Day 5: “The drugs kicked in around Baker…”
San Diego – Las Vegas
The first big one. San Diego to Las Vegas. Not much to say, really. Apart from losing the power cable for the GPS unit, we had a smooth ride most of the way. There was a delay at one point, pretty close to the nevada border, because of a brushfire, but it was out by the time we got there. All we saw was a burnt-out wreck of what was once a car, and a trooper valiantly directing traffic in the heat. He looked warm and surly, not that I blame him. The fire got us to spend 45 minutes in a slog of a queue, but I couldn’t really complain: we had a pretty trouble-free trip overall, and I was extremely grateful not to be stuck in the queue going the other way. All the July 4th revelers are headed back to LA, and were queued bumper to bumper pretty much the whole way. I can safely say I’d probably lose my shit if that were me, so I’m very happy to be traveling in the other direction.
The desert is fascinating in itself. Utterly barren, save for some brush and populated by the odd signpost. The road just lies there in the great big nothing. The heat is dry and searing, and it’s tough to see how anyone can live out here. Every now and then, we came upon a small hamlet of malls, where business seemed to thrive. Still, we were going to Vegas, baby! No time for these chickenshit operations.
Las Vegas was as insane as the last time. We arrived at the hostel with only a minor detour to Northern Vegas. The hostel, located “next” to the Stratosphere (ie a ten-minute walk), is a classic hostel, run-down, and very basic, but clean enough. Still, it’s a roof over our heads, and an air-conditioned one at that. The receptionist told us there was no light in the ceiling because of the fire hazard. Is it a Vegas thing, or should they maybe have hired a different electrician?
We ended up walking the whole strip. It was quite a haul. Last time I was here, I said to myself that I’d seen enough light bulbs to last me a lifetime. It still goes, but of course the number has now doubled. We ate at the Venetian and for the first time on the trip, I guzzled the water before the beer. We also played the slots, and I won 12 credits. We had already decided that if one of us won, we’d split it equally, so I argued we cash out our grand sum of six dollars. Stig, being the reckless gambling soul that he is, argued I keep playing. “You’re on a roll, man,” he said, dollar signs flashing in his eyes, “you can’t lose now!” Oh, but I could. I’m sure the game was rigged, but what can you do? I left the table a dollar – and a dream – poorer.
Vegas is wall-to-wall tourists, which is disconcerting in itself. Not only are you mauled by lights and music is a full-on media assault, but you also have to deal with roughly four million overweight Midwesterners seeking the all-you-can-eat buffets, all of whom ARE IN YOUR WAY! Seriously, it’s insane. The city never slows down; there’s traffic jams at midnight. The streets are lined with Mexican men holding stacks of cards for prostitutes that they rap over they knuckles over and over again to get your attention. I don’t get the people who bring their kids here, even if it’s supposed to be family-friendly now, but judging by the sheer number of strollers, they are in plentiful supply. Every now and then, somebody asks for money, but they mostly stay on the edges of the Strip, like up where we live. I assume the casinos keep them away – after all, you don’t fuck with the corporations. If you’re dumb enough to do so, Andy Garcia will kick your ass.
So we headed further, braving the crowds. Eventually, we settled in Caesar’s Palace, in a Pussycat Dolls-themed bar. It was every bit as classy as you’d expect for something bearing the Pussycat Dolls brand. The croupiers were dressed as kinky traffic wardens, and there were two girls dancing in cages. Every now and then they’d flash you a smile to keep you thinking “Hey, I have a chance too,” or “I should so gamble over there,” but for the most part, their eyes seemed to be somewhere else. I assume on a beach somewhere far away from the prying eyes of ogling guys like us. Amusingly, we sat there a full hour, and not once did they play a Pussycat Dolls tune, though who would know if they did? This part of the bar was all about the tits, but really all about the money. Shaking our heads, we headed out and walked the last little stretch to see the Luxor. and the light reaching for the skies. Allegedly, it can be seen from space, but I don’t buy it. They claim that about the Wall of China, too, but I was pretty tired by then, and was happy to grab a cab back to the hostel. I was far more excited about going to the Grand Canyon again, but that was for the next day.