The Jackpot

Photo by Brayden Law on

I enjoy traveling more than anything else that I do, but for most of my life going on trips has been confined to the summer breaks that schools create for students and teachers. Because of my profession, free time for visiting places other than my own city has been confined to a short span of time between June and the end of August. Eventually my work responsibilities resulted in an annual vacation time that only occurred  during July. Such a limited scope of time changed the way I thought of travel. I had to plan vacations far in advance and make certain that I had chosen a worthy place to visit because I only got that one shot each year. 

I often drove past or through Las Vegas on my way to other destinations, but never had much desire to stop there. On a camping trip to the Grand Canyon with friends one summer the extent of our sojourn in Las Vegas was stopping for gasoline and a restroom break at a service station and convenience store that also housed a bank of slot machines. After filling the tanks of our cars and purchasing snacks for the road we all agreed to slip a few coins into the slots just for fun. We had already invested around seventy five cents in the dream of making it big when one of our companions hit the jackpot so to speak, ending up with a bucketful of quarters. We laughed and cheered his good fortune and then promptly drove out of town. 

I would not return to Las Vegas until years later when my principal chose me an another teacher to attend a national mathematics teachers’ conference. My fellow educator was quite familiar with the place because it had been a tradition in her family to spend a week at the Flamingo Hotel every summer just before school began in the fall. She was a seasoned traveler to the area who knew how to navigate around the airport and the strip like a professional guide. 

Together we toured the town between sessions of the conference. We watched the musical water show at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino and walked through the elegant lobby just to say we had been there. She took me to a place that supposedly offered the world’s largest steak dinner. We each ordered a meal and I was quietly unimpressed with meat so tough that I was barely able to swallow it. We went to what was supposed to be one of the best buffets in town, but I found the food to be incredibly ordinary. All in all the trip reinforced my feeling that I had missed nothing by avoiding Las Vegas over the years. 

During the last few years of my career I found myself back in Las Vegas for yet another conference. This time I was mainly on my own to view the town. I had not thought to purchase a ticket to one of the many shows that my fellow educators attended. Sadly because it was off season the really big stars were not there anyway. I spent much of my time, when not attending the conference sessions, reading in my room and wondering why people are so enamored with the place. I found myself laughing at the fact that we each have such differing preferences for how to spend our time.  

I suppose that Las Vegas with its bright lights and carnival like atmosphere is anathema to my introverted personality. The only thing that I actually enjoyed while I was there was dancing on the roof of the Rio Hotel one evening. Otherwise I had little interest in the place. It was hot and dry and filled with so many people and so much noise that made it impossible to relax. Since I don’t enjoy gambling away my money, I became quickly bored and wondered why I seemed to be the only one who would rather have been back at home. 

There is a glitter and glamor associated with Las Vegas that does not speak to me at all. I might not mind seeing a great entertainer perform, but what would I do with myself during the rest of the day? In Las Vegas I feel like a stick in the mud who brings down the joy of those who really like the place. I’d much rather walk under the shade of enormous trees in Yosemite National Park or spend a day viewing art at the MOMA in New York City. I found way more joy gazing into the North Sea in the tiny town Robin Hood’s Bay in England. I suppose that when it comes to travel I prefer historical places and the majesty of nature. 

I like a sure bet, one hundred percent return on my investment of time and money. I know that I don’t get that in Las Vegas. If I were to visit a single place over and over again in my lifetime it would have to be Rocky Mountain National Park, the French Quarter in New Orleans, New York City, Boston, Chicago, the Amish Country of Indiana, San Francisco, Savannah, Washington D.C., Zion National Park, Washington State, Monterey Bay, Yellowstone National Park, London, the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Santa Fe. 

I could go on and on about places that I love, but you probably get the idea. I’ll leave Las Vegas to those who enjoy such things. More power to them for finding what brings them joy. I’ll take my own way of exploring myself through the places that I visit. I’ll get lost in the silence of a long hike or the discovery of history. For those things I don’t need luck. My jackpot will be memories that never fade.