I got up at 6:30 and ran to Starbucks before heading out. My car was covered in what could only be described as humidity dust. It was in the mid-60s, but still insanely humid. I got on I-15, going the opposite direction from the rest of the traffic. They were going to work, I was going to Vegas. Suckers.
About halfway to San Bernardino, all the traffic on the interstate had to stop for inspection, even though it was a good 40 miles north of the border. The guard waved me through. I realized that this was a new potential career. Next time I go to Tijuana, I’m loading my trunk with illegal immigrants. So, like, never.
As I drove, I realized I was tired and sore. Not just sore, but sore everywhere. I had gotten used to that state, but it seemed a little more extreme that day.
Las Vegas hadn’t been on my original non-itinerary, because I figured I could get there anytime. However, having just read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I kind of wanted to go. Specifically, I wanted to take that drive from Los Angeles, going through Barstow and Baker. It’s a thing. When I realized that I could take that same route heading up from San Diego, it was decided. So I got past Riverside on the way to Barstow, and it was starting to turn into desert. It was about 95 degrees and a steep incline, so I had to turn off the air conditioning to avoid overheating. My car paranoia was already in full swing, based on my track record and the intense heat. I figured that driving through the Mojave Desert would be the biggest test of Chico’s stamina to date. I wasn’t sure I was up to it, either.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the temperature display, which kept climbing upwards. All of a sudden, I was in road construction, on a narrow 2-lane highway with a concrete barrier on my left and a wall of semi trucks on my right. I panicked. I was having trouble seeing. I had to keep reminding myself to just breathe, because I was worried about passing out behind the wheel. Even though I was doing 70, it felt like this slow-motion creep uphill. I had never been so scared; I was convinced that I was going to die alone in the desert.
I think part of the problem was that I had gone from almost 0 to 4000 feet elevation in about 10 minutes. I knew I had had trouble with that before. Also, because of my weird eating habits on the road, I was on a blood sugar rollercoaster. I was honestly freaking out about my safety, so I grabbed my phone and called Heather, and asked her to talk me down. And she did.
When I got to Barstow, I pulled off at a truck stop, like she told me to do. I got out of the car and the backs of my pants were soaked through, dark green stains down the backs of my thighs. I was beyond caring. I went and sat in the bathroom for ten minutes or so, trying to calm down (which was an indication of my mental state, that I would prefer sitting in a truck stop bathroom). I bought a pop and commented to the girl at the counter that my hands were shaking because I was terrified of driving through the desert. She laughed and said that a woman had told her the exact same thing the day before. She asked if I had a cellphone, and told me not to worry, because I would be safe.
I felt a little better, having survived the first leg, and knowing I only had 200 miles to go to Vegas. I ate a banana and felt less shaky, so I got back on the road. Since I was past the big uphills, I turned the air back on. The engine temperature needle hadn’t budged the whole time, so I relaxed a little. I was going to make it to Vegas before 1pm. Apart from the freaking-out part, I liked the desert. I saw Joshua Trees and salt flats where they race cars. I couldn’t believe people lived in Baker, out in the middle of nowhere. I saw Primm, Nevada, one of those cities trying to make itself a mini-Vegas. I saw a huge waterpark complex that had closed, with some of the slides starting to collapse. I came over a rise and saw Vegas, and regretted just a tiny bit that I wasn’t approaching it at night, and seeing the neon. Instead, I saw smog. But, still. It was Vegas!
I called the bellhop at my hotel to find out which exit to take. I went to the north end of the strip, turned at Circus Circus, and I had arrived at my perfect oldschool casino: the Stardust. Home of the Wayne Newton Theater! I walked through the lobby, intending to go ask when check-in time was, but a sign told me I could do so at noon. Awesome. I checked in and ran to the car for my bags. Another cool thing about Vegas: free parking. My room was great, especially since it was so cheap. I grabbed the things-to-do magazine to look up shows, because I really wanted to see something while I was there. I briefly considered Wayne Newton, but then decided against paying so much money for a joke. I finally picked Jubilee!, and called to reserve my ticket. The guy on the phone said, “You know it’s topless, right?” It better be, dude. I hung up and flipped to the dining section of the magazine to examine my options. MGM Grand, featuring no less than 82,000 restaurants, seemed like a safe bet. Plus, it was at the other end of the strip, so I’d be able to see everything in between.
