Here we are now, entertain us
I'm starting this post in the Vegas airport, watching the sun rising over the mountains, and continuing it with my laptop sticking out into the aisle of my flight to Minneapolis on my way home. Thanks to Delta being lax, nobody is hassling me about this. Not a bad end to a very interesting trip.
I'll be honest, Las Vegas was never on my list of places to go. Unlike many, I have no ambition to see all of the world. I've already seen a lot of the places I wanted to see to begin with - if I can see a handful of Europe and the UK and some of Australia and New Zealand before I shuffle off the mortal coil I will be pretty much content with my travels. Not that I wouldn't jump at the chance to go almost anywhere, even dangerous places, they're just not really on the official bucket list. So when I first got the inquiry from a couple who were thinking of importing me with them to Las Vegas, I was a bit skeptical about my personal interaction with the place.
"I read a few days ago in an article, 'If you want culture in Las Vegas, go to the grocery store and buy some yogurt.'" - Vegas Cab Driver
First of all, slot machines are pretty abhorrent. People using them look worse than miserable, and it's not just their resting face. People lose a fortune, quite literally, gambling in Vegas. Some lose everything. Speaking as someone who spent a lot of time on an anti-gambling addition poster while I was in high school, the prospect of a trip to Sin City made me wrinkle my nose in distaste. Of course, then I got to know the couple and they were great, they were getting married in the desert at a golf resort, and their idea of photos on the strip did not involve strippers. Fair enough. I accepted their offer of a trip, especially their gracious offer to fly me direct to my hometown instead of through Edmonton, and planned a trip.
Since I was going anyway, I took the opportunity and planned a few extra days in town. Originally there was the possibility of travel companions, but over time that proved difficult and then impossible and I resolved to enjoy Vegas on my own.
"Las Vegas is Disneyland for adults." - Vegas Cab Driver
I had very little time to research the trip leading up to it - par for the course these days - and so most of my research for things to do took place in airports and hotel rooms.
I arrived in Vegas after several uneventful flights, both of which I had scored emergency exit row seats for free by checking in early, and during which I slept and sleepily reflected on the fact that being ten thousand feet above the earth in a tin box has become routine, not just for me, but for millions. That's pretty crazy.
I arrived and was met at the airport by my couple and one of the groomsmen, who graciously allowed me to deposit my bags in their room until check-in time and then follow them around like a puppy dog. They like dogs, so it was okay. *grin*
The birds they sang, at break of day
"Start again", I hear them say
It's so hard to just walk away
I also got to spend about an hour sitting about in the Flamingo hotel aviary, enjoying the various waterfowl and wishing I had sleeves, seeing as the day was much colder than an average Vegas day and my luggage was inaccessible. Then we headed out for the rehearsal, where I saw some of the desert landscape of Nevada for the first time. Not surprisingly, it looks a lot like it did on CSI: Las Vegas.
That evening I was granted the privilege of accompanying the wedding party to a buffet at Paris. There was quite a variety, but the focus on seafood wasn't a great fit for me, seeing as the only seafood I eat is tuna - I did enjoy their German sausages a great deal, and also the creme brûlée, although most everything was pretty average. I scoped out the Bellagio fountain show for the wedding the next day, and got a minor soaking.
As usual the wedding day passed in a blur and the photos will tell the story better than I can here. The family and friends were very kind to me, and so my second destination wedding experience was also a friendly and enjoyable one.
Despite not technically knowing anyone for this whole trip, I have never really felt lonely. The kindness and knowledgeable nature of the hotel staff, cabbies, and other service folks in Las Vegas is second to no other place I have visited. Everyone I dealt with was very nice to me. I've been comparing Vegas to NYC in my mind ever since I was thinking about coming here, and no more so than after I arrived. If we're making that comparison, I have to note that even the street people were extremely nice - I even had a conversation with one lady about how the government financial issues are affecting the poor, and she was very gracious. This treatment, in contrast with getting hassled, solicited, yelled at and called names by the poor in NYC was very strange.
While NYC has nowhere to sit and never slows down, the pace in Vegas was much slower. I didn't see a single person walking on an escalator my entire time in Vegas, and that's probably the best evidence for the slow pace of things I can think of. Nobody speed walked. Nobody looked at me funny when I plopped down on the ground multiple times in different places because my legs were tired. In NYC it would have taken thirty seconds for a security guard to make me move.
