Brothels and Blackjack
by Sam Hutchins
We got back to the Hotel Nevada just in time to wash up and have a nice dinner. The rooms were smallish, as could be expected of such an old hotel, and the furnishings looked like they came from your grandmother’s garage sale. Everything was mismatched and cheaply made. All I generally require is a slightly comfortable bed, and the bed was indeed slightly comfortable. I’m sure the rest of my traveling party was horrified, however.
The best part of the room was definitely the shower. Or, should I say, the plaque affixed to the wall just outside the shower. It read:
WARNING: This is an old hotel, with old pipes. They are somewhat unpredictable. The shower has a tendency to suddenly cut off the hot water and get extremely cold. This only happens briefly, and at random times. If it happens please just wait until the hot water comes back on and resume your shower. Do not call the front desk to complain, they cannot do anything about it. Also, please do not flush the toilet while showering, this only makes the problem worse.
What a lovely feature for a hotel to have. Even though I did not experience a blast of ice cold water while cleaning up, I was tense with the fear of it happening the entire time I was in. Once I dried off I could hear water flowing through the pipes to the neighboring rooms. I flushed the toilet repeatedly and listened closely but alas, I did not hear any screaming.
Cleaned up and ready for a night on the town, the four of us stepped out into the gathering darkness of Main Street. I must say, the Hotel did present itself to the street in a lovely way. The retro-looking signs lit up the area nicely and would surely look wonderful on screen. Once we stepped away from the doors, however, the rest of the town sat in relative darkness. A quick stroll around showed that nothing was open other than a few bars. We popped in and out of a half dozen of them, mostly deserted, and none serving food. Eventually we resigned ourselves to the fact that the only dinner to be had was back in the Hotel Nevada.
What a dinner it was that we ate. All the finest over-processed food that can be delivered in a box on a Sysco truck. I know we were in the middle of the high desert, but this was a particularly unpleasant experience. We ate what we could but that wasn’t much, and I’m not a remotely picky eater. Finer food can be had out of a microwave in a 7-11.
That, however, wasn’t even the worst thing about the experience. Our waitress asked us several times if we planned to go to either the Big 4 or the Green Lantern. It was clear that the others did not get the reference, but I knew that she was referring to the local whorehouses. Every time she mentioned it the others didn’t understand and I pretended not to hear. It was a little unsettling.
Far be it from me to judge anyone. I actually went to a brothel once when I was much younger. It was in Nashville, and I was in town for a week scouting. I had found everything I needed already and had a day to kill. Being the diligent location scout that I am, I spent my remaining time driving all over town getting my bearings. Were we to wind up filming there I wanted to be prepared. By late afternoon I felt comfortably conversant with the town’s layout and was preparing to head back to my hotel.
At that point I was driving north out of town on Highway 41. It was a pretty industrial stretch of road, and getting turned around was difficult as traffic had gotten a little heavy. As we crept along I saw a light just ahead and got ready to make the right turn and get oriented back towards downtown Nashville. Off on the side of the road was a low, nondescript brick building. It only had one small window, which had an illuminated red neon heart in it. While I waited I saw a pair of very attractive women dressed as though heading to a nightclub enter the building. I wasn’t sure what was happening there but clearly some sort of trouble was going on. Of course I had to check it out.
I made the turn and passed the lot, parking a short distance up the street. Whatever was happening inside, I was prepared to make a quick exit. Entering the front door I found myself facing a heavy steel door and a small window covered in plexiglass. A woman’s voice asked me how long I needed. I inquired about prices, and she recited a sliding scale ranging from 15 minutes to two hours. The fees were relatively inexpensive and I was on per diem so I sprung for the full two hours, still having no idea what that bought me other than time. The woman buzzed me in.
The room I stepped into was dark, and the sign on the wall indicated that I was in “Sally’s Hot Tub Club.” Go figure. I was presented with a lineup of women, some quite attractive, and told to choose. I did so, and a lovely young woman led me into a room. She directed me to a bench in the corner and told me to get comfortable. I did, and waited for her return. Apparently she was a little surprised when she saw me again.
“Honey, by get comfortable I meant you should get undressed.”
“Oh. Okay. I was confused because there is no water in the hot tub.”
I nodded to indicate the bone-dry tub in the corner. She laughed sweetly.
“We don’t actually go in the hot tub, you see…” she went on to explain just what happened there. Ah. Got it. So I did what people do in such situations. Once business was concluded I still had an hour and a half to kill, so we had a very pleasant talk.
I mention this to give some context. When faced with the opportunity, yes, I certainly obliged. It was random, semi-accidental and quite nice. However I could not imagine consciously seeking out such a situation. Somehow it felt even creepier where it was legal to do so. It wasn’t just our waitress who kept suggesting we visit one of the local establishments, but something that was suggested by everyone we met in Ely. An entire town full of pimps. Also, the women in Nashville were generally quite gorgeous. I had yet to see a woman in Ely who interested me, or even came close.
Finishing our meal, I retired to the blackjack tables. Darius, Stephane, and Kar Wai all made their excuses and went back to their rooms. I was certain one or more of them was going to sneak off to the brothels, so I took a seat with a view of the door. To my great surprise, none of them showed again that evening. Perhaps I had misjudged them, more likely they were just exhausted.
While I am far from what they consider a “whale,” I do know my way around a casino. Usually I spend my time at Caesars playing $50 hands of blackjack. The table limit at the Hotel Nevada was only $5, so playing there felt like I was betting Monopoly money. The game was played with a single deck and the dealer was a little clumsy, so even with my rudimentary counting skills I was soon beating the hell out of the house. In an attempt to even up the odds a little I started tossing back double vodkas. The Manager stopped by the table and apologetically informed me that they could only comp well vodka, but for a double Stoli I would have to pay full price, which was all of four dollars. I told him it was fine and to keep them coming.
After a while I simply got bored. I was up over two hundred dollars on five dollar hands, and couldn’t throw the drinks back fast enough to get even a little drunk. The whorehouses didn’t interest me and I had no interest in finding any drugs. Cowboys may dream about gaming tables, cold drinks and available women but it did nothing for me. All I wanted was to be back home, sleeping in my own bed, alone. I said my goodnights, cashed my chips, and retired to my cold lonely bed.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.
Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.