I fixed my hair, changed into something a little less ‘I’m-in-the-car-all-day-so-I-could-give-a-fuck-what-I-look-like’, and headed out. I got probably the best iced coffee ever at the little coffee counter in the lobby, go figure. When I walked out the door, I ran smack into a 115-degree wall.
I started walking. It was fine for two blocks, if a little surprising. After three blocks, my contacts had melted to my eyes. After four, my eyeballs had melted to my brain. All the ice in my coffee had long since melted. The passing buses gave off waves of heat that were physically painful to walk through. The wind was dusty. Thankfully, it was hazy, so the sun didn’t come out very often. I walked as fast as I could, but when I had to stop at intersections, I could feel the heat of the pavement through the soles of my shoes. I had never, ever felt heat like that before. It was miserable.
Also, things in Las Vegas were a lot farther apart than I had expected. I know now that the strip is 3 miles long, and I wish I had known that when I was walking it. However, it was fun to see all the casinos, and I stopped to take lots of pictures. Lots of them had water misters and giant fans set up near their entrances, so those offered a little escape from the heat. Walking past the doors was like torture, though, feeling the air conditioning blasting out into the street.
It took me almost an hour to get to MGM Grand. I had a headache and was feeling fuzzy. I walked in and immediately felt 100% better with the air conditioning, until I realized I was now completely damp and freezing cold. I started following signs pointing to restaurants. Rainforest Cafe? No. Maybe Spago – but it wasn’t open yet. I went past ten places, checking menus. There wasn’t even an attempt to have vegetarian food – even the salads were meaty. I was willing to settle for anything, since it was 2pm and I was hungry, but I could honestly find nothing. I walked the whole length of the casino, which appeared to be about the size of the Mall of America. Then I wandered back to the one restaurant I had intentionally ignored – Emeril’s. I had avoided it for two reasons. First, it was a seafood restaurant. Second, Heather’s deep, burning hatred for Emeril had rubbed off on me. I recalled the time we were driving down St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, past his restaurant, and Heather spotted him standing in the front window. She let out a string of expletives that surprised even me. So, yeah. We hate Emeril.
They sat me at the back of the restaurant at a table immediately next to another couple, even though the place was almost empty. It was one of those restaurants that tries to act really upscale so you feel funny wearing Old Navy clothes, but then you realize you’re in a casino, it’s tacky by nature, and everyone else there is dressed like crap, too. They pull out the chair and put your napkin in your lap for you (which creeps me the hell out, actually) just so they can justify charging $35 for an entree.
I decided on the portobello-blue cheese burger, but then got suspicious, knowing the tendency towards meat in Vegas. When the server came to take my order, I asked him: it’s just a grilled mushroom, right? No actual burger? He seemed offended, and assured me that it was 100% prime-grade beef. He seemed to be drooling, reveling in its meatiness. I shuddered, and ordered a salad instead. I ate almost the whole basket of bread while I waited. They served me Diet Coke in a champagne flute. The salad was OK, not great. Emeril can go to hell.
The guy at the next table started talking about the food, because they were vegetarian, too. We thought it was funny that they put the vegetarians in the back corner together, probably to make it easier to ridicule us from afar. We exchanged stories – they were from Bermuda, in Las Vegas for their anniversary. They were appalled by the heat, too. We talked about food, travel, and having kids. He and I laughed really hard about Starbucks, and our mutual love of it: it’s not good coffee, but it’s consistent. Wherever you go, it’s exactly the same. He confessed his love for their raisin scone, which he pronounced ‘scoon’. I was charmed.
Just as I was finishing my meal, they started talking about their business: they were Herbalife salespeople. I took this as my cue; I wished them a very happy anniversary, and escaped before they could hit me up.
I stopped at one of the fifty or so Starbucks in the casino, bought coffee, and sat at a table to do the writing I would usually be doing during dinner. It was 4pm, and my show was at 7:30, so I decided that I would wander back towards Bally’s, touring all the casinos in between. Also, I’d try to scope out a place for a very late dinner, because I knew if I ended up looking afterwards, I was just going to be angry.
