Editor's Note: This originally appeared on Tao of Poker a couple of days ago.
"Bags of money," I said to Nicky as I pointed up at the glowing Nevada sky. "All of those planes are flying in bags and bags of money."
As we drove back from Blue Diamond to the Del Bocca Vista, 13 planes lined up on approach to McCarran airport.
"St. Louis, New York City, San Francisco, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Portland, Toronto, London, and Miami," I mumbled aloud as I counted each one.
Each plane bubbled over with exuberance as thoughts of wads of dollars danced around the heads of the newest batch of cherry gamblers that carried with them legendary dreams of big scores under the flashing lights during four day alcho-narco binges that would make John Belushi's worst bender look like a circle of girl scouts roasting marshmallows over a warm fire. Those epic orgies are fueled by gallons of Red Bull, fistfuls of Adderal, enough cheap blow to choke a giraffe, constant casino oxygen and the ecstatic possibility of becoming the biggest and baddest ass muthafuckin' baller that you know with the next hand of blackjack, at the next toss of the dice, at the next turn of the roulette wheel, as the next card that spikes on the river, and as that next Keno number illuminates so too does that spark which ignites your soul as it jumps right out of your intestines and knocks back eight consecutive glasses of Champagne while you sit next to a big time pimp with bling the size of bowling balls and a stable of girls matching the elasticity of Romanian gymnasts. They habitually carried around a bottle of KY, a nasty case of the clap, along with a scornful attitudes that accompanied $2,000 a night working girls at the Hooker Bar at the Rio. Those disease-infested tramps drenched in poorly cloned perfume to hide the smell of cock on their breaths, hope to lure in the sexually depraved internet pros who have not seen daylight let alone the inside of a vagina since 2004 as they shuffle past the geriatric zombies glued to the Wheel of Fortune slot machines as their orange eyeballs radiate sloth, greed, wrath, pride, gluttony, lust, and pride and suck the life out of anyone who walks within five feet radius of their tortured karmas.
The planes land every few minutes and drop off walking ATMs with distracted minds that are flooded with fleeting thoughts of sordid guilty pleasures, multiple trips to strip clubs pissing away two or three paychecks on artifical-breasted life size blow up dolls named Amber, Cinnamon, Raven, Summer, Mercedes, Angel, Crystal, Sierra, Lavender, and Sable who grind their asses into beerguts for $20 every three minutes as deafening hip hop blasts on the speakers while you get served over-priced and water-downed drinks.
The planes drop off weekend warriors hoping to get a hummer from their wife after an expensive dinner followed up by a show at the latest Cirque de Soleil... Ka, Love, Zumanity, Mystere, O, or listening to outdated comics like Louie Anderson or Carrot Top who were funny in 1989 and now play semi-packed rooms from tourists from flyover states who wish they were getting lapdances at the Rhino instead of hearing recycled jokes from hacks who make fun of unruly Vegas cab drivers that clutch their steering wheel and secretly wish they could mow down a herd of pedestrians stumbling across the Strip amidst the sparkling and glimmering lights that magically reflect a kaleidoscope of colors onto the sizzling payment and for a brief moment your Aunt Edna from Des Moines looks like she's walking on glistening gems, but those bright lights blind the populous and hide the opposite end of the Las Vegas spectrum where the vampires and tweakers lurk in the shadows of dimly lit alleyways and parking lots and carjack conventioneers from Houston and steal their wallets jammed packed with $100 bills as the flustered victims try to explain to the trigger happy cops that a pimply faced guy with no teeth shanked him with a dull steak knife before he sped off with the overpriced rental car which the junkie will sell to a chop shop in North Las Vegas for enough crystal meth to get him through the end of the week when he'll have to beat the shit out of a retiree in Henderson and steal her Caddy and month supply of Ensure as that vicious cycle of addictions continues every second of everyday in the city of sinners where the ten commandments are brazenly broken and frowned upon as the lunatics run rampant down the Strip, fucking anything that moves like Vikings pillaging towns, as the guilt-ridden sinners hide from the sneers from God and become the lost souls that perfect little pious Mormons children pray for every night as hundreds and thousands of citizens with good reputations, solid marriages, an impeccable criminal records become shattered casualties in a cloudy weekend of execs debauchery and Dionysian decadence while locking themselves into a suite at the Stratosphere and shooting pharmaceutical cocaine into the veins in their feet with a 21-year old stripper from Boise that moved to Vegas to become a blackjack dealer that ended up on the pole who ordered $500 in room service while clogging up the toilet with a nasty case of diarrhea.
