Editorial Note: I've decided to break the Vegas entries up into 4 pieces, one covering each day. Here's Friday -- the other days are forthcoming.
So, at the truly inhuman and devilish hour of 4:30AM we arise (well, a-stagger would be a bit more accurate) from our bed and begin the agonizing preparations to leave. Our flight departs at 6:40, and the airport is a good 30 minute drive even at this absurd hour. Brief shower, jam contact lenses into my eyes, dress in standard comfy travel garb, including my brand new thong sandals (yes, SANDALS. Get that thong image out of your heads, you filthy things), purchased Thursday night with advice from my shoe-obsessed sister-in-law. Apparently, these are what EVERYONE is wearing now, and those sport sandals I like so much are VERY out. Anyhow, we kiss the sleeping children goodbye and head into the still-pitch-black morning for our airport trek.
The flight is fairly uneventful, although judging by Christine's periodic freak-outs you'd think we were flying though a hurricane in a biplane. Apparently, her fear of flying has gotten a bit more aggressive, especially when the kids aren't around. Going up and going down, she was digging her fingers in and clawing my arm, crying, gasping "oh god!" in a tiny little voice whenever the plane bounced around even a little bit.
It sounds kind of sexy when I type it up that way, but it really wasn't any fun.
Anyway, brief layover in Denver, with Christine trapped between a sweaty looking red-headed guy and a guy wearing a badge identifying him as a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Vicious and evil, I withdraw, leaving her trapped between them as they discuss, over her head (literally -- they were speaking while looking at each other above her head -- incredibly rude, but funny in its way), religion.
Hey, the whole flying freak-out makes me a bit edgy and kinda mean, what can I say.
Land in Vegas -- jeez, I can see my hotel from the airplane! And all the hotels look really close together -- that should make bouncing around and seeing the sights nice and easy!
Editorial Note: For those of you who have never been to the Strip, this is the part where you snicker cruelly, perhaps twirling your mustache for added effect, and say something like "That fool! How naive!" I am certain that anyone who has been to Vegas is already laughing maniacally at what is certain to come later.
So, we grab our bags and hop a shuttle to the hotel. The Sahara looks... well... OK. It's not bad, but all in all it's kinda dingy and worn around the edges. And it has a ... smell. Like a really old cheap plastic ashtray that has been cleaned a lot but still smells faintly of wet butts. Our room isn't ready (well, there was a non-smoking room that had twin beds, but that didn't really fit with our plans for the weekend), so we check our bags with the bell captain and start exploring.
We immediately ascertain that arriving in Vegas during the daytime is terribly anticlimactic. No neon, no lights, no limos, just lots of sweaty people looking jumpy. Since everything is so close, we ignore the conveniently located Monorail (chuckle -- more on that later) and instead opt to strike out on foot.
We now enter the portion of the tale wherein our heroes begin to come to one of their first major realizations about Vegas. Everything is damn big, and there are no points of reference to establish perspective, so everything looks like it's nearby. So our gentle travelers look down the road and see this big sign and this big hotel and think "Hey, that's like a 5 minute walk! Let's go!"
So we start to walk. And walk. And walk some more.
And the hotel we thought was close-by keeps getting larger without seeming to actually get any closer. Sort of an architectural version of a desert mirage, beckoning enticingly from the horizon but seemingly impossible to actually reach.
So, we keep walking. After about 15 minutes we FINALLY reach the next hotel, the Riviera. At this point, I am beginning to notice that my brand new, terribly comfortable sandals are becoming more terrible and less comfortable by the moment. Christine is in much the same boat -- also has a pair of thong sandals, and since she's not used to them she kind of bunching her toes up to hold them on, so her feet are getting stiff and cramped and just plain unhappy. So we begin looking less at hotels and more at gift shops, hoping for cheap comfy shoes to present themselves.
God are we naive. Cheap. In Vegas.
So we keep walking. After another 10 minutes, my feet are truly in agony. I swear my arches are collapsing, and if I could bring myself to look I'm certain I'd see blood seeping from between my toes.
And then, in a moment that should have been accompanied by a full-blown choir of angels, we arrive at The Fashion Show.
The Fashion Show is pretty much a mall, but it's a pretty remarkable looking thing. Huge video screens, and this gigantic aluminum oval disk overhead. But the most amazing thing is... there's a Skecher's store. I realize that new shoes are in order. If I'm in this much pain within 2 hours of arriving, I'll need to have my feet amputated by Monday. So, I spend $40 on a pair of sandals I could have bought for $20 the previous evening. The exact same shoes I was thinking of buying, until I was convinced that thongs are the thing.
