Humpin’ the American Dream: Fallacious Fairytale in the City of Sin

Photos by Toby Silverman

It was six-thirty in the morning when we parked Delilah, my mom’s 2006 silver Toyota Prius, in the lot near Fulton St. on the Great Highway. We stared west, watching sand turn to blue-green water turn to light gray sky. It was a sleepy summer morning in San Francisco, the last foggy morning I’d see for about a month.

We were setting off on a road trip, four weeks of driving and living, all across the Southern United States. But there was one more thing to do before we left.

The stickers on Delilah’s bumper easily pegged us as coastal, leftward-leaning Jews. Sentiments like “Execute Justice, Not People” and “Obama-Biden” would ruffle the hell out of an Arkansas state trooper’s feathers.
So we redecorated Delilah in a more appropriate manner. “Peace: Back by Popular Demand” was covered with “Peace is for Pussies.” The Obama sticker was covered with “The Terrorists Have Won the Toss and Elected to Receive.”

Finally, after a few more stickers were artfully placed upon Delilah’s backside, we took a couple steps back and studied our work.

It was like the unveiling scene during one of those daytime makeover shows. And we felt just as proud as the cheeseball hosts.

Delilah looked good, like a real southern belle.

Humpin' the American Dream: Fallacious Fairytale in the City of Sin

As I drove, Toby sat shotgun while Lucy and Davey slept in the back. After the obligatory play of “On the Road Again”, the music shifted to the Notorious BIG mix tape “March 9: Volume 2”.

The air was hot and thick with the scent of cow dung along Highway 5 but the drive went quick enough and we made it to Santa Monica Beach before dark.

But while Los Angeles might be nice, but it’s no place to start a journey — at least not the kind of journey we were on.

We’d set off to find the idyllic South; the land where Jesse James rode, where Hank Williams sang, where Faulkner used to write about. We were chasing a fiction, so it became clear as day where our first true destination should be.

After picking up my girlfriend Allison and her cousin Lauren, we set off east for Las Vegas: the Jerusalem of extravagant fiction and plastic dreams.

People think of Vegas as Sin City, overflowing with dishevelry and decadence. But in reality, you have to seek out all the sin you find there.

A huge chunk of the crowd are Midwesterners, blowing a little cash at the tables and taking it all in. All those Bob and Shirleys fly in from Des Moines, walk down one long boulevard and find the world: they see Venice and Paris, New York and Egypt, all before the early-bird buffet. They might put a few quarters in the slots, but they definitely do not blow lines of coke off the stubbly midsection of transvestite strippers.

If only life imitated Bukowski’s art. If only Vegas was more depraved fiction and less fool’s gold fallacy.

Humpin' the American Dream: Fallacious Fairytale in the City of Sin

We spent the night at the Imperial Palace, six of us packed into a twenty-five dollar room. The hotel was fine, but it was downstairs at the blackjack table where I found the real Vegas — I found the city they never show you in the fast-paced, thirty-second commercials.

The Imperial Palace offers the chance to play blackjack with and hear karaoke sung by celebrity look-a-likes. And sure, you’d think it fun to shoot the shit with Adam Lambert while Aretha Franklin sings “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” But it’s not.

Instead, you begin to question what fame is, how an average guy who lost American Idol could now have a professional impersonator. You begin to wonder about the man behind the makeup. You ask, what drove this young Vegasite to commit so heavily to a performer whose concert DVD is called “Glam Nation Live”?

I was rattled, hitting on 16s and drinking aggressively. I prayed that he’d leave the table, that I could regain control of my tangled mind.

But when he did leave, to go on stage to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”, things went from bad to worse.

Little Richard walked up to the table, tapped on the felt and gazed into my eyes. I was transfixed, first by the heavily-caked makeup and perfectly-trimmed mustache and then, after breaking the eye-embrace, by the reflective nature of his gold suit.

For a long time, I was suffocated by the thick, humid silence. Little Richard hardly moved, save a stylish wobble and ever-growing grin. I stared at him, trying to decide if he was more man than wax figurine.

I gripped my whiskey ginger tight and chugged it down. I was consumed with manic fright, wondering what fallacious fairytale I had fallen into.

Finally, Little Richard’s teeth parted and he said, “A whop-bop-a-lu-la a whop-bam-boo, the game is blackjack.”

I slammed down my drink, grabbed Allison’s hand and hurried from the table. I kissed her as I told her it was time for me to go.

Davey, Lucy, Toby and I packed into the car and Allison and Lauren drove on home. We screamed fare the well and got on the road, driving fast. Vegas was finally behind us. We were headed due East.

Joey Bien-Kahn has served as sports and columns editor for City on a Hill Press for the last year, winning third place in the California College Media Association for his feature article on Prop 19. J ...read more

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