Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fear and Self-Loathing in Las Vegas

I knew that at some point, my trip to Las Vegas would end up curmudgeonly, but I didn't see the doubt and unhappiness coming. My wife was attending a conference at the Palazzo in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip, and things got weird when I had to eat at the casino. When I was off the strip, I did well, had some great Thai and was entertained by Pan-Asianville. But at one point, I had to fend for myself for dinner in the casino and had the choice of two Mario Batali restaurants, two Emeril restuarants and a number of other restaurants branded by top chefs, all of which required diners to peel off $75 of so before a glass of wine. It felt depressing and somehow defeating when I realized I just couldn't comfortably spend that jack by myself and went to the Palazzo's equivalent of a Shoney's. It was good, but I flashed on tourists who used to come to the Quarter and with good food everywhere, opted for Shoney's. I realize that there is a significant financial difference, but I was aware that there was better food all around me, and I was settling for less. And the cafeteria-like room only made the dining experience worse.

That was the start of a downward spiral as I wondered if I was simply cheap, or if everybody around me really made so much more money than we do that they could live the casino life, buying $7-10 drinks (okay, that I did, but not a lot of them), gambling all night and acting as if the money stash was infinite. It got to a point where I wondered if I was just alienated by subliminal choice, and that the idea that there were ways I'd rather spend my money wasn't simply an excuse to make me feel aesthetically superior yet martyred at the same time.

Fortunately, I snapped out of it. Not to the extent that I ate at one of the branded restaurants, but I recalled the Gang of Four's underappreciated Mall album when I walked the casino floor and saw people dressed up to play penny slots. Obviously, there were also people playing $25-a-hand blackjack, but many brought the look of wealth to hide cheap games they were playing. The possibility that this was the vacation people saved for, and that penny slots were someone's idea of a get-moderately-wealthy-very-very-slowly scheme, or that killing an evening watching slots and video poker while they burned $30 was someone's idea of a good time didn't make me feel better about the world. Watching young people buy into the Vegas marketing also seemed grim and sad, but that might have just been the byproduct of watching the young and good looking living down to their stereotypes.

To be fair, though, I did get one "What happens in Vegas" moment, though, when I got on the elevator with two guys and a woman. She checked out one guy, asked him where he was from, then if he'd be coming back in January. "I'm up for an AVN for Female Performer of the Year," she announced, then got off the elevator at her floor. I shared an elevator with a porn star, and there are shots for that!

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