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March 25, 2001

Las Vegas Diary

Las Vegas Pilgrimage

The Orleans' formidable restaurant line-upWe are back from our vacation, a mere four day jaunt to the desert climes of Las Vegas. No horrors occurred, many experiences were had, and in general, everybody had a good time. Jean realized her dream of taking a vacation with the family for the first time since Kelly was a little baby. Kelly had great fun greeting many strangers, and cleaned up in the souvenir department. For my part, I sought out the two or three gems in the trip which would distinguish it from a tourist junket.

This then is my 'diary'. It wasn't written on the trip, or it would fill several dozen more paragraphs than exist here. Instead, highlights, impressions and stream-of-consciousness reign freely. I'll do my best to recall all the interesting items from my point of view. Jean and Kelly will have to write their own accounts if they want to be heard "qbullet.smiley".

The trip down was uneventful, and anybody who has travelled anywhere at all can 'insert experience here'. I'll just observe that we had no traffic on the way to the airport worth worrying about, and we made our flight with plenty of time. With Spring Break commencing, the plane was full, but no drunken rabble rousers were on board, so it was a pleasant flight. That said, let us commence with my diary, or Las Vegas: Carnival of the Senses "qbullet.smiley".

The Arrival

Anyone who has been to Las Vegas by plane knows that as you enter the terminal you begin your acclimatization to the world of chance. Before we even left the gate, we heard the sound of bells, chimes, ratcheting gears and computer bleeps. As we disembarked our eyes were assaulted with the flashing lights of slot machines, arrayed in the center of the concourse. Welcome to Vegas, indeed.

We claimed our luggage after a brief amount of difficulty, then caught the shuttle to the hotel, The Orleans, themed after New Orleans, as you might guess. Every hotel has a gimmick in Las Vegas, from mimicking the New York skyline, to reproducing the canals of Venice. In our case, every day was Fat Tuesday, as Kelly seemed to accumulate cheap plastic beads and necklaces (some with faux crawfish attached) faster than she could break them.

As we walked into the hotel, our senses were assaulted again. This time, in addition to the chorus of slot machines clamoring for attention, there was another sense assaulted: smell. In Nevada, they seem not to have discovered the 'no smoking' laws. Yuck! Many was the time during our trip that I traversed the casino barely able to keep my eyes open. And there are people who sit in that casino for hours on end, pushing buttons, pulling cranks, feeding quarters, shuffling cards, and breathing, breathing, breathing smoke. First hand, second hand, thick, thin, omnipresent. We had a no-smoking room, and it smelled of smoke. As I write this, all our clothes are undergoing a rigorous washing. When I finish this, I will undergo a rigorous washing.

Another complaint, while I'm whingeing. The water was rather unpleasant tasting. If I hadn't needed to rehydrate frequently to deal with the desert air, I'd have found some other way to imbibe fluids. Since the hotel had on the order of five bars, I could easily have pickled myself. Instead, I chose to drink lots of pop. That might not have been healthy, but the water certainly drove me to it.

The final culture shock was the presence of a sales tax! I know, in most states, that is the norm, but I've gotten so used to living in Oregon, and venturing outside of the state so infrequently, that I constantly had to correct my expectations during purchases to factor in the sales tax. Okay, enough culture shock, on to the trip...

Thursday

Here we have a not-too-interesting day. We checked into the hotel around noon, but had to wait around until three to get our ostensibly no-smoking room. So we wandered the casino, watching people play the various machines and games available. I was interested to see that the roulette tables were manned by no less than three employees. One ran the wheel, one was the croupier, and a third kept a running tally of activity on a clipboard. Is this normal? I don't know.

Eventually we got our room and unpacked. Kelly immediately began clamoring for a trip to the hotel pool, so Jean and I escorted her outside for her swim. I wasn't in the mood for swimming, indeed I had not packed a swimsuit. Jean was too tired to go paddling about either.

But Kelly dove in, and began her routine, which was to continue all weekend, of greeting any and everyone. She is so extroverted that I don't know who her actual parents are, since Jean and I are both introverts. I think she may have gotten it from my own mother, who was also an extreme extrovert. This went on all through the weekend, and was a constant source of amusement to me.

After the swim we checked out one of the restaurants in the hotel, of which there were several, and more being built. The one we chose was called Bones, and was a barbeque ribs joint. Given that it might surprise you that we ordered pizza (for Jean and Kelly) and a fish fry for me. I dunno, I'm just not into ribs. In any case, after dinner, we just rambled about for awhile, let Kelly play some games in the local arcade, then retired to our room to read books and prepare for bed.

