Goddamn Vegas, man.

Nothing – nothing – is real in that place. The Venetian Hotel has an interior roof painted to look like the twilight sky, and gondolas weave down canals filled with water of the kind of deep and rich blue that you see in children’s storybooks (See Spot Run Into Trouble At The Beach, Courtesy Of BP). The air is gusted with perfume to disguise the stench of cigarette smoke and when my body started craving salad (little did the poor chump know that a roadside Arby’s was soon to prove its nemesis), the closest I could get was a sole lettuce leaf alongside a turkey wrap that was not a colour I will ever believe could be found in nature. Unless it was the colour of Mother Nature puking after a night on absinthe and green chartreuse. That, I could believe.

But it’s not as if we went to Vegas for the authenticity.


We came for the prostitutes.

I mean, the gambling.

Very quickly, we discovered that the gaming floor of the Venetian at twelve in the morning showcased Zara and I’s different approaches to testing our luck. My belief has always and will always be that when you hit a streak, you gotta ride it out until either you go bust or complimentary drinks start raining from the sky. Zara, by far the more level-headed, decided that as soon as she was ahead, she was going to cash out. Also, she wore her pajamas.

Armed with our $25 in complimentary chips, we hit the slots.

Once you are in, man, there is no respite. Constant light and noise bounce off the deep red carpet, the high ceilings, the endless ranks of grim-faced gamblers who surge in to try to break the poker tables. I think this is what disconcerted me – no one here actually appeared to be having fun. They just sit and push the buttons and feed ever more money into the deep black cash slots, or determinedly place their bets on red again for another spin of the wheel.

I would have been more upset that the Sopranos slot machine was out of commission and the Elvis machine wouldn’t take our complimentary credit but I was frankly too distracted by the old lady with the oxygen tank and an ashtray feeding quarters into a slot machine.

Zara, by dint of playing carefully and luckily, ended up $16.20 and cashed out immediately.

I ended up $15 ahead and did not.

Very quickly, I subsequently found myself $0 ahead.

I think the lesson here is that if I had have spent more money, I surely would have won millions.

I have learned everything I know about cards from Bond films, which is that every single card game in the world falls into the following three steps:

1. Play.

2. Win.

3. Have a bunch of sex.

4. Kill some guys.

And while that would have been fun, something told me that wasn’t exactly how things would go down, and so we left the casino floor to go back to our room and prepare for the following day.

We headed out of Vegas in what the GPS told us was a Coloradan direction the next morning. An hour into the trip, as we hit the straight of the long, long highway, the truck ahead of us blew a tyre and veered crazily across and off the road. Immediately, another truck behind us pulled over to offer assistance, while the hood of the first truck sprang and smashed into its front window. Tiny dust and rocks caromed off our car as the truck threw up earth by the side of the road before coming to rest.

Whoever and wherever you are, man, I hope your luck was as good as Zara’s.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

31 responses to “TPAC 2010: Day 6 – Leaving Las Vegas”

  1. Becky says:

    I can say (and may have already said) that those two gambling behaviors fall pretty regularly along gender lines.

    As a sinful, debauched person who gambles regularly, at least in kitchen poker games and race tracks, I can say that guys will take higher stakes, lower-odds bets and push their luck further than women will.

    I leave the track up 20 bucks, and I’m happy as a clam.

    But Palani’s over there going, “If you would have just played a trifecta, you’d have 80, you know…”

    Of course, he says it $100 bucks in the hole after playing trifectas all day. And I mention that. And it’s like the logic doesn’t even register.

    “But you could have had $80 if you’d played it!”

    • Simon Smithson says:

      The only theory I know is that in Texas Hold’Em you’re supposed to play open and high (is that what they call it?) where you don’t bet often, but bet big when you do.

      That is seriously the only thing I know.

      Oh, and always bet on black.

      But I learned that from Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57, so it may lack accuracy.

      • Becky says:

        You sound like a man I need to gamble against, Simon Smithson. I’ll teach you play poker. Really. I will.


  2. Lorna says:

    I’m real! Really, I am. Vegas is not all about the strip. If I would have been feeling better when you two passed through, I’d have shown you two a good time….err, the REAL Vegas. 😉

    But you are wise to understand that you can’t find happiness stuffing your hard earned cash into the money eating machines.

    When My husband and I were driving on the way to our wedding we had a crazy, out of control truck miss hitting us head on by inches. This is one of the reasons why I always consider myself a lucky girl.

  3. Joe Daly says:

    Simon, I’d be right there with you until the bitter end. I never know when to quit while I’m ahead, and I’m entirely incapable of cutting my losses.

    My most spectacular gambling losses have all occurred within 6 or 7 hours of my loftiest gambling windfalls.

