From June 18, 2007: Revenge of the Grown Ups

On the John presents…

Revenge of the Grown Ups: Zany Breaking and Entrances and Entertaining Chaos at the Bizarro Disneyland

Originally completed June 18, 2007

Where else but Las Vegas would one find an airport terminal filled with slot machines?
Where else but Las Vegas would one find an airport terminal filled with slot machines?


Increasingly, I’ve become one of the least pleasant people in the world to accompany for a day of airline travel. Not that I ever liked it to begin with. It always seemed so unnatural and cocky, making a person behave like a 4th grader who woke up one morning to find himself gifted with legitimate Dumbledorian magic ability and, like, twelve dollars. We arrive at the airport feeling Important and Powerful, only to have that feeling of superiority spat upon and slapped around and stumped out by The Airport, one of the few across-the-board authoritarian establishments with whom, now more than ever, no one wishes to provoke.

For the majority of airline travelers, one basic mindset prevails beyond all others: “I’m going to do whatever they ask, not alter my facial expression more than two degrees in either direction, and I’m gonna get on that plane and shut the fuck up and land.”

But then, once that’s all settled: “But there are some people who should not have to put up with this harassment, and gosh darn it, one of those people is me.

That quiet acceptance part is nothing new, (I distinctly remember my parents reminding my brother and me when we were getting ready to fly to Disney World with our grandparents that it was very important that we “answer all of Their questions seriously and immediately, and by all means, NO BOMB JOKES!”), but our seething self-proclamations of being among the “innocent” along with The Airport’s general levels of Big Brotherishness have both seen dramatic and understandable spikes since 9/11.

And of course, because of 9/11, the whole “no jokes” rule has been ratcheted up to create nearly unbearable levels of tension for everyone involved.

You can read the whole Sunday paper in the time it takes to pass through airport security.
You can read the whole Sunday paper in the time it takes to pass through airport security.

For example, if you are in a plane that is Preparing For Takeoff, it is absolutely vital that you not move, and that you behave as if all you are doing is kicking up the kickstand and strapping on your bike helmet. Children, not knowing any better, tumble over each other in excited messes in order to see out the window, watching as the plane suddenly leans upward and then takes off, and then within five seconds the ground is really far away, and do you see that guy right there? He looks like…like an ant or something. And now we are in the sky, soaring, high above the clouds…

Fools. If only they knew better, they’d be thinking what we’re all thinking: “Well, is this it? Is this the plane that’s going down? Crash? Engine explosion? Terrorists? Aliens? Have I taken my final steps on Earth? And if I have, did I leave the stove on? And did I make sure that—yes! Yes you can look out the window if you just calm down! Calm down! And control your arms. Look what you did to your brother’s eye.”

All of us sitting there, all of us thinking thoughts of doom, and yet there we are, sitting dutifully with our hands in our laps and our chairs in the upright position as we strap ourselves down with seatbelts that would be scoffed at in the back middle seat of a car much less an airplane, and as the plane begins its ascent we look at the official airline publication with a deep focus and attention not worthy of the official airline publication.

And so, as we took off in a startling silence, I considered—considered—suddenly yelling out “OH MY GOD!”…you know, just to break the ice. My guess is that it would have been pretty similar to the time when my brother dropped a loud “AHHH!” during a Venus Williams-Martina Hingis match in 1998, just as Venus was at the top of her serve, except that this would be on a post 9/11 airplane that was Preparing For Takeoff.

Putting up with these sorts of maddening levels of pompous superiority, frightening superiority, and nerve-stiffening tension makes me go a wee bit mad, and it was under these circumstances in which I, a young man who is roundly said to be polite, thoughtful, and highly concerned with the feelings of others, answered my parents’ reasonable statement early Friday morning in an O’Hare outdoor parking lot (“Take a look around and remember where the car is parked…”) with an unnecessarily sarcastic response (“It’s near the sky.”)

We were on our way to Las Vegas for my cousin’s wedding. It would be my second career visit to Vegas and the first for my brother Mike. This was significant because the two of us were teaming up for a Vegas weekend at the start of what could easily end up being two very long careers in Sin City.

Everyone comes to Vegas absolutely certain they will walk away winners.
Everyone comes to Vegas absolutely certain they will walk away winners.

And why not? No matter who you are, it’s just about impossible to not enjoy yourself to silly and often insane degrees in this town. Certainly there is a type that finds Las Vegas entirely undesirable—too loud, too sexual, too disreputable, too bright, too unsavory, too unhealthy, too expensive, too immoral, too unethical, too slutty—but for much of our human population there seems to be an overwhelming and innate desire to spend time in an environment that sets as few rules as possible while seeming to be designed specifically to cater to our most primal fantasies. And to take our money. That one too.

