August 29, 2006

Las Vegas

Las Vegas, to make an entirely unoriginal observation, is the United States of America on its fifth drink having just taken a snort of crystal meth. It is composed of, and brings out, all the worst parts of the American character, carefully nurtured by the most efficient parts of the American business model. Looked at through the eyes of a cautious but supportive capitalist, it is an icon of the service industry; a money filter so efficient that you are tempted to simply drop to your knees and throw the wallet into the wishing fountain and get it over with.

It is also, if you look carefully, a place where the fine old art of people watching can be taken to a high art. It just requires a very effective squelch circuit. New Yorkers are at an advantage, here; the reflex ability to tune out very intrusive people coupled with the recognition that fascinating individuals are lurking in dark corners is just what's needed. I suffered a major dislocation from New York, since I stayed in the Big Hotels; I roomed in the Bellagio, and confined my wanderings to the connected venues of Caesar's, Paris, Bally's, the Imperial, Aladdin (what part of it was open during the renovation), and a few glimpses of the Rio. The problem is that the PTB of Vegas have every interest in making the experience as safe as possible in order to painlessly separate you from your money, so in fact there is a sterility to it all; a sense of risk packaged up in blisterplastic and offered on the shelf, with price tags clearly marked. The signs discreetly offering assistance to 'compulsive gamblers,' the notices that the odds favor the house, the pamphlets and diagrams explaining the various games - as well as the unobtrusive but heavily visible security presence everywhere - meant that the typical New Yorker reflexes were somewhat out of place. Those reflexes are designed to protect life, then limb, then wallet; in Vegas, life and limb are heavily pampered in order to take your eyes off the third. After all, that's what you're here for.

The buildings are impressive in sheer over-the-top silliness. The malls are ridiculous. The services expensive and complete. I intend to return to the Bellagio and spend a ludicrous amount of money in the Spa I visited only briefly, this time. The 'World's Largest Chocolate Fountain' at the bottom of my hotel tower was fun to walk past and drool at.

A plus - I can smoke cigars, here, everywhere except in the hotel tower. Bathroom? Sure. Bar? Sure. There are restaurant non-smoking sections, but that's about it. Well, okay, not in the health club, either. I'm poisoned and I like it.

Gaming - I've decided I'm not a gambler. I tried to learn craps, but all the games in action were fast ones, and I couldn't get the flow. I'm presently up $310 on roulette, but I have six hours before I have to head to McCarran airport, and who knows? Either way, it won't touch what I've spent on the non-gaming part of the trip, but that's OK too. My method is simple: I define my shirt as $80/day, or roughly what I've spent on food/drink. I can spend that. No going to the ATM. Update: This trip, I've lost my shirt. It's kept me entertained, though.

In any case, I've found that (gambling in three casinos, now) if I stay myself, that is relatively quiet and interested, it's possible to meet people with good stories. The gaming tables are self-selecting, mostly; the quiet ones and the loud ones. The quiet ones are split between the hardcore players, those who are relaxing after the 'thinking' games of poker or craps (that's what they tell me), and those, like me, who are here for entertainment and consider their money spent when they sit down. Some of those have fun stories to tell. I've spoken to people from Japan, from England, from the Philippines, Russia, Sweden, South Korea, Pakistan, and Syria this trip. All were pleasant and friendly, and all wanted to trade stories while tempting the devil Chance.

For that, I salute Vegas and will return; and for their sake, I can ignore the desire to punch the people wearing T-Shirts that say "FCK: The Only Thing Missing Is You," "Fuck me, I'm Irish" and similar messages while shouting incessantly. Oh, and McCarran Airport's baggage claim system.

A quick observation: I decided, entirely on a whim, to rate the various hotel/casinos purely by their public restrooms. Using that criteria alone, Bellagio/Caesar's (the MGM/Mirage properties I've visited) win handily with clean, complete and inviting ones. The Bally's/Paris facilities were a couple steps down, with Bally's looking like a bad Loew's Theatres in the mid-1980s. The Imperial...we won't go into that. Rio had OK loos.

Other random reviews...the A. Fuente cafe in the Forum Shops makes a passable Mojito to go with your cigar. An expensive one, but no more than anywhere else around's pricy! The Prime steakhouse in the Bellagio is pretty darn good, but I still prefer Morton's back in Boston. I didn't get to try the Palm in the Forum Shops; would've if I'd seen it sooner :-) Ah well, next trip. Posted by jbz at August 29, 2006 4:36 PM | TrackBack

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