The Vegas Strip is an interesting place. It’s flashy, a bit cheesy, and this odd mix of swank and glamour every way you look. Beau and I arrived in Sin City on Friday morning and stayed until Monday, and after three days of casinos, platform heels, and ten-dollar beers, we were ready for the low key and affordable Midwest. I swear I will be hearing the sounds of slot machines in my sleep for weeks to come. We stayed at the massive MGM Grand, a 9,000-room metropolis that seems more like a small city than a hotel. The midway of the hotel is filled with blackjack tables, slot machines, and scandalously-clad servers, and suites of rooms are separated on all sides with thick double doors only accessible with your room key. These doors that separated the casino and hotel rooms presented such a telling juxtaposition of Vegas itself. On one side was the normal world, and the other side, an alternate universe. At first, this universe was exciting, dynamic, and full of energy, but by the end of the trip, it became this sort of abyss to us – a trap of deceit, depravity (of sleep, clothing, and morals), and lots and lots of money. I’m happy to say we survived our trip to the underworld and live to tell our story --- or at least tell what we loved, and loathed about this interesting place.
1. The casinos will rob your very soul, but the shows are worth every penny. While I was at my conference, Beau snuck over to Hooters to play a little blackjack at the only $5 table he could find on the strip. He sat with some married men from Canada, in Vegas on a guys’ weekend. About five minutes and three hands of blackjack later, Beau saw three of the four men lose over $500 in cash. They ordered a round of jager bombs, threw a few more chips in the ring, and laughed about their losses. And while their entertainment came from a few hands of blackjack, we chose to spend our pennies on some amazing shows that I believe make this place worth the trip. I’ll save those shows for another post, but they were unbelievably good.
2. Walking down the strip is time well spent. Never have I seen so many advertisements, but the smorgasbord of people who attempt to earn a few dollars on the street is mind boggling. The baseball cards of naked women to order with a single phone call, and the weirdly scary combination of costumed impersonators is sad and entertaining. Elmo is sitting beside Elvis, Peewee Herman is conversing with Robert DeNiro, and countless Zack Galifianakis’ are wandering down the streets with beards, babies, and all. My favorite was the middle-aged Latino woman pushing her Optimus Prime costume in a shopping cart down the street.
3. Spend some time just walking through the massive hotels. When we first pulled up to the airport, I was a little underwhelmed at the strip from a distance; however, up close and personal, this place will knock your socks off. Each hotel covers what seems like miles of space, and each have a distinct energy and appeal inside. There’s the lively, more inexpensive New York, New York, and the ultra glitzy Aria, filled with aisles upon aisles of the fashion district’s finest. There’s the sophisticated Wynn and the colossal Casear’s Palace, and the pirate show at Treasure Island. Seeing the money, the detail, and the people power that goes into a place like this is worth the trip --- each hotel is incredibly over-the-top in its own way.
4. You can’t be in Vegas without trying one of the buffets. And the street-slide slushy stands. And Cirque de Solei.
5. Thank you Fatburger, for your $5 burgers and outdoor, strip-side seating, and thank you Bobby Flay and Mesa Grill, for your outstanding service and amazing food. It was worth every penny spent. Tom Colicchio and your $150 steak...I think we’ll stick to our grill and Iowa beef for the time being.
6. Dear Beatles Love Cirque de Soleil show, I now know why I could never find an effective description of what your show entails. The only way I can explain you is to say that I now know what an LSD trip must feel like.
7. Dear MGM, The massive amounts of cheap perfume you attempt to spread through the ventilation system only amplifies the thick stench of cigarette smoke that fills your hotel.
8. Dear every girl between the ages of 21-25, adding three more inches of skirt would only leave more to the imagination of the drunk, broke fools drooling over you. You’re making it too easy for them.
9. Dear escort sitting next to us at the sushi restaurant in the Wynn, the table you’re sitting at has nothing to do with the fact that “everyone in here is staring at my boobs.”
10. Dear creepy Elmo character on the side of the street – stop talking with your horsey, whiskey-breathed voice – you are scaring the children.
11. Dear Freemont Street, I feel sad that you are now the ugly step-brother of the Strip, but you are a little scary at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and not quite worth the $60 cab ride. I’m sure you, like many of the other demographics in this city, look a lot better at night.
12. Dear Bellagio Fountains, Thank you for being beautiful. I love you.
13. Dear slot machine crazies, You are the reasons these hotels look this way. And the fifty bucks you won last night doesn’t quite compare to the $2000 you lost the night before. But Steve Wynn thanks you for your logic.
Of all the lessons I can take with me from this trip to the strip, I can appreciate the many layers and luxuries of this flashy city. And although it seems quite ironic that an English teachers conference is what led me to Vegas, I learned that this city is full of stories. From the old woman in mink playing penny slots by herself at 4:30 in the morning, to the mom attempting to explain to her horrified son that ‘Elmo is different in Vegas,’ I appreciate that this city has an identity all of its own.