Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In Las Vegas, There is Hotel Room Food (Not Quite Room Service)

"I felt glad that I had not lost my temper, but nonetheless I was shocked and needed a little time for reflection, so I climbed down on to the platform and began to look around me for food. It was the last chance before Belgrade next morning. I bought six ham rolls off a trolley and a bottle of Chianti and some sweet cakes--it was not so good a meal as Chicken would have provided, I thought sadly, and what a dreary station it was." - Henry, narrating in "Travels with My Aunt" by Graham Greene

"It seemed at first another and a happier world which I had re-entered: I was back home, in the late afternoon, as the long shadows were falling; a boy whistled a Beatle tune and a motor-bicycle revved far away up Norman Lane. With what relief I dialled Chicken and ordered myself cream of spinach soup, lamb cutlets and Cheddar cheese: a better meal than I had eaten in Istanbul." - Henry, having returned to the security of his dahlia-centered world.

Chicken is the dinner delivery service retired bank manager Henry Pulling relies upon after a day of tending to his dahlias, the only real claim he has to an identity in the world. (He's not that retired, though. Think of it as ordering up pizza delivery.) If anyone should know him, they would likely know his dahlias more, that is until Aunt Augusta sweeps into his life and sets him on a course with her on a trip through parts of the world, which includes the Orient Express. But that's not why I've got these words here.

I read that above passage, and I didn't think of Henry Pulling dialing Chicken for his evening meal. I thought about the rooms my family and I have stayed in at America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas, comfortably removed from the Strip, which is very convenient when it's 11 p.m. and you just want to get back to your room to bed, ahead of a day full of future hopes and hopeful house hunting. I thought about the binder in each room with information on the property itself, the emergency exit plan on the back of each door. Then my memory's attention went straight to the menu for some company that provided salads, hamburgers, desserts and wonderfully greasy appetizers such as mozzarella sticks to these rooms (I can only assume that they're wonderfully greasy, as most mozzarella sticks tend to be). Oh, there were also pizzas on that menu, and I imagined not only the usual delivery car with pizza boxes inside that delivery bag, but plastic bags with styrofoam containers holding all the victuals one could strangely want, when there's a diner just a few steps (or a few hundred steps, depending on which room is yours) ahead of the Best Value Inn rooms. But I suppose it's a matter of privacy then, of tiredness, of not waiting to journey back to the Strip or surrounding areas just to have something. (By the way, $8.99 for mozzarella sticks? It had better be mozzarella I can't readily find at Smith's in Vegas, or Ralphs here in the Santa Clarita Valley.)

When we drive past the California state line, into Nevada, I see the casinos that make up Primm Valley. I see the smallish rollercoaster (smallish compared to others I've been on in Florida and California) on the grounds of one, and the outlet mall near another, and I think about those employees. I think about the dealers, the pit bosses, the waitresses who live nearby, who may be hoping for something better, but being that this is such a tightly-knit area, at least in past construction of these casinos, it's not a huge dream at the moment, just something to help gradually get to that big dream. Little steps first.

When we get to Las Vegas proper, near the Strip, past the MGM Grand and the Tropicana, I think about the dealers there, and the pit bosses on the Strip, and the cocktail waitresses at Caesars Palace, who, depending on what hour you get there, wear these wonderfully short white outfits that remind me why I love and will forever love this rarefied world of gamblers, of dreamers, of imaginative chefs in high-priced restaurants, of parking garages where it's guaranteed that you'll find at least one out-of-state license plate as soon as you pull in, the product of intrepid travelers looking for life that truly cannot be found elsewhere.

But, looking at that menu in those rooms at America's Best Value Inn, I think about the people who make the food for delivery to these rooms, and I'm fascinated. I hear the planes take off from McCarran, I look up into the night sky, and I know not only are there obviously the pilots on board as well as the passengers either going back home somewhat victorious or totally devastated, but there are also those in the control tower monitoring the plane's progress from gate to runway to sky before handing the plane off to the next air traffic control center, those who cleaned the plane before its departure, those who man the ticket counters, those who sell the books and magazines and candy designed to distract people from the fact that they're now in a metal tube hurtling faster through the sky than they ever could on the road in their own cars.

To get to the point, while perusing that menu, I wonder where that building is located, when deliveries are made of lettuce, of mozzarella cheese, of dough for the pizza. I wonder how the people who work there got to these jobs from wherever they were before. Do some of them work for this small company because they want to feed weary and excited travelers who might not yet be ready to explore the Strip but still need something to eat? Do they work there because there's quite possibly less pressure to perform and deliver than there would be in the buffet kitchens and other prestigious kitchens on the Strip? Or is it just a stepping stone for some who eventually want to work in those kitchens?

Las Vegas is seen by many to be a transient land, where people don't stay long enough to form lasting and meaningful connections. Yet I am looking forward to becoming a resident and finding a connection like that. Despite the cynicism surrounding Vegas regarding its transient nature, I think it can be done. There are natives there. There are people who have moved there 15 years ago, who hopefully have daughters within their families who might be beneficial for me. There are hundreds of thousands of stories to be found each day. And, being a writer, I need that kind of place. Sure I'll have my full-time career as a campus supervisor at a school there, because money is nice in order to live comfortably enough, but all those stories. Getting all of that just from one menu in my room near Hooters Casino Hotel, can you imagine the other stories that are waiting? Just in the Pinball Hall of Fame alone, off the Strip, across from the now-closed Liberace Museum, there are at least 100 stories amidst those machines and the guy who lovingly maintains them. This is what I've been waiting for. And thank god for Graham Greene for indirectly bringing those thoughts back to me.

"What If They Lived" by Rory Leighton Aronsky, for Rory Leighton Aronsky

Five copies of my book, per my contract, arrived today via UPS in a box smaller than I expected, but no less anticipated. More on my impressions once I get past being stunned that I'm now an author.