Thanks, I needed that. As I write this I am sitting on a plane outbound from Las Vegas. Aside from spending five marvelous days with great friends, I really needed the vacation. This was, far and away, my most enjoyable trip to that city; part of that is because it is my first visit that wasn’t for business, part because I was better able to afford to enjoy myself with shows, good meals, and so on, and partly because I just needed a few days to sit by the pool and in the hot tub, drinking and smoking cigars and talking to people.
On a number of my previous trips I had ventured out beyond the confines of my hotel/casino/conference centre to golf, eat, and more… but this was the first time I really went out a lot, and I got to see and enjoy a lot of the sights and sounds of one of the most opulent and ridiculous cities in the world.
I have said many times that Las Vegas is a city that was conceived of and engineered with the sole purpose of separating adults from their money, and that perception certainly has not changed. However if you look around the city, and especially the Las Vegas Strip, you can’t help but notice that there is no greater waste of money and resources anywhere in the world.
With that said, it is certainly a great place to spend a few days (although I think my visit was one day longer than it needed to be). Of the four complete days I was there, three days were spent lounging and enjoying myself by the pool. The fourth? Well, Nick and Jenna and I walked along the strip for a couple of hours, and then we got onto the Deuce Bus and headed out to see the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop of Pawn Stars fame. Before you ask, no I did not buy or sell anything. Although right across the street there is a discount ticket booth for shows, and I bought a dinner and show package for Saturday (the night that Nick and Jenna were doing their own thing). We walked for a bit, and then got back on the bus to return to the Monte Carlo.
If you happen to be a fan of Pawn Stars, it might surprise you that the neighbourhood in which the shop is located is not among the classiest; some of its neighbours include sex clubs, strip shows, and bail bondsmen. I wouldn’t want my kids walking around there alone. However it was a nice experience – we like the show, and seeing it first hand was a nice field trip.
A few weeks ago Jenna asked if I wanted to join them at the Las Vegas Comedy Club (in the V Theatre at Planet Hollywood) for the show, and I said sure. We saw a decent host and opening act, but the resident headliner at the club is a very funny man named Edwin San Juan who had us in stitches. Check him out online at www.edwinsanjuan.com, or on Twitter at @EdwinSanJuanESJ. After the show we went for a late dinner at the Harley Davidson restaurant on the strip, where we were able to enjoy dinner on the patio while people watching (an activity that you have not truly experienced until you do it on the Las Vegas Strip).
Friday was the big day. As the Best Man, Maid of Honour, Ring Bearer, Flower Girl, Photographer, and Witness I can proudly attest that I witnessed Ms. Jenna Dunlap become Mrs. Nick Duratz. She was an absolutely radiant bride, and with the fountain show of the Bellagio in the background it was an incredibly beautiful ceremony conducted by the Reverend Peck. Once the pictures were done we got back into the limo. First we headed to the Las Vegas sign to take some pictures, and then to the Stratosphere Hotel for dinner at Top of the World Restaurant, a magnificent experience on the rotating 106th floor, from which point the rest of Las Vegas looked gorgeous but small. The meal was fabulous – we all had the lobster bisque (which was to die for); I then had a Caesar salad, followed by the third best steak I have ever eaten in North America. We didn’t leave the restaurant much before midnight, and you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice… Jenna had spoken about going clubbing somewhere with one of the Kardashians after dinner (which appealed to me much on a level that root canal surgery might), but we were all absolutely beat. We took a taxi back to the hotel, and although I didn’t go right to bed, I did tone it down a bit.
It always amazes me that I can make temporary friends so easily; it isn’t that I go looking for them (although I am happy to talk to anyone), but they often search me out. That was the case Saturday by the pool, where a group of 25 year olds from Minnesota pulled me into their clique. They had rented a cabana for the day (a colossal waste of my money, but when someone else is spending it is a nice experience). They wouldn’t stop pouring drinks for me – and they were not chintzy with their booze. I am not usually a vodka drinker, but the five Grey Goose & Red Bulls that they poured me went down very nicely, accompanied all the while with a procession of cigars.
