Las Vegas, Nevada

I think I owe the Angelinos and their city a sincere apology. I have committed a true traveler’s fallacy and judged before I visited and for that, dear Los Angeles, I am sorry. My expectations were not completely misguided, but I happened to be surprised and pleased by most of my experience today in the city. It’s a city that if I had a few million dollars to play with, I would consider living in for a time.

I have to admit though, I was slightly disappointed by my revelation about L.A. I had been working on ways to shun the Angelinos and their shortcomings (or excessive longcomings), preparing to write about the stress of it all and how I fled for my sanity after having just arrived. I wanted to express my disgust at their pretentiousness, their efforts at perfection, their lack of shame. I wanted to burn the exercise extremists at Venice Beach where the men would look capable of rape and the women would look willing. I wanted to capture the essence of Beverly Hills in a single thought: that they’re the type of people who would swerve their Beemer out of the way of a water puddle (runoff from their Mexican-watered garden, no doubt) and in the process, smash into another Mexican’s little Nissan pickup — or something like that anyway, I never worked out the details.

And that’s because I never really got that sense. I’m sure if I stuck around longer than the eight hour or so that I was in the city, I would have seen more of it, but it surely wasn’t as blatant as I expected. The city also proved much nicer than I planned for; of course I spent a majority of my time in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Santa Monica, so again, my experience is lacking in scope.

On my way out of the city, in the depths of the five o’clock rush hour, I got to see the terrible urban sprawl and constant regurgitation of suburban development, and that I simply pitied. What a terrible thing for a city to become so big and for so much of it to remain spiritless and lack any identity whatsoever.

I have to say that my self-designed driving tour of L.A. turned out remarkable and that if anyone ever plans on seeing the city in a day, ask me for specific directions. It’s an excellent drive (though I ended up driving about 130 miles inside the city limits altogether).

After Malibu and its hidden and intriguing residences, I turned north for a drive through the hilly and mostly undeveloped Topanga Canyon. The road dumped me out into the middle of a faceless suburb where I met up with Mulholland Drive, another of my most-anticipated drives of this whole trip. I had planned on listening to a specific song when I made the drive as the narrative in the song talks about the road: “Kerry suggested we take a ride in her two-door BMW coupe. In the parking lot we slid into her bucket seats. Kerry took over from there. At nearly 90 miles per hour she zipped us up to that windy edge known to some as Mulholland, a sinuous stretch riding the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains…

It was a nice drive with lots of scenic outlooks, the last over Hollywood to the south and the Hollywood sign to the North. The entire city was smog covered at that early hour, so I’m sure it would have been a better view in the early afternoon, before all the cars took back to the commute.

In Hollywood, I connected to Sunset Boulevard and drove that nearly the same direction I had just come — all the way back to the Pacific Ocean and Hwy-1 — but at the foot for the mountains and through the opulence of Beverly Hills and Bel Aire. It’s fortunate that I don’t see anything disgraceful about having a big house (or even a huge house necessarily), as I have a lot of appreciation for architecture and nice, modern, comfortable homes. It’s fortunate because I would have been driven to senility otherwise. I’m just baffled by not only the decadence and sheer size and maintenance of these homes, but mostly by how many there are. That there are so many people who afford them. I know I would be excited to tears to know whose homes I drove by today. I saw a lot.

Sunset Boulevard dropped me off right at the edge of the ocean and very close to the famous Santa Monica Pier (with the carousel featured in “The Sting”) and the huge perfect beaches that run all the way from Malibu to Venice. I spent most of my day here, walking along the boardwalk where most of L.A. jogs and roller-skates and bikes. This is also where I made my revelation of how normal the people seemed. I had expected the beach to be the ultimate place for flair and expressiveness. I expected huge no-necked men to be pumping weights while girls in skimpy bikinis giggled with stupidity. But I saw none of that. It all seemed very unexceptional, and I was happy.

In my wandering of the beach I ran across, surprise surprise, a huge camera crew — this was serious — filming an episode for a television show. When I arrived the first time they were getting things set up, explaining things to the extras, the background actors; when I would leave about three hours later, they were still shooting the same, simple scene. They had big signs posted that said something along the lines like: “We’re shooting a TV show. If you enter in this area we can use your likeness for whatever we please at no compensation.” And then something about “throughout the Universe in Perpetuity” which I wondered if completely necessary.

When I walked through the area the first time, I about ran over this really pretty blonde girl on roller skates. She was there with her friend and another guy — it looked to me like they were just learning to skate. And so when I about walked over this blonde who couldn’t skate, it seemed, I said “Good luck” and she said “Thanks,” smiling the world’s best smile, but I don’t think she ever looked at me. I remember that specifically, I remember being moderately disappointed she didn’t even look.

