Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why go to Las Vegas?

I went to Las Vegas twice when I was in my early twenties.  Both times it was one of the last stops on month long cross-country trips, which mostly consisted of camping in national forests and parks.  I wouldn't have personally put this on my wish list of places to stop, it was one of the other two guys I was travelling with's idea, and I really didn't know what to expect since I had never been in a casino before.  I really don't remember that much about the first trip, like I don't even remember the strip.  I do remember being downtown and staying at the El Cortez, playing slot machines for the first time, and carrying around the buckets full of quarters.  None of these things were very impressive to me, and other than the lights and scenes like Vegas Vic and Vicky, the casinos were more of a novelty than a place I wanted to spend time in.

vegas vic and vicky freemont st. las vegas
What I did like about Vegas was how completely different it was than everywhere else we had been on that trip.  People seemingly flocked to the middle of the desert with the sole intention of cutting loose, and per observation appeared to doing a competent job of it to say the least.  I remember walking down Freemont Street, the Freemont St. experience wasn't there yet, and watching normal looking people walking down the street with cocktail glasses in their hands at 12:30 in the afternoon.  You have to keep in mind that this was in 1994, before the internet was a household thing, and being from the eastern US the only way you could really get an idea of what Las Vegas was like was to visit it yourself.  I made a mental note to self that any place where you could drink outside without looking over your soldier was a place of interest, and decided that if I was ever travelling nearby I would stop in Vegas.

Two years later I was out west driving around again, this time with my girlfriend and brother, and Vegas was our second to last stop.  This trip was way different because somehow along the way we caught wind of a new hotel and casino opening up and booked a room cheap that I am pretty sure was never slept in before.  We stayed at the brand new Stratosphere and this was the Vegas I was led to believe existed from watching movies and TV.  The price was in the neighborhood of $29, and for 3 people who had spent 99% of the nights in the past month sleeping in a tent just off the road somewhere in the middle of nowhere this was baller.  Shit was shiny.  Shit was new.  Shit was telling us we had arrived at a place that treated us like we deserved to be treated.

That being said I don't remember much about the casino in the Stratosphere other than my brother, who was not yet 21, trying to sneak over and spin the slot machine for me a couple of times, instantly getting approached by security, and promptly being told to leave the casino floor at once.  A little while after that being the only Vegas veteran of the group I made an executive decision to walk downtown from the Stratosphere even though we obviously had a car.  It looked completely harmless in the Atlas and walking seemed to be the hippest of all options.  I mean we were not these people we were surrounded by.  We were not squares who busted our humps at a 9-5 only to make our way to Vegas and give our hard earned money back to these new shiny corporate owned casinos.  We did not need this new casino they were building that looked like New York City, we go to the real New York City.  We were not our parents, we get out there and walk around.

I should point out that when I say we, I really mean me and no one else thought this was a good idea.  But I had seen the lights downtown, and I was sure that taking a walk there in late August was a must do type of thing.  Needless to say once we arrived my girlfriend was no longer talking to me and my brother was pissed because he wasn't even allowed in these casinos.  It had been hot (we had been in Yellowstone the week before and saw it snow in august there), and there were some sketchy interactions with people on the street along the way.  I was not the most popular person in town, but there was a saving grace of sorts.  They had built a video screen that blocked out the sky over Freemont Street, and even the grumpiest of travelers would have to admit that that was pretty cool.

Luckily at some point in the trip I hit a jackpot on a slot machine and was able to take my non-square, non-consumer girlfriend to the Gucci store and buy her some sunglasses that she looked like a movie star in.  Looking back this is something unique to Vegas, I was an artist and a traveler who didn't shop in a mall let alone in a Gucci store.  I hated corporate america but somehow didn't mind these grandiose corporate eyesore casinos.  It was so over the top it was just in a league of its own.  A microcosm of everything that was ugly about america but somehow it worked.  I remember looking out at the view from the Stratosphere tower, and while it may have been influenced by my regular routine of smoking joints from the time I woke up in the morning until the time I went to sleep, I remember thinking while looking out that Las Vegas was a place I would come back to again someday.  Almost 17 years later I am packing up my stuff and headed in that direction.

(I nicked these two pictures from this page which has some cool old pics/history from Vegas)

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