On the Road: Looking at America Through a Layer of Filth, Grime and Bug Guts

Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip

Without a map of the city or any knowledge of where we were going we just followed the brightest part of the sky until we found the strip. We drove up and down the street, that was bustling with activity even at 2 in the morning. From childhood I remember pictures from television of the great old casinos like the Stardust, the Flamingo, Ceasar's Palace and the other one with the giant waving cowboy. These were the casinos of the mob. These were the casinos of the "good old days". Now the casinos look like sections of Disney World and Epcot Center. Every place has a theme to get you to come in and loose money. One trend that seems to be all the rage these days is casinos that take after other famous places in the world. We drove past the casino that looked like ancient Egypt, and the one that looked like ancient Rome, and the one that looked like modern New York. They were even building two more places: one that looks like Venice and another that looks like Paris. Who needs to Eastern Hemisphere? Las Vegas has managed to condense it all down to the bare essentials.

McDonald's One of my favorite casinos was the one that was built to look just like a McDonald's restaurant. Oh, wait a minute.....that was a McDonald's. Even the fast food places in this town looked like casinos. The McDonald's sign was covered in small lights, all flashing on and off to get your attention. Usually a McDonald's doesn't have to try hard to be noticed, the golden arches are higher than any other sign in most cities. But in Vegas and on the strip, every place has to put up signs and lights that scream, "HEY! OVER HERE! LOOK AT ME!!!!" Every establishment has "youngest child" syndrome. They have all learned the only way to be noticed is to be loud. If they didn't do this they would go broke, because nobody would be able to find them. Which by the way happened to me at age 4. I was the youngest and I hadn't learned to be loud yet. Mom and Dad would always forget to pay me my allowance and I had to file for bankruptcy on my 4th birthday. I didn't have a good credit rating until I was 14.

The Mirage I was amazed at all the energy on this one street. Lights flashed and buzzed all around us. Every sign had at least a couple of thousand lights on it. Every sign had at least one nuclear reactor at its base to power it. Man, ol'man was this place exciting. Some people find Vegas gaudy and therefore ugly. I find it gaudy and down right beautiful. I'm a sucker for the electric light. I love Christmas and I love houses that are covered in a million different colored lights during the Yuletide. I love Vegas because it's nothing but lights. Vegas does gaudy right, it over does it. If you're gonna be a spectacle you have to go all the way.

In some ways Las Vegas brought my trip full circle. I complained about Gatlinburg, Tennessee during another chapter of this trip. It was gaudy, but it stopped way short. It tried to be gaudy and wholesome at the same time. It just doesn't work. If you're gonna go for the wholesome vibe, go with it the whole way, be a sweet little town. Be a place with candy shops, and antique dealers, and 500 year round residents, who live off the money yuppies spend during the high season. If your gonna be trashy, you've got to have some trash. Does this make sense? Let me give you an example, Tammy Faye Baker versus a Ringling Brother's Clown. Is that clear enough. (By the way, Gatlinburg equals Tammy Faye in the above example.)

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