My interrogator had on a hell of a belt -- embroidered cowhide with a silver buckle the size of a serving tray. He kept up his critique of my fashion sense.
"You need new boots."
I was wearing scuffed-up Doc Martens. He was wearing full-quill ostrich-skin shitkickers dyed flaming orange to match his pearl-buttoned shirt. He pointed down at his feet for emphasis.
"Five hundred dollars," he said. "You need to get some of these if you want to get the heinie."
He and his buddy left, laughing all the way. I had just been thoroughly dissed by a dude with flaming-orange cowboy boots. I took this as my cue to go back to the hotel. There are stairways and passages that lead from the lobby of the Regency to the gold-domed conference center, but on weekends, they are roped off and guarded to keep out the riffraff.
So I walked outside, through the snow, transitioning between the Regency's dual universes of hot spot and squalor. Back in the pool area, I crossed paths with a kid who looked like Eminem come back from the grave -- buzz-cut, peroxide-blond hair, pale, gaunt face, dark crescents of lethargy beneath dull blue eyes. He asked me if I had a "point," a needle that I would trade for a taste of black-tar heroin. Then he asked for fifty cents for the bus. Then he muttered about searching out the syringe a traveling companion had stashed on the tower's tenth or maybe eleventh floor.
I gave him the only good advice I thought he might follow: Take the stairs.