Friday, 20 March 2009

Lukowski and Powell's Greatest Hits remastered Vol 1: Las Vegas

So while writing that last blog about the Vegas of the East, I idly wondered if I still had the massive email I wrote some four and a half years ago about mine and Powell's stupid holiday to the real Vegas. I do. It's kind of interesting... to me, anyway. Weird when you write professionally to look back at your old stuff, even an email... I suppose you hope your writing has improved exponentially, which it clearly hasn't, though I did change a few of the more excruciating turns of phrase in the first half (before simply getting bored and not bothering to read the second half - bodes well for you eh?). Anyway, should anybody be even slightly interested in this, then, er, it's here...

Thu, Sep 16, 2004 at 8:45 PM

So the last days of Starbucks were occasionally stressful, climaxing in a period where I did about nine really long, really early shifts in a row, leaving me in such a state of sleep deprivation that I ended up getting irrationally angry, with, I dunno, everything. Plus after three months of perfect weather these things called 'rain' and 'cloud' came and got in my way, damn them, which didn't help.
Thus I was possibly not in the perfect frame of mind to receive Mark who had come out to visit, sadly a problem that probably haunted him throughout his entire stay; nonetheless me barking at clouds is not exactly the strangest sight in the world, and despite my still being an employee of Starbucks we started off pretty well: beers, gossip, and as a useful side-effect of his jet-lag, he was wanting to go to bed at pretty much the same time as I needed to get my head down for my Starbucks wake-up calls. We also got to fulfil what I can only describe as a year-long dream of mine, which was to celebrate the departure of Sonia and Jane (who went off on a road trip across Canada) by means of a meal at the Afghan Horseman, Vancouver’s premier/only Afghan restaurant. I’d become slowly obsessed with it over the year, probably due to some irrational belief of mine that chowing down on pita bread in an Afghan restaurant would get back to the Department of Homeland Security and perturb them somehow. (Hmm... does an email containing the words ‘Afghan’ and ‘Department of Homeland Security’ get read by surly American agents? Probably not. Hello if you’re reading.)

Anyway the restaurant was very nice indeed.

Well, it was okay.

We watched a movie called The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra; it’s like a pastiche of 50s B-movies, but not in the post-modern Tim Burton type way… it’s incredibly cheap and the humour entirely derives from the fact that the script and acting are intentionally awful. It’s genius, but the very fact they actually did have no money meant that there was no budget for advertising so no bugger saw it. So it needs word of mouth. So this is word of mouth. Seriously, me and Mark were quoting it like nobody’s business and, er, we’ve both won stuff from THE GUARDIAN!!!

Things took a turn for the worse the day after Sonia and Jane left, when I embarked upon a three day semi-mental breakdown during which I wandered around feeling sick in the stomach, incapable of any sort of genuine cheeriness, and ultimately, as is both the British and Polish way, I just had to get drunk to even be able to eat anything, let alone keep up my normal standard of erudite and witty conversation. That probably sounds really bad, and it was pretty horrible, but, um, well, the very fact I felt so awful helped me resolve various issues that had been going through my head, and I probably lost a pound or two, so the fact I had done no exercise at any point in the previous year was probably slightly made up for. Anyway, luckily for Mark I’d kind of already organised a series of people we had to do stuff with in the evenings, so he was spared whatever I’d have done if we’d had no fixed plans (probably sit in a darkened corner and rock backwards and forwards). In fact the only serious problem we had was that I realised that in four days I had completely failed to inform Mark of what my actual address was, let alone what my cell phone number was, and left alone to his devices on one of my days at work he perfectly reasonably got himself hideously lost and it took him three hours to make the 20 minute trip home… oops.

We also had the slight indignity of being booted out of our apartment on the first of the month… essentially me and Mike had been a bit vague about what we were planning on doing for September, but when in July I had informed our landlady that Sonia would definitely be leaving at the end of August but me and Mike weren’t sure yet this was apparently construed as me handing in notice for all three of us for the end of August. Which was kind of a drag, though I guess it worked out a bit cheaper for us in the end than renting the place between two of us for all of September. What wasn’t so cheap was our crazy Russian landlord Victor casually informing us that our carpets were ‘dirty’, which, er, they weren’t, and docking us $200 of deposit for ‘steam-cleaning’ purposes. If he’d just said “look, frankly as my wife and I have been saying all year, we’ve probably undercharged you for heating and electricity, so we’re just going to take some money off your deposit to make up for it, you still got a damn good deal” it would have been a bit less annoying than him wandering into the apartment to ‘inspect’ it, and within the space of about a minute saying “yes, the carpets are dirty, we will need to take off $200 of deposit for steam-cleaning, you have been great tenants we wish you could stay for another year, oh look, here is exactly $350 in cash, well that’s useful, I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d needed to give you the full $550, good bye”. And to think we walked their bloody dog. Meh. Well, it was still about a gazillion times nicer than any of the crumbling hovels I ever haunted in Leeds.

