Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Ria Coffey

BOARDING the Greyhound Bus was like stepping onto the set of the Jerry Springer show. There I sat, tucked in, shoes polished, and piled in with a horde desperately wanting – or maybe in need – of such maintenance. At the hands of driver, Jerry, who delivered lashings of commentary along the way, as we tore down the Mid-West Highway from Indian Wells to Las Vegas. 
Dad had been worried before the show began and expressed concern about the American public transport system, but like any headstrong and confident traveller, I stuck to my guns – or bus as it were.
The journey was not without its characters, one being the over-sized American woman with tourettes, whose body spread across the double seat directly in front; her front dotted with crumbs which eventually spilled to the floor as her body shifted in its seats. 
Her spontaneous outbursts of obscenities, followed by fits of mad cackles kept me glued to my seat. A sudden move may have made me the reluctant subject of her vocal explosions. 
Another was the inebriated man, slurring and spitting to anyone who would listen to his poorly formed tales of, what, I’m not too sure. I didn’t listen. 
The major discomfort however, having blocked out the conversations surrounding, was the stench coming from the toilet on the bus, which I don’t think had been emptied, or cleaned, for the last three roundtrips, not helped by its overuse by the toothless and tattooed bandits consuming alcohol illegally on the back seat.
I was hoping for a seat to myself, but shrank back into my double chair when a tall, well tanned tough guy, who mustn’t have had dental insurance, but sported a molester-style moustache and alcohol on his breath, sat beside me. But he asked if I had any “literature” he could borrow to read on the trip and as I handed over my Lonely Planet I really did think you can’t judge a book by its cover.
The Greyhound kept its pace through the desert, passing through mile after mile of stunning landscape – from Indian Wells, near Los Angeles East, into the city of luck, lights and late nights: Las Vegas. The beautiful buttes and canyons, the incredible size of it all; desert country and flat, bare land, to the enormous casinos that rose from the sandy floor like a mirage. From my window seat I had visions of cowboys and Indians and John Wayne galloping triumphantly through and kept myself busy dreaming up such fantasies as the bus rolled on. 
Jerry Springer and Co continued their show without too much fuss and we arrived in the fastest growing city in the US during the late afternoon. Desperate to see as much as I could my feet hit the warm pavement and I headed for the taxi rank.
LasVegas has a population of one and a half million people. The casinos and the effort that has gone into creating the themed palaces make it like a Disneyland for adults. However I was still at the Jerry Springer studios, and while waiting at the taxi rank a dozen police cars flew by, followed by two ambulances with sirens blaring, someone had been shot dead in the neighbourhood surrounding the bus depot. My father’s words were ringing in my ears.
The taxi drove through the city, passing the landmarks that grace our TV screens; the fountains, the gold, the flashing lights, and the big screens. Jerry Springer was a distant memory. I joined the hundreds of people walking the length of the strip from ‘Circus Circus’ to ‘Excalibur’ and back again. A performance began and the stunning, peacock-feathered, sequined idea of the Las Vegas showgirls was dismissed. Strippers have cellulite too, not to mention fake boobs, bad hair extensions and not a lot of talent. This in no way dampened my mood nor the frivolous, risqué climate of the city. People everywhere seemed willing to take a chance or throw it all away, just waiting for someone to say ‘I dare ya’. And in this the city that never sleeps I sat smoking cigarettes out my hotel window and staring at the Trump 24-carat gold tower.
From here I ventured out of town and took in the Grand Canyon via aerial tour. The depth and colour of the sides of the canyon are like those of an ant nest – only better. Each layer is defined by its own colour – grey, red, brown or orange – the result of years of erosion. The Rio Colorado, like a brown snake, rushes through the canyon. I spent two hours flying above and around the Canyons, but could have spent more. For me, it was the musical sensation ‘Mamma Mia’ to see before it was back to the Greyhound, and the cast and crew of the Jerry Springer show, with an audience member who had just been to something incredible, who had been moved and touched by the beauty of nature at its grandest.