Like most of my recent activities, this trip originated as a joke that somehow quickly escalated out of control: my friend Greg was headed to Las Vegas on vacation and casually mentioned that his dad offered to buy him a ticket to a big mixed martial arts event happening that week (UFC 156). When Greg said he probably wouldn’t go, since going to a fight alone wouldn’t be much fun, I pointed out that it’d be pretty fucking funny if I flew out to Las Vegas just to see a fight that I didn’t even care about all that much, then immediately flew back home. He agreed and then his dad called my bluff and started making lots of suggestions for cheap flights and hotels. I had never had any interest in going to Las Vegas at all, but I eventually caved with the rationalization that embarking upon such a quixotic trip would conclusively prove that I am not in any danger of becoming a sensible adult yet at all. Besides, such a moronic trip was bound to be far more memorable than using that money to make a car payment or something similarly pragmatic.
The Las Vegas airport is a pretty unique place (lots of noisy slot machines and posters urging me to come fire a real machine gun for my bachelor/bachelorette party), but things did not become truly surreal until I boarded the shuttle bus to my hotel. There were only three other people on the bus: a drunk dude with a ’70s pornstar mustache and a retired couple from Michigan. Before I even made it to my seat, drunk dude shouted “WHOOO! DOES EVERYBODY HAVE THEIR LUCKY CHIP?!?!?!”, a question that was met with enthusiastic affirmations from the retired couple. Cheers all around. Then everybody started jabbering about how excited they were about their vacation. Drunk Guy lost $700 in six hours on the slot machines last year, but he’s back for more! As for the retired couple, this is their 56th time in Vegas (!) and the wife informed us all that her husband is her “lucky chip.” I remained conspicuously silent and bewildered. Then, as we pulled out, a different insane person leaped in front of the bus flailing her arms about. She got on too and was just as irrational and alarmingly enthusiastic as everyone else.
There were too many eavesdropping highlights to possibly recount during my ten minutes on that bus, but my favorite moments were these:
1.) As we were driving along a highway of some kind, Retired Woman nudged her husband, pointed at a cactus, and exclaimed “Oooh, look at that! You grab one of those, it’d really give you sumthin’ to think about…give you an ow-ee!”
2.) Retired Man was very excited about hanging out around the pool and getting some sun. That conversational thread culminated with “A-yup, I’m lookin’ forward to gettin’ that vitamin D. Wait- we’re stayin’ at The D! I’m gonna be getting D at The D! Get it? Haw haw haw haw!”
3.) At some point, Retired Woman asked Flailing Arms where she was from, which turned out to be Vancouver. Retired Woman then said “Ha- I knew you were from Canada, cuz you kept saying ‘eh.’ Canadians say ‘eh’ all the time…EH? HAHAHAHA.” This slightly embarrassed Flailing Arms, as she explained that she tries really hard not to say “eh” all the time, but can’t seem to stop. I thought about comforting her by pointing out that absolutely everyone was a cartoonish stereotype on The Shuttle Bus of the Damned, but I decided not to because I hated her intensely.
Also, Retired Man was a veteran of some kind and would periodically interject with mumbled reminiscences about where some firing range used to be or where he drove a tank and everyone completely ignored him. And the driver, a thirty-ish black man desperately in search of tips, awkwardly tried to engage everybody in a discussion about the best shows in Vegas. It made me shudder to see this sad, pandering man pretend to be excited about the Superstars of Country impersonator act, but it also made me morbidly curious to see if I could break him. Because I am not a total dick, I remained silent, but in my head, I bombarded him with questions like “Hey, what do you think of that Donnie & Marie Osmond show? You’ve been to it, right? I mean you live here. I bet you’ve probably seen it more than once even. I mean, why wouldn’t you go- you live RIGHT HERE! God, you’re like the luckiest guy ever. What’s your favorite song of theirs?!?”
Eventually, my waking nightmare ended and the bus disgorged me at my hotel (LVH).
