“The US is a country that has leapt from barbarism to decadence without touching
Steve and Charlie and I went back to Las Vegas to inaugurate my upcoming adventure. This was my third visit. The first time was with Steve, when we worked at NASA. The second was to present a paper at an Aerospace Medical Association convention three years later. I almost didn’t go. It was held during the third year examination period, the most crucial trial by fire of my medical school education. The convention hotel in Vegas was the Landmark, a perfect venue for an aerospace meeting. It was shaped like a UFO and owned by Howard Hughes. He had designed the décor right down to the employee’s uniforms. It was in major financial trouble, just like me. I had no money. My solution was to approach the Dean for assistance (the same one Hawkeye and I threw into the coeducational water, not one year later).
“Now, let me see if I understand.” He stammered. “You want to miss the most important examination of your life, you want to go to Las Vegas, and you want me to pay for it?”
“That pretty much covers it”.
He gave me three hundred dollars. I put it on red in the Landmark lobby. It came up black, and an odd number at that. Luckily, there was a $0.99 buffet at Circus Circus every morning or I would have starved. Today, that same breakfast costs over ten bucks. It would still be better than in Oregon.
In 1853, Brigham Young sent thirty Mormon missionaries into Las Vegas, to introduce the Paiute Indians to the American Dream. A hundred and fifty years later, Hunter S. Thompson undertook his savage journey to the heart. Both resulted in fear and loathing, in the meanest town in the world if you’re a loser. Steve, Charlie and I just went for the weekend. We drove through a solitude of radiant light and heat, and penetrated a skyline of signs. We arrived in Babylon, suspended in time and belief. It was a desert mirage, but it was all inside. There was air conditioning, dark glitzy rooms, and a clock at the bus station. The promise of instant wealth and redemption gave bloodlines to subspecies of vampire bats, cougars and lounge lizards. Tom Jones was playing at Caesar’s Palace. We played everywhere else. Steve bribed what it cost today to eat breakfast at Circus Circus, to get me into the Brewery, because I didn’t meet the dress code. I tried to tell the bouncer that I was hitchhiking around the world and my pack already weighed 60 pounds, but he was more interested in the ten bucks. There was no dress code at the Imperial pool. Nor in Steve’s Jacuzzi back in Seal Beach. And the night before I finally left L.A., you could look up and see Orion, leaning south.