When Margaret decided to attend this year’s Western States Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, she asked if I would like to come along. The price they were offering for air fare and hotel was pretty damn good, so what the heck, I decided to tag along, We met up with a couple of friends—a fellow WSU Vet Med graduate and her husband, both friends of ours—and made a week of it, the two docs attending classes while Don and I sampled the fleshpots of Sin City. In the evening we’d all get together and take in some of the night life of the Strip. We got back Friday morning. I pretty much had to jump back into work with both feet right away (even had to borrow an extra foot to cover the spread), hence the tardiness of this entry.
This was my first trip to Vegas, and I came away from it with a number of valuable lessons under my ever-tightening belt:
♠ Even if you can see it from where you are, you can’t get there from here on foot. Again and again, I and my cohorts were fooled by the combination of crisp desert air and the city’s built-in reality-distortion field, meaning that things that seemed just a hop, skip and a jump away by foot turned out to be a long, exhausting, Bataan-style death march from where we started. Adding to this was the collective efforts of the Vegas hospitality industry to make sure that the shortest distance between two points is a bizarre slog through a rat-warren of slot machines, craps tables and Yard-O’-Margarita stands. Protip: if you need to get to another building, take a taxi. If the place you need to get to is on the other side of the same building you’re in, find the nearest exit and go around the outside; you’ll easily shave half the time off your journey, and possibly save a few bucks—or brain cells—in the process. And unless you really need to do business outside of the downtown core, do not bother with a rental car; chances are you will spend more time parking than you would walking.
♠ Casinos and casino resorts are by no means places to “relax”. I came away from my week at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in dire need of a vacation. The hotel itself was lovely; possibly the nicest we’ve ever stayed in.
The Mandalay Bay is an imposing structure of interlocking monoliths of bronzed glass and concrete. It features over 20 restaurants, an embarrassment of bars, an attached mall, a decent aquarium, spas, pools, theater spaces and countless other diversions. Its largest and most prominent offering, along with that of all the other resorts on the strip, is without a doubt neural attenuation. The place is an absolute riot of blaring sound, flashing lights, gaudy colors, whirling patterns, psychic strip-mining and aesthetic insult. Part carnival, part Pachinko machine, and part focus-group-derived common-sense obliterator. Simply traversing the lobby to the elevators leading to one’s hotel room is an ordeal. It is telling that, despite my having slept upwards of ten or twelve hours a day while staying at the Mandalay Bay, I nonetheless came home and slept twelve to thirteen hours both Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t really notice until we had been home for half a day and had nothing more obnoxious or overbearing than the occasional phone ring or yowling cat to deal with that my aural pathways were finally, slowly opening back up again, allowing me to hear things that had been heretofore too modest in pitch or amplitude to make it through the brain callus I had rapidly acquired over the previous week: rainfall, for instance, or birdsong, or the sound of my own thoughts.
I’ve never wanted to play a video game less in my life than I do right now; I just spent a hair over a week living in one.
♠ Las Vegas is an awesome place to get fat. Sure, it’s not an original observation, but I can now say from personal experience that Vegas is a food-lover’s paradise. And not just in a schmancy, high-toned, savings-account-hostile way, though that certainly dovetails nicely with our experience there. We tended to eat at the various casino resorts, in medium- to high-end eateries, and didn’t once get away for less than a hundred dollars for 4 people (and that was at Starbucks, ba-doom TSISH!). Fortunately, every meal was worth it, with one possible exception I’ll get into a bit later. Our epicurean adventure included Noodles at the Bellagio, China Grill at the Mandalay Bay, and renown Cooking Channel whore Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill at Caeser’s Palace, where I just about gorged myself to death on a mind-blowing and gut-busting 22 ounce rib eye, easily one of the top 5 steaks I have ever had in my life. But even for the underpecuniated there are a wealth of places for good eats: Nathan’s Famous, In-N-Out Burger, and just about any other chain you can think of, plus local favorites like Lotus of Siam, Terrible’s and tons of others. In fact, just about the only dining experience one should avoid altogether is the classic “Vegas Buffet”, despite its venerable place in Sin City tourist lore. The buffet at Treasure Island Casino is the very living embodiment of the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”; 3 or 4 hectares of the mediocrest food that money can buy.
This is not to say that there aren’t lots of fun things to do in Vegas besides eat. Hence the next axiom on my list, and perhaps the least useful in a day-to-day context (at least if you’re lucky):
♠ Despite the ginormous size of its ordinance, a Thompson submachine gun is amazingly easy to control. Don and I spent a delightful yet expensive couple of hours at one of Vegas’ smattering of Class III gun ranges, the Guns & Ammo Garage. For 170 bucks I got the option of firing three different models of my choice; I selected a Heckler & Koch MP-5, an AK-47 and a classic 40’s-era Thompson submachine gun. All were capable of full-auto fire, which we were allowed to do under the close supervision of a highly-trained babysitter. The MP-5, a 9mm submachine gun that fires from a closed bolt, was very lightweight and almost surgical in its performance (Don had a similar experience with the Uzi he chose). The AK-47 was a royal pain to control, both figuratively and literally. That overpowered 7.62mm bottle brass really dug the thing into my shoulder, and my target grouping looked like a sneeze. But the Tommy Gun: that thing was stunningly easy to keep centered on the target, possibly because the thing weighed about as much as a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, which really helps to absorb the ol’ recoil. With very little practice it was possible to put a burst of 5 or 6 rounds through a space the size of a playing card. Here’s Don playing with his:
Of course, Washington isn’t a Class III state, so there’s no way for me to get my hands on a full-auto submachine gun….unless of course I were to find a pre-1994 Thompson at a gun show, which would mean it was grandfathered in under Washington State law. And, of course, assuming I found a new place to live, since Margaret would throw me out on my ass. But that thing was so cool….
♠ The Bally “KISS” Pinball Machine is not as cool as I remembered. If you happen to find yourself in Vegas and you have an several hours to spare, I can’t stress enough your desperate, singular need to go see the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame. The first hour-plus will be spent driving—and driving—and driving down Tropicana Avenue, absolutely certain that you have missed it and that the next recognizable thing you will come across on your journey will be the Utah border. Whence finally you get there, you will be treated to a sight rarely seen in these modern times:
Row after row of pinball machines, from the vintage to the completely contemporary. Including my old nemesis:
Ah, how I remembered this particular steed of the pinball stable. It harkened back to the days when I myself wanted to rock and roll all night and party ever-y day….or at least, get baked ever-y day and play pinball right up till the Pali Lanes closed for the night. Sadly, time had not been kind to this machine, which was in all likelihood a lackluster table the day it rolled off the assembly line; certainly in now way on par with contemporaries of its time such as Bally’s Six Million Dollar Man. Still, the experience was more than worth a few bucks’ worth of quarters.
There were other diversions to be enjoyed while we were there; we went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Love, perused the Mandalay Bay’s small but nifty aquarium, and got in more people-watching than is entirely healthy for anyone. Much fun was had by all, and I don’t regret this trip one bit. But that being said, it is awesome to be home.