Vegas Run

VEGAS RUN

             I recall feeling excited, as I watched my neighborhood in the south Chicago suburbs dwindle below the wing of the Southwest Air 737.  I was heading to Las Vegas for the first time as an adult, attending a legal seminar and intending to check off this item from my personal “bucket list.”  I would be in “Sin City” four days, and largely on my own, to experience and explore.

Canyons

The view from my window seat on the 3 ½ hour flight gradually changed:  from urban landscapes of houses, schools and businesses, to vast lonely farmlands, and finally to the desolation of canyons, mountains, and flatlands of southern Nevada.  The State is quite impressive, even from 34 thousand feet.  I wondered at all those souls who made this trip overland during the California Gold Rush and the Dust Bowl, and thought what a miracle my flight would have been to them.

Sign

My first impression, as I walked the jetway into McCarran International Airport, was how hot and dry Vegas was compared to Chicago in September.  I had expected the heat, of course, but was still mildly surprised at the intensity of it.  Once inside the terminal, the air conditioning was about able to keep up with the hot desert sun.  Heading to baggage claim, I was almost immediately overwhelmed by the vast numbers of chromed slot machines that seemed to fill every hallway and concourse.

It’s not true insight to remark that Vegas is a shrine to gambling, nor is it unexpected.  But the quantity and variety of available gaming, at all hours, make our local Midwest casinos seem quaint by comparison.

Casino Indoors

Luggage in hand, I grabbed a quick shuttle ride from the terminal to the Tropicana, my hotel for this trip and the location of my two-day seminar.  After an unusually long wait at check-in, I was in my suite, unpacking and changing my sensible cool weather clothes for the light-weight golf shirts and shorts nearly everyone wears on Las Vegas Boulevard, a.k.a. “The Strip.”

Sunset

During my stay, I managed to keep my suite pretty cool by blasting the air conditioning on high, and leaving it that way throughout my visit.  I also kept the large bathroom closed, figuring I didn’t need to keep it as cool as the sleeping areas.  It seemed to work pretty well, and heat really wasn’t an issue.

As I look back on it now, my strongest memory of that first day (and even those that followed), is the scent of the Tropicana and other casinos I visited on my first night in Vegas.  To me, it was a combination of citrus air freshener and the stale cigarette smoke from over 50 years of tourists and staff.  While not unpleasant, it did take some getting used to.

Overall, the casino/resorts along Vegas’ south Strip were like the rat pack movies of the early ‘60’s brought back to life.  Certainly, the introduction of cell phones and wireless devices (nearly everywhere), does much to destroy this illusion.  Yet the piped-in music, décor, and atmosphere hearken back to this earlier time.  Indeed, I feel the casinos cultivated this connection, a sentimental tie-in to the golden days of Vegas from  those bygone years.  A sort of Vegas kitsch to my mind.

Tropicana Pool

Talking to some of the local staff and guests who remember those days, I was struck by the passion they have for that Vegas.  Simpler times, when the Flamingo and Golden Nugget were two of the few casinos in operation.  It’s gotten pricier and more crowded, they say, but there is something about this Town that draws them here.

The Strip itself is a study in contrasts.  Walking from the bright desert sunshine into the cool darkness of the casinos, you will find a unique mixture of high energy passion and dull lethargy at almost any hour of the day or night.

Veer Towers

 

 

Groups of younger couples passionately gathered around a roulette table are distinct from the solitary slot machine players, lost in their world of spinning wheels, lights, and sounds.  The mad passion of a night in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, yet within a few feet, the heavy solemnity of the morning after Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy, and all under one roof.  It was, to me, a strange vibe.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would find myself considering my views alongside those of Hunter S. Thompson’s experience in “Fear and Loathing.”  As a long time Thompson fan, his weird tales were running through my mind as I walked the streets and casinos.  I can’t hope to compare my experiences to those of the Great Dr. Gonzo in any manner, but I guess I felt some of that energy he wrote about, even now, some 40 years later.  Vegas, if nothing else, is enduring.

