(a.k.a. 'Living Below Average in Las Vegas)
Maybe it was the year and a half I previously spent in Boondocks, Utah, or I was so much of an impressionable kid that the gullibility
factor should of killed me years ago or I was becoming bored with the pop culture aimed at kids my particular age and it sure wasn’t
drugs that altered my brain as I didn’t take ‘em, unless you count the chemical residue from my old diet of eating cake frosting straight
out of the can and Strawberry Pop Tarts.
For whatever the reasons and excuses I can scrape up, I’ve always had this love affair with Las Vegas since my first trip at the age of
13! Despite the oblivious fact that I was too young to enjoy 95% of this town (mind you, this was way before family value guilt engulf the
strip in the 90’s), I loved the town.
I might easily have written this “affair” off as youthful enthusiasm, but even as this was burning off in the ensuing years, not only the
interest remained, but expanded a bit. I had graduated from picking up cheap souvenirs and raiding the hotels for their brochures and
stationary to reading closely related books for behind the scenes information and appreciating the town’s urban “warts and all” aspect
for the behind the façade interest.
Of course, Hunter S. Thompson’s classic ‘Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas’ melded both the front and behind, the heaven and hell into
one boiling pot I felt a deep respect for. Sure, I laughed with Gonzo and Duke and their drug-infested rampage slicing through the
casinos where Spiro Agnew and Bob Hope populated, but I also noted the book’s deep moral implications: all that fear and loathing
around us had a price tag that most of us are still trying to ignore. A fine American book about a very American town.
Even though I knew the lavender surface of “old Vegas” was changing and evolving, the 90’s was a bit of a challenge for me as the
pace was coming on in such a nose bleeding speed. I had underestimated Vegas’ imbedded impulsive need to change for survival
and its willingness to replace its own history and traditions to keep the tourist and their dollars coming. This was the part of that “wart
and all” I didn’t fully understand until recently.
My Vegas interest waned during the late 90’s and early fake millennium and it wasn’t until around 2004 when I went back that I finally
developed a thick skin and made peace with the pace. Still the adjustment wasn’t easy.
In August of this year, my Mom and I were going to stay at her Las Vegas timeshare called The Jockey Club to meet my sister from
Arizona so she can get away from her year of hell, which started off when her idiot husband died. Unfortunately, on the morning before
our arrival in Vegas, my sister was arrested for DUI with no car insurance. Being that Arizona has strict laws against no car insurance
mixed in with too much booze, we instantly knew she wouldn’t be joining us anytime soon.
a close up of the
sandwiched in the
belly of the
a more scenic view of
Still, we made the reservations weeks ago and weren’t in the mood to go through the politics of canceling the hotel and plane, so we
were willing to tolerate the weather, which was forecast for 100 to 110 degrees for the high and 80 to 85 degrees for the low with the
occasional 20 and 30 percent chance for thundershowers during our stay.
One of the plans that were made before the trip began and my sister’s invite from the People’s Republic of Arizona was to see Cher
at Caesars Palace, $250 ticket prices be damned. I was a little hyper myself as I got a new digital camera to take picture of old
Vegas. However, due to the intensity of the weather, this enthusiasm was watered down to mild fits of inspiration between buckets of
sweat as many of the pictures I wanted to take where outdoors….damn it.
The Jockey Club might have major bonus points for its strip location, but, as of late, it had been playing a serious price as it felt victim
to the condominium explosion from last couple of years and the mortgage-related fall-out of this year (so far). A couple of years ago,
the property in front and the south side of the Club was sold to a company that made plans to build The Cosmopolitan, a billion-
dollar condo/hotel/casino project, thus leaving the Club with no parking and no view of the south Strip, only of concrete and steel.
Even though the Cosmopolitan is still not finished, the owner of the project is facing a foreclosure with construction to be halted soon.
Sadly, this was a noticeable pattern that is spreading up and down the strip. A much larger multi-billion dollar/purpose project,
CityPark, had recently planned to halt construction due to the economy. Adding to the Clubs predicament, both CityPark and the
Cosmopolitan are located next to each other and both dwarfs the Club’s 15-story towers like a weed to a forest of steel with a mere
three feet separating the Club from this forest.
Other heavyweight projects fell victim to this fallout, couple of which where to be built over the “Old Vegas” grave sites of the Stardust
and the Frontier. For a town that has been described as “the last stand of the American Century”, this can be easily referred to as the
“fall of Rome”. Not a good sign!
Fortunately, in our little corner of the word, we were spared the view of steel and concrete from our hotel windows as Mom called the
Club up and asked for a room on the north side that over looks the Bellagio. We might of gotten some of the behind the scene of the
hotel next door, but we also got a nice view of the intersection of Flamingo Blvd. and the Strip and its inhabitance (Flamingo, Bally’s,
Paris, Bill’s [formally Barbary Coast], Caesars Palace and the Bellagio) and the Bellagio’s dancing fountains.