Irony, you cruel, cruel bitch. But, irony or not, this is a $40 expenditure that very likely saved my vacation, so money well spent and all that.
Christine briefly considers buying shoes as well, but opts to stick with what she's got. Better shod, we continue walking and make our way all the way down to The Venetian. Head inside, and valiantly try not to stare and gawk like slack jawed country folk. The Venetian is unreal. We head to the Grand Canal Shoppes and have drinks in the really cool indoor version of St. Mark's Square -- tacky in a really classy way, which I love. Very Disney World, but with way more liquor. Finally grab a taxi and head back to The Sahara, which does not compare well now that we have experienced The Venetian. But our cab driver is cool and gives us some good tips on how to get cheap tickets to shows, as well as some coupons he had lying around.
And then, our driver drops the bombshell: we inquire about the monorail, and he informs us that the monorail isn't running. Apparently, some wheels or an axle or something fell off. Apparently, this happens a lot.
Considering the pain we are in after our first walking venture, this information is... well... alarming. The monorail was the thing that made staying all the way up at the Sahara acceptable, since it would enable us to easily access the resorts in the lower end of the Strip. At this point, we still hold out hope that the monorail will be working again shortly.
Anyway, we get to our room, check out the view and begin to purposefully adjust our expectations downward.
Christine wants to grab a nap, but I'm pretty keyed up and decide to check out the half-priced tickets stand that the cab driver clued me in on. So I hoof it back down to the Riviera and wind up with Showgirls of Magic tickets, at the San Remo, at half-price, including dinner and drinks. The show has a reputation as something of a cheese-fest -- burlesque with dancing, costumes, magic, music, comedy, and of course boobies, so it sounds perfect for getting us in the Vegas spirit.
So, then it's back to the hotel, shower, dress, and grab a cab to somewhere center-strip with a cab driver who was talking in something Middle Eastern on his cell phone the whole time. We wander around a bit, and check out the fountains at Bellagio, catching a presentation of "Time To Say Goodbye" (Andrea Bocelli/Sarah Brightman).
This is pretty much the exact cliche image I expected. The fountains are breathtaking, nearly managing to compensate for the Ravel-ripoff tune, Brightman's piercing soprano, and Bocelli's lackluster tenor.
Then it's time to grab ANOTHER cab to the San Remo. You will note at this point that cabs are becoming a recurring motif. Get used to it.
This time we get a lunatic for a cab driver. When we tell him we're heading to the San Remo he regales us, repeatedly, with a story about how he tried to sell the owners of the San Remo on a souvenir t-shirt concept with a picture of a guy grabbing his ankles saying "I got REAMED at the SAN REMO!" and how they didn't like it. He then repeated "I GOT REAMED at the SAN REMO!" about 11 times, just to make sure we understood, even going so far as to say "you get it? REEEEEAMED at the SAN REEEEEMO!" no less than twice. I'm pretty sure he was doing this to distract us so we wouldn't notice that he was going the long way around and running up the fare, and it worked. We fled the taxi cab as quickly as possible, and entered the San Remo.
The San Remo is pretty played-out: tired look and feel, and kinda seedy. But it had GREAT sushi.
Skipping ahead, we arrive at the show. It's a very small theater, seating perhaps 100 people total, and the seats are your basic cushioned stacking chairs. Definitely a low-rent operation. But the girls are gorgeous, the magic is beyond lame (this is actually a good thing, in my opinion), the comedy marginal but fun, and I wind up getting "volunteered" to participate in a bit with a very large drag queen named Tiny Bubbles. We laugh ourselves just about sick, and agree that this is the best possible kickoff for our weekend: Tacky, funny, sexy, and inebriated. The show ends around midnight, and we’re exhausted (having been up since nearly 24 hours earlier) so we cab it back to the hotel (psycho cab driver who must be in training to be a NYC cab driver some day. Judging by his skills and lead foot, he's ready for the final) and get some sleep.
Note that, due to the location of our hotel and the non-functional monorail, we have already spent around $50 on cab fare. This will increase substantially over the next few days.
Next Chapter: Saturday. Elvis, champagne, lions, Monet, regrettable accommodations, atrocious dinner choices, outrageously expensive roller coasters, the world’s longest cab ride, The Amazing Johnathan vs. The Worst Volunteer in History, “where the fuck are the Klingons?,” and late night grilled cheese.