What an interesting weekend this turned out to be.
To be perfectly frank I wasn’t highly motivated about attending- and barely prepared for the trip. Besides I was broke- and Vegas isn’t the cheapest place to hang out at.
On Thursday morning, after another of a string of sleepless nights, I dropped off Chester at the boarding kennels and Sir Winston with my father, and loaded up my truck. It always breaks my heart leaving my dogs. My intention was to make it an early start- get to Vegas mid afternoon and keep the stress to a minimum. However I kept forgetting little things- like my box of books I was going there to flog- and had to head home three times. Finally, four hours later than I had intended to, I hit the freeway. It was thee in the afternoon by now and Los Angeles traffic is a complete nightmare. Fortunately lady luck was on my side and I managed to clear San Bernardino, put my car on cruise control and began to dissect the Mojave Desert. It is not the most thrilling landscape, and as I listened to old time radio shows on my Sirius radio I watched the temperature gauge hit treble digits. I have to confess that at times I became dangerously sleepy. A few times I found myself drifting into the other lane. I began to wonder how many fatal car accidents had happened along that stretch of freeway. My mind tends to work like that. A little less than four hours went by and I found myself driving into the heart of Vegas. I saw the Palace Station sign, and headed towards the parking lot. I was stiff as I eased out of my seat in to the early evening Nevada heat.
I checked myself in the hotel. I tried to crack a few whimsical remarks to the annoying girl behind the desk. But she was not having any of it. Her demeanor was dryer than the sand the building was constructed on. She handed me a key and a map to my room. As I followed the maze I began to ponder what lay ahead of me. I knew that there were events planned that evening; a pajama party showing horror movies till dawn and a couple of room parties, but my desire to socialize was at a minimum.
The room was at the back of the hotel overlooking the pool. Several people were drinking, laughing and frolicking in the pool. I wished I had brought my trunks with me. Then I realized it would have been pitiful hanging out by the pool all alone.
The Palace Station has an interesting location just adjacent to the freeway. On the other side of the freeway I could see the strip beckoning me to pay it a visit. The last time I had been in Vegas was a year ago- almost to the weekend. It was for my tenth anniversary. Naturally with all that has transpired over the last few weeks I was an emotional wreck. Still, I reckoned being alone in a hotel room with nothing but by maudlin melancholic memories for companionship was not my best approach. I found a big band station on the radio alarm clock- and as Sinatra crackled out through the blown speaker, I got myself dressed for a night on the town.
Now my finances have been stressed more than Babe the talking pig at a Tennessee BBQ cook-off. But I did have a bag of change that I had scrounged up from around the house. As a ten dollar taxi fare was going to be a luxury I headed off in the direction of the strip.
Or so I thought.
To get to there you need to walk under the freeway. It was still quite early, around seven-thirty, yet on these streets that stunk of desperation it seemed much later. I felt like I wondered onto the set of a cheap seventies slasher movie. Every alley, after twisting and teasing, came to a dead end. More disconcerting was the fact I had no concept of how to make it back to the hotel. But I could still make out the Stratosphere looming high on the strip. It was a beacon flashing encouragingly to me. The streets themselves were surprisingly barren. I have been to Vegas numerous times and never realized that neighborhoods like this could lie within such a short distance from Disneyland for adults.
Then I saw someone sat against a boarded up building on the sidewalk. He was shirtless and I noticed a needle popping out of his skeleton like arm. His eyes were open- but clearly not aware. I quickly made my way by him- but still with no idea of how to escape. An old sedan came into sight and pulled up alongside me. As it did it slowed down. I maintained an even walking pace and resisted the compelling urge to glance at the vehicle. After a few moments- which felt like a few hours- the car sped off again and I attempted to regain what was left of my composure.
Then it happened.
Another vehicle sped towards me, I smiled as I recognized it- a cab! As he saw me the vehicle accelerated. Then it swung a u-turn and the driver frantically wound down the window and told me- and this is a direct quote.
“I am about to save your life- get in the car.”
Naturally I got in.
He asked me if I was looking to get loaded or wanted a cheap hooker.
I told him I wanted a cold beer and a cheap hot dog.
As he drove back to the strip he told me that there is a reason that tourists did not come to this part of town and that I was lucky he found me. I believed him.
Ten minutes later I was being dropped of outside of Circus Circus.
Why there? Memories of a happier time I suppose.
I noticed a sign proclaiming domestic beer was a buck and a quarter and I moseyed up to the bar. I ordered one and pulled a handful of change from my pocket. As the brew was placed in front of me I pushed nine coins towards the barkeep.
I drowned half the beer in one gulp. It was tasteless but I did not care.
I looked about me and came close to smiling as I saw an old red neon sign.
.Slots a Fun.
I have memories of a snack bar there where everything was a dollar or two- including shrimp cocktails, foot long hot dogs and nachos. I reckoned five dollars would score me a feast.
However as I made my way inside another dream soon became shattered as I noticed a Subway where the snack shop used to be. I did not feel like paying eight dollars on a BMT. Then I saw that I had not been completely forsaken as I noticed a counter selling hot dogs for a buck ninety-nine!
Moments later I was sporting my hot dog, slathered generously with onions and ketchup. I drowned my beer and ordered another one. Nine more coins changed hands.