IRAs, college savings, housing payments, credit card advances... they all get fleeced to support the lowest forms of habitual self-inflicted terror of endless craps out, dealer's Blackjack, no sightings of Mr. Cashman, too many cold decks at Pai Gow, or too many bad beats by sunburnt donkeys with wrap-around sunglasses that are secretly Celine Dion fans who fly in thrice a year to pay homage to the greatest French Canadian singer in the entire world, as sprinting valets dodge speeding cabs and drunk drivers and pothead limo drivers shuttling drunken frat boys from Scores and to massage parlors where they can get a rub and a tug before hitting the Midnight tourney at Binion's where it sometimes smells like a nursing home and a Tobacco farm while the faint aroma of stale urine wafts it's way in from Freemont Street where corruption and corporate scumbags ruined what used to be the jewel of gambling Mecca, and now Downtown Las Vegas reminds me of an old French whore who has done one too many tricks and fucks not for the money but because she needs a good rodgering to remind herself that she is still alive and the last thirty-five years were not a distant dream or a fading memory, because once upon a time, Las Vegas used to be a small jewel in the Nevada desert where high rollers drove through town in convertibles and now you can't drive anywhere near downtown in an open-aired vehicle without worrying about the hoodlums sieging your car like an angry mob of cockroaches swarming on the kitchen floor of my old apartment in the Redneck Riviera.
All you can eat buffets is on everyone's To Do list while they stuff their faces with lukewarm fried chicken and ignore the simple fact that millions of others in our world are dying of starvation with flies crash landing on their swollen protruding bellies as the vultures of death circle around ready to tear apart the thin layer of muscle and skin that wrap around our fellow humans and with every extra plate of pasta or every scoop of ice cream we step closer and closer towards Hell's front door where hustlers named Zed hang out and try to steal every single dollar out of your pocket and rob you of every ounce of dignity in your brainwashed body because you firmly believe that anything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas but those credit card bills don't stay in Vegas and come to your mailbox, just like how that itchy case of the crabs you picked up from the cocktail waitress at the Nascar Cafe in the Sahara follows you back home to Philly where you have to explain to your six-month pregnant wife why you have to shave your pubic hair and apply ointment to your hair-less balls three times a day because you got drank too much tequila and knocked boots with a Las Vegas cocktail server who stole your cellphone, two credit cards, and all of your black Bellagio chips as she quickly donked off your money at the Money Wheel and sold the numbers to your American Express card to an Al-Qaeda operative scouting out the best possible method to blow up the Hoover Dam to a million pieces while he lives high off the hog, ignoring all of Allah's special rules regarding women and pork and he forgot about 72 virgins because even deep cover Al-Qaeda cells can't ignoring all those hot chippies standing in line waiting to get into Tao, instead of planting IED on highways outside of Baghdad and trying to blow limbs off of 19 year old kids who wish they were back home playing online poker and trying to win satellite on PokerStars and snagging a WSOP bracelet in a 3,000 person event playing donkey poker and winning forty-seven coinflips in a row which means more money to buy more lapdances and until they are so broke that hey have to sneak onto the Monorail to get back to their hotel, if management hasn't thrown them out yet and rented their room a couple of German honeymooners named Karl and Freda.
The absurd is the norm. Take my apartment in the Del Bocca Vista for example. Upstairs an Asian family of ten live in a two bed room apartment while a stripper and part-time call girl lives downstairs and drives a convertible with a vanity plate. While I'm not worried about a crystal meth lab exploding don the street, I am worried that Bush's Anti-Immigration thugs will tear gas my flat and purposely kick down my door and drag me out of the apartment with plastic ties tearing into my wrists cutting off the circulation to my fingers because they think I'm running an immigrant smuggling ring. I'm always one to look for a solid investment but human trafficking ain't my bag... yet.
Sometimes I wish that I didn't have to live in Las Vegas and the WSOP was held in a cooler place like New York City or in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State or in the Casino Holland in Amsterdam where I could hit up the local hash bar on my dinner breaks and cover more Pot-Limit Omaha events instead of trying to figure out who the next unknown will be to win a bracelet. That's the allure of the WSOP these days... to win a bracelet and brag to your friends and family that you won more WSOP bracelets than Erick Lindgren or Phil Gordon or Patrik Antonius or Gus Hansen or Marcel Luske or Gavin Smith or The Grinder or Andy Bloch or The Unabomber or Isabelle Mercier. None of them have won a bracelet and everyday Jeffrey Pollack is handing out one, two, or three bracelets. They cost as little as $1,500 if you can survive "a field of 3,000 monkeys" as Minneapolis Jim Meehan referred to the massive fields during some of the smaller buy-in NL events. Everyday Phil Gordon cringes because in his mind another donkeyfish picked up something he's had his eyes on for almost a decade.
Why do some of us live and why do some of us die? Why do some of us leave Las Vegas a winner why others of us leave utterly hungover, dehydrated, and completely broke? That's an existentialist question that I have been trying to seek out the answer ever since I first arrived in Las Vegas back during the Clinton administration in 1995 when Action Dan Harrington won the WSOP along with a paltry $1 million after he dominated what was essentially a 28 table SNG with 273 total players and a final table that featured Barbara Enright, the only chick to make it to a main event final. Also at that final table was Capt. Tom's Penis. Yes, it's true. In 1995, Brandi Hawbaker was just 12 years old and little did she know that some guy who'd make the final table of the WSOP would someday put his penis in her back.
All flights eventually land in Las Vegas to drop off more wretches who foolishly think they can tame the lost paradise. I'm one of them.