by Eric Lucas
Pigs thrive on slops. No need to apologize for saying so.
Vegas squealed like, well, a stuck pig.
“I expect him to address it and to correct it,” growled Sin City mayor Oscar Goodman. (‘Good-man’? It’s a joke, right?)
“Mr. President, we need your support more than ever,” whined Vegas Congresswoman Shelley Berkley. “Tourism means jobs.”
My wife and I met the owners of some of those jobs on our first-ever trip to Vegas last fall. They were lined up on the sidewalks in phalanxes, thrusting into the hands of passersby small call cards for escorts who can be in your room in 20 minutes. Beer-bellied trucker-dudes, polyester-clad turistas from Kansas, camera-toting Japanese visitors, Euro-trash scenesters blinking in the daylight, 10-year-old Susies toting stuffed bunnies, and, yes, Wall Street bankers with convention ID tags--all got handfuls of these cards.
I asked one of the card-barkers what the girls do when they get to your room.
“Oh, play checkers,” she explained. “Make tea.”
OK, she didn’t actually say that.
Yo no se--use su telefono, she urged me. Well, I didn’t. I know that real, pedal-to-the-medal journalism demands one research these things up close and personal. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the escort girls perform more intimate services than neck rubs.
I’m certain investment bankers and arbitragers would never, ever dream of using bailout funds for that. In fact, business in Vegas has been so puny lately (gambling revenues down more than 25 percent; airport arrivals have declined for more than a year) that Mayor Goodman is urging Vegas to abandon the escort sham and openly legitimize prostitution.
You might say this would increase competition in the profession, but things already look, well, saturated. Megan and Morgan offer a $99 special. Barbie is $150, but she has two gargantuan attributes that resemble a banking bailout. Lilly’s totally nude “full service” special is $35. Mona is “very discreet” for $35, but Avena is the same for $25. Just like Wall Street--pay less, get more.
For business to suffer in Vegas is a stark indication of how bad things are for decadence. Nowhere on earth is the art of kyping money from hapless “customers” more advanced. Signs directing pedestrians to the Vegas monorail lead you a quarter-mile past, surprise, casinos. Once you’re on the Strip, good luck finding a road sign leading you out to the highway. When you check into a Vegas hotel, you must navigate a smoke-choked maze through the casino just to reach your room. There’s no coffee maker in your room, so you have to trek downstairs for morning java, which can be had if you--surprise again--navigate the casino. Sad-faced retirees are dumping their Social Security payments into slot machines. And there’s Mona, at 7 am, beckoning to me.
I call the front desk to ask for an in-room coffee maker. “Sorry, sir, we cannot supply those.”
“Fire codes prohibit them,” he claims.
Vegas wants its guests to be safe? That’s why people smoke cigarettes everywhere. Oh, and that’s why you’ll find sidewalk booze kiosks selling 64-ounce plastic air guitars filled with a dingy yellow liquid. These are popular with frat boys staggering around.
Nearby, a billboard advertises a special incentive at a local fashion designer: “Free BJ with every purchase.”
A few minutes stroll brings me to another brigade of call-girl touts. These are interspersed among Salvation Army bell-ringers. Although it’s the most stunningly ecumenical sight I’ve ever seen, neither side seems to be doing very well.
“Have sympathy for Vegas when the devil’s on vacation,” say the T-shirts that kiosk operators are required to wear in front of a famous casino. Well, I don’t.
Please understand: I am neither prudish nor religious. I am just dumbfounded that no-one tells the truth about this world capital of degradation. Guidebook writers, politicians, tour operators, newspaper reporters, travel agents, hotel companies--all pretend this is a gem of modern glamour, then they wink and promise the truth will stay right there. Drink up!
When we first arrived, on the inbound rental car shuttle, we’d noticed a stern mom, rigid with ambition, primping her 12-year-old daughter, a lithe, apple-cheeked lass with full makeup, sheer dress, frightened eyes. She watched the floor. Her mom glanced at me, saw I already had a companion and didn’t need a “niece,” went back to touching up her daughter’s lipstick.
Don’t apologize, Mr. President. Tell these people to grow up and get real jobs.
Eric Lucas’s travel, business and natural history journalism concentrates on the meaning and purpose of travel and enterprise. His work appears in the Los Angeles Times, MSN.com, Boston Globe, Westways Magazine, Alaska Airlines Magazine, Western Journey, Michelin Maps & Guides, among others. He lives in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, where he grows and sells organic garlic.. He is an expert gardener, wilderness fisherman and downhill skier. To learn more, visit his website at: http://trailnot4sissies.com/.