Friday

Friday saw our first day on the 'Strip'. We concentrated mainly on the South end of the Strip, or Las Vegas Boulevard, as it is officially labelled. The owner of The Orleans also owns two other hotels, The Gold Coast and The Barbary Coast. The Orleans and The Gold Coast are off the strip by about a mile, but shuttles are available between the three hotels, so you can catch the shuttle to the Barbary Coast and find yourself on the Strip without blowing a ton on cab fare.

So we grabbed a shuttle and hit the Strip. Initially we wanted to hit the MGM Grand, but we knew Kelly would not be able to walk the length of the Strip, which runs over two miles. So we hunted around for the fabled monorail, which covers a large stretch of the Strip. We found out that it starts at Bally's, and runs directly to the MGM Grand. This has the effect of partitioning the Strip into a North and South end, with a hazy middle which we never visited.

Before discovering the monorail at Bally's, we had to wander around in the immediate area of the Barbary Coast, passing through Bally's, Paris and a few other places we didn't catch the name of. This jumbled journey had the effect of baptizing us in the sometimes gaudy, sometimes exotic, sometimes highbrow atmosphere of Las Vegas. By the time we had found the monorail, we had seen at least three distinct architectural styles and three different casino layouts, each attempting to lure and entrap the passing gambler.

Indeed, the architecture of the various casinos was quite reminiscent of Disney World, where a great deal of 'crowd engineering' is expended to shape the visitor experience, and ensorcel the visitor into staying and spending a few more dollars. In the case of the monorail, each endpoint of the monorail had only one exit, through a lengthy mall under the destination hotel. You simply had to walk past each and every store in the mall to get out of the depths into the casino proper, then you had to cross the greater portion of the casino to hit the street.

To get to the point, we found our monorail, travelled to the MGM Grand, and walked out into the street. Our destination was the Excalibur, partly because Kelly thought the building looked like Disneyland, and partly because I wanted to check out the Tournament of Kings, which is the nightly dinner tournament, where each table in the restaurant has a champion knight, who defends the table's honor on the field of battle--a jousting field, that is. Unfortunately, I got sticker shock when I found out it was $40 per person, so we didn't go this time. Next time, I've sworn to save the entrance fee out of my own allowance before we go, so Kelly and I can have a chance to cheer on the King of England, or some other notable, in battle.

After that, we went back to the MGM Grand and had lunch at the Rain Forest Cafe, which attempts to mimic an actual rainforest, in a lowbudget Disney sort of way. Kelly was fascinated by the animatronic gorillas, and the real 'rain' coming out of the ceiling, as well as the jungle mist. I had the 'plant sandwich', which Kelly had the Jurassic Chicken Strips (shaped like dinosaurs). I confess I can't remember what Jean ate. Afterwards we made our way back to the Orleans, since we'd expended a lot of time in figuring out the shuttle and monorail system, and we wanted to get back and prepare for the evening.

Here's where the vacation turned into a hegira of sorts. Jean has over the last few years had an interest in the comedian Jerry Lewis. She is fascinated with the public/private dichotomy, and interested in his history and development as an artist. So she was immediately taken by the notion of seeing him live when the travel agent offered her a hotel package at the Orleans which included a show with him.

The big problem was what to do with Kelly. We knew that no matter how captivating Jerry Lewis might be, Kelly would tire of him before the show was over, and we'd have to leave. It turns out that the Orleans has a child care facility which is really very well equipped, having a play structure, a small movie theatre, snack area, Nintendo game consoles, and on and on. I checked it out that afternoon, and encouraged Jean to try it out. So that evening we dropped Kelly off at Kid Tyme, with Jean experiencing every motherly pang in the book. While Jean was asking one of the caretakers another anxious question, I watched Kelly enter the play area. She ran into the open space with her arms held high, shouting "hello friends! I'm here!"

So I told Jean to stop worrying, and off we went. We were seated in the theatre for about half an hour before the show started. I don't want to give a blow-by-blow account of the show. I'll just observe that both Jean and I had a great time, and there were moments when I couldn't stop laughing. Most of the time was more low key, and it was apparent that Jerry Lewis was beginning to feel his age. The routines were chosen with a 75-year old comedian in mind, and every few routines, he stopped and showed a 'classic moment' from his career on a large video screen, which we decided was artfully arranged to give him a chance to catch his breath.

Finally the evening was over, the show having run around two hours. We went to collect Kelly, and she had to be called three times before she finally showed up. It turns out she had had a great time, and had finally come to the conclusion that Las Vegas was a really great place "qbullet.smiley".

