I crossed the Strip at Desert Inn Road behind a woman in gold shorts carrying an American flag knapsack, talking into her phone about working a double shift. A pickup truck spun the corner, hauling an ad that said SHOOT A REAL MACHINE GUN AT THE RANGE. A long block away to the west, the Trump International surged into the gray sky. In front of the tower, an immense lawn of tall weeds, smashed traffic cones, and broken bottles vibrated in the late-afternoon wind. Looking at the wasteland, I recalled a conversation I’d overheard on the bus from Los Angeles the other day.
“The main problem is Trump thinks he can run the country like a business.”
“He don’t know what it is.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“Ronald Reagan was our last decent president.”
“I liked Kennedy.”
I was in town for a convention, walking along Elvis Presley Boulevard, formerly Riviera Boulevard, pondering the asphalt Diamond Lot where the Riviera Hotel and Casino used to stand, remembering two springs past, when I entered the Riviera through the food court and took a happy whiff of cheese fries and cheap cigars.
The property had been celebrating its Diamond Jubilee — 60 years on the Las Vegas Strip — and it was set to close in a week. On an elevator in the Mediterranean North Tower, a hoarse fellow with an oxygen tank gripped the railing. “This elevator’s not so bad,” he said. “The other one, the middle one, is real bumpy. No wonder they’re tearing this place down.”
In the tavern a patron hiccupped and banged his fist on the bar. “What’s taking so long? Just want another fuckin’ beer,” he barked. “Good riddance.”
“I’m from St. Louis,” a man told me between bites of a hamburger. “Been coming to the Riviera since 2010 for the American Poolplayers Association tournament. I don’t know what we’ll do, I don’t know where we’ll play next time.”
The bleach-haired bartender shook his head. “A lot of people don’t know a lot of things. A lot of things are terrible. There’s gonna be a lot of people out of work.”
“Kaput,” said a front desk agent, an early ’60s photo of Barbara Streisand on stage smiling behind her.
Contractors dropped a set of steel rods on the ground. I came out of my trance and continued towards the convention center.
I passed the volcano outside the Mirage, hissing through one of its nightly eruptions, weirdly echoing the real fires blazing in California and Oregon that were blanketing much of the nation in smoke, and headed west down a dark road to the Trump International Tower.
Just off the yawning gold lobby at the almost-empty DJT Restaurant, Lady Gaga’s “Perfect Illusion” played from the PA. A bar manager explained Abbott and Costello’s baseball joke to a dishwasher behind a wall.
“Who’s on first?” he said. “Exactly. Who! It’s all about nomenclature.”
A bar-back emerged and set a fresh bottle of vodka on the shelf.
“Doing O.K. sir?” he asked.
“Yep. How about you?” I replied.
“Good thanks,” he said. “And how about yourself?”
Who’s on first indeed.
Three weeks after the Route 91 Harvest music festival massacre, a man in a Nascar cap searched for a place to set down some paintings amidst the flowers, stones, candles, and photographs at the Las Vegas Healing Garden and Remembrance Wall.
“I was gonna bring my casket flag too,” he said, “but it’s so big I wouldn’t know where to put it, and anyway I can’t have it touch the ground.”
The small garden in the Arts District — planted with 58 trees, one for each of the dead — was built by volunteers a few days after the October 1 shooting. Notes hung from branches amidst jingling prayer bells with messages in a child’s hand like “Miss you and love you so much, mommy” and “I love my grandma.” A tray table had Kool-Aid and water for visitors.
On the Strip by the Bellagio fountains, Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” played from the PA. The afternoon sun cast a feverish white glow over the turquoise pool. Posters, flowers, and stuffed dice from a past vigil were crammed into a caged tree planter, and the Planet Hollywood marquee flashed back and forth, VEGAS STRONG; BRITNEY: PIECE OF ME; VEGAS STRONG; BRITNEY: PIECE OF ME.
At the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, crowds took laps around the median, kicking up clouds of red dust, studying the 58 white memorial crosses and the offerings piled about — beer bottles, guitar picks, a football, cowboy boots, a bag of Doritos. A helicopter came in to land across the street at McCarran. Making a circular racket of time, it seemed to summon the specter of an unfamiliar Vegas time zone: A stern-faced present, with nowhere to go.