Who’s Homer? That’s what the cab driver asks me after I settle into the back seat.
We’re in Las Vegas, and his question doesn’t make any sense.
Homer, he says again.
The Greek poet?
I suppose so, the cab driver confirms. It’s a question I sometimes ask people. I got it from a fare who told me she asks every man that question on the first date. If he says Homer is a character on The Simpsons, then she’s done with him.
It’s been a long day, I say.
He looks at me in the mirror. He knows that already.
So I sit back and look out, hoping to relax. The buildings are burning white, but the desert is blank, black. There was tangerine and peacock, but we passed it.
What about Virgil? I ask the driver now, trying to be polite, playing along.
And then he wants to know what I do.
I’m a writer.
Are you famous?
Do you live in New York?
Are you in town for the convention?
No, I’m here to play blackjack. And I’m grateful, for a moment, that he doesn’t want to know what I’ve written, if anything. He doesn’t ask me to retell my adventures or to describe where I’ve been. Or to quote from my (unpublished) travelogue of Venice: “Because Venice, as everyone has already noticed before me, is all shimmering façades and effects. Symbols and emblems. No one cares about the newspapers floating down the lesser canals or the ramshackle back sides of palaces. The marble on St. Mark’s Basilica is all veneers.”
He looks at me in his mirror again. You’re probably not going to win anything here, you know that, right?
I’ve played blackjack before, that’s what I should tell him.
Which is fine, he says. Because you know what happens if you hit the jackpot? People want things. But there won’t be any readers. I’ve seen it happen before. Much better if you lose. Then you’ll have an audience for sure.
But it’s not as if I’ve come all this way to write a story about blackjack.
And this driver is not my guide to life.
You might have to make some sacrifices, he continues. And you want to make sure you structure everything in the form of a journey. Not just a trip.
The cab driver confesses that he took some online writing classes. (This is just temporary, he says, gesturing toward the pine tree hanging from his mirror.) And he doesn’t mind passing some things on to me, for free. I might look a little down on my luck at this point. If you want to know the truth.
And I try to form a proper response, to explain that I just needed to get away from certain things, for a weekend, that I’m on vacation starting this morning, and I’m not looking for a topic, but I can see from the driver’s expression in his mirror that he’s unconvinced. (Everyone is always looking for something, he tells me.) I say something else that I hope makes sense. The driver is raising his eyebrows and getting ready to add one more thought, possibly important, when the spires of the Venetian appear in front of me, finally. Inside, the bright blue ceiling-sky is already turning pink at the edges, over the turquoise canal, what a relief, which will lead me into the casino. Where I will not lose spectacularly. Nothing to write home about.
But I don’t win either, if that’s any consolation.
The money comes and goes, and I never have quite enough to buy those crystal-studded satin shoes and the oversized watch telling me it’s time.
Things like that are never discounted. That is, can never be discounted.
So I step outside for a moment, onto the terrace, as if I were in Italy. I watch the taxis light up the night, back and forth, across the earth. Think of what they could do in New York. And I try to catch a glimpse of the next stop, past this strip, somewhere in the black. Or white. But it’s hard to imagine. Take a moment. And listen to those sirens.