I was only 17 when I got a chance to find out what happens there. One thing I learned for sure was that 17 is not the appropriate age to go there. Another point would be not traveling there with a family, because this city is for an individual journey that must be taken. I guess it really does test one’s ability to resist the inner gambler. On the other hand, 17 was the safety net that dragged me out of the flashing lights, sound of roulette, live images of strippers, and tables with decks of cards. I remember standing next to one of the blackjack tables inside the Luxor hotel. The very first minute of my presence next to this table was noticed by a massive guy with black eyeglasses. This giant approached me and asked about my age. Well, guess what happens when you are under 21. They escort you out of the playing zone. Not only that, but they also recommend a children’s gambling playground, which we affectionately call the amusement park. So, I entered this park with only 20 dollars in my pocket. Scanning for the appropriate options to waste my money like children do, I noticed the basketball game.
The rule was simple. You have a limited amount of time and attempts. If you reach certain points, you get tickets. If you get tickets, you get a chance to buy something from the amusement park. There was one thing I put my eyes onto. It was a Las Vegas Memorial Coffee Mug.
I thought to myself that this mug would be a great treat when I go back to my homeland. So my mission was clear. Score enough to get this mug. Before I make my first throw, we need to go back to Denver, Colorado, where this trip started. Everybody was rushing into an old Ford Transporter of Jeff, who would be driving for 11+ hours and parking at beautiful locations from time to time.
Interstate roads are huge and endless. What makes them so bearable is nature that surrounds them. You can simply stop and enjoy mountain views. You can simply take a walk on the top of the colorful canyons. At that time, I had a yellow camera which cost a couple of dollars. It was for one-time use only. I would take my limited number of shots and wait until I get to Walgreens to have my pictures out.
So with that said, Jeff started this Colorado to Vegas adventure for us. All we had to do is read, listen to music, and again listening to music and get out to see some wild places during stops.
I remember trying to read something on the road. As soon as you start, your eyes start to close. I gave up on reading and gave a turn to my disc player. It had Linkin Park – "In the End" playing. Twelve repeats later, I had to stop because we reached Utah. Jeff enjoyed rocks, mountains, and the story of their origin. In fact, he went back to study geology. Utah and Arizona had plenty of these fascinating rocks. We would hike next to him and listen to his “rocksplanations”. It was a rainy day when we stopped at the Bryce Canyon trail, which was all orange in color. I have never seen anything like this before. The weather made it so magical for this view. I grabbed my yellow-black camera and snapped some pictures. Due to heavy rain conditions, we could not go further into the valley, but even the entrance itself grabbed my heart forever. I do not remember anything original and “oranginal” like Bryce Canyons. Although Jeff adored rocks, his main target was Las Vegas. We were happy about it. I definitely was. I saw this city in the movies so many times, and now it was the time to feel it in my skin.
Long roads have short stories. You sleep all the time. But when you are awake, you get to see the Colorado River and its grandeur. You get to see how it flows its waters towards Nevada. You see how little it becomes in the midst of the journey. Las Vegas sucks all the water out of this huge river. Before seeing the city, we reached the Hoover Dam. And this dam has some magnitude to show. As we entered the generator section, the sound of turbines made it impossible for us to hear each other. Hoover put its chest against the pressure of Colorado, and it was doing a good job. We listened to the stories about the Great Depression times when people rushed to find any kind of employment to survive. Depression times made Hoover dam very attractive sight for job seekers. Those who were assigned to work with dynamite received a bigger paycheck. Although most of these guys never got the chance to see their paychecks due to work-related accidents.
Human labor was cheap, but it still was human labor. This dam was well built. After crossing it, we would look back at its towers.
Then came the boring part when roads had nothing to show. Only deserts on both sides of the roads. Eyes were shut already.
Sometime later, they opened with immense noise and light attack from outside. We did it. We entered the city. Actually, Jeff did, as he was the only one awake to see that famous Las Vegas sign.
I woke up to the sounds of horns. Two car drivers were trying to figure their issue out. I opened my eyes to intensive lights that attacked our car from every angle. I have never seen such a concentration of electricity in a city. Colorado River was sucked dry for such a mesmerizing view, I guess. Jeff was cruising through the crowds of tourists to find our stay. We approached the Luxor hotel. Hotel is not an appropriate way to call this building. In fact, in Las Vegas, many hotels were pieces of art. Their jobs were to replace the mountain views, riverside, lake views. Their jobs were to attract tourists. And they did a great job in this regard. Luxor had a unique detail, though. It was a huge dark pyramid with a beaming laser that was touching the sky. The dark exterior was bringing mystery to guests, and the laser was promising the possibilities. We were welcomed by guys who had historical Egyptian costumes. What could balance the dark exterior and bring more Egypt into play? Gold. The Interior was entirely golden plated. I felt the presence of pharaohs who observed us with a royal attitude. We started feeling royal ourselves.