Saturday

Saturday saw us exploring the North Strip in a more thorough manner. We spent the better part of the day in a single hotel/casino: Caesar's Palace. Here we spent a lot of time walking around two malls, though they were called the Forum and the Agora. Kelly's high point this day was a visit to F.A.O Schwarz, a three-story toy store filled with stuffed animals, Pokemon and every other manner of toy on this earth. We did not get out of there easily, though we managed to do it fairly cheaply, buying her a stuffed animal for a mere $14.

After our visit to the toy store, we went to the central market to await the latest gimmick, talking statues. More animatronic fun, these told a story of the fall of Atlantis, and by the end it was clear that they were shilling for a 3-D simulator ride about Atlantis. Kelly actually backed into a store at one point because the thunder and flames were getting too scarey for her. I gotta give it to her, she knows her own limits well.

We wrapped up our time in Caesar's Palace with a visit to their food court, which was actually not any more diverse than the usual mall food court in Oregon. But the food was good, and tasted better for our having worn ourselves out. After buying a few souvenirs (Caesar's Palace hats in my case), we headed back to our hotel.

Finally, on our way back, I had one of those magic moments. I got to see a 3-card monte game in the wild. I've seen them on television, complete with explanations of all the mechanics of the game, but this is the first time I've actually seen the con in progress. Once I heard the shill and the conman doing their patter, I looked up, and spotted the lookouts at either end of the block. It was really cool. I pointed it out to Jean, and another pedestrian commented on how there were better ways to lose money in Las Vegas.

Miscellaneous Observations

It may just be the effect of the monorail but it feels as if 'the Strip' is clustered around a North and a South Strip, with not so much in the middle. Looking over the map, I certainly don't feel there are as many recognizable names centered as at the ends. So for us, the drill of shuttle & walk & monorail may have been the most effective way of seeing Las Vegas.

As much as the architecture was responsible for crowd engineering, so too was the ample availability of rich food, the constant smoke, easy alcohol, and skimpily clothed waitresses part of the gambling infrastructure. They each existed as distractions, and helped to reduce the judgement of the players, making the house the easy winner in many more instances.

Pai Gow PokerI discovered a new variation on the game of poker, which seems to exist mainly to complicate matters. It's called Paigow Poker, and requires each player to play two hands at once, a five-card and a two-card hand, where the five-card hand must be arranged in such a way that it beats the two-card hand held by the same player, using the regular poker rules. What follows is an image of some of the rules for Pai Gow Poker:SOME of the rules to Pai Gow Poker

Here's a list of some of the hotel/casinos missed this trip which we'd like to see if we ever go back: the Venetian, Treasure Island, The Mirage, Harrah's.

The Trip Home

Sunday was almost entirely a travel day (and a recovery day once home). So in actuality you could call this a three day junket. We left the hotel early in the morning, and as we were waiting for our shuttle to the airport, a man approached us, seemingly friendly and casual, and commented about luck and winning. Then he leaned over Kelly, and thrust $10 into her hand. He said, "do you know who St. Gabriel is? The blessed St. Gabriel? That's me." At this time hotel security came rushing over and hustled the guy away, and we gave the $10 to them. We don't want to encourage Kelly into accepting money from strangers.

Jean clearly had had enough with Las Vegas' tobacco fascination. As we entered the airport, we approached the security gates where our belongings would be scanned in the X-ray machine. Jean looked at the lines for each gate, then said "let's take the non-smoking security gate." Of course there's no such thing, Jean had just seen an airport sign admonishing 'no smoking' just before the sign directing her to the security gates, and conflated the two. But I wish there really had been one "qbullet.smiley".

A sign of the big city is that the men's and women's restrooms each had needle deposit boxes for used needles. I don't think I've ever seen that at the Portland airport.

I felt slightly nostalgic for my youth when I was walking down a corridor to the gate and saw a young guy, shaved head and sunglasses, backpack at this feet, lying full out on the carpeted floor to one side of the corridor catching a nap before his next flight. He seemed to be able to sleep quite comfortably as people walked by not two feet away.

On the flight home, Kelly shared a theory with us. It seems that the left side of plane is for homebound travellers, while the right is reserved for visitors to the plane's destination. She came to this conclusion because when we were riding down to Vegas, we rode on the right side of the plane, and returning, we were on the left side. I can't find any fault with her reasoning!

So now we are home. The laundry has run several cycles, and I'm typing up my impressions before they fade. Sorry if this isn't very coherent, but it catches the way I feel anyway. Will we go back? Possibly, but before that I want to see the Oregon coast again, and Jean thinks a trip to Vancouver is in order too.

Posted by dpwakefield at March 25, 2001 07:34 PM