Speaking of drinking by the pool, if you have been reading my non-technical articles for any period you will know that I am usually a scotch drinker. None of the bars at the pool stocked single malt scotch. Not a one. I had to make do with gin and tonic (when I was buying), and Grey Goose & Red Bull when the kids were. That is not entirely true; if you follow me on Facebook you will have seen a picture I posted a few days ago of my ‘Vegas Wallet’ – a leather folio with what looks like two cigar tubes, a cutter, and slots for credit cards. On closer inspection though you will discover that it only has one cigar tube; the other tube is actually a flask that I refilled with The Glenlivit 12 in my room every time I went back. It amused me that on the first morning Nick and I went to the pool straight from breakfast with our portable cups of iced tea; Marcus was standing at the pool entrance checking peoples’ bags and preventing them from bringing any outside alcohol in. He wouldn’t let us bring our iced teas in, but even after inspecting the Vegas Wallet he let me in with my scotch! He was actually a really nice guy… I spent a bit of time talking with him, and I was surprised that someone who sees a thousand people or more per day said to me the second time he saw me that ‘Don’t go looking for your room key… I remember you!’
That same day that I met Dean, TJ, and company in the cabana I also met Batman. Okay, his real name is Johnathan, and he is a big hulking African American dude from West Palm Beach. He and I had a great time together, chatting it up and smoking cigars. He was a very easy person to spot… I think the term ‘brick shithouse’ was coined for him. He’s a dude that someone like me looks at and thinks ‘I wouldn’t want to mess with him!’. Nicest guy though, and we laughed it up for two days straight!
If you have never been to Las Vegas you might not appreciate how omnipresent the advertising for shows and such are, but they really are everywhere, starting in the first minute you are off the plane. I probably saw a lot of the usual suspects (Cirque de Soleil, Jersey Boys, Elvis and MJ and Brittney and whoever else) that didn’t phase me before I saw one that stood out, but the minute I saw a billboard for Zombie Burlesque I started mocking it. You can like Burlesque or not (I have never been into it), but as much as some people may like zombies I think the whole concept of them is stupid. So when someone told me on Thursday that they saw it and it was fabulous I didn’t give it much thought. But then a second and a third person said the same thing… and so when it came time to buy a show ticket for Saturday night I said ‘What the Hell?!’ and decided to give it a shot.
The ticket I bought was actually for dinner and a show, so after I checked in at the box office and picked up my ticket, I headed over to Pampas, a Brazilian Barbecue in the Miracle Mile shopping mall. Since I didn’t think to make a reservation I had the option of waiting 90 minutes or sitting at the bar. SOLD, the bar won without a second thought. It was probably the third best Rodizio I’ve been to, behind Fogo de Chao in Sao Paulo and Brasa in Niagara Falls, Canada.
What can I say about Zombie Burlesque? It might well be the most enjoyable show I have ever seen in Las Vegas. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is too much of an understatement… shocked is more like it. There was singing, dancing, comedy, and boobies… all of the components I look for in a burlesque show. The fact that all of the actors were zombies (real ones, I swear!) did not deter from the magnificence of it. I even bought the CD as I walked out… how can you not, with songs like ‘Eating Penis Doesn’t Make You Gay?’ J I am happy I was able to have my picture taken with many of the cast members… look at it, you will see that this is no ordinary cast of players! While I saw that, Nick and Jenna went to Divas Las Vegas, a drag show that they asked if I wanted to join them at which I did not. They then went to a club to hang out with some guy who is apparently the baby daddy of one of the Kardashians. They paid handsomely for this experience, and saw him for precisely two seconds. I can assure you I had a much better time.
The weather Sunday morning did not look promising for lying by the pool, and the forecast predicted rain. Nick, Jenna, and I opted (for the first and only morning) to forego the gluttonous buffet and opted for brunch at the Café, still in the hotel. It was fabulous, and the only breakfast (possibly the only meal) I had in Vegas that I did not feel (too) guilty about. By the time we finished and paid it was around noon, and the sun was doing its best to beat the clouds back. The newlyweds occupied their usual chairs as I lit my first cigar of the day and headed for the hot tub. As had been the case both Thursday and Saturday, a cast of people rotated in and out of the tub throughout the day, and I chatted with many of them. Each day I got out for a few minutes now and then to swim the Lazy River, to talk to more people (Batman, etc…), but for the most part I held court in the hot tub.
