When I turned twenty-five, I told myself I would do three things. First, I would learn how to sew a button on a coat because to sew is to be a real woman. Second, I would start watching more Seinfeld reruns in a feeble attempt to “connect” with the pop culture cognoscenti as well as a slightly older crowd, thereby broadening my dating pool. And finally, I would go to Las Vegas “with my girls.” I thought this was a respectable set of goals, and when I failed to get the ball rolling for the first two, I had no choice, really, but to follow through with the third.
It was only after we had already booked the trip when I started to get a vague feeling that, contrary to my personal worldview, maybe not everyone considers Las Vegas the Promised Land. Despite its potpourri of precious assets — Celine Dion, a fake Statue of Liberty, and a store dedicated to the zombie apocalypse, for example — many people reacted to my good news (“I’m going to Vegasssssssss!!!”) with sentiments including but not limited to apathy, concern, disdain, confusion, and a stoic matter-of-factness that made me uneasy: “You’re going to get a bloody nose.” (For the record, this statement was in reference to my hypersensitive blood vessels’ incompatibility with the dry desert air, not the inevitability of a fist fight. But still, it worried me.) And then an article posted on a fairly popular website served as the proverbial icing on the cake. “Things I never want to do before I die,” wrote the author. “1. Go to Vegas ‘with my girls.'”
I became a little self-conscious. Did the concept of female twenty-somethings hitting “the Strip” have implications? Did Las Vegas appeal to a certain genre of women? And did some people presume that such women traveled there for the sole purpose of engaging in the basest cultural pastimes this nation has to offer? What, exactly, was the author getting at?
Now that I’m thinking about it, she probably just meant that she had minimal interest in watching hundreds of hard-earned dollars flee her bank account and be allocated to $13 beverages, Kardashian merchandise, and a hotel room with mechanical curtains and a mini-bar carrying the disclaimer, You will be charged for anything you move, touch, or look at. Enjoy your stay.
I get it. Nevertheless, my rapidly approaching Vegas vacation “with my girls” took on a new importance. Now, I was getting on the plane with a mission. Well, actually, three missions, but I can only tell you one of them without shame: I would find the physical, mental, emotional, and intellectual value of Las Vegas, the value that lies quietly beneath the sparkle and the stilettos, the slots and the shots. And in discovering the city’s redemptive qualities, I too would be redeemed.
Well, mission accomplished. The four days we spent in Las Vegas provided us with practical life lessons and filled us with the wisdom of a much older, worldlier sort of woman, perhaps the kind that wears visors and chain-smokes at the craps table at 11 in the morning. So, with that said, I am very pleased to present to you my (and my girls’) Vegas vacation-education. (To maximize this learning experience, I suggest listening to Avicii’s “Levels” as you read.)
1. In Las Vegas, there is always a second wind. Even though your eyelids need kickstands. Even though you are functioning, just barely, on exactly three hours of sleep, one of which was interrupted by snores that you half-consciously kept trying to determine the source of. Even though you ate all the contents of the complimentary bread basket. Even though you are holding on to the velvet ropes outside the (da) club in a desperate effort to stop your calf muscles from shaking. Even though you are silently panicking that you will most definitely Debbie Downer all over everyone and ruin the night. Even though college was many moons ago and you are not as good at this as you used to be, if you ever were at all. Ssh. Stop. Don’t worry. The glory days are here again — you will catch a second wind. (If you’re lucky, you will also catch a third wind. But always go to bed before the fourth wind, because that’s usually when things get weird.) At its core, Las Vegas is really just an elaborate exercise in physical and mental stamina, and when you finally, triumphantly push through the metaphorical wall that separates your normal tired-by-10 PM self from the self that can do the Party Rock shuffle in heels for three hours, you will be filled with pride and the comforting knowledge that, yes, you and your girls still got it.
