My favorite story of the trip so far involves my man Paulif. It is quite late at night and we are both feeling quite good as a result of many whiskeys, good food and overall joy at being alive. As background, you need to know a bit about Paul. I have noticed that when people start to reach a certain age, they lose all sense of maintaining a distance from strangers. Most little old men will strike up a conversation with every random stranger they meet and might be telling them details of their children’s lives or their own health problems or quite literally anything within minutes. I sometimes wonder if this is a kind of progress, where you simply no longer have the slightest concern for any judgments the other person would make, or if it is a kind of regression to a more childish state where you just cheerfully say whatever pops into your head. I’m inclined to think it is more likely an improvement, because you gain hundreds of serendipitous moments every day where you learn fascinating things about your fellow man and have so many more opportunities to find hidden delights in every encounter. Well, Paul is one of these people. He could get a lamppost to talk to him. Whatever your mental image is of the reserved Brit who would sooner pluck out his eye than “share his feelings,” Paul is exactly the opposite.
So, Paul and I step out of the casino and are preparing to split up and head our separate ways. As you know if you have ever been to Las Vegas, the streets are dotted with Mexicans who get paid some paltry sum to stand on the sidewalk and distribute little glossy cardboard cards festooned with lewd pictures of hookers and phone numbers that you can call to spent some quality time with the young ladies depicted. Although I assume the photos are of some gorgeous model and the actual hooker might well be beastly, but advertising is the great American art, so they should be forgiven this, I think. In any event, these guys take advantage of a powerful instinct. They reach into your path and hold out the card at just the right height to tempt you into some kind of automatic response where you grab the card without thinking. When I am on the sidewalk, I feel that I am engaged in a game of sorts. Whenever I walk past without falling for the automatic tendency to grab the card, I have won. If the guy manages to get me to take the card, he wins. I know that I am not the only one, because the street is littered with cards that people have dropped a few feet later after they lost the battle to avoid the clever hooker card guys. This is a simple game with very few rules. The most clear rule is that you never make eye contact with the hooker card guy. That encourages him. You walk by the hooker card guy as if you don’t even notice he is standing there. The hooker card guy is well aware of your plan, so he slaps the cards loudly together in an effort to startle you into looking at him, which is your first step towards losing the game. I am very good at this game and haven’t been sucked into a hooker card in years.
Paul advises me that he is staying at Harrah’s and we confer briefly and I conclude that Harrah’s is still a block or two towards downtown. Paul is not convinced that I actually know what I’m talking about, so he decides to confer with an expert and walks up to the nearest hooker card guy and asks him if he knows where Harrah’s is. I’m struck mute by this blatant violation of the rules of the hooker card game. If you are not supposed to make eye contact with the hooker card guy, clearly engaging him in conversation is a complete and total victory for the hooker card guy. Just as I expect, as Paul offers his question, the Mexican grins and deftly slips him a hooker card. Score it Hooker Card Guy — 1, Paul — 0. The hooker card guy beams as this may be his biggest victory of the day. He does a look a bit puzzled as Paul continues to chat with him. When Paul winds down his explanation of where he wants to go and why he wants to go there and stares at the hooker card guy waiting for a response, he becomes a bit confused. This is not in his script. Paul is supposed to continue down the street, a loser in the hooker card game. Whatever skills the interviewer sought when he hired the hooker card guy, the ability to engage Englishmen in conversation on the street was not regarded as a key performance metric. He tries “no entiendo” to explain to Paul that he is not able to give him the directions Paul seeks, but they are not having a meeting of the minds. The hooker card guy has a buddy a few feet away and hooker card guy #2 and I have exchanged looks where hooker card guy #2 let me know that my friend had lost, but he knew I was too much of veteran to be drawn in now. Neither of us were comfortable with the direction this was taking and we both closed in — I was intending to move Paul to different goal and explain that nice hooker card guy was never going to provide him directions unless Paul started the question with “Donde esta” and hooker card guy #2 I assume had similar instincts to help his friend. Somehow Paul managed to engage hooker card guy #2 as he came in for the rescue and asked him where to find Harrah’s before he could get to rescue his friend. Sensing that they were going to have to tell Paul something or risk talking to him for the remainder of the evening, hooker card guy #2 pointed downtown and said “three.” It wasn’t clear if this meant three miles, three blocks or three casinos, but his answer was clear enough. I’m not sure if he really knew where Harrah’s was or if he correctly deduced that saying anything to get Paul to move was in his best interest, but he was right so I’m going to say he was honestly helping my man out.
Now came the finest moment in the hooker card game I have ever witnessed. Paul thanks hooker card guy #2 warmly and smoothly hands him the hooker card from hooker card guy #1. As you may know, I have been studying facial expressions and what emotion they reveal and this was the most perfect display of disgust I have ever seen. The hooker card guy immediately realized his mistake — the last thing in the world he needs is another hooker card. It was the exact same face you see on tourists every day as they realize they have been scammed into taking a hooker card that they never wanted. I laughed out loud and hooker card guy #2 looked forlornly at me, realizing that he had well and truly lost the hooker card game. The reversal of fortune is clearly worth double points, making the final score, Paul — 2, Hooker Card Guy #1 — 1, Hooker Card Guy # 2 — 0.