This all left me Mike and Mark needing somewhere to stay, and though we’d received various offers of floors to sleep on, we decided to abandon dignity for the sake of comfort and stay at the Jericho Beach Hostel, which was at least not as touristy as downtown, and was also a minute away from Mike’s work, which was a bonus. Well, not for me. Leaving your own apartment for the sake of somewhere with no privacy and no sense of it being your own is kind of a drag, and loving Vancouver as much as I do it was a bit unpleasant feeling like a tourist there, but, y’know there are worse things in the world, and actually it wasn’t really too awful because we were all so busy in the last couple of weeks that we didn’t have much more to do with the place than sleep.

After seeing the Killers play the Commodore (they’re fun, their album has good songs and bad songs and their set was pretty much just energetically straightforward interpretations of their good and bad songs) I finally concluded my last two shifts at Starbucks and then off to Las Vegas. Um, hmm, what to say about Starbucks? Well, I don’t really trust ‘the corporation’ any more than I did at the beginning, but that’s pretty irrelevant really, because after a bit of propaganda at the start a Starbucks is just a coffee shop with very little to do with corporate politics; I wanted to spend a year working in the customer service industry, I met some amazing people who I hope to remain friends with for the rest of my life, and I really do know a lot about coffee now. I gave my parents a stern ticking off for keeping ground coffee in the fridge as soon as I got back… I hope none of you are guilty of this most heinous of crimes.

Vegas is weird. Quite honestly I’d have thought it was less weird if it had been closer to something from Fear and Loathing, as at least Hunter was basically just seeing a really fascinating place through a drug addled lens. I think the first thing that struck both myself and Mark about the place was the fact that there are ash-trays EVERYWHERE… I know that’s probably an odd statement to make, but it’s really reflective of the fact that it’s the most aggressively consumerist place I’ve ever been… it’s impossible to find anywhere where you’re not been persuaded subtly or unsubtly to buy something, smoke something, eat something, drink something, or, obviously, throw your money at something. To give you an idea, our room had FIVE ashtrays in it… you have to go outside to smoke in most of North America, but in Vegas we had three in our room, one on our balcony, and one in the bathroom… and there was one outside the door as well. The frickin' urinals had ashtrays on top of them.

I can't be dicked to comment on the inherent consumerism of western society as a whole, but y’know, the odds are in most cities you can find a park or something to sit down in and read a book without getting pressured to do anything more than sit down and read a book. In Vegas there’s so much damn PRESSURE just walking through your hotel. And at the same time the place is a lot more boring than you expect… a lot of the hotels are quite impressive on the outside, and in the case of the bigger ones the shopping areas are pretty special, but once you’ve got over the fact that one place looks like a medieval castle, another has a fake volcano, one looks like Venice complete with gondola, another has a 400ft replica of the Eiffel Tower, etc, etc, all you can really do about it is kind of shake your head, go ‘wow’ and move on… they’re all facades, casinos that look like other things: once you get inside, pretty much every casino looks identical, whether the theme is an Arabian village or New York City.. Like Treasure Island kind of appears like a coastal pirate village from the outside, but you can’t go into the ships or pirate buildings, because they’re all a show, they don’t have interiors; either that or you have to do stuff like pay more money to go up a fake Eiffel Tower than the real one.

That’s not really to complain, as we weren’t going to Vegas because we wanted to load up on fresh air and clean morals… I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you kind of think Vegas will be so endlessly spectacular that if you don’t want to gamble you can just wander around and take in the glorious vulgarity of it all… but it really isn’t like that; you either pay for an expensive show or else the thrills are totally skin-deep… you look at the exterior of a place, you go ‘wow’, but then inside it’s a casino that looks like all the other casinos and the same shops that are in all the other shopping arcades… ultimately everybody gets dragged down to the same lowest common denominator: all you can do is gamble or get drunk, and if you get drunk you’re more likely to gamble, or smoke, or buy a steak at one in the morning. Well, I don’t smoke or eat meat, I’m a lousy gambler, and I drink a lot less than I did before I moved to Vancouver… I think I’d kind of hoped that dabbling in Vegas would have been as much fun to a first timer (well I came here when I was 19 and looked at some shops a bit) as totally living it up, purely on novelty grounds, but Vegas just ain’t built that way.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy myself… I think one less night there wouldn’t have been a huge blow, but we did have fun, but realistically my advice for going to Vegas would be to only spend two nights there tops, or else take so much money that you can afford to be spending money CONSTANTLY – eat really nice food, see expensive shows, and have the disposable cash to gamble for, like, four hours a night, whether you win or lose. Having spent the previous year living in the most naturally beautiful city on the planet it was certainly a contrast…
Jesus this is getting long. Well, to try and summarise our time there: the first night was actually really good because it was the Labour Day holiday the next day, and so there were a lot of people in town to party… essentially we hopped between the bars in our hotel dabbling in a little video blackjack and flirting with the numerous attractive drunk American girls, including one incredibly insistent lass who demanded that we both feel her boobs just to prove that they were real (not that anybody had actually suggested they weren’t). Possibly if we’d known it wasn’t going to be like that every night (and I haven’t been so emotionally scarred/’enlightened’ by the prodigious quantities of hardcore feminism I was exposed to during my degree) we’d maybe have tried somewhat harder that night to bag ourselves a couple of confused Yank girls and share our sweet, sweet candy with them.

