It was the middle of the night, maybe the middle of the morning. After a few weeks in the trenches, it seemed irrelevant. There weren’t any clocks and my watch and computer clock always disagreed. My body clock had long since shut off in an act of self-preservation. It wasn’t hell, but it wasn’t heaven either.

I was wandering through an empty hotel kitchen that at once reminded me of The Shining and the scene in Spinal Tap where the boys get lost. “Cleveland!” echoed in my head as I stole glances at dormant can openers and bulk sized bottles of pickles. Later, Pauly would say it reminded him of the tracking camera shot from the opening of Goodfellas. I couldn’t disagree with that, but that wasn’t what I was thinking at the time.

I was thinking I needed to not be in the kitchen. I needed to not be in the hallowed place they called Benny’s Bullpen. I needed to not be in the aged Horseshoe Hotel and Casino, where randomly-placed staircases lead to dark hallways where I’m sure somebody once died, or at the very least passed out from a serious overdose. I shouldn’t have walked up those stairs. I was only looking for a bathroom, and I should’ve known there wasn’t one up there. It was too creaky and didn’t have any signs indicating my destination was up there.

And really, I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. I just needed to get out. I found my way outside and wandered across the outside/inside that is the Freemont Street Experience. I knew I didn’t care about the real world that much. That is, the real world that’s in the news. The TV said it was hot outside and that people thought it was inappropriate that a lacrosse team wore flip-flops to the White House. Yeah, I didn’t care about that. In Vegas, it’s hard to remember the real world. There is what is, and there is what isn’t. The TV offers a glimpse of the outside, but it’s more manufactured than what you see on the inside. And I wanted out.

I stepped into a tourist shop where you can buy shotglasses and t-shirts made in Malaysia. In there I could find a Payday candybar and a giant Diet Pepsi to soothe my stomach. I’d tried beer and steak and both had exacerbated my need, yes, need to be outside. I love beer and steak and they hated me. They knew I needed out. They didn’t want to give me an excuse.

Jay had gone to the tourist trap after me and had accurately descibed the smell. It was like there had been a flood ten years before and someone had forgtotten to replace the carpet. But there was no carpet and Vegas does’t flood very often. There must have been some other reason, but the smell was the same.

So, it sounds dark, I know. I don’t mean for it to. That just happens to be the case. Over the previous four weeks, I had seen the best and worst in humanity and it had all been inside. When you spend that much time with a roof over your head, there is no place for the bad or good to escape. They mix together like grains of sand in a child’s sand castle set and trying to seperate them is futile. You just build your own castle and hope it stands.

I knew I would be outside soon enough. Now I am. I hopped in Emilio the SDV-SUV this afternoon and drove a little. It felt odd. I haven’t driven anywhere myself since early June.

This is how re-assimilation begins. I suspect there will be some withdrawl. It’s already too quiet. I can’t hear the slots. I can’t smell the smoke. People seem to be genuinely happy. It’s all different. I know I like it, but it doesn’t feel like outside yet.

I suppose I was afflicted with some sort of Stockholm Syndrome. And if I had more time to think about it, I suppose I would be scared.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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