I felt the change in my pocket as I eyed the nickel slots. I sat down at one and pulled a handful of coins from my pocket. That is when I noticed- there aren’t any coin slots anymore. In fact coins no longer tumble out of the machines when you win- you get a redemption coupon. I had a problem.
I sat there and ate my hot dog. I wondered exactly hat I was eating but was long past the point of giving a damn.
With the food reenergizing me I made my way to the cashier. He was a slender guy, who appeared seventy, but I strongly suspect was only in his fifties. He had grey hair and greyer eyes that stared at me through wire framed glasses.
“Can I help you?” he said without emotion.
I pulled out my bag of change.
For a moment he gazed at me and I wondered if he was going to ask me to leave.
Then he nodded and began to count out my change. I suspected he felt sorry for me.
Moments later I had eighteen dollars in bills and forty five cents.
I realized I needed a ten spot for my cab ride home. That left me just shy of eight and a half bucks for my Vegas night out.
I thanked him and headed back to the nickel slots. On the bank of eight machines I sat alone. I wondered f people were avoiding me. I placed three single dollar bills in the machine that beeped in acceptance and satisfaction.
I began to play. I was not having fun- more just going through the emotions.
However I was two dollars in when it happened. I hit two bells and a double sign. I’d won 1600 nickels. I cashed out, got my ticket and headed for redemption.
Armed with four twenties I felt more confident. There was a bounce in my step now and the scowl on my face was being taken over by something close to a smile. I saw the quarter slots. Noticing my beer was empty I headed back over to the bar. As my drink was placed in front of me I handed him a five spot. I tipped him a dollar, slipped the change into my pocket and headed over to a machine that had taken my fancy.
I figured I could risk twenty and still be up sixty dollars up. You get an upgrade on the quarter bandits- you get free cocktails. I ordered a white Russian from a waitress, who appeared as if he could have been the sister of the cashier, and placed a twenty into the machine. I sat there for almost an hour and consumed three drinks. (Please remember that you can barely taste the booze in those courtesy drinks.) I was up around eight dollars when it happened. The machine began to flash and chime.
I cashed out and once more headed for redemption.
I affectionately placed seven twenties and two singles dollars in my pocket next to my other winnings.
Things were looking up.
In the middle of slot machine heaven/hell I noticed the dollar slots. My heart raced and I felt the adrenaline surge through me.
Walk away ahead. I kept telling myself.
I did not listen.
I reckoned if I risked fifty- and just fifty- I would still have spending cash for my trip. Holding my shoulders up I sauntered over to the dollar machines.
You get a more serious gambler in this section of the casino. It was around eleven by now and a more people were playing. At the bank of machines there were several seniors, males and females, – no doubt on a bus trip- all hypnotized by their bandits. I had the feeling that they did this two or three times a year. Most of them had cigarettes dropping from their sagging lips. I wished they all could win the jackpot.
I perched myself on a stool at an end machine and placed a twenty inside of my chosen adversary.
A cocktail waitress came over. She was younger and perkier than the previous one. I was moving up in the world. I ordered another White Russian. I sat there for a minute sizing up the machine. This was a high tech electronic thief to be sure- but I was on a winning streak wasn’t I?
I bet three dollars and pulled the handle. Even though they have a button you can press these days- I always prefer the handle. Besides…It slows things down a little.
That first twenty did not last long. As I was feeding it a second my drink arrived.
“Good luck,” she said as I handed her a dollar.
This drink tasted better than the others. Or maybe I was just starting to feel the alcohol’s grasp on my reasoning.
Undeterred I gambled on.
That second twenty was gone in under five minutes.
I thought about heading back to the hotel and watching some telly.
I looked at the machine in front of me again. Was I going to let it beat me?
I pulled another twenty and it gobbled it up and beeped with satisfaction.
The waitress offered me another drink and I declined.
The machine was starting to like me, I could tell, as it began teasing me. When ever I was down to a few credits it would hand me five or ten and the foreplay would continue. You begin to forget they are dollars and just see them as numbers.
Thirty minutes passed by. The seniors next to me left to be replaced by other seniors.
I had six dollars left in the machine. I bet one credit.
I hit the bet maximum spins button. The last five dollars were riding on it.
A crown hit the first window, then the second, and to my disbelief then the third. The machine began to flash and beep as if it had just received a ten thousand volts in its ass and it liked it.
The winning counter kept wracking up.
I had won three hundred dollars.
I once more headed to redemption.
By now it was somewhere between midnight and one. I went and got myself a final beer and sat outside. It was still hot and I sat there on a concrete table watching Vegas. Young couples walked by hand in hand giggling. I wondered how many of them were getting married. Groups of young folks walked by carrying huge plastic, colorful drinking cup, and I could tell that they had been drinking them all night. A couple in their seventies walked by and I could discern by their faces that they loved each other, and had done so for many years, and that they had a story to tell. There is something magical about a couple that have spent forty or more years together.
I texted my wife.
“Call me,” she replied.
We talked for thirty minutes or so.
As I placed my mobile phone next to my night’s winnings I began to think that maybe my life was talking a turn for the better….
I thumbed down a taxi, contently fell inside it, and as we drove back to the hotel I wondered what else might be in store for me this weekend.