Posts Tagged 'Las Vegas'

What happens in Vegas

I think we’re going to have to clear the decks for this one.

I had but a day to see Vegas properly, like the Grand Canyon, so like the Canyon I decided to get up early.

This did not happen. Something about Vegas… I don’t know, I think the best word for it would be stupifies you. It’s as though your brain just says bugger this and leaves. So I was breakfasting at 1pm wondering where my usual wanderlust had vanished to, and somehow not managing to fully reconcile this with the vanishing hours on the clock. But Vegas does this to you.

You see, this town is crazy. But not New Orleans crazy. We’re talking psychotic, here – an actual mental problem, the fever dream of a madman shaking a dead geranium. The adult answer to Disneyland is a sweeping, insane mess of heat and wind and money, a fantasy world, inherently wrong, stapled to the backside of a desert.

And money drives everything here, of course – that’s only logical. As I walked up the street to catch the bus in, a man fell into step next to me, asking for change. I said I didn’t have any – a half-truth – and he looked at me increduously. “What man, nothin’ in your pockets?” Abandon all your preconceptions of what is normal, acceptable, or moral. Call-girl cards not only thickly litter the street, but also line the banks of the automated newspaper machines (they don’t look very happy to me, but I suppose if you think women are meant to be on tap then the abused, beat-up look probably works for you). Everything is sex, everything else is money, and most frequently it’s both. ‘TOPLESS CABARET 24 HRS’. This is all served up in a rotisserie of artifice and blazing neon. And I think it must drive people a little bit mad. You meet people on the street that are very clearly not in this particular world anymore. Not just the usual drunk down-and-outs who sway gently from side to side down the pavement, but also rangy, quick-footed toughs with a gleam in their eye.

And then of course there’s the weddings. On the upper side of Las Vegas Blvd are a line of chapels, seemingly competing in the inter-state Quaint Off (one was called ‘Wee Kirk O’ The Heather’ and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean anything), all whitewashed wood and purple rooftops. A bride was crossing the road from one of these places, through two lanes of traffic, as though it was the most natural thing in the world to ask of one on their wedding day. The city tself expanded incredibly rapidly, and the calvacade of crass is punctuated by vast empty lots, and gargantuan building sites, presumably engaged in the race to construct the next Big One.

The casinos here, you see, are in a ceaseless search for the new gimmick, the new hook. No sooner has an idea been conceived of than it’s done. Old news. Reroll, noob. What this results in is a terrifyingly unbalanced approach to ‘the consumer experience’, where catching attention is everything, because the simple, obvious truth is: all the machines inside?

Yeah, they’re all the same.

I started at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, which sported a vaguely Burmese theme of little shrines, winged cats and so on. It’s constructed, like so many of these places, to completely shut down your temporal and geographical senses. There’s no natural light inside save for the odd skylight, and no real ‘exit’ signs, just a series of forwarding posts. I had to retrace my steps, like Theseus.

I visited a few others on the way: Luxor, the giant pyramid, which struck me as weirdly empty and cavernous inside; Excalibur, the replica of a medieval castle, which saddened me the most for various reasons, not least the ‘Party Pit’, featuring a girl in bra and panties dancing away – at 3pm. There was an age check, but it was also on full view of everyone entering. I’m no prude, but Excalibur is one of the more ‘kid-friendly’ places, or used to be by reputation. One feels that they are perhaps a little desperate. New York New York was next, and was actually kinda cool. It was chic, and had a good sense of what it was about – which makes sense, I suppose, and was recreated in a way that was fun and irreverent whilst not being too awful. The MGM Grand was over before it begun, as I was funneled somewhat to my confusion back out onto the street, and the Monte Carlo, through its opaque black doors (rather intimidating) was absolutely no frills: 150 meters of pure slot machines from wall to wall as soon as you walked in. And then walked out again, because seriously.

And then the Bellagio. Ahh… I liked this place, I must say. Classy and tasteful to the point of being tacky (some weird sort of aesthetic uncanny valley thing), its centrepiece was a giant atrium, with gorgeously-kept flowerbeds, giant glass orchids, playful water fountains and mosaic floors. Fake balloons floated up overhead and a ferris wheel from 1922 stood merrily in the middle, its cars filled with flowers. It was fun, flooded with light, and really pretty good. I dropped into the bar where I ordered a speciality cocktail (with free nibbles!), and promptly stole the courtesy matchbook, bringing my total of these to two. The other is from the Savoy, London. To give you an idea of how much I liked the Bellagio, I caught both of the fountain shows out front, and they’re an hour apart.

I had to move on, though, so I did, to Paris. It’s called Paris, that’s its name. I think the French would probably be furious if they saw it. Its architectural gimmickry is spot-on, and somehow all the more insulting for it, the half-scale legs of its imitation Eiffel Tower stomping through into the casino below. Cod French is everywhere – all words are prefixed with ‘le’, irrespective of suitability or gender form, and the croupiers, ever waiting, ever watchful, are decked out in rather cheap-looking cabaret gear. I shuffled out feeling rather embarassed on its behalf, pointedly ignoring the scale model Arc de Triumphe squatting malevolently by the road.

Caeser’s Palace is a sprawling, characterless mausoleum of gaming, so not much to say, but the Venetian…

I can’t decide whether the Venetian is lovingly, or simply painstakingly recreated. It’s somehow the most authentic of the lot, though goodness knows why. Gondoliers float lazily in the limited pond out front, but I have to grudgingly admit, having been to the original, that the architecture is spot-on. I went in but there wasn’t much in the way of novelty, so I decided it broke even on my taste-o-meter and cautiously backed away.

As I left, a pirate ship blew up Treasure Island. The crew were a lot of young girls dressed in a manner entirely unfit for maritime combat.

And I think that one scene just about sums Vegas up.

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