Jeff was happily walking towards the front-desk after long-driving hours. We were standing in the midst of this huge pyramid structure where hundreds of guests were rushing to different destinations. Our destination was room number 47. Me and Stuart would stay there for 4 days. Pyramid shape meant a great challenge for architects in terms of elevators. Luxor’s elevators were so authentic. The way they functioned astonished every single customer. We would stand inside and guess the direction of the lift. Elevators were lifting us at an angle of 45 degrees.
Our corridor had an edge where you could see the whole lobby. It was all motion. People were moving all the time. They were producing noise, which was turning into rhythmic sound. Sounds were coming out of casino slot machines. These 4 days meant 4 days of slot machine sound that would not cease. I remember two old ladies sitting in front of a device and patiently inserting their hard-earned coins with a jackpot hope. These ladies inserted up to 20+ coins and resumed to another slot machine, thinking about the next opportunity to kiss the jackpot sign.
It was 2 a.m when this was happening. I could not sleep. The only thing that kept me awake was the energy inside the hotel. It was strange to sleep. It was like a sin here. Nobody had a slight interest in doing so. I think the entire Luxor was awake except for Jeff. He was snoring his well-driven kilometers out of an exhausted body.
Did I tell you about the rooms? Room 47, just like any other room in Luxor was designed to show you first-hand luxury. I will not go into details, but the shower cabin of this room was the size of my house in Baku. It had two showers on each side. I was dazzled by the abundance of space. In fact, I opened both showers running from one to another. 10 minutes later, I was lying on a bed with my after shower cloth, surfing TV channels. But it did not excite me. The sound of slot machines was calling. It was time to join these two old ladies and hundred others to fight for jackpot. It was time to feel what all gamblers feel.
I stood in front of a machine with my coins, ready to lose them in a second. Every time the reels span, I waited patiently to hear the jackpot alarm. But there was no sign of it. Figures were coming in the least favorable combinations. 4 coins later, I knew that it was my time to stop. One may think it is just coins, but the entire hotel industry here was dependent on these coins. To be exact, 70% of the casino’s revenue stems directly out of slot machines. So it is not that hard to guess the real jackpot winners.
I began walking around the lobby to observe other people. They were all busy dancing with their luck. Egyptian style, golden interior gave them a special vibe of enthusiasm to spend money. It was spent on drinks, bets, slot machines, and cards. The poker game was the main attraction for gamblers that came all over the world. Las Vegas hosted many tournaments for players who gambled for millions of dollars.
Luxor, just like any other venue in Vegas, had tens of tables waiting for such a tournament. Every table had a croupier lady from the Philippines distributing cards to players. These ladies were so fast in distributing that I loved watching it. Moments later, I was standing next to players and trying to understand what will happen next. To my disappointment, I was escorted away from the table due to the age limit. They pointed out a special venue for kids. My face turned red.
If you came this far reading, you know that there was a basketball game challenge to get a memorial mug. So it was time to spend 20 dollars to get the needed amount of tickets to have the mug. I started throwing balls and netting them in. Tickets were adding up. I needed 357 tickets. I shot until 351 tickets. Guess what? Every penny was gone. There were no more tries. I was upset at the beginning. Then the spirit of gambling got the best out of me. I went to the counter with the tickets. There it began. I told them a story about me as an exchange student and how important that mug is to me. 6 tickets were not going to take away this precious moment away. I could see the level of sentiment rising in the eyes of the worker. Moments later, she packed this mug for me. It had all the attributes of Vegas, and it served me well for 2 years until one of my twin brothers broke it with ease.
With a sense of pride and relief, I enjoyed the well-earned sleep in room 47. The next days were planned with meticulous calculation. Jeff was back on his feet moving. We did the “hotels” tour and got to see the famous Hard-Rock Café with that gigantic guitar hanging in front of it.