    But hey, with Vegas it’s all about the stories anyway, isn’t it? Well, that and the prostitutes.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      The prostitutes make Vegas. I don’t care what anyone says. It’s nice to know I always the option if this writing thing doesn’t work out. I’d undercut Lalli and charge a sweet twenty five bucks per tumble.

      You gotta ride it! Ride it ’til the end!

  4. Sarah says:

    I mostly agree with Becky that gambling personalities fall along gender lines. Except in my family. We’re the exception to most rules. My father can be an all around wimp in general but especially with gambling. He plays craps and video poker and is uber-conservative when he plays. To the point of being a downer and a party pooper. My mom, on the other hand, plays black jack like me. She sits there and drinks and enjoys the party atmosphere of it, the conversation. While she sits there she just keeps handing over my inheritance. Also a downer.

    I like to quit while I’m ahead but I love black jack so damn much that my shoulder devil kicks the crap out of my shoulder angel a lot of the time.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      No one likes a party pooper.

      I like what little of blackjack I’ve played. I don’t really know how to double down, though, and I’m told that’s an important part of it.

      How does one actually double down?

  5. Jim says:

    Look at you brave Aussies trekking across the vast American wasteland. Cheers to you!

    Travel safely.

  6. Jordan Ancel says:

    Well, now you know what the runaway truck ramps are for.

    By the way, this bit:

    I have learned everything I know about cards from Bond films, which is that every single card game in the world falls into the following three steps:

    1. Play.
    2. Win.
    3. Have a bunch of sex.
    4. Kill some guys.

    is totally true, but only in Monaco or or Kiev.

  7. Erika Rae says:

    I just don’t get the perfume sprayers…

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Nor did we. I think Vegas just wanted to have control over all six of our senses.

      I mean, five.


  8. Gloria says:

    I lived in Vegas through middle school. It was a huge, depraved Disney Land where Sleeping Beauty was a hooker and the Seven Dwarves were all fences. Half the parents I knew had gambling addictions. I have no desire to ever, ever return. But, man, I miss the desert. That picture of that long stretch of highway makes me homesick. Then again, I say that in the middle of June under gray skies and 60 degree weather. I just want sun.

    Happy traveling!

    • Simon Smithson says:

      You grew up in Vegas?

      Hot damn!

      I wonder how that affected you. I mean, environment has an effect, right? It kinda has to. So to grow up in Vegas… do you think it informed who you are today?

      • Gloria says:

        What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, Simon. Well, there and in my novel, which I’m currently writing.

        Vegas is a cesspool. It’s rife with dirty people and dirty deeds and sanctioned seediness. I’ve not been back since I left, when I was 13. And that’s fine.

  9. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    “the old lady with the oxygen tank and an ashtray feeding quarters into a slot machine”

    Shall we call her Lady Liberty?

    For every American dream, there is a nightmare.

    • Dana says:

      You nailed it Lisa!

      We were in Vegas( (our inaugural and most likely last time) on Thanksgiving last year (oddly timed, I know) and we could not get over the number of children strolling through the casinos with their parents at midnight. W.T.F? My childhood vacation memories include moonshine and Scotts Inn’s, but Jesus, Mary and Joseph, my parents had enough sense not to take us to Vegas.

      Also, I’m convinced that at 3:00 am they scented our room (via the heating and cooling vents) with bacon. Not kidding. Woke up every night at 3:00 am to the smell of cooking bacon. (I’m vegetarian so I don’t think it had the affect they were hoping for…)

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        It’s uncanny you mention Thanksgiving because it is exactly what I was thinking (and where I was going if I followed my tangent… I’m trying to limit my response time bc my mind wanders like Forest Gump runs…). I don’t think anything screams American irony like Thanksgiving and Las Vegas.

        Thanksgiving IN Las Vegas? That’s a spiritual pilgrimage if you look at it right.

        Actually, Simon: It’s a screenplay. Aussie and American writers pilgrimage to Vegas for Thanksgiving in search of the American dream. Or nightmare. Whatever gets you a Green Card. I’m working every angle that doesn’t involve an Elvis impersonator and a wedding chapel. So start planning your next visit.

        See what I mean? I never shut up.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Cooking bacon at 3 in the morning?

          But… why?

          Unless they wanted you to start the day and go gambling.

          Which is probably it.

          Lisa, I’m so in for that screenplay idea. Let’s do it!

  10. Dana says:

    effect. D’oh!

  11. I’m presently contemplating moving down under to get a job there for up to a 12 months under the holiday maker visa, does any one here possess practical knowledge of this? It will be very much valued.

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    Damn it! I’m trying to reply to everything, but I’m also trying to work out in a mirror in Albuquerque if I should adopt a new persona of a bandanna-wearing James Brown cover singer. There isn’t enough time to do everything on this trip!


    There really is a cost to pay, if one chooses to be the boss.

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