Having scooted through our flight with relative ease, it was now out of our seats, down the aisles, through the accordion walkway tube thing and right into the terminal at McCarran International Airport, which was, naturally, filled with slot machines, stacked up three rows deep as soon as we stepped out of the tube. As we waited at baggage claim, the Vegas Mood was already present, and growing; this is the instinct that makes so many Vegas patrons behave like 22-year-old college seniors who have been smoking bud, doing blow, watching porn, and playing Halo since 9 A.M. yesterday morning. Anybody who digs this city in the least shows up with the confidence of a person who is not simply prepared but is—yes yes—fully expecting to have a weekend worthy of their own feature film, one that will surely be bubbling with twisted adventures featuring hookers, strippers, some kind of crazed, early morning chase from The Authorities, booze, drugs, drunk and often disrobed college girls, and maybe some waffles or something…

…and certainly this all seemed very likely as we waited at baggage claim, as every girl in the airport appeared to be only a few touches away from full club mode. A bit more work on the hair perhaps, a club dress, strappier shoes—that would do it. But even now the cleavage was in abundance. I felt very fortunate to be wearing sunglasses at the time, as there was no way I would have managed not getting caught eyeing up some breasts if my eyes were bare. Indeed, it seemed like a terrific sign of things to come, that our Vegas adventure was not simply on the way, but that it would prove among the Greatest Vegas Weekend Stories Ever Told.

Sadly though, while we envision classic Vegas sequences from Go and Entourage and the Hunter Thompson book, we end up instead with only outtakes and deleted scenes. There is of course a trip to the strip club, but because we are trying to negotiate between our normal instincts and our Vegas instincts, we end up with exchanges like this one:

Soon though, your best buddy is goading you into risking your blood money by doubling down on 11 .
Soon though, your best buddy is goading you into risking your blood money by doubling down on 11.. .

ME: What’s your name?

STRIPPER, in the midst of giving me a lap dance: Devina.

ME: Bevima?


ME: Oh cool. (thinking) D-e-v-i-m-a?


ME: D-e-v-i-m-a?

STRIPPER: N, not m.

ME: Isn’t that what I said?

STRIPPER: I thought you said ‘m.’

ME: Did I?

STRIPPER: You can just call me ‘D.’

Of course, things aren’t always this not-slick. Quite often there are smoother, more story-worthy exchanges, strip club and otherwise. But the clownish bone-headed moves that do not exist in those movies and shows reveal themselves in real life, and our Great Late Night Chase ends up being nothing more than an unnecessary romp through a construction site on the journey from the strip club back to our hotel, my brother and I convincing each other that since our hotel is “straight ahead that way,” that we should ignore the roads and just embark upon the “straight shot,” and construction sites be damned.

This resulted in us undertaking some serious stunt work, the two of us climbing one fifteen foot fence in order to pull ourselves up between two steel beams as we attempted to gain access to the second floor of a parking garage, which in turn led to us reaching the other side of the garage and then having to hop over the rail, balance on an electrical box on the side of the garage, and then tippy-toeing down to the top of the other fence that was three feet to our right, bear hugging another steal column and sliding down until our toes reached the top of the fence.

We then jumped down, shook off, and continued on our journey, heading over some railroad tracks and through several busy intersections, including Interstate 15.

Later, when we took some time to re-evaluate our plan, we decided that things could have been handled differently. Indeed, the next day, we would be asked repeatedly why we did not just take a cab; my dad, picking up on the whole “chase” aspect, asked us who we were running from, and I thought for a bit and responded “common sense.”

So yes, Las Vegas has the tendency to make people behave like unhinged robots engaged in serious drug binges, but it also fosters a surprising sense of camaraderie among its younger constituents. A fleeting camaraderie, certainly, but a camaraderie nonetheless. Part of it is due to the fact that everyone between the ages of 18 and 49 is focused in on the same two or three goals, but most of it comes from the shared feeling of underdogedness that every Vegas patron feels. After all, we are not stupid. We have seen Casino. We know that Las Vegas is designed specifically to get our money, and that it is quite adept at accomplishing that goal.

And by the end of the night, the only winnings you're taking home is an attaboy from your friends.
...and by the end of the night, the only winnings you're taking home is an attaboy from your friends.

But we also know that over the course of the weekend a few people will win, and we are reasonably confident that we will most definitely be among those people.

That is, of course, the instinct that drives Vegas, that makes it so profitable for those in line to profit: the universal feeling of every visitor that somebody has to win, and that that somebody is, in all likelihood, me. In fact, it is safe to say that one of the most costly mistakes a person can make in Vegas is to win, because once you win you start to feel as if you are good at gambling. For most people, that is when the largest problems begin.

And when the Good-At-Gambling instinct mixes with the Let’s-All-Be-Friends-In-The-Name-Of-Our-Common-Goals instinct? Well, that’s when you end up with the mutant, frighteningly surging mood of a high stakes craps table. Upon first glance, one gets the feeling that if only parents were as supportive and understanding of each other, umpires, and their own children at Little League games as were the other gamblers towards the shooter, the world would be a better place. But the more you hang around the more you realize that the craps table attitude is the equivalent of a group of sweet old grandmothers forming a lynch mob to go after the mean boy who hurt their grandson’s feelings. This is, after all, a group of gamblers gambling on the success or failure of another gambler, and with each successful toss the group swells with crazed enthusiasm. And when the win streak stops, and it always does, the choruses of “nice round” and “good shooting” are enough to make even the most encouraging of 1st grade teachers feel shamed.

Because there can be no negativity. Few gamblers make public concessions that they may have lost money that they ever cared about. Everyone is out to prove that money ain’t a thang, like some kind of twisted pain tolerance contest in which millions of people plunge their hands into the fire just to prove that “it doesn’t really hurt all that much.” And of course there is the ever-reassuring feeling of seeing somebody else lose, as if there were a set number of people who could drop money in Vegas, and if we can just figure out a way to weed them all out and boot ’em from the city, we will surely sit back and collect for the remainder of the weekend.



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