From MGM Grand, I crossed to New York, New York. It was pretty cool inside, but I got lost trying to get back out the other side. I was hoping to be able to work my way up the strip mostly staying indoors, and out of the hellish heat. No luck; I ended up walking a few blocks outside anyway. I stopped into CVS and bought a giant bottle of painkillers for the pounding headache I had since I had started walking earlier that day (as Heather pointed out, I was dehydrated, and the coffee was just making it worse. Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time). I crossed to the Aladdin and went into the shops entrance. After walking around for a while, I decided that this was my favorite casino. The shops were laid out in a big circle with the casino in the center. I thought that was kind of ingenious, as it allows you to buy souvenirs and window-shop while making your way from one entrance to another, without having to deal with the casino insanity. Also, it’s divided into four sections, each decorated in a different middle-eastern theme. I liked the giant couches for lounging and the simulated thunderstorm, which was mildly entertaining. From there, I went to Paris. It was one of the better casinos, too – the legs of the Eiffel Tower inside the casino were cool. I went into a couple shoppes and used les toilettes.
I was wandering and abruptly found myself in Bally’s, quicker than I had expected. I stopped to pick up my tickets for the show, then decided I needed more coffee, and still had an hour and a half to kill. I crossed to the Bellagio. It was swank, but in that ridiculous Vegas way – so overdone that it’s obscene, and incongruous because all the tourists are still Bob and Ann from Omaha, and Bob is wearing a Hawaiian shirt. The lobby was amazing, and they were piping in flower scent. I was confused about the giant liberty bell, though. Why is it there? Weird. The Bellagio offered me no coffee, nor did Caesar’s Palace, or the Flamingo, or the Barbary Coast (ha). I decided to go back to Paris, because I had passed a coffee shop there where I could sit down for a while. I wound my way through the maze of escalators and moving sidewalks back to Bally’s. I had noticed a trend on this type of public transport, by the way: I radiate impatience. I must, because every time I would be standing behind someone on an escalator or moving sidewalk, they’d turn, look chastened, and move out of the way with a quickness. Sometimes, I was just standing there, being calm and trying not to curse them for being slow, and they could still tell. It’s funny.
I found the patisserie and got an iced latte. I sat and wrote for 10 minutes, then used les toilettes again, and headed over to Bally’s for my showgirls show. I went into the theatre and watched all the funny people finding their seats. As for Jubilee, there’s a lot to be said. If your fetish involves feather plumes, sequins, rhinestones, and impossibly-large hats, this is the show for you. (I was going to add ‘boobs’ to that list, but everybody likes boobs.)
So, the show opens with the big typical showgirl-style revue. There are breasts, and lots of them. Most of them are fake, and too many ribs are poking out beneath them. The men in the show are super-queeny, and it’s hard to buy them singing about how all they want is hundreds and hundreds of girls. The music is cringe-worthy, as is the choreography. All the musical numbers are those montage-style bits, really overdone and cliché. I’d think the show was making fun of itself, but I doubt that was the case.
Act 2 is the Long Twins. They juggle and contort themselves. There’s a too-long section where they wriggle in and out of garbage cans.
Act 3 is Samson and Delilah. In my opinion, this gem should’ve been saved for the finale, it’s that good. All the guys are dressed in leather-and-studs quasi-bondage gear, including those exaggerated banana thongs. When they dance, all I can think of is Party Boy from Jackass. There’s lots of simulated sex that’s supposed to look like dancing. Samson is a huge hunk of a man who stands at the side of the stage and flexes his pecs absently while watching the writhing. After Delilah seduces him and chops off his long, lustrous hair, the scene evolves into this bizarre S&M dungeon-type thing. It ends with Samson re-enacting King Kong – he escapes, knocking shit down and starting things on fire. Then he scales the gigantic bull sculpture, as smoke pours from its angry red nostrils. It starts breaking into pieces and collapsing very, very slowly, with Samson riding it all the way down.
At this point, I couldn’t hide the fact that I was in hysterics. Everyone else there seemed to think it was pretty damn good. When I looked at the program, I noted that the last part was labeled Scene VII – Cataclysm. You got that right.
