In many ways, it's like preparing for a jail sentence. You get your affairs in order, leave sets of instructions, close up the house, give the keys to its caretaker. You say goodbye to your loved ones and warn them that you may not call a lot because the hours are messed up and one day tends to bleed into another as the sun rises and falls, rises and falls over the parched Nevada desert. You know that in a week's time words like Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will cease to matter; only Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. You know that 2 a.m. will, at some point start to feel like 2 p.m., that meals will happen whenever there is time, and that little time at all will be spent in the scorching outdoors.
Your new home is a room the size of an airplane hangar cooled to the temperature of a refrigerator and you'll spend over 500 hours serving time in there over the next seven weeks. You've committed no crime, but you're a repeat offender. You know the consequences, you understand how punishing the grind will be. But you're still drawn there. Drawn to the lights in the desert. Drawn to the clatter of chips and the promise of fortune and the patches of darkness that lurk around every corner of the city. Year after year. Summer after summer. Three of them now.
The sun, unforgiving. The heat, persistent. Oppressive. Unfathomably dry. The valley, overflowing with identical tract houses in various states of construction or foreclosure. The roads, newer and wider the further you drive away from the highway. Mile upon mile of chain restaurants, discount superstores, anonymous office parks, and subdivision after subdivision after subdivision. The Strip, it's grimy sidewalks sizzling, overflowing with tourists from California, from St. Louis, from North Carolina, from Utah, from London from Stockholm from Melbourne. They come to escape. To gamble. To get married. To find Elvis. They come to see America. They come seeking a dream. They come seeking a quick fix. They leave and come back, leave and come back. But always come back. They always come back. I always come back.
We wonder how we got here, how any of us got here, and why, after all we know, we continue to return. On every drive through the desert I wonderwhat were those slings and arrows of fate that turned me off Wilshire Boulevard and onto this two-lane highway?
24 hours. To pack, to prepare. To plot. To brace. To sleep. To inhale those final lungfulls of ocean air and enjoy the comfort of a cool breeze.
The lights in the desert are calling. I have to answer.