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Bright Days of Vegas, Part I

It would have been a better choice, to walk toward the Sands Convention Center and then through the Wynn. Instead, I decided to take what looked like a more direct route on Desert Inn to the Encore’s new poker room, promised to be near the entrance of the secondary but still lovely hotel.  Along the way, guided by grey columns of the monorail, I sought the slim paths of shade offered by motels and discount hovels.

It was just after check-out, heat already expanding furiously into the lungs and eyes. Families, led by tired fat husbands in stretched out t-shirts and cracking sandals, were gathering and departing in their station wagons, each vehicle pressed just feet away from their street-level rooms. Wives were already exhausted and slumped, as much by the sun as their bumptious sons, but the children were curious about me and my own version of indifference to the weather. Why are you walking? Where is your family? Their eyes asked many questions. Well, I’ve never made a good choice in my life, boys and girls, and it’s a long story, anyway. Too long for one twelve and rising.

And besides, when is it not long? This trip, upon reflection, began a long time ago, before I started this strange life, long before the last Red Chip gathering. When I was last in Vegas, in the dark and cold, when she seemed to be someone else, to belong to no one and to repulse all who would enjoy her. Now, I hoped, in the celebratory summer, the high time of tourism and the World Series of Poker, there was a place for me, even at her most luxurious and warm honey trap, Steve Wynn’s pink, perfumed twins. All in good time, of course: As the businesses disappeared, and only the near end of the monorail the green and lush golf course of the Wynn, soon to be completely transformed into an epic artificial beach resort, called to me, padlocked, moist, impenetrable.

As Jesus said in New York: I like this city.

I had been ready for a trip, to get away. During my crisis of Spring, when I was so depressed I went months without playing, hiding in movie theaters, the back of bars, and my impossibly comfortable bed, custom made in brighter, more optimistic days and crowned with one of those ridiculously expensive mattresses they only hope to sell you, I did not know if I would have it in me. The plane. The people. And that was just Vegas: committing to go to on Live at the Bike, having to overcome claustrophobia in the limo and the breaking of my favored anonymity on set was a lot to ask someone who could barely go outside without sedatives.

I had worked my way toward it. I deliberately shook up my life. I spoke or tried to speak to people I had not in years. I saw my old boss; we smoked once again, this time on my fire escape, and reflected on the past, its meaninglessness, and the treachery of people.

I was looking for the in, or the out: the edge of the mental door I could not seem to pry open in my mind.

Then I went through the fighting phase. I found ways around my issues. I cheated with stimulants and depressives. I forced myself to play while feeling nauseous at the idea. I returned to tango, trying, flailing, failing to rediscover old passions. I spent time with family and friends. I saw a therapist for the first time in my life, who intrigued me by telling me that he “didn’t really want to talk about my problems.” How did I find this one? My usual luck.

Meanwhile, I prepared carefully for Live at the Bike, in defiance of my instinct to hide. I went over the arguments with myself about why I was even doing this. I dug out a wig, left over from some party, and found sunglasses for a complete disguise, should I not be completely ready.

Maybe all this helped, or maybe it was just the time. However, when I got off the plane and stepped into the evening warmth of Vegas, directly onto the tarmac from the short Portland flight in a turboprop, I felt almost good. The familiar stuffiness of the air was not wearing, but comfortable.

I was glad.

Many good memories had taken place here, I realized, and I was suddenly eager to repeat them, to take part in them again, if I could. I didn’t want to hurry things up or rush into the games which were ahead. I remembered that at the beginning of my best and most memorable trip, I had walked from McCarran to the strip. I’d walked past some suspicious hippies that were even more surprised at what I was doing, found a promising path and some empty fields, located the strip by sight, and sat straight down at Bally’s, going on to the most profitable week I’d ever had in poker. I’d played in the biggest game I’d ever played, with an amused and scary pro (“You guys are so good at poker!” he had sneered at our bumbling overcalls) and a fumbling, high out of his mind dude who still managed to win, despite a complete inability to use his hands, eventually carted off by security and medical staff. I’d even started some of the notes that were the precursor to this blog, a travel journal I intended to share with my family, a sort of tribute to my father who once did the same thing while on a distant vacation, which at the time was a complete and utter shock to everyone who knew him as a man who never read anything that wasn’t on newsprint or wrote anything that wasn’t a shopping list or an engineering schematic.

