Issue #101 / 30 May 2008-6 June 2008
Recent Vegas Trip
I DROVE TO LAS VEGAS a few weeks ago. I drove through the Mojave Desert, through Death Valley and before that Barstow. Barstow has a truck stop, the Flying J; I had to stop there to empty my bladder.
I turned in the wrong entrance, the truck entrance, and wandered for a while in my little Prius among the huge semis, trying to find the building with the restroom. I wonder if the drivers thought that I was trying to irritate them, little fuel efficient 47 mpg car, and they’re being bankrupted by the price of fuel. But I would never do that; I was just trying to find the restroom. I didn’t think about that fuel thing while I was driving around the big truck parking lot; I just thought of how stupid I looked; I thought about the incongruity of it.
The restroom was very clean; so clean that I didn’t worry about it being unsanitary even though I opened the door with a paper towel wrapped around my hand and used my little bottle of hand sanitizer when I got outside, cleaned my hands thoroughly, particularly the tips of my fingers where I might have accidentally touched the door.
Walking back to my car I tried to start a conversation with a biker about his fancy bike, a three-wheeled affair with a shiny paint job. “That’s the way to do it,” I said. But he didn’t respond to my witticism, probably thought I was gay, with my Tilley hat and my Orvis shorts, Mephisto sandals, prescription shades. Besides, he already knew that his bike was the way to do it and didn’t need my comment.
I think the distance from Barstow to Las Vegas is about two-hundred miles. I was driving on Saturday so the traffic wasn’t bad. Part of the way I had to drive in the truck lane, the slow lane, because the Prius doesn’t like hills. There were times when I had to get out of the truck lane so that a big semi could pass me and then I’d move back, going forty miles an hour up a hill. Down hill was fine, with the battery charging and a speed that sometimes reached seventy.
I was listening to the radio of course but couldn’t find any stations that were entertaining. No classical music certainly but plenty of Latino music, plenty of conservative talk radio and country music. Once in a while I would hear, “The road to Vegas is fine today. Nothing to report.”
I think that I was about an hour outside of Vegas when my tooth began to hurt. Or the gum above the tooth. I thought that I had stuck something up there in the gum, a piece of food or spice from an Indian restaurant. We had gone to an Indian restaurant the night before, and I always have bad luck when I eat Indian food. A few years ago I broke my elbow after an Indian meal. So I thought that I had a gum problem and more bad luck.
When I got to the Golden Nugget in downtown Vegas on Fulton Street I bought a small bottle of aspirin for seven dollars and took two immediately and after my first meal there I took a salt shaker from the table so that I could rinse my mouth out with warm salt water in my room to make my gum feel better, but nothing seemed to help.
On the first night I drank two vodkas and had an Italian meal where I had to ask the waiter to please ask them to not use garlic. I’m allergic to garlic, but it wasn’t a very popular thing to do, to ask for no garlic in an Italian restaurant in Vegas. The waiter made a wine suggestion, a Chianti. “I’m a wine expert,” he said. He might have been a wine expert, but he was also irritable, not a good conversationalist. Working in Vegas must be tough and I gave him a good tip even though I didn’t like him.
I took more aspirin and slept through the night. Before going to sleep I tried to find some porn that wouldn’t make me retch, but it was all pretty bad stuff. I think I spent thirty dollars just trying to find some good porn.
The next morning I had pancakes and eggs for breakfast. The only time I eat pancakes is when I go to Vegas. Then I had a bloody mary and played the slots for half an hour or so. It’s gotten so that I can’t play the slots for very long because I’m embarrassed about giving my money to them. Maybe I’m becoming more aware of money because I don’t enjoy playing the slots anymore, just like a don’t enjoy getting drunk in Vegas anymore.
Later in the day I walked down Fulton Street and looked at the people. I saw a pimp and his prostitute and the usual assortment of tourists. I don’t think of myself as a tourist in Vegas because I’ve been there so many times. But I’m a tourist even though I’m not as fat as most tourists seem to be. There always seem to be hundreds of fat people being pushed around in wheelchairs in Vegas whenever I go.
I sat down at an outside table at Krispy Kreme on Fulton Street even though I hadn’t bought a donut or any of their coffee. “Tables for customers only,” the sign said. But because I didn’t look homeless I sat down. I figured the sign was for the homeless. I saw a young black man pushing a baby stroller with a baby who couldn’t have been more than one year old. I think they were homeless.
I sat at the table and wrote in my journal. The journal is Italian and cost fifty dollars, has a leather spine. The fountain pen cost four-hundred dollars. I felt conspicuous. I felt like I was writing with a quill and ink pot. I felt like I was wearing the costume of a dandy, a fop. I felt like I had a servant spraying perfume around me while I watched the commoners. “How amusing, look there, won’t you? What is she wearing? Oh, my goodness.” Of course I wasn’t saying that to anybody because I was alone, but I felt conspicuous sitting at the Krispy Kreme writing in my journal with my expensive pen on Fulton Street.
I went back to the Italian restaurant that night and had a different waiter, nicer man. Spoke to me about his son. Said his son said to him, “Don’t have a cow, Dad.” I wondered if the son really said that. I wondered if the waiter was just making conversation. Saw a man eating alone. I was the only person in the restaurant eating alone. I gave him a particularly good tip.
My gum was hurting when I got in bed. And then I heard a noise outside my window. It was ten o’clock at night and I was hearing construction noise. I looked out the window. I was on the twenty-second floor and down below I saw a pile driver working on the foundation of a building. I got back in bed and tried to sleep. At eleven the noise was continuing so I called down to the desk and spoke to the manager. He apologized and said that the construction should stop by three in the morning. I told him that stopping at three in the morning was not acceptable. He agreed and apologized, said that he would comp my room and offered to send up some ear plugs. I accepted the comp but refused the ear plugs because I’m claustrophobic.
My gum hurt all night. I mean it really hurt. It hurt so much I thought it was my tooth that was hurting, the whole side of my face was hurting. And the construction noise continued, the pile driver. My gum was throbbing; the pile driver and my gum. I could hear the pile driver even with a pillow over my head. It seemed that my gum and the pile driver had achieved synchronicity. And there was the counterpoint of trucks backing up in the construction site, that beep they do when they are backing up. All night with my gum, my face throbbing in pain.
I didn’t sleep of course and left Vegas as soon as I could later in the morning. As soon as the rush hour was over I started the trip back to L.A. I called my dentist from Death Valley; the nurse said that she thought I had an abscess and when I saw him later that same day it turned out that I had an abscess.
With all that I should never go back to Vegas. I should let that be my final lesson about Vegas and I should never go back. But I know that I will. Every time I go I say that I’ll never go back. I always eat alone. I always worry about the people I see working there, particularly the women. I always drink too much or too little. And this time I had an abscessed tooth while I was in Vegas.
On my desk I have placed a little miniature of the Vegas sign that I bought on Fulton Street this time not very far from the Golden Nugget. It sits on a little stereo radio, tuned to KUSC, our classical music station, the only station I listen to. There’s a picture of it.