What I Really Think of Las Vegas
The next morning,
I said goodbye to
Troy, Carlye, and the weird golf courses in San Diego, then drove east on
Interstate 15 heading to Las Vegas. Yeah, there are more
interesting roads to take across the Mojave Desert, such as the old, two-lane U.S. Route 66 used by the fictional Joad family in John Steinbeck's "Grapes of
Wrath" and used by the thousands of non-fictional Okies and Arkies
immigrating to California during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but I was in a
hurry to get to Utah. It's about a 3-hour drive across the Mojave Desert
from southern California to Las Vegas and, this being a Friday, Interstate 15 was packed with Angelenos heading to "Lost Wages" for a weekend of
fun... and, mostly, losing.
"World's Tallest Thermometer" read 98 degrees as I drove into the dusty town of Baker, half-way
to Vegas and in the middle of the Mojave Desert, so I stopped and got a 44-ounce mug of Diet Pepsi with LOTS of ice,
which I nursed the rest of the way across the desert with the windows rolled
down. This is the only way to drive across the desert if your car doesn't have air-conditioning, and it was actually quite
pleasant, especially with my truck's 11 speakers blasting out Sheryl Crow's
"Leaving Las Vegas" (although I hadn't even arrived yet). The
Mojave Desert gets pretty hot in the summer... and darn cold in the
winter. In fact, I once spent a very cold January night many years ago huddled
in my down sleeping bag while parked in a Rest Area on I-15 near Baker.
left: An Inspection Station in southern California, manned by unfriendly-looking
Border Patrol agents looking for illegal aliens. I didn't mention to them that I
once swam across the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas.
center: The most expensive gas that I've seen so far was here in Baker.
Ouch! By the way, that's the World's Tallest Thermometer at the Bun
Boy restaurant in the background.
right: Joshua Trees were named by the early pioneers because their
branches reminded them of the arms of Joshua reaching towards heaven.
Joshua, apparently, had many arms.
I think are the
two strangest states in the U.S., Nevada and Utah, are, interestingly enough, located
right next to each other. Utah is the heart of Mormonism, socially
conservative, prim and very proper. Nevada, its rowdy next-door neighbor,
was for many years the only state in which gambling was legal.
Prostitution is also legal in some counties in Nevada, although it's regulated
pretty stringently -- but, of course, I wouldn't know about that.
the late 1800s, Las Vegas, Nevada was a dust-blown railroad stop in the middle
of nowhere with less than 50 residents and about as many saloons. Hoover Dam, a Depression-era works project, was built
on the Colorado River in the 1930s and, with this source of electricity and a
growing population of Angelenos just a few hours away, casinos began sprouting
up in Las Vegas during the 1940s... with the Mafia not far
behind. Today, Las Vegas is the fastest-growing city in America with a population
approaching a million. Wherever you go in Vegas, you can hear the constant
pounding of hammers as new rows of stucco-sided houses sprawl endlessly off into
the desert... with little thought towards planning or conservation.
of gambling, after I graduated from college, I spent 5 solid months teaching myself to count cards
in Blackjack and planned to hit Las Vegas to break the bank (hey, what
was I supposed to do with a Geography degree?). After teaching myself how to win, I drove
to Reno to try out my strategy and rake in the winnings. However, I soon learned
a simple fact: casinos don't like it when people win money. Maybe I'll describe that
whole story later, but it was a good lesson and I figured that I better get a real
job instead of sitting at smoky blackjack tables for the rest of my life, so I joined
Here's Elvis Presley singing
that classic, Viva Las Vegas.
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Though I've forgotten most of my card-counting
strategy, I still play blackjack in the casinos occasionally just for fun and can usually stay
even with the casino, which is better than most players do, I guess. This
time, though, I
drove right by the blackjack tables, since I wanted to spend the night in Utah.
Las Vegas is kind of interesting, but it's also extremely bizarre. Back in 1999,
I lived here for about two months and learned just how gritty it
really is. Nowhere else in America is greed so rampant. After leaving Las Vegas in
1999, I flew back
to Portland and was walking through the Portland airport when a single and, in
retrospect, rather humorous thought
ran through my mind: "Portland is so... wholesome!"
Actually, compared to the cesspool called Las Vegas, anyplace is wholesome.
In my opinion, Las Vegas is the sleaziest and slimiest city in America, and it's literally the last place I'd ever want to live.
That old adage, "You couldn't PAY me to live there" is true.
You really couldn't.
Driving down The Strip, though, is usually good for
a laugh because you're never sure what you'll see. As I pulled back onto
Interstate 15 after seeing The Strip, I popped the Sheryl Crow CD back in and played
"Leaving Las Vegas" again as I headed out of town. I was
definitely glad to leave.
left: I really love highway signs. In
fact, I used to have an official "U.S. Route 66" highway sign on my bedroom wall... back when
I had a bedroom wall. I still have the sign, though.
center: Interstate 15 and the endless caravan of cars heading from
Los Angeles to Las Vegas (right) on a Friday afternoon for a weekend of gambling.
A long caravan of losers will be heading in the opposite direction (left) on Sunday
right: Las Vegas is everything I'm not and is probably the last place I'd ever move
to. But it's always a kick to drive on the Strip.
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