I stood and waited patiently for the bill-breaker to work its magic… I’d fed in a 20 dollar bill, i was breaking it down into single dollar bills, i wasn’t going to need more than that. It had only just gone 7am and the casino was really quiet. I looked over my left shoulder and noticed some routine maintenance being undertaken, Enrique Iglesias was playing over the speakers, the only reason i remember this is because it was strange not hearing Christmas songs for once.
Las Vegas has a sobering feel in the morning, it’s one of my favourite times to walk the casinos and streets, today was no different. You either love this place or hate it. Many people see it as being a dirty and seedy place, it definitely has an edge of that. When i’m out walking i love paying attention to the wide range of people lining the strip and walkways; the man dressed as elvis, the cold water seller, the magician, the night club promoter, the homeless woman, the drunk man sleeping in a bush, optimus prime, the disabled veteran, the mario brothers, the list goes on and on. This morning i was going to concentrate on the homeless, the people who sleep rough on the streets or in makeshift shelters hidden away in the storm drains, they can be seen begging for spare change to have a warm shower, a place to stay or a bite to eat. Most people walk on by and pay no attention, others turn their nose up, i’ve always seen them as having a story to tell.
Many presume these people are addicts or criminals, whilst some of them might be, that’s not always the case; others have made poor decisions or had a bad run of luck, lost their jobs and their families. I was keen to meet some of these people, spare some time and some change for them and ask them one question; if you could wish for one thing, what would it be?
Meet Vlad, he’s been out on the streets of Las Vegas for 20 years, he’s a Russian war veteran, this morning he was sat on one of the many walkways found on the strip, he was keen to tell me his war stories and even grabbed a book out of his bag showing clippings and photos from the Soviet war in Afghanistan, i sat and spoke to Vlad for a few minutes, in this short space of time i got a feel for what it’s like having people walk past and look down at you, passers by looked at me like i was crazy for sitting with him, it was horrible. I asked Vlad what he’d wish for if he was given the chance, he smiled and fired off a witty response ‘more wishes’.
Michigan is a long way from Vegas, that’s where Jill calls home, or at least she did before moving out here. Jill had a nervous presence and seemed to cower when i spoke to her, she was very shy and quietly spoken, i couldn’t help but wonder what had led to her to be this way, we exchanged pleasantries before she told me if she could have one wish that it would be a roof over her head. I gave her a couple dollars and told her i hoped that would get her a step closer.
I was walking past the Venetian when i saw Tom, he looked lost and lonely, at first he didn’t notice me, i didn’t want to disturb him so doubled back again, this time he looked me in the eye and said hello, i used this as a chance to start a conversation. Speaking with Tom was a pretty moving experience, he didn’t have a sign, he didn’t extend his hand and beg for money, he didn’t look well at all and spoke with a strained and broken voice, almost mumbling his words to me. He’s from Illinois and couldn’t remember how long he’d been out here, i asked to take his picture, his eyes glazed over with tears and he told me that he didn’t need a photo because he had nobody to send it to, i explained that i’d like to keep his photo; he smiled and motioned for me to take one. I asked Tom what he’d wish for, he said he wanted a new life, a fresh start, he doesn’t like this one because nobody cares about him. I felt so sad and hopeless speaking to Tom, hopefully a little conversation and a few dollars made his day better.
If a good old fashioned chat is what you’re after then i need to introduce you to Sam, he headed west to Las Vegas from Alabama about a year ago, he’d heard that it was a good place to make ends meet. He’s a disabled veteran who lives by the government benefits and some extra that he can get from begging. Sam’s lived a full life in his 63 years and spoke to me about how he’d lost a family and job because of mistakes he’d made ‘yep… i’m just living it day by day. whatever happens, happens’. Sam paused for thought and consideration when i asked him what his one wish would be, he sighed and said simply ‘to go back 40 years and change it all’.
Whilst some wish for impossible things, James wishes for something that most of us take for granted. ‘I just want a warm shower’. We went on to speak about the weather, it was a beautiful sunny day, ‘cold isn’t even the word!’ he must of thought i was from another planet walking around in a t-shirt whilst he was sat there shivering. James has been in and out of this city a number of times over the last few years. Work is what he’s looking for and it’s very hard to come by, you only need to look around at the number of halted construction sites and casinos that are cutting back to appreciate that it must be tough to get work out here. I gave him some money and said i hoped it would help out with that shower, he thanked me and said it had been at least a week since his last.
In a city of chances, luck, speculation, hopes and dreams it’s easy to see why so many people flock here. I come here because i love this place and i want to have fun, eat, drink, gamble and shop; others come because they want a fresh start, they’re not chasing the dream of winning big, they’re chasing the dream of having a shower or a warm nights sleep. Not one single person i spoke to was hostile towards me, they were all grateful that i’d spared some time and money for them.