Most contractors and, I presume, most soldiers who go on leave from A-stan hop a long flight to somewhere in the States, are met at the airport by the wife/girlfriend/parent/child and are safely and securely ensconced at home in a matter of hours.
My recent trip back to the States started out similarly, but rapidly descended into some sort of bizarre dystopian fantasy straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel.*
*Can fantasies even be dystopian? I would've said no, but recent evidence suggests that they can.
Thirty hours after leaving Kabul, I was back at home with family for a brief but refreshing catch-up. Twenty-four hours after that, I made the rather dubious decision to jump back on a plane and head to Vegas for a few days.
Those of you who know me will be familiar with my longstanding rule against going to Vegas without proper adult supervision. When asked (usually increduously) why I had never gone before,* I always responded that if I went to Vegas by myself, in six days I would either be leaving in the penthouse suite of the Bellagio surrounded by strippers and cocaine, or end up dead in the desert with no pants. The latter always seemed considerably more likely.
*Given my well-documented affection for vices of all shapes and sizes, few who know me well were able to understand why I hadn't ever been to Vegas before. It seemed to them to be the obvious place for me to end up. They're probably right.
Well, I took the plunge and made the trip in the company of two old friends, both of whom are respectable, responsible married adults.* As it turned out, that was precisely what was necessary to keep the "better angels of my nature" from being overcome by my baser instincts. Without proper supervision, that contest is usually decided quickly, and not in the angels favor.
*Though they left the wives at home.
Kabul to the poker room at Mandalay Bay in two days is a recipe for severe culture shock. Attractive women to bring me free drinks (as if that right there isn't enough), thousands of dollars changing hands across the table, high-end restaurants a short-walk away and what can only be described as modern-day go-go girls dancing on elevated platforms over the Pai Gow tables. Stark contrast to sly Afghans, whiny American construction workers and burly South Africans operators.
In the end, we managed to avoid any industrial-level debauchery, and I lost only a manageable sum at the poker tables. Having not played any serious cards for a couple of years, I was unprepared for the Vegas sharks that patrol the poker room looking for their next kill.*
*Rule of Thumb: If you are sitting at a poker table, and a new person joins the game, and this person is on a first-name basis with the pit boss...........leave.
I kept the losses to less than a grand, which I thought was pretty good given the overwhelming environment and my lack of recent playing time. The majority of those losses can be traced to two hands, both of which I badly misplayed.
*Rule of Thumb #2: The baby-faced Dutch kid at the end of the table with eight grand in front of him is NOT an exchange-student with generous parents. He's a professional and he's playing his way around the world. With your money.
Only on the flight back to the Midwest did I realize that Vegas and Kabul do have one significant thing in common. They are both populated by keyed-in locals who are extremely adept at finding ways to take money off of Americans. In Kabul, they do it with a business license and a "logistics company." In Vegas, they do it with booze, cards and dice. And breasts.
I prefer the Vegas way.