I believe it was Franz Kafka who said humanity is divided into two groups: Vegas people and non-Vegas people.
He said this just before he wrote a famous story about a guy who turns into a dung beetle.
As it happens, I am a non-Vegas person. Las Vegas turned me into a dung beetle.
Recently I accompanied my son, John, to Sin City. He was there for a business seminar. I tagged along, on my own dime, to sight-see in the land of perdition.
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Let me acknowledge that Las Vegas is, I realize, a dream destination for many people. My good buddy Gary, for instance, loves loves loves it.
Personally, I’d rather have someone pour a kettle of boiling bilge water directly into my eyeballs than go back again.
▪ The central goal of Vegas is to part fools from their money. In my case, that doesn’t require undue skill on the town’s part. I’m the world’s most inept gambler. I’m terrible at cards. Terrible at roulette. Terrible at slots. I’ve never won a dollar, ever, in any game, anywhere.
Still, despite knowing better, I foolishly sacrificed $17 in slot machines, just to appease the gods of chance and demonstrate what a moron I am. The only other time I visited, 20 years ago, I heard comedian-magician Penn Jillette say, “Welcome to Las Vegas, the city built on poor math skills.” That tells the tale right there.
▪ Speaking of parting fools from their money, here are actual Vegas menu items. A bottle of water: $9. A draft beer: $14. A tuna melt sandwich: $16. A small, watery soft drink: $4.50. A cafeteria-style buffet (think the old Blue Boar): $40.
▪ The city is loud. The streets rumble with traffic. The customers in casinos and restaurants, having over-invested in $14 beers and Lord knows what else, shout and shriek. The hotel lobbies hum with chaos. Even the elevators throb with piped-in disco music. It’s all designed to disorient you, so you’ll just start shoving wads of cash into the nearest dinging, whirring, clanging machine you stumble against, in a mad attempt to make it hush, please, God, stop. But it won’t. So you feed it more money.
▪ If you pause in a casino aisle or a hotel hallway to, let’s say, check your phone, people will run right over you. I felt like a bumper car at a third-rate carnival. I got plowed into multiple times by great-grandmas hurtling headlong from the Texas hold ’em table to the blackjack table, drinks sloshing.
▪ On a sidewalk outside the Monte Carlo, I saw an Elvis impersonator, bedecked in his white, rhinestone-bejeweled jumpsuit riding a Rascal. He was engaged in a passionate monologue directed at a pigeon waddling along the sidewalk. An actual pigeon. As he talked, the guy flashed Elvis karate-style hand signs, perhaps thinking this would impress the bird. Alas, the pigeon ignored him and kept going.
OK, it wouldn’t be fair to say the whole stay was grim. There were several enjoyable experiences:
Our hotel room was something out of the 23rd century. Sci-fi come to life. When we entered, the curtains across the balcony opened, as if of their own accord, to reveal a spectacular view. The room’s accouterments included a computer pad that operated everything from the lights to the TV to the air conditioning and offered instant access to 200 online newspapers. Swanky stuff for this old country boy. For a while, I thought the armchair might sprout a helicopter rotor and fly me above the Bellagio’s fountain light show.
John and I took a side trip to the World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, better known as the setting for the reality program Pawn Stars. Turns out it genuinely is a functioning pawn shop, but smaller than it looks on television.
Our driver for that excursion was a delightful guy of, he said, Italian and Iranian extraction. He recited Pink Floyd lyrics and showed us photos of his recent vacation to California, all while weaving the cab through heavy traffic.
So, even for the likes of me, Vegas does have its charms. A few charms.
But I’m mighty happy to be back in God’s country. I’ve seen enough perdition to last me.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.