Las Vegas is their India

April 24th, 2013

I get on the Las Vegas Monorail at the LVH station and sit in the end of an empty car. At the next stop, a family gets on, people with the typical wide round faces and pasty skin of the rural Midwest, the sun visors and walking shorts the uniform of the tourist. The woman and the daughters sit on the bench at the far end of the rail car, but the dad of the family chooses the seat next to mine.

“Hiya,” he says, “Do you work here?”

I’m not sure if my conference outfit and messenger bag send a signal that I am someone else, but I might chuckle a bit when I say “No.”

“No, I don’t mean here on the train. I mean, you work here in LA?” Then he laughs at himself. “No, I mean, here in Las Vegas?”

Still no.

“All righty. We’re gonna head down to the casinos and try to find a buffet. Do you know where the best one is?”

I am really just a fountain of “No” in this conversation. I try not to be unfriendly when I shrug and say, “Um, I got nothin’.” I haven’t tried any of the buffets, had a few good places to eat but nothing it seems he’d like. I ask a few polite questions about where they’re staying and what they’ve done in Vegas so far. Then I retreat to my own space.
Tao Spiritual Nightlife
Later, I talk to my colleague and co-presenter Kristi about it. After three days in Vegas, we are both a little tired of it. “This city just isn’t for us,” she says. She looks around at the families of tourists. “But for them, this is the best place to go. For them, this is Italy. For them, this is India.” Kristi knows that I’ve gone to India, and I know that she’s lived in Italy.

But somehow I can’t agree. “No, it’s different.” I say.

I’ve thought about this conversation for a while now. I’d like to think it’s not just my arrogance, my self-centered wish to believe that my motivations for travel are noble and deep, while other people’s are shallow and simple. There’s something charitable about parallel structure. If we could just say that everyone has a favorite food, a favorite music, a favorite store. Some people have a taste for samosas and masala chai, some have a taste for risotto and tiramisu, and some have a taste for all-you-can-eat crab legs and margaritas in giant plastic tubes. For music, some people like Sukhwinder Singh, some people like Renato Carosone, some people like Celine Dion. We might like to shop for Rajasthani puppets, for Venetian glassware, or for discount designer clothes. So, based on your tastes, this theory goes, you choose the best place to travel.

Except I don’t think I go to India to gratify my tastes. Sure, there’s delicious food and there are many appealing sights, but what draws me to travel is the opportunity to resist my tastes, to observe a part of the world that’s far outside my comfort zone. I go to seek out a heartbreaking experience, to feel homesick and culture-shocked.

Egg Roll Stand, Varanasi

And I guess I think of it as a significant difference in approach to many things. Some people only watch movies to gratify their preferences and wishes, and wonder why I would seek out a movie that subverts my expectations and frames of reference. Some people only pursue education to gratify their preferences and goals, and don’t see how someone could like a learning experience that’s tough, that’s mystifying, that’s inscrutable. For a long time, I’ve thought there’s something different about me, some weird way of seeking out the opposite of my preferences.

And then, perhaps the reason I don’t see eye-to-eye with the Vegas fans is that I’m essentially an introvert. I can understand the desire for gratification, for comfort food and familiar songs. There’s a place I can go for gratification; a place where I can eat the foods I like, listen to the music I like, play the games I like, line up all my favorites and indulge.

Why would I leave that place to go to a casino?

I did find a Hindu shrine in Las Vegas, though.

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