CA Days 28 – 33: More San Diego & Fabulous Las Vegas
San Diego continued relaxed and made for a really great time. I spent the 29th walking around the city some more, taking a few more pictures, going to the piers and watching the ocean. In the evening Danny and I headed out to “Basic” Kitchen & Bar, which is a nice restaurant and had an evening themed to the “Hi-Lo Film Festival”, which was about low-budget movies. We were thinking about B-movies, something “low-budget-but-still-budgety”, turns out this was about … uhm … well, just short movies. Some were quite interesting, but the majority was … well … crap.
Wednesday was about to be an adventurous day, since Caley had no classes and offered to show me around Balboa Park and a nice beach on Coronado Island. This was a great, sunny day full of stuff. The park is amazing, the beach was just perfect and I enjoyed being near the ocean again. I’m going to miss the ocean. We finished the day going to a mexican restaurant, having some margaritas and playing an arcade-like version of domino. A good time with great people I’ll definitely try to meet again when I return.
I got up early on thursday since I decided to go to Vegas with a rental car on a sightseeingish route you can see here. Most parts of it are small roads or park territory, plus I did some stops, so the ride would take around 10 hours. Actually I finished it in 8, since no one wanted to join me and it started to get somewhat boring doing it alone. On the way I happened upon the classic picture of movies: Straight roads up to the horizon, in the middle of nowhere, not a house in sight. Then, all of a sudden, in the middle of nowhere, there’s a train station, then again nothing.
A very strange part of the country. When I got to the car rental I was curious which convertible I would get, since that was what I reserved online. On the way to the office I saw a couple of new beetle convertibles and already started worrying if that would be what they’d give me. Imagine … a new beetle? For an 8 hour road trip through the desert, into Vegas? How wrong is that?! Lucky enough it turned out that I’d get a good american Ford Mustang, which sounded way more appropriate for my plan.
The Mustang is a real fun car. Strong and loud, looking good and feeling good to sit in. This in combination with the endless straight, empty road lead to a second of my foot hitting the gas real hard. I thought this would be the perfect situation to just test how much that thing can make. Once again a typical movie-scene happened, when out of nothing all of the sudden there was this huge highway patrol pickup truck in my rear view mirror, just when I was to hit the 90mph. He turned on his lights and so I pulled over.
As little as I knew I opened the door, which resulted in an aggressive “Don’t your windows work?” – “Uhm, they do I guess” – “Then close the door and open the window”. This was definitely an order and there was no part of me allowing anything but following it. “License and Insurance”, I hand them over. “Is this your austrian license?” – “Yes”. Answer short and to the point. Don’t make a mistake. “Do you have an international driving license?” – “No” – “Why?” – “The guys at the car rental said I don’t need it” – “Okay. Do you have any idea what the speed limit is?” – “It’s a highway, so I guess 65″ – “It’s 55. You hit 85″ – “Oh … I just saw the empty road and thought I could try to step on the gas, stupid idea” – “There’s 35 miles more of my area. You are going to follow me and keep it within the limit. If you want to go crazy try it somewhere else, but this is my area. I don’t care what you do 35 miles ahead, there it’s someone else’s business, but here it’s between you and me. I’ll not gonna write you a ticket for this stupidity, you’re going to keep it easy now.” – “Okay, thanks, it was really stupid”.
Actually this guy was really nice. He was the “tough highway cop”, but in a good way. I drove the upcoming 35 miles at exactly 55mph, then kept my speed to limit +5. He drove ahead, faster, and after a couple curves he was gone, as mysterious as he had appeared. Road trip through the desert, the full experience.
This trip was off the beaten path and I wasn’t sure how my gas situation would be, so I decided to start looking for a gas station as the tank goes down to half full. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere I stumbled upon three buildings: A gas station, a mexican market and another, undefined building that looked like an industrial hall. I haven’t had lunch and was thirsty, so I hit the market first. This was literally the middle of nowhere, so there was nobody in the shop. Half the shelves were empty and the two ladies working there had a conversation in spanish. I grabbed three bottles of Gatorade and some chips and after I asked if there were sandwiches or some snacks they pointed me to a fridge I already passed by, so I searched it again. And there it was, the one sandwich. It was the only thing they had.
Armed with my sandwich and some more stuff I refilled the tank and took off again. It was after about 4 or 5 hours when I started to feel a little tired. Not so much because I needed sleep, but just because the ride was one hell of a boring thing. The street was straight, as far as I could see. The car was an automatic with speed control. All I had to do is look and turn the steering wheel a few millimeters every once in a while. My advice for everyone who is going to do a roadtrip through a desert or desert-like area is to buy chips. Not so much because they’re good or something to eat or anything like that, but they keep you busy. You have to manage the opening process, have to find a place where you can put the opened pack and then you grab one chip at a time. After a couple hours of desert-driving eating chips seems like the most exciting thing in your little roadtrip-world.
