Braving the High Roller

Las Vegas, Nevada

The older I get, the more I am convinced that drinking alcohol to increase bravery is a valid and very effective coping mechanism. It should come as no surprise, then, that I turned to liquid courage when confronted with my very real fear of heights at the High Roller in Las Vegas, Nevada. Here’s what nobody told me, though: they don’t actually stop the rotation to let you on. Don’t drink and Roll, friends. Learn from my mistake – this is one attraction that should be done sober.

My amazing grandparents on my mother’s side spend their winters in Nevada, snowbird style. Every time I visit, we spend at least a day braving the wilds of Las Vegas. My Grams, more adventurous in her 70’s than I could ever hope to be, convinced me to go on the High Roller with her and my Papa. Walking up to it and taking in the 550-foot tall observation wheel from below, I was sure I could do it.

In giant observation wheels, as in life, perspective is everything.

We rode the elevator up to the boarding level and exited into a fully stocked bar. Vegas is a beautiful place. I immediately breathed a sigh of relief and ordered a drink heavy on the raspberry flavoring and champagne. My Papa ordered a Velvet Elvis, because when in Rome and all that, and my Grams elected to stay sober. See what I mean? Braver than I will ever be. By the time we got through the line to our designated pod, I was feeling the raspberry-infused buzz. I boarded the pod after my grandparents and the doors closed, all the while feeling pretty brave. That bravery lasted approximately sixty seconds as we slowly ascended until we were level with, and then above, all of the technicolored casino lights. I looked down at the tourists and flashy advertisements and felt very small, very nervous, and very tipsy. I huddled in my seat and sipped my drink, avoiding the clear glass walls of the pod.

That’s the funny thing about perspective, though. Eventually, you’re so far above it all that you aren’t the small one anymore. The buildings and revelers below grew smaller and smaller until, suddenly, I felt bigger and greater than the entirety of Las Vegas. I was enormous and strong. I was invincible. I was drunk (on power or alcohol, the interpretation is up to you). As we slowly rotated, the view became more like what you see from an airplane window and my head filled with bubbles. I bravely left the safety of my seat and ventured over to the window. I stayed there with my nose pressed against the glass for the rest of our rotation, staring down at Vegas.

Standing in the trenches, so to speak, Vegas seems so large and so bright and so full of life. As the wheel propelled us higher and higher, though, those lights grew dimmer and the Strip began to look flimsy and plastic. All of those beautiful people doing beautiful things grew very small, and I realized that at the end of their weekend they would drag themselves back to wherever they lived, hung-over with significantly less money, and return to their regular lives. Vegas, the great paradisiacal city in the desert, was nothing but a temporary mirage.

I may get a little philosophical when I’ve been drinking.

As we neared the exit level, buildings grew larger and I lost my magical above-the-world perspective. Heights were scary again, and I realized I would have to exit while the pod was still in motion. My Grams, pre-knee replacement and all, hopped out of the pod with ease and grace. I leaned over to my Papa and whispered in his ear, “Papa… you’re gonna have to drag me off of this thing…” The exit almost knocked us both over, but we made it out relatively unscathed. We exited into the gift shop (because Vegas) and I fought the urge to purchase approximately eight mugs to commemorate my champagne-infused bravery.

The High Roller was probably the second-coolest thing I did in Vegas (Jersey Boys reigns supreme and you can’t convince me otherwise). While I feel moderately proud of myself for facing my lifelong fear of heights, I feel very proud of myself for spending the rest of my Vegas vacation alcohol-free. Sometimes the best things we do are the scariest, and the view from the very top of the highest observation wheel in the world is something I will not forget anytime soon. I also came up with my new motto in travel (and in life): “If my Grams can do it, I can do it.” Here’s to being as brave as my 70-something grandmother!

I’m not making any promises, though.

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