The next couple of days were weird… Vegas was still busy, but there was no party atmosphere anymore… there were QUITE a lot of people in our hotel, enough to keep the gambling tables busy, but not really enough to have surplus of drunkards wanting to disco. The time was not without its highlights… we spent a pleasant afternoon talking to a bartender about how strange it was for her to actually live in Vegas, and in the Arabian casino we drank these massive margaritas while listening a guy on piano whack out these insane, actually pretty scary, chamber music type versions of 50s pop songs, and er, literally the most sinister thing I’ve ever heard, a really sparse, echoey version of ‘Play That Funky Music White Boy’ – it’s probably what they all get down to after the Republican convention. We also went to the wrongest karaoke in the world… it was all pastel lights and middle aged people in pastels gently singing along to mid-tempo 50s-70s ballads… I have a feeling that it felt exactly the same as a lobotomy – like, really soothing and quite pleasant, but there was certainly part of both our minds alerting us that there was something seriously wrong here. They had ‘Spin The Black Circle’ by Pearl Jam as a selection – I wish I’d had the balls to do it, Christ knows what the reaction of the other customers would have been.

But what it all came down to was that all we could REALLY do was drink and gamble – not so good when you’re on $50 a day… fortunately I’m a really crap gambler in the normal sense, I just enjoy being in the game, so I always last quite a long time due to the fact that I just persist in making really tiny conservative bets… I ain’t ever gonna bet it all on red. Er, which we couldn’t do because we were playing blackjack. Our casino also had the novelty of the dealers being dressed up as singers, and there was a certain pleasure to having one’s cards dealt by a surgery-enhanced Gloria Estefan or a Buddy Holly whose shtick seemed to be that he was playing Buddy Holly as a post plane crash-zombie. As I said I’m not really a very heavy drinker anymore so I never really got so out of it that I thought it would be a good idea to gamble away all the money I had to my name.

Mark, on the other hand… He admitted to me that the reason he didn’t have much money when he came out to Vancouver was because he’d “drank it all”, and thus I was only half surprised when upon having left him at a bar downstairs at six in the evening, he wandered in looking somewhat dishevelled about an hour later and informed me that he’d gambled away all of his money. His exact words in fact were “you might be buying tonight”. He then proceeded to get so drunk that he had a quite amusing freakout which culminated in him collaring two pretty girls who lived in Vegas and launching into an impassioned rant about how stupid it was that anybody could possibly enjoy living in this city. They left. As it turned out he’s been under the belief that he was chatting them up, bless.

Finally our last night was actually really good – we got off the strip and went downtown and it was much more like the fun Vegas you see in the movie – no monster casino hotels, but atmospheric, slightly wacky little casinos that were infinitely less sanitary and infinitely more fun just to wander around with the preposterously alcoholic margaritas they all seemed to sell, occasionally playing the slots rather than losing all your money at a table. If you go to Vegas on anything like a budget then seriously, try and do one night on the Strip just to see it and then all the rest of your time downtown, and then get the hell out of there.

Er, and by and large that’s it. My last days in Vancouver were pretty good, er, if you were there you were there, special thanks go out to Deb, Britt, Matt and Mike for being such a good posse at the end. Home is okay – as you’re probably all too aware it’s great to have a computer again, and it’s also odd to discover I own a lot more stuff than I remembered, and inevitably seeing the folks is nice, though dad is buggering off to Lithuania (of all places) tomorrow. Also my parents appear to have purchased a dishwasher, which in my slightly warped mind is synonymous with selling out.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Aw. Meeeee-morieeeees...

I choose to interpret the juxtaposition of this blog post with your last few as a convoluted apology for spending the last five years' worth of blogging essentially painting me as some kind of malcontent drunken hazard-magnet, and a tacit admission that travelling without me is rubbish and you'll never do it again.

To which I say "Ok, but you're getting the first three rounds in whichever pointless and stupid country we randomly decide to go to next."

Welcome home, squire. Good to have you back.