It turns out — and I’m only slightly embarrassed I didn’t know this when it happened — that the blonde was actually Alicia Silverstein, you know, like, the girl from Clueless and all those other movies? C’mon. I guess she’s starring in a new TV series, the one they were filming. So I lingered around longer, armed with this new fact (that I finally learned from the back of those “director’s” chairs. They did this same shot where the three of them skated in, down the boardwalk, and then sat at an umbrella’d table. There was no dialogue necessarily, so I wondered what the shot was for, why it was so important. I’ll have to look for it when it comes on TV.

Having had my star-sighting, I really felt prepared to leave town. It was nearly four o’clock and I knew I’d be hitting the thick of rush hour, but I also knew I’d have to wait three or four hours to avoid it, so I opted to get stuck in the middle, which I did. It wasn’t bad, really. The highways are new and nice and BIG, so we were almost always moving, probably averaging 30 mph over the whole commute (which is a long one). The exit drive took me through the heart of the city, driving up Venice Boulevard and then a bit on La Brea and then I adlibbed a bit until I finally jumped on the freeway out of town.

I was happy to be on the road, the open road, the big, wide open road. With semis! Oh, I’ve missed the semis. Really, I did, they’re very comforting to me somehow. I was happy to be driving and so I drove and drove, through the desert aglow with the setting sun, another amazing sunset in an entire series.

I got the idea that maybe I could just drive on to Las Vegas — it was only a few hours more. So I pulled over at a little truck stop town whose name I only remember for a reason I shall soon set down: Yerma. I wanted to have accommodation arranged in Las Vegas if I was to continue on, so I stopped in Yerma to make some phone calls to see if I could have someone get on Priceline and bid for a room for tonight. During my call to my friend Bryan, the techie for the night, I locked my keys in my car. I knew the instant the door shut I had, too. I cursed and cut off Bryan — I had bigger problems than accommodation now.

So I called AAA and after a bit of confusion about the name of the town, they had a truck on its way. The driver arrived soon thereafter and had me inside my car even quicker. Thank you Triple A!Since Priceline doesn’t do day-of reservations, I made a call to Circus Circus in Vegas and they had me a room for just $49, which I took. About three hours later, here I am, in my huge bed, in my huge room. I’ve enjoyed the other hotels from a distance as I passed through town. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road I was so amazed. I’m still amazed, shaking my head.

I haven’t had a chance to do anything else here yet; I wanted to write my journal first. I got in around 11 p.m. and it’s half past midnight now, and I’m going to go out to the casino and for a short walk, since this is my only opportunity to see Vegas at night, even though I’m ridiculously tired (I got up at seven this morning). Tomorrow I’ll take a better look around and leave whenever I’m ready.

It’s now a bit past 3 a.m. and I’m done with Vegas for the night. I decided I had better finish up my journal properly so I can have a clean slate for tomorrow.

I really didn’t do much, I suppose, which is always a bad thing to say when you’ve come out with $30 less in your pocket — they should give you Participant Ribbons at least, you think? The green ones, since blue, red, and even white demanded a bit of respect, at least.

Vegas is surprisingly quiet and low key at this hour, probably very few people’s first impression. After hours on a Wednesday night is not the time for being overwhelmed by Las Vegas, but the characters out at this time of night sure are interesting.

First I just wandered the Circus Circus premises — found the pool, Big Tent, Adventuredome (a full amusement park), and the line of shops in the Skyrise, all of which were closed. I wandered through the casino (one of Circus Circus’s three casinos) and quickly lost five dollars on the slots.

I headed down the strip, wanting to see more of the casinos, stopping into the occasional one. I lost five more dollars at Frontier and watched Roulette at Stardust for a half-hour or so. I probably walked a mile down the strip, all the way to Treasure Island, where everything was equally dead. The really good casino/hotels are probably two miles down the strip from Circus Circus, so I’ll have to see them tomorrow — I was too tired for such a walk tonight.

I’ve noticed that all casinos are exactly the same. I see very little reason beyond pure ignorance (or exercise) to move from one to the other — to paraphrase Mark Twain, I think, gambling is taxes for those bad at math. I think someone could do reasonably well by designing a minimalist casino. Rectangular, dimly-colored slot machines, with simple shapes and colors on the wheels, quiet noises, and so on. I’d go, anyway.

Back at my hotel, I played the Roulette wheel for a time, my first time, and lost the minimum $20 buy-in. But it was great fun, I enjoyed it. It’s approaching four a.m. and I have to out by eleven, so I’m going to crash now.



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