they could at least get something pierced even if they don’t get abducted from the food court – but it’s a definite thing. I have thought this about campgrounds as well – the helicopter parents of this generation land the minute they get to a campground. The kids go nuts: it’s the only unsupervised time they get and they’re drunk with it. Las Vegas is slightly unreal, outside the world, just like a campground or a mall, and so the kids are free.
Because it’s all a mall, the airport is in the center of town. I stood outside a Whole Foods where I could see the Strip and watched airplanes land and take off; it was surreal as hell. The Strip itself, even with the casinos and the weird advertising trucks and the double decker buses and the occasional random showgirls and the older Asian lady who stuck a bracelet on my wrist and then cussed me out when I only gave her change for it instead of $20 (I tried to give it back, what the hell, TWENTY DOLLARS? Bite me.) and the creepy guys handing out flyers for GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS (I am not their target market, go figure, so I didn’t get one) is more of a mall than anything else. The gambling halls seem almost like an afterthought: it’s the shops that count.
So. That was my great Vegas revelation. Hmm. What else? I went to Circus Circus and it seemed kind of dingy and down on its luck. I won $12 on the Flintstones machine (I have a weird ass relationship going with the Flintstones now, it’s kinda creepy.) and then I left. I went to Treasure Island and had a $9 Moscow Mule and a great conversation with a cocktail server who thought slot machines were dumb. Which they are, but, what the hell, I had parked there and felt duty bound to spend some money at least. She thought that was hilarious. I went to Cosmopolitan, and if I ever get rich and return to Vegas, that’s where I will stay. I went to the completely upfront mall at Caesars Palace and drooled all over the Leica store. I went to an arts building and saw a nice photo show and some okay paintings and an inexplicable little witch’s hobby shop. I went to Frankie’s Tiki Room, which was the darkest bar I have ever been in, and had a rum drink. It also reeked of smoke – you can smoke everywhere in Las Vegas and it’s gross – and I would have bought a T-shirt, because they were awesome but I couldn’t figure out how to get it home without stinking up the car, the camper and etc. And that was my Las Vegas adventure. I didn’t go see Cirque de Soleil, because it was $80 for the cheapest tickets. I didn’t go see Blue Man Group, because it was $60 for the cheapest tickets. I didn’t go on the tour of the neon museum because it was $25 and they had a crazy restrictive photo policy. And, well, I didn’t do much, actually. But I had a good time.
So, yeah. Las Vegas and I were not, perhaps, made for each other. But I am glad I went! I can now say, I have been there. And when I wear my perfectly ordinary jeans that I got at that Ross Dress for Less, I can say (if I can figure out some way to work it into the conversation) these? Oh yeah, I got them in Vegas.