A visit to Las Vegas seemed like a good idea at the time. The experience itself disavowed this belief.

"You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany..."
Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, STAR WARS

No, I don't think Obi-Wan was actually referring to Mos Eisley Spaceport when he uttered that famous caveat
to young Luke Skywalker in George (I will empty your wallet) Lucas’ STAR WARS. I think he must have been
referring to Sin City—Vegas—I honestly think so.

I'm writing this while sick, so please pardon any typographical errors or grammatical inconsistencies. I'm sick
with food poisoning. It was the final bon voyage present from a well-intended (though in hindsight ill-
conceived) weekend getaway to Las Vegas, Nevada, in early 2005. It was a bad weekend. I wanna make that
perfectly clear at the onset of this narrative; so yes, the writer’s pen is slanted, and yes, it is slanted against
Vegas.

Friday, February 27

Ask anyone in Los Angeles and they’ll tell you that the drive from LA to Vegas takes about 4 hours,
hypothetically. But, let's be serious for a moment. The most direct route is across the 10 and up the 15. And
to head to Vegas on a Friday afternoon and expect a smooth flow of traffic, well, I have to plead ignorant in
that account. I'd say that next time I'll know better, but there won’t be a next time, so the problem kind'a works
itself out all on its own. Needless to say, the 4-hour drive took closer to 6.5 hours to complete. We arrived at 7:
30 pm. The skies were dark and the casinos were light up brighter than the brightest Christmas trees at the
North Pole on Christmas Eve.

Atop the Pyramid casino a bright beam of light shone hundreds of feet into the sky and was visible for several
miles in all directions. I admit to a feeling of enchantment upon having reached this bright, glowing city.
Unfortunately, it's all an illusion. And let me make something perfectly clear--this is not a diatribe by an angry
writer who was "taken down" by the house. I don't gamble. Never have. Neither does Di. We didn't drive to
Vegas to gamble. Rather, we drove there to attend Lebowski Fest West, a celebration of sorts of the movie
THE BIG LEBOWSKI which starred Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, among others. More on that in a bit.

We pulled into The Imperial Palace hotel and casino which, from the exterior at least, seems as good a place
as any to hang out (it was also the hotel where Lebowski Fest West was being held, so it seemed a logical
choice for lodging).
The first problem occurred when we were given a smoking room. I'd booked a non-smoking room, but
apparently, at the Imperial Palace such details are unimportant. Never mind that Di has asthma and that we
both abhor cigarettes (yes, we are both pain-in-the-ass reformed smokers—sue us). We explained to the
hotel clerk that we really really really needed a non-smoking room for health reasons. The clerk begrudgingly
checked with her "manager." Tough nipples, they ultimately said. No non-smoking rooms at the inn so take it
or leave it. So we took it. And it stunk like a six-week-old ashtray. And not all the amount of perfume or open
windows could alleviate the smell of carcinogen-laced cancer even in the slightest.

Trying to roll with the changes, to borrow from REO Speedwagon (who, incidentally, were playing in the next
town over), we headed out for a bite to eat at the Imperial's "royal" buffet.

One thing that you should know about Vegas and buffets—despite what you may otherwise be told, the Vegas
buffets suck. They are to fine dining what Brittney Spears is to classical music. Prior to heading to this
dreadful city, I'd heard many, many people prattle on about the "amazing buffets," with comments like "the
food is soooo good." Let me share with you a secret: It's not good. It's shit. You get "all-you-can-eat" shit for
$9.95, but it's still shit no matter how much you pile onto your plate and regardless of the number of times you
return to the buffet line. The buffets are particularly slanted toward the meat-eating populace. And while there
were non-meat entrees and side dishes, in the end it all tasted like rat feces (though I confess to having never
actually tasted rat feces, which may diminish the analogy somewhat)—which is probably why we are both sick
now.

Following the "scrumptous" dinner, we headed over the movie-screening room for the "big screen" showing of
LEBOWSKI. However, the film wasn’t shown on a big screen at all; rather, a DVD copy of the movie was
played through an overhead projector and on several television screens. The crowd was loud and raunchy,
and it was a lot of fun listening as everyone recited the dialogue. The experience was pseudo-ROCKY
HORROR, only without the props and without as much inspiration. Most of the audience members were at
least slightly drunk, so after a while their comments became less amusing and more annoying. We left about
mid-way through the screening and tried to freshen up a bit in our smoky room.