2. The most satisfying meals are those consumed between 3 and 5 AM. If you recently began to follow a structured, well-balanced dietary regimen in an attempt to act like a responsible grown-up, plan to have this routine disrupted while you are in Las Vegas. Since nothing kills an appetite like two-hour waits at restaurants and mile-long buffet lines, your intake during the day may be reduced to mainly water, coffee, and Emergen-C. You may start feeling like you are preparing for Survivor or, alternatively, the end of the world. But when the clock strikes 3, or 4, or 5 AM, get ready to have your mind blown. As you dig into a stack of cornflake-crusted French toast or team-huddle around your $30 Pad Thai leftovers like a flock of seagulls (‘80s reference intended), you will think to yourselves that, yes, your actions are arguably unhealthy, yet gluttony has never tasted so good. And that is why they call it Sin City.
3. Thunder from Down Under is not a Disney movie. Or affiliated with Disney in any way. This is a common mistake — one we’ll never make again. Thank you, Las Vegas.
4. It’s okay to participate in the social performance of gender. It’s not always easy being female (wah), and in Las Vegas — where every night is like New Year’s Eve if you’re a girl — it gets a little harder. If you are a woman who, like me, is no stranger to chin pimple flare-ups, dark under-eye circles, and rating the enjoyment of an activity based on whether or not it can be done in sweatpants, you may be in store for an extensive getting-ready process that feels a little bit like putting on a costume, in turn making you feel a little bit disingenuous. I normally don’t look this put-together, you want to tell the guy who just asked you your name. I am basically wearing a nude-colored Superman suit underneath this dress. To these ladies like me I say: as much as the Las Vegas nightlife may require you to masquerade as you parade around the Palms, keep in mind how worthwhile it will all seem when the bouncer waves you inside with a wink and without taking your crisp Andrew Jackson out of your newly manicured hands. And since the internal structure of the Vegas nightclub scene might, just might, have more red tape than the US healthcare system, this is a very convenient thing. By acquiescing to the five-inch heels that cut off circulation in your pinky toes, the dress that requires constant re-adjustment, and your implicit role as a pawn in the profit-making of club promoters, you are actually subverting gender power dynamics. This is something that you can guiltlessly embrace, but maybe not something you should try to explain to your mom.
5. If “your girls” are still “your girls” when you leave Vegas, then your love is true. While, at times, Las Vegas can bring out the best in humanity (a club with a retractable roof? Genius!), it also can reveal the worst — and this puts friendship to the test. After all, it’s a long walk from your hotel room to the nearest Starbucks, and there’s a good chance that at least one of you has all the personality of a mushroom before her morning caffeine fix. (Sorry I’m not sorry.) There will also be times when you have to talk each other out of making irresponsible decisions or, worse, deal with the real-life consequences of decisions caught too late, such as agreeing — in writing — to attend all three days of the Electric Zoo music festival. (You’re welcome, guys.) You will hear some things that you don’t want to hear (“I’ll do whatever,” “It’s up to you,” and a giggling hamster ringtone), and see some things that you don’t want to see (never mind). Las Vegas tries to see how far it can push you, but it ultimately brings you together on your final night in this wonderfully weird city, as you link arms and skip-strut-stomp through a casino singing along to the 1984 classic, “I Can Dream About You.” Late-night and early-morning gamblers turn to look at you and start to clap, moved not by the melodiousness of your collective voice, but by the genuine camaraderie and closeness that you exude. At that moment in that casino, there is one truth: you found love in a hopeless place.
And there you have it. Real life began again the instant we landed in JFK with heavy hearts and heavier eyelids. Suitcases were unpacked, souvenir magnets were put on refrigerators, and oppressive high heels were thrown into the deepest, darkest recesses of closets and buried under sweaters, hopefully never to be seen again. And since not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, we are left with tiny pieces of it — crumpled receipts, blisters, head colds, and a collection of printed paper napkins from various establishments. Of course, none of these things capture the significance of our experience, the underlying meaning of those four days. They do not divulge the lessons we learned or the story that we lived. The tale they tell is not one of strength and endurance, female friendship and solidarity, or youthful vigor once lost and then found.
But we remember. We went where many have gone before, but now we know that maybe, just maybe, Vegas “with your girls” means a little bit more.