Death and Vegas

It was my fault, I blame myself completely, I was selfish and Karma came down like a hammer on me for 24 hours. I’ll start at the beginning.

Dr Wife called me. “My mom’s friend died. She wants to go to her funeral in Tuscon.”

“Ok, so are you going too?” I asked naively.

“Yes of course, and I want you to go to help out.” She said. She wasn’t Dr Wife yet, she was still Girlfriend.

Shit, I thought, I’m going to be trapped in a car all the way to Tucson with my girlfriends mom.

“When is the funeral?” I asked.

“December 29th” she replied.

“But what about New Years Eve???” I sputtered. We had plans to watch me and my punk rock friends throw up on stuff in San Francisco. It was a TRADITION for crying out loud.

Then followed a dead silence long enough to make clear that I had erred drastically. I’m kidding, of course your mom’s friend whom I’ve never met means the world to me and I’d love to drive to Tucson…I thought.

“I know what you’re thinking,” She deadpanned. Ouch, she is good.

“Ok, I’ll figure out the route and hotel situation,” I offered, pulling up my mental atlas.

“Well, we can stay at her friend’s daughter’s house while we’re in Arizona, so maybe we don’t need a hotel?”

Then I had a great and terrible idea. Las Vegas is on the way there and back I realized. We could spend New Year’s Eve puking in Las Vegas! I pitched it this way. What better way to get our minds off this tragedy than by having a nice dinner and hotel to relax on the way back. Las Vegas is lousy with hotel rooms, I’ll get us a great deal.


“Ummmm…ok” She was uncharacteristically suspicious of my completely innocent plan.

The next day I stopped into the auto club travel agency and the nice lady assured me that we would love the Howard Johnson.

So we packed up a Volvo station wagon (Why Don’t They Sell Those Anymore?) and headed out to Tuscon Arizona.

Now, a little background: Dr. Wife and her family have control issues with cars. They don’t use cruise control. We even have a fancy new car now that has automatically adjusting cruise control. She thinks it’s the devil. So hours into the drive with her mom at the wheel I’m trying to sleep before my turn to drive. What happens is her mom gets the car up to like 65 or 70 miles per hour and then lets off the gas until the car slows to like 50 then accelerates. Try obsessing on that for three hours. “Why don’t you use cruise control?” I ask. “Oh no, I never trust that!” They both nod solemnly.

We attend the funeral and the next day decide to go into Nogales Mexico for shopping and margaritas. After all we’re sad but we’re not savages. While in Nogales I find myself in one of those crazy Mexican border town malls where they bark you down like carneys. Knock off Oakley shades, fake watches, silver, bongs, and t-shirts with pot leaves and beer logos,

The deceased’s daughter is leading our foray into south of the border bargain hunting. “Are you looking for anything in particular?” she asks.

“Eh, I might get a fake Rolex as a lark if there are any good ones here,” I venture.

“Hey amigos, Senor Whiskey here is looking for a watch!” She hollers to all the vendors. She smiles at me. “Welcome to Nogales!” Then starts cracking up. The zombie hoard of fake watch vendors begins to close in.

I fled, but even three blocks away they knew my name already. I ended up with a “Tag Jeuur”. After I finally made a purchase the Mexican faux-peddlers melted away back into their own stalls. We had margaritas and toasted the deceased.

The next morning we left Arizona for Las Vegas, it was New Years Eve and I was feeling super optimistic. The gods smirked.

We pulled into the parking lot of the “HoJo” and the optimism ended there. It was a shithole. There was a douchbag convention occupying several rooms adjacent to ours. As we opened the door we were hit by frozen air. Both of the AC units were jammed on permanently. The decor was 1978’s “Bargain Durable”.

I pulled back the bedspread, big mistake. There was a huge curly orange hair on the bed, and not the kind that a barber deals with. I felt the women’s eyes upon me judging. I looked at the hair. I’ve seen a late night HBO show about people who have a clown fetish, Oh dear god this room looks weirdly familiar.

