‘Bright light city gonna set my soul, Gonna set my soul on fire,’ is how Elvis Presley epitomised the spirit of Sin City and as we stood in the apparently never ending queue at passport control, we felt a tingle of excitement at the prospect of our short stay in Las Vegas.
An hour later and we were still waiting. We were weary, growing impatient and sweltering in the airless building as the line of people in front of us snaked across the faded grey carpet like a dormant boa constrictor. From where we were standing, we could see the Nevada sun beating down on the tarmac outside, causing the arid horizon to appear gelatinous in its hazy outline. I couldn’t wait to step foot outside and feel the hot rays soak into my pasty English skin but at that particular moment in time I felt as though we would be spending our holiday inside the McCarran International Airport. I sighed softly as we continued to wait our turn.
“So why are you coming to Las Vegas?” barked the immigration officer, jolting me out of my jetlagged state as I finally reached the front of the queue.
“For a short break, just for four nights,” I replied.
“What are you planning on doing while you’re here?”
I didn’t know how to respond to this. I couldn’t exactly say: to let loose on the roulette table, drink copious amounts of cocktails and get a nice tan, so I settled on a more conservative answer.
“Well…we are going to relax really…” My voice trailed off and I became aware of a bead of sweat forming on my brow.
“Hmmm…” The stern man questioning me didn’t seem convinced. “How much money do you have with you?”
“One hundred dollars and I also have my debit card.” I cursed myself for not having had the time to change more currency before I left.
“How much is in your bank account?”
Jesus. I hadn’t accounted for the Spanish Inquisition.
“About six hundred pounds,” I replied.
“You’re coming to VEGAS and you have as little as that? Where do you work and how much do you earn? We’re gonna need some more information from you, miss.”
I shuffled uncomfortably on my feet, aware of the increasingly frustrated mass of people behind me, listening intently at the interrogation taking place before them. I glanced quickly out of the window; I wanted to make sure I was in the realms of civilisation and not at the gateway of Guantanamo Bay.
“Who’s your line manager? We’re gonna have to give him a call to verify this information.”
My heart sank. It was around 3am in England and the last person I wanted to be disturbed was my egomaniacal, cantankerous boss who was prone to fits of rage at the best of times. Thoughts of a payrise swiftly vanished.
I could see my friend, who I was travelling with, waiting for me at the other side of the immigration desk. She looked concerned so I gave her a sheepish smile as way of reassurance. Inside my heart was racing faster than a racehorse on the home straight, wondering what I had done to warrant this treatment. As far I was concerned I may well have been standing there with a bomb in my handbag, such was the contempt I was receiving from the official sat in front of me.
It took fifteen minutes, countless attempts to contact my boss and a river of perspiration running down my forehead before I heard the words to calm my manic palpitations.
“OK, miss, I’m satisfied you have a legitimate reason to enter the US,” said the officer in a monotone voice, while stamping my passport. “Enjoy Vegas.”
Relief surged through my bones as we eventually escaped from the airport to be greeted by searing heat and the overwhelming smell of gasoline fumes from the waiting taxis. Another line from Elvis’ song flashed through my mind – ‘All you need’s a strong heart and a nerve of steel.’ Those lyrics couldn’t have been more appropriate at that point in time, as we collapsed into the back of a cab, exhausted. I felt like an exonerated criminal and I was about to make the most of my freedom.