The Side of Vegas You don’t Often Hear About – A Travel Series
Growing up in a middle-class household in Nigeria, traveling to a different state or country for holidays wasn’t a thing. A holiday meant going to another relative’s house, and while I considered that luxury, I dreaded returning to school and answering the question, “What did you do this holiday?” Not because my holiday wasn’t fun but because there was unspoken anxiety in sitting among my classmates at the high-end primary and junior high schools I attended and hearing them brag about their trips to Lagos, London, or some fancy place in the world. I also dreaded writing essays about my holidays for the English Language class.
For eight years after relocating to the United States, I never took a flight to travel anywhere else. No, this isn’t something I am proud of, and many friends and family members often teased me about traveling. I only went to a few states nearby where trains and buses could go. I wasn’t afraid of flying; I just wasn’t delighted and excited to travel as a young adult following the context of holidays and vacationing, I grew up knowing or saw others around me pursuing.
My first two flight travels to a different state, far from home, resulted from work in 2022. These two opportunities were my breakthrough in redefining my conditions for traveling or vacationing. I realized that I enjoy traveling far from family and friends. Yes, I said it – as an introvert, I don’t want to see anyone familiar when I go on a vacation. I love traveling to warm places. I like planning my trip details and don’t enjoy “touring” the city aimlessly. I don’t enjoy going to museums. I also feel overwhelmed by the need to take perfect pictures for memories, social media, or to prove anything to anyone. Notably, I don’t like waiting until the summer or the end of the year to vacation. I also don’t like that I subconsciously believe people go on vacation because they have worked hard, feel exhausted, or earned it. I see vacationing as a lifestyle and dream about packing a box on a random weekday, buying a flight ticket, and going anywhere I want.
My first vacation, test-driving these things I learned about myself, happened in December 2022 when I went to Orlando, Florida. I had been to Florida earlier in the year for work and didn’t get to explore, so taking time off to enjoy a familiar city was a perfect start. Besides challenging myself to travel, I am working to overcome my fear of heights. So, I find an incredible thrill in riding high roller coasters and Ferris wheels whenever I travel. In Florida, I went on the Magical Midway Sling Shot that catapults people 390 feet in the air reaching a speed of 100mph in seconds. I also went to Disney World to see what the hype was about.
With a personalized definition of vacationing, choosing Las Vegas for my first trip this year wasn’t so difficult. If I were to describe Vegas, I’d call it the land of “Fugazi Fugazi” – see the movie Wolf of Wall Street for reference. In the movie, Mark Hanna (acted by Matthew McConaughey) explains the number one rule of Wall Street to Jordan Belfort (acted by Leonardo Dicaprio). Below is the script of that particular scene.
Hanna: Nobody knows if a stock is going to go up, down, sideways, or in f***ing circles, least of all stockbrokers, right? It’s all a fugayzi, you know what a fugayzi is?
Belfort: Fugayzi. It’s fake.
Hanna: Fugayzi, fugazi. It's a whazy. It's a woozie. It's fairy dust. It doesn't exist. It's never landed. It is no matter. It's not on the elemental chart. It's not f***ing real.
From the airport, several time-shares’ salespeople tried to sell arriving visitors something by interrupting their walk to the next destination. They would often start a harmless conversation while slyly asking too many personal details like where you are from, how old you are, how long you are staying there, if you are married etc. Be careful sharing your personal information with strangers. I was irritated by this and just kept thinking; I came here to escape people, and you’re asking too much of my business, which I am not interested in sharing. Through out the drive to the hotel, I felt an intense irritation about everything and an unabsorbable joy that I couldn’t explain until later in the trip.
On the first night, I went to Area 15, then the SRAT Sky pod. At Area 15, I just couldn’t sink into the concept of glamour and entertainment offered. It was odd, and I was convinced that someone must be high on something or hallucinating to find anything enjoyable. Sure enough, when I went to the second floor, one of the stores had a sign that said the use of psychedelics was a part of the experience. I left there almost as soon as I came in. On the ride back to the hotel, the unnecessary bright lights and decorations all over the city, even on ordinary buildings like the 99-cent store or Walgreens, was overwhelming. It felt like screentime on steroids. Also, there were casinos everywhere! I soon noticed how at the casinos, alcohol was unlimited to the players because the drunker they were, the more they stayed and spent!
