Ooookay people...my sparkly heels are now well and truly back in the UK...albeit not for long!! I am off to Florida on Monday so have just about enough time to wash my smalls (ok...maybe they are not that small...but you get my drift) before I head off again into the big blue yonder. However, first things first...Vegas.
This trip didn't get off to the greatest start...I mean sitting on the tarmac in a plane without functioning air con for a whole two hours before take off is an unwelcome blip for any traveller...but for someone with the concentration span of your average gnat this... in conjunction with ten hours spent actually air borne, was more than enough to bring out the petulant child in me, which to be honest is a part of my persona which lurks worryingly close to the surface at the best of times.
However, after a few gentle reminders from my travelling companion...well actually they were, in truth, more like your actual threats along the lines of "Trust me San if I could get you off this plane myself right now I would...and quite frankly if you don't shut the f... up, I will be opening that door...but keeping hold of your sodding parachute OK?!"
Rude...I thought, but consoled myself with the contents of the complimentary bar...well at least I did until the pilot announced that some moron had elected to use his/her e-cigarette in the toilets, which effectively saw us all confined to barracks with seat belts on...and the serving of all alcoholic beverages suspended for the remaining three hours of the flight. I opened my mouth to voice my distress but the sight of bulging red eyes...bared teeth and clenched fists to my left, effected a quick rethink and instead I went for the safer option of a quiet sulk for the rest of the journey.
Finally the purgatory that is travelling economy came to its inevitable conclusion...and after negotiating the paranoia that is the department of Homeland Security USA we were finally in a cab from Vegas airport heading for our hotel. As you may remember I have been to the states many times and am very familiar with the culture, which for an English speaking nation differs surprisingly from ours both in terms of the use of our common language and its attitudes. I had never been to Vegas before and was just about to lie about this in response to our cab drivers enquiry in this respect...when Mr. Angry (my travelling companion now much happier that his 6ft frame had been afforded the opportunity to return to full stretch not that this, according to him had bothered him at all) gaily announced our first time visit to the city.
Our hotel was only 10 minutes from the airport...but confident now that he was dealing with innocents abroad the cab driver drove onto the freeway and into the tunnel which avoids 'the strip' but adds significant mileage and cost onto the journey. I queried this immediately...I have a keen sense of direction and knew instantly what was going on...Mr. Angry had now turned into Mr. Chilled and promptly told me to relax... stretching those long legs like a preening panther. Quietly seething I made a mental note to self...and leapt out of the cab with all the alacrity of Linford Christie on speed when we arrived at our destination, leaving my 'super chilled' travelling companion to pay the $50 dollar fare which should have been no more than $15...not to mention leaving him with 3 cases unaided knowing that the bell boys would be all over him in a second, their cheery helpfulness being offered not without even further cost. Hell yeah...I was back on my own turf and having fun already.
The Venetian, is a hotel without equal in terms of any I have ever stayed in before...it is grand and its opulence uninhibited by the limitations of cost... which should be experienced by everybody at least once, even if, which it did in my case, it serves only as a reminder of how and why our western culture can be perceived by others as decadent, irrelevant and oblivious to the harsh realities of life for those who exist outside it.
Check in was our first experience of the well oiled efficiency of the money making machine which lies at the heart of Las Vegas. The purpose of the vast casino's which characterise the city should be reasonably obvious to all but the most naive of traveller, but Vegas attacks your dollar reserves by stealth too.
Before finally arriving in our palatial suites...we had forked out the eqivalent of another thousand pounds sterling in taxes...resort fee's etc. etc. but weary from travel and in awe of our surroundings we arrived in our rooms almost grateful that it had cost so little. The Vegas effect was instant, baffling and had not even started with us yet.
Grateful for the fluffy expanse of our beds the size of helicopter landing pads we marvelled at the fact that several floors below us the casino's and all their related noise was implausible in the serenity of our suites...I slept sporadically as usual, despite having been up and travelling for over 24 hours, and was soon ready and eager to take on the city of Vegas...a miraculous oasis in the heart of the Nevada desert and whose next googly was the searing 117 degree heat which awaited our emergence from the air conditioning and the darkness of our hotel, which quickly steals from you any perspective of time.
