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Brides And Hookers

So, Vegas. I went for a work-related conference, but as soon as I was finished listening to my fellow corporate drones I headed out for the Strip and the shows. All that talk about family-friendly Vegas? Forget that. The new Vegas is once again a playground for adults. This seems to mean gambling, booze, sex, and shopping. Yes, shopping. Vegas is always happy to be completely crass, as long as it brings in money. Shame is not part of the civic philosophy.

The gambling is pretty straightforward. Vegas was built on the money provided by losers. The advertising makes it clear that they will return just a fraction of every dollar you give them. Slots are for suckers. Most of the casinos are now run or funded by Mormons, and the town outside the Strip is deeply conservative, but it is also hypocritical enough to use the wages of sin to fund the local roads and schools. Maybe someday I'll practice counting cards like the MIT Blackjack Team, who took the casinos for a couple million. But for now, I avoid gambling.

The booze is everywhere. Penn & Teller (whose show I saw on Mr. Gaiman's recommendation) are teetotalers, and made a point of mocking Vegas drunks. I saw one boozehound escorted out of a restaurant at Caesars by security. The $1 beer and $2 giant margaritas were having the effect you might expect, AKA lots of drunken idiots. But you know, they push the stuff pretty hard. At one meal at Caesar's I was offered a wine list and declined. Then a cigarette-girl style "wine girl" came by and offered me a glass. I declined. Then my waiter asked if I wanted a cocktail. Water would be fine, I insisted. I mean, what's a guy gotta do to not get a drink around here?

That said, I had some fine Kikusei sake at the sushi bar later, served in a pseudo-Klein bottle. The Klein topology kept the ice on the outside, while the sake was inside.

Sex is back, if it ever left. The last time I visited was in the mid-90s, and the sex was not as in-your-face, or maybe it was just my choice of hotel was quieter. On the Strip, the cocktail waitresses don't wear much. The guests often wander the streets in thongs or bikinis. Grey-haired Anglo gents walk about hand-on-ass with young Latina ladies in hot pants. The Hispanic touts on the street pass out cards and flyers for the escorts whereever there is construction, because that's where the sidewalk narrows and you can't escape them. The topless shows are as big as ever.

The best moments are when the brides and the hookers collide, as I saw in the lobby of the Venetian. Lots of people are getting married in Vegas, and then have their reception in the casinos and on the strip. I saw no less than four brides in a single day, wandering around in their gowns. It's the classic Madonna-and-whore status for women. I'm still amazed that people deliberately get married in Vegas. Not much of an omen for future happiness, is it?

The shopping surprised me. The resort casinos all have gigantic shopping malls attached. Sure, they call it the "Via Bellagio" or the "Forum Shops at Caesars", but it's a mall, complete with food court and so forth. Most offer pretty high-end merchandise in a strangely faux-rustic setting (complete with tromp l'oeil skies, cobbled streets, and a canal at the Venetian). I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the Euro-trash Armani and so forth, but mostly as eye candy. The most amusing eavesdropping of the trip was seeing a cigar-toting Italian-American shaped like a fireplug and bejeweled with pinky rings show up at Hermes to rave about his favorite new French cologne, Rocabar. His dark, fashionable date listened patiently and the staff happily sold him the full line. The scent is actually pretty decent, and if you ever want to smell like a mobster, now you know how.

Finally, the Vegas architects are a superstitious breed: there's no 13th floor at Caesar's, and the Voodoo Lounge at the Rio levitates above 10 floors of nothing. Or at least, the "50th Floor" comes directly after the 39th floor in the elevator. Because it's so much more impressive for the ads to say "See Vegas from atop the 50th floor!" It's not just the gamblers who can't count.

It's not all bad, of course. The Vegas sins are very American sins of excess and greed. But the city does have its magic, sometimes literally. The Penn & Teller show was a marvel of jaw-dropping black comedy. Or (as they call it) "a stimulating evening of human sacrifice audience participation." I still don't understand how they pulled it off.

The fountains at the Bellagio made me listen to the entirety of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On", one of the sentimental tunes (from Titanic) that passes for art around Vegas. And you know, the fountain show left me with a big goofy grin on my face. It's that good.

I love Vegas, but it's just so ridiculous.


( 9 sutras — Your wisdom )
May. 23rd, 2004 11:10 am (UTC)
Penn & Teller
Ah man, you saw Penn & Teller? Tell us about the show, dude! They are the masters of the sleight of hand and I can't burble enough about how much I enjoy their shows. But I will stop burbling now.
May. 23rd, 2004 11:30 am (UTC)
Re: Penn & Teller
Yeah, they are truly something else. Teller played bass for a while before the show, then they did the escape from locked boxes routine, followed by the "Vegas" routine from their Broadway days (and then showed how it was done).

My favorite moment of the show was Teller turning water into coins, and coins into goldfish. It was sublime.

Some of it was just jerking people's chains. They appeared to burn an American flag and the Bill of Rights, then appeared to throw a rabbit into a wood chipper. A slightly preachy explanation as they repeated the flag/bill trick. Penn's patter about juggling bottles was pretty funny, especially his explanation of the blasphemy/profanity distinction as regards their show ("Of course, if I do cut myself, I will take you on a scatological and sexual thrill ride through Deuteronomy the likes of which you have never heard, especially verses 29 to 43!"). I loved their digs at other Vegas performers.

What else? Some fire juggling and fire eating. A great shadow magic trick with a rose. A card trick with the wood chipper. They previewed a handcuff and rope escape that they'll be doing on Conan O'Brian sometime soon. It seemed like it would work better on TV than live.

And they did the Magic Bullet routine to wrap it all up. I have a guess as to how it is done, but at the time I just couldn't grok it at all.

I got their autographs after the show. Nice guys. And I seem to have done a fair bit of burbling myself.
May. 24th, 2004 07:50 am (UTC)
Re: Penn & Teller
Burbling is okay; makes up for Teller's lack of voice (though not expression; he's amazin' expressive.) Thanks for the review!
(Deleted comment)
May. 23rd, 2004 05:08 pm (UTC)
I watch Pen & Teller's Bullshit all the time. I'd love to see 'em in Vegas . . . .
May. 23rd, 2004 07:32 pm (UTC)
Sounds like you had a perfectly marvelous time.
May. 24th, 2004 07:04 am (UTC)
Aw! Vegas is the best! But I am a huge fan of cheeze and all things sparkly, so...

Did you go in the mall for Aladdin? That's the best. The "architecture" in there is fantastic!
May. 24th, 2004 02:46 pm (UTC)
Sadly, didn't make it to the Aladdin. The Caesar's Palace, Bellagio, and Venetian malls were more than enough.

The "free photo with Elvis" was also rather nice. The whole place has that carny atmosphere.
May. 25th, 2004 06:19 am (UTC)
Those places just kinda look like malls, though. The Aladdin did a good job of trying to make it look like an actual souk. Next time you go, go there first! It really is very cool. Even 0verdrive likes it.
( 9 sutras — Your wisdom )

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