If you ever want to go to a place that is a cornucopia of faces, bodies and energies, there is no more an entertaining place to lose your money or your mind than Las Vegas. Forget this Mecca’s main thrust — gambling — and slip around the edge to the weirdness that permeates the city that never sleeps. It’s magical in its own sparkling way — gambling and lights and music and shows and people. Lots and lots of people. It’s a place where cosmic energy mingles with electric billboards, turning normal, well-meaning visitors into Dr. Jekyll /Mr. Hyde parodies.
The first time I went to Las Vegas I was very family-conscious. My husband and I took his parents and our two kids to the land of decadence and sunshine. One child was 12, the other seven. This was the time of the “family friendly” Vegas — acrobats flying across the ceilings at Circus Circus, knights jousting at Excalibur. Besides stopping now and then to throw a quarter or two into a slot machine, we also rented a van and toured Hoover Dam and Death Valley. I left the world of lights with a blue glass from Excalibur and most of my gambling money in tact.
A few years later and my husband and I got the urge to go again, this time leaving the kids with the afore-mentioned grandparents. I went out and bought some sexy dresses and a couple of those individual liquor bottles to mix with my soda on the plane. We caught a topless show and dared to walk the length of the strip drinking strawberry margaritas right in the open. The lights and nights were magical. I stayed up a little later and got up a little earlier. I left the world of lights with a winning jackpot and a gold glass from the Hilton.
The third time it was my 25th wedding anniversary, and what better place to renew our vows than in the land of drive-thru churches? We almost said “I Do” in front of Elvis, but decided we’d rather buy Elvis dice instead. I wanted to stay up late, sleep late, lie around at the pool, win money, and get kitschy with Liberace and his museum. But my best laid plans sooner or later became parodies of themselves. My biological clock just didn’t want to kick into glitter time. We burped up dollar hot dogs and cheap beer. I got sunburn at the pool, put too much wasabi on my sushi, and developed a painful blister on my foot. We drank strawberry margaritas for breakfast and milk for lunch and Pepto Bismol for dinner. I went to bed a little earlier, slept a little later, and didn’t go through as many quarters as the last time. I wasn’t interested in the shows, and the restaurants were less designer chef names and more all-you-can-eat buffets. I moved a little slower and sat down a little more frequently.
What happened to the magic? Where was the glow of the child, the carefree gambler, the woman who wanted to rub elbows with Wayne Newton and Celine Dion? Did I finally outgrow my need to be sparkled and jingled to death? This time the glitter felt different. The energy that permeated the casinos and lounges had turned around on itself, slowly becoming more a part of me than something outside of me. Maybe it was because I stopped judging everyone else’s clothes and size and gambling habits and let myself flow down the river rather than speedboat up the opposite way. Once I let Vegas be Vegas, I was able to experience the myriad of energy levels that constantly billowed around me. And I realized I didn’t have to buzz through that world 24/7, seeing all, doing all. I just let the world of sparkle sparkle.
Once I got away from the mad desire to throw one more quarter into the slot machine, I found Vegas a world filled with all sorts of faces and personalities, all ages, all races. In this world, people felt free to be who they were, or, more often, who they dreamed they were. In this world of make believe, all dreamers were equal. Farmers, secretaries, and corporate presidents shared fantasies of castles and pyramids, Italian palaces and French towers. Both babes and grandparents got a glimpse of life in the fast lane. Grannies sparkled as much as show girls, and cowboy boots walked right next to tennies. Winners and losers were all the same here: both sides of the fence existed at the same time. Einstein’s theory of relativity threads through it all, rewarding some, cheating others, and sadly, caring not what you leave behind.
People were always laughing, whether at themselves, the crowd, or each other. There was a constant flow of bodies moving between casinos, a maze of colors, heights and textures. I didn’t know if they were rich or poor, sick or lonely; if they had won a million dollars or if they just spent their children’s college fund. Nor did it matter. We were all merely specks of glitter in the galaxy of life, sharing a moment or two with others in a reality not our own. We shared a nod, a raised glass, a glimpse of understanding. We became part of the throbbing heartbeat of a city that swallowed us all, spitting us out when it came time to go home. When the vacation was over, I left the city as I found it. I left the sparkles, the glitter, and the dreams of fortune and glory to those who would follow. I had all the glory I needed back in my little town in Wisconsin. What I did bring back, though, was a glimpse of my other side ― the kooky one who peeks out now and then, daring me to follow. That side assured me I would be back.
I forgot to get my glass.