"I think the government is doing the best they can with a bad situation. I think we'll recover." - Vegas cab driver, on the recession that lost him his job in magazine advertising sales
I took a lot of cabs on this trip because the walking was intense. On an average day I probably walked at least 3-5 miles, and after Murphy ate my good sandals, my second pair, which I bought the other pair to avoid using because of issues just like I had on this trip, was causing problems with my left calf muscle to the point of severe pain. Needless to say, door to door service was in order to ensure that I could enjoy the trip to the full and cabs aren't very expensive here. I can take a cab three times and tip well for the price of taking it once even a short distance at home. Most of the cab drivers talked with me about Vegas, and I asked them questions. Many of them had intended to only drive cab for a year or two and were still driving ten years later. I witnessed a three car pileup on the highway with one of the cab drivers while he was in the process of talking about how stupid people were in traffic. He was like, "See? Happens all the time!" He also told me to be very careful as a pedestrian, because pedestrians die daily in Vegas by not paying attention - two had died that morning.
Despite the slow pace, there is a kind of frenzied desperation about Vegas that disturbed me. Everywhere there was this weird pall. Vegas bothered me, constantly, and it wasn't that I couldn't place it - it was that everything here is built on staggering losses, on empty eyes and tortured souls. It's not really a surprise to me that the people of Nevada are, on the whole, pretty conservative. The cracks are showing, and it doesn't take much to see it.
Las Vegas has the highest divorce rate in North America. - Marriage Can Be Murder Fact Sheet
The Flamingo hotel I stayed at was definitely on the seedy side of things. There's few trafficked places on the strip a person can go without running into two or three silent people, wearing T-shirts with slogans like "Orgazim Emergency" and "Girls Direct 2 You" and handing out business cards with erotic photographs of naked women that go far beyond suggestive. At any given corner, a dozen of these cards lay scattered on the ground.
In Las Vegas, you can't avoid walking all over vulnerable women. Scantily clad women danced above gambling tables in the casinos, empty eyes above their brilliant smiles, each dressed identically to the next. Most of the time, nobody even looked at them. They were less interesting than electronic card games.
Over the 5 days I was there, I went through stages of grief, anger, disgust, sadness, and finally that vague helpless feeling of knowing that it's been this way in Vegas for a hundred years and will continue. People will go there and lose everything. Women will be exploited.
So over a few days I made my peace with Vegas, and then proceeded to try to enjoy my trip a little more… Not that it had been a total bust before this!
After fulfilling all my wedding duties, including the day-after session, I took in the Blue Man Group show, which was super cool and entertaining, just as awesome as the first show I saw. I love their hilarious interludes, jokes about the "network of pathways holding all of us together, 24-7: indoor plumbing" and audience participation at it's finest. It's a great show every time.
After checking out and leaving my baggage at the Flamingo for the day, my trip got a little better.
For my own portion of the trip, I had originally booked an off-strip hotel, but then changed my mind in favour of a themed hotel, which ended up not only being cheaper but being a pretty stunning room - Circus Circus, a great place to stay and fairly central to the things I wanted to see on my own, was a good choice for me. I checked in, gaped at the amazing room, and then enjoyed some relaxing time on my very comfy hotel-room couch.
On the first full day of the trip, I checked out the 50 Greatest Photos of National Geographic exhibit at the Venetian. I didn't necessarily agree with all of their choices, but some were definitely worth seeing in large format, particularly the one iconic photo of the young girl swimming in the dead sea, which I had seen and loved before. It's one of the best images I've ever seen.
After this, after a short wait watching some old-Venetian-style entertainment with a jester-mime and a guy on stilts, I had lunch at Postrio, one of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants in Vegas, where I enjoyed a squash-themed meal, with a delicious heavy cream butternut squash soup and pumpkin-filled pasta with pine nuts and a cream sauce, along with a lovely glass of red sangria.
I should probably note at this point that all the shows I went to - with one exception which I'm about to talk about - and both the expensive meals I ate were courtesy of Tix4Tonight - the Vegas version of the NYC Tix on the Square. I saved a good chunk of change by getting everything here. That means that my meal at Postrio was only $35. I reflected as I ate that I should only ever over-eat for food that tasted THAT good.
It being the second day after the wedding, I was extremely sore, and after walking about and taking some photos of the beautiful Venetian, I sought a place to relax. As I was walking, i walked past a sign for a Motown show. If I were a dog, my ears would have perked up. The advertised a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor, which if you know anything about TripAdvisor, is rarer than finding gold. I took out my phone and checked it out. Not only was it a 5 star rating, almost nobody had rated it less than that. I took notice, and bought the best ticket I could immediately.
I then finally sat down across from the theatre at a great little coffee place where I bought a vanilla coffee frappucino and sat with a plugin making use of the free wi-fi to plan the remainder of my trip on TripAdvisor.
Ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough
To keep me from gettin' to you, babe
The Motown show by Human Nature was hands down the best concert of my life. It was better than Coldplay, better than any of the concerts I had held in high esteem before. I was singing and screaming like a girl and thinking that I was born in the wrong era. I've always loved Motown music, but never more than in a crowd of fellows singing along to ABC, My Girl, I'll Be There, Ain't No Mountain, and all the best music to come out of the best new music scene that ever was. Afterwards I told Paul that he's going to have to put up with the next year being the Year of Motown. I really don't think he'll mind. I was reaching a point of mediocrity with my music collection and now I know the right direction to go - back to the Motown era.
I had just enough energy to go get some food at Tacos el Gordo, where, as TripAdvisor said, I was the only gringo. The place was packed with individual lines for different meats. I tried out some simple spanish in ordering my spicy pork and chorizo soft tacos, which I had to wait in line for FOREVER and it was totally worth it. It was even worth heading back to the Flamingo for my luggage at the very opposite end of the strip.
I retrieved my luggage from the luggage storage at the Flamingo and headed in to CircusCircus at this point.
The next morning I was pretty groggy, but I went to Mass on Sunday morning anyway at the Las Vegas Guardian Angel Cathedral. Some of the readings and mass parts really helped me to feel at peace with myself. I remembered the one really scary Bible passage where one of the prophet talks about how those who do not grieve for the awful things that happen will be destroyed. God gave me comfort, that my grief was enough, and that I should pray for those who are lost. I actually went to their little gift shop and bought a lovely hand-carved wooden crucifix for myself - I'd been wanting a nice one for awhile. Ironic, buying a crucifix in the city most famous for being far from heaven.
Just across the street was another TripAdvisor favourite - the Bombay Buffet. I was, for the second time, lunching as the only white person at an all-ethnic establishment, and the food was incredible. I even tried some more adventurous indian food than usual. Their spicy mint sauce was the best I'd ever had, and in combination with their potato samosas was mouthwatering.
I had been dealing with serious leg pain for two days, and so as I got some more cash from the ATM and noticed a little hole-in-the-wall offering reflexology foot massage, I decided I was in for that. The delightful little chinese man who worked on my feet sang me a broken-english version of Eidelweiss, saying a tourist had taught it to him. It was a sweet moment and makes me smile afresh as I write about it. He also sang me a snippet of God Save the Queen. He had a lovely voice.
My feet less sore after this, I checked out the Titanic show at the Luxor, which aside from the huge chunk of the actual titanic and a few interesting historical pieces was rather old hat to a girl who grew up on Discovery channel specials about the unsinkable ship that sank. I was grateful for my half price tickets.
I had to go through the Excalibur castle-themed hotel on my way to Biscayne at the Tropicana. It wasn't terribly exciting, and it was difficult to get around in. It took me forever to figure out how to get to Tropicana indoors. I had asked the guy at the ticket booth if he could recommend something near to the Titanic exhibit, and he gave Biscayne a glowing review - especially about the steak. Also, I could get 50% off a steak dinner there.
I had my first ever aperitif complements of the chef at this restaurant - a raisin reduction with mild cajun spices, most of which I ate with the pretzel bread. It was something else. My server, whom I left a very nice note for the management about, made me feel at home. I've never felt less alone dining by myself. I had two delicious pineapple mojitos, a scrumptious medium-well steak with mushrooms, mini squash, and mashed potatoes, and last but not least, four tiny flavoured creme brûlées, vanilla, apricot, passion fruit, and citrus. There were little additions to it, most notable of which was tiny pieces of corn pop cereal covered in a layer of white chocolate. SO good.
My therapist has been working with me on making food a wonderful experience, giving it focus and depth and colour instead of it being an afterthought or an addiction. I was really working on that in Vegas. When there was food I didn't like or I was full, I worked hard to leave it on my plate. When there was amazing food, I ate it slowly and with relish. I never thought having expensive meals could be therapeutic, but it really has been. My appreciation for good food is slowly winning out over the disorder, and that's amazing news.
Get ready cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now
I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
From the Tropicana, I took off to the nearest adventure, and the one I had been most excited about visiting - the Pinball Museum. I spent $40 in quarters playing pinball and vintage arcade games, such as "Dunk the Alien" - which is essentially skee-ball aiming at a target, where the alien in question heckles you constantly. I loved it. I also enjoyed a few very simple games, and a machine that stamped phrases, letter by letter, your choice, into a plastic coin. My favourite games of the actual pinball variety were the Monopoly game, which I found easy to manage and fairly intuitive, and the rarest pinball game in the world, with only one working production model playable at this location. It was super fun, too - and very special, because it was a multi-level game, not a flat table. I actually made it all the way to the top in one game, and was very pleased with myself and the game, which was circus themed.
