Reading, Writing, Ranting and Raving
Thanksgiving in Vegas. It sounds like the premise for a National Lampoon movie or, at the very least, an unusual way to spend a day usually devoted to overeating and football.
But the holiday tends to be rather under-celebrated at our house. We don’t (horrors!) watch American football, and Husband, D., is a Brit who never fully embraced the whole Pilgrim/Indian thing. Distance between my siblings is measured more by lifestyle differences than miles, which means the chances of a large family gathering are slim to none. And Slim’s gone home. (A quote from a Dandy Daley Mackall book that I’ve always wanted to use. And now I have).
This is not to say we haven’t tried the traditional route. In years past, I’ve stuffed and roasted the turkey, baked the yams, and invited my mother for dinner. But with only four to enjoy the feast, the day always seems to fall flat.
But this time, things were different. This time, we went to Vegas.
This may seem an odd choice for two non-gamblers and a sixteen-year-old who was not — and I can’t emphasize this enough — not enthusiastic about the idea. You may wonder, why Las Vegas? Why not somewhere like the Mexican Riviera or even the Outer Banks?
The answer is simple. Since my current book is set partly in Vegas, this trip was research. Honest.
Although I’m usually comfortable depending on the resources of the library and Internet to explore a city, I sensed that approach wouldn’t work for the “Sin City.”
It turns out I was right. Las Vegas can’t be faked. From the bells and beeps of the slot machines to the ever-lingering scent of cigarette smoke and dazzling lights of the Strip, it’s a bacchanalia for the senses that can’t be imitated. Vegas stands alone.
The experience began on the plane ride. As if everyone has agreed to forget their day-to-day inhibitions and leave real-life behind, seatmates were swapping stories they’d be too embarrassed to tell elsewhere.
“Did you ever hear of anyone trying to cut their Christmas tree with an electric knife? I did. It looked like it would work, you know, the way the blades go back and forth? But don’t try it. It doesn’t work.”
On landing, I discovered that, yes, there really are slot machines at the airport, along with this advertisement for the Las Vegas Clark County Library (Library of the Year in 2003). I loved their nerdy little girl.
However, the Eau de Tobacco fragrance didn’t kick in until we reached our lodgings. Seeing a single clerk behind a vast registration desk was enough to make me wonder if our chosen hotel was fighting a downhill slide. (Checking out three days later, every station was in use, making it clear how wrong initial impressions can be).
Upon receiving our keys, I realized something a smarter person would have learned at the airport. In a town devoted to gambling, you don’t go anywhere without encountering some type of gaming. To reach the elevators (and our room) required a stroll through the casino. Hungry for dinner? The restaurants are just past the slots and gaming tables. The path from anywhere to anywhere else is invariably routed through the casino, blocked by the hordes of people milling about, as inescapable as the sound of the machines and the smell of cigarettes.
We took care of the gambling experience right away. Quarter slots first night. Spent $25. Won it back and $346 more. Yes, I’m gloating. Wouldn’t you?
The whole trip felt so surreal that rather than trying to make sense of it, I’ll write my impressions as they were, random and perhaps slightly incoherent.
Talking books with the bartender. Drinks are free as long as you’re gambling but we quit while I was ahead and paid for them. The slight sixty-something-year-old read many of the same mystery writers I do — Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, for example — and recommended a few more. But I’ve forgotten the authors’ names. Guess “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” means reading recommendations too!
The celebrity impersonators on the Strip and downtown. But the longest line was all men and not for Elvis or the Playboy bunnies. They were waiting to have their picture taken with a woman who was blessed (and probably not by nature) with twin attractions that were well beyond the range of normal.
M&M World. Complete mayhem and I’m still not sure why. Four floors (we made it to two) of M&M-logo gear and tubes of colors you can’t get anywhere else.
A very nontraditional turkey dinner at the Harley Davidson Cafe. Raisins in the stuffing. Eww!