On the third day, I gave in to one of these timeshares salesman’s offers for a tour because they have good discounts on some entertainment in the city. However, when I went for the presentation and tour, it felt like a waste of four hours of my life and wasn’t worth it. While I understood the whole idea of timeshare and “deed ownership” as the salesman described, the urgency to sell an invincible piece of land to 100+ other people in the room for the “pride of ownership” and reward of unguaranteed traveling managed by a company going out of business seemed like a scam.
Yet, I was shocked to see people signing and paying on the spot. I also couldn’t turn a blind eye to the racial demographics of the buyers in the room – and your guess is correct. However, the best part was how they pressured every buyer into thinking that the deal they offered, which involved paying them thousands of dollars, was now or never. Having read Robert Green’s the Art of Seduction and 48 Laws of Power, this scam was too apparent that I couldn’t hide my irritation. If you want to learn about seduction, illusion, negotiation, and intimidation, visit Vegas for a timeshare presentation and tour. It is a perfect crash course! You can also watch this John Oliver video about timeshares.
During the timeshare resort tour, the man spoke about his wife’s gambling addiction and all the money she has won but never mentioned the ones she lost. He talked about how you’ll hardly find buildings with balconies in Vegas because of the rate of suicide associated with gambling. He explained why the palm trees and grass are fake - the area is a desert and drought-prone (a fact I didn’t know before traveling). He also gave an insider secret on how the scent of strawberry and popcorn is pumped into hallways of some of these buildings to trick people’s brains into feeling hungry and make them stop at the theatre or restaurants around it. Later, through a podcast about Vegas, I learned how competing time-share resorts, casinos, and hotels in the city were owned by the same people, which is another illusion for different demographics of buyers to feel like they are getting the better end of any deal when they go to a different place.
Another salesman described Vegas as the magician’s paradise. This man, also from the northeast region, commented on how people from states like New York don’t often get along with people that live in Vegas because they realize how fake the city is faster than others. He talked about the underline hustling and invincible homelessness. How people don’t wear their suffering on their sleeves, and you almost couldn’t find any homeless person on the street.
Even the hotel I logged in – the Sahara, Las Vegas that seemed all glamorous online and decorated with gold at the reception area was an irritable disguise once I entered my room. It lacked the standard amenities of affordable hotels I’ve been in with the strategy of increasing visitor spending. For example, the refrigerator was tiny and warm, no matter how high the thermostat so that visitors couldn’t preserve food. The room had no microwave, electric kettle to make tea, or coffee maker. So, visitors are forced to go to the first floor, where many restaurants and coffee shops have marked-up prices. The receptionist promised a glamorous view, but the single and small window didn’t make looking outside pleasurable.
Later that evening, I walked through the Bellagio Hotel, which felt more like a tourist location than a place of rest and, of course, had a casino. In front of the Bellagio was an entertaining water fountain with the background of the Eiffel Tower Viewing Deck. I also attended an America’s Got Talent Super Stars Live event, where previous winners gave a show. To cap my illusion for the night, I went to the Mat Franco magic show, which was entertaining and worth the price!
On another day, I went to the Strip (hold on, it’s not what it sounds like). I later learned that the Strip isn’t a single location but a long road with entertainment, shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, and casinos. Another scam I found was of the showgirls who walk up and down the Strip asking tourists if they’d like to take a picture for a price. But after taking the picture, the showgirls mark up the price and insist that you pay the increase, or they’ll cause a scene.
The best part of the vacation was the food. At the Strip, I ate at Eatly and the Wicked Spoon. Then, I saw The Chandelier restaurant, fed my eyes, and walked away. To test my fear of heights, I went through the New York-New York Hotel to get on the Big Apple roller coaster, which is over 67mph and is the world's first coaster to feature a 180-degree “heartline” twist and dive maneuver with a 203ft drop. I highly recommend taking off your wig before trying this because it was hell of a ride! I also did the Fly Over Las Vegas and chose the Windborne Call of the Canadian Rookies. I enjoyed that virtual reality experience for the visuals, movement, and play on sensations. I also went on the High Roller – a 550ft tall Ferris wheel with a great city view.
To some extent, my visit to Las Vegas proved my point that vacationing to well-known places isn’t all that people present it to be on social media. If all that glitter isn’t gold were a city's slogan, it would be Vegas. 65% of the experience made me wish I chose a different city, but 35% made me glad I went.
On my final day, I just kept looking out of my room’s window at the mountains and sandstone formations at the city's edge that looked like a giant wallpaper made by God. It was the only natural thing about the place I found solace in. I thought the glory of Las Vegas was its outskirts, and two of those places – the Valley of Fire State Park and the Zion National Park in Utah were my next destinations which I’ll write about soon – stay tuned!