LAS VEGAS -- This past week, I spent four days in Las Vegas on a "business"
trip, as much as any trip to Vegas can be about "business."
It has been three years since Ive been to Vegas, and, after
four days, I cant say Im in any hurry to return for a while.
In lieu of an actual column, with an introduction and body and conclusion
and a discernible construction, the following are mere bullet-point observations
on the city:
- In the movies, everyone in Las Vegas is gorgeous and tramped-up, the
beautiful babies prowling the night in search of high rollers. In reality,
everyone is merely tramped-up. It is astounding how women, regardless
of age or body type, who at home are probably wearing bulky sweaters
with sheep stitched on the front, decide when they get to Las Vegas
that they are sex goddesses. The amount of cleavage on display was staggering.
Some women were young, and the looked worked for them. Most were not.
One woman, who had to be pushing 70, with a bandage over her right eye,
entered my elevator. I asked her what happened. "I got a piercing,
dear." She was wearing a tube top and appeared to have her nipples
tucked into her shoes.
- Las Vegas is the only city where the first question when you meet
someone is "Where are you from?" I think about people who
grew up in New York, and how they look at us interlopers like were
photo-clicking tourist yokels, squatters on their land. I imagined Las
Vegas locals would be the same way, but, well, there dont seem
to be any. Anyone unfortunate to grow up in Las Vegas assuredly sprinted
out of town the day they turned 18. This phenomenon is so prevalent
that the casino employees where nametags that not only say their name,
but their hometown. I didnt see a single one that said Las Vegas.
The best was the woman from Vietnam, whose badge said "Vitnom."
- The official beverage of Las Vegas is not the martini, or the cosmopolitan,
or even domestic beer. It is Red Bull, a drink so perfectly suited for
Vegas Id be surprised if its not sometimes substituted for
amniotic fluid. I spent three hours Friday night sitting at the sports
book, watching my Cardinals lose, and at least a third of the drink
orders were Red Bull. It was mixed with just about anything you can
imagine, including one particularly nasty fellow, who ordered a pint
of Red Bull and Jagermeister. Three hours later he was spotted trying
to milk the MGM lion.
- Vegas lounge acts have been a comedy topic for decades, but its
nevertheless disconcerting to see people who were once taken seriously
sliding down that road. The showcased acts at the MGM Grand, where I
stayed, were George Carlin, Rita Rudner, Penn and Teller and an upcoming
rodeo derby. Most disturbing: The endless advertisements for Pearl Jam,
who will be playing the MGM Grand for three days next week. Pearl Jam,
competing with Cirque du Soleil and the Blue Man Group for your entertainment
dollar. When did <EM>that</EM> start happening? Kurt Cobain
died <EM>just</EM> in time, methinks.
- My father accompanied me on this trip, mainly for the free hotel,
which he used sparingly. The majority of his time was spent in front
of the Wheel of Fortune slot machine, with which he blinked away 50
bucks in about as much time it takes to buy a vowel. He had better luck
at the blackjack table, where he displayed a monks devotion. In
Vegas, as the night goes along, they raise the minimum bet at blackjack
tables, from five bucks in the early evening to 10 by dinnertime and
25 by midnight. But if youre already sitting at the table, the
minimum bet is grandfathered in. Anyone new to the table must play the
new minimum, but you can stay at five until you leave. My father took
this to ludicrous new heights. He played the five dollar table for about
three hours, then for two more after they raised it to 10 and then for
two more once it was raised to 25. You could have frozen lava with the
glares the pit bosses were shooting him.
- I actually accompanied Dad for a few hours at that table, Friday night.
As tends to happen when I play blackjack, I lost, and fast. Id
been drinking since 2 p.m., so, young turk that I am, I went back up
to the hotel room, telling Dad Id see him tomorrow morning. He
scoffed. At 3 a.m., I woke up to a screaming headache, a tumultuous
stomach and an empty hotel room. He couldnt still be gambling
at 3, could he? Nightmare scenarios filled my brain. My God, hes
had a heart attack at the table, and I slept through the phone calls
asking for his kinfolk, and hes gone, and its my fault,
and oh my God, Dad, no! I slipped on a pair of pants and a baseball
cap and practically sprinted downstairs. He was still sitting on the
table, looking just like he had nine hours earlier. With my hangover
hitting the sweet part of the bat, and the casino lights and bleeps
assaulting my eyeballs, I didnt even stop to talk to him. He was
alive. Good enough. I went back to bed.
- The next morning, my father told me a man dropped by his table about
4 a.m., drooling on himself and having difficulty deciphering which
of his bills was a 100 and which was a 5. He leaned over to my father,
"breath stinking of some vodka from another planet," and asked
him if he knew where to find a good hooker. My dad said that, no, he
was from Illinois and that his prostitute-spotting skills were rather
rusty. The guy said that was just as well. "I think I might have
just shit myself."
- Actually, for the first five hours of Friday the only day I
gambled I was feeling rather full of myself. I had secured free
drinks all day, watched a whole baseball game and was up about $45.
I then headed to a $10 blackjack table and lost nine consecutive hands.
Fueled by seven hours of screwdrivers, I responded by putting down another
25 bucks on one hand, which I subsequently lost, of course. Remember:
If you go to Las Vegas, you are a moron.
- Las Vegas is for the young, and for the old. Young people can go feel
like schnazzy-dressed bigwigs, and try to get away with various debaucheries
simply because theyre in Las Vegas. Old people can go and play
video poker for nine hours and earn enough comp points to get a free
buffet. I am too old to believe I would ever have a chance picking up
a stranger at the MGM Grand, and I am too young to plunk quarters and
pull slot handles. Three years ago, I was young and exuberant enough
to think I was in the first group. I have a queasy feeling in three
years, Ill be more than ready for the second one.
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