May 05, 2007

Dudley Do-Right Gets In A Pickle

I went to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago for 24 hours and 2 minutes. Not that the two extra minutes is really significant. It's just that when I climbed into my car on Saturday afternoon to drive back to Los Angeles, I couldn't help but squeak out a slight guffaw as I looked at the clock and saw it read 3:46 PM. After all, I knew full well that I had arrived at the same location at 3:44 PM the previous afternoon. Peculiar.

Forty-eight hours is about my limit in Las Vegas. I start getting violently agitated beyond those forty-eight hours. In fact, one time I was supposed to fly home from Las Vegas 50 hours after I had arrived there. When I got to the airport I discovered that my plane was delayed for a few extra hours. Needing to leave the city so incredibly fast before I flew off the wall in a Jerry McGuire sort of way, I said "screw it all" to the flight, went downstairs, rented a car and drove back to Los Angeles instead. That's what Vegas does to you after two days - you just need to get the heck outta Dodge.

At the same time, 24 hours is a quick trip in Vegas. It is sufficient time to get enough damage done, but the fact of the matter is that you don't settle into the Vegas lifestyle until the second 24 hour period roles around. The fact that I was only there for 2 minutes beyond the first twenty-four hours doesn't make much of a difference.

However, as previously mentioned, those two minutes are completely irrelevant to anything in this story.

My purpose for going to Las Vegas was to surprise my friend at his 40th birthday celebration. He went out to the City of Sin with his wife and two friends to spend a weekend of the Three G's: gambling, gastronomy and gnightlife (that last one with a silent g. actually, two silent g's, now that you mention it). Only being there for twenty-four hours and two minutes, I was able to partake in a bit of the gambling (lost on blackjack, lost on craps, won almost all of it back on roulette) and gastronomy (Aureole: mmmm.....), but was unable to attend Saturday's gnightlife activities of Cirque du Soleil.

Sure it was a short trip, but the look of surprise on my friend's face on Friday when I snuck up next to him at the bar on top of theHOTEL was worth the price of admission. It was great to spend the time with him, especially to do it in Vegas.

If you haven't been to Lost Wages yet, it's not so much a city as it is an attitude. The whole space-time continuum thingy takes a few loop-dee-loops when it travels through the city. It is such an odd place, unlike anywhere else on earth, that in order to fully enjoy it, you kinda have to stoop to the Vegas level. It's a town of excess, in every aspect of the word. Even if your biggest vice is people watching, there is an excessive amount of that in Las Vegas as well. Excessive laughing and smiling are also prerequisites for the true Vegas experience.

On top of all the excess, there is an undertone of wrongfulness that oozes between the cracks. Where gambling is as ubiquitous as oxygen, prostitution as blatant as Howard Stern, and con-men meld in with the common folk, you can't help but be intrigued by the underbelly of the city and wonder about all the mayhem scuttling about under your nose as you mindlessly throw your money into the sewage.

Friday night turned out to be a fairly late night for somebody of my natural lameness. But, of course, late nights are common in Vegas. In fact, they're almost expected. After cocktails, and dinner, and gambling, and more cocktails, and people watching and general messing around, I got back to my room somewhere just short of 2am. Come to think of it, there seems to be a 2 theme here, what with the 2 minutes past 24 hours, the 2am arrival and the 2 hour run I had the next morning.

With 7 hours of alcohol and food lodged in my stomach, my 5 1/2 hours of sleep were fairly restless, which made me think that my 2 hour run on Saturday morning would be fairly crappy. You can probably imagine my surprise when, 1 hour into the trek I was feeling pretty darn good.

A two-hour run in Vegas is pretty simple - you head down Las Vegas Blvd (aka "The Strip) for 1 hour, turn around and run back. There's not a lot out there when you get beyond the casinos, just a whole bunch of empty desert, a few newly-built condominium complexes and a convenience store or two every now and then. Surprisingly, Las Vegas Blvd remains a six-lane road for miles beyond the downtown casinos, despite the limited traffic.

Perhaps it was the late night alcohol and lack of sleep making squishy out of my brain, but I got myself into a wonderful trance during the run and slowly floated across the barren wasteland with nary a worry. After one hour I turned around, crossed over the six lanes to the other side of the road and began trudging back towards town.

My eyes were focused on the ground in front of me, my mind on subjects far far away. I felt every step of the run, I saw every thing around me yet was not focused on anything in particular. I suppose this is what we call being in "The Zone". I also suppose that this won't make sense to the non-runners out there but hopefully there's a runner or two that will understand this nonsense I speak.

