Sunday, 5 December: traveling to Sin City, not for two days of unbridled hedonism and debauchery, but to return to the Scene of the Crime. Las Vegas is the setting of most of my book, and the city’s become, in the years I’ve been working on the manuscript, my inspiration and muse. Those who know me would find this city to be the least likely place I would want to visit, but despite the crowds, the smoke and the endless barrage of noise and lights, I’ve always found Las Vegas to be a fascinating blend of the magical and the profane. Almost every important cultural, geographic and spiritual icon is joyfully exploited. If Stephen Wynn could figure out how to turn the Prophet Mohammed into a twice-nightly stage show, complete with topless harem girls and Middle Eastern ululation set to a salsa beat, he’d do it.
I can last two days in Las Vegas; four, tops. I’m going there to meet Sungyoon Choi, the illustrator of the book, and give her a tour of the city. It’ll be her first time there, and since so much of the graphic novel is set in Las Vegas, we agreed it would be helpful for her to take in the lay of the land. The gondolas of the Venetian; Old Vegas on Fremont Street; the now-defunct Liberace Museum (moment of silence, please): we’re going to do it all.
I’m driving. It takes between five and six hours to get there, and I’m going to try and be gas-conscious and not speed too much. It takes me until I’m well out of Los Angeles County before the mantle of Responsible Dad falls away and I can assume the temporary title of Free Agent. I’m a pretty poor representative of such a moniker; so far my wild wild ways include being able to listen to an entire episode of “Car Talk” and most of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” on NPR without feeling guilty about staying in the car. The free part is mostly the liberation of that sizable part of my brain which is usually tethered to All Things Family— school, housework, appointments, what to cook for dinner, Doug, Benjamin Benjamin Benjamin (and, yes, though reluctantly, Rowdy). To be able to have that part of my brain back, to concentrate full-force on the manuscript, the collaboration with Choi, the lyrics to the entire Hejira album (I put it on once NPR got static-y; it’s genius, believe me)— this is freedom at its finest.
There’s also a bit of melancholy, and not just from Joni Mitchell wailing on the speakers. I’m on a barren stretch of highway amid tumbleweeds and rocks rashed with red scrub, that empty space between Leaving From and Going To. The space where creativity can flourish but also melancholy. I’m feeling much like the main character in my book might feel, traveling back to where it began; returning again to the genesis of tragedy. And I realize that I’ve invested so much in these characters that their travails have become real to me, and I think of Las Vegas as their home, and I’m going there to pay my respects.
Things brighten up on the approach to Baker, CA. I get gas and contemplate my usual stop at Bun Boy for lunch (the Bun Boy is right next to the world’s tallest thermometer, and, well, ’nuff said about the phallic implications of that).
Instead, I head over to the Mad Greek Diner, because I’ve just been to Greece, and two of my characters are Greek, so I figure there might be some inspiration there. Not so much.
|Beware Greeks bearing crappy roadside food.|
|I have known Greek salads, I’ve been to Greece,
Greek salads are my friends, and you, sir, are no
Even eating vegetarian the lunch manages to make me queasy. It could have been the greasy fries or the rancid pita. I have known Greek salads in Greece, and you, sir, are no Greek On the way to Vegas? Avoid the Mad Greek. It can turn even a Greek Salad into a Greek tragedy! Give me a Bun Boy every time!
Hmm. I might want to rethink that last sentence.