Another change to our area of the Strip was the addition of Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino, which was semi-built from the ashes
of the “new” Aladdin which didn’t stay “new” for long. In late 1998, a British company bought the old Aladdin and tore it down to build a
“new” one in its place to the tune of 1.5 billion dollars.
Well, this “new” version was an instant bomb as the designers went against conventional casino wisdom by not only placing the
casino further back from Strip foot traffic, but building a shopping center all around the casino, thus forcing the foot traffic to go
through the mall to get to the casino, the money making machine to EVERY gambling hotel/casino on the planet! Needless to say,
after a botched grand opening, the Aladdin was quickly sinking and after bleeding money for a couple more years, they were bought
out by Planet Hollywood in 2003.
|ABOVE: If this passes for 'Old Vegas', I'm screwed!
Despite the weather, I managed to get a few shots of
old Vegas on the first full day, I did managed to get a
few old Vegas shots in; the Frontier sign was still up
and the Somerset Center on Convention Center
Drive was still in one piece.
I then took the bus that runs between the strip and
downtown called The Duce. This bus is terribly
convenient (especially with the heat) but it comes
with a warning: not only can the Strip traffic be slower
than the Santa Monica Freeway filled with snails,
almost 95% of the passengers (almost 99% of
whom are out-of-towners) have never seen a transit
bus before and get generally confused with all its
nuances like exact change, looking for a seat, and
the subtle politics of sitting next to a stranger. The
line of novices crowding the bus and dealing with
public transit and the lone overworked bus driver
adds another 10 minutes at each Strip bus stop. So,
bring a book and pray for a bus with working air
conditioning, it’s going to be a long ride!
Once in downtown, I soaked in all the old Vegas this area offered. However,
from the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of an old Vegas relic that I never
though would came true. This relic was actually one of the many “fears”
described by Thompson in his Vegas book. In it, he encounters a deadly
vision of people’s faces projected largely on the side of a hotel tower, staring
through his hotel window and right down on him. I never been that paranoid
while traveling, but I can see some trepidation of, say, faces of goobers and
suckers trying to have a good time by unintentionally show the fear and
gullibility while forcing a smile a few feat high and wide for world of other
suckers to see.
Thompson and physical chunks of the book (like that hotel tower) are no
longer around, but The Fear was still in the air and I was watching it unfold
underneath the Fremont Street Experience canopy. Mid section of the
Fremont, a man named Karl was interviewing unsuspecting tourists that
was being broadcasted on a large section of the digital canopy and
everywhere else on the audio speakers.
It didn’t come off as fearful as Thompson described it, but it did relentlessly
bounce between confusion and boredom. Where Karl, his camera crew and
his interviewees were positioned, they couldn’t see their “fun” broadcasted
on the canopy behind them. Even worse, this was an off night and the crowd
wasn’t as big and interesting as, I suspect, Karl was hoping for. Any attempt
to pump up the crowd from either Karl or his subjects where met with more
echoes than reactions.
From here, the rest of the trip continued on its relaxed and casual way with
the occasional raw Vegas moments to keep things interesting and on my
1) While at a sports memorabilia store in the Rio, I saw a signed baseball by Pete Rose. The inscription read “Sorry I Betted On
Baseball, Pete Rose”. Price tag: $425
2) The themed slot machine of this trip was E-Bay! It was a huge elaborate machine that was the most expensive. Mom played it at
the Bellagio with a few gay guys and almost got wiped out, but she had far better luck with the one at Planet Hollywood where she
won up to 150 bucks and I with 35 bucks!
3) On the second Downtown trip, I ended up talking to a lounge piano player named Bob Williams at the El Cortez. Between playing
the keys, he was telling me about his days when he was playing lounges all over “Hollyweird” and the San Fernando Valley. I
enjoyed his set enough to buy one of his home made CD’s.
4) I saw a Trader Vic’s at Planet Hollywood, but after reading its menu, this old Polynesian restaurant was turned into an all-too
fancy “hip” restaurant where the food is smaller and the plates are bigger. There’s always a downside to the Vegas influence.
5) I actually saw Pete Rose himself sitting at a table just outside a sports store in Caesar Palace Forum. I was ready to take a quick
picture, but the small army of bodyguards surrounding Rose and the table, looking down on everybody passing through, counter
balancing the homely look in Poor Pete’s face and eyes.
|“I got fired last year in Las Vegas from the Frontier Hotel for saying ‘shit’ in a
town where the big game is called ‘crap’!”