Going Back to Vegas

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A lot of you probably got your vaccine shots by now, at least the first one. I popped my cherry on Saturday. My wife already got her second shot earlier last week, because her company making parts for slot machines practically classifies her as an essential worker in the great state of Nevada.

Me, I’m a writer, and now I run this pesky little website and put out a couple podcasts, which I think makes me an essential non-worker. That’s why I only got my first shot this past Saturday, after the Governor announced that everybody over 16 can get vaccinated—or in other words, anybody who’s been through puberty.

Anyway, now that you’re all shot up, you’re probably itching to go somewhere. And where easier and sleazier to fly to, or drive to, than Las Vegas. Sin City. The Devil’s own weekend resort.

I’ve been living in Vegas for going on five years now, and as one of its new locals and its self-appointed spokesman, I feel it my duty, and privilege, to give you the rundown on this land flowing with pimps and honeys.

The first you thing you should know about Vegas is it’s a desert. In the videos it looks so tropical, with the palm trees and water flowing everywhere. But every bit of green you see on the Strip was planted there by some top-notch landscaping crew, and all those trees and bushes and flowers have to be watered constantly. Considering all teh pipes needed to carry all that water to so many spots around the city, but especially along the Strip, it’s no wonder Vegas competes with the likes of Dubai for the title of Water Tech Capital of the World—and perhaps why the once roaring Colorado River is becoming a gentle stream, and Lake Mead is down to the last few drops.

Coming to a desert means you gotta pack plenty of sunscreen—unless you don’t plan on being out at all during daylight hours, in which case you should pack a sweater at least.

The desert gets cold at night. A mean, unforgiving cold too. A cold that don’t care about your feelings or nothing.

It gets colder in places like Chicago, obviously. But everything looks cold in the middle of January in Chicago. Grey and cold as fuck. The buildings. The dead trees. The cars. The clouds. Hard snow everywhere. The people.

Not in Vegas. On a January night it’ll get down to 30 degrees Farenheit, but the cold will go straight to your skeleton. It’ll be a clear night too, stars out twinkling and shit. No wind. Palm trees looking like they do in June. And it’ll still be cooold. Cold for no goddamn reason. Even if it was 80 and sunny that day, as soon as the sun tucks behind those mountains, the cold’ll splash over everything like ice water.

If you’re coming to Vegas, come now, in April, or May. But no later than June, and no earlier than September, when even the flies stay out of town and head for somewhere livable. Unless you’re from Phoenix, or Kuwait, or any one of those oven countries with a lot of heat and oil and wars—then Vegas might actually be a good place for you to come in the summer and cool off.

Second, the best thing to do in Vegas, at least while the sun’s out, is hit up a pool party. I haven’t been to all of them, but I don’t see how any can beat the one at Drais.

Then there’s the music. Drais, if you didn’t know, is the black club in town, which means they play the best music, hands down. You feel like you’re in the greatest rap video of all time, or on BET Spring Break.

All you gotta do is get you one of those tall frozen badboys—that’ll cost you half of next month’s rent, but it’s sort of worth it—get you one of those and find you a spot in the pool to post up and chill. Somewhere where you can rest your arms up on the side of the pool, and where there aren’t too many ugly people to ruin the view.

Better bring your best shades and a hat, cuz if not, you’re gonna be one burnt, squinty wrinkle-faced motherfucker.

The crucial thing to remember at a Vegas pool party is: KEEP YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE WATER! There are way worse things than COVID in that pool water, trust. You’ll get the urge to dunk your head underwater, as we’re wont to do on a hot sunny day. But then you’ll come back up with your face feeling and smelling and tasting like you’ve been eating some fat guy’s sweaty ass for an hour.

Oh, I forgot to mention that weed is legal here. So the very first thing you have to do, if you didn’t bring your own, is hit up a dispensary. (You’re probably into harder stuff, though, and I say all power to you. The hardest I go is shrooms or a few mollies. I don’t need something to knocking my ass more off the rails than I am already.)  There’s a few quickie weed spots on or around the Strip, good for when you don’t want the tour but just need something to dial things up or down a few notches (I prefer up).

But if you got some time, hit up Planet 13 on Desert Inn, behind Fashion Show Mall. It’s huge, for a dispensary, and super fancy and modern.

Or there’s The Apothecary on Flamingo, for shits and giggles and high-quality edibles. It’s like stepping into a high-end London haberdashery, real Kingsman shit, only you’re surrounded by stoners of all ages and all walks of life. It’s beautiful.