So there I am, trudging along on the shoulder of a six lane road, making sure I don't get slammed by any early morning drunk drivers. My eyes are jumping back and forth between the sights around me, my brain bouncing like a pinball. That Shell gas station sure looks clean and sparkly. Damn gas is cheap out here. I should come to this gas station to fill er up before I drive back to LA. Why is that guy sitting on the corner? He looks drunk. And homeless. Actually he looks kind of angry too. Don't look him in the eye, look down at the ground. Oh look, there's an empty Dorito bag in the dirt. I hate when people litter. What makes them think that somebody is going to clean up a Dorito bag that they throw outside the car window. Where do they think it will go? Damn ingrates. Oooh, watch out for the pothole... Whew, almost twisted an ankle. That'd be bad to twist an ankle, especially since I have a race in a couple of weeks. Ah, I almost forgot about that race. Oh lookee, there's a Sears card in the dirt. Why would somebody throw their Sears card out the window. That's ridiculous. It has their name on it... and there's a bank card... and...

At this point my mind comes screeching to a halt like the Road Runner right before he flies over the edge of the cliff into the field of Acme Dynamite.

A bank card?!

I stop my run and walk back to pick it up. Somebody is surely going to want their bank card back. Especially since it has their name on it. I should pick it up and try to return it. As I reach down for the card I see another charge card in front of me. I pick that one up too. All of the sudden I notice that the entire side of the road is littered with charge cards and photos and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff that should be in a purse. And all of it has the name of the same person on it. And look at this - I find a wallet laying in the dirt. I pick it up... Social Security Card, miscellaneous loyalty cards, drivers license. And again, all with the same name.

Peculiar, I think.

But this is Vegas, it could be anything. And so my mind wandered. Is somebody trying to lose their identity? Are they running from the bad people who want to kill them? I saw all of those Martin Scorcese movies, I know how this works.

Clearly somebody threw this wallet out the window. Was it some sort of mob hit? Then again, maybe it was just a simple case of a stolen wallet.

I start picking up the credit cards, wallet and photos. With each card and photo I pick up, there are three more I find. But this person would want all of this stuff back, I think. I need to do the right thing. Do unto others as you hope they would do unto you. Or something to that effect.

So I spend about five minutes collecting what must be thirty family photographs, ten credit cards, a wallet and a whole bunch of other miscellaneous identification. I shove it all in my fuel belt and, with a bit of extra weight at my stomach and looking a bit like an over-stuffed wallet carrying fool, resume my trudge back home.

I've done something good, I thought. I've found somebody's wallet. Yeah for me.

When I got back to the hotel room, I looked at the driver's license and realized the woman (5 foot 1, 165 pounds. Let's call her LaQuisha), lives in Las Vegas. I called information and got her phone number.

You don't know me, I said into LaQuisha's answering machine, but I'm wondering if you lost your wallet. If so, please call me.

Two hours later I get a call back from LaQuish. I asked her if she lost her wallet. Yes, she said. I tried to verify that it was hers. A picture of Winnie The Pooh on the front, she said.

I told her that I think her wallet was stolen.
No it wasn't, she replied matter of factly. I left it at iHop.

I'm pretty sure it was stolen, I insist in as nice and comforting a manner as I can. I found it on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere all scattered about. It seems somebody threw it out a car window.

No, she insisted. I left it at iHop.

I started to feel uncomfortable. How come she isn't thanking me? Aren't I doing a good thing? Isn't this right? How come she isn't grateful?

So you know, I told her. There are no credit cards or cash in here. I found your bank card but it looks like the other forms of payment were stolen.

LaQuisha was silent.

Does she think I stole her credit cards? Does she really believe that I ripped off her cash?! I'M DOING A GOOD THING!!!

As I said, I found it on the side of the road, I repeated. I think somebody must've taken out the cards and thrown the rest out of the window.

I wanted to tell her how I stopped my two-hour run to pick this up. And how I shoved this George Costanza wallet in my fuel belt and ran with it down the Las Vegas Strip for nearly 4 miles. I wanted to let her know how I scrambled around in the dirt and the storm drain to gather all the photos of her nieces and nephews with their stock football-player-on-one-knee pose and standard yearbook smiles and random baby pictures. I wanted her to be grateful. I wanted a goddam "thank you."

But I felt accused.

I left the remains of her wallet in a bag with the front desk personnel at the hotel and told LaQuisha she can come pick them up. I spent an extra two minutes writing her a note, letting her know where I found the items and wishing her the best of luck in cancelling her credit cards.

Two minutes extra. Trying to be nice. Trying to justify my do-goodliness.

And as I drove out of town, two minutes beyond 24 hours of being in Las Vegas, I started thinking once again about the underbelly of it all. Something was odd about my exchange with LaQuisha. Something just wasn't right. I know they say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I can only hope it doesn't travel right down Las Vegas Boulevard.


No Wetsuit Girl... overseas! said...

The obvious questions are: why would you call her if you stole the wallet? What would a runner do at IHOP? And what's the attraction of Vegas? I don't get it.