Trepidation and Mild Disdain in Las Vegas

I’m not a Las Vegas kind of guy. The city baffles me in ways that other locations don’t. During a weekend bachelor party this became clear to me as I spent an more time trying to adjust myself to the surreality of my surroundings than drinking and staring at women in various stages of undress. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself or that I had anything less than the requisite level of fun, because the whole experience was a joy and a pleasure. But in my journeys up and down the strip I could feel that this place was not built for the likes of me, and I couldn’t quite get over it. I kept trying to articulate what about Las Vegas was off for me.

It’s not like I didn’t do my home work. I was really looking forward to the trip and went out of my way in the week or two leading up to it to listen to Frank Sinatra. I re-watched Ocean’s Eleven, Swingers, Casino, Vegas Vacation, and of course Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I decided against bringing “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine and a whole multicolored collection of uppers, downers, laughers, screamers . . . Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls” and instead opted for a bottle of scotch and another of Irish whiskey, a hip flask and some advil that I knew I’d be needing. Over the course of the trip I ate and drank with friends, which was great but I could have done it anywhere. Despite its mystique, the city itself was unkind to me and I think I know why.

Reasons I am Not a Las Vegas Sort of Guy

1. I am Cheap.

I am not the sort of man who easily parts with money. Las Vegas is a black whole which absorbs not only all light and matter, but also every last dollar you have. I’m not just talking about gambling, but the exorbitant food and beverage prices as well as the cover charges and hiked up ATM fees. Cabs try to inflate their fares. The town will bleed you dry.

2. I am a Horrible Gambler.

As a consequence of my cheapness, I make a poor gambler. You should never risk what you’re not willing to part with and every chip that slides across the table away from me is like a tooth getting ripped from my mouth. I take each loss as an affront to my personal dignity. I get so angry at the loss of money that I do not enjoy myself. But gambling does get you free drinks, although even the jacked-up prices of buying the cocktails is far less than I lose at the table.

3. I am Unlucky.

No one should visit Vegas and literally lose every single hand of cards and and every single pull on the slot machine, but I found a way to defy the statisticians. I suppose it has to happen to someone and I happy to be that unlucky outlier.  The game of “Let It Ride” requires no skill whatsoever, aside from deciding what to bet, Yet I went without putting a single chip in the “W” column. Games that do require skill are worse for me, as I lack the patience to learn them or the mathematical facility to play the odds. I’m not even sure what “odds” are.

4. I Do Not Enjoy Strip Clubs.

I may be the only red-blooded male on this planet (outside of the Castro or West Hollywood) that doesn’t thrive under the dim lighting and ample nudity of the strip club. While enjoy a naked woman as much as the next guy, there’s always been something profoundly sad about strip clubs that keep me from really getting into it above and beyond the outrageous cover, watered-down drinks, and obnoxious DJs (Do they have a school for strip-club disc jockeys somewhere that teaches that hilariously irritating (or irritatingly hilarious) tone of voice as they call “Cinnamon” to Stage Three?) I like the dancing, such as it is but the constant exchange of money for female attention bothers me, if only for the fact that it makes explicit what implicit to many of these guy’s relationships.

5. I Tend to Spend the Time I Should be Having Fun Overthinking Obvious Things for No Real Reason.

For me it wasn’t an adult disneyland, so much as a puzzle I wanted to figure out. I don’t understand how a city like that can exist. It shouldn’t, but some Americans decided to go out to the desert and create an improbable place amid the sands lip-chapping heat.  They created a monument to something. Hunter S. Thompson thinks it may be the American dream. I started to think that Las Vegas may be the most quintessentially American city there is. In some ways, Vegas is America  itself. The lighting threw me off and everywhere I turned I saw miniaturized kitschy versions of real places and cultures. Sanitized and stripped recreations of the Eiffel Tower,  New York City and ancient Rome. But they aren’t even recreations so much as they are impressions of someone’s idea of what famous landmarks look like. Las Vegas is the type of place where Jean Baudrillard would have a field day. When I looked down the strip, all I could see was simulacra of simulacra.

And this hyper reality is in service of what? The answer is to see Vegas as a monument to capitalism, and it’s not hard to argue with that assessment with all the dollars flowing into it. There’s something appealing about the idea that with one pull of a slot lever or hot roll of the dice, a man can earn a fortune through nothing less than skill, daring, and luck. The fact that this idea keeps the casinos obscenely rich also has something to do with the pure American-ness of Las Vegas.

I am obviously not the ideal demographic for Las Vegas, but they seem to be doing just fine without me. An added bonus was that I happened to be there during the AVN awards, and in the course of our explorations the other bachelor partiers and I kept our eyes peeled for the presence of porn stars in every crowd. Sightings were few and far between, but I’m pretty sure we spotted at least three. I had the most fun at the Hofbrauhaus, a giant German restaurant modeled on the one in Munich. There was much singing and the beer flowed like wine, only a liter at a time to wash down the fine Bavarian sausages. We got so drunk that the Groom-To-Be ended up ordering a completely unnecessary round of pretzels for dessert, despite the fact that we were all (a) completely full from dinner and (b) scared of the mammoth pretzels. It was a great time, but it could have been equally great anywhere that beer is served.

The final verdict is that I had a great time, but feel satisfied that I have seen what there is to see and there is no reason for me to ever return to Sin City. What happened there not only stays there, I don’t need to recreate it. It was, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace, a really fun thing I’ll never do again.

1 Comment on "Trepidation and Mild Disdain in Las Vegas"

  • I dislike Vegas for the same reasons that you do; the odds are in favor of the house, meaning that for every hand (or slot pull) that you lose, it’s actually a win for the house. I wouldn’t go hang out at a friend’s place where they took my money and disguised the exits; I certainly won’t do it at a commercial establishment.

    Las Vegas is almost always better in theory than reality. I dated a professional gambler (the whole poker tour thing) for a while and learned that, after 72 hours, even the social experiment of people-watching gets disconcerting. Because it is an unreasonable and unlikely place, built in the middle of the desert, it brings out the most irrational behaviors in people. They forget logic and rely on luck, eschewing instinct for superstition. I’m glad you made it back intact.

    And one more thing: you used the present tense in reference to Hunter Thompson. Shall I quote his suicide note? “Football season is over. No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”

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