Las Vegas-Lana
Las Vegas, Nevada
November 7, 2001

No one let’s 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 don’t notice it sin. I don’t 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 MBA’s 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 zoo’s and then they’d not only get the money you were planning on losing but also the kids college fund. On the Strip they don’t want you to notice you’re 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 doesn’t try terribly hard to mask it’s defeat and fatigue. The Strip is Liberace. Downtown is Thoreau…leading 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, “Here’s a drink, there’s 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 casino’s looking for business. September 10th that was unheard of. She has to be subtle. If she’s 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. I’d 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. I’d like to say that…but I can’t. 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 there’d been no problem. He started crying. Crying so hard she was afraid he was going to pass out. Crying so hard he couldn’t speak. Shaking.

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 couldn’t reach them…couldn’t 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 and pray.

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. She’d meet him for a drink or to grab a bite to eat. Usually they’d stroll around the Strip or downtown or a park that she knew. They’d hold hands.

He would talk. The desperately frenetic verbal gushing of someone scared and in pain, as if talking somehow will diminish the despair. They’d hold hands. They’d tell bad jokes and talk about music. He’d 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 she’s not some fuzzy happy image of the hooker with a heart of gold. I ask her, if she isn’t, then why did she befriend this man and help him through?

“You just had to see the guy. No one could walk away from that.”
Like many of the people I’ve 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.

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