The food at the hotels is quite spectacular, and any visitor should try at least one gourmet meal.  Aside from taking a shuttle from the Airport, I walked to most attractions along the Strip.  The pedestrian walkways make navigating downtown Vegas an easy proposition, but double check the advertising handouts you are frequently given before slipping them into your suitcase!  These are often pictures of scantily clad “escorts,” and not appropriate souvenirs for the younger members of your household.

New York Casino at Night

 

I broke even with the Vegas casinos on my trip, which I’m quite proud of.  Still, part of me regrets not putting down a last big bet on my lucky number as I was heading back to my airport shuttle.  If it hit, the winnings would have paid for the entire trip, plus a few more.

When I return next time, I’ll be more of a Vegas veteran than wide-eyed tourist.  This City has room for both.  If I might have enjoyed it more with the company of family or friends, it was a fun experience without the constant negotiations and compromises such company inevitable requires.

Las Vegas is the ancestral home of American gambling.  It continues on as our most electrifying example.  Everyone should experience Vegas at least once, if only to check it off their bucket list.

 

Pete Murphy

September, 2014

 

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Comforting Thoughts

COMFORTING THOUGHTS

      I was waiting for a Metra train to downtown Chicago yesterday, just looking at the billboard advertisements along the track, when I savored a comforting thought:

Somewhere in a Las Vegas casino right now, there is probably a  young man betting my favorite numbers on roulette. Suddently,  one if his numbers hits, paying out 35 to one. I imagine he bet heavily, as I always did on my favorite numbers.

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Oddly, this wasn’t the first time I’ve imagined such things, when under some level of stress. I used to think that, regardless of what I had to deal with, I could take comfort knowing  at that very moment a family was enjoying Disney World for the first time, maybe riding Small World or Spaceship Earth, or climbing aboard their first Monorail. It didn’t matter, as long as someone, somewhere, was experiencing happier times than I was.

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I’ve come to believe that the act of remembering is deeper, more immersive than we usually appreciate. I once read that our minds are far more complex than we realize, and that our meanderings, our recollections, are true relivings of our past experiences. Who can think of a primal fear, like falling from a dizzying height, watching a crawling spider, or seeing a plane crash on the news (to name 3 of my fears), and not, at least emotionally, touch a part of their subconscious that recoils in terror from such images?

I reason that if these fears, when genuinely experienced in my memory, can elicit those negative emotions, than why not instead try to elicit pleasant experiences in idle moments? Indeed, I have found that such total recall, to coin a phrase, is akin to the genuine experience.

And so, in this humble context, I offer this thought: when confronted with the worst of life, remember the best of life. If fearful, or stessed, or discomforted, remember times of joy!

Combat everyday annoyances with images of some perfect moment in time. Whether it be a cherished vacation, a gathering with family or friends, or a past triumph, a happy thought can at least compete with a momentary displeasure.

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I suppose, for me, it’s the idea of someone enjoying, at this very moment, some happy time in my past. It’s usually a travel experience: a jet lifting off for parts unknown, a cruise ship leaving dock and setting sail, watching pounding ocean waves on a sandy beach, or even that lucky spin of the roulette wheel.

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So I seek these varied experiences in my own life: the times when I shake things up, push past the routine, and dive into unknown waters. Good or bad, they are at least different.

And when I find in my wanderings that I’ve hit upon that special moment, that joyful happening to touch my soul (whether I realize it at the time or not), I have discovered treasure. I store it, embellish it, and protect it from the world.

If possible, I retain some physical keepsake of that experience. My shelves and closets are crowded with momentos of these special times, always new regardless of how long I’ve had them.

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Too often, I will need those life-affirming moments again. And you know, they never wear thin. They are always present, in the back of my mind, to offer comfort.

Those memories are the reason I love to travel, and hopefully always will.

– Pete Murphy

September, 2014