Friday, November 03, 2006

Pretty Vegas

OCTOBER 15 - I arrived in Las Vegas in the morning, which is probably the wrong way to see the city for the first time. Las Vegas during the daytime is something like waking up beside a woman you don’t recognize, when that gorgeous model you picked up at the bar the night before loses her glamour and her make-up, has disheveled hair and morning breath. Las Vegas without the neon is like walking backstage before a show, catching a performer with her costume undone, and you feel the urge to look away out of courtesy. Las Vegas wasn’t meant to be seen during the daytime.

When the sun sets and the neon switches are flicked on, however, everything changes. The city transforms into the familiar Vegas of loud sounds and bright lights, and it’s spectacular. There is no place like it on the planet. It’s been said that if you want to tour the world, just go to Las Vegas. I don’t think it’s sound advice, but there’s certainly a reason for it. Las Vegas is home to so many replicas of world monuments and architecture that you get a glimpse of the world all on one strip of road. If anything, Las Vegas should whet one’s appetite for the real thing. Seeing the remarkable Eiffel Tower and Arc d’Triomphe replicas of the Paris hotel only makes you wonder just how magnificent the real things must be.

Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in America, and you can see it. There’s non-stop construction going on everywhere. It’s like the entire city is in a frenetic race to build and build. The city, essentially, is one strip of road growing outwards. Pretty much everything happens on what is called The Strip, which is Las Vegas boulevard. All the big hotels and casinos are on it, and anything off the strip gets a little less attention. Walking along the newer part of the strip is fabulous… the buildings are just magnificent, even if some are cheesy and a bit kitsch. Caesar’s Palace, for example, towers so high it’s daunting; but at the same time, since its architecture is based on ancient Rome, it’s extremely cheesy to see in the modern world. But its all in good fun, and is actually amazing if you just roll with it. The buildings are unapologetically over-the-top, with hotels like the Aladdin, which looks like something off Persia; New York New York, which is a hotel built to resemble the Manhattan skyline, complete with a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the facade; the Venetian, which is inspired by Venice (complete with canals and gondolas inside the hotel!); and even Treasure Island, which has the pirate theme. Yarr!

Speaking of Treasure Island, we tried Dishes, the hotel’s buffet. Las Vegas is also synonymous with buffets, and while there are some cheap ones in smaller hotels, we opted to try something a little more classy. After a little bit of confusion at the door, we spent something like $15 (pardon me if I round up prices… the whole 99c always confuses me) and proceeded to stuff ourselves silly with a plethora of good food. I wish we had more time for it, though, as we had to cut our buffet experience short when we had to rush off to other appointments. Here’s a tip… when eating at a buffet, take your time. To make the meal worth it, take a little bit of everything and avoid getting too much carbohydrates (pasta, bread, etc) so you don’t fill up right away. If you do it right, you’ll have enough room for all the dessert you want. In the case of Dishes, I regretted not having enough time to eat every single pastry, chocolate-dipped fruit, confection, and free-flowing Dreyer’s ice cream that was available. If I could have my way, I’d have stayed there for at least two to three hours, pacing myself with the food. It’s Las Vegas! Excess is always in vogue, so a little Bacchanalia is in order.

After Dishes, Tim and I went to the Luxor to learn the finer points of Blackjack and Roulette. I would’ve personally preferred to play Poker, but Blackjack is a fast, easy game that is all over the casino floors. I had 19 twice, which often would’ve been good enough to double down with, but the dealer, Thai, whipped out 20 on me both times, cleaning me out. Tim had better luck, though, ending up with twice as much as we started with. Too bad it wasn’t real money, as we were being taught using tournament chips, which can’t be exchanged for anything. The real casino chips are always kept under lock and key because they’re good as cash. I enjoyed learning how to play roulette, though, as it’s a game of pure luck. Unlike Poker, and to a lesser extent Blackjack, which require a bit of strategy and familiarity with the statistics, Roulette is completely random. It all rests on the ball, which could land anywhere.

During my first full day in Las Vegas, I got a taste – literally and figuratively – of the good life. Self-indulgence and trying one’s luck are key guiding principles of visiting Las Vegas. It’s a place to let go and enjoy. I’ll be honest with you and say that $50 really isn’t bad in America. You can live on it picking the right meals and getting cheap accommodations, but the difference is actually experiencing the place. Las Vegas isn’t a place you are meant to experience with just $50 a day. Las Vegas is built on indulgence and excess, and to fully savor it, you have to be able to let go a little. This can mean anything from being able to play $10 hands at Blackjack without a second thought to spending $15 (some hotels go as high as $35!) for a good buffet.

There’s just so much more to Las Vegas than the buffets and casinos, of course. There’re free shows that happen every hour or so at the different hotel fronts, and that’s certainly worth it. It’s only the beginning of the journey, and Las Vegas is really pouring on the delights. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the week unfolds.


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