Las Vegas may be the most fictional of any real place on the map. It's either a glamourous city of glitz or a romanticized mecca of depravity.
Even calling Las Vegas a black hole gives it too much credit. A black hole has, at its center, a singularity of such incredible mass and gravity that nothing can escape. At the heart of the dark Las Vegas hole, there is only another hole.
Las Vegas is not exotic. It is not mysterious. Las Vegas is a busy airport and a place our unconscious mind already knows.
I spent just 3 days there and knew it all well.
LAS VEGAS IS A STRIP MALL
There was a time, before every town had an Interstate off-ramp, when naming a city said as much about a different culture within as its location on the globe.
Now everywhere is a clone.
In G-Vegas, the big strip, Treebark Road, has all the big chains. It has a P.F. Chang's and a Carrabas. It has a Home Depot and a Wal-Mart. It is 5 lanes wide and could, except for a different, essentially randomized, distribution be any street anywhere in America.
Las Vegas is no different.
There are 10 different shows all branded by the same sterile Comedy Central comics. Ten more headlined by your local adult contemporary FM. Even the "hip and trendy" joints are sterilized copies of something corporate and stale. Wolfgang Puck has a half-dozen restaurants, many of them in the half-dozen Harrah's brand casinos.
Those casinos all have the same number of "Wheel of Fortune" slot machines, just in case you're jonesing for the 7PM slot on your local TV dial.
On Sunday, before heading to the airport, BadBlood and I ate breakfast at McDonalds. That was after we stopped to buy his wife a C.S.I. Las Vegas T-Shirt that was on sale in a dozen different stores. The stores themselves no different than the garbage stores that line the streets in Myrtle Beach, New York City, and San Francisco.
Even the people look the same. Las Vegas hipsters have a uniform. White, pin-striped, button down shirt... blue jeans... square toed shoes. Everyone in Las Vegas dresses like Otis at a karaoke bar.
Las Vegas has a four-story M&M store.
Las Vegas is hot asphalt and second-rate chains.
LAS VEGAS IS A NOVELTY ACT
The casinos themselves are a knowing act of self-parody. The goofy dark ages castle at "Excalibur" is a silly mash-up of Arthurian legend, fairy tales, and neon. Across the street at "New York, New York" there is a Manhattan skyline with a tribute outside to the victims of 9/11.
"New York, New York" is exactly what people from Des Moines think Manhattan is like.
On Friday night, our party had a meta-Vegas experience. We saw a parody lounge act at the "Green Valley Ranch". I will say the "Steel Panther" show was one of the highlights of our trip.
"Panther" is a mocking and somewhat condescending tribute to '80s hair band rock so convincing that only people who actually do love the music could pull it off. They did. Down to the matching leopard skin tights.
Otis, BadBlood, and I found a spot in the front of the stage and showed devil dorns to Bon Jovi, Poison, and the original tune "Asian Hooker." Luckbox hung out near the back because parody rock "isn't his thing."
Professional Poker Player, and one of the few genuine people in Vegas, Brandon Schaefer offered to buy our drinks. We accepted.
During one of the many pauses in the music for wacky and hilarious banter (sample: "Hey dude! Check out the boobies on that girl!") the singer and lead guitar turned their focus to me.
"Hey! Look at that tall guy in the Target outfit!"
"Dude, did you just get off work at Target?"
"You look like you just got dressed after a half-off sale at Sears." [Luckbox edit: I believe the line was, "You look like what happens when a Sears explodes."]
Noticing Otis beside me, they continued:
"And look, his gay boyfriend is here too!"
Again, parody of imitation is actually entertaining. I loved the show.
LAS VEGAS IS A FAT SUBURBAN MAN
My concert appearance did stand out. I dressed the way I dress. Everyone else was looking far more hip, including my new gay boyfriend.
At the Palms Casino, home of the best looking women on the planet, I stood out even more. I wouldn't have looked more out of place as a background dancer in a 50-cent video.
But everyone there WAS like me.
Vacationers in Vegas are trying hard for something that isn't there. Unlike a vacation at the beach, where no matter how much you over-estimate the adventure to come there is actuallly an ocean, Vegas promises something that was never possible at all.
After two days of partying like a 21-year-old kid with a fat wallet and no goals, I spent Sunday sober and sore. I played blackjack late that night with Badblood and Luckbox and watched those that played along.
First, silent rich guy and obnoxious large-breasted hooker.
Second, two twenty something drunk girls doing their best to look carefree.
The hooker seemed more honest. Everyone knew who she was.
The falsity of everything in Vegas leads its visitors to believe that they are characters in the big play. They act the role they felt determined to re-enact long before they arrived.
It sinks in soon that only their dreams are well-cast.
They, themselves, are as young again as the Rio is like Brazil.
It always takes at least two days. The dream dies. We are left without it. Inside the hole where our dreams had been, there is only another hole. It won't help to double down.
I had a blast.