So I decided to kick things off right, and walked straight out of the terminal, past the endless line of cabs you’ve probably never seen, parked on the side of sizzling ingress, and their surprised, grim drivers. They had nothing to say, though, having seen it all. As I walked past them all, I saw the vision of immigrant American: East Africans and Middle Easterners and South Americans seemed numerous in this trade on this day.Las Vegas from McCarran

I got a little lost this time, however. The older I get, the more my memory seems to fail me, although I think in truth it is the toxicity as much as my brain that is the problem. I remembered passing through a field and under a small overpass the first time. Now, after going over a fence, clutzing over the strangely light, triangular, and brick sized moon rocks that fill the dead spaces, like an alien beach, between access roads, and then through a park, I ended up in what can only be described as a Shitty Neighborhood. It was houses and a few apartments. Cars without wheels. Lots without grass. Syringes and cans. Above all, dust. The streets were empty, except one old couple, the woman covered in green and fading tattoos like crusted-over slime, in straightened circumstances and who seemed to be on the losing end of some business deal gone wrong. She pleaded on the phone while he stood mute and helpless, emasculated by age and poverty. I walked on, knowing I did not want to be here and feeling a little foolish for my exuberance in commencing this little stroll, which was partially, in the park. Ha. But enough foolishness: I noticed my wallet, packed with Benjamins for the games, bulging out of my front pocket. Come hither.

So when I started to hear the music, the music of voraciousness and anger and heat and sex, and see the decrepit, souped up cars of the hombres around the corner, I realized it was too late to go back. It was certainly too late to put this ridiculous sack of hundreds somewhere discreet.

I ambled on. Inevitably, I locked eyes with one of the hermanos who was not on the steps smoking. This one was deep in his lawn chair, barely dressed, in only those giant shorts that are supposed to imply action and indifference at once, his impressive tattoos like a body wreath from his shoulder to his stomach to the other shoulder. The fresh, stunning version of what marred the old woman. (Tattoos are supposed to be permanent but in the end only remind us of our transitory nature.) He was a third world at the heart of the first world version of the young dad on the sofa, trapped by family and kids and choices. More importantly, the look of another angry young man was familiar: no trapping or styling could ever change that. I nodded to him and moved on. He only stared, an alpha animal in his zone. Where did it extend to exactly? No one knows. Now, I was not going to surrender my money if pressed; I had decided long ago how I want to handle muggings, but I didn’t think it would come to that. I had inertia, his and mine, on my side, as well as a very logical thought:

No one is going to believe some dumb tourist with loads of cash is going to walk from the Airport through a near slum.

I made it to Paradise Road and UNLV. The endless walk to buildings that looked so close began. This was the longest and most tiresome part of the journey. I saw, after passing an entrance to the airport, that I had taken a much faster route the time before, recognizing the intersection.


More ahead. Now people, too. When you meet others on the sidewalk that no one is supposed to be on, they give you a strangeSkors look of comradeship and threat, like an encounter in the desert. Well, I guess that makes sense.

When I finally made it to where I was staying, after following a group of Caesars Properties dealers leaving their giant employee center, like a lost fish in the wrong school, I met up with Skors, a Red Chipper who was putting up for a night before my lodgings were available, at the Linq. I knew this newer hotel was supposed to be a mid-grade choice, but I liked immediately, especially the lounge we were to meet at. I sat in a chair and unwound from the two hour journey, then hit their bar, which I loved. It was a circle around a plaster oval which spread upward, illuminated by laser light to give the effect of colored tiling, of Italian decadence and leanness at once. I sucked down a few soda waters, and Skors told me about poker while I enjoyed what to me, perhaps only for the moment, was the best bar in the world. Skors talked on, and had been running…

I briefly closed my eyes. I was ready for poker talk, and the world never quits, but something else was going on. I had a room to stay in, the game I love, and two weeks ahead.

I was content.

Next in Part II: More Poker, Less Walking!

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