Travelling the Main Street of America
From Kingman, I explored the possible side-trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. I was sceptical about this, but the road north from Kingman began to convince me that it was a good idea. After a flat start, the desert terrain along I-93 becomes more and more dramatic. The way the road cuts through the "waves" of smooth dune-like hills is quite beautiful, and if you're here in the evening the lengthening shadows add further depth to the rich palette of desert colours. An hour and a quarter out of Kingman you're at the Hoover Dam, an inspiring piece of engineering and worth a visit in its own right. Then you plunge down - both literally and metaphorically - into Las Vegas.
I don't quite know what I was looking for in Las Vegas. All I know is that I didn't find it. It may have been the wild, loutish drivers; it may have been the brusque staff at the principal hotels; it may have been the sheer mileage of screaming neon. All I know is that Las Vegas came as the rudest and most unwelcome awakening from the dream of 66. The peace, friendliness, openness of the Route were shattered by this brash upstart. "The Strip" is fun in a flashy way, but there must have been a time - not so long ago - when it was less gross and over-blown. The newest additions to this canyon of conspicuous consumption are all trying to be something they are not. One apes Venice with life-size computer-accurate mock-ups of St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace. Another has the Arc de Triomphe and other Paris landmarks under construction. What is the point? Give me original, genuine kitsch over fake "art" any day! The fountains of Belaggio, responding to the rhythms of Aaron Copland's splendid music, are the least jarring of the newcomers, while the Battle of Buccaneer Cove at Treasure Island is an SFX wow for kids. The "El Rancho" is a forlorn sight; it looks as if the money ran out about ten years ago and they just stopped construction with it 80% completed. I simply found the whole mad thing indigestible after the slow pace and nice people of The Road. What's more, there being no room in several inns, I ended up staying at The Sahara. This was once the bee's knees but is now, it has to be said, a dump. And a dump with dodgy lifts (sorry, elevators). Don't ask.
If you happen upon the partner of your dreams while in Las Vegas, you can be married in five minutes flat at the flouncy white Wedding Chapel ("Open 7 days 'til midnight"), but this thought will be scant consolation for those who know what kicks they're missing by being off 66.
Folks still speak of the Las Vegas Strip as a magical oasis of brilliant light in the velvet darkness of the desert, but I think they're remembering what it was like twenty or more years ago. The city is now so large that you have to fight your way through teaming suburbs and along a roller-coaster of a freeway to get to its centre. I suppose the glitz is worth seeing once, but I found that it all happened at the wrong point in the trip. You arrive in Kingman feeling like a real traveller, not just a tourist. You've developed a real feel for the community of 66 in the past few days, and your own quest has become part of the Mother Road's history. You're not ready to be woken from your reverie by the blaring loudspeakers and strobing lights of crass commercialism. Those who still want it will have the option of a side-trip to Las Vegas, but we're doing our best to provide alternatives for those who want to keep the dream alive all the way to Santa Monica Pier.