As I exited the bus, two things occurred to me: 1.) I objectively have more in common with a fucking cat than any of those people and would probably be far more successful in engaging one in meaningful conversation if I had to, and 2.) I am certain that someone immediately said “What the hell was wrong with that guy? He sure didn’t seem too friendly.” the second the doors closed.
My hotel smelled distinctly of smoke and sadness when I entered, as the lobby opened up to a sprawling vista of beeping and buzzing slot machines joylessly operated by scores of depressing, pasty creeps.
After dumping my bag in my room, I took inventory of myself and concluded that I was 1.) exhausted (I’d gotten up at 4am to catch my flight), 2.) starving, 3.) desperately in need of caffeine to stave off an impending headache, and 4.) missing all sorts of vital necessities since I opted not to spend $25 to check a bag on the plane. I attempted to solve two of those problems at once by buying a coffee at some sort of quasi-Starbucks in the lobby and asking the barista where the nearest drug store was. She looked momentarily confused, then said “Uh…there isn’t a drug store around, but there is an AM/PM minimart across the street.”
I thanked her and then attempted to “cross the street,” a feat that took roughly ten minutes due to the enormity of the hotel’s vast parking lot and network of driveways. Upon succeeding, I had the sad realization that the AM/PM was basically just a gas station. In disbelief, I decided to walk a bit further in search of either a promising restaurant or something that more closely approximated a drug store. After another ten minutes of fruitlessly walking past massive hotel complexes, I had my second and third sad realizations: 2.) this place was not built to human scale at all, and 3.) I absolutely hate everything about Las Vegas. I had previously thought that the sprawling ’50s car culture-inspired nightmare of LA was the worst-planned city in the world (sorry, Boston), but Las Vegas is actually exponentially worse. At least in LA, there is the chance that you might encounter something or someone interesting or “real” after fighting through six lanes of traffic to travel a couple miles. No such chance exists in Vegas. I quickly gave up and returned to my hotel defeated (but caffeinated).
Amusingly, Greg was not scheduled to arrive until tomorrow, which meant that I had an entire day to spend in Sin City by myself. I opted to spend it by throwing myself wholeheartedly into obsessive UFC fandom, planning to attend both the weigh-in and a night of comedy headlined by UFC commentator Joe Rogan. Both were at Mandalay Bay, which required a monorail ride across town.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a weigh-in, allow me to tell you that it is literally The Gayest Thing Ever. I had seen clips of fight weigh-ins before and it always just looked like a bunch of dudes stripping down to their underwear and getting on a scale while terrible nu-metal blares, so I never had much interest in attending one. However, part of me had the nagging thought that there had to be more to it than that. Now that I’ve been to one, I can safely say that there is absolutely nothing more to it than that, aside from the amusing fact that hundreds of ostensibly heterosexual men will wait in line for over an hour to make sure that they get a good seat to watch it all go down.
I had been planning to text my friend Greg a play-by-play of the excitement (since he could not be there), but the most crazy thing that happened was that Alistair Overeem threw his hat into the crowd. However, I did find it really funny that some jack-off came out on stage before they started filming to explain how we should cheer. He promised us that the fighters would totally go “buck wild” the next night if we cheered hard enough, so I tried to cheer really hard. Also, I was amused that almost all of the fighters seemed contractually obligated to ostentatiously pound a sports drink immediately after getting off the scale. And that some dudes had like a fucking gallon of Gatorade at the ready because they had probably dehydrated themselves to the verge of death to make weight.
Afterwards, I somehow managed to locate a drugstore on the strip, but not before having the amusing realization that it was far easier to buy a t-shirt with lights on it or a soft drink made from hemp than it was to find toothpaste or contact lens solution. There is almost nothing normal anywhere in Las Vegas. I can’t believe some people actually live here.
Upon my return to the hotel, I grabbed dinner and went back to my room, at which point it occurred to me that I would much rather go to sleep than take the monorail back across town for a goddamn comedy show. Nevertheless, I managed to motivate myself to make the trip by assuring myself that I’d never, ever come back to this terrible place again, so I may as well spend every possible second doing something “fun.”
