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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Getting outside

It was 3:30am and I couldn't sleep. After ten days in Vegas, I was relatively sure I would've grown immune to the over-oxygenated air and hyperintense noise and commotion. Still, I have not.

I wanted to sleep. I didn't want to do anything else. And that's odd for me.

Normally, when I can't sleep, I want to play cards. Last night, I did not. The room was loud and obnoxious. The guy behind me was standing on his chair, screaming, and raining squalls of hundred dollar bills down on his table. The guy at the end of my table (no doubt a man who gets an erection when he wins a pot and then pokes the girl next to him with it to be sure she noticed) was over-chatting the European lady next to him. I spied his wedding ring and couldn't help but overhear when the European lady said, "You should never cheat on your wife."

I racked my chips, cashed out, and went up to my room. I didn't want to play cards.

On my way upstairs, I wandered through the casino looking for a familiar face or something that would pique my interest. I saw no one I knew. I stopped for two seconds at a blackjack table, pulled cash out of my pocket, then walked away. No interest. At all.

When I got to my room, the bed was turned down, the towels were back on the rack, and the picture of my wife and kid were sitting next to my half-eaten package of Nutter Butter cookies the wife sent in a care package.

I wanted to sleep, but I couldn't.

I looked out the window and realized I had not been outside in more than a week. The Rio is not directly on the Strip, so getting into Strip action requires a cab ride or 30-minute walk in the desert heat. A lightning storm a few nights ago ignited some brush fires and the air is still full of smoke. Nonetheless, I decided I'd take a walk.

The Rio is a giant maze of long hallways and Groundhog Day verisimilitude. Every hundred yards, the same cocktail waitresses wait their turn to step on stage, dance or sing for a few minutes, then climb down to continue serving Bud Lights to thirsty, horny tourists. I noted that tourism turns to boredom then turns to jadedness within ten days.

When I finally got outside, I realized I had no idea where to go. I've made the walk to the Strip before and it's a long, dark one. I had $2000 in my pocket and I didn't feel like getting jumped on the bridge. Across the street is a gas station and Del Taco (tacos sounded good), but I couldn't find the will or courage to cross six lanes of traffic at 3:30am and then face the guy who would've jumped me on the bridge if he'd had the energy to walk that far.

So, I turned the other way and started walking. There were only two possible destinations. The Palms is a bit like the Rio in its ritziness and glam. I figured it would be the same scene that had driven me out of my hotel. The only other destination was the Gold Coast.

The Gold Coast smells like your clothes after you've been in a bar all night. The cigarette smoke is so old and stale, you think they're putting it the air ducts. The people are old, poor, or other casino employees. I noticed a bathroom janitor from the Rio playing slots. The guy always made me laugh when I hit the head. He'd stand in the doorway and direct people in.

"I've got spots in number one, number six, and number nine! I've got a booth in the back!"

I didn't stop to talk.

The Gold Coast held my interest for all of five minutes before I turned and walked back toward my hotel, where I hit the elevator and went back to the room.

I laid in bed for an hour, awake, daydreaming of home, and looking at the clock before making the command decision that I was going to eat. I grabbed a book, shoved it in the back of my pants, and headed to a restaurant where I ordered a t-bone and eggs. I read and ate for a solid hour before going up to my room, where I fell alseep around 7am.

Reading back over this, I realize it isn't much of a story. Sorry about that. When the nights turn into mornings in Vegas, one can falsely believe they have a story to tell. I figured I should try to write it.

It's only upon finding that there is, in fact, no story at all that I realize that I have found the definition of homesickness. It's not hating where you are or hating what you're doing. It's realizing that things just don't quite fit when one is away from home for so long.

Three weeks to go.


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