Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from my untitled Las Vegas book. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Loaded
"And life is just to die." - Lou ReedSometimes you get lucky before you even set foot on a plane bound for Las Vegas. I should have been arrested on the spot at Sea-Tac airport. Instead, I talked my way out of fines and imprisonment. More importantly, I avoided a huge legal tab from a over-priced criminal attorney wearing an off-the-rack suit whose sole job would be to try to find loopholes in my multiple drug possession charges. Sure, my good friend Senor was a high priced attorney in New York City but he had no juice on the left coast. All he could do was pick up the phone and hope that he could find a former law school chum in the greater Seattle area who owed him a favor. Otherwise, I'd be fucked. Properly.
1998. I was a long-haired cynic living in the slacker life Seattle trying to write screenplays while I smoked too much pot, slept with bored housewives from Vashon Island, and sat in bars listening to rambling dissertations from too many West Coast philosopher types, many of which I considered my close friends. That was back in a time way before airports took security seriously and you could travel with a horde of drugs on your person and not think twice about taking the risk. I had an ounce of high grade marijuana in my left pocket. In my right, a half an ounce of magic mushrooms was concealed. My sole job on that particular mission was to bring as many drugs as I could down from Seattle to Las Vegas.
My buddy Ty and I were supposed to meet up with Senor and his brother Javier at the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas. Senor flew in from New York City and Javier flew in from New Orleans, where he went to college. We had two Phish concerts on the agenda including their Halloween show, which we anticipated was going to be the biggest party of the year. Senor and I were vibe seekers. We traveled the planet looking for the right balance of energy, fun, and originality. Our quests took us many random countries, cities, and towns. Two months before, Senor flew out to Seattle for a three-day bender just so we could drop peyote and take long walks in the woods. On a head full of peyote and overlooking Lake Washington, we focused our frazzled thoughts for a few minutes and decided that we were going to Las Vegas for Halloween. We had been to Las Vegas before, but never together.
Senor was in charge of securing the hardest individual Phish ticket to get up until that time. Halloween 1998. He called in a favor with Phish's accountant. It seemed that Senor's law firm used the same guy. Talk about killer coincidences. Who would have thought a NYC law firm and an eclectic band from Vermont like Phish would share the same bean counter? Senor got the accountant drunk and took him to Scores for lap dances before he requested four tickets to Halloween. Like Mariano Rivera, Senor came through in the clutch. We were put on the band's special list. We had to pay for tickets at face value, but at least we got them without having to risk going to a scalper or ticket broker, who quoted Senor a price tag of $250 per ticket.
The tickets were set. Phase two included securing and transporting the proper drugs. A successful Las Vegas bender would not be complete without the right assortment of party favors and mind altering substances. We only knew one Vegas, the one that Hunter Thompson described in his epic manuscript Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hunter and I shared so many weird things in common. We were both writers with warped minds and our sidekicks were quirky attorneys with fire in their bellies who showed no fear.
A friend of mine was a nurse at one of the hospitals on Pill Hill. She was also the biggest pothead that I knew. During one of her breaks, she met me in the parking lot of I.H.O.P. and sold me almost two ounces of White Widow, which was one the best strains of high grade marijuana around Seattle. Sapid to the taste buds, sticky to the touch, all the dense crystals made it looked white, with occasional slivers of lime green. I took a half of an ounce of the White Widow and swapped it for mushrooms with one of the guys I played poker with on Monday nights at the Trout House. Ty and I sampled both the pot and the shrooms the weekend before Halloween. High quality stuff indeed. I knew Senor would be pleased.
Senor and I were friends from college along with Slinger, who was my screenwriting partner and Ty's roommate. Slinger and I had two-thirds of a script done without any thoughts on how to write the final Act III. That screenplay ended up being one of my many incomplete writing projects that took up space on my hard drive. Ty and I hung out a lot and played whiffle ball. He also got me into a regular poker game with his work friends. He tended bar at an Italian restaurant downtown where I drank frequently. Ty resembled Jesus with long sandy-blonde hair and a beard. I guess you can say that most of my Seattle friends had a disheveled appearance. None of us aside from Ty had real jobs. We had not cut our hair in years and rarely shaved. Seattle was crawling with hipsters and dot-commers in 1998. The scared away all the hard-core hippies who preferred the more mellow towns like Bellingham or Olympia. One night when the group of four of us walked into Ty's restaurant to see him, the hostess announced, "The Grateful Dead are here to see you."
We were definitely poster children for "probable cause" which meant that we were a target to be searched all the time by the cops and law enforcement officials. Senor looked like one of them… clean cut, with slick hair, and newly shined shoes. He never got searched so he always held the stuff. He'd just smile and they'd let him through without a fucking clue and he'd have a hunk of Moroccan hash the size of an ostrich egg in his pocket. No such luck for me. I always got hassled, whether I was holding illegal substances or not. The team relied upon Senor in those situations for smuggling duties. Without Senor's help, I had to sneak the pot and mushrooms on the plane myself.