I stomped off to the office to get our room changed but, of course, there were no more rooms and despite my yelling and accusations of clown pubes, we were screwed. I actually felt bad for the guy working the desk; there was a line of people waiting to yell.

I slunk back to the room and tried to shine the turd for my less than pleased audience. “Look, it’s not like I bought the place,” I said, “Let’s go out, have dinner, have a nice new years eve, come back, sleep and drive home.”

Little did I know, the gods were just getting started with me.

Once again optimism was my curse. I was 22 and it was new year’s eve…in LAS VEGAS!  Older me would go back and slap younger me if I had a time machine. New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas is akin to the Devil leaving the door to hell ajar for all the trashiest of the damned to slip out, and then someone hands them all three foot daiquiris.

We hit the strip, and had to pause to take in the insanity. It was like Dawn of the Dead for drunks. I got the look again.

“Heeey, you guys need to eat, that’ll cheer you up!” I offered. “Vegas has the best food in the world, probably! Let me find us a restaurant.” I ushered them into Excalibur, the medieval themed casino built way back when they tried to turn The Strip into Disneyland. The giant cocktails were now in plastic dragons people wore with necklaces so they wouldn’t spill cheap booze while using a urinal…or potted plant, apparently.

The line at every restaurant we passed was insane, and forget about those legendary buffets. I went up to a cocktail waitress serving the slots, “what’s the chance of getting a table anywhere decent without a reservation or serious bribe money?” I asked. She laughed so hard a false eyelash detached. It drifted delicately down into someone’s martini, like the first snow-flake of winter. She plucked it out and flicked it dry, still laughing. “That’s a good one!” She walked away shaking her head and hips.

I returned to the ladies with a couple of hotdogs and cans of Budweiser. The “look” was now weaponized. I convinced them that we should play some cheap slots and enjoy our hot dogs and that I was sorry and it was all my fault, etc. We sat down and, for the first moment of joy in the evening, I won big at a Tabasco themed slot! This was when money still came out of the things. Suddenly we had a plastic bucket full of Quarters! Everyone was all smiles and the tension was easing.

“I’ll go get some more beers! Lots of beers!” I generously volunteered. The place was so packed I hadn’t seen a waitress in a while, I think they were all hiding…smartly.

I went off to get the brewskies. It took longer than you’d hope, especially if you were a desperate, hated man trying to hook up a buzz on New Years. I finally returned with beers, wine, and an ass flask of whiskey. Dr. Wife and her mom were staring at the pretty colors and lights on the slot machine. At the bottom of what had been a full bucket with like $300 in quarters, lay enough for a phone call. They both just turned and stared at me.

We pressed back out into the throng in time to countdown to midnight and watch a girl in a green sparkly dress barf.

“Well shoot, it’s been real, but not real fun, how about we get a cab back to the hotel?” I said.

Ever try to get a cab in Las Vegas on New Years Eve? On the strip? No? You’re much smarter and wiser to the ways of the world than I was in my early 20’s.

Nothing really sets the mood like a long, very cold walk back to a crap shack of a hotel. Except maybe the cherry on top where some asshole tagged me with a beer bottle from the sunroof of a limo. (PS I still remember your face buddy…one day…)

Back at the hotel we discover that the AC is still jammed on full Swedish snow storm simulation, and now the D-bags were returning from the strip as well. I propped the door open for the penguins that had gathered and dragged our hastily repacked bags to the car. I conceded defeat, you win again Vegas.

We drove all the way to Baker California at two in the morning until we could take it no more. We checked into an equally crappy but less freezing cold roadside motel in the shadow of “The World’s Biggest Thermometer!” We slept there until they threw us out at 11 and drove home. It was a very quiet ride.

You would think the universe had finished with me. I sure did. It was the last time I’d try to piggyback a Vegas trip onto a funeral, that’s for sure. Lesson learned, Karma.

When I returned to work, I was telling the horror story to a group of co-workers who were properly impressed by the misery, when the new rich kid (who got his job through nepotism) piped up.

“Dude you were in Vegas? You should have called me, I had two suites at the MGM Grand that I didn’t even use because I hooked up with some girl!!” He beamed.

Right in the nuts universe.




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