“Vegas, Baby!” – Part 2

By Julian Draven

I made it through another airplane flight...obviously, because here I am penning this down like it is my fucking memoir. But, believe you me, I was damn thankful to have solid ground under my feet again. Even if it was solid ground in an empty and dead airport after a four hour flight when I had been up for 18 hours and the vodka-darvaset combination had worn off about an hour beforehand.

Regardless, I was thankful.

I wandered, bleary eyed, through the Las Vegas airport, taking the time to watch some of the giant monitor screens that were blaring expensively produced video advertisements for the local shows and casinos. When it is 4am and you have waken up 1000 miles from the place you went to sleep, strange things can happen to your senses. The short stroll through the terminal ended in a pair of escalators that sank into a circular chamber a good 75 feet deep. The walls flared at me in neon and glitter as I electrically descended into the waiting arms of the Vegas underground. Little did I know then what would await me on my return journey through the Vegas airport...a lurid streak of crippling pain, dehydration and liquid crimson.

A subterranean train trundled me through rails and chambers like ore spilled up from the depths of a West Virginian coal mine. In my first night windowed glimpses of Las Vegas I could see the flash and fancy of 10 million souls lost in a miasma of weak promises, merchant's lies and casino seduction. The Delta terminal was some distance from the main airport. As if the blue, white & red clique of planes had gotten together and decided they were above the unworthy masses of 747s and needed a home of their own, separate but equal to the home of the other airline's planes. Intellectual and social elitism exists even in the ranks of steel flying machines, it would seem.

The train belched me onto the unforgiving cold marble of the main terminal with all the ceremony of a panda in labor. Gathering my only bag, I strode defiantly through the baggage claim area. I long ago studied the secret art of packing a week's provisions into a single carry on bag. The training was grueling, involving 16 weeks of harsh conditions in Peruvian mountain retreats with former KGB agents. After killing my own instructor in personal combat, I was deemed ready and released back into the traveler's society, capable of handling my baggage without the use of airline personnel or shiny silver machinery.

I strode towards the taxi center, outside of the airport, and then it happened. The night air hit me. Stark, crisp, warm, totally devoid of humidity. AHHH!! The desert. Nothing else in the world feels like the American desert. The desert air invigorates my mind, soul and life in a way that I would have never believed possible prior to experiencing it first hand. New Orleans might be romantic in its muggy swamp misery, San Francisco might be ultra trendy in its grey rain and fog, but both of these places pale in comparison to the shocking vividness of the desert. *sigh*

My cabbie was a 53 year old man with a bitter streak as long as my left arm. I felt right at home. He proceeded to tell me what a shallow and two dimensional pit of hell Las Vegas was. He also went on at great length about how vindictive, vulgar, self-centered, and manipulative the women that lived in Las Vegas were. I guess after living 16 years in the place, he should know. Of course, this is also the same man that explained to me that he had caught his current girlfriend smoking crack in his bedroom, naked, with three pilots she had brought home from a casino. Classy lady. The two of them decided they needed a little break from each other, so she stole his car and drove to Chicago. He has decided to stay on in Las Vegas a little longer just to prove to the world that he has not been beaten by some woman. Mmmm. And whoever said soap opera drama was unbelievable?

I exited the cab at the Excalibur hotel, land of 1000 aching bellies. I tipped the cabbie well, in the hopes that I would not be part of the story that he told his next fare.

For those of you that have never been to Vegas, let me attempt to describe for you the Excalibur hotel. Visualize, if you can, the Disney Castle, you know, the white multi-towered castle that appears on every Disney product. The Disney castle is, of course, modeled after Neuschwannstein, the faery castle built by Ludwig the mad, a king of Bavaria. I have also been to Neuschwannstein, but that is most certainly another story. Okay, go back to your visualization of the Disney castle. Now imagine it in full scale. White towers soaring into the night sky. Now picture each tower is capped by a differently colored roof. Now imagine banners waving, and a fire breathing dragon that lives under the bridge. Suits of medieval armor, swords, axes, morning stars, shields with foofy and obscure heraldry, people shouting "huzzah" in regular Renaissance Festival fashion. Then add the noise of traffic and sirens, the clinking of coins in slot machine trays, the buzzing of buzzers, the ringing of bells, flashing lights and everywhere you turn, there's the smell of money. Now pretend it is the 70s.

Got all of that visualized? That's pretty much what the Excalibur hotel was like. Or, maybe it was a combination of the valium and the sleep deprivation. *shrug*

Somehow, in the dizzying press of people, light and noise I was able to find my way to the front desk in the main lobby where I waited in line for my key and room designation. I wasn't waiting for long before my friend Scott found me. Insert image of 6'6" 250lb, friendly guy. Just like a Mexican cab driver in Juarez, Scott navigated me through the gargantuan interior of the Excalibur hotel, to one of the several towers that contained our room. It would take me three days and 6 dozen melon balls to learn to navigate the casino in such an adroit fashion.

