Having hit my Fabulous Forties with a renewed sense of vigour and life, I decided that the best way to deal with this new decade would be to age as disgracefully as possible. Parenting triplets from my early twenties added impetus to have another stab at my 20s and 30s, but this time in my 40s and with the triple benefits of wisdom, disposable income and hindsight. So began a series of what I call Disgraceful Acts; so named as they were all about me and nothing at all to do with my life and status as a child-first-always parent.
In the spirit of ageing disgracefully, the next Disgraceful Act involved a self-indulgent tri-state, three week stay in America. I’d been planning it from since December 2011, when I booked a time-share swap on a whim, having seen other family members travel abroad whilst I remained firmly at home.
I decided to extend my normal week-long birthday celebrations to three weeks and to celebrate, in style, in Las Vegas. The original plan had involved Vegas-Philadelphia-Caribbean. The cost meant that the amended plans were Vegas-Philadelphia-New York-Philadelphia. I travelled with my sister and my niece; one several years older, the other, several years younger. I was the ‘middle child’ on this vacation and wore my new status with pride.
Setting off one day before my birthday meant a much cheaper flight, but the timeshare swap hotel wouldn’t be available. So we ended up in a Hilton hotel just outside Las Vegas. I’ve stayed in many hotels and have become used balancing my expectations based on hotel publicity photos with the reality of the actual room on arrival. Sadly, this hotel excelled in the use careful photography. It was comfortable enough, but could have been a bit easier on the eye. Not to worry, it was just for one night.
Next day, we toyed with the idea of car rental and decided to defer this until we had seen the lay of the land. Good decision in the end end as the public transport was perfectly adequate and easy to navigate.
The first sight of the Vegas Strip for first-time visitors can only be described as simply jaw-dropping. The size, the scale, the sheer unashamed and brazen excess. Our eyes were on stalks and our cab driver delighted in watching our reactions and giving us a running narrative of famous landmarks. He probably thought this would result in a generous tip at the end of the journey. He was wrong. We were on a budget and felt the cost of the journey and the joy of our company was adequate payment.
It is difficult to describe Vegas in a short sentence. So many words and emotions spring to mind. American in-your-face excess displayed in so many ways. The über wealth of the casino owners illustrated by the no expense spared exteriors of the hotels directly contrasted with the street homelessness that is rife on the Strip and in the not-so glitzy surrounding areas. The Hollywood glamour seen in Ocean’s Eleven transposed with the barely concealed seedy undertone where dial-up prostitutes are actively pimped by numerous touts – every single male passer-by, bar none, was offered a dial-a-hooker card.
The constant cacophony of noise and activity required an energy level to match, in order not to feel overwhelmed and swept away by the thronging mass of bodies. I found that being totally wired and zipped up on super-strong coffee really helped to both sharpen and dull my senses which were under constant assault.
Strangely, some may feel, I’d made up my mind not to gamble a single cent in Vegas. I had a budget to stick to and could not envisage spent throwing this down the casino drain. Plus, I don’t really understand most of the card games anyway. I did enjoy watching others gamble, win and then invariably lose copious sums of money. Alcohol and gambling seemed to go hand in hand; the casino owners don’t miss a trick – loosened inhibitions results in people taking more risks. The golden rule seems to be that the house always wins, in the end.
The timeshare swap hotel was exquisite. Located on Las Vegas Boulevard between Downtown and the Strip, it was the perfect bolt hole from the hustle and bustle. This time, the Hilton brand exceeded expectations. The staff were attentive and we were made to feel really welcome at all times. I had been looking forward to the whirlpool tub in my bedroom and was not disappointed. It was a surreal experience, sitting in a tub in my bedroom, watching tv. This was the type of experience that makes you want to renovate and emulate the hotel vibe on returning home.
Much time was spent poolside, sunning myself on a personal quest to prove that black people can tan too! Due to the poor weather conditions at home this year, my skin had yet to lose its sallow winter complexion so my limbs and hidden bits were a poor excuse for brown. Yellow would be nearer the mark. I’m now proudly three shades darker with tan lines to compare and contrast. However, I’m not sure whether this should be heralded as an accomplishment as my extreme tanning and prolonged sun exposure paid scant regard to the accepted wisdom and good practice around the dangers of skin cancer. Somehow, my mind told me that ‘black people don’t get sunburn’ and I stuck with that as my protective and ignorant version of sun block.
When it was time to leave Vegas, I was not sad. It was an experience, but one that is short lived and best experienced in small, digestible chunks. Compulsive over-analysers like me, will soon see past the outer layer of glitz and glamour. What initially impressed and amazed, soon feels fake and cheesy. Vegas, in a nutshell, is like Christmas on performance-enhancing drugs.