I hate Las Vegas. Hate, hate, hate. It is the worst city I have ever been to and the epitome of everything I hate in a city – and people. But somehow I was just there – for my sixth time. Typically when you hate a place you never return, but somehow I’ve found a reason to do so five times since that first trip some 15 years ago. This time, this time I swear to never return. But I’ve never been good at keeping my promises, so who knows. But even the reasons I went in the past, while I was able to justify them, I just don’t see that willingness on the horizon again. No party, no band, no conference, no story will bring me back. There is a small part of this that is simply attributable to my growing disdain for travel (see this month’s Remote Senselessness for more on that), but I think as I age and embrace my inner-curmudgeon even more, I’ll never even consider another trip to Las Vegas, no matter what the promise is. Las Vegas sucks the life out of me. But here’s a story from my last trip. See if it makes any sense:
I walked into the casino to get my room, as I had made arrangements with the management to stay on the premises while I was working there. I had been here once before, about 18 months earlier, and that is where my interests were piqued. I was hanging out in the VP of Marketing’s office and the problem of the day was a high roller who kept crapping his pants at the table. He’d been doing it for months, apparently, and it was driving away other players, understandably. Well, it had gotten to be too much for the management. So why wouldn’t they kick him out you might ask? Well, he lost about $80k a year, so that is no drop in the bucket for a small, local, off-strip casino. That day they were trying to figure out how to politely get him to clean up and change clothes before he gambled further. I asked if that was normal or simply an isolated incident; this led to a plethora of other stories about what happens at the casino. From that point on, for the next 18 months, I was forwarded police reports, security reports and letters from jail from players, and anecdotes from management and staff about what went on at the casino.
I sat on the casino floor from about 9pm to midnight that first night, just watching the staff and clientele, taking notes. It was one of the slowest weeks of the year in Las Vegas, right before Xmas, so this allowed the spotlight to really fall on the locals, not that a whole lot of tourists come there too often. Having said that, right when I got dropped off there was a busload of Asian tourists being dumped at the casino. Undoubtedly they were duped into a “real Las Vegas” tour or something and being sold on this off-strip dump as the epitome of Las Vegas nightlife, glitz and glam. While they might not have gotten the “commercial” Las Vegas, they sure got the grit and grime. I hope they enjoyed it, but I imagine they’ll go away feeling duped, depressed or scared – or all three.
The experience of checking into the casino was just as depressing as the atmosphere. As I surveyed the landscape I stared at the slackjaws and dreamers, all fascinated by the blinking lights and miniscule payouts “earned” every few minutes, keeping them hooked to the umbilical cord of the slot machines. I saw through it, or at least felt I did. We all have our vices, but why would you wall yourself off in a natural light-free, time-free, fresh air-free environment just to piss away your life savings? That is troubling in its own right; just how could this be the best use of your time?
I got one of the worst night’s sleep I ever had, in large part due to the bed feeling like a prison cot. It didn’t help that the deadbolt on the room didn’t work, so I imagine in the back of my mind I felt like someone was going to come in and rape me, rob me or kill me – or all three. I got up about 730am and walked down to the casino floor, plopping down in front of the café. My phone kept jumping from PST to MST as I moved about the casino. I have no idea why and no one could explain it to me. Whenever I was on the floor I was an hour ahead. When I was in the room or off the premises the time was correct. Who knows?
By 8am the place was pretty well packed, at least far more than I would have expected for a Wednesday before Xmas. I started to notice that there are an awful lot of interactions between the clientele and the staff; everyone has been here a long time. I wouldn’t say that anyone here looks “happy,” but some people do look mildly amused, gleeful to piss away their day watching the bright lights blink. Most of these people look down on their luck, depressed. Is this where it starts or where it ends?
I sit down in the back row of the keno gaming area. There was one player. It was game number 666 right then; how fitting. Some guy ditches out on his tab in the café and is chased out by the waiter. He ambles back like he is going pay the bill, and just as the waiter stops paying attention, he takes off again. He is tackled by security near the front door. Ho-hum. The management told me that, “Most people know they’re coming here to lose. They just want to make their money last a little while.” Jeez. The life arcs of these people to intentionally end up here, I tell you…
The casino was built in the 1970s as a bowling alley, and it still looks like one, kind of. Some of the décor is unmistakably bowling alley, but I’d say it looks more like a 1970s funeral home. This is where people come to die. The place smells of two distinct, and disgusting, smells, which are far worse than you could ever imagine when they mix: an ashtray and grandma’s perfume. The staff has a high turnover rate, at least at the lowest levels, which is not surprising because of how depressing an environment it is. In tandem with that is the fact that most other places pay quite a bit more, so this place is where people come for a stopgap or in some instances, a last chance. Once you bottom out of the working world at the casino, the gutter is your next stop. And here I am…
Leaving Las Vegas!