James Delingpole

Fear and libertarianism in Las Vegas

On the edge of the desert, the drugs began to take hold

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

Great God, Vegas is an awful place. I realised this the moment I arrived. My cab driver — who’d been perfectly agreeable en route from the airport — mistook my post-flight sluggishness for reluctance to give him a tip, and drove off angrily cursing me as I fumbled in my pockets. The line just for the check-in desk was about a mile long. Everyone was fat and drunk and dressed for the beach. Outside it was too hot: 105°F at 5 p.m. Inside, it was too cold from the relentless air-conditioning. Everywhere had the style and charm and tastefulness of Redditch. By day three I’d had enough.

‘Don’t stay in Vegas more than three days,’ people had warned me. And people were right. It’s more than enough. Four days would definitely drive you mad. Five days just wouldn’t happen: no one would be that stupid. So that’s what I thought as I asked the company travel operator to rebook my flight. I checked with my boss at Breitbart if it would be OK to leave early. ‘Of course,’ said Larry. ‘You need time with your family.’

But then something terrible happened. I think probably drugs were to blame. They usually are in Vegas stories. It only occurred to me subsequently how much cultish literature and how many weird movies there are about people getting to Vegas, getting trapped in Vegas, or leaving Vegas and coming down hard. The reason for this is quite simple: you can only survive Vegas if you learn to love it — and to do that you must first sell it your soul.

It’s OK, though. Vegas is a very obliging buyer. In return it’ll satisfy whatever vice to which you are prey. For some people it’s women. For others, obviously, it’s gambling. But it knew exactly what I wanted and it dangled it in front of me just as I was about to leave. ‘There are these people we should go hang with,’ said a friend. ‘They might have some weed.’

And they did have some weed too. It had a wonderful silvery sheen. There was far too much of it: way, way more than any of us could smoke while we were there. Something had to be done, and fast. So we started making inroads on this veritable rain-forest of extremely pungent, ‘medical grade’ Nevada smoke. My inroad consisted of one puff, because I remembered how wasted I’d got the last time I tried this in America. Even that was almost too much. I was baked.

So baked that at one stage I decided that all I really wanted to do was travel up and down in the lift listening to the pumping dance music. (Nowhere in Vegas can you escape pumping dance music: not by the pool, not at breakfast, certainly not in the whore bars and at the gaming tables.) It was like a miniature nightclub, with all sorts of interesting, weird people constantly coming in and out. They smiled back indulgently, most of them. Nothing surprises anyone in Vegas.

The reason I was there was to cover two conferences: first the Heartland Institute’s Climate Conference, then FreedomFest, which is a gathering for libertarians. In the day I interviewed gold bugs, Ayn Rand junkies, Mises groupies and celebrities like Steve Forbes and P.J. O’Rourke. At night, I got totally wasted and had adventures.

My favourite was a trip to the Strip, the low-rent end of Vegas, where the clientele is poorer and trashier and the whores skankier and the street life more tragic. Once you let go, you become a connoisseur of this kind of thing. The tackier the better, really, because the more depraved and messed up everyone else looks, the less discomfited you are by your own growing squalor.

We played craps. It was a total disaster. Unfortunately, when my turn came to shoot the dice, I proved really good at it. No one in their life is ever so worshipped and adored as they are at a craps table, by their fellow players, when they’re shooting well. It went so well that one of the floor managers came up to offer me some special treat for being the best shooter of the evening. (I’d forgotten my passport so I can’t tell you what the prize was.) Apparently this is the worst thing that can ever happen to you in craps. You spend the whole of the rest of your life trying to recapture the glory of that perfect moment.

By now all the libertarian weedheads at the conference had descended on the stash like sharks scenting blood. We smoked; we gambled; we had a stoned session by the pool; we smoked; we ate; we smoked; we shopped; we smoked; we gambled; we smoked some more; we went clubbing. This is not me at all. I’m much more an in-bed-at-midnight-on-the-dot kind of guy. But something within me had flipped. Like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, I’d been in the jungle too long.

And if this is the kind of stuff you like to do, there really is no better place to do it than a 24-hour party town with no clocks so you never know how late it is, and oxygen-enhanced air to keep you going, and all manner of thrilling ways to lose your money in moments, and free drinks, and fancy restaurants and fashion shops, and girls with fantastic arses and fishnet stockings dressed as sexy cops, and then, outside, heat so hot that you can’t quite accept it’s real — 120°F on the last day — and you think at any moment someone’s going to turn down the thermostat.

God, I love Las Vegas. I lasted eight days. Missing them already.

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  • dalai guevara

    Not evil enough, James. As a spare-time movie critic you will be aware of the Hangover sequels – the idea behind the franchise (Las Vegas/Thailand/Tijuana) is surely obvious: the promotion of locations that even if a bomb dropped/ 100,000 US Americans took a dump right in the centre of them you would not notice the difference. Of course your libertarian bosses at breitbored wouldn’t be too happy about you stating that truth.

    • Shenandoah

      ‘Hull on earth’: love it!

    • post_x_it

      “the amount of resources and water wasted per head is second to none on this planet”
      What, not even to Dubai?

  • Thecountrysfinished

    James, my old cupcake, you missed the highlight of Las Vegas, the National Museum of Atomic Testing.

