Las Vegas 2
It’s half past eight in the evening, but it’s still boiling hot. The temperature gauge says it’s 110, so the first thing we do is put the roof down. When I hang my arm over the side I can feel the heat rising off the tarmac.This time yesterday we were still sitting on the beach in Ventura, watching the waves, shivering in the cool breeze.
Downtown Vegas is like Oxford Street might be if it were a person and someone had slipped a tab of acid into its drink. More glittery, more vulgar, more people, more lights. And the noise comes from everywhere – different music blares from each huge building, all of it mixing into one loud pumping rhythm.
There’s a very complicated one-way system and we end up going round and round it several times. He apologises and says we’re almost there. I tell him I don’t mind at all. I don’t care if he has to drive round another fifty times.
Crawling past Walt Disney’s idea of what a castle ought to look like, all lit up with red and blue neon turrets, I crane towards it, trying to get a photograph. Then I see a woman who must be at least seventy, and her face is all stretched backwards, as if there’s a very strong wind blowing, only there isn’t, so I take a picture of her as well.
We stop to let some pedestrians cross, and four girls who can’t be more than ten years old step off the kerb. They’re wearing full makeup, low cut, thigh skimming dresses, and high heels. This is a very strange place.
By the time we get to the Beatles show, there aren’t any tickets left, so we go into the themed bar next door. You have to walk through giant letters which spell out “Revolution”. Inside, there’s strobe lighting and “All You Need Is Love” is playing. Apart from us, it’s almost empty: five or six hostesses in tight, short, shiny dresses are laughing together in a corner; they all have deep orange tans, unnaturally white teeth and huge breasts.
We sit at the bar and order champagne cocktails, and when I take out a cigarette, a man in evening dress leans over the counter to light it for me. I can’t get used to being able to smoke inside buildings again.
When the cocktails arrive, he raises his glass to me and says this is the best birthday he’s ever had. Then we drink a toast to Joel, because he would have laughed as much as we’ve been doing ever since we got here. He would have been fifty this year too.
We start to rip the themed paper napkins into little shreds, and we talk. We haven’t stopped talking since I arrived. There’s so much to say. We talk all through dinner, and all the way back to the room again afterwards.
He tells me about Joel’s mum. She’s seventy-eight now, and she lives in the country full-time, with a musician who’s five years our junior. I promise to call her when I get home because I haven’t spoken to her for years, then he says;
“Do me a favour though, and don’t mention the drugs, ok? She’d never see it for what it is”
I promise I won’t say a word, and then he reminds me that we were going to write something to raise money for research into the disease that Joe died from, only we don’t seem to have got around to it yet.
It suddenly occurs to me that I’m going home in two days, and I start to say something about there not being much time left, but then I stop myself. Instead I say we can do it when we get back.
Next morning, trying to find the road to Tucson we get lost in suburbia. We’re due to give the car back by four and he isn’t sure we’re going to make it at this rate. Just as a throwaway comment – I really don’t expect an answer, I ask what would happen if we just carried on – if we didn’t give it back at all. After a minute or two he says;
“Seventy-two hours. Then they report it stolen. I already looked it up.”