The Friday-afternoon flight from San Diego to Vegas is called "the Stripper Flight." High-priced kewpie dolls with basketballs forced under their too-tight tank tops wing from their beach condos to Sin City and then return on the Sunday redeye or first flight Monday morning. The rounded, bubbly, giggling, bleached, and teased darlings with shiny fingernails and peeking tattoos stand up in the aisles and turn around in their seats. They talk to their girlfriends across the way and flirt with potential customers, "You should come out."
Strippers are masters at selling. Strippers understand that any interaction between opposite genders has an undercurrent of sex. Entering a stripper's sphere and making conversation eventually develops into an invitation to what the men see as sex and what the stripper sees as business. "You should come out," a brunette says to a trio of sailors three rows ahead of me. She stands in the aisle, resting her suffocating indigo jeans against the arm of her seat and leans back. She swishes her straight auburn hair over one shoulder, and the dopey kids she's talking to say, "Yeah. Yeah. We ought to. What club is it?"
Palomino Club. Olympic Garden. Leopard Lounge.
All around the plane, girls are flirting and ordering drinks from the attendants. They pull long strings of bubblegum from their mouths and feed it back into their upturned faces and blow bubbles and snap the pink candy in their teeth. They're in velour track suits unzipped to their navels, and the pink lenses of their sunglasses are embedded with tiny fake diamonds that glint in the sunlight like the shimmery gloss on their lips.
My sinuses fill with the musk and alcohol of 20 different perfumes. I turn to my right and look past the canyons of cleavage to the mountain range outside the window. The chunky rectangle of yellow light sits at the end of our row, and the brightness streams in and shines across the porcelain skin of the girls and highlights the seatbacks in front of us.
"Going to Vegas?" I ask the girls.
"Yeah," they say and smile and touch each other's hands.
"What club do you work in?"
"I work in Club Paradise. She works in Spearmint Rhino," the bubblehead in the middle seat, closest to me, says.
"We're roommates," they say.
"Of course you are."
"How'd you know we were strippers?" the one next to the window asks.
"Just lucky, I guess." I push my cheeks out with a broad smile and they return it. "My name's Ollie," I offer, and hold out my hand. We shake hands. Their names are Jessica and Rebecca.
"Are you girls still in school, or do you work for a living?"
"She used to go to SDSU," Jessica says, pointing a thumb at the blonde in the window.
"But why should I, you know?" Rebecca jumps in. "I'm making more money now than if I graduated and got my dream job, y'know?"
"I do know. Do you work in San Diego or only in Vegas?"
"Vegas," they say in harmony. "The clubs out here pay more," Jessica adds.
"Do you have apartments in both cities?"
"No," Rebecca, the closest one, answers. "We stay with one of the girls who lives out here. She lets us crash in her place. She has a phat condo; it'd be worth, like, half a million dollars in San Diego."
"So, you commute. You stay out here Friday to Sunday?"
"Why not move out here?"
"We're thinking about it," Rebecca turns to Jessica. "Her boyfriend lives in O.B."
"He doesn't want to move to Vegas?"
"No. It's complicated." They share a glance. "But, we'll figure it out."
The dusty length of road that is "the Strip" and the needle of the Stratosphere tower streak past the window to our left. In that adjacent row is a young woman and a thin man with wavy gray hair. She looks like his daughter, but their body language says they're a couple. His linen shirt, cufflinks, and hints of gold jewelry answer the question, "How did that old guy get that hot young stripper?"
"Can you get a picture of us?" the dapper gentleman asks of a homely, middle-aged woman on the other side of his girlfriend. The pretty girl leans close and puts her cheek against his, and the woman in the aisle seat holds up a brushed metal cube and puts their image in the center of a tiny screen.
I turn back to my row and look past Jessica and Rebecca. On the ground I see planes lined up diagonally next to the terminal. Their noses are pointed in, like tiny metal animals feeding. Our plane overshoots the airport, putting behind us the little jets on the ground. In a few seconds, we're over the tan and olive drab hills outside the eastern side of the city.
"There goes Vegas," I say and point out the window. Rebecca and Jessica share a concerned glance and then search the surrounding area of seatbacks and stewardess buttons and magazines for a clue that they're on the right flight. I put them at ease with a quick, "We'll come back around. We have to line up on the runway."
"Oh. Oh, yeah," they nod. "How come you're going to Vegas?" Jessica asks (or was it Rebecca? Damn, I got them mixed up already).
"I'm meeting my friend Steve out here," I answer. "We come out twice a year to play craps and bet on sports -- the stuff you can't do at the Indian casinos back home." Steve is the man who coined the term "stripper flight." He's an avid gambler, and before he moved out to Austin, Texas, he'd make the Friday afternoon trip to Vegas about once a month. He came out so often, he got to know some of the girls with whom he'd shared so many trips.
Back across the aisle, the May-December couple shows off their pictures on the digital camera. The middle-aged woman sitting with them leans in to see better and then lets out an "Oh! Oh!" and turns her face toward me. Her cheeks fill up bright and blush. She's embarrassed by what she saw, but she's also smiling.
The rich old guy feigns modesty and ignorance. He lowers his glasses to get a better look at the tiny monitor, and he says, "How did these get on there? I thought I erased all of those." His girlfriend-child with the wavy chestnut hair buries her face in his armpit and shoulder and, muffled by his shirt, screams, "Ron! I told you to delete those!"
"Ha ha ha," he chortles and winks at me. He likes springing nudie pictures of her on the unsuspecting. His girlfriend and the housefrau are still giggling and blushing.
Speakers heavy with signal and flight noise pop alive. "For those of you making connecting flights, we're right on time," an even-toned male voice fills the cabin. "It's 84 degrees on the ground. This has been Southwest Flight 2063 from San Diego to Vegas. Good luck, and thanks for flying." The speakers pop closed, and the cockpit noise and static is clear from the air.
The rectangles of sunlight on the overhead compartments start to crawl around, and the pit of my stomach sinks a little as the plane banks into a turn. The sun flashes in the window and sends blades of blue and gold through the open right side of my sunglasses and then disappears from the window. Then, it hovers in the window on the opposite side of the row, over the old guy's shoulder.
As the plane drops and drops, the feeling of vertigo subsides. Out the window, I see streetlights flying past like fenceposts on a highway. The runway gets closer and closer to our window. Woosh! We pass a baggage truck. I can see paint on the asphalt. The nose of the plane rises briefly, then my seatbelt pulls me backward as the rear wheels -- chuff! chuff! -- and the nose drops and the front wheel calls out its attendance -- chuff! The cabin is filled with the roar of the engines as they're thrown in reverse and throttled up and it's LOUD! Our seats shake. The girls next to me and the rectangular window and the seatbacks in front of me go blurry and wobbly from all the shaking.
Then everything stops. Ding! The little light-up icons of seatbelts and cigarettes and stewardesses above our heads extinguish and the jets die down. The plane cruises slow enough so that I can see little stones and divots in the tarmac. We jostle in our seats as we bump over little humps and the plane eases to a stop. A door seal is breeched with a tearing sound, and more light streams in from the far side of a wall that's covered in the same blue fabric as the seats. Embroidered in the blue fabric on the wall is a copper set of wings and a white heart.
"Thank you for flying," a chipper young lady's voice pops over the intercom. "Welcome to Las Vegas, Nevada. It's a lovely day outside. From the crew of Flight 2063 from San Diego, I'd like to wish you all good luck."
"Good luck, girls," I tell Jessica and Rebecca.
"Thanks. Good luck," they say. "Hey, you should come out to see us tonight."