Victoria in Vegas: Day Six – The Bubble is Pricked

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I’ve been having a nightmare taking any decent selfies on this holiday. They are a necessity for us solo travellers as, well, we all would like at least one snapshot of us against a nice backdrop for posterity otherwise were we even here? And endless cityscape photography gets boring. But can I even get even a single decent picture of myself? Hell, no.

Initially I blamed the obsessive walking. No amount of make-up could withstand 15-20k steps each day, even if I was applying it. Which I’m not, obviously. Because why would I put on a thick layer of foundation in near thirty degree heat? No, exactly. It’s been tinted moisturiser all round, with cream blusher and thin coat of mascara. But even that has long slipped off my face by the time I want to take a selfie.

It’s depressing. I smile and take the photo then take a look. No, try again. And again. Then stop because I’m beginning to look like an idiot and I know that no filter is going to erase the eye-bags, those increasingly obvious lines around my jaw as my old skin starts to slacken. No Lark filter is going to bounce up the straggly unkempt hair that rests flat against the scalp. Nor will it sculpt my chubby cheeks and erase the soft rolls under the chin.

And the disappointing returns are getting me down. Each attempt leaves me that little more heartbroken, and the negative automatic thoughts that little bit stronger.

Spiral, spiral, spiral… Failure, failure, failure…

Then today I got a sobering reminder that the problem isn’t cosmetic, sending my self esteem into a bit of a nosedive.

There this pawn shop here in Vegas – No, not a spelling mistake. I meant ‘pawn’ – which is the setting for a popular reality TV show. Don’t ask, but my Mum loves it so, bless her, she asked me to go visit it. I don’t know why. I think she’s living vicariously through me. At her time of life, she knows there are places she’ll never see so I think she asked me to go so she could see it through my eyes so there was no way I could deny her that. I put on my trainers and headed North.

The place was busy – its interior instantly familiar as the set for the show. The stars themselves were not behind the counters – too famous now for ordinary, unscripted work – but they had these cardboard cut outs that you could take pictures with in the corner.

So I decided to take one to send to my Mum.

Only they were selfie-impossible so I asked a (very sweet) woman who, after taking a picture of her hubbie with them, if she could take one of me on my phone. She did, bless her. She took two. I took the phone back from her, smiled broadly and thanked her profusely.

As she walked away, I glanced at the shots…

Awful, just awful. Not her fault; mine. I looked like a block of rock rather than a woman. A great hefty cuboid devoid of any shape. I was crushed. Why was I so fat? Rather, still so fat? Why wasn’t that changing? Was the walking making no difference?

Then that became specific self-criticism… What an idiot I was thinking a few walks would make a difference. What a stupid, fat idiot. And, now, an old one too.

Spiral, spiral, spiral… Failure, failure, failure…

Idyll never lasts, it’s impossible. And if self-criticism doesn’t prick your bubble, reality will find a way.

FaceTime calls with my mother have become reminders on job applications and interviews I need to see to when I get back, which in turn gets me worrying about my precarious financial state. Which then starts all the fears and concerns about my life decisions to date, and the cul-de-sac I seem to have backed myself in to.

Spiral, spiral, spiral… Failure, failure, failure…

Solace in social media hasn’t been possible either. Stuck on the West Coast, I’ve found myself cast off into the seas of hardcore American twitter. Not a happy place right now. Corruption, child abuse, tax breaks for the rich, and the accelerated reemergence of White supremacy makes for endless trauma.

Trying to shift my time zones so I can at least find shore on the dry wit of British Twitter hasn’t helped. Sexual harassment issues fill my timeline. The low-hanging fruit gone, the focus is now on those celebrated talents who have harassed and assaulted but remain protected by the self-appointed Good Guys who are shutting up shop, trying to draw lines in the quickly shifting sands of who women can call out for assault. It seems if you’re an active talent and not a full-on monster like Weinstein, you get a pass in men’s eyes. It seems there really is a point where women are expected to just put up with a level of intimidation and assault as part of “the way things are.”

We are getting into “hypersensitivity”accusations here. I fear the word “hysteria” is only around the corner…

Then there’s the ongoing national suicide of Brexit – jobs I was banking on applying for are moving overseas, potential employers now rolling up the ladders and bolting down the hatches, and the moral corruption on both sides of our political landscape aiding and abetting the poisonous and utterly pointless process.

