"Vegas is king, baby. Woo hoo," my friend W. wrote back from New York after I'd dropped her a line saying I was in her favorite vacationland yesterday. She grew up in Hawaii. I remember her telling me the playground city in the Nevada desert is the destination of choice for many Hawaiians when they migrate to the mainland U.S. When traveling back home to Maui herself, W. often stops there.
Perhaps Vegas is king if a) you're a gambler; b) you're not just stopping there on the way to someplace else; and c) you go there with company.
I stopped in Vegas mid-afternoon after driving out from Los Angeles. I enjoyed my hotel stay; the swim was refreshing, the massage I splurged on relaxed me, and the shrimp etouffee was delicious. I walked along the Strip for a couple of hours in the evening. It was still warm but not burning hot like when I had driven in. I felt good in the warmth.
I wasn't looking for entertainment, just checking out what the heart of the city looked like. I felt something like a visiting anthropologist watching entertainment rituals at a desert oasis.
There were drunk men staggering with drinks, couples in love strolling along, teenagers weighed down with shopping bags, groups of young men and women dressed up to go clubbing, Christians holding up signs warning heathens about hellfire, and hired men and women handing out glossy cards for escorts ("Lauren and Yvonne, $39 special", "2 girl special, $39, come play with us."). I took a few, figuring these folks needed to get rid of the cards in order to get paid. But there were too many of them. On the street, that was perhaps the saddest scene, so many people handing those cards out.
The bus driver from my hotel had asked if I was by myself. I said yes and told him about my road trip. Hearing that one of my destinations will be Detroit, he said he'd lived there for nine years. He'd liked the city. He made some money hustling, but paid for it with a stint in federal prison (he called it 'federal camp'). He straightened out and decided to stick to regular jobs. He moved to Vegas with a woman he married in Detroit. On the way back to the hotel, he played Motown songs in tribute to the city we both once called home.
"If you feel like lovin' me/if you've got the notion/I second that emotion."
For now I'll imagine it's Vegas singing those words to me. I may come back sometime.