Everyone in the car is exhausted. It's not from the past week spent caravanning around the southwest. It's not from the excessive drinking or the excessive sun. It's not from the long days or the longer nights. It's instead a hangover of another kind, and if anything, the youthful indulgence is what's curing us, and what has driven us to this terrible city - a sort of final road trip sendoff before we return to our draining normality. The fireworks to steal the torch from the great memories already bolstered.
We pull into Vegas midafternoon on the tail end of our leg from Southern California. A short drive, two of us spent it drifting in and out of sleep in the back half of the car turned primal nest overflowing with blankets, laptops, books, and snack food wrappers. The other two drove and kept company. There is an undeniable sense of balance which exists between all four corners of our mutual friendship, and no matter the formation we could have found ourselves in, there would exist no more and no less kinship than the others.
We're flat broke. Young men with a shared income below the poverty line and no sense of frugality coupled with the undeniable urge to spend in new places has brought us to a city built upon money and the skeletons of those that don't have it. There looms a question mark above all our heads concerning what it is we're supposed to do here on a budget.
But we'll make it work. We always do.
Last night, while still in Orange County, we found the cheapest room at the cheapest strip casino possible, and after check-in today, classlessly sneak the four of ourselves into a queen bed single. To be fair, we don't plan on spending much time in the room and the time we do will likely never be remembered. There is no sense to splurge on accommodation in a place where all the excitement exists outside its bounds.
After throwing our bags on the floor, a quick change, and a couple celebratory and cliché shots, we head out to experience whatever the fuck we're supposed to in a place shrouded in equal parts mysterious cool and unwanted reveals of humanity. But there is little room to judge when we're weaving through the back halls of a strip mall tipsy off plastic bottle liquor.
Everything here feels of cheap plastic. Feeble, fake, and see-through. But damn it feels good to let those parts of ourselves free from time to time. We're dressed to the nines. Suits too high a quality, shoes too shiny, and button ups not buttoned high enough for kids with no money in the desert. But somehow, likely due to the association of those around us, it feels right.
Casino here and casino there. Bad overpriced food, bad free drinks, and bad company other than our own. More of the same no matter the societal hierarchy of the casino - just better fashion. Only a couple of us are interested in the gambling and the other two are happy just to watch - and to pretend to gamble when in need of a refill. As the day goes on, the sun starts to set, and the heat of the strip is no longer necessary to escape, leaving the interior of the casino less appealing.
It being our first time in Vegas, the night life is an obvious point of excitement for the four of us. But being broke, male, and not necessarily a group of models, night life is going to be tough to full experience. We turn to google.
$100 entrance fee to nighttime rooftop pool party.
$200 entrance fee to obnoxious club.
The opportunities seem bleak.
But before we turn to a perfectly acceptable evening of chowing cheap burgers and watching the city's bizarreness unfold before our rather virginesque eyes, a glimmer of hope crosses our collective conscious and someone in the room begs the all-important question.
"Are there any concerts tonight?"
The hidden gem of this hell hole. Parties are overpriced and underwhelming. Clubs are overpriced and overwhelming. But concerts, because of the city's proximity to LA and permanent fan base of intense sellout crowds, are where it is always at.
“No fuckin' way.”
Apparently The Weeknd is playing at Drai's Club- a rooftop venue with a view of the strip and a reputation for energetic and unforgettable performances. Tickets are $40 a piece but damn, we'd all pay triple that for the chance.
It's 2014 and The Weeknd just dropped Kiss Land. He's quickly on his way to the top not just of the exploding R&B scene, but of music as a whole. We've all been fans since Thursday and have no doubt in our minds the next chance we have to see The Weeknd in Vegas will cost us $300 and have to be bought six months in advance.
The show is tonight. Doors open in three hours. How are tickets even available?
Better not to question such generous offers from fate. We secure the entrance online and head straight to a liquor store. Again, the draw of spending money we don't have in a place we've never been in preparation for a night we'll likely never repeat draws us North from the bottom shelf. We agree to split the cost of something relatively quality and especially strong. More bang for our buck.
Nighttime changes everything here. As we walk down the strip, handing our bottle between us, we feel like kings. We become kings. Walking, talking, and drinking like we know what we're doing or where we're going not just in Vegas, but in life in general.
After a long stroll, the bottle is nearly finished, and we pull up under the retro flashing lights of The Flamingo. A line weaves its way through the casino floor leading to a series of elevators to shuttle patrons to the roof. The remaining drops from the bottle will make the wait easier. As time passes and the obnoxious method of transporting people ten at a time by elevator slowly but surely succeeds, we talk about the things we always do. Music. Girls. School. Jobs. Parents. Dreams. In cliché form, we vow to make trips like this again later in life when we can afford to do it right, but deep down, all of us know this will be it. Bittersweetness always underlies planning an impossible future, but the situation we find ourselves in demands such conversation.
Eventually, the fantasy gives way to reality as it becomes more vivid than our own imaginations. Upon exiting the elevator on floor thirty-something, an entrance hall and barroom give way to a cathredic venue fronted by a massive protruding stage. All is doused in deep purple and maroon light. Moving away from the concert hall, rooftop stadia of private tables and booths surround and tower over a pool with an exceptionally potent (and probably necessary) aroma of chlorine.
Too broke for any sort of privacy, we sit down on a high-ledge equidistant from the pool and the edge of the roof where we can take it all in. The things one sees atop a rooftop in Vegas are beautiful, horrifying, and everything in between. Success and failures in every direction. Extremism in action.
The collective energy in Drai's is rising steadily. Drinks are more prevalent, bathroom lines are longer, the noise is deafening, and the place is filling. Assuming the show is starting soon, we're drawn towards the stage. But first, a pit stop at the bar.
After the brutal moment of being charged the price of a bottle for the pour of half-a-shot, we swear off further party favors until we leave the venue. After all, it’s nearly 11 o’clock now and there’s still plenty of booze in our systems.
A DJ starts playing a seamless mix of high-energy dancefloor heaters and emotionally-stirring past hits. Everyone is dancing – lost in our collective experience that none of us really deserve.
An hour goes by.
What the fuck.
We’re all feeding off each other, and though the vibes haven’t diminished in the past three hours, their steep incline fueled by sneaky sniffs of uppers and public displays of debauchery has slowed to a steady and soon-to-wane plateau.
A well-practiced, accomplished, and celebrated king of debauchery himself, it would seem this was The Weeknd’s plan all along. There aren’t many places in the United States where a headliner could legally come on at 2 AM, but if anywhere it were acceptable and in fact more memorable and fitting for the show itself, of course it would be here. When the DJ finally fades out his award-worthy performance and the lights fade to an even more hallucinogenic purple, a drawn-out and emotional falsetto pierces its way through a microphone we cannot yet see.
We’re all brought to stillness, at first unnerved that the beauty in The Weeknd’s voice could possibly be as perfect as it sounds on record. But, sure enough it does. Elation and a new level of energy overtake the crowd as The Weeknd leaps to stage from somewhere in the back. Inspired and driven by his ability to so often use negative and heartbreaking emotion to stir and instill a sense of wildness and the perfect party atmosphere, The Weeknd becomes our most trusted and fitting host atop this rooftop in the anti-world.