Our Hot Mess: A Refreshingly Tame Trip To Las Vegas by Andrea Grassi

Until my decision to go to Las Vegas, the highest spike on my life chart of daring and risky moments was the time I stole a putter from a mini golf course. But something in my brain had changed one week, like a bottle of steam finally letting. I wanted to travel to Europe, so I quit my 9ish-to-6ish job and vowed to work on my writing and go “wherever Europe takes me”. Pop!  

But intrinsically, I suppose I’m not that cool.

Plans had imploded and I was stuck in Canada – unemployed, surfing the net and rotting in my parent’s home. (And this pastime was starting to have real life consequences because I blew out my second laptop power chord that year – yes, you can do that.) So being idle, with some cash saved and an updated passport, it is not surprising that I looked to the bright and cheap of Las Vegas to hang my rain hat. Besides, I had newly acquired a taste for risky life choices.

My best friend Kasey called me up and suggested we go. Not having the best year herself - with a recent skin cancer scare and needing two moles burned from her shoulders - we both agreed it would be fun, silently understanding that it was also a good way for us to numb our worries and band aid our depression. The problem began here: the search for a hard and fast anesthetic.

With a few clicks and a credit card, we were booked. What was in store was nothing but abstract at this point. Neither one of us had ever been to Las Vegas, so our expectations were mounted from pastel visions of the highs and spectacles we had seen in movies and the fevers and love stories that scored them. When you say “Vegas” you can’t help but relax into the “e” like you are in awe, or carry out the “s” – like it’s a word that deserves to take up more time that its syllables allot. Your eyes widen a little; your head nods slowly.

On film, Vegas is the epicenter of the unrealized universe. A netherworld so distorted and glossy that the apocalyptic comet will surly aim for its bright centre and when it hits, gamblers may never see any noticeable isometric change. As Hollywood churns it: money is liquid, alcohol is blood, poker chips are currency, sex is the discourse. Riding on the fumes of classic Vegas movies like Ocean’s 11, The Cooler, Viva Las Vegas, Honeymoon in Vegas, Fear and Loathing and new ones like The Hangover, Kasey and I expected the trip to be rich with random hilarity, fun strangers, 11am margaritas and punchy mixes with love.

This want of escape and lack of reality was the crippling point. Kasey and I are more sun-sand-all-inclusive type people; we aren’t big partiers, drinkers, or gamblers and don’t even really like clubs. But we had major worries we had to bury. We had to prove to ourselves that our lives could still sparkle in a time of grey and we looked to a movie plot to inspire a new adventure.

The epicenter of the unrealized universe
The city has promoted itself to North American travelers as the perfect getaway. Even tourism bible Lonely Planet has a good list of escapism acts for Vegas-goers to try. When the market crashed two years ago, hotel rates were slashed and the worry-free blitz Vegas offered was pushed harder in advertising campaigns - you know, those “what happens in Vegas” ads paid for by the Vegas convention and visitors authority - so travellers craving adventure and edge, such as ourselves, tuned in.

Leading up to the trip, the ideal advertised to me was already having its way. My black went gold, and our arrival - then two weeks away - came in no time at all. At YYZ airport in Toronto we were smiles. We checked our bags, sailed through security and took some long-armed pictures of ourselves by the gate. The flight was smooth and even Kasey’s air sickness didn’t act up. Things looked good, but could two mild-mannered girls such as us really escape in such a place?

As very tertiary - yet surprisingly representative - research method: when you Google “the Las Vegas personality" you get one definition of “Magnetic personality", a few listings for therapists in the Vegas area, the Adult Entertainment EXPO, and pictures of Kim Kardashian. It is often thought that “sin city” gives people the disclosure and edge that they don’t have anywhere else, allowing them to become risk takers and free spirits. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, Vegas gives patrons “that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of bad and evil". The danger only comes when Vegas doesn’t pull through for you, and you get hit.

We arrived at night, so we were fortunate enough to really get the shock of the strip as we cabbed to our hotel. Before we even checked in, we saw a girl puke in the front bushes of the lobby. Hurrah, we thought, our first taste of freedom.

Bags unzipped we took to the strip to find dinner, but everywhere close to our hotel was already closed. Closed? We assumed everywhere was 24 hours. Wasn’t this a “city that doesn’t sleep?" Or is that only New York?

On our second day, we packed in a full morning of shopping and a walk down ¾ of the strip before 5pm. We checked out all the hotels, took loads of pictures and by dinner, with jet lag’s arm firmly around us, we were exhausted. I had also recently taken up running and after a full day of walking, a minor muscle strain in my ankle turned into a baking agent making my foot swell up to twice its size. We could have just crashed, but we were young and in Vegas so we had to party – besides, the night before we had been added to the guest list at the Caesars Palace club, Pure. We were going to have fun.

Pure at Caesars Palace
The first mistake of having fun is to vow that you are going to have it.

At 10pm, we were still sprawled on our beds – wet hair dripping and crying over the final weigh in on The Biggest Loser. Reluctantly, we forced ourselves to get ready for Pure. Plan: sink a few coins at the Bellagio hotel then head to the club. The casinos, for one, were not as classy as I had pictured them – no suits and firm young ladies dressed up and slinging back martinis. In reality, there is no middle age, you are either young, tanned, in flip flops and holding a yard drink or you are old, wearing a fanny pack and are furiously elbow pumping a penny machine.

By the time we got to Pure, it was closed. Closed? It was a Thursday (what we later found out was the night to go to Tao Nightclub at the Venetian hotel) when in fact Wednesday was Pure night (which in retrospect made the promoter putting our names on the list the night before make a lot of sense). So we went back to our room and slept. Another disillusion: Las Vegas clubs actually have a night?

This is understandable once you realize that Vegas still suffers from a 14.2 percent unemployment rate – the highest in the nation. Caesars Palace alone lost approximately $831 million in 2010, and as the LA Times put it, the city is betting on Celine Dion’s return to Caesars for their recovery. It seems irresponsible of the city to hedge their bets on a single show, but Vegas was built on this blinding attraction to stardust so I suppose it is only fitting.

In relative terms, Kasey and my misfortunes in Vegas were trivial: Kasey’s white shorts getting splattered with mud and oil as a truck passed her on the strip, our eyes stinging and watering from the casino smoke, a fight in our hotel gift shop about who was complaining less, missing our connection in Chicago, Kasey throwing up a whole bag of candy upon landing in Toronto, and the grand finale – a trip to the emergency room with luggage in tow to see if my ankle was in fact fractured (silver lining: after 4 hours of waiting, the x ray revealed it wasn’t).

Kasey and I were lucky only little things went awry and we came back more irritated than despotic. It was foolish of us to have expectations and ideals pulled from movie plots and advertisements, but escaping into the fuzzy slides of an ideal is always all too easy. We were Vegas’ target and we quickly became aware of that shameful bullseye. But this trip did lay one thing out for me in painful detail: a getaway is only an illusion; dealing with your problems is the only real way to escape them. 


Andrea Grassi is a writer and blogger based in Toronto. For more musings, click: agrassi.com"


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