Sunday, June 21, 2009

Vegas Baby! (Part 2)

We awoke Thursday and agreed that before we left we should poke our heads in a casino one more time. Neither one of us had placed a bet, and I didn't want to leave Vegas without spending even a couple of minutes at a blackjack table. We packed up the car, checked out of the hotel and made our way to New York New York where I quickly found a ten dollar minimum bet table (there were no five dollar tables just then). It was just the dealer and me, and as soon as I sat down the magic started happening. I was bulletproof, and eating the dealer's hands for breakfast. 19...20...21, it seemed I couldn't lose. The pit boss walked over and stared for a few hands and a small group of people stood over my shoulder and watched. (This is might be a little cooler in my head than it actually was, but please don't burst my bubble). I was at the table for less than ten minutes before I knew it was time to leave, but when I did I had turned my $10 bet into over sixty bucks. Sixty bucks which I felt I had a civic duty to reinvest in the local economy, what with the current financial climate and all.

"Hey Sarah, what do you think rooms cost here?"

Once I factored in my new riches, we could stay at New York New York for about ten bucks, plus get a free room upgrade courtesy of my two-years expired CAA card (shhhh). Things were turning around for us in Sin City, as in the period of a couple of hours we had gone from unimpressed passersby with our car pointed out of town, to energized revelers sipping Coronas poolside. We were living large on our sixty bucks, and looking forward to a night on the town. We got sucked in, and were loving every second of it.

We briefly looked for show tickets in the afternoon, but we were a little naive in our expectations, price-wise. Unless we wanted to see a never-was magician on the downside of his career, we'd be looking at spending well into triple figures between the two of us to see a decent show. We figured that walking the strip, having dinner and maybe gambling a little bit would be a much more sensible way to spend money we don't have.

Putting on our cleanest dirty clothes from the back of the car, we emerged from our room at 9:30 and the strip was in full effect, with the daytime tourists making their final rounds and the nocturnal carousers starting to emerge from the woodwork. We saw the water show in front of the Bellagio (because water is so abundant in the desert that they can just throw it around), a fire show somewhere else and talked to Elvis impersonators as we walked. Dinner was a late one, and it was nearing midnight when we were ready to have some drinks and do some gambling with full bellies. We were getting a little sleepy, though, and in perilous danger of fading away before making guaranteed financial gains at blackjack. Luckily, a quick swing by the convenience store in New York New York for a couple of tall boy cans of Miller Genuine Draft fixed that up, and feeling brave I went back to the tables.

I found another ten dollar table, pulled twenty bucks out of my pocket and went to work. My luck from the afternoon seemed to be continuing (except for the hand where I split aces, drew another ace, split again, and ended up with a push and two losses when the dealer drew 21) and I was feeling good. I was up as much as sixty bucks on the night (the magic number) but ended up losing twenty of that, so I was up forty bucks when I stepped away. We had an awesome night altogether, cruising the casino floor, making generous new friends, playing a hand or two at a time and, well, being in Vegas. I went to bed at four o'clock, but only because I felt that I had to. I had lost all sense of time (what happens in Vegas is carefully orchestrated by the people who run the casinos) and really didn't feel like slowing down. It was time to cash in, though, and by the time we factored in Sarah's winnings the next morning (when she played her first ever hands of blackjack), and my $1.50 windfall on a Price Is Right-themed slot machine, we were up about $140 at the casinos when all was said and done (although admittedly most of that never left town, and of course I would not be so proudly crunching my gambling numbers had we not enjoyed so much dumb luck).

I have a lot of issues with Las Vegas. It really is a ridiculous city - a paradoxical beacon of overindulgence in the middle of the desert. Even for those who don't gamble, drink or overeat (and why else would you go to Vegas, really?), simply turning on the tap is an exercise in the unsustainable, and Vegas as a whole is a metaphor for North American short-sightedness if their ever was one.

But my biggest issue with Las Vegas is how much I enjoyed it. Sure, I'll hike into the backcountry, sit in the woods and read for hours or even days on end and feel a deep inner calm, self-awareness and interconnectedness with the world around me, but damned if I don't feel alive when you put a tall boy can in my left hand and a stack of chips in my right. I remain annoyed with the toll that Vegas takes on the Southwest's water supply, and the unrealistic culture of consequence-free consumption that it seeks to promote and proliferate, but my personal turmoil lies in the fact that I'm already trying to rationalize my next trip.

Pleasure is Vegas's business, and they are good at it. They know exactly what buttons to push and how much of Pandora's Box to show you in order to rope you in, and it is all at your fingertips 24 hours a day. If we hadn't been able to gamble early in the day before we had planned to leave town, or buy cheap alcohol late at night from a convenience store in our hotel, we would not have spent as much money there as we did (which really wasn't a lot, even if it was more than we had planned), and wouldn't be talking about a return trip. Like six year-olds drawn to the cereal box with the coolest picture on it, we both fell for the inauthentic and fleeting satisfaction provided by a blindingly bright and placeless landscape.

Moderation is not something that you think of when Las Vegas is mentioned, but if I tell myself that future visits can be as budget-friendly and freakin' awesome as my first one was, perhaps I can justify poking my head in again at some point down the road. If anyone cares to come along, I'll buy the first round of tall boys.




Anonymous said...

Hart -Excellent post. I have yet to visit the city of sin, but hopefully will venture down there in the near future.

Thoughtful comments my man.

I love you!


Anonymous said...

Dave Namkung, that is.

Chris said...

Hart, sign me up! ( and I'm glad you guys decided to continue the trip and not find jobs... that blog post would have not been as interesting..)

Anonymous said...

Hart this blog is amazing. i've been reading it religiously and it has been giving me such an urge to go explore the States. i can't wait to read about the Grand Canyon!
Miss you buddy, keep having adventures for all your bored, law-smothered friends.


Hart Shouldice said...

Word up.

Dave and Chris - Vegas next winter. Let's do it.

Moira - thanks for being a frequent flier on the blog. This trip has really opened my eyes to how sweet the western/southwestern US is. I'm at Bryce Canyon now, which is mind blowing on a whole other level.

That said, part of me misses summer in Vic. It's not exactly a high stress environment, if I recall correctly.

Much love, folks.


Schizz said...

Hey buddy,

I just caught up on a month of posts at work and it was delightful. You have a way with words, and I'm terribly jealous that your hitting up a bunch of places I want to hit up if I ever find the time and money to do the western US road trip I've been planning.

Also, Oregon bound next week by car so keep in touch about where you'll be. No plans yet but might be heading south for the weekend.

Peace, Love, and Luxury Hotels.


Schizz said...

Oh and just because it needs to be said, I and everyone else really missed you at convocation.

You definitely missed out on a heartfelt Petter moment where he waxed poetic about our time in office.