Westword does Vegas, shit gets predictably fear and loathing

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In a way, Las Vegas is like America turned up to 11: Loud, weird and relentlessly excessive, Vegas is kind of like the splatter pattern that resulted when God balled up everything hilarious and awful about these great United States and hurled it at the most barren part of the desert. There it grows like a parasite, consuming all that is wholesome and good and spitting it back out as a mutant version of itself, twisted and spiritually devoid. That said, it's also pretty awesome.

We were there -- staff writers Melanie Asmar and Joel Warner, our esteemed editor Patricia Calhoun and, probably just to see what would happen, me -- on a work errand of sorts, a writer's workshop that was supposed to make us better writers. Whether or not that happened is debatable, but what is certain is that everyone got really, really, ridiculously wasted. And that's something.

It's also certain that, on the getting blitzed, we wasted no time -- we were drinking within a half hour of our arrival (about 10 a.m.), and it wasn't more than two hours before we'd managed to track down a liquor store, because drinks in Las Vegas are really expensive, and writers are poor. In fact, the $35 check for three small bloody marys served in plastic cups at New York New York was right about when we learned our first lesson about Las Vegas: No matter what you do, there is always someone trying to scam you.

You can't leave the airport without the cab driver taking you the long way. You can't walk from the bar to the bathroom without getting cleverly routed past 500 slot machines. Hell, you can't even walk down the street without getting routed past 500 slot machines; the sidewalk system along the Strip is a nightmare of twists and turns, staircases that somehow to casinos and walkways that lead to other casinos. Right when you get there, you walk out the the airplane and are immediately confronted with slot machines, which Melanie remarked must be the last desperate resort of those who lost the rent money -- for real, is there anyone who's ever hit the jackpot in the airport?

It's possible, really, to sum up our first night there with the absurd drink that it culminated in: a 2-foot tall, $17 Eiffel-tower-shaped vessel filled with about a half-gallon of some sort of pink slushie liquid and rum procured at the Paris-themed casino Paris. Which, deconstructed, is kind of like booya-ing France; we take your national monument, reduce it to a commercial tie-in and fill it with the kind of bizarre, sugar-overkill pink shit only Americans would drink. In your face, France! Guzzling it felt like victory.

France, apparently, had the last laugh, though. Before I was even done with it, I had fallen down several times. And after, I vomited. In fact, France was still winning as late as about halfway through day two, which was roughly when I could stop struggling to keep food down. That was also about the point I decided it was safe to start drinking again, because I had yet to learn the second lesson of Las Vegas: No matter what you do, Las Vegas always defeats you.

Because writers tend to be hyperactive people who are easily bored, and because in Vegas you're allowed to drink booze on the street, much of night two was spent walking from casino to casino -- we started out on the south end of the strip and made our way, over the course of some eight hours and several oversized novelty drinks, a distance of five or so miles, not counting about three extra miles of weaving through slot machines and people hawking pornography on the street. Probably our first mistake is that we hit Circus Circus too early; Joel Warner, at least, was not nearly drunk enough to ignore the stench of sadness.

If Vegas is like the worst aspects of American culture condensed, then Circus Circus is like the worst aspects of Vegas condensed, a gaping black hole of avarice and dying inside -- I, fortunately, was too drunk to notice, but Joel wasn't quite there yet, and when he witnessed a father rebuffing his three-year-old kid, who wanted to leave (which seemed a reasonable request; it was coming up on midnight) at a slot machine because "Mom's on a streak," it was too much for him. I didn't notice how depressed he was until about an hour later, when I realized he was looking awfully sombre for a guy in a pirate-themed bar drinking yet another pink drink (the pink drinks just seemed Vegas-y, I guess) out of a giant container shaped like a bong.

"It was like Heart of Darkness in that place, man," he lamented. "It broke me."

Vegas always defeats you. On the other hand, Vegas does offer you some consolation prizes for your defeat, and with a little help from some some giant pink drinks, at least two people dressed like giant penises (Halloween in Las Vegas = weird) and generally glorious excess, he was able to drown the pain.

Then again, what Vegas giveth, Vegas always taketh away.

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