“You’re going to hate it here,” my husband warned me. It was May in Gambling City in the Desert. I’d just joined him at the end of his conference, and we had one night in the city before picking up our rental car.
It was the most bizarre city I’ve ever been in. Our hotel had this weird Paris theme, complete with a huge fake Eiffel Tower and a fake Arc de Triomphe. It was like a Disney theme park, except with booze, gambling, and hookers.
From our window on the 28th floor of the hotel, I could look down at a huge pool surrounded by lounge chairs. I figured I’d go down and have some quiet time by the water while my husband was at his meeting. That was a mistake. As I walked into the pool area, I was greeted by music so loud that the cement was vibrating. No matter where I went, I couldn’t escape the pounding noise or the merciless desert sun. And no one in the pool was swimming. They were standing up, drinks in hand, and from the snippet of conversation that I got whenever there was a pause in the screech of lyrics, I gathered that they were mostly trying to hook up.
Outside the hotel, throngs of tourists moved up and down the sidewalks. Several men were snapping cards – they looked from a distance like playing cards – and handing them out. When I got close enough, I saw that the cards were pictures of naked women. Well, they weren’t totally naked. The women on the cards were wearing bras that made their breasts pop up so much that their bodies looked distorted and painful, sort of like a breastfeeding mother with mastitis. Along with the image of the semi-naked woman, each card was emblazoned with a phone number and a message: “Hot women delivered straight to you.”
The casinos – and every building seemed to be a casinos, there were even slot machines in the rental car place – were designed like malls, which meant that I got hopelessly lost within minutes. Inside, the constant ringing of slot machines made me feel like my head was going to explode. Outside, everything was cemented and paved over. The bridges went over traffic instead of rivers. It was all very confusing.
I kept seeing plump young women, usually wearing make-up and showing cleavage, paired with old white men who in a parallel universe would have been their uncles. I did see some groups of friends who seemed to be having fun, talking and laughing as they pointed to gaudy signs and lit fountains. But I also saw a lot of people with deep sadness in their eyes.
The next morning, as we tried to drive away, traffic on the strip came to a stop. I peered out of the rental car to see what the problem was. A man, standing at the back of U-Haul, was emptying what looked like the contents of a house onto the pavement. He tossed each item angrily – couch cushions, dresser drawers, picture frames, dishes. A crowd gathered to watch as these possessions smashed and broke open in the hot desert sun.