“The hotel isn’t in operation,” says the Binions Casino pit man.
I’m led past tired chain smokers watching video slot machines spin into green aliens and cartoon sharks. We pass the café. I see cooks scrambling eggs as if I’ve never seen such magic before.
We stop in an alcove just past the empty check-in. He points to where I would have to pay for Internet service.
“I’m looking for free wifi,” I want to say. Instead I just shrug. He walks away.
A poker tournament is underway in the nearly empty back of the casino. I sit in a chair against a gift shop wall and look out at empty blackjack tables creeping in on the casino like a tide of driftwood. I imagine all the empty rooms above. The lost jobs. The ghosts of casino bellhops and Filipina housekeepers.
I pull out my laptop hoping for free wifi. But there’s nothing. The economy in downtown Las Vegas is a money grab from many hotels seeking fees everywhere from $5.99 an hour to $12.99 a night.
My family is far away. Hundreds of miles. Though I’m the one who moved away, even my Facebook feels like it’s been shipped to a Martian desert along with my kids.
A few nights later I’m on a padded bench in the smoky Main Street Station where wifi is free for customers. I get up and go to where the men’s room urinal is a slice of the graffiti-covered Berlin wall. Toilets poke from the colorful tagging. The vibe is piss on Communism. Piss on the East. Piss on Europe. Piss on taggers. Piss on the neo-Euros.
I want to take a Twitpic while I piss but hold myself back.
I return to the bench and reboot my laptop. Close by, a woman with smoke-stained hair, wearing glasses and a green and blue Hawaiian shirt, talks as if every breath is a struggle. I catch that she was born and raised in New York. She says so. But she didn’t have to. She’s clearly an East Coast smokestack. Perfectly transported to the Las Vegas industrial wasteland where she can croak words as if she’s in Times Square pissing off some cabbie while sucking the butt end of a filtered Marlboro.
She works the counter of a rental car company. Her loudspeaker voice wheezes. “My husband was the first drive-thru customer of the Dunkin’ Donuts on Gibson.”
I have no idea where Gibson is.
She’s talking to a young couple. Both hotel guests clearly work for Dunkin’ Donuts.
“He got a year’s supply of coffee,” she says. “Oh, and a coffee mug.” She goes on as if questioning her own husband’s taste in beverages. “But he does not drink coffee?” Her voice is like sandpaper worked through a taffy machine. “Does David still work with you?”
I can’t believe she and the donut people know someone in common.
“Yeah. Crazy David,” the man says. He’s looks half Filipino, half Latino. Their conversation ends there.
David’s insanity is a mystery.
Somehow they get on the subject that at one time pizza could be ordered in Dunkin’ Donuts. The rental car lady doesn’t hold back. “Putting pizza in a donut shop is sacrilegious,” she says.
“It’s not like that anymore. You can come back,” the man’s female partner says. She’s fair skinned. Auburn hair.
“Oh I get the coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s the best coffee anywhere. I just don’t think pizza and donuts go together. I can’t do that,” the rental car lady says.
“We don’t do that anymore.”
“Dunkin’ does make a great cup of coffee. There’s no doubt about it.” The rental car lady pauses for a moment as if experiencing a great epiphany. “I do tell people to go to Dunkin’ and not Krispy Kreme.”
That night I’m at Krispy Kreme on Fremont Street. It’s loud. An 80s glam rock cover band belts out the horrid hits of yesteryear. I turn on my laptop and connect to the free wifi the donut shop offers. Down the street is Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s no free wifi there.
A few minutes later there’s a crash as a drifter at the next table spills his beer. He doesn’t say a word. But I can smell his anger streaming through the tiles. He dips his head and tries to sleep.
He peeks up when I eventually slip back through the gate.