Can any of us really withstand this tsunami of trauma unscathed? I feel like I can’t even stand up to the waves anymore.

And the more aware of my loneliness and my troubles, the more I realise I can see reflections and signs all around me in this town.

I’m not the only solo person sitting at the machines; everyone around me is by themselves too. Where are their friends? Are they too here to dissolve their isolated selves into the crowd?

Only, it’s increasingly apparent that Vegas can’t hold itself up as a bubble of escapism anymore. The empty casino floors and deserted hotel lobbies are testament to that. As are the acres of disused land up and down the Strip.

The thirty or so acres opposite Mandalay Bay have been set aside for a new build for the best part of a decade but though ideas have come and gone – including two aborted attempts at a London-themed hotel – the land remains abandoned and empty. In fact, the initial pillars that would make for the Ferris wheel there still stand.

And to the North, the iconic Riviera, where Liberace had his famous residency, was demolished last year, leaving Circus Circus the only casino-hotel in the area. And that too is trash and past it, in desperate need of a refurb. But that is not forthcoming. It’s not cost effective as there is no one in this town anymore. The days of fast money are gone. The hotels are going bust.

Even those not taken down are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. MGM, which owns a few of the hotels here, continually flirts with bankruptcy. And in its portfolio is Mandalay Bay, where shooter Stephen Paddock holed himself up. If the class action being filed against it for irresponsibility from the families of his victims, succeeds, well… Bankruptcy may become hard and real.

Wouldn’t that be ironic? That a place that considers itself exempt from the rules, where “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” is finally brought to its knees not by a lack of water, which had seemed the most realistic, but by reality piercing the Vegas bubble – by global austerity, terrorism, and the odd blood lust America has for its guns.

There is no longer any escape on holidays, not in a world where social media keeps us in the loop and where the corruption and failure of capitalism is everywhere.

I made my way down to the far end of The Strip to see the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. (Special shoutout to a city where one of the biggest photo opportunities is in the central reservation of a six-lane freeway in front of a road sign.) The piles of bouquets and flowers of remembrance that were left around it in the wake of the shooting last month had been removed but that doesn’t mean the city isn’t changing as a result.

Back in the heart of The Strip, many of the sidewalks had been partially closed off – Monday is the start of quiet time in this city, not the full-on beginning of a frenetic working week. Taking the opportunity of smaller crowds, cement crash barriers were being installed along both sides of the road to prevent any attacks where vehicles are rammed into buildings and, more usually these days, pedestrians.

In the UK, we are pretty familiar with these, but, here, the instalment was a rather sober photo opportunity for those few visitors still in town.

The problems in the rest of the world are finally piercing the Vegas bubble. Though, to me, there was something a little askew about this. No doubt, the pillars are an understandable response to the world we live in. But in a city where the gravest attack came from a White American with a gun, there is something uncomfortable in the fact that the most explicit response seems to be precautionary defences to attacks from a Muslim man in a car. Talking about shifting the focus of the argument…

Whichever way I look now, wherever I turn, the holiday bubble has been burst. The stresses are back and I feel I’m already at the stage where I’m letting go of the holiday and steeling myself for my return home.

Today’s steps: 18,347

Food & Drink

Brunch was at Le Village Buffet at Paris, Las Vegas, which I’d heard was one of the better buffets in town. Well, if that’s the case then the rest must be godawful, or this place is coasting it on past glories, for it was not good. The food was bizarre; the crepe station being the only concession to anything resembling French cuisine. With its carvery and selection of Brussels sprouts and carrots, it was like being at a Harvester.

Only I got the pleasure of coughing up thirty bucks for the privilege.

By evening, I was basically fed up with food. And food costing me so much money. Plus, we all know there isn’t a greater treat on holiday than visiting local supermarkets and pharmacies. Look at their shelves! Look at all their crazy food! Look how food we have in the UK is repackaged and rebranded! Endless fun.

So, for me, dinner was a trip to a whoppingly huge 24-hour Wargreaves near Stratosphere. I was in overseas retail heaven. Family -sized bags of cookies put on display in the “Healthy” section, sacks of chocolate M&Ms on offer, and mini-Malibu bottles in front of the tills where you’d more expect to see sweets and chocolate bars. But it was all wonderful and I managed to get a sandwich, an apple, a Vitamin Water, and a yoghurt for ten bucks. Praise the Lord for small mercies!

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