You can’t win over me, Bloody Mary, I will conquer you. I stared at the crimson, peppery concoction, willing myself to take another sip. It was only 10 pm on Labor Day Sunday, and I could hear the proverbial rooster crowing out to the inebriated masses with pounding EDM choruses. I reached for my cocktail, but faltered at the sight of my half-eaten chicken. This thing used to flap around and cluck, but now it’s dead as a doornail on a platter. My stomach churned and pulse quickened. I withdrew my hand and tried not to throw up at the table. No, I hadn’t been suddenly overcome by a bout of vegetarianism. Rather, I had experienced a Shakespearean omen in the form of a fowl. “I think I need to go back to the hotel,” I announced to the table, handing Ms. Mary and the poor bird off to my girlfriend. Five sets of pitying eyes turned on me, and I felt like Tony Parker facing the French Basketball World Cup team. What was happening to me, I thought. Had I (GASP) gotten too old for Vegas?
* * * * *
I first fell in love with the City of Sin as a second grader. My parents used to attend the Las Vegas Gift Show back in the 90s, and for several summers we got taken along, thanks to the free babysitting offered by the convention. My brother and I adored it. We thought it was like Disneyland on steroids – it had everything a kid could want: epic rides (New York, New York and the Stratosphere), ridiculous arcades (Treasure Island, Circus Circus), 3D extravaganzas (Luxor), the Knights of the Round Table (Excalibur).* The flashing lights, the clinging and clanging of slot machines, the huge maternal bosoms – it was a child’s paradise!
It wasn’t until nearly a decade later when I returned as a semi-adult that I finally understood what Vegas was really about: hangovers. I barely remember it like it was yesterday, my return to the Promised Land. I had met a guy at a club one night toward the end of October, 2004, and had preceded to go on a date with him. I drank enough at dinner that night to find him charming, and thus agreed to hang out with him on Halloween. “Don’t plan anything, I’ll pick you up from work at 4pm.” I nodded, my interest piqued. I’ve always like a man who takes charge.
True to his word, my suitor picked me up on the Sunset Strip in the afternoon on the 31st and promptly whisked me over to Aahs, where he bought me one of the only remaining costumes: a sexy ice cream parlor girl (I know.) We then headed south down the 405 and to my great surprise landed at LAX. Two hours later we were checking into the Bellagio, my mind reeling at how dramatically my vision had changed over the last 8 years. Had Vegas always been this… slutty? Maybe it was because it was Halloween, but I had a feeling my grade school self may have needed glasses.
The evening unfolded as one might expect: him dropping tons of money, me feeling out of orbit. I hardly knew him, and about half-way through dinner at Le Cirque I knew enough to know that I didn’t really want to know him at all. Tant pis. Dinner ended and we made our way to the Palms for my first foray into the Vegas nightclub scene. It was a bit of a disaster, with my horrible fake ID instantly confiscated and his need to impress resulting in a $2000 bottle of champagne at a table at Ghost Bar. The angel-winged waitress then made it rain on us by dropping the first bottle, and as she tearfully popped the second one and I inched away from my would-be Casanova, I realized something profound(ly obvious): Vegas is absurd. Money means nothing and everything. Ditto sex, and fashion, and class. It’s a land of contradictions, where one guy loses his life savings and the next flies home on a private jet, where one chick cheats on her husband and the next gets married (Britney, Carissa, I’m looking at you.) For me, there were moments of great pleasure and excitement, mixed with those of confusion and pain. I consumed over a thousand dollars worth of food and drink, only to regurgitate it back up several hours later. Absurd, indeed.
Since popping my Hangover cherry that Halloween, I have returned to Vegas dozens more times. Until this past year, when I took a much needed sabbatical, I averaged about 3 trips a year to Sin City, probably putting my total number of notches close to 30. I’ve done Vegas in so many ways I could write a book. I’ve done it privately with celebrities, missionary style with my parents, girls only with, well, my girls (my personal fave). I’ve even done it on a first date!** My relationship with Vegas is by far and away the kinkiest I’ve had with any city, and certainly produced the most excrutiating “morning afters.” But as many times as I’ve been, and as many times as I’ve said “never again,” I keep returning. Oh, the joys of love-hate relationships.
* * * * *
We paid the bill and I said good night to the group, wishing them well. I walked out to the valet, about to step into the taxi line, then remembered my flats in my purse (I’d learned a thing or two in my 30 trips). I swapped them for my gorgeous 8-inch torture devices, and headed out into the hot night air, determined to walk off my feeling of unease. I thought of the night I’d be missing at XS: the lights, the sounds, the dancing, the drinking, the hangover. Then I remembered the previous two nights at Light and Foxtail and Drai’s: the lights, the sounds, the dancing, the drinking, the hangovers…
No wonder the chicken at dinner had spoken to me! It wasn’t that I’d gotten too old for Vegas – the last two nights had proved otherwise –but rather, I’d gotten too old for three straight nights in Vegas. In fact, I’d never done three straight nights in Vegas. Or for that matter anywhere. Not even at the height of my party-girl days. I felt a revelation coming on about the ingenuity of the two-day weekend, and smiled. So what if I had lost to a Bloody Mary? It’s not like I’d actually had my head chopped off, like the poor chicken on my plate. No, I would live to cluck and flap on a dance floor some other day, just not tonight. And not only that, I’d be experiencing Sin City the next morning in a way I hadn’t since my childhood days: without a hangover.
Viva Las Vegas!
*It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that for a time, these were my favorite casinos. Oh, the refined tastes of grade schoolers.
** Surprisingly, we didn’t actually do it. He was British and a gentleman and I don’t do one night stands with dudes. Just cities.