Ooh, Las Vegas
Ain't no place for a poor boy like me
Every time I hit your crystal city you know
You're gonna make a wreck outta me
- Emmylou Harris
Las Vegas. Some say it's the epitome of bad taste, others that it's the acme of the American leisure and entertainment industry. There's the Chapel of Elvis, casinos and (allegedly), some organised crime. It's a Mecca for fun-seekers and gamblers, and furthermore it's one of the really very few places I have vowed never, ever to visit. Of course, I said that I'd never go to America, but this is different - Las Vegas represents the worst of the seamy side of the US, gaudy and glamorous, dirty and dangerous.
Of course, I still haven't been there, in the same way that I've not been to Los Angeles, and for the same reason that for a long time I didn't count Arizona in my count of US states visited. Sitting in an airport lounge waiting for a connecting flight is hardly the same as breathing the air or treading the ground, hallowed or not. Airports simply don't count as being there.
My flight is delayed of course, so I sit waiting for my connection to Sacramento. This is a soulless place, devoid of spirit despite the gaudiness of the uncaring one-armed bandits. I read my book and peoplewatch until I'm sick. There's the bored ex-Marine and his son, over to see his dying brother. He's a fisherman, hunter, sportsman, and he views with utter disdain the fellow at the slots with his cigarette, slouching shoulders and cup of quarters. Here's a guy from Los Angeles, big fella. Came for some fun and frolics, carrying home as a souvenir the black eye from a jealous boyfriend - the mark not of Cain, but of David. Now here comes the flash artist, black leather, black fingerless gloves, black t-shirt, black looks...practicing his kung fu moves and glowering at everyone else. The Marine and I smile at one another, knowing that the muppet couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag.
The HyperChristian, preying and proselytizing, Concerned Mother shielding her firstborn from all and sundry, Frequent Flyers buried in their boredom and paperbacks and then me, dark and cynical and loathing the Dark Side of Capitalism, all glitz and glamour. I focus on my book, Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft and ignore the sniping stare of the Christians, and recall Douglas Adams' words regarding Los Angeles:
"...the sense of dazzle stopped immediately at the back of their eyes and didn't touch any other part of them and came away strangely unsatisfied by the spectacle."
There's no good coffee, no real food. Just the dark desert outside, the beeping one-armed bandits and the susurrus of 2am conversation inside. There's a shop that sells cheap printed cushions, bears with "Viva Las Vegas" sweaters, mugs and other paraphernalia. I decide it's all too expensive, too garish, so I don't even get a t-shirt. All I got was this lousy pencil, and I still have not been to Las Vegas.