I swear, what you see in Las Vegas can't stay there--you have to talk about it. Or at least I do. My wife Ann and I took a trip there right at the end of the year, and its pleasures and oddities have been on my mind. It's as if Las Vegas is our country's canary in a coal mine, and we have to watch it carefully.
"Why Vegas?" is the first question to answer. I've never thought of the town as beautiful, yet years earlier, for the proverbial family vacation via car, the place was always on the way if we were driving to such Western places as Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and the national parks of Zion, Bryce Canyon, or Arches. I looked forward to Las Vegas for the inexpensive lodging and meals. Nevada was the cheapest part of our vacation.
Yet the cost also got in my way after a while. I couldn't stand one more cattle-call buffet with bland chicken and roast beef, one more mediocre $1 shrimp cocktail, one more grizzly and overcooked prime rib meal for $3.50. I couldn't stand all the lines for these things.
To avoid the inexpensive casino lodging and the long trudge to the room that forces you past all the gaming tables, I'd also taken to staying at cheap motels where the mattresses had hollows in them, the room air conditioner was as loud as a 44 Ford, and the pool-in-the-parking-lot was full of leaves. One time my son Zach pleaded for a casino hotel room, but I said we had to get out early in the morning and having our car by our door was ideal. He slept in the closet and gave us the silent treatment.
Then last year for a quick day trip, I met my East Coast friend Michael and his wife Minta in Las Vegas at the Venetian where they were staying. The place was grander and more awesome than anything in Disneyland. Gondoliers poled down a Grand Canal on the second floor. We strolled through marble-and-gold corridors gazing at high-end stores and some of the eighteen restaurants and three Broadway-sized theatres. In a faux San Marcos Square, we ate at Wolfgang Puck's fabulous café called Postrio.
At the Venetian, all 4,027 rooms are suites, and Michael and Minta's suite had two levels. The living room section featured an L-shaped couch and a classy desk with its own printer for a computer. Their suite had three flat-screen televisions, including one in the huge marble bathroom. That trip introduced me to another Las Vegas.
Thus Ann and I grabbed a vacation package from Southwest Airlines. Here are a few things I learned this trip:
1) I wrongly assumed all the hotels on the strip were a special experience, so wouldn't falling into King Arthur's court at the Excalibur be fun? We'd be like the royalty at the Renaissance Fair. Little did I know I moved us into Homer Simpson's idea of heaven. One of its bigger restaurants is called Dick's Last Resort, and the ads for it there show a man with a huge gut drinking beer. Many of the tables are picnic tables.
2) To my surprise, the bulk of the hotel patrons at the Excalibur were from Europe. They, too, found vacation packages. A lot of them had kids. The kids looked bored. After all, the hotel had no swimming pool open in December. It was 50 degrees outside and windy. Kids can't gamble, and the TVs in the rooms were the old bulky kind. Maybe the Marbella vacation would have been better.
3) People had a strange interest in whether Ann or I were married. When we walked into the Excalibur, the extremely friendly concierge welcomed us and then asked, "Are you married?" Were we supposed to say, no, we just met at the roulette table and we want to get drunk and dirty?
Yet Ann said we were married. He smiled and said check-in time wasn't for an hour, so how about if he took us to a hostess who could check in our bags? A well-dressed middle-aged woman grinned and asked us if we were married. If you're nodding right now, you've been to Las Vegas and learned what took us another ten minutes to grasp. They weren't concerned if we were sinning. They wanted to sell us a time share.
In fact, we were probably asked if we were married a dozen times in our two days there, with offers of free shows for a mere three-hour presentation. People on the street asked, running over, "Are you married?" I want a time share as much as I want cancer.
4) Money there may as well come from a Monopoly board. You'll spend $70 for lunch for two at a nice restaurant such as Paris's Mon Ami Gabi. Ticket prices for Cirque du Soliel's "O" start at just under $100. And you're complaining that movie tickets are $12? It's all worth it. All our meals were fabulous and we didn't overeat. What's a vacation for if you don't unload the extra cash weighing you down?
5) With everything costing a lot, why is it people look like they've dressed for shopping at Kmart? Walk down Las Vegas Boulevard, and young and old are in ripped jeans or sweats or looked as William F. Buckley might have said, "Plebian." The ads for Vegas make it look like everyone has stepped out of a James Bond film. No, it's more like from Animal House.
6) Las Vegas Boulevard is gridlock most of the time, both the sidewalks and the street. Recession? What recession? Or have city planners simply found good ways to jam everything up?
7) Considering the above, did we have fun, even if we didn't gamble? Yes we did. The Titanic exhibit at the Luxor was astounding, what with certain parts of the ship recreated. "O" was amazing. The food was fabulous. Our friends who live there took us out for an elegant dinner at a club.
We'll go back sometime, probably around the time the town's name changes to Las Cirque du Soleil. There are seven Cirque shows there now--always more to see.
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