The American dream is both deferred and denied here, in this city of Sin. It’s no secret that the great experiment is over and long since dead, drowned in murky canals and buried under seven feet of sand.
The tour of America brings us twice through the faux glitz of Las Vegas, first as a sober stopover on our way to Los Angeles and then back through once more to rendezvous with an old radio partner DJ buddy to close the book on this place for good and to do it to it Original Hooligan style.
But first things first, a trip to the Hoover Dam would be in order, yet another American road trip staple and just a scant half hour’s ride away from the Vegas strip. Looking for all accounts just like it does in the movies, sans Optimus Prime, Hoover Dam is Heavy Duty in the blistering desert sun. It will last for a million years, supremely functional in its architecture and blatantly Masonic in its superficial decoration. You can even drive your motorcycle across it, which is awesome. I doff my hat to the builders of this shining American gem of ingenuity. It had to be built, of course. It was 116 degrees before noon that day, a face melting heat that I will never forget. But the Dam stands cool and resilient always, its back to Vegas but eyes to the Sun.
Travel Tip: Vegas hotel rooms are, like, super cheap. Never ever pay more than $30 for one. This is top secret intel brought to you by the manchild. Just go to Travelocity and roll the dice on the mystery hotel. You have to. It’s in the spirit of Vegas. You can usually guess which hotel it is and they’re all the same anyway but only if they’re on the Strip or on Fremont street. Only if. You have been warned.
No trip to Vegas would be complete without spending at least some time, and some of one’s hard earned kopeks, downtown where Old Vegas reigns supreme. The neon glitz of Fremont street stretches as far as the eye can see but only when it is not blocked by the “Fremont Street Experience,” a huge domed screen which runs over the Fremont Street gauntlet of shitty casinos and neon lights and sets the music of the Doors and Queen to cheesy effects laden photos. Fremont Street without the Experience is iconic Vegas. It’s where you’ll find the Golden Nugget and the giant winking neon cowboy, now a souvenir shop. I holed up here for a couple days in a twenty dollar suite at the Four Queens, doing reconnaissance and logistics for the Big Man’s arrival and eating cheeseburgers in bed while drinking cheap beer.
Living the American Dream.
Take a brisk walk down Fremont and, on the cusp of the ghetto and past the El Cortez and a delightful little burrito shop, you’ll find the Western Hotel and Casino. $1 drinks and the dregs of society rule the roost here and it truly is a gem. Not subtle at all. You’re looking at the metal endoskeleton of the Vegas Terminator now; no glitz here, just a blinking pair of red eyes, cold and dead, boring a hole directly into your soul. This would be the best part of Vegas.
Moving on, know that no Vegas experience would be complete without attending some sort of show. Purple Reign, Mike Hammer comedy magician, and the jokes of Andy Kindler would not escape my watchful gaze. Look, I’m on a strict budget and would never have attended any of these things if I didn’t run into free tickets. But listen, and this is top secret intel here, I really enjoyed Purple Reign and would probably actually buy a ticket if I ever go back to Vegas, which I won’t. But if you go to Vegas and enjoy the music of Prince, do yourself a favor Sharon and go see Purple Reign playing live at the Hooters Hotel Casino. They are better live than Prince and they even have an actor playing Morris, and even Jerome holding a mirror, who trades barbs with Prince and dances into the audience. Cousin Jerome reigns supreme as Vegas’ number one hype man and looks great in his zoot suit. Seriously, Purple Reign. Mike Hammer was excellent too, but I’m not into audience participatory schtick no matter how good it is and Hammer is good at it. He also looks great in his tiny little suit, and even eats razor blades which is cool. Small time cool. In Old Vegas. Andy Kindler was a bit of a douche and got upset when the audience didn’t laugh at every single one of his average jokes. And Kindler had a great hype man in emcee of the Playboy Club Paul Hughes, who was funnier than him and showed no contempt for his audience, or at least disguised it well enough. Well, I guess we can’t all be Purple Reign now can we?
I never meant to cause you any pain.
“The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos . . . but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County-Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space.”
Beautiful prose no doubt by the illustrious Hunter S and a perfect description of Vegas that rings true even 40 years later. Circus Circus hasn’t changed one bit since 1971. I know because I stayed there for two nights, drinking at the revolving bar and playing penny slots at the revolving slot carousel downstairs forever into the night. The carnival midway is still there and I even won a couple of stuffed bananas by tossing a ball through a hoop or something. The kitsch is outstanding and there is even a KOA in the superheated parking lot out back where you can just make out the 200ft tall neon psychedelic clown; a real place to take the family. This is where I wanted to take the DJ, and he was all for it too; but we never made it, hamstrung by a pushy cabbie.
Indeed, the birth of the American Decline is on full swing in Las Vegas and it wouldn’t be any fun to deliver it alone. A reunion of sorts would be in order and the illustrious DJ Jared was on a plane 1 2 3 to rendezvous at the Vegas Super 8; you know, the one down on Koval Street. It’s attached to Ellis Island, a casino of sorts that is both terrible and great.
There’s only one real way to do Vegas, dressed and smashed to the nines in loud shirts and $4 sports coats from the Salvation Army. Throw some handkerchiefs in your breast pockets, then add a fedora and soccer ball while you’re at it. Iconic Vegas.
