I’ve spent a lot of time in the US, but have never been to Las Vegas before. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Las Vegas there was no doubting where I was. Less than 10 yards from the arrival gate was a huge bank of gaming machines (see above). I could just picture game-hungry passengers staggering off the plane and over to the one-armed bandits, like thirst-crazed desert travellers to an oasis.
I’d flown in from New York, leaving the apartment early this morning. Coming from a small island, it’s easy to underestimate the size of the US. It’s very, very big. Today I crossed 3 time zones, in around 5 hours. On the Atlantic, I crossed 4 time zones, in around 3½ months. At human-powered speed, it would have taken me months rather than hours to get here.
And the distance is not purely geographical. New York reminds me of a city in the developing world – it’s all a higgledy-piggledy and grotty and gritty and, well, REAL. I love it. It seems exciting and edgy and full of possibility.
By contrast Las Vegas, the little I’ve seen of it so far, seems manufactured and unreal, a plastic cut-out of a place. From my hotel window I can see distant dusty mountains, nearby palm trees and enormous parking lots. In the air-conditioned comfort of my room, the scorched landscape out there seems like stage scenery, almost as if it’s painted onto my window. And looking through Las Vegas Life, the magazine on my coffee table, all the people seem unreal too – airbrushed and immaculate and glossy.
I’m staying at the Green Valley Ranch, a ‘small’ hotel, according to the shuttle bus driver – a mere 500 rooms. I’d got talking with the woman next to me on the flight, during the game of guess-the-weight-of-the-plane, first prize being VIP tickets to see Blue Man Group at the Venetian (I didn’t win – I never win anything, so best I don’t gamble while I’m here). She’d told me she was ‘envious’ of me for staying at the Green Valley Ranch, and it is rather gorgeous. My room here is larger than the entire SoHo apartment I was staying in last night.
I’m here courtesy of The Network – the amazing and kind assortment of people whose lives have somehow touched on mine at some stage, and who do what they can to help me in my mission to do daft things to make everybody else happy to Not Be Me. Without The Network the Green Valley Ranch would be way out of my price range.
I arrived here feeling like something of a Cinderella, but without the fairy godmother to conjure up the appropriate outfit for the occasion. In this glamorous, manicured city, I felt like an interloper. I skulked self-consciously up to the reception desk in my scruffy jeans (decent label, but now rather old) and vest (bought for about $3 in Peru), and shyly suggested that I might have a reservation. The impeccably polite staff refrained from sneering, and issued me with my room key.
It was only when I got to my room and was checking out the fragrant goodies in the enormous bathroom, that I looked in the mirror and realised to my horror that not only was I scruffy, but in my haste to get dressed, get ready and get packed this morning… I’d put my $3 vest on inside out.