We stayed at the MGM Grand in a 26th story timeshare apartment that we rented from some Armenian guy on AirBnB. It wasn’t until we arrived in Las Vegas that we realized the timeshare towers were a good quarter mile away from the rest of the hotel and casino, connected by long, airporty corridors. After dropping off our bags, we walked for half an hour through what turns out to be the world’s largest hotel and resort complex before seeing daylight again at the casino’s main entrance. Finally stepping out into the 102 degree heat of the Strip, the first thing I saw was a homeless man lying on his back in a flower planter, vomiting into the air, two bored cops watching him.
“Oh, come on,” One of them was saying. “If you’re going to do that, at least turn your head. That’s disgusting.”
I’d only been to Las Vegas once before, when my parents surprised me and took me there for my 13th birthday. We went to Hoover Dam and saw Blue Man Group – they weren’t playing at Hoover Dam, obviously, although it would have been incredible if they did – and had a good time overall. But as a 13 year old, I didn’t get a chance to experience Vegas for what it really is. It didn’t help that this trip took place maybe six weeks after 9/11, when people were still kind of nervous about gathering in large groups at symbols of American capitalism.
When I went to Vegas with my friends this past weekend to celebrate another friend’s birthday there, I was excited to finally get the full experience. And I feel like I did. And I had fun. And now I’m just so glad the experience is over.
I think Vegas is one of the few places left where humans’ long-atrophied hunter-gatherer instincts are put to the test. Over the course of two days we spent most of our time walking long distances through punishing heat in search of food, navigating by mythical landmarks. Past the Great Pyramid and across from the Water That Dances To Elvis Songs lies the buffet that will nourish our people for the trip to Paris! We dedicated a lot of brainpower to trying to chart a roundabout course from one end of the Strip to the other that kept us indoors and out of the heat as much as possible.
One morning, in search of the buffet at Caesar’s Palace, we left the MGM Grand and spent half an hour zigzagging across skybridges and through casinos on the way there. Finally we popped out of a heavily air conditioned luxury shopping center to find ourselves staring back up at the MGM Grand again. Lost in the desert, starving, now walking in circles – it felt like only a matter of time until a bunch of Comanches came along and buried us in the sand up to our heads.
When we finally made it to Caesar’s we put our names on the waiting list for the buffet and then, with an hour to kill before we could take our place at the feed trough, all went our separate ways in search of our preferred games of chance.
I’m not a gambler. In video games that feature gambling modes, like Fallout: New Vegas or Red Dead Redemption, my inability to remember the rules of blackjack or poker – even when they’re written right there on the screen – has lost me thousands of virtual dollars, and I don’t want to replicate that in real life. And even if I did know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, I still probably wouldn’t gamble. I mean, they didn’t get the money to build 15 of the world’s largest hotels in the middle of the desert because lots and lots of gamblers were winning.
Still, we had time to kill and I had a $10 bill in my pocket, so I went off in search of a slot machine. Maybe “search” isn’t the right word, since there were 30 to 50 slot machines in my field of vision at the moment I decided I wanted to try one. I walked for a few minutes through the forest of themed slot machines, trying to decide what sort of colorful glowing artwork I wanted to look at while wasting $10: Sexy German barmaid? Sexy Arabian princess? Laughing Ellen DeGeneres? The cast of Shrek 2?
It occurred to me that I could spend my entire weekend looking for the slot machine theme that best fit my mood and it still wouldn’t improve my chances, so I gingerly sat down on the greasy vinyl seat in front of an equally greasy generic slot machine, brushed leftover cigarette ash away from the buttons, and inserted my $10.
My understanding of slot machines was that you put in money, pull a crank, and then watch flashing lights tell you that you lost. But the crank on this slot machine turned out to be purely decorative, and as I tried to figure out which of the several buttons I was supposed to push, I inadvertently bet all $10 on one go. The numbers spun around, a couple lights flashed, I didn’t win any money, and then the machine went dark again, waiting for me to give it more of my disposable income.
I guess I don’t get it.
Here’s what I love about Vegas: I’m an indoors type of person, and Vegas does indoors very well.
Outside on the Strip the sidewalks are always packed with sweaty people with their mouths open, there’s always heavy, noisy traffic, and it’s always about 100 degrees. But as soon as you walk into a casino it’s all airy utopian spaces – high ceilings, wide corridors, and generous air conditioning. Everything is pristine and pleasant, from the lighting to the volume of the music to whatever expensive technology is sucking up all the cigarette fumes from the people smoking indoors. Are you hungry? Well, there’s 60 different restaurants spanning a variety of cuisines in this same building, several of them staffed by the best chefs on Earth. Do you want a drink? Because if you do, there’s a different bar every 15 feet, each one stocked with hundreds of colorful, friendly-looking bottles of liquor. Do you have to go to the bathroom? Good news: There’s always one close by, and it’ll always be as clean as if Adrian Monk was the head janitor.
That’s really all I need to have a good time: Climate control, good food, and a reasonably hygienic place to take a dump should the need arise.
Here’s what made me happy to leave Vegas: After a day or so, all I could think about was how much time and effort and money and resources were going into catering to my every whim. You can only spend so much time indulging and watching the thousands of other people around you indulging before you start to just feel kind of gross inside. It took me a little over 36 hours to realize that I’d had my fill of opulence, luxury, and hedonism and was about ready to go back to being a productive member of society again.
That said, I do miss the bathrooms.