Two hours into the flight and I’m already one champagne, two Buck’s Fizz, half a Kir Royal and 2mg of Valium down. Not that this is a usual thing. Hell, no. It’s just this is what it takes to keep me calm when I’m locked in a sealed container at 35000 feet for ten hours. And it seems to be working. Admittedly, we’re not even a third of the way Stateside but I haven’t had to start on any breathing exercises yet.
And it’s not even just the Valium that’s unusual (the GP wasn’t overly happy to prescribe it to me, hence the sheet of paper on breathing exercises and self-hypnosis she thrust into my hand as I left with the prescription). I don’t even drink much either. By way of example, it was my birthday last week and I only had one Vodka the whole evening. And that was my first drink since August. (That time being my mate’s birthday – I tend to only go out when there’s no way I can get out of it.)
There are many things that get worse as you get older but, for me, an unexpected one has been worsening claustrophobia. I even get a little edgy now heading down all those stairs to the Northern Line at Bank station. It never used to be like that – everything seemed so much easier when I was younger. So in addition to that, this is the first long-haul flight I’ve taken in, ooh, six, seven years, so the prescribed drugs and the alcohol were a requirement to compel my mind to get on board the flight.
Travel broadens the mind, apparently, though I have to admit it isn’t so much a pull that’s taken me away from London but more of a push. Would it be fair to say I’m running away rather than running to? I think so.
Basically, it hasn’t been a good year for me. Little has gone my way. Doors I’ve been trying to push open have remained firmly closed, significant life events came and left their mark, and now I’m the wrong side of forty constantly ratcheting up all the times in my life I made the wrong decision, inadvertent it may have been, which have led me to where I am today.
So, yes, it would be fair to say I’m running. And where am I heading for refuge? Las Vegas.
OK, so not the first place that’d spring to mind for finding one’s self or replenishing the spirit, but bear with me here whilst I try and explain.
I am travelling alone. And, to expand on that, I am an introverted woman travelling alone. I don’t like being approached – and when you’re a woman without company, you will always be approached – and I haven’t got the spirit in me right now to hit the open road with my head and heart wide open for adventure.
Instead, I’m looking for a place where I can dissolve into the crowds. Where I can be solo but not stand out, and where all around me is energy and distractions. Where I can be entertained and camouflaged at the same time. Where I can be part of something, but also separate.
That’s why I couldn’t run to New York, or Paris, or Berlin, or any other city. Loneliness stalks cities. Modern cities are full of haunted souls, all living only for work, trying to make ends meet as late-stage capitalism finally crushes what little we have left of civil society and community. Everything has been appropriated for commodification and consumption, and now we are all too insecure to bond, too busy to meet, and too depressed to open up.
No, I wouldn’t find any break from the concerns that haunt me in London in another urban centre.
And a beach holiday …. A bit like my feelings on mindfulness, I feel being left alone with my thoughts would not be wise.
But Vegas… Vegas isn’t so much a city but an oasis of in-your-face vitality. It’s loud, it’s brash, and it’s a place whose energy I can hide behind. It entertains you but demands little from you in return. You can be you or wear a mask. Nobody cares and nobody pries. It’s a neon rainbow that lights up the sky above you as you find some strength from within. And it’s truly a city that never sleeps. At any time, day or night, you can hide behind the whirl of slot machines and find company in the hum of people and activity. I’m not saying that issues disappear, but there’s no cliché Edward Hopper scenes here.
When I first mentioned to friends that I was heading to Sin City their first reactions were all, “wow” “fantastic”. And their second reactions were all, “but it’s a city synonymous with excess?”which I think was their polite way of saying, um, Vics, you don’t party. True, maybe not by the single definition of the word, but there are many ways to party. After all, clubland may not be my thing anymore, but I don’t know many party people who have a burlesque showgirl past.
Which brings us back round to Vegas – the veritable home of the modern showgirl – and me drowning my liver in British Airways’ finest champagne. Or rather, the cheap stuff they mix with orange juice and cassis whilst keeping the decent stuff for those in First Class.
Not that I’m doing too badly as I’m guessing the stream of high-quality alcohol is giving away the fact that I am in Club Class rather than economy. Or World Traveller, as I think it’s now packaged as.
Exclusive, huh? But the days of me being able to afford business class travel are long gone. I’m here by virtue of the generosity of a friend who, by way of his six-figure, high-powered, jet-setting job, was able to gift me enough air miles for me to get the flight for taxes-only. The donation barely denting the pile in his account.
But though I’m relieved to have the leg space and the ability to stretch my arms without raising tuts from anyone cramped beside me, all around me are the suits reminding me of my former corporate self. A life I’ve tried to leave behind me in so very many ways.
To them, business class flights are either paid-for or cheap meat – easily affordable and, critically, expected. I’ve watched them as we’ve used separate check-in desks, glanced at them as we used our own exclusive passport control and security checks, seen their air of expectation and separation as they drifted into the business lounges ahead of me, seeing that they immediately know where the alcohol-filed fridges and Nespresso machines are, as if they were in their own kitchen, as I followed behind desperately trying not to look out-of-place.
It’s amazing how quickly I’ve fallen out of step with that world of privilege, and now I realise the frightening extent to which I too had been one of them. How ,y younger self must have thought I’d earned it rather than benefitted from my own privilege. And how II thought it befitting of whatever status I kid myself I had attained in that corporate world..
Well, better late than never, I am waking up to that now.
Looking around the cabin as the lights are dimmed, as the business women and men roll out their flat beds, shuffle their pillows and pull out the eye masks from their complimentary Elemis spa bags, I feel embarrassed for that sense of ease with power structures I must have had. How far I had drifted from the person I had been back when I younger…
And so, for all the challenges I’ve had, I have this feeling that at least I’ve been fighting to get on the right track. Roll on Las Vegas….