So there we were, a couple of hobo crooners on the brink of oblivion, staring out at the end of days. The Vegas Super 8 would not contain us and the world would never be the same.
Travel Tip: Cheap eats abound in Vegas and anyone who’s anyone never pays more than $4.99 for a terrible steak dinner. Ask for the Gambler’s Special at Mr. Lucky’s Café in the Hard Rock Casino. This top quality and top secret delicious steak dinner with mashed potatoes and shrimps and can be had for bottom dollar but you have to ask for it because it’s not on the menu. Delectable. Then get your bib on and your eat on at the Sunset Station $4.99 breakfast buffet in downtown Henderson. If you get in line before 10:45am you’re paying breakfast prices for the lunch buffet baby. And if you’re a real man you dine at the Circus Circus buffet, complimentary with your hotel reservation. Don’t forget that the world’s largest indoor rollercoaster is right upstairs, although you wouldn’t wanna lose those gorgeous eggs and bacon strips to the crowds below. Best to save them for later when you’re at the Tropicana leaning way over a spinning roulette wheel.
The Ellis Island Casino is attached to the Vegas Super 8 and is a perfect showcase for the worst of humanity. Somehow loosely based on an Ellis Island theme (there might be a plaster statue of liberty in there somewhere and maybe even some shabbily dressed Slavs), the name of the game here is penny slots and cheap eats. We started our days here, injecting a healthy dose of Vegas into our guts before taking the town. There’s a brewery inside Ellis Island and it touts itself as Nevada’s best, which is sad because the beer is absolutely terrible and will make you sick. Their famous rootbeers arrive flat and warm, guaranteed to make you throw up later in the pool.
Now listen up! These are tales of real men. They came to Vegas from the East risking their blood to play the slots and run the tables, conquer the greedy and carve out a legacy of freedom. These are stories of men honed by desert fires and edged by combat with fist and gun. These are tales of women tested to the limit of endurance by an unrelenting land. Now, in this awaiting Blog update, Pipe Adams tells of the real heroes of the frontier, the survivors, Rich and Jared, for whom hanging tough was as natural as drawing breath.
The Western was where we spent the first of our days, chillin’ out max and relaxin’ all cool, sipping some $1 shots and actin’ a fool. $11 got us both smashed and the Western would be remembered as the best place in Vegas. No faux glitz here, just some toothless locals, cheap hot dogs, and a Coors Light mountain bike taped to the wall. A man can really feel at home here in a turquoise sports coat and pink button up. But listen, all the slots are rigged there and you’ll get done in by the cheap drinks and blow your life savings if you stick around too long. Best to pick up some acrid cigars and head on over to Mermaids where a man can be a boy and shoot the slots to his heart’s content. Puff away on those stogies and let the smoke cloud mingle with the scents of the fried pickles, twinkies, and oreos wafting out of the kitchen. Scream loudly like a girl whenever you hit it big on the nickel slots; the jingle of coins and the scent of cold hard metal cash will send the drink dolls your way with free beers.
That’s the thing with Vegas, the people that own the casinos want you to get drunk, but just drunk enough to loosen up so that you lose all your money. They don’t want you to get drunk to just have a good time and enjoy yourself. So usually, there will be just one bartender walking around slowly at a big bar. Order up some doubles and then move on to the next joint because you’re always being watched. Spend too much time not gambling and the word goes out and the creeps move in. Everyone’s got an earpiece in with the powers that be whispering to them from their secret clouds in the sky. You have to keep moving in order not to draw any suspicion. You have to be smart if you wanna get smashed in Vegas. Trust me. If you see someone really drunk, prowling the Vegas strip at night, they’re probably some sort of genius. I know because I was there. They say sometimes a genius will get so drunk in Vegas that they’ll either wake up in a strange hotel room dry-firing a revolver at their head or get thrown out of the Bellagio.
It’s inevitable really. This trip would have been a complete and abject failure if the DJ and me didn’t get thrown out of the Bellagio for teasing some middle aged middle American dopes who got upset after we insulted their wives or something. We were like some kind of brilliant psychological matadors in our flamboyant colorful outfits, working those chaps into a sort of snarling nostril flaring mental frenzy while coolly ordering drinks from the busty barkeeps who pretended not to see or hear us (nothing exists anyway). The Vegas Gods up in their search clouds never bargained for a couple of jerk dopes like us and were taken completely aback for a brief moment at least, no doubt fooled by our crooner gear, all done up like Vegas ghosts from a million years ago.
Well, they were good times really and will remain so as one of the high points of this great American voyage. Me and the DJ would sort of ride that wave into the night, but the tide always rolls out, revealing endgame stenciled in the sand. Right after I saw the DJ off in his taxi the next day I went to the bar. The music was blaring, blasting. Katy Perry first, then Gwen Stefani. Hollaback Girl. A group of middle aged business men in scratchy collared shirts shouting over both Katy and Gwen. I ran out of money and couldn’t afford a Pepsi. All’s I wanted was a Pepsi. I wondered if the DJ could see me from the window of his plane, all the way up in the sky, already set adrift on memory bliss of good times forgotten past.
…some may never live. But the crazy never die.