Luxor was an incredible place. Yet, we were to see the glamorous Bellagio hotel with an artificially made lake in front of it. Hotels in here were all about size and magnitude. Each building was craving for tourist attention. Each hotel was ready to prove that every second spent inside was worth it. Mandalay Bay, Excalibur, Caesar’s Palace, MGM Grand, and Treasure Island, you name it. We could not resist passing by. They were so magnetic. Builders of Vegas desired to duplicate Paris and New-York. We saw the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty almost the size of the real one. We walked ourselves to exhaustion. Nobody could stop walking down the hotel chains. Every hotel had its own world. Every team inside the hotel had its own thematic costumes and role-plays. We traveled to medieval times of King Arthur. We saw the actual battle of Pirates from the Caribbean Sea. We saw the swords swinging in the air, and we heard the sounds of canons shooting. Vegas was all about the grand show. This show was going on for 24/7.
The whole city was a big stage. Huge billboards were screaming mega names like Celine Dion and inviting people to nighttime performances. Taxi cars were driving by with stripper signs on them. Money, sex, music, and art was in the air. Nobody could resist it. Nobody did.
When we entered the Bellagio to see the famous paintings by Picasso and Van Gogh, our mouths opened to the grandeur of the hotel’s botanic garden. I saw flowers which I thought never existed before. I saw water jumping in a special pace from left to right, forming an arch that led us to the gallery. What else were we to expect from a billion-dollar hotel? The answers were obvious. More luxury, more art, and more magic.
If you watched the Ocean’s Eleven, you could not resist but fall in love with the final episode where the water fountain is dancing to its own beat. You see Ocean and his team witness that moment. Well, I say with pride that I also watched that water dance.
What happens in Vegas?
I think we need to change this question:
What happens if you have billions of dollars, and you invest them into Vegas?
The answer is a synthetic paradise. We had 4 days in this paradise, which ironically was called the city of sin. I would even say the headquarter of Satan. Grandchildren of Adam and Eve would visit this place to bite their share of the apple. I was happy eating my hamburgers in Hard-Rock. Jeff was happy to get his next pins. He was collecting Hard-Rock pins that were sent to him from all over the planet. Paula and Stuart were enjoying their time as well.
The ones who enjoyed Vegas more than the rest of us were Japanese tourists with their big cameras hanging on their necks. Smiling faces were all that you could see. They followed us everywhere. This was what I thought. What followed me as well, was the electricity of Vegas, that never ceased to amaze me. Lights were everywhere, water was running everywhere. This desert was not a desert anymore.
Jeff sat into his Ford Transporter, and we joined him. The next destination was Arizona and Grand Canyons. Japanese tourists were happy about it as well. I put my CD player on with that very Linkin Park song. As the music started, we departed from this place with a bowl of incredible emotions.
Arizona gave a good fight with Grand Canyon view and bowl of clouds that gathered inside the canyons. We saw real Indian tribes who lived in that territory. This place had more mysticism. Walls of canyons carried songs of ancient warriors who crossed many lands.
We got our good old dose of nature back after Vegas. Trees, mountains, air with no electricity were doing a good job for our lungs. But this is another story for another occasion.
The funny part though, is snow. That period in Vegas was hot. We enjoyed the heat so much. Whereas in Denver, Colorado people had to bear with the record high cold since 1982. When we approached the Broomfield area, it was all white. Our garage and garden were white.
It was time to face the snow with a shovel. Sounds of slot machines were bartered with the sound of our shovels that were cleaning snow out of the garage road. It seemed like our jackpot was to get inside the house as soon as possible and have our hot chocolate shots.
Our stories never end.
9 years later, in the cafeteria of Azercell (Telecom Company), when 6 call-center operators were having lunch, this city came out as a sudden topic. We all stopped eating and looked at each other. We laughed hard. Every person behind that very table at some point in their lives went to Vegas. We shared a familiar feeling. We knew exactly what each one of us felt. Memories started rushing back and forth. We could not stop but "aww" every spot that was mentioned. Every one of us knew what happens in Vegas. Everyone one of us knew what should stay there and what should not.
We were kings, pharaohs, pirates, criminals, dancers, singers and gamblers. And now we were call-center operators. This is the pure form of irony. We finished our lunch and went back to receiving tons of calls. As I talked on the phone, I imagined myself sitting with an after shower clothing on the bed. I imagined the luxurious room number 47. I saw the gold plated interior with vanguard elevators taking me to the slot machines. I could hear the sound of coins and spinning reels. I could see the card decks flying around poker tables. The mug. My mug. I would sip a good old tea in this mug and victoriously brag about the story of its capitulation.
Telecom building did not have an art gallery and a creative botanic garden. It certainly lacked some stylish statues from Madame Tussauds. Our building had no lake in front of it that would dance to music. It was just a telecom building. It was just a reality.
Reality sucks when Vegas comes to my mind.
What happens after Vegas?
Well, I guess nothing remains the same.