“The city just materializes out of the desert. It’s the weirdest thing,” said Kirk.

I mulled over his remark, then dismissed it. Because I’ve never been to Las Vegas before, I would determine how weird it was after I saw it for myself.

But he was right. It was bizarre.

I really wanted to take photos of the Strip during the magic hour. But that prospect had vanished earlier in Utah with our non-fast food stop at Applebee’s. Because of this, it was already dark, and we were still driving. With an estimated 30 minutes left to reach downtown, we crested a low hill.

Then — out of nowhere — it appeared. Spread out like a pocket of gold floating in a black sea… Sin City.

“It really does glitter, doesn’t it,” I said.

I stared. I was spellbound. I was instantly glad that we came upon the city at night. Had it been earlier and during the day, I don’t think it would have been as captivating.

Kirk and I are usually pretty frugal, but in Vegas we weren’t willing to sacrifice the convenience of staying on the Strip. The cheapest place we could find that was still centrally located was Circus Circus ($63 including tax & resort fee. Ugh, resort fees?!) After weaving through atrocious traffic, finding the front desk via a neon light signage treasure hunt, navigating the parking structure labyrinth and lastly finding our 1 tiny room amongst the 3,770 in the giant hotel, we finally hit the Strip, where the last thing to do was not breathe a sigh of relief.

Blinking lights, flashing signs, yelling crowds and honking cars. As we walked the strip, I couldn’t help but see the city as deviant and depraved. Gamble away your money, drink away your brain cells and waste away your dignity in paid sexual exploits. Vegas disguises itself with pretty lights and flamboyant architecture, but even those are just ruses to get you to fall deeper into unscrupulous pursuits. Las Vegas reminded me of an American version of Australia’s Nimbin.

Nimbin is a tiny town in New South Wales known for its residents’ hobby of choice: smokin’ weed. (And anything else one desires.) Back in the day, Nimbin was a small dairy town ready to kick the bucket. But in ’73, a bunch of college students picked it as the spot for the second and last Aquarius Festival (think mini Australian Woodstock). Not willing to leave after the event, many participants and other counter-culture propagandists remained. Nimbin has been colored in tye-dye and draped thickly in cannabis smoke ever since. These days backpackers come to gawk at the stoned beatniks and stock up on special bakery items. Despite years of use, the hippies boast savvy sales skills and know how to move their product. “Special cookies, two for $10!”

Both Nimbin and Las Vegas survive off tourists who are attracted to the promise of experiencing an extreme or altered reality. There’s a reason only one backpacker establishment exists in Nimbin, and it’s the same reason why no one spends longer than a weekend in Las Vegas. The lifestyle isn’t really real.

Who am I to judge what reality is right or wrong? Or, more importantly, how to decide where to draw the line? When all of Las Vegas’s activities are looked at separately, I suppose I’m not against them completely. And actually, I participate in them myself. I do drink alcohol, and faced with the alluring slot machines, I did gamble some of my money. (The prostitution thing? Not a fan on any level.) But, I don’t aim to get drunk, and my gambling limit was $20. You can see how ecstatic I was when I put my $20 in a 5¢ slot machine and this happened:

A little hard to see, but yes! That’s $40.50! I was done for the night. Kirk, however, was just getting started. He had checked out the blackjack tables at every casino and wouldn’t sit until he found the perfect one: a table with a $5 minimum. He is cheap, it was a Friday night, and this was a difficult task.

Around 2 a.m. he was just about to give up. We had walked up and down the entire strip, stopping at nearly every casino. My favorites included The Cosmopolitan, Caesars Palace, The Bellagio, and Planet Hollywood.

With a huge blister on my little toe, Kirk dragged me through the doors of our own hotel & casino.

Just like retail stores make you walk through a long aisles of cheap crap just get to the checkout, hotels make you walk through their casinos before you can get to your bed. But, you don’t want to sleep just yet. Circus Circus is a little trashy, a little cheap; you definitely get what you pay for. But sometimes, you get exactly what you want: $5 blackjack tables!

Kirk looked at me, and a little smile crept onto his face. “Should I play?”

“Well yeah! You’ve been wanting to all night. Just don’t lose all your money.”

I don’t like gambling, because when I lose money, I don’t see it as fun. I see it as losing money. Hence, my $20 limit. I couldn’t bear to lose more than that. Kirk though, enjoys playing blackjack. I like to watch him play, but cringe every time he loses a hand. The only way I could enjoy gambling without guilt would be if someone handed me $100 (or more) and told me the only way I could have it was if I sat down at a table and gambled it. Alright, no problem!

Kirk started out with $60. He won a few hands and was up to $85 or so. Yay! Time to cut and run, right? No, says Kirk. He’s only played for 10 minutes. Ok, fine. A few more hands, and he’s down to $50. Awh, man! Kirk, you’re not going to play till you lose all $60, are you? He plays a few more hands. Now he’s back up. How about we go now? No, says Kirk, I’m on a streak. Well, sheesh. He plays some more. Now he’s up to $105. Ok Kirk, really. It’s been an hour. Your streak won’t last forever. Alright, I’ll play this last hand. If I lose it, I’ll finish with $100 even.

He cashed in his chips. We had started the night with $100. After the slots, some drinks, a little food and blackjack, we ended the night with the same $100. Originally we had planned to stay 2 nights in Las Vegas. We decided one night in Sin City was just fine. ☼