No matter how many times I visit Las Vegas, it always plays out the same way.
At first, I am excited and enthusiastic as the plane lifts off from rainy Vancouver and heads due south to the hot, palm tree environs of Sin City. I usually consider a cocktail as my self-control slips the surly bonds of real life on earth, but the good angel on my shoulder pokes me in the conscience a few times and I opt for tea or maybe a Canada Dry Ginger Ale and feel good about myself. Also, as it is not quite noon, I think about pacing myself.
Pretty soon, the lunar landscape of the Mojave Desert dips into view as the plane hits the welcoming winds of McCarran International Airport. The air turbulence on landing is a bit of foreshadowing for the unsettling feeling I will get walking the famous Las Vegas Strip -that feeling of not quite being in control.
The moment I step out of the hotel and begin the first stroll through the canyon of casinos, I feel like I’m on a moving sidewalk with clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right.
A constant pulsating hip hop beat blasts through the granite gorge and seems to push the hordes along in search of something to eat. I get a bit homesick, even a wee bit lonely, as I navigate a sea of young people stumbling toward me, and a slew of middle-aged convention delegates staggering out of bars in my path. For the love of God, don’t stop to fix your shoe.
You don’t move through Vegas. It moves you in a raging river of margaritas and American beer; its flashy floodwaters dragging you past elderly hucksters snapping business cards stamped with naked girl logos.
You weave your way through heat-stroked Elmos and Spidermen and Transformers posing for photos with thrilled tourists and you try not to ruin their shot. You search the shores for a dining option and feel like you’ve caught a life-saving branch as you grasp an empty patio table in the blessed shade. “How lucky are we to have found this spot!”
The last gulp from your first glass of warm beer goes down reluctantly as you sign the credit card slip and feel a strange pinch in your stomach. It might be the three cups of guacamole you consumed in less than 20 minutes or more likely it’s the $200.00 dining bill that feels like a bad start and even worse miscalculation on how much you’ll spend over the next three days.
The new slogan in your head is, What you bring to Vegas stays in Vegas, with a 30% exchange rate top-up fee.
Eventually, as the warm desert sun and swaying palms start to sync up with your alcohol buzz, the place kind of grows on you. A twenty, which looks exactly like a one, a five or a ten, slips out of your wallet and into the bill area on the Michael Jackson Icon slot machine with such ease you’re amazed at how much fun it all is. Until it isn’t and before Thriller is done, you get up and move on in search of a 25-cent machine to maybe stretch the fun time to at least ½ an hour.
The forlorn looking dealers at the blackjack table pass by like an endless loop of movie footage with the $25.00 minimum bet signs lit up neon-green atop their brown felt barren landscapes. If you look around the Vegas Vacation set, you’ll wonder if any of the people in the distance make even half that amount per hour at the jobs they are on vacation from.
It seems like the gambling areas are not quite as busy as they used to be. There are more empty tables and available slots to play than the last time I was there. The sound of people ‘winning’ also seems like a distant memory. Not that I spent hours in the place, but I don’t remember hearing the whistles and sirens of a jackpot being hit, even once, over the course of our weekend trip. I heard a girl screech at the Roulette table, but I think it was because she fell off her 5-inch heels and spilled her free drink.
I think The House has found a different way to always win.
A few high-rollers are still around, but the high fees for doing one lap of the swimming pool and lounging in the cacophony of convention-guy hoots, also seems to be dipping toward The House’s favour. At $40US per day per room in Resort Fees, or $52.00 in pasty white sunburned Canadian dollars, times 3044 guest rooms at The Mirage….well, I’m bad at math but I think there’s a lot of money being laundered in the chlorinated shallow end of the Las Vegas Boulevard pools.
Needless to say, the final day rolls around and you toss the dice at the TV Screen to check out of the room. Every $6.50 bottle of water or bag of chips is itemized along with the corresponding tax for each item on several pages of the ‘folio’ and when you get to the end of it all, it knocks you out cold. Then you gather your things, walk the endless hotel hallway to the elevator, maneuvering past a fresh batch of resort-fee innocents, and make your way to the taxi queue out front.
The swaying palms of Las Vegas seem to sweep you out of town like tall green Swiffers to the airport at the edge of The Strip. The taxi driver takes you through the back channels, past gas stations and giant Employee Centres, and for a moment you wonder about the people who never leave.
Four days zip by in a blur of sleep-deprived sightseeing, beer naps by the pool, and lazy shopping in the same stores we have back home.
My iPhone activity counter calculated just over 12,000 steps each day and correspondingly, my bank account balance is quite a bit thinner from the exercise known as The Vegas Trip. But it was such fun – I’ll probably do it again.