The road trip lasted a week. I didn’t actually spend seven days in Las Vegas. I imagine if I had even attempted to do such a thing it might have driven me completely insane. Though they are large sprawling buildings, Casinos evoke a sense of claustrophobia in me that I don’t experience many other places. The crowded streets along the strip don’t offer much solace either. As such you can imagine that returning home is a bit of a relief. I enjoyed the sojourn and am thankful that I can undertake such a trip but at the same time it was an exhausting journey all told. From Houston to Las Vegas is twenty-four hours of drive time which basically means unless you wish to undertake a trek that would drive most people mad and plow across America in one long stretch, you’re looking at two days jammed into a vehicle. We decided as a group not to fly because the TSA makes us crazy and the cost was roughly the same to simply pile into the car and go.

The journey to Las Vegas was not nearly as frustrating as the eventual return. We were still excited on the first leg of our journey. I have been to Vegas numerous times, my first trip back in 1996 when I was only ten years old. Much has changed about the city since then and believe me I have many things to say about that. The purpose of this trip was to celebrate my brother’s twenty-first birthday and seeing how I had greatly enjoyed my own birthday in the city of sin a few years back I expected things to be quite similar. We’re only five years apart, so really how much could change? A whole lot apparently. You see, I live in  Houston and we have been pretty insulated from the economic downturn of this little recession we’re going through. Yes, gas prices are high but they haven’t tipped over four dollars per gallon and the job market, while competitive, isn’t entirely a holocaust. The one thing I remember about my own birthday excursion to Vegas was that the service staff of the town was an omnipresent force, ready to bring you a drink at the drop of a hat. There were always helpful servers walking the floors of the casinos asking you if there was any little thing they could do. Now the floors seem almost barren. There are still droves of out-of-towners lining the seats at the slot banks, pouring their money into the machines always knowing that they’re never going to win it back, but there is no corps of employees around the corner looking to assuage your pain at losing $100 in five minutes at an oddly themed slot machine. There is, now more than ever, a debilitating sense of loneliness to Las Vegas that I never sensed before.

What was once special about Las Vegas has seemingly been sucked out of its very core. Native American casinos have sprung up in multiple states. Living in Houston, were I compelled to go gambling I could do so by visiting Louisiana or any number of states along the gulf. You need only be eighteen years old to visit a casino in Oklahoma. Vegas was the place you went because it had the top tier entertainment and the sense that even if you weren’t a high roller you would be treated like one so that even if you emptied your wallet, you enjoyed yourself enough that you left town knowing you wanted to return. That feeling has evaporated, soaked up by the hot desert sun and replaced by an atmosphere of commercialized mediocrity. The sheer number of drunken bafoons wearing “Hangover” branded t-shirts walking around Caesar’s Palace with an oversized novelty drink in hand truly drives home the point of how the glamor of Vegas has been stripped back and tossed aside. There is nothing special about the place now. Nothing.

I think it is this realization that made the drive back home so unbearable. We wanted to be back home. We wanted to go somewhere where you knew exactly what to expect. This road-trip made me love my home town so much more than I did before I left. Talented musical acts will come through Houston and they can expect to play a good show. Why would anybody want to play in Vegas to a throng of drunken tourists with a sense of entitlement borne from just being there? There is an expectation in Las Vegas that the best performers are the ones who are contracted out by the casinos to play multiple gigs per night for several years. This has created a Las Vegas where the sense of being lucky enough to catch a mega-star for the one night they were in town has gone out the window. Finding entertainment in Las Vegas now is a futile endeavor. I feel like the town has become too homogenized and caters only to a certain crowd and I doubt I will ever be a part of that crowd.

I am home now, and I’m thankful. My brother enjoyed himself as best he could and I got to have one last vacation with my family. I just wish I didn’t return with such a lingering sense of melancholy as a souvenir. I don’t have a shelf to put it on.

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