Around 10:00 pm we took a walk on the infamous Vegas Strip. The first thing you'll notice if you ever talk this
sojourn is the tremendous amount of free porn that awaits you (I hear you shutting down Microsoft Windows
and booking tickets to Vegas now...). There are dozens of men and women, mostly Mexican, who stand at the
corners and distribute playing cards and magazines. The playing cards each have a photo of a different nude
or semi-nude woman, along with a phone number and her rates. The magazines, likewise, contain page after
page, photo after photo, of "hot young girls" waiting to show visitors a good time. The majority of this
paraphernalia ends up on the sidewalk. There were at least several thousand "trading cards" on the
sidewalk—handed to passersby and tossed onto the street moments later. Looking down at the sidewalk and
seeing these images is kind of an assault on the senses. I'm not a prude and I'm not a snob, and I enjoy
looking at a nudie chick pic as much as the average, heterosexual male. But seeing these trading cards made
me feel sick to my stomach—though quite honestly it could have been the wretched meal consumed earlier in
the evening.

As the minutes ticked by we walked along the Strip, ignoring the porno barkers, and popping into the various
casinos. Two things that potential visitors might wanna know: 1. The casinos never close. 2. The bars never
close. (Again, I hear a lot of you packing your bags, and if this sort of thing is your "bag, baby" [to borrow from
AUSTIN POWERS]), then you’ll probably love Sin City.

The Vegas architects have done an astounding job transferring a once barren area into the brightest city on
earth (and I use the word "brightest" only in reference to the number of light bulbs per square inch, not as a
statement regarding the intellect of the average visitor). There is a miniature New York, a miniature Egypt, a
miniature Paris complete with a functional Eiffel Tower, a miniature Rio, a miniature Camelot, etc.). No
expense has been spared in making the exteriors of the palaces look enticing to the eyes and wallet. Cha-cha-
cha Ching! The primary recreational activity among casino patrons are the slot machines. There are poker
games, roulette wheels, black jack, and craps, but the slots are king. And it doesn’t matter whether you are
wealthy or poor or somewhere in between. The architects of Vegas have devised slot machines for persons of
all income brackets. There are penny slots, nickel slots, dime slots, quarter slots, dollar slots, and five-dollar
slots. So, even if you only have a few bucks, the machines are ready to take it. Most of the folks who play the
slots are older (if I had to wager a guess, I’d say the average player seemed to be in his or her 50s). Most are
drinkers and most are smokers. They sit and smoke and play and drink and spend. And once in a while you
can discern the sound of change being dispersed from a machine and see an expression of joy at having won
back some of what has been spent. But not often. Not often at all.

Eventually, we returned to the Imperial and our smoke-filled room. Although we tried our best to sleep, it was
nearly impossible. We kept the balcony window open, which made the temperature within our room almost
frigid (the room's heater conveniently did not work). By 6:00 am Di was on the phone with the manager
demanding a new room. We were told that a new room would be ready by 2:00 pm. Di asked that we not be
charged for the first night—a request that seemed reasonable—as she'd been up all night breathing into an
asthma inhaler and coughing more often than not. The voice on the other end of the phone explained that a
refund would not be possible but that he would gladly give us “coupons for a free buffet meal.” Oh happy day.
Oh joy.

Saturday, February 28

Around 8:00 am we took a walk along the strip once more. There was no point in remaining in the smoky hotel
room as we were both feeling sick from the noxious air. At 8:00 am the casinos were already full of gamblers.
There were beers and hard drinks in virtually everyone's hands and cigarette smoke and cigar smoke filled
the otherwise clean air. Pretty girls wearing not much more than stockings and high-heels walked along the
casino floors and handed out free drinks to all—keep them drinking and keep them playing.

We headed toward the Stardust casino and Circus Circus (you guessed it, a circus-themed casino). Like the
suckers we are, we sought to get some food in our bellies. The line at the Circus Circus buffet was rather
long, so we opted for a couple of Krispy Kreme donuts instead. Incidentally, Vegas seems to equate Krispy
Kreme as the Elvis or Sammy Davis Jr of donuts. There were actually hotel and casino marquees (like the one
outside Circus Circus) that proudly boasted "Krispy Kreme Donuts Available Here!!!" I mean, it's just fried
dough and jelly; we’re not talking cuisine, much less cuisine of the IRON CHEF variety.

We took a shuttle trolley to the casino Camelot and ate at the Camelot's Royal buffet. While we were standing
in the buffet line a woman who was ahead of us suddenly cried out, "Is anyone here a doctor!?" Apparently
her dining companion had suffered some sort of malady while loading up his plate. A paramedic eventually
arrived and we deduced that the victim (who was conscious and was handed a glass of orange juice a few
minutes after the collapse) had undergone some time of diabetes-related collapse. You would think we might
have interpreted this as a sign from on High. No. Of course not. We loaded up plates and ate and ate like
good little food robots, or "foodbots" if you prefer.