After I was done spending my cash on something way better than slots, I decided to try bussing back to the hotel. This did not work as planned. Three busses and at least a mile of exhausted shambling later, I found a 7-11 with a taxicab in front, used their washroom, bought a snack, and asked how the heck to get a cab off the strip. The cabbie who was on his break took me to my hotel off the books, saying that he shouldn't be near the machines on his break, he'd lost some money. It was really sad, encountering the gambling addiction so personally, but I did finally make it back to my hotel. I watched a little TV on the laptop and went to sleep without bothering to set an alarm, since my exhaustion was reaching epic levels. I slept for 12 hours.
When I got up, I bought a sandwich from the little WestSide Deli in Circus Circus. It was HUGE. Definitely the most food for your money you can get anywhere in Vegas that I went. Stuffed to the gills, I decided it was time to win some stuffies and proceeded to the midway. There were several really awesome games. I spent about $30, got really lucky a few times, and then realized I had a huge bag of prizes that I wasn't sure I could fit in my suitcase. Especially my favourite - a huge round stuffed elephant. Turns out I was able to make the room - stuffies squish fairly well!
I took a cab over to the comedy dinner murder mystery, Marriage can be Murder, which was a lot of fun! They sat me at a table with a bunch of ladies who had also left their husbands at home. They made fun of me for being Canadian. Well, they made fun of all the Canadians. It was a good time. I second guessed myself on the murderer, but if I'd picked my first guess I'd have been right!
Before and after, I did the only gambling I did in Vegas, on the "retro Vegas" floor of the hotel where the dinner theatre was, I enjoyed walking out $2.50 richer than I was when I walked in betting single 25 cent quinella bets (two horses in any order winning, with good odds giving a low payout and bad odds giving a high one) on a little horse racing setup, with tiny bouncing horses and jockeys on a miniature track about the size of a diner table. The best part was the community experience with the other nine players, and sometimes their entourage - and the second best part was the fact that when you won, you actually got to cash out in quarters into the metal bin. I was more excited about playing it than any other gambling I considered in Vegas, but I wouldn't stay and play or multi-bet. I am happy to just dabble - and leave the table when I win.
"I hear it every day. People get into my cab, crying, they've lost a huge amount of money. It's human nature to keep on playing after you win and lose it all. Steve Wynn, the guy who owns that hotel right there, he said, 'The only way to win at a casino is to own one.' No matter what you play, the house always wins." - Vegas Cab Driver
After the hilarious murder mystery, I walked right out onto Fremont Street, which was, as I expected, an enormous TV spanning a city block. There were shops and casinos leading out onto it, and on the street was the stuff of Fringe festivals: a spray paint artist, caricaturists, musicians, and more. Most notable were the photorealistic sculptors selling you busts of yourself for only $35, and the duo of cellists with electric cellos playing such classical tunes (and fitting Vegas fare) as Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.
I then wandered until I found a way to get a cab back to Circus Circus and packed and repacked until I was able to fit in my haul from the midway. I only got two hours of sleep - I was thinking about just staying up until the airport shuttle left at 4:30am, but I thought better of this and collapsed for about an hour and a half. I didn't really sleep much on the first flight, and I probably won't bother on this flight either, I'm nearly home, and my own bed and a cuddling Paul will feel like the best thing ever.
In the meantime, I had a great conversation with my plane companion, a gentleman travelling for his work with X-ray machines. We small-talked about travel and family. It was pleasant, I haven't had much chance to talk with plane mates.
I got home, had a four hour nap, got up to watch some TV and eat some snacks with my dearest love, whose company I have missed. I love to travel, but there comes a point… This year has been really crazy and it's not going to let up yet.
I wrote this post in what is probably the last of my large gaps of free time in October. I have design and photography work out the wazoo for the next fifteen days. If you're looking for information on my life, check out the work blog or Facebook for some of the newest things I've been doing, and soon, the previews from the Vegas wedding.
Finally I should note that I have had to quit my bus job. I really liked it, but as with any job I have tried to hold, it's too much to maintain - and these days I'm actually making reasonable wages doing what I do, so while it's scary to have variable income, sometimes it's really nice.
And so, with that, I close the chapter of my week in Las Vegas. There's really nothing I did that stayed there. It's all here, or in photographs or videos. That's the new world for you. And not Columbus' new world, either, even if I was in the good old U S of A for Columbus Day.