Of Fear and Loathing

Shrimp and Grits - breakfast soup at Eat, downtown Las Vegas

House of The Rising Sun plays on the radio while I’m sitting in Eat, a down-to-earth yet trendy cafe in downtown North Vegas, wondering what to make of their signature dish: Shrimp and Grits. I ordered it because I have no idea what grits are. I still don’t. But the two over-easy eggs, bacon, and shrimp (natch) are floating on something that feels like semolina and would probably taste like mashed potato if my damn cold would let up.

I’m also wondering what to make of my new digs, about 7 miles north-west of the upper end of The Strip and courtesy of AirBnB. Nice though The Venetian was, I defy anybody to stay in the heart of that madness longer than 3 days without scratching their eyes out, or going native. And that’s how I met Sue. Her apartment ticked all the boxes; secure parking, own bedroom and bathroom, no pets. Perfect. Except that it doesn’t appear to be furnished either, apart from a basic kitchen, a refrigerator, and a camp bed in the lounge-cum-hallway.

“That’s where I sleep” explains Sue, a tiny figure in men’s shoes two sizes too big, sweeping an arm around a room entirely devoid of personal artefacts, or, for that matter, anything “but you can use all the house if you want, except the garage and that room.” Turns out there’s a cat locked in the garage and a son locked in that room, neither of which are ever actually seen, but could easily have created the cacophonous din later that night while Sue was at work. It sounded like somebody throwing a wardrobe filled with spaniels down some stairs. Sue works some really odd hours.

A bare room save for a bed, table, and a laptop on a lap.

With the shrimp & grits mostly eaten, the bill fully paid, and a some smalltalk made with the couple at the next table – he’s a neon salesman from Hounslow, small world – I’m on the road again, or more precisely on two wheels. It’s been a long running ambition of mine to cycle down The Strip on my Brompton, and now’s the time to scratch that itch. There’s only one problem with this: Vegas is about as cycle-friendly as 17th century Venice. I’ve seen three bikes in as many days, and believe me I’ve been looking. Regardless, I’m in the saddle and heading north, playing chicken with the pickups and racing Cameros off the lights, all the way to the Neon Boneyard where a happy hour is spent in the company of Mick and his pals, squinting at acres of rusting nostalgia in the November sunshine.

The tour finishes in the gift shop, and I’m not sure whether it’s the sun or my lack of plans but suddenly I want to be far, far away from this town and its thin veneers. Nothing makes sense here anymore (did it ever?) from the Puerto Rican grandmothers in Orgasm Doctor T-shirts handing out call-girl calling cards on the street, to the teenage Navy Seals in dress uniform bending down to talk to some of the many tramps passing themselves off as veterans, to the homeless guy sitting with his head in his hands outside a restaurant which offers free food to anyone weighing over 350 pounds.

Maybe Hunter S Thompson was right, maybe the only way to spend any length of time here is with a personal attorney and a trunk full of narcotics, betting everything on black in the hope that a head full of acid will cancel out the weirdness all around, but I don’t have the means or the inclination. Or the drugs.

But I still have The Shark, so instead I go for one more burn up The Strip then head back to the apartment. Grab the last of my beers from the fridge (sole other contents: three dozen eggs) throw some stuff in my bag and pull the covers over my head.

Tomorrow’s another day.