Disturbing ecocentric sensory overload anxiety inducing hell, yet bizarrely entertaining. This barely scratches the surface of how I can put into words my experience of Las Vegas last night. I am at the wheel as we approached the city from the desert. I couldn’t help but think of Hunter S Thompson and recall his journey here through ‘bat country’ in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. Sohel’s hat and Emma’s mirrored aviator shades add to this greatly. Later I wonder how Thompson could have spent time here in a mind-altered state, it is so surreal in itself, seeming to intoxicate even the most sober of people. On the other hand, the place is so extreme, maybe it is only bearable in such an altered state! The city exists in the middle of desert, completely unnatural and isolated. People come here to drink and gamble and some even choose it as a destination to tie the knot. Personally, I can’t think of anywhere I would least like to get married.
The road leading to the city is the straightest road I have ever driven on. It is dead straight for miles upon miles. We are travelling in the early evening, and as the sun sets at around 5 o’clock it is dark. The lights of approaching cars in the distance look as if they are up in the sky as the road sweeps uphill. As we reach the summit and start our descent see see the lights of Vegas like an incandescent sea below us. I feel calm and balanced from all the time we have spent in nature in its various forms; forests, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, valleys and desert. This is very good grounding for what we are about to experience. Tired of the same few CDs on the stereo, the radio is tuned to classical music. The relaxing symphonies of Bach and Beethoven have accompanied us thus far. I tune the station to find something more fitting for the drive into Vegas. I am glad to locate a rock station. Black Sabbath and the Beastie Boys blast out of the speakers and I sing along, excited and happy to be on this journey.
Into the city outskirts, at one point I am sure I count six lanes on the freeway. I follow my fellow traveller’s directions as best I can, getting into the right lane and avoiding the other drivers, some of whom I am sure must think they are in a virtual reality computer game judging by the way they drive. Amongst all this madness, heightened emotions and increased concentration I manage to navigate to downtown Las Vegas and find a multi-storey car park.
We set off on foot to see what we can see. We appear to be quite a distance from the main drag and all the familiar architecture one associates with Vegas, but I am reluctant to drive any longer and we settle for walking through a long indoor stretch of mall. We see a contortionist with such a flexible back he literally bends over backwards and walks with his head between his legs; an elderly bag lady sits amongst her possessions eating out of a can whilst drunken revellers pass her as if she is invisible; a street band perform, the saxophonist standing on the back of an open top truck; tourists pose for photographs with scantily clad chippendale men or groups of grown men dressed as superheroes; two young buskers play their cajon and guitar, drowned out by the brash music emanating from casinos and bars.
This is the city which never sleeps. Inside here it could be any time of day or night. Stages are set up at intervals with musicians playing accompanied by female dancers, further along one woman in dancing on top of a bar. I find this objectifying instant gratification culture of sex and money pretty vile, yet it is like a car crash mentality where one still has to look and experience it.
We stop to watch a young guy who has set up on the street doing live painting. He has an extractor fan set up leading from below the table he is spray painting on. He takes only about five or ten minutes to complete each picture. Working quickly and steadily, his movements flow and he seems at ease with the large crowd gathered around watching him. It is fascinating to watch his techniques with spray paint and stencils, holding card to mask some areas as he sprays others and using a paint scraper to remove paint from others. He creates scenes from nature, somewhat cliched – wolves howling on front of a full moon, a silhouetted horse rearing up in a red wild west setting – yet they are produced to a high standard and many seem to sell as soon as they are finished. He has another guy assisting him who takes each picture as it is completed and lays it them out to display for people to buy. He is only charging forty bucks apiece and they really are worth a lot more in my opinion. The sign below his table tells the audience he is creating and selling work to earn money to pay back his crushing student loan. This is the one redeeming feature from our short trip to Vegas. Well, that and the one dollar margaritas I discover inside a seedy casino. I drink only one, then we make our escape, feeling quite overwhelmed by the full-on craziness of this place.
As we drive away, Emma writes “Fuck Money you are Free” on a dollar bill and throws it out of the window as we pass the entrance to the mall we visited, in the hope that someone will pick it up. It is but a drop in the ocean, but it is at least a comment against the money hungry consumerist sickness we see in surrounding us.
We drive out of Vegas looking for a cheap motel on the outskirts. We pass an area dedicated to selling new and used automobiles. Vast carparks with only vehicles in them, lit up like Christmas with hundreds of bright floodlights despite there being no one there. This, along with the millions of lights in Vegas city where at times I walk under neon signs and can hear the electricity buzzing, makes me disgusted. Such an irresponsible waste of energy which as we know will not last much longer in it’s current manhood of production. I reflect on how my own use of energy saving light bulbs and habits of switching off appliances when they aren’t in use pales in comparison to this mass waste. I feel kind of helpless, but know that this cannot go on forever like this. I am curious to how this place will be in a hundred or more years time.