Photo by Dave SmithI was on my way to Vegaslast weekend—the city, not the club—and the drive was three hours of beautiful stillness, of doing nothing but listening to JoanJettand daydreaming and getting a rich, left-arm trucker's tan through those perfect little crests and passes you always forget about because you always think the desert's flat.
And then I made my first mistake: I turned off "Crimson andClover"and turned on the radio.
I tried to listen, for irony's sake, to "Proud toBeanAmerican"intercut with a solemn terroristy speech by GeorgeW.Bush(Terror! Terror! Fear! Terror!). I tried for at least a minute and a half. And then I made my second mistake: I hit the Nevada state line. I spent the next 50 miles in traffic misery, and I'd already lost my Joan Jett high, and Nevada drivers put Jersey to shame, and I was surrounded by patriotic Hummers,their high-flying American flags disgracefully faded and shredded by the wind, and why the hell had I agreed to drive to Vegas again?
Oh, that's right. The junket.
A high-flying weekend, a weekend away from the all-consuming (and ferociously dull) question of who will fill DickAckerman'sseat when Dick Ackerman fills ChrisCox'sseat when Chris Cox is finally appointed to something (the SEC)after all those years they said they were going to make him a judge but somehow never, ever did.
I just hoped there would be hookers.
When I finally hit downtown—I'd be staying at ThePlaza,not theStrip—I called my contact. Did I want to walk around downtown first, or go get something to eat? Well, what I really wanted was to check into my room and have a shower, because I was sweaty and, for a change, I smelled.
"Oh, Kelleydidn't tell you?" my contact asked me.
No . . . ?
"Vegas is totally sold out this weekend. So you're going to stay in my room, and I'm going to stay . . . somewhere else."
My high-flying, all-expenses-paid weekend was getting its start in the room of some guy I didn't know—some guy with a thick Guido accent—who would be staying, oh, somewhereelse.
They don't treat Rivieraeditor KedricFrancisthis way when they send him to theSeychellesand lay him over in Paris,at the GeorgeCinq,in the PresidentialSuite.
Oh, no sir! They don't!
I remained polite: I often am, in person.
And then, when I got to this strange man's room at the Plaza—which is next to the busstation,by the way, and next to the bus station is simply neverthe real estate you want it to be—I saw BarbaraEhrenreich'sNickel&Dimedon the bedside table, and I started to cool right out. Any guy who was reading Ehrenreich's really very funny firsthand account of working as a maid, a waitress and a Wal-Martwage slave, chronicling what it's like to try to live at minimum wage (and she didn't even layer on the added delight of saddling herself with some small children to raise while she did so) while our friendlier GOP types sneer about personal responsibility and then cut education, well, that was a guy who didn't need killing.
PaulDevitt,the owner of the BeautyBarchain of chic little spots that had just opened a third outpost in Vegas, was my host, and he wasn't a Guido at all. (Nor, according to the cocktail napkin he later stuck in my purse, was he gay. Let's go to the tape: "Paul Devitt—Not Gay—Straight—Not a Pussy—A Dude!" I'm guessing I must have told him I'd assumed he was gay and then called him a pussy, which, frankly, sounds just exactly like something I'd say.) Also, he had a Beauty Bar hoodie for me, designed by RichieRich(the New York Richie Rich, not the LA Richie Rich, and I think somebody should sue!), that was shockingly ugly, but a bribe's a bribe. I just needed a shower, and we could go get some dinner . . . aw, fuck it. Give me two minutes to change, and let's go get a drink.
And that's what we did for the next seven hours, he showing me downtown and FremontStreetand telling me it had "soul," if by "soul" you mean "homeless people and crack" and I explaining the reason people come to Vegas (or, as we like to call it, "OC East") is to get away from soul and revel in the shiny hard plastic of the Disneylicious Millennium instead. Didn't he read that KurtAndersennovel TurnoftheCentury,which explained in great detail over hundreds and hundreds of pages about Vegas' role as the postmodern city and modern-day Babel?No? Well, it wasn't very good.
Over dinner at Binion's—a sky-high steakhouse with sparkling crystal and lush petite filets mignon atop a seedy casino that made Reno look smart—we namedropped horrifically (he: Viggo,JohnDoe,ElVezand Exene;I: Viggo,JohnDoeand MarilynManson)and gossiped about mutual friends (in another state! With a guy I'd never met!), and talked about unions and the good old days of the Meatpacking District in New York City—it seems Hogs&Heifers,the basis for the odious CoyoteUgly,is opening a downtown outpost near Fremont Street too. Yeah, I've clogged on that bar. You know, topless. What can I say? I was young, and without a top!
* * *
Downtown is a pit.
Really, it's like Kansas with neon and slightly less meth.
So while they try to chic up downtown with Beauty Bars and Hogs and Heiferses and some live music (El Vez played Beauty Bar's opening, and Devitt's trying to get a circuit going for LA bands that aren't big enough to play the HouseofBluesor the HardRock),Fremont Street will remain a pit. If pits are your thing, you'll like it!
Luckily, they're mine.
We walked on to the Atomic,a dive in such a blighted stretch of CrackAlleythe barkeep has to buzz you through the security doors, and lurked in the company of the shittiest country jukebox (except the JohnDenver)I've ever had the misfortune to meet. But a round of vodka tonics and bottles of Budcould be yours for $4.25, when they weren't coming 'round for free.
The rounds here, then, would be on me.
We made it to the Beauty Bar eventually, a lovely but almost totally dude-free place, and the place where my new bro started pulling out the chilled vodka shots, and two of the five guys present thought I was a hooker—"But an extremely hot one!"—so that was nice, but I bet they say that to all the girls. Then they said one of them was a reporter, and since I was a reporter I shouldn't take bribes, and I had no further use for them a'tall.
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I lost the rest of my cocktail napkins with all my notes, but I do remember the DJ—John Doe, and the real John Doe should sue!—spun Joan Jett, and all the girls shrieked, and all was right in my world, and I was proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.
Extremely hot hooker, my ass.