Visiting Las Vegas solo is one of the most heartbreakingly bleak things a person could do. Naturally, I had to do it.
Las Vegas is an empty, impotent display of status in a barren, uncaring desert God abandoned eons ago. By sheer virtue of being there, you're supporting an industry that exists solely to exploit the addicted and desperate. Non-gambling fiends (a.k.a. tourists) usually visit the city for celebratory purposes—to attend their fraternity brother Steve Poon's bachelor party, their sorority sister Krysten's "Bad Bitches Only" bachelorette party, or simply to blow off some steam poolside with an $18 Vodka Red Bull or nine. They rarely, if ever, go alone.
It makes sense, because taking a solo trip to the degenerative paradise that is Las Vegas is one of the most heartbreakingly bleak things a person could do. Naturally, I had to do it. And as was expected, it led me to the brink of madness.
I came to Vegas for the purposes of attending an adult-entertainment expo, which was already a soul-sucking choice on my part. Upon arrival, I was immediately overwhelmed by the length of time (three days) I had chosen to stay, alone, in the city. I knew the hours I spent at the aggressively loud, aggressively gauche expo would feel endless—it was, after all, a real-life compilation porno. The expo floor reeked of BO, alcohol, and seminal fluids. So did the city surrounding it.
Walking down the Strip, I found myself completely immersed in a mob of drunken revelers I did not know and had no desire to know. Being alone in such a "fun" and "festive" environment made me feel both sorry for myself and contemptuous of the mouth breathers around me. My milk of human kindness soured, rendering it the yogurt of human kindness. A mediocre young Midwestern couple walked by me, bickering; they wore matching beaded "bride" and "groom" ties. They strode, with purpose, toward divorce court.
Women in absurdly short bandage dresses yelled among themselves while tottering about on painfully high heels. Non-English-speaking men wearing "Orgasm Donor" shirts aggressively handed out business cards plastered with the images of topless escorts, tiny stars covering their perky nipples. Couples sloppily, joylessly kissed. I drank, because I had nothing else to do.
In spite of it all, infants were everywhere, pushed around in strollers by Mothers and Fathers of the Year holding yard-size frozen daiquiris. I'm old enough to remember when parents, mine included, were considered irresponsible for taking their children to Las Vegas. Devolution, I realized as I watched a five-year-old drink an iced coffee at midnight, is real.
The wide variety of slot-machine styles on display implied that some were better, luckier, than others—this, of course, was not the case. They were all the same. Because of this, every gamble resulted in the same outcome. But that was fine. My fellow visitors were used to it, comfortable with it. They preferred it, actually. They were unwilling, uninterested to take a gamble on something they didn't already know. They shopped at the same stores they had in their local mall, walking up and down the Strip with Forever 21 and Hollister bags. They lined up, day and night, at the McDonald's.
One day, after a solid five hours of walking without purpose, I decided to patronize a buffet. Shoveling food into my mouth while still chewing, I stared with envy at the pairs of elderly gamblers before me who begrudgingly ate in order to sustain life and, therefore, gamble more. At least they had one another.
Each day melded into one. I only spoke to people in the service industry, limiting my speech to 20 or so words per 24-hour period. The balcony of my room at the Hooters Casino Hotel looked out over the employee break area, giving me a peek into the silent desperation of the workers' world. Employees sat outside, smoking quietly. While they shared a bench with their co-workers, words were rarely exchanged. I wondered if they only spoke to people not in the service industry.
You may think you've felt completely and utterly alone, adrift on a vast, endless sea of pain and negativity. Remember when Laura left you? Those were pretty dark times. At your weakest point, you felt like ending it all. But have you ever eaten previously frozen crab legs, water dripping down your fingers and all over the table you paid $30 for the privilege to inhabit simply because you were tired of walking through a desert listening to other people's drunk conversations?
Have you ever put $5 in a Sex and the City slot machine for the purposes of a sad, ironic joke only you were there to witness? Have you ever drunkenly gazed at your own image in the mirror of a hotel room, realized you were free in a foreign city, and could do—nay, be—anything you wanted, so you watched MSNBC while eating a Styrofoam container of fried pickles you purchased at the Hooters downstairs? Have you ever wandered around Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Casino... by yourself? If the answer to these questions is no, you, my friend, know nothing of loneliness.
Drinking a beer I had opened in a bathroom stall, I stumbled across an artist's mission statement hanging outside a mall gallery. "The perfection of Creation is evident in all things," it read. "The truth of beauty resides in every rock, cloud, and ray of light. There are those places where perfection whispers... This is a place where God sings. I focused my lens on the image before me and thought to myself, 'This is what it must be like to look through God's Eye.'" Every time I focused my lens on my surroundings, I thought precisely the opposite.
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