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James Delingpole

Fear and libertarianism in Las Vegas

On the edge of the desert, the drugs began to take hold

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

Great God, Vegas is an awful place. I realised this the moment I arrived. My cab driver — who’d been perfectly agreeable en route from the airport — mistook my post-flight sluggishness for reluctance to give him a tip, and drove off angrily cursing me as I fumbled in my pockets. The line just for the check-in desk was about a mile long. Everyone was fat and drunk and dressed for the beach. Outside it was too hot: 105°F at 5 p.m. Inside, it was too cold from the relentless air-conditioning. Everywhere had the style and charm and tastefulness of Redditch. By day three I’d had enough.

‘Don’t stay in Vegas more than three days,’ people had warned me. And people were right. It’s more than enough. Four days would definitely drive you mad. Five days just wouldn’t happen: no one would be that stupid. So that’s what I thought as I asked the company travel operator to rebook my flight. I checked with my boss at Breitbart if it would be OK to leave early. ‘Of course,’ said Larry. ‘You need time with your family.’

But then something terrible happened. I think probably drugs were to blame. They usually are in Vegas stories. It only occurred to me subsequently how much cultish literature and how many weird movies there are about people getting to Vegas, getting trapped in Vegas, or leaving Vegas and coming down hard. The reason for this is quite simple: you can only survive Vegas if you learn to love it — and to do that you must first sell it your soul.

It’s OK, though. Vegas is a very obliging buyer. In return it’ll satisfy whatever vice to which you are prey. For some people it’s women. For others, obviously, it’s gambling. But it knew exactly what I wanted and it dangled it in front of me just as I was about to leave. ‘There are these people we should go hang with,’ said a friend. ‘They might have some weed.’

And they did have some weed too. It had a wonderful silvery sheen. There was far too much of it: way, way more than any of us could smoke while we were there. Something had to be done, and fast. So we started making inroads on this veritable rain-forest of extremely pungent, ‘medical grade’ Nevada smoke. My inroad consisted of one puff, because I remembered how wasted I’d got the last time I tried this in America. Even that was almost too much. I was baked.

So baked that at one stage I decided that all I really wanted to do was travel up and down in the lift listening to the pumping dance music. (Nowhere in Vegas can you escape pumping dance music: not by the pool, not at breakfast, certainly not in the whore bars and at the gaming tables.) It was like a miniature nightclub, with all sorts of interesting, weird people constantly coming in and out. They smiled back indulgently, most of them. Nothing surprises anyone in Vegas.

The reason I was there was to cover two conferences: first the Heartland Institute’s Climate Conference, then FreedomFest, which is a gathering for libertarians. In the day I interviewed gold bugs, Ayn Rand junkies, Mises groupies and celebrities like Steve Forbes and P.J. O’Rourke. At night, I got totally wasted and had adventures.

My favourite was a trip to the Strip, the low-rent end of Vegas, where the clientele is poorer and trashier and the whores skankier and the street life more tragic. Once you let go, you become a connoisseur of this kind of thing. The tackier the better, really, because the more depraved and messed up everyone else looks, the less discomfited you are by your own growing squalor.

We played craps. It was a total disaster. Unfortunately, when my turn came to shoot the dice, I proved really good at it. No one in their life is ever so worshipped and adored as they are at a craps table, by their fellow players, when they’re shooting well. It went so well that one of the floor managers came up to offer me some special treat for being the best shooter of the evening. (I’d forgotten my passport so I can’t tell you what the prize was.) Apparently this is the worst thing that can ever happen to you in craps. You spend the whole of the rest of your life trying to recapture the glory of that perfect moment.

By now all the libertarian weedheads at the conference had descended on the stash like sharks scenting blood. We smoked; we gambled; we had a stoned session by the pool; we smoked; we ate; we smoked; we shopped; we smoked; we gambled; we smoked some more; we went clubbing. This is not me at all. I’m much more an in-bed-at-midnight-on-the-dot kind of guy. But something within me had flipped. Like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, I’d been in the jungle too long.

And if this is the kind of stuff you like to do, there really is no better place to do it than a 24-hour party town with no clocks so you never know how late it is, and oxygen-enhanced air to keep you going, and all manner of thrilling ways to lose your money in moments, and free drinks, and fancy restaurants and fashion shops, and girls with fantastic arses and fishnet stockings dressed as sexy cops, and then, outside, heat so hot that you can’t quite accept it’s real — 120°F on the last day — and you think at any moment someone’s going to turn down the thermostat.

God, I love Las Vegas. I lasted eight days. Missing them already.

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