The first time I ever went to Las Vegas, I was 19 years old. Three friends and I piled into an aging Honda Accord and drove off around sunset on a Thursday evening in early Spring. We had a stack of CDs, a couple packs of cigarettes, and three fake IDs between us. We had an invitation to sleep on the floor of a relative’s house out in the suburbs and we were to determined to pack as much crazy, unbridled fun as we could into the two nights we would be there.
The drive to Las Vegas from San Francisco is long – really long. It’s 10+ hours if you hit traffic or stop for food. By the time we crossed the border into Nevada, it was three in the morning and we were exhausted. We were on the verge of passing out and had started looking for a cheap roadside motel when the lights of the Strip rose suddenly out of the desert like a neon flying saucer. We’d already been stoned twice and we’d each drank about a liter of Jolt cola at that point, but the glow of downtown Vegas energized us. We hit the gas and covered the last few miles into town doing about 95 on the big highway that runs along the backside of the casinos.
After a strange breakfast served to us by an elderly lady in a négligée at the Peppermill and a disorienting drive through the Las Vegas suburbs, we finally went to bed as the sun was coming up. We slept through most of the day and woke up ready to kick Las Vegas in the nuts.
This time we had a hand-drawn map, so driving back to the Strip only took us about 30 minutes. We’d gotten our hands on some designer drugs before we left the city, and they kicked in just as we pulled onto Las Vegas Blvd. By the time we drove into the parking lot of The Stratosphere we were hanging out of the car windows, offering our bodies to strangers and screaming at anyone within ear shot.
The next five hours were a whirlwind of hyperactive weirdness. We rode the roller coaster twice. We snuck into the group photo of a bunch of Japanese tourists. We did flaming shots on an indoor boat with a dance floor that rose and fell mechanically to simulate the movement of waves. We sat in with the band in an artificial jungle at The Mirage, all of us singing along with some time-worn classic rock song. We visited what has to be the seediest strip club in all of Las Vegas (The Tally Ho, for the record) and at least two of us got a lap dance from a stripper with a fresh C-section scar.
At some point toward the end of the evening, we even tried to gamble a little. While not quite in full possession of our faculties, we did have the good sense to pick a smaller, slightly run down casino where the tables would be cheap and nobody would hassle us about the fake IDs. We were huddled around a one dollar black jack table when a tired looking cocktail waitress came to take our drink orders. We ordered gin and tonics and tried to pretend that we weren’t a bunch of drug addled teenagers sneaking alcohol in a Las Vegas casino on a Friday night. Of course the waitress carded us right away, although I don’t think she really cared how old we were. We probably could have shown her our library cards and she would have been ok with it as long as we tipped her.
In fact, she barely glanced at the pictures as we handed her our IDs one by one. She even gave my handsome friend Dan a smile, and he flirted with her a little as he ordered his drink. She came to my friend Scott last, and was still smiling when she took his ID. She made some relatively benign comment about his picture – told him he looked young or something like that. Scott could have easily laughed it off, or made a quick joke (“Yes, I have Casey Kasem disease”) and that would have been that. But he didn’t, and to this day I still don’t understand why he said what he said next.
Instead of charming the waitress into leaving us alone, or even being just semi-polite to her, Scott said, “What do you care? You just hate your shitty job. Don’t take it out on me. Now go get my drink, bitch.”
The next part of this story happened just like it does in the movies. Three very large guys in black suits appeared at the table. They grabbed Scott and his fake ID and told us to stay where we were as they dragged him to the back of the casino. We stood around waiting for them to bring our friend back, but that began to seem less and less likely as the minutes ticked past. Finally after about a half hour, we went looking for Scott. We found him in a dingy back room, handcuffed to a bench. He was being interrogated under harsh fluorescent lighting by the casino goons. To his credit, he had ramped up his animosity and was running through a grocery list of insults. He suggested that the security personnel were all the product of incestuous sexual unions and that they should all spend the rest of their lives humping barn animals.
Eventually the casino security guards realized they weren’t going to get Scott to give up the name of an international counterfeiting organization and they decided to let him go. They uncuffed him and two of the guards picked him up by the arm pits and carried him to the back of the casino. We chased after them as they kicked open a service door and literally threw him into the back alley. They even said, “And don’t you ever come back!” I swear to god.
I was reminded of that night in Las Vegas when I heard the Australian band Philadelphia Grand Jury. Their new single is called “Going To The Casino (Tomorrow Night)” and it might as well be the soundtrack for every debauched night out in Sin City. The band plays with unhinged intensity, yelping and growling over razor sharp guitar lines. Their songs are quick and to the point, like a punch to the face. It’s hipster punk rock at its best, which is to say it’s punk rock, but with better chops, cooler hair and a lot more soul.
What I love best though is the chorus on “Going To The Casino.” The band chants over the drums, issuing a blissfully unaware challenge to fate and pit bosses everywhere: “Going to the casino! Tomorrow night! What could possibly go wrong?” The underlying idea seems to be that even if it all goes wrong, it’s still alright. My thoughts exactly.
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