Last week I went to Las Vegas. The last time I was there was around 1978 on a road trip with my parents. It’s changed.
Not knowing much about Las Vegas, I checked for reservations at hotels I’d heard of. All of the rooms were booked, unless I wanted to pay a grand or more a night. As I found out later, Saturday was the Mayweather/Maidana welter-weight fight and people from all over the world were in town to see it. Finally, with the help of triple A, I found a room at kitschy New York New York.
My trip began with optimism and good cheer, but driving along the 15 Freeway I saw three burning cars and one head-on collision. It's only a four-hour drive from Los Angeles. Not a good omen. After checking into the hotel, I felt as if I had to walk miles in the desert, searching for the elevator to my room. I went down dead-end alleys and up elevators that didn’t stop on my floor. I had to ask several people for directions. On my journey, I noticed:
- People are allowed to smoke in casinos. This was a shock to me. These days, Angelenos are practically forbidden from smoking in their own homes.
- The restaurants are in the casinos, which allows cigarette smoke to drift into your martini.
- Casinos are dimly lit, massive and endless. It is nearly impossible to find your way out of a casino into the fresh air. This is by design. They don’t want you to leave the casino…ever. They distract you with loud music, flashing lights, not to mention 200-pound drunk people stumbling toward you in the elevator. I assume this has not changed. It’s always been this way.
Since I hadn’t been to Vegas for a while I wanted to take a look around. My recollection was that you could walk down the strip and duck into the casinos and have a look. If that were ever true, it isn’t any longer. You can’t just cross the street in most places. You have to walk up and down stairs and escalators to get to bridges that cross streets. There are free trams that take you to the next casino or two but not all the way to your destination. The signage is poor and you often have to walk forever through a casino (see #3 above) to find the tram entrance. I was never able to do this without asking at least two or three people for directions.
I was beginning to think I’d never survive Las Vegas. Then a funny thing happened on the way to Caesar’s Palace. I stumbled into the Paul Smith boutique in the Aria shopping mall and met a delightful young salesperson from Orange County who gave me a tourist’s primer of the wonders of Las Vegas. I told her I was off to Starbucks for a coffee and she said: “You can go there any day. Go to Jean Phillippe Patisserie. Great coffee and to-die-for pastries.” Ohh-la-la, a pearl of wisdom, if ever I heard one. Her coffee tip got me out of a grumpy funk and into a chocolate brioche.
So, how is my trip to Vegas like writing a book? For those of you who are new to publishing or those who have been away from it for a while, it’s changed. You have to adapt. But writing hasn’t changed. It's just as hard as it used to be. When you begin writing it’s as if you are on a road trip through the vast unknown. You know where you want to go, but sometimes you don’t know how to get there. There are ups and downs, false starts, detours and dead-end alleys. There are people and events that try to upend your goals. There are those who fail and wish the same for you. Ignore them. If you’re lucky, there will be folks along the way who point you in the right direction and a few whose tips inspire you in a new direction. You just have to keep your eye on the flashing marquee and keep driving toward your goal.
One of my favorite quotes is from E.L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”