Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Las Vegas 2008: The Gathering Storm

TWENTY-FOUR MONTHS OF EXILE end today. With nearly all of the travel hurdles behind me, and a timely takeoff the final gauntlet to run, my return to Glitter Gulch, Sin City, the Neon Havens — Las Vegas, Nevada — lies scant hours away.

Once I escaped work yesterday, it was a downhill run to this morning. Nearly all packing was complete. My poker bankroll had been retrieved from its salt-mine redoubt, borne to my lair by vermillion-robed acolytes, swinging censers to smoke out all evil spirits. They also brought my laundry. (I can't be bothered.)

I set two clocks to arouse me from what brief, nervous slumber I managed to capture in nets of nonsensical dreams. A final check of the Continental website showed not only that my flight was on time, but that the center seat of my aisle was still open — an incredible break. I got downstairs 10 minutes early, where the car to the airport was already waiting, slick with rain. Colin, the Jamaican driver, welcomed me aboard and made for the Parkway. We had a fine chat that made the scant 35 minutes to Newark pass even more quickly.

The first challenge met, I checked one of my bags curbside and steeled myself for the security colonic within. I haven't flown since the current strictures were imposed, and I've listened to 2 years of civil-liberties infringement and aggro TSA horseshit since then. I'd bagged, tagged, and flagged what little I had in my backpack, but the proof would be served at the checkpoint.

No worries were needed. I declared my > 3 oz. bottle of contact lens solution to the agent, who waved it through. All of my metal was in the backpack, the shoes and laptop were in bins, and neither I nor my bag dinged the X-ray gadgets. My record of evading a detailed search remained pristine. It took longer to get my shoes back on than it did to fly through the security bullshit.

The terminal here also has flights going to LA and Frisco, so it's fairly well populated. It's fun to try and spot those going to Vegas versus those other destinations. Tropical shirts and an absence of children is a good indicator. Your average planeload of Vegas visitors is a lot happier than those going to other places, with the possible exceptions of Hawaii and areas with Disney parks. By grim contrast, the return trip from Sin City is a tableau of downcast faces: laden with losses, aching from hangovers, or merely stricken on the day that marks the maximum stretch of time between the last trip to Vegas and the next.

That's been my last two years right there.

Sadly, Newark Airport lacks free Wi-Fi (unlike McCarran in Vegas), so posting this note will have to wait. I've got another hour before the scheduled takeoff, so I'm gonna snag a chunk of grease from the nearby noshery. Further pre-Vegas dispatches as they warrant.

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