Las Vegas, Nevada
November 7, 2001
No one lets you take their picture in Vegas. They are either
afraid, ashamed, prohibited, or need to speak to their agent.
I prefer downtown Las Vegas, the ridiculously monikered New Fremont
Experience! (exclamation point emphatically not mine) to the Strip.
The Strip is the Disneyland of Sin. Fun for the Whole Family Sin.
Sanitized so you dont notice it sin. I dont want sin
you can take the kids to. I want sin that sticks to my shoes and
leaves something unpleasant on my hand when I touch the doorknob.
I want sin that makes me want to take a scalding hot shower and
loofah my skin raw in a vain attempt to get it off me. That used
to be Vegas. Then Steve Wynn showed up with an army of freshly minted,
well-scrubbed MBAs and started building financial models and
having serious conversations about share of wallet. They realized
they could offer you some high margin crap like over-priced food,
shopping, amusement park rides, spectacular shows and petting zoos
and then theyd not only get the money you were planning on
losing but also the kids college fund. On the Strip they dont
want you to notice youre giving into prurience. Downtown they
want you to wallow in it.
Here at the 4 Queens, the glitz is a tad tarnished. The gilt façade
a bit dingy and cracking at the edges. The crowd here is older,
less affluent and doesnt try terribly hard to mask its
defeat and fatigue. The Strip is Liberace. Downtown is Thoreau
lives of quiet desperation. The crowd downtown, both the patrons
and employees, is more local. No one jets in from London for a week
at the New Fremont Experience! The Hollywood Kingmaker blasts up
in his private jet and hangs at the Venetian. The guy who refinished
his cabinets is at the 4 Queens.
The scene on the Strip is comparatively young, vibrant, showy,
and raucous. The Strip screams at you to Live! And peppers the message
with subliminal suggestions to throw your money down a tube. Downtown
says, Heres a drink, theres the gaming tables,
now gimme your money and shut up.
Las Vegas has been hammered by the drop in tourism post-Attacks.
They are giving away rooms all over town and the already cheap food
has gotten cheaper.
Even the hookers are hurting.
Lana has taken to trolling the bars at the casinos looking
for business. September 10th that was unheard of. She has to be
subtle. If shes a little too suggestive, and a little too
available, and a little too aggressive she gets chased out. Which
puts Vegas prostitutes in the position of being less overtly sexual
than most of the young women hanging out in any given casino bar.
She grew up in a strict Latter-Day-Saints home in Provo. She has
that Mormon girl look
flaxen hair, gleaming white teeth, beautiful
bone structure, radiating health. Id like to say you can see
the years of hard living in her eyes or that her voice betrays too
many long nights and too much whiskey, it would be terribly dramatic.
Id like to say that
but I cant. She looks like
a Mormon girl in a sexy but classy dress.
The night of September 11th she had a customer who could not
perform. Young healthy guy who she had been with before and thered
been no problem. He started crying. Crying so hard she was afraid
he was going to pass out. Crying so hard he couldnt speak.
He lived in New York and had friends who worked at the WTC. His
father had reason to go there on business two or three times a week.
He couldnt reach them
couldnt reach anybody because
the phone service in Manhattan was fried. He was scared and lonely
and angry and impotent, literally and figuratively.
Lana held him. Stroked his hair. And let him talk and cry and rage
She told me he was stuck in town for another four days. She told
me she met him every day until he left. I made some snide remark
about how that must have been a good retainer and a decent tip.
That hurt her.
Lana, it turns out, met him for an hour or two or three each day
he was in town. Off the clock. On her own time. Shed meet
him for a drink or to grab a bite to eat. Usually theyd stroll
around the Strip or downtown or a park that she knew. Theyd
He would talk. The desperately frenetic verbal gushing of someone
scared and in pain, as if talking somehow will diminish the despair.
Theyd hold hands. Theyd tell bad jokes and talk about
music. Hed get a far off look in his eyes and start to tear
up, again. And she would hold him.
The day he left town he finally got through to a relative in New
Jersey who had spoken to his dad. This young man gave up on flying
and finally found a car he could rent to take across country. Home.
She insists shes not some fuzzy happy image of the hooker
with a heart of gold. I ask her, if she isnt, then why did
she befriend this man and help him through?
You just had to see the guy. No one could walk away from
Like many of the people Ive met, Lana has been casting about
for something she can do. Like many others she has a vague feeling
of wanting to help but is unsure how to go about it.
She already has.