Leaving Seligman, I passed a gas station decked out like an old Trading Post, and stopped there for more wine. It was full of merchandise lumping all of the Native Americans and their varied traditions into one product. Later, down the road, I passed what seemed to be a graveyard of antique vehicles. There was no shortage of attractions on Route 66. You went from motorcycles to dinosaurs to a big statue of a rooster in blue overalls, waving you in for fried chicken. If not for the coronavirus I would’ve been shouting out in joy, not fear and paranoia.
I stopped for the night in Kingman, but even after a half gallon of wine, could hardly relax enough to even sit down on the bed. In the morning I started towards Laughlin, thinking that I would make my way to Las Vegas from there. Isn’t a getaway to Vegas supposed to be the remedy for everything?
Crossing the Colorado River into Laughlin, the road was lined with orange construction pylons and flashing lights. All of the casinos were closed, the billboards now being used to give advice and promote unity. I drove past the Edgewater, the Tropicana, and the Golden Nugget, not seeing anyone out and about, reading, over and over, that we were all in this, whatever this was, together. When I reached the end of South Casino Drive, I did a quick U-turn and sped back out of town.
The plan was to cross over the Hoover Dam, perhaps to stop on top of it and dramatically hurl myself over the rim, but I somehow got on the 95 north instead of the 93, and ended up missing it entirely. By the time I reached Henderson and realized my error, I wasn’t about to backtrack, and ended up heading straight for Old Downtown Las Vegas, which if my memory served correctly would probably be the most affordable option.
There was a hotel I’d stayed at in the past that I remembered being forty-five dollars a night, a lot less if you paid the weekly or monthly rate. Now it was more than eighty dollars, even though the parking lot was deserted and there was not a soul in sight. I thought I might have misheard the woman behind the glass, speaking through a mask with an accent, but that was the price. Eighty dollars a night for a room that the previous occupant had undoubtedly overdosed in.
There was a 7-Eleven on the corner, so after checking in I walked right over and bought a six pack of beer and a baloney sandwich. It was hard to remember the last meal I’d eaten. It might have been back in Hanoi before the sudden evacuation. I ate about two bites of the sandwich and felt like I couldn’t eat anymore. All I could get down was the alcohol. Three cans of beer went down in three big swallows. After a fourth, I was ready to go look around.
I walked down the Boulevard towards the Stratosphere, past a few wedding chapels, a strip club, the Hotel Shalimar and Dino’s Lounge. The only thing open was a restaurant doing takeout orders for pizza, pasta, and sandwiches. About eight people were waiting out front, all wearing masks. There was no one else around except for the homeless, who were everywhere. They’d inherited the city, roaming through the streets like an invasion of zombies, thriving on the chaos, waving their arms in exultation, laying claim to everything that wasn’t bolted down.
By the time I reached Circus Circus, there was no point in continuing on. Nothing was open and police on the Strip were stopping cars and turning the few pedestrians around. It was only the middle of the day, but I returned to my room with another six pack, and sat with my back against the headboard of the bed, drinking as fast as I could. It was as if the Apocalypse had happened overnight, and carried off half of the population. Those of us left behind were now facing a season of extreme tribulation. How awesome was that? I wanted to cry, but nothing came out.