“Dude! You got water in my alcohol!”
—Drunken sorority girl to drunken frat boy at the River Palms pool.
What I knew of Laughlin, I didn’t like.
On my first visit here, my friend and I were told by his dad to get some sleep in the car while he proceeded to gamble and drink the night away. We were 10. My second visit was one of those turn-around bus trip deals—eight hours in a big metal box just to spend a few hours gambling with blue-haired old ladies. Now I was back. Had Laughlin changed?
My hotel is the River Palms—a bit of a sloppy mess, albeit a lovable sloppy mess. It hovers over the Colorado River like a pink and white monstrosity, lacking the “theme” element of the casinos resembling paddleboats and the like. The rooms are cramped, and on the day I check in, the toilet is “dirty,” so to speak—no deuce in the bowl, but visible streaks where one had clearly been. Unbelievably for a hotel/casino, they have a Room 13, where I’m lucky enough to reside in for two nights. How could anyone put a Room 13 in a casino?
Somehow, though, I came to love—well, at least get a drunken crush on—the River Palms. Maybe it was the relaxed atmosphere in the place; I felt like I could have pulled up to a blackjack table in a bathrobe and no one would have said anything. Maybe it was the large number of people walking around with canes, which made the place seem like a French healing spa, only with cheap chili-cheese dogs. Or it might have been the pool scene and its righteous combination of bluehairs and tramp-stampers.
Like the River Palms itself, my pool experience began on a downer. Imagine the pool scene at the Vegas Hard Rock, and then forget every glamorous image that’s entered your mind. From the micro-sized, kidney-shaped pool itself to the barren concrete slab surrounding it, the swimming facilities resemble the Akron Holiday Inn more than swanky-ass Vegas. Add in zero drink service, and I almost fled back to my room’s air conditioning.
The crowd, though, keep it interesting, an uncomfortable but highly enjoyable mix of drunken frat party and AARP convention. Old women ask me, “Is it spring break?” in a way that suggests they wish the annoying frat crowd would head somewhere else. The hippest guy, though, is the oldster who tells me “I’m 72, and I still like checking out broads.”
This gent sums up Laughlin to me, his blunt honesty and lack of pretension making up for an utter absence of cool everywhere else. This relaxed feeling extends to Laughlin’s dining scene as well. Due to extreme budgetary restraints, I went lowball all the way, eating three meals in 40 hours and soaking in crap food nirvana. My first meal was at the Pioneer Casino after I lost a 20 to a battleaxe named Gladys at the blackjack table. The snack bar at the Pioneer resembles an Edward Hopper painting, with all the bittersweet alienation of modern life, and, for extra measure, a morbidly obese woman buying her fourth huge-ass chocolate-chip cookie of the night. My meatball sandwich is so rubbery and microwaved that it resembles something we must serve both the guilty and the unlucky at Gitmo.
The next morning is the breakfast buffet—I hit the one at Harrah’s, one of Laughlin’s more upscale establishments. It has the classic mix—biscuits and gravy, taquitos, soft serve ice cream and creamed corn—that we’ve come to expect in America. Yet it rocks, and can hold its own against some of the premier Vegas buffets. Eggrolls with pasta primavera at 10 in the morning? I’m in. Biscuits and gravy with a bacon chaser? Boy howdy!
I still had gambling to do. So I gambled. And lost. Thank god for Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, or I would have really lost. But because I lost in Laughlin, it didn’t sting the way it would’ve in Vegas. Gambling here is very chill, even when you lose, so having blown most of my money, I left to check out the river.
Despite the freakish monkey statues holding giant flame torches which adorn the walkway to the water, I can’t help noticing how beautiful the river actually is. (This isn’t Lake Perris, kids.) The sun is setting over the Colorado, the boaters are out, and people are having a blast. Suddenly I don’t care about the crap marks in my toilet, losing hundreds of dollars, or even the nuked meatball sandwich. I’m in Laughlin. It may not be Kauai, Ibiza, or even Vegas, but this weekend, it’s enough.