Good weed deserves good food. Hit up Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill off of Caesars’ casino floor, or there’s his quickie Fish & Chips place on the outdoor promenade at the LINQ across the street (and close to Drais). Or his Burger place at Planet Hollywood, especially if you like sports. Or, if you’re trying to loosen your date up, there’s his Steak place at the Paris, and of course Hell’s Kitchen in front of Caesars’, right on the Strip.

I like going to his Pub & Grill place, mostly cuz I like good food in a not-too-fancy place.

And I’m a barbecue foo, myself. So if I’m on the promenade, and it’s nice out, and especially if I’m liquored up and high as a SpaceX rocket—which any decent, hardworking, God-fearing, breathing, shitting, fucking American should be after 3 PM in Vegas—then I’m groping my way to Virgil’s for some juicy smoked wings and a basket of “trainwreck fries.” Or the “trash ribs.” Or BBQ nachos. It’s all good, fuckers, I promise. And, yup, I think I might need a few pints of something cold and frothy, just to keep me from overheating or choking to death.

As far as entertainment goes, again, depends on what you’re into. There’s the clubs, of course, if you crave the Vegas scene that every 15-year-old boy gets himself sticky just dreaming about. I’ve done the club thing here in Vegas a few times—anything’s something to try at least once. But I’m getting old, and I’ve been to enough clubs, been pressed up against enough strangers, have made enough bad decisions in loud dark rooms under flashing lights. Plus I’m married, and to a decent woman too, and I don’t need to subject myself to such environments anymore to feel like I’m living life.

Maybe it’s the weed, but just give me a comfy couch outside on a warm night and some good music and drinks, and I’m straight. Shit, I’m more than straight—I’m laid back on a fucking cloud.

Problem is I’ve yet to find a decent spot like that, since Rhumbar at the Mirage fired their Asian DJ who played straight bangers all night. Goddamn! that place was fucking badass. Perfect, at least for me. Fancy, but not fancy. Snuggled up right up against Mirage, off the colonnade with people walking by, going in and out of the hotel.

If there wasn’t any action on the dance floor, or no hot waitresses to pretend not to be ogling, I would just chill on the couch, sipping something or smoking flavored hookah, and watch all the different people looking into the lounge as they passed by. They always looked in cuz the DJ was that good and the place looked that badass, with palms all around and the Mirage’s volcano right over there and the Venetian across the street in the background.

But then they fired the Asian DJ, like I said. Now all they do is place basic music at low volume. So now Rhumbar’s got all the vibe of a hotel lobby. 

There’s some outdoor places to drink and chill, like VooDoo at the top of the Rio, which has a good view of the whole Strip. Or Crimson, at Red Rock Casino. But the Rio is on the other side of the freeway west of the Strip, and Crimson, which is way better, is way out on the edge of Summerlin.

There’s a few bars somewhat outside in front of New York, New York, where the mini-Brooklyn Bridge is, and a few more at “The Park” by T-Mobile Arena—not bad if you want something super low key and familiar. Any of my fellow Chicagoans who’ve gotten completely shwasted in Wrigleyville will feel right at home.

Then here’s always the bars and clubs up on East Fremont Street, in what’s called Downtown Las Vegas. Or Blue Martin at Town Square, which has a popular Latin night. But those places are mostly for locals, and you should never mix tourists and locals.

Which brings me to my last point… No matter what or who you do in Vegas, always observe its Second Commandment: Thou shalt not fuck with the locals. I don’t care if you think you’re Hunter S. Fucking Thompson, jacked up on the Devil’s Dandruff and Vitamin A—you’re not untouchable. Vegas has of way of fooling people into the thinking they can’t get touched, like they’ve landed in another dimension where they’re kings and queens.

Rare is the individual, blessed even, who comes to Vegas to party and doesn’t get touched before they send their enlightened asses back to Boring, U.S.A. Most people leave shattered, mere shadows of who they thought they were, all because they forgot Vegas’s First Commandment: The House always wins.

And if not the House, then the streets.

About six months after my wife and I moved to Vegas, her bodybuilding cousin Andy flew in for an impromptu 24-hour wileout. The three of us went to Marquee at the Cosmo, which, like Drais, has a pool party during the day but turns into a club at night. The place was beautiful—half inside, half outside—but the vibe was dead. They had a young DJ who never really found his groove, and so it was like being at a house party that never really got popping. But we’d gotten extra high on the drive over, so we didn’t mind the lameness too much.

Afterward we came down and made our way through the casino, toward the elevators to the parking garage. I was out in front, as is my bad habit. My wife’s always complaining that I walk ahead of her, not next to her. In my defense, it’s hard walking two abreast through a crowded casino, and since I’m usually the only person who knows where he’s going, I’m usually out in front, navigating.