Wedding chapel after wedding chapel after wedding chapel on Las Vegas Boulevard. The best name? “Wee Kirk o’ the Heather” which claims to be the original, in business since 1940. Elvis wedding packages start at just $177 with the “Love Me Tender.” If I ever get married again, I know where I’m going! Not.
Lady at Denny’s who had clearly shaved her eyebrows. She evidently preferred them a half inch higher on her forehead. And black as night. And thin.
The “Fremont Street Experience.” Pedestrianized street of old Vegas with neon and flashing light bulbs above casinos on either side. Live shows and projected video to music overhead. Really, if you go to Las Vegas, you must visit Fremont Street. http://www.vegasexperience.com/ The website gives you a sense of what it’s like but you really need to see it.
Best deal on beer. Two Heinekens for $4 at the tacky — and I mean that in the most loving sense — gift shop on Fremont.
Zip lining down Fremont Street. This gets a separate mention because it was the biggest risk I took in Vegas. Looked like great fun. “I’ll do it if you will,” I said to S, my sixteen-year-old daughter, not realizing that the place you are launched from is much higher than where you land. Thank God, all I had to do was sit in the harness and let them push me. I could have never stepped off by myself. Have I mentioned I’m scared of heights? But, it was SO FUN!!! Flying above the street, with the KISS impersonators looking up at me. It took hours to come down from the adrenaline rush. Highly recommended. http://fremontstreetflightline.com/
Bellagio Fountains to music. Every fifteen minutes. Beautiful after dark. Even in the cold.
The volcano at the Mirage. Every hour on the hour. The heat felt lovely.
The Sirens of Treasure Island. Not worth waiting twenty minute in forty degree weather, but I do admire their stamina, jumping and diving into water when it was that cold.
Gilly’s. When I was growing up, Country and Western was the only music we listened to and I still enjoy it. But I’ll never understand “Rockin’ the Beer Gut,” “International Harvester,” or “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Never say never, I know, but I feel confident about this.
Nor do I get why the DJ kept insisting that the man who won the bull-riding contest on the mechanical bull was guaranteed to get laid that night. I mean, seriously? What’s the attraction? Unless it’s the $200 prize.
But I’ve got money of my own. Did I mention I won $346 at slots?
Nice Irish boy on his honeymoon rode so his new bride could get a picture. Sweet.
Bull operator seemed to take great pride in his work. And how’s that for a specialized skill? Very impressive on a resume. He made bull’s movement take on a different cadence when a woman was riding, with more side to side motion to cause all that female flesh to jiggle. Sadly, the resulting male attention convinced a slightly inebriated young woman to act the fool by riding again and again.
MGM Grand lions. Sound asleep.
The Hoover Dam. Inescapable if your husband is an engineer. Massive and majestic. Worth visiting if only for all the dam jokes you can make. Dam road. Dam bridge. Dam police. Highly entertaining for those of us with lowbrow humor. Dam.
Madame Tussaud’s. Because, hey, that’s the closest I’ll ever get to Johnny Depp or Daniel Craig. And I’ve got pictures to prove it. Unfortunately, they’re not on this computer.
Never mind. At least, I won $346.
We came home exhausted. But Las Vegas is worth seeing, even if you’re not a gambler. If you’re a writer, so much the better. It’s teeming with humanity which means it’s also teeming with inspiration. I now have a much better feel for my main character’s experience.
Plus, on the plane, I had time to read some ARCs that have been in my TBR pile for weeks. A historical women’s fiction book by Posie Graeme-Evans called The Dressmaker which I found absorbing. And The Other Side, which features paranormal short stories by Mary Kay McComas, J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Patricia Gaffney, and Ruth Ryan Langan. I love anthologies but paranormal not so much. However, I enjoyed this selection more than I expected and would recommend it even if you’re not a paranormal fan.
I could even buy them for you. Since I won $346. 🙂