Editors' Choice

Desert Therapy

by Halina Balka

A Canadian gets a new lease on life in a playland in Nevada.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or so the saying goes. Since I’m not good at keeping secrets, I’ll tell you what did happen.

No, I didn’t win big at poker tables or the slots, but I did fall in love…with Las Vegas itself.

It was my first time visiting this land of energy and excess but what I found took me completely by surprise. I discovered a new attitude toward life: it’s all right to spoil yourself every now and then because, once in a while, everyone deserves a little Vegas. I also discovered that there was still a place in the world where time has no relevance, where one feels free and unfettered yet safe and secure all at the same time. A place where one is noticed.

I didn’t expect the warmth and friendliness of the city. Everyone seemed happy in Vegas, people who worked there and visitors alike. The first time someone held a door open for me, and the first time a stranger made a friendly comment in passing, I was taken aback. As a middle-aged woman, I am used to being invisible in the city where I live.

When my sister Christine’s best friend Sue and I first hatched the plan to take my sister to Las Vegas for her 40th birthday I began to ask everyone I knew about it. Almost all had visited Vegas at one time or another. My poker-playing, statistics-loving brothers had of course been there—it was their Mecca. They tried to tell me what it was like but words just couldn’t quite do it. Like trying to explain parenthood to someone who is childless—until you actually experience it you will never really know.

It had been a rough few years for my sister. Recently separated, with three young boys to support, she had returned to Teachers College and managed to make it through and get her degree. What an energy draining time it had been for her. Her friend Sue had also been through hell for very different reasons. The mother of two young children, she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had undergone chemotherapy and a radical hysterectomy. As far as my life was concerned, it had always been a struggle. I am a single parent who does freelance voice work for a living. Need I say more?

So this was our year. It was our time for Vegas! Sue and I checked for the best deals and chose a Thursday to Sunday package at the Mirage. We were going to keep it a secret from Christine and surprise her on her birthday but the excitement got the best of us and we simply had to tell her ahead of time. Then the fun really began with the e-mails and phone calls as we counted down the days to our big trip.

One needs to understand that, even though it is commonplace for people to travel each year to exotic locales from Cuba to Timbuktu, none of us had been on a real vacation since our children were born. I would visit my sister in Thunder Bay and she would come to Toronto to visit me but it would always be with the children. This was going to be our first solo flight in a very long time, so you can imagine the excitement with which we approached this trip.

One might say that we loved Las Vegas as much as we did because we had not been away in so long, and that could be part of it. But because this was so rare for us, we needed this trip to be special, we had to make it count. Our expectations were very high. We had to pack so much into it because who knew how long it had to last us?

So Vegas had a lot to live up to. And it delivered.

Vegas delivered delicious food, lots of laughs, fun, excitement, relaxation, great shopping, and amazing sights. We could have shopped for the whole time we were there. We could have stayed by the pool the entire three days. We could have explored the hotels the entire time. We could have seen countless shows, and yes of course, we could have gambled our holiday away. To tell the truth, we actually had to make time to gamble. Every day we would say, “Today we have to gamble. We are in Vegas after all!” And every day we would simply run out of time. There was so much else to do. Finally at 3 o’clock on our last day we gave gambling our best shot, losing around $100 among the three of us. High rollers, eh? But gambling was so incidental to everything else. Even though Vegas was built on gambling there is so much more to it for the hungry in spirit, the tired, the bags-under-the-eyes masses—or messes, one might say.

Our trip to Las Vegas ended up being a shared experience that was more fulfilling and refreshing than we could have imagined. Now when we are having a bad day, or when things go wrong, or if a heavy melancholia settles over any one of us, or when the burdens of the world drain our strength to the point where we feel too weary to put up a fight, we can turn to each other and say with a smile, “We’ll always have Vegas.”


Halina Balka was born into a large family of eight children and grew up in the boonies outside of Kenora, Ontario. She is the daughter of an English mom and Polish dad. At the moment Halina lives in Toronto, Ontario with her 12 year old daughter Josie and her beloved Border Collie cross, Panda, as well as her hamsters, Peanut and George. She works freelance doing commercial and narration voice-overs. Her long-term goal is to buy a remote island for her dog.

About Editors' Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we've received from travelers around the world and present it here as our "Editors' Choice." For more about the editors, see About Travelers' Tales Staff.




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