I had never heard Joe Rogan’s stand-up before, but I’d heard a long interview with him on WTF in which he seemed like an intelligent, driven, and fascinating guy. More importantly, he got way into drugs fairly late in life and is prone to spouting bizarre conspiracy theories (the moon landing may have been a hoax, etc.). Unfortunately, none of that side was apparent during his set, which was basically a bunch of graphic dick and sex jokes. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but all three of the comedians that preceded him were almost cartoonishly the same: all were stoner podcasters from LA recounting their sex lives at length. I laughed a few times due to sheer sleep deprivation, but mostly just wanted to kill all of them for pandering so nakedly to all of the mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers in the room.
There was one tiny hint of conspiracy theory insanity though, as Rogan said at one point “You know why marijuana isn’t legal in Las Vegas? Because if people started smoking weed here, they’d start asking themselves where all of this money comes from.” That totally blew my mind, as I had no idea that a simple herb could enable people to acquire the critical thinking powers of a somewhat dim and tiresome freshman philosophy major. Fuck, man- maybe if pot brownies were more readily available, 1.) everyone would totally realize that there is a direct correlation between extreme wealth/decadence and amoral socio-economic exploitation, 2.) a fucking class war would erupt, and 3.) a utopian Weedocracy would dawn. Or perhaps Las Vegas would just be EXACTLY the same, but people would be slightly lazier and probably spend more time playing video games. Hard to say, as I am not a trained sociologist.
In other news, a drunk girl in high heels fell completely on top of me at the show. Also, a fascinating thing happened in the men’s room pre-show, as I was washing my hands in an empty bathroom when a guy in a suit stormed in, saw me, and loudly proclaimed “Awright! I’m gonna take my time with this one!” He then sauntered into a stall and proceeded to take a singularly explosive shit with lots of groaning. The experience left me rather shaken and confused, as I couldn’t figure out whether his proclamation was for my benefit or solely for his own. After much thought, I decided it was probably the latter and opted not to try to high-five him on my way out.
As I walked back to the monorail post-show with flickering eyelids, I was suddenly struck by how utterly fucking ridiculous my situation was: I was an adult male walking past giant glowing castles, a sphinx, a pyramid, and the Statue of Liberty, yet everyone around me was acting like that was perfectly normal. It felt like being trapped in a retarded child’s ambitious Lego project. Then, of course, I started wondering why anyone would build something so jaw-droppingly silly, gauche, and wildly expensive and I realized that Las Vegas was cynically conceived entirely as a playground for utter fools and it has been a runaway success at that. I’m not stupid- I certainly understood that before, but my walk enabled me to fully internalize what a weirdly clumsy but wildly successful illusion Vegas’ founders had created. Las Vegas isn’t actually particularly sinful or fun, but it is such an over-the-top loud and shiny spectacle that the average person does not notice the emptiness and desperation all around them or realize that there are probably a thousand fat, defeated weirdos moldering in front of slot machines for every rich playboy or sexy showgirl.
As I entered MGM Grand from an elevated walkway, I found myself descending a long escalator by myself that was facing a gigantic video screen that was probably the size of my house. The screen was malfunctioning though, so my entire field of vision was filled with a hypnotic wall of visual static. It was so surreal that it probably eclipsed everything else that happened that day. I felt like I was in some austere futuristic art film or the only person left in the city after some kind of weird plague. I suppose that might validate my trip, as I don’t normally get to feel like that. Also, why aren’t there more weird plagues? You really need to step up your game, germs.
Naturally, all of that sleep-deprived hallucination, pessimism, and world-weariness made me want a drink, so I bought a beer at some random store and was startled when the cashier handed me a bottle opener. She seemed baffled that I turned it down & it occurred to me that it was totally aberrant behavior in Vegas to pick up a bottle of beer to drink later when you can just pop it open and party super hard as you’re walking to a monorail station.
Upon reaching my room, I turned out all the lights and drank my beer in bed looking out over the lights of the city, then fell asleep and had many incredibly vivid dreams about bedbugs.