What I hadn’t noticed this time is that, when we passed the bathrooms, we’d picked up a clinger, this drunk pale whiteboy of vague Eastern European origin in a collared shirt. He spotted my wife, who was looking like a snack that night, if not a whole meal, and appeared to be walking by herself—I was ahead of her, and musclehead Andy at least five steps behind her.

So dude sidles up to her and asks her where she’s going. She points to my oblivious ass and says, “I’m following him.” (I learned all of this after everything happened.)

When I reached the elevators, I turned to regroup with my wife and Andy, and that’s when I noticed this guy walking with them. There were two cholo-looking dudes just reaching the elevators too, with neck tattoos and everything, and I assumed they were with Whiteboy. We all got in the same elevator, going down to the parking garage.

You could cut the tension in that elevator with a switchblade. Everyone could feel it, except my wife, who was raised mostly sheltered in a quiet Chicago suburb.

I was studying everything out of the corner of my eye. Everybody was glancing at everybody, but Whiteboy never looked at me, which I took as a sign.

As we’re going down in the elevator, Whiteboy turns to one of the cholos and goes, “You feel like fighting?”

Remember: I thought they were with him. So I’m thinking they’re going to jump me and Andy and rip my wife apart like hyenas.

The cholo grins nervously and goes, “Naw, man, I’m straight.”

“I feel like fighting,” white boy says to himself, his eyes out of focus.

The elevator doors open down in the parking garage, and the white boy is still chatting with the cholos. Me and Andy try to play them off, saying “Take it easy” and all that as they go their way, to the left, and we go ours, to the right.

But then I hear someone walking behind us.

Whiteboy.

My wife says softly in Spanish, “This guy’s following us,” and I nod slightly. I see the car parked over in the next aisle to the right, but I keep walking. I’m not going to lead this motherfucker to our car. I’m still feeling him out. He’s drunk? High? Crazy? Where does he have the balls to still be walking with me and Andy? Does he have a blade on him, or a gun?

“I found the car!” my wife says. I turn to see her walking over to it. I roll my eyes and follow.

Andy tries shaking the drunk guy off us by telling him goodnight and sending him on his way. But the dude just won’t take the hint.

Just as my wife reaches the car, with the guy a few steps behind her, I ask the guy where he thinks he’s going.

He points at my wife and says, “I’m following her.”

That’s when I square up on him. And just then, right at that moment, Andy, who Whiteboy had momentarily forgotten about, crouches down and behind the dude and comes up launching a massive swing with his right that smashes against the side of the dude’s face and head. The guy collapses to the cold concrete like a sack of shit, moaning and groaning like he has severe brain damage.

Thinking those cholos were with this guy and that they were hiding somewhere nearby, ready to spring out on us according to their plan, I jumped into the driver seat and started pulling out.

“You’re gonna run him over!” my wife and Andy were screaming. But I didn’t care. If you wanna get crazy at two in the morning and come at my wife down in a parking garage on the Vegas strip, then all bets are off. Maybe you don’t forfeit your life, but you at least have the right to get knocked the fuck out and potentially ran the fuck over.

Before I could learn this motherfucker though, Andy jumped out of the car and cleared dude’s limp body from behind the tires. The guy was squirming and moaning on the floor with his eyes closed like some dying thing as we peeled away.

Till this day I wonder what he thinks happened to him that night in the parking garage at the Cosmo, whether he remembers much, or if he thinks he got randomly got jumped some brown guys.

That’s what I mean about people coming to Vegas and thinking they can’t get touched. There’s this popular myth that, in Vegas, anything goes. But anything does not go in Vegas. So if you come here thinking that it does, the only thing going anywhere is you to the emergency room.

But come to Vegas, and enjoy the city—there’s some good nature spots too, I forgot to mention, like Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire, or even the Hoover Dam, which is only 20 minutes away. But have fun. You deserve to let loose and party. Shit, don’t we all? I mean, we’ve survived the worst global pandemic in a century, plus the worst economic slump since Babe Ruth wore the pinstripes, and we survived them both at same damn time.

That’s something to celebrate, and Vegas was tailor-made for celebrating.

But don’t get too crazy. Don’t bother anybody, especially the locals, and especially me.

And if you do bump into me on the Strip— Matter of fact, don’t bump into me on the Strip, or anywhere. But if you see me on the Strip, and it’s after 3 PM—or any time, who am I kidding—don’t bother asking me for directions. Cuz I’ll be on my fifth drink and third joint, and your guess will be as good as mine.

Featured image: “Las Vegas Strip with Streaking Lights” by nan palmero is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Hector is the founder and editor of MANO magazine as well as the host of the LATINISH podcast. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's a former deputy editor of Latino Rebels as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He was a columnist at RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, Good Morning America, TIME and other outlets, and his writing was featured in Ricanstruction, a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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