As BBC journalists set off across the US in the run-up to the election, presenter Ros Atkins recalls his experiences in Las Vegas and Arizona.

Wandering through the Green Valley Ranch casino amid the bleeps, rings, chinks and chimes, you wouldn't know that outside another blue sky day was bathing the Nevada desert in light.

Around me were vast numbers of attention-seeking slot machines, and just across the room was a ‘winner's wall of fame' with a framed picture of a lady called Rose holding a pile of dollars in her arms.

But not everyone is winning in Las Vegas - and while most folks inside the casinos will lose a few hundred bucks at worst, I met two people who had lost far more.

Brian's an estate agent, with a wife, two kids and an effervescent demeanour. A year ago he owned three houses - one for his family, and the other two were done up nicely and ready to sell. Except they didn't - not at the price he wanted, not at the price he dropped to, not at the price his bank named. He lost them all, and now has a credit rating so bad he can't even get a cell phone.

“Who do you blame?” I asked Brian. “No-one,” he replied. “I tried to take advantage of a situation, and it didn't work out,” he added, with the air of a man who badly wished he hadn't.

Danielle's a book-keeper and has lost $200,000. She bought her house knowing she'd have to re-finance in two years. However, when the time came to do so, despite having never missing a beat with her mortgage, no-one would lend her money. In the end, she was forced to sell up at a cut price, before the bank took away her home.

“What do you want your next president to do about this?” I asked them both. Danielle was adamant, “those banks suck - we've got to stop them just pulling the rug from under us.” And Brian? “I'd just like a loan,” he said with a rueful smile.

From Las Vegas, we headed for Arizona on Route 66. And while getting your kicks writing a column may not be the most rock-n-roll behaviour, it'll do for me.

This was classic America - the way we imagine it was years back, and how we've seen it on the silver screen. But while it may look and feel familiar, I soon learned it doesn't seem like that to people who live here.

Kingman is a small Arizonan town laid out along the highway, and is home to a wonderful group of genial retirees who belong to the Route 66 Riders Club. They wear matching red shirts, jeans and boots and like to see their country from the seat of a Harley or a Honda Goldwing.

I spoke with Dave, who had moved down from Michigan when he finished working in the car industry. “The kids they want it all,” he told me, “and I know they do work hard, but they don't get that community matters too. They're too busy to realise. We used to look after each other much better.” The others nodded in agreement.

Lucy continued: “We've started to think we can have everything, but we can't. We can't buy everything we want, can't fix every problem in the world that we choose. Maybe at the moment Americans are finding that out the hard way”, she said softly.

“But you seem so happy here,” I told them. “Would a new president lift your mood about America?” “You bet,” they chimed back laughing. “We've just got to straighten some things out,” they all agreed. “And let's hope it's John McCain doing it,” added Dave.

Those saying America's famous optimism has disappeared may be jumping the gun.

The same is probably true for Barack Obama's presidential hopes. Now he's down in the polls for the first time, and the Democrats we've met don't seem to be able to believe it.

John McCain represents this state in the Senate and until recently this was his election to lose. As I write, we're driving into Phoenix with a mission to find out more about the new front-runner.

Ros Atkins is presenter of ‘World Have Your Say' on BBC's World Service radio