The busy strip which is only four miles in length was awaiting our arrival in almost maniacal fashion, as we stepped onto it, we were immediately met by Elvis...Chewbacca...several minions and a scantily clad show girl. They beckoned us over for pictures...and considering Elvis couldn't have been short of a bob or two... they were soon helping us to sort through a fist full of dollars, indicating that $20 should do it. I told Elvis that unfortunately he was going to be crying in the chapel on this occasion and gave him $5 instead...I can't be sure but I think he said something along the lines of 'you ain't nothing but a hound dog?' A quick tweak of his sideburns...one of which snapped away from his cheek was sufficient recompense for any potential insult... I tried to put it back for him by placing it on his top lip and suggesting he was a dead ringer for Hitler.. though his amusement was not immediately obvious as he said 'don't be cruel' and repositioned his blue suede shoes in readiness of hot footed pursuit of his next 'Teddy bear' victim.
The expanse of the 'strip' draws you along between the huge hotels straddling either side. At one point a full replica of the Eiffel tower soaring into the sky competes in height with the miracle of geometry that is a pyramid, housing yet another gigantic casino, as the famous fountains dance in time to music outside the Bellagio. All of this does much to distract you from the beggars which adorn the sidewalks. Veteran soldiers, some with limbs missing hold up placards which state their homeless and hungry status, whilst single parents parade their offspring up and down asking for help to feed them, My head spun as I fought to comprehend the fact that just yards from these people, who were largely ignored by the crowds,and in some cases actually being stepped over, in order to minimise any disruption to the quest of self gratification, millions of dollars were exchanging hands minute by minute, and a fraction of this could/would have cleaned up these sidewalks considerably.
The 'Strip' is an assault on each and everyone of your senses. Car horns toot furiously...ticket touts try to persuade you to buy vouchers which in essence are worth little more than a used train ticket, and the human tumult is at a level experienced at a premier league football match. However, in the midst of this eclectic chaos I could hear an operatic voice slicing through the insanity of its bedfellows with an ease and grace incongrous with its surrondings. Music has, and always will be a big part of my life. I have been known to spend many an impromptu afternoon with a busker that has caught my ear...and happily conceeded many a lost hour in the process...so I set out to discover the origins of this beautiful voice, but having done so was forced to stem both the tears stinging the back of my eyes and the lump rising in the back of my throat.
Fighting for space on the busy sidewalk was a middle aged woman...her matted blonde hair, torn clothing and ravaged features all highly indicative of someone who had fallen deeply into the clutches of a powerful addiction. Her voice however, was still strong, obviously well trained albeit now a non chemical vehicle which she used to transport herself to a different time and place.
As I listened and contemplated all the scenario's which could have resulted in the current plight of this poor lady, I was reminded of the international date line. Whilst this is a mechanism which illustrates the existence of day and night in their diametrically opposed positions...although in Vegas this is a line which blurs one into the other, I considered two other juxtapositions. If heaven and hell are more than idealogical concepts, I came closer in Vegas than anywhere I have ever been to understanding the fragility of the line which divides the two, and the interchanging closeness of the proximity in which they reside.
The next two weeks proved to be a challenge, a fantastic experience... and a learning curve during which I learned much about me and the things I need to change and negotiate, and of course (big shock) much hilarity...which included a stint on stage in an Irish bar, a visit to the only place in Nevada that operates at minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit...an impromptu kitchen inspection... a wedding... a stint at baby gambling school and a customer service complaint to mention but a few of the highlights.
I'll update you all asap...I have missed you all and hope that the negotiations we all face are going as well as they can...and when they seem particularly tough try to remember that though a smile may seem the hardest thing to do for yourself...it is for certain the best thing you can do for yourself. Till later...