When we were done lazing by the pool we got cleaned up and took the bus to Freemont Street, or ‘The Freemont Street Experience.’ I didn’t know what to expect from Old Las Vegas, and was pleasantly surprised by how much more I like walking around there than I do along the Strip. Jenna really wanted to do the Zip Line, and Nick (being married to her) went along. I had no interest, so as they waited in line to get harnessed I walked around taking pictures, and then when it was almost their turn I camped out in a place where I thought I would get the best shot of them
plunging to their deaths flying safely through the air from tower to tower.
Did I mention that I love my Digital SLR camera? Some time ago I decided I wanted to get into photography, and having pushed the limits of what my PhD (Press here, Dummy!) camera could do, a couple of months ago I bought a (used) Nikkon D5000 with an 18-105 lens. Wow, what a difference. I was shocked by how incredible it is to shoot with, and while I did not bring it to Chicago a few weeks ago, I certainly brought it to Vegas… complete with tripod. It is the first time I have ever gotten onto a plane when my camera gear outweighed my computer gear… and got much more use during the trip. I should mention though that all of the pictures in this article were taken with my iPhone camera. It’s just what is currently available!
With the Duratzes safely back on terra firma we walked to the end of Freemont Street and then back trying to decide where to eat dinner. By this point not only were we hungry, but it was nearly 10:00pm, and I had to go back to the hotel, pack, and try to get some sleep ahead of a 3:30am wake-up call to catch a 6:15am flight. Neither of them had ever heard of the Heart Attack Grill, but I had. While I didn’t really want to gorge myself, they thought it was funny and we should try it. Let me tell you folks, this is a great hamburger. We all stuck to the single patty… they are very clear that if you leave food over on your plate they paddle your ass (and if you think I am kidding or that they take it easy on you, let me assure you that during our meal a number of diners were escorted to the tower of shame, strapped in, and the waitresses (sorry… NURSES) spanked them HARD with a paddle. Folks, I am a trained fighter and I know when someone is pulling their punches… these women were taking a running start and the crack of the paddle echoed throughout the restaurant. I was at the same time reminded of two great movie scenes: the first was Animal House, during the initiation scene where the frat boy (I am tempted to say it might have been Kevin Bacon) grabbed his ankles and got whacked, screaming ‘Thank you Sir may I have another?!’ and Biloxi Blues, where the Drill Sergeant (Christopher Walken) examines the trays as the soldiers leave mess and says ‘This is the army, son… we don’t waste food. You take what you want, but you eat what you take.’ Fortunately for Jenna (who failed the test) we were sitting in close proximity to a garbage can, and she was able to destroy the evidence. We all left with our bottoms intact.
The bus ride back to the Monte Carlo was much longer because of traffic. After nearly an hour sitting on the bus and hardly moving we decided to get off at the Bellagio and walk the rest of the way. On the first night I wore a pair of black dress shoes with my suit that I hadn’t worn since probably 2008, and I paid the price… they didn’t fit properly, and my feet were in pain the rest of the week. I was relieved that the other pair of shoes that I brought (my running shoes) are black with black laces, so I wore them every night (I wore sandals during the days) and it’s a good thing too because boy were my feet hurting. I was glad that I was still able to walk between 12,000 and 18,000 steps every day, despite the bad feet, and was also able to wear a suit and tie most nights (Freemont Street didn’t call for it) with the black running shoes and not look too stupid.
So along the way, when all is said and done, I walked about 75,000 steps (42 miles); I smoked 8 cigars (maybe 9). I had about one third of a bottle of The Glenlivet (along with about a score gin & tonics and vodka & Red Bulls). I ate three ridiculously gluttonous and one reasonable breakfast, and three reasonable dinners with two gluttonous ones. I had zero lunches. I saw two shows, I witnessed two friends getting married. I took about 800 pictures, spent about 20 hours by the pool, and applied Coppertone Sport SPF 15 Sunscreen 4 times. I lost exactly how much money I set aside for gambling, and stayed on budget for the rest of my activities. Most importantly, I had ONE amazing time.
Goodbye Vegas; I will see you again soon.