Ty and I stood in separate lines at the security check. My small backpack was filled with a long sleeve shirt, a Hawaiian shirt, two pairs of underwear, socks, my notebook, two pens, a Spalding Gray book and my toiletries bag. With memories of Billy Hayes stuck in a Turkish Prison from Midnight Express bouncing around my head, I double wrapped the drugs in Ziplock baggies. The mushrooms were small and odorless. That package was about the size of my wallet which I shoved into my front right pocket along with my wallet. The pot reeked. Badly. The more pot stinks, the better it is. I did my best to conceal the smell of some of the best shit I smoked in over a year. That package was about the size of a John Grisham novel. I wore cargo pants and it fit perfectly into one of those enlarged pockets.
As I walked through the metal detector, a guard who looked like Cheech Marin stopped me when the buzzer went off.
"Fuck!" I mumbled.
I forgot to take off my belt. While I stood to the side, he manually searched me, running a magnetic wand over my body. He zeroed in on the belt when it his wand went off. Then he started a pat down. He never went inside my pockets but he felt something bulging. It was the big bag of smelly pot. He touched it and squeezed my pants leg. He touched it again.
"Nothing metallic," I snapped.
This is America I reminded myself. Not Turkey. This is the land of the lazy and inept. He would overlook what he discovered, at least I prayed that's what he'd do. Instead, the guard paused. I tensed up even more. Ty stood several feet ahead of me in shock after he cleared security. I nodded to him to indicate that he should keep going. He quickly ran off towards the gate. I eyed the group of overweight security guards standing in the corner bored off their asses. I was certain they were about to be called over to do a full body cavity search. I had harsh visions of some $6 per hour flunky shoving his finger up my ass searching for a condom filled with smack or looking for a cheap thrill. That's when the security guard who looked like Cheech grumbled. He miraculously told me that I could go.
That one intense minute of agony felt like it lasted three hours. I walked away happy, paranoid, and shocked. Either my security guard was clueless or he just didn't care that I was carrying enough drugs to get everyone on my flight completely shitfaced for two days. Like I said before, sometimes you got lucky before you even got to Vegas.
I met up with Ty at the gate, he was never more happier to see me.
"I thought you were pinched for sure," he said.
"So did I. That was close," as I gave him a high-five peering over my shoulder to make sure no one followed me.
I went into the bathroom and put the mushrooms and pot into my backpack. We eventually boarded a Southwest airlines flight to Las Vegas. I had the aisle seat. A dreadlocked-kid wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt sat down next to me. He smelled like a combination of my bong and roasted garlic.
"You going to see Phish?" he asked.
"Just Friday night. Don't have a ticket to Halloween. You have any extras? I can trade you some pharmies. I got a ton."
I might have looked like a dirty hippie in crowd of J. Crew models, but next to this dude, I looked like a narc. How the hell did that guy sneak in his stash? He must have hid it in his natty dreads. He opened up a small pill wooden box. He offered me a valium. I declined. He popped two.
"You smell weed?"
"No. Why are you holding?"
"Nope. Just pharmies."
The rest of the flight, he drank beers in between passing out for a few minutes at a time. I quietly read my book and went to the back of the plane to chat with Ty. As he waffled through waves of consciousness, the hippie guy tried to tell me about the crystal store that he and his girlfriend wanted to start in Alaska. The more he spoke, the more he slurred his speech. That was my karmic payback for circumventing airport security; I had to sit next to the annoying drunk and faded hippie dude for two hours and twenty minutes.
When the plane finally landed in Las Vegas, I stood up to get my backpack out of the overhead compartment.
"Don't you smell that? Who's got the skunky funky dank weed?" he said.
I smelled it for sure. The source was my luggage. The damn recycled air on the plane was circulating the aroma of marijuana throughout the entire cabin. I ignored the valium-freak who smelled like garlic for the rest of the time I was on the plane.
Ty made a rookie mistake and he checked his bags in Seattle. I tried to get him not to, but he took too much stuff with him and had no choice. While we milled around the baggage claim area, I spotted the hippie guy again. He ran towards me with a huge smile on his face.
"Dude," he yelled. "You're holding the dank! I knew it was you, brother."
"Shut the fuck up man!" I screamed. "There are tons of cops all over the place. Keep that info on the DL. What are you fucking crazy? This ain't Seattle anymore. We're in Nevada. The cops kill hippies everyday here. Why don't you announce to everyone in the airport that I got weed on me? They'll bury both our asses alive in the desert."
"OK, relax, brother. It's all good."
He tried to give me a hug and I darted away. We grabbed Ty's bag and slipped out to the taxi stand which was crowded for a Friday afternoon. We got screwed by the taxi driver who took us the long way, via the highway. I looked out at the mountains and never realized how close they were to the city. We arrived at the Sahara thirty minutes later.
When we got to the room, I tossed the drugs on the bed.
"How did you sneak this here?" Senor asked.
"In my pockets."
Javier burst into a laughing fit. He thought that was the funniest thing he ever heard. That was before I told him about almost getting busted.
"You got balls, man," added Javier.
"Just doing my job," I said.
Senor handed me a small envelope that contained several hits of acid.
"We're saving this for Halloween."
"How the hell did you sneak that here?"
"In my pockets," Senor answered.
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