Making it to the 22nd floor bedroom, I threw my bag into the closet and set to work on the three hookers that Scott had waiting for us...just kidding. ;-) In actuality I changed clothes and was back down to the casino in record time. I did complain of being somewhat hungry, so Scott and I detoured over to the Luxor.

The Luxor is a gigantic black pyramid made of glass that sits in the middle of Las Vegas. It is, of course, a hotel and casino. If you've ever wanted to go to Egypt, but were afraid to because the terrorists think it is fun to kill Americans over there, then have no fear. Just go to Las Vegas. The entryway to the Luxor has a full scale replica of the sphinx. You travel under the sphinx's belly to enter the pyramid. The lobby has an exact duplicate of the temple of Ramses at Abu-Simbul (this one is not to scale, but is still gigantic). The interior of the Luxor is also pyramid shaped, so you can get a hotel room right up at the apex of the pyramid. The Luxor also doesn't have elevators (because it is pyramid shaped), it has inclinators instead. Very weird.

Most important to me at the time, however, was the fact that the Luxor has a food court. The pickings were pretty damned slim at that time of the morning, but I was able to find something. There's just nothing quite like the feeling of eating McDonald's french fries in a to-scale replica of the interior of a pharaoh's tomb.

Tummy concerns taken care of, we returned to the Excalibur casino.

Having never been to a casino, and having never gambled, I was at a loss as to what I wanted to do. But, my man on the scene, Scott, had a plan. We moved directly to one of the Pai-Gow Poker tables. For those of you that aren't familiar with Pai-Gow Poker, don't worry. I didn't know the rules either, but quickly learned that each game gives you about a 50/50 chance of winning. It's like flipping a coin for money, only with cards and chips.

There's a funny thing about gambling at a casino in Vegas - free booze. That's right. Free booze. Now, I'm not much of a drinker. Hell, I drank enough in college that I was able to take out all of my internal organs and put them in jars, without the formaldehyde. Maybe all that college drinking just got me over the desire to drink. Or, more likely, I killed so many brain cells that I can't remember how to drink. I'm not sure which it is. So, booze doesn't have much appeal to me. But free booze is another matter entirely. I spent enough time being a poor college student that the mere mention of free booze makes me start salivating and drooling. So when the waitress came over and asked me if I wanted anything...well of course I fucking wanted something, it was free!

Now, for those of you that may not know this, drinking alcohol impairs one's reason. The casinos know this, even if we mere mortals can't remember it. So, they are more than happy to give away the free alcohol, because once you've got three dozen or so free drinks in you, you might start doing crazy things like betting your Lexus on the next round of craps. Luckily for me, the attraction to materialism and the love of wealth have precious little meaning. After 27 free midori sours, all I want is sleep and sex, usually in that order. *wink*

So, I stacked up the free drinkies, whilst playing Pai-Gow and Black Jack. I started gambling about 1am (Vegas time) with $40 and quit gambling around 5am with $20. There are cheaper ways to spend 4 hours in a Vegas casino, but they usually involve working there. Considering I had never gambled before, I considered my first venture a success, after all, I had easily consumed more than $20 of alcohol, so I figure I was costing the casino money, and that put a smile on my face.

I woke up the next morning with no hangover! Joy! Scott and I checked out and stored our baggage with the bell hop and went in search of food; because if I can't eat, I can't function.

Across the street from the Excalibur is the MGM Grand and New York! New York! The MGM Grand isn't really much to look at. Imagine a giant green neon cube, with a golden lion out front and you've got a good mental image of the MGM Grand. New York! New York! on the other hand was quite a spectacle to behold. To picture New York, New York all you have to do is imagine all of the special tourist sites of New York city, like the Chrysler building, Empire State, the Statue of Liberty (which is a part of New Jersey, by the way), etc. Now imagine that all of those places are all on the same block and you've got a good mental image of the New York! New York! casino. If you haven't been to New York city, don't bother, just go to Vegas and you can see the whole damned thing, without the muggings, the urine stained streets and the roaches. Oh, and there's a roller coaster. :-)

The interior of the NY, NY casino is reminiscent of the area around Central Park. There are, fortunately enough, plenty of good places to eat inside. Some of them even offer authentic heart burn and food poisoning. I opted for the non-food poisoning meal at the local deli. Mmmm. Tasty. With our bellies filled, we set out to explore the city of Las Vegas, with the most important landmark being the highest priority on my list...Caesar's Palace.

Did you really think this thing would end in two parts?