Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ch. 5 - The Thing of It Is

Leaving El Paso was hard for me. I mean, how could I leave all that Mexican food! But seriously, saying goodbye to Margaret and Mia is always tough and doesn't seem to be getting easier. I guess it's not supposed to. Oh well, as I drove away I was forced to console myself with thoughts of how much money I was going to win in Vegas. Man, I love to gamble! There, I said it, and I don't care who knows it! Anyway, besides the gambling (it's progress that I'm allowing for the possibility that there is anything besides gambling, right?), I was anxious to see my friends that are still in Vegas. It had been only just over a year since I left, but I swear "the Vegas era" feels like a different lifetime to me now. So much (and yet, so little) has happened since I lived there.. and I can hardly believe that I lived there for four years! I can't imagine living anyplace for that long now. Operation Wanderlust is in full effect, people.

Nevertheless, I was driving to Las Vegas for the second time in my life and I could hardly wait to get there. The siren song of Vegas is strong and relentless - to me it sounds like chips being shuffled at the poker table. My friends Dan (another person from Texas, a Jew from Texas at that) and Kash were letting me stay on their futon for as long as I wished.. My plan was to make my big score and get while the getting was good. I just about stuck to the plan, too. But before I even got to Vegas, I had to make a stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere Arizona to see... THE THING!!!

Once again I was sucked in by mile after mile of billboards for a tourist trap, this one simply stating in big bold letters on a yellow sign that I must "see the Thing!" Naturally, they do not tell you what the "Thing" is.. marketing genius. "The Thing, what is it?" as another of the billboards read. Will it be scary? Will it be gross? Will it be human? Will it be lame? Most assuredly, yes, it will be lame, but there is only one way to find out.. stop and "see the thing!" So, I stopped, payed my $1 (even this price hurt me to pay) to go behind the closed door in the back of the convenience store, walked along the path to what I was told is just the first of three (!) buildings holding the thing, opened the creaky door to what looked like a big metal shed, and... I almost don't want to ruin the mystery just in case you ever find yourself driving from El Paso to Las Vegas... but, here's the thing about the "thing":

Yes, that says that this car was believed to be Hitler's car.. "The THING of it is, it can't be proved." So, yep, lame-o. The rest of the "exhibits" in the sheds were similar: old horse-drawn carriages, old Coke machines, old guns, old torture devices with mannequins staged to show how it was done. OK, the place did get weird after a while and I realized it would be completely creepy at night.. a great setting for some horror movie where stupid white teenagers get axed by the local ax-murderer. Come to think of it, while on the surface this place was nothing more than a cheesy conglomeration of leftover crap from bygone eras, I think it was actually more than the sum of its parts.. Anyway, I know I personally couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Onward to Sin City. This was the longest leg of my trip, over 12 hours, and I was dog ass tired when I finally rolled into the valley. Still, I got that old familiar feeling of excitement as I looked down on the city lights glimmering in the desert night, and, just like any good tourist, I felt I needed to cruise the strip from Mandalay Bay to The Sahara. And cruise I did, windows down, arm hanging out, inhaling deep breaths of the gambling mecca of the world.. smelled like victory.. and chlorine from the Bellagio fountain. The traffic was still bad on the strip, a good sign for the economy I suppose. I was a little worried there was gonna be no one there from the horror stories I had been hearing. Anyway, I saw some new buildings and enjoyed my cruise, but I also quickly realized that a year away was not enough for me to find the strip newly exciting upon my return. In fact, just the opposite was true. I returned with a new perspective and, alas, the magic of Vegas may be gone for me now. Not to sound elitist or snobby (I promise I am nothing if not a common man), but it all just seemed so fake to me now. Of course, The Strip always has been nothing but artifice designed to distract you while you lose the family nest egg, and I can appreciate how well it does just that. But the total lack of anything, you know, real was just so apparent to me now and it was already starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Don't get me wrong, I still think Vegas is a great and necessary place, and I think a lot of other cities would benefit by adopting some of the things Vegas does right: everything's open 24 hrs, food and drinks are mostly available for cheap, big beautiful bowling alleys are abundant and games are $1 after midnight. Vegas is a fantastic place to visit, but it's hard for me to imagine living there anymore. The stimulus overload is just too much.. which is weird considering I just came from New York freakin' City, but Vegas has a whole different set of stimuli. I guess it's fairly obvious, but I see now how it might not be the best place for one's mental or physical long term health.

Nevertheless, I wasn't planning on being there long term and I had a lot of lost poker time to make up for.. I wasn't gonna let a little bad taste in my mouth stop me from mainlining as much hardcore Vegas action as my system could handle in a week! But first, I needed Del Taco and sleep.

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