  • Shenandoah

    Las Vegas is a national embarrassment. It’s also the new God’s Waiting Room, Florida having become wonderful and just a touch glam and gorgeous all over the map, instead of just at Palm Beach in the past two decades. (I loved Palm Beach, even if all I ever did there was stroll through the lounge of The Breakers Hotel and kiss my boyfriend.) Casinos are an American cancer, and I’m sorry to say that they are building one right here in my private Idaho or — if you will, my personal Shenandoah. Sod the projected 900 squalid jobs: the place will never be the same. The mountains will echo with the insane laughter and viciousness of people that have nothing better to do with their lives than gamble. Why the Indians have permission to do this, I’ll never know. Most of them can’t even boast of being half-breeds, these days.

    • Dougie

      Did I ever tell you about the time I drank The Breakers Hotel out of bananas? I had to move on to the strawberry daiquiris.

    • Geronimo von Huxley

      White man stupid. White squaw ugly. I have tipi, always cool in summer, I build iglu, always warm in winter. I own casino and employ squaw to attract stupid white man. Many white men on planet, good business.

  • therealguyfaux

    If he knows this fact, James ought to have mentioned somewhere that Las Vegas is the hometown of the Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he of the famous pronouncement at a presser during the “Government Shutdown” budget vote standoff last October that he wasn’t interested in passing a piecemeal bill to fund hospitals conducting research into and treating childhood cancer– “Why would I want to do that? I have eleven hundred union workers in Nevada I need to take care of…”

    For seemingly being a “libertarian” anything-goes kind of place, Las Vegas is one of the last bastions of the union movement in the US. This should come as no surprise, since it was the cash from the Mob-connected Central States Pension Fund of the Teamsters Union that originally built the place from a small oasis into what it is today. James has plenty of irony to work with here, if he should so choose.

  • gelert

    I think it was Alistair Cooke who said that Vegas was the epitome of all that is bad in the US.

  • Michael H Kenyon

    Blackpool for Americans. Seriously, they think an all-you-can-eat buffet and blowing $300 on slot machines or ogling strippers an evening well spent. Never have I ever felt as sophisticated or European (or thin) as my two days there. Just keep to Chicago, New York or San Francisco, and America is great.

    • Shenandoah

      Very funny, but that’s rather a limited view of America you’ve got there. But if you’re truly fond of New York City (to the exclusion of the rest of the state, which is one of the loveliest, most storied, and fascinating in the country — I don’t mean Buffalo) then you’re ‘one of those’ and have a nice time.

      • Michael H Kenyon

        I exaggerate for comedic effect. I’m actually a fan of the south-west (Arizona, NM, etc.) as well as NY state and Maine. I’ve travelled all over the place in the past 30 years, if not the real heartlands, as I have never had a good reason to go to them (not many Americans been to Sleaford or Burnley either, I venture). But I still find the religiosity disconcerting, and the way Conservatism is interpreted over there is quite a way from my own Spectator-reading English-type Conservatism. Vegas, I think we can agree, will be better when swallowed by the desert,

        • Cim Thayne

          New Mexico is just gorgeous. The sun, the sky, the glorious desert, the hiking- such a wonderful place. Utah as well.

          But you’re absolutely right, US Conservatism is far more authoritarian than it is here. In the UK while there seem to be a minority of cultural High Tories left, most of us are more of the Classically Liberal persuasion.

          • Shenandoah

            He didn’t say it was more authoritarian: he said it was different from his own. And I disagree that it’s ‘authoritarian’. What it has going for it is a bit of fire and passion, notably absent from the warmed-over flabby curl-up-and-die British ‘version’. And I speak as a classical liberal, sharing many ‘conservative’ positions but not all. If you want examples of egregious bossiness, look no farther than the American Left. And your own!

          • Michael H Kenyon

            I’ve long thought that the ideas are on the right as there is more diversity (as it were) in Conservative than leftist thinking. But I find the commentators on Taki’s Magazine often a bit florid for my tastes – what’s with the paranoia about Jews? Are they secret PLO / Hammas supporters infiltrating the few places with the potential of some sense? With the death of Lady Birdwood (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1345459/The-Dowager-Lady-Birdwood.html), this theme is now VERY infra-dig in British Conservatives.

          • Shenandoah

            Can’t see your link (perhaps it’s broken) but I do find Taki often, as it were, well named, even though ‘Theodore Dalrymple’ (for one) is excellent.

          • Shenandoah

            Here is a good place to learn more about what American conservatism really is: The Claremont Review of Books offers bold arguments for a reinvigorated conservatism, which draws upon the timeless principles of the American Founding and applies them to the moral and political problems we face today. By engaging policy at the level of ideas, the CRB aims to reawaken in American politics a statesmanship and citizenship worthy of our noblest political traditions. – See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbSection#sthash.oTK6ETKY.dpuf

          • Christian

            And the party is dying in its feet. Says it all

        • Daniel Jeyn

          I’m an American who is fond of British Conservative thought for similar reasons. Although the problem with British Conservatism seems to be that there is less of it than ever. At least in America, people who believe Beatrix Potter stories are non-fiction do not yet control the entire country.

  • Daniel Jeyn

    I used to live in Nevada. (North, by the beautiful high desert.) Here is the inside scoop: Vegas is a scam. It is a massive con, and people go there suckered in by the momentum that it’s a place to go. The reason so many movies are made about Vegas? Because they pay to get movies/teevee made there. It is calculated advertising. In America, commercials run constantly. I chuckle at the PR sheen that Vegas is somehow an American Monte Carlo. I’m sorry, but Blackpool had a charm that it’s for working-class people. Las Vegas wants to pretend it’s a destination for rich people so it can take their money. (And it does.) It’s a town run by Al Swearangen with the decorating taste of Liberace.

    • Shenandoah

      Love the avatar!

  • Christian

    Libertarianism: only a step away from its Marxist brethren