My timing was pretty good, when I finally switched to the I-15 for the last 50 miles it started getting dark and when I entered fabulous Las Vegas it was black night. Actually, it was black night until I entered Vegas. A lot of people told me a lot of things about this city, but all agreed on one point: Get there at night. And I agree, especially after I’ve seen it at day. When you come to the strip you’re astonished. Most people will refer to the Strip when they’re talking about Las Vegas. This is only one street and there’s a lot more to see, but this is the tourist-part. It’s full of neon, casinos, hotel-resorts and people.
Walking down the strip is an experience itself. It seems like there was no such thing as competition in Las Vegas, but a general agreement to squeeze as much money out of the people as possible. The streets are cleaner than some living rooms, there’s cleaning staff walking around all the time, taking care of the filth. There’s music everywhere – out of laterns, out of walls, wherever – franky boy & co. will assist you in depositing your money safely in a slot machine or on a roulette table. I could write a book about how this walk on the strip feels like, but much to my reader’s disappointment I refuse to continue talking bout that, just because it doesn’t make sense describing it. There’s no words for the exaggerations and superlatives one would need. One has to experience this, everything else is just a halfway solution.
So I drove up the Bellagio Drive, stopped right in front of the entrance at the valet parking area and handed the running car with keys over to a guy from the hotel, who claimed to park it for me. He gave me a small cardboard ticket. I could pick the car up anytime by giving this ticket so some other guy from the hotel, who would then get my car for me. In the lobby I started to realize that my “backpacker-outfit-shock-plan” wouldn’t work. It was the Bellagio, but all kinds of people checked in. The lobby was busy and starting with rich-looking business and upper class people down to mexican families there was everything there. Lots of asian tourists, but basically all kinds of people. The only thing unusual was my backpack, but else I didn’t stick out the crowd.
Finally in my room I checked the luxury and to be honest was kind of disappointed. What I had was a partial lakeview room, so not the cheapest available. It was a nice room, of course. But luxury? Not quite. If I think about the Bellagio I think about overwhelming luxury. And if I look at the prices I think the same thing. Shrimp cocktail small: 50$, medium 100$, big 200$. Breakfast 20$, consisting of orange juice, coffee and 3 pastries. 3 small pastries. My advice for Vegas-visitors: If you’re not a hotel-junky forget the luxury approach and check in to a fancy hotel. The Planet Hollywood is a weird place, lots of lights and action, young, dynamic. The Flamingo is weird and funny, the Circus Circus is a unique place to be. And all of those are way cheaper and way more exciting than the Bellagio.
After the hotel-stay I was almost disgusted by Vegas. The Strip was the impersonation of everything I don’t stand for. Wasted energy, wasted money, wasted people, disgusting tourists behaving like monkeys on crack, huge casino-areas with all kinds of retarded slogans, everything was lit up somehow, blinking, sparkling, making noises. And all of it is made-up. It’s a trap the size of a small city. You can’t just walk around, you’ll have to walk through gambling areas to reach the pedestrian bridges, there will be dozens of people at the side of the street handing you little cards of callgirls, different songs will overlap all couple meters and there’ll always be the slot machines screeching their “doodledidoo”-sounds.
Now that there’s some time inbetween and I could get a glance at the city from a local’s point of view I see things different. But while The Strip is a lot of things, it definitely is NOT a place to: Visit alone. Visit sober. Visit in the winter. Grab a good friend, come here between March and September and get wasted. Place to be. Sit down by a slot machine and you’ll be kept happy with free drinks. Give up your seat at the bar for the old couple who wants to play the poker-machine that’s built into every place at the bar and you’ll not have to pay for your drinks. You can get drunk without spending a buck, but if you look around you’ll soon recognize that you have to be careful. There’s a reason these huge casino-hotel-resort-complexes can afford to give out free drinks, and the reason being is that drunk people are more likely to gamble.
The stay at the Bellagio was finally over and I was happy about that. I had to leave. I couldn’t stand it anymore. Away from The Strip was my only thought. And hopefully there’s more to this place than what I experienced. And there is. Tim, my couchsurfing-host, is living in Vegas for four years now. He is very knowledgeable about it and could alter my judgements. As soon as you leave the strip you are in a normal, boring desert town. There’s a hell lot of strip clubs, but that’s about it. Not quite the place to raise a family, but the rents are low, there’s plenty of jobs and as a local you not only have a lot of monetary benefits at all kinds of places but you can also choose if you want to hit the madness-areas or not.
Downtown, the old city centre, is worth seeing as well. There’s some weird places and a lot of neon there as well, but it’s bearable, not as extreme as The Strip. It’s also good to know how things work. On my own I wasn’t sure where to go and what to do, or how to do something. But Tim knew, so we just walked around the casino areas and from his “overview”-perspective, which basically means knowing what you want and not letting all the weirdness distract you, the whole thing felt way better.
After all this is a crazy town and despite all the things I don’t like I’ll be back some day. With a friend. In a cheap hotel. In summer. Drunk.
In a couple hours I’ll head back to San Diego with a rideshare from craigslist, which not only means a 5 hour car ride instead of an 8-10 hour public transportation trip through Los Angeles, but also that all it will cost me are 25$ gas share. Good bye, Las Vegas, we’ll see each other again.
I love you all.