Saturday, February 9, 2013

Viva Lost Wages

I have been to Las Vegas (Nevada, not New Mexico) exactly twice, some 18 years apart.  We may have driven through the NM version on the way back from Taos; cannot say for sure, If we did, it was forgettable.  Its erstwhile more famous cousin, a city built on gambling and other vices, could be a den of inequity, although what I saw was sanitized and sort of harmless.  However, both excursions (which were for different reasons) left the same feelings of awe, bewilderment and desperation, in that order.  At first you are drawn in by the lights, sounds and the sea of humanity but it is all a big Siegfried & The Mauled One act and within 24 hours you want to get out and away, quickly.

In 1995, while living in San Francisco, we drove to Las Vegas and not down Highway 5 either.  We took our time and the scenic route.  Northeast to Reno and Lake Tahoe (including a stop at the Ponderosa, Bonanza fans!), south through Yosemite (where Fiona took her first steps and was almost kidnapped by some adoring Asian woman), through several quaint gold rush towns (including Bodie, the coolest ghost town evah!), along Highway 49.  We visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon and spent Thanksgiving in Bakersfield (sounds like a Dwight Yoakum song) and headed east to LV but not before a detour through Death Valley.  Finally, after about 900 miles of driving, we were in Vegas.  The drive was all a bit Hunter S. Thompson-esque, without the narcotics and a lawyer.

Vegas Vic - the famous neon cowboy across from the Golden Nugget
We stayed in the old part of town at the venerable Golden Nugget.  This was the setting for the Vegas of the 1960's, big Cadillacs and Lincolns, the Rat Pack, highballs, etc.  In 1995, the Ballagio and the Venetian had yet to built, so North Las Vegas was still popular.  The Golden Nugget was a fine old hotel and one of the originals, built in 1946 when the city was still in its infancy.  Our stay was brief, we enjoyed the rooms and dining, did not gamble but were enthralled by the shows out front at Treasure Island, etc.

Fast forward to 2013 and North Las Vegas is a bit of a relic and all the action, glitz and gaudiness is a few miles further south on the Strip.  This time I went for a convention and stayed for two nights at the Paris.  The city was hopping, although there was nothing major going on.  It was just Vegas being Vegas.  The sidewalks were thronged early and late.  Irony of ironies, when we decided to lose a few bucks, we went to the Golden Nugget.  This area now has a roof and the streets are closed to pedestrian traffic only.  Vegas Vic is still there but he no longer waves. (I believe Vic to be a cousin of Big Tex back in Dallas, I did not mention arson...).

Gustav would be impressed
The old part of town has cheaper tables and is less crowded in a Yogi Berra sense, although there is definitely an edgier clientele.  Luck was on our side; we all came away from the blackjack table well ahead of where we started.  Our undoing was to stop at the tables in the Paris before bed.  Our winnings quickly disappeared.  By the evening of day two the the incessant noise of ringing slots, piped in music, carnival barkers, loud drunks and assorted wack jobs made my head hurt.  I could not wait to get out and home.  See you in 2031.

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