Next up, act 4 is called ‘Fuzion’. It’s a very athletic, very aryan couple getting into various poses to the beat of German industrial techno. Their strength and balance is impressive. The fact that they’re doing a slo-mo ‘robot’ isn’t.
Act 5 is the Titanic, and it’s the pinnacle of cheesy. I was giggling before it even started. The costumes are terrible. The men wear candy-colored suits with giant white piping. The women have huge, overgrown muffs. (Ha! No, it’s only topless. Really.) They lipsynch really poorly. I was wondering if they were going to show tits again before or after the ship sank. The Titanic’s crewmen are putting on horrifying British accents, saying things like, “I say, old chap,” and “Jolly good.” There’s a song about French lingerie, accompanied by a fashion show (no, I have no idea, either). Then there’s a boiler room gangbang, and after that the ship sinks. And the really funny thing is, it sinks in exactly the same way as the temple fell down vis-a-vis Samson: breaking into pieces, falling slowly into a pit. You know, cataclysm. In the program, the note reads, ‘Nearer my God to Thee.’ Um. What?
Act 6 is Stoyan and Dmitri hanging onto sheets and flying around overhead. It’s not great, since they obviously once had hopes of making the Olympic team on the rings. They failed.
Act 7: The Finale. What can I say? It’s exactly what you would expect. Huge, feathered hats that make up 95% of the total outfit. Lots of boobs. A topless wedding ceremony. Some of the girls appear to have become trapped in chandeliers. There’s even an especially-painful standards revue sandwich: montages of pieces by Cole Porter, then Jerome Kern, then George Gershwin. The montages don’t work very well, because they do two or three lines of every song before moving to the next: it’s Broadway for the short-attention-span crowd. Or more accurately, to satisfy the audience’s belief that they came to see real entertainment, and not just to see a bunch of nipples. So, yeah. The show was over, and we clapped. I applauded the few apparently non-surgically-altered breasts onstage. You can tell by the jiggle, and their unashamed less-than-perfection.
I left Bally’s and headed back toward the Stardust. I cut through the Barbary Coast and Venetian. There were way, way more people in my way at that time of night. I couldn’t believe the number of people out, and the huge variety. It would’ve been excellent people-watching, but I wasn’t in the mood. Also, I quickly became irritated at the amount of drunk ogling. Everyone was drunk. Creepy guys making too much eye contact. I wanted to push my way through just to get away. It seemed to have cooled down a bit outside, maybe even under 100. All the lights were on on the strip, but I wasn’t noticing most of it. I just wanted food and sleep. I wandered through Treasure Island and found nothing, so I went back to the Stardust. It was nearly deserted, totally unlike the casinos farther down the strip. It was actually a relief until I encountered the crowd exiting the Wayne Newton show; they were probably the slowest people I’d encountered yet.
At the Stardust, I found a restaurant with food I could eat. So, of course, they had just closed for cleaning as I got there at 11pm. So I went to Tony Roma’s (Your Place For Ribs). Yeah, I know. It was sheer desperation, and I was determined to find something. That ended up being a side caesar salad and an order of mozzarella sticks. I was sure they would make me sick, but I didn’t care. I was in Vegas, the city where people do really stupid things. After dinner, I dragged my tired ass up to my room, wrote for a very short while, and went to bed, determined to sleep in the next day.
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random notes from my travel journal:
california drivers hate letting people switch lanes. they speed up. assholes.
on mira mesa boulevard, a booth that has everything you could ever want: coffee, smoothies, cigarettes, and lotto tickets.
on the interstate, i saw a dumptruck with the message: happiness is a good dump.
road sign along I-15:
las vegas 76
salt lake city 526
holy crap! i ran out my glacier gateway motel pen! i want to die! moving on to the la hilton pen. ha.
at this point, i’m surprised i’m able to stop walking. it’s all i do lately.
people here walk so fucking slow!! aaargh!
why do i notice the heat on my eyes the most? is it the contacts? it’s bizarre.
the waitress just came up and said, ‘gosh, you write fast!’ ha.
being by yourself in vegas during the day isn’t weird at all. at night, it sucks. it’s the crowds and the drunkenness. you feel like meat. i don’t regret not being out wandering around the strip right now. i’d probably end up throwing punches.
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