I-95 US 95 started minutes from last night's hotel and took me almost to the door of The Venetian in Las Vegas. That's easy to write, but it was a four hundred mile drive through bright, hot, emptiness - at least of human habitation. The main recreations were watching for state troopers, wondering what the other motorists thought they were doing out there, admiring the resilience of the truckers who keep America's markets running by their constant epic journeys and speculating as to how the residents of the sparse, dusty settlements keep busy.
Some of them keep busy as prostitutes. This much I can aver from the huge mast signs advertising brothels with such enticements as "free all-night parking for your truck". Some run diners. This, unlike the prostitution, I can confirm from personal experience. I had a BLT and some weak coffee and it finally clicked, d'oh, why Americans expect free refills. I asked for my refill for the first time and it helped get a bit more caffeine to keep me alert on the long haul.
Most other inhabitants seemed to be engaged in military activities. I passed Army barracks, depots and saw numerous signs of air force bases. I also passed near the infamous Area 51 at one point, as witness the business activities of local residents who have set up "Alien" diners etc. As a fellow-citizen of those Scots who scalp the credulous around Loch Ness, I am in no position to moralise. Equally, having seen that expert scalping in progress, I would be a real fool to fall for the American version. So I didn't. I drove by, laughing.
My entry to Las Vegas was surprisingly stressful. I had had a whole highway mostly to myself all day and it was odd suddenly to find myself in traffic. Mr Siegel would be very proud of how his little project has grown. It's as tacky and culture-free as it always was, and gaming machines are - though the lucrative monopoly is long gone (lost to, amongst others, the native Americans) - everywhere.
People come now to see the "destination hotels," a concept pioneered by local hero Steve Wynn and now deployed around the world - for instance in Dubai. If you have a dusty nowhere you would like to fill with tourists, then the hotels themselves must grab the tourist imagination and hold it. Like The Venetian, for example, where in a crazy and expensive feat of engineering a model of the Grand Canal, complete with gondolas has been built on an upper floor. Not on the ground floor, where the earth would support it, you understand, that would not be mad enough to be a "destination" concept.
These concepts are their own draw and most tourists will never care that there's no cultural foundation to them. Am I sounding snooty? I hope not. I chose to come back to The Venetian because it makes me laugh out loud with its outrageousness. I want to watch the gondoliers again, precisely because it's nuts. This multi-billion dollar missing-the-point tribute to my favourite Italian city makes me smile. I can see the Campanile (no, not really but don't be picky) from my window and why shouldn't I enjoy that?
I also used to take my family to Dubai regularly on holiday; though it is every bit as culture-free. Please don't get me wrong; I love a good destination hotel and admire Mr Wynn's creative genius. That an attraction is invented by another human doesn't bother me at all, as long as it's fun, it entertains me - and as long as, unlike Area 51 and Loch Ness, no-one is trying to fool me.
Having been in a culinary desert for even longer than I have been in a real one, I am looking forward to some excellent food tonight. A suite almost as big as my London home is also pleasant, although the roadside inns of America anyway provide lavish space by European standards. Our architects may say that "space is the greatest luxury" but here in the land of endless land (mostly held in great "parks" by the state, and of no earthly value at all if it were all released onto the free market at once) it's nothing, or nothing much.
Best of all (and here's a sign of how travel warps priorities) there is 24-hour express laundry service. Hurrah! No launderette worries for me for another 10 days. Although if my laundry happens in Vegas, does that mean it stays in Vegas? Let's hope not.
Incidentally if anyone is worrying about the videos, making them is quite safe. I have a clamp on my screen to hold the satnav. To make a video, I just clamp my iPhone in place instead. I am paying full attention to the road at all times!