While consuming a bunch of crap, we flipped through a street map and noticed a small advertisement for "The
Fantastic Indoor Swap Meet." I probably shouldn’t have believed the hype, but there was nothing much to do
on the Vegas strip aside from gamble, eat, or watch overly priced dance revues, so we decided to give the
swap meet a try.

We hailed a taxi and were taken to the swap meet, which was many miles away from the strip. And while it was
apparently voted the “best swap meet in Las Vegas,” we found it to be neither "fantastic" nor "swap meet-ish."
It's basically a bunch of junk being sold by a collection of down-on-their-luck-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here-in-
Vegas-please-buy-some-of-my-crap-so-I-can-pay-this-month's-trailer-tax" sorry-ass sons of bitches. I’ve
visited garage sales with more interesting goods. After a few minutes we realized we’d wasted our time in
looking for a diversion and so decided to high-tail it back to the hotel. It was nearing 2:00 pm and we hoped
our non-smoking room would be ready. The cab ride back to the hotel was enjoyable; our cab driver was a
young man from Columbia who’d been in the US a few years. Most of the cab drivers we spoke with were quite
nice, actually.

At the guest services desk of the Imperial, we asked to speak with the senior-most staff member. We were
soon greeted by a "Mr. Davis," a one-eyed hombre who looked right at home among the seedy, bad-smelling
patrons of his hotel. Although the customer survey card of the Imperial clearly regards "Customer service" as
a top priority, I should have stopped to realize that the comment card doesn't describe the TYPE of customer
service that is a priority. Clearly, however, any one of these adjectives would have served as a sufficient
descriptor of the Imperial’s customer service: shitty, lousy, non-existent, or in the words of Bart
Simpson…craptacular.

We were not trying to scam this hotel. We only felt that the hotel’s management should have refunded our first
night’s stay. You don’t put a person with asthma in a smoking room—this isn’t rocket science here. However,
Mr. Davis would not issue a credit for the prior night's unrest. He stated that "all hotels overbook. There are
no guarantees when making a hotel reservation." He was unwavering in his argument. The hotel was sold out
on Friday night. How could he possibly refund $74.00? It would clearly bankrupt the struggling, sold-out hotel.
Mr. Davis did, however, offer us a free meal at the crap-a-licious buffet—we declined the invite.

As we returned to the smoky tenth-floor room to gather our already-packed bags, we noticed an interesting
sign on the wall next to the elevator. It read, "THIS IS A NON-SMOKING FLOOR." We took a photo for
posterity and legal purposes and headed to our new room on the seventh floor.

The room on floor 7 was much nicer and was, in fact, devoid of the smell of smoke. But the damage had
already been done. We were both stressed and tired from lack of sleep. To make matters worse I experienced
a nifty lower-back ache that all-but killed our chances of attending the second night's LEBOWSKI Fest West
activities—namely, a night of bowling at the Sunset Lanes.

So we blew off bowling and headed to the Rio casino. It was among the nicer of the casinos, though it still
reeked of beer, cigarettes, and foul-smelling cigars. We ate at the Rio's seafood buffet, which consisted of
lots and lots of crab legs, lobster tail, etc. Later, we headed back to the hotel Imperial and got some much-
needed sleep, unaware of the raging nausea that dwelled within us.

Sunday, February 29

To say that we were anxious to leave the city of Vegas would be an understatement. We quickly packed our
bags, checked out, and headed toward the elevators. The elevators at the Imperial (those that do work) work
very poorly. Average wait for an elevator was upward of 10 to 15 minutes. In addition, the stairwell doors on
the seventh floor were locked (God, Allah, and Buddha help anyone if a fire should break out). Finally, we
made it to the parking garage and found our car. We hit the open road, feeling more and more nauseous as
we drove away. I’m not sure where we got the food poisoning. It could have occurred at either Rio, Imperial, or
Camelot, or at the Krispy Kreme kiosk. I have no way of knowing where it occurred but it did occur and we are
feeling its effects. Our gut feeling (no pun intended) was that it was a result of the Rio buffet, since we felt fine
until that point. I later spoke with the Rio’s hotel manager who, while polite, refused to provide anything in the
way of financial reimbursement (though he invited us to visit again and promised he’d comp the meal, not that
we’ll be going back).

Vegas has something to offer to everyone. If you are into gambling, naked women dancers disguised as
"performing arts," or free alcohol (if you play it's free, otherwise you pay), then it's for you. If you're looking for
any sort of real culture, visit LA or NYC. They might not be perfect, but they’re a hell of a lot more enjoyable
than the black hole of Nevada.

                                                                                                                                                  March 2004
L e a s t   V e g a s
d a v i d    y u r k o v i c h