It isn't often that I fly with someone.
If it's not for business, then I'm usually off to visit friends, so travelling with someone is never necessary and doing the lone-traveller bit has become a bit of a habit. I have developed preferred ways of doing things, the order in which I should worry, relax, and find my gate and the bathroom and something on which to spend money. Schlepping all those shoes by myself is pain in the ass, of course, but one does what one has to do.
Back before I got on planes every couple of months, when travelling was still a novelty for me, Mandy and I decided to do a mid-summer jaunt to Las Vegas. It was August of 2000, and my aunt and my mother were supposed to make the trip with us. Then my grandmother died a week before we were scheduled to leave, and I cried a lot and wondered if going was a good idea. My mother and my aunt took advantage of the cancellation policy, but urged us to carry on as planned. Go, they said. Have fun, you're young. Go.
And so we went, my friend and I, and at Pearson Int'l, at seven on that Sunday morning, we looked at each other and giggled because we couldn't believe we were taking a trip together. We were 26, had known each for 11 years; I had already flown to England and lived a miniature life for eight months. Cottage weekends and school trips don't count; we had never flown anywhere together for a little holiday. We were 26, and we giggled, and it was good.
Las Vegas, the first time you see it, is a fantasy of modern castles, where you can pretend to be rich and fool yourself into believing it, because every time you throw a quarter into a slot machine, it could happen, it could really happen, you could strike gold, strike it rich, get your cherries lined up in a row. You just need one more spin. Las Vegas is a hell of a town for one more spin of whatever you're looking for.
We spent our first day there with our heads up, gazing at brightly coloured buildings and grand miniatures of places we'd never visited. We walked through the mock streets of New York, and ate a cinnamon bun outside of Tiffany's, and took in the little Eiffel Tower and the gondolas in the man-made waterway. Our hotel, the Monte Carlo, was a wonder of white arches and sky-high ceilings, fountains and fantasy. I wanted nothing more than to put on an evening gown and elbow-length gloves, and try my hand at the roulette table.
Which is ridiculous, of course, because the only people wearing elbow-length gloves in Las Vegas are the showgirls, and that's pretty much all they're wearing. Everyone else is either wearing a be-jewelled sun-visor that matches their lounge suit, or t-shirts emblazoned with eagles or kittens.
There is a lot of fug in Vegas.
There were also the boys on stag trips, and trophy girls, with their blond hair and their backless tops. There are the frat boys, polo-shirted and just 21, with their heads sticking out of limousine sunroofs. And then there was us, and we didn't know what to do first.
Blackjack, I said. That is what I wanted from my trip to Vegas. I wanted to play blackjack, and sip exotic drinks, and perhaps see a show, if I didn't have to extend myself too much to do so. Mandy wanted to wander off the Strip to go see the biggest Star Trek exhibit in the world, complete with a virtual reality ride that bounced us around and made my sunglasses fall off my head. I had no interest in Star Trek, but I went along without argument, because I knew that in the end, what the hell, itíd probably be alright. Besides, geeks were getting cuter by then.
I wanted to dance, which is forever a demand with me, and so we made friends with Eddie, who tended bar at the Monte Carlo. He gave us coasters with his name on them, which we presented to the bouncer at Studio 54, along with a twenty poking out from underneath, and that way, we were able to bypass the long queue of trophy girls and randy boys. That was a highly enjoyable moment. Eddie and his friends joined us later, and just like that, we were partying with locals, no longer tourists, no longer floundering. It was a brilliant, fantastic, disco-balled time until about four in the morning, when everyone in front of me suddenly turned into triplets, and then it was time to go home.
Mandy and I played a little blackjack, drank a few cocktails, flirted with boys and giggled a lot. She nursed me through the biggest hangover I ever had - and have had, since - and I convinced her that putting on a pair of heels wasn't inviting the forces of evil upon us. She figured out which direction we had to walk to get where we wanted to go, and I wrote limericks on cocktail napkins.
It was a good four days, that jaunt to Vegas. We were fancy-free; though too reserved to make something dangerous happen, but too sensible to want it that badly. We made jokes with Eddie about marrying one of us, (me; I though he was a total dreamboat) so that we could stay in Vegas. His boyfriend - because the dishy ones always have boyfriends - would marry Mandy, and we would forge new lives in Sin City.
And then we came home, to face real life all over again. I learned to live without Nonna, and went to work, and came home again, and continued to do the cha cha in my spare time. Mandy had fallen in love though, with the glitter and neon of Vegas, and was itching to go back againÖ which we did, six months later. We tossed our head back in laughter, and plotted, and let ourselves be wrapped around the fingers of boys with bad intentions, and then we watched each otherís back and came home again. It was another brilliant trip, and we left wishing we could stay, so that we could continue to live in this lit-up dream world where we were fabulous, all rock star glam with pillow service to boot.
Itís been six years, and now Iím going to Las Vegas again in a few days. Mandy will be there, but it will be a far different kind of trip. Sheís getting married in Vegas, like we joked about years ago, but this time, sheís bringing a groom along to make sure it happens. My sister and my brother-in-law and I are travelling together, and this will be their first glimpse of the neon in the dessert. Iím not sharing a room with anyone, and it will be strange, because Vegas means laughing over coffee and secrets in the morning with my friend. There will be forty other people there, most of whom Iíll recognize, and so it wonít be the long street of strangers that Vegas has been for me in the past.
I guess itís true; what happens in Vegas stays there, and even if you wanted to go back and get it, itíd be gone forever.
Which isnít bad, I suppose. Things change; sometimes you fly alone, and sometimes you donít. Roll of the dice, isnít it?
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