Monday, August 22, 2005

Vegas: What Happens Here, Is Actually Pretty Dull

In a week and a half, I'm off to Las Vegas to attend a friend's wedding. Yep, you read that right: Labor Day Weekend. The town will be jammed with vacationing Californians. So do us both a favor, and just stay the hell out of my way.

I lived in Las Vegas for two years, in the mid '90s. While I was there, Steve Wynn was building a huge Tuscan-style villa and lake (complete with dancing waters, which would be fine if they weren't dancing to Celine Dion songs) in the middle of the Strip. Since then, Kirk Kerkorian foreclosed on the villa and the lake, and Stevie W. built a mountain in the middle of the Strip. I fully expect Michael Gaughan to put Wynn back on the street soon enough ... but then, what will we call Wynn's big brown edifice at the corner of Sands and Las Vegas Boulevard South?

Vegas is proof of the concept, "It bloody well IS the heat, not just the humidity." Vegas heat sneaks up on you. Once, when I was living there, it was 115 degrees one summer afternoon. I wandered outside for a few minutes to rescue some object from my car before it liquefied, bubbled and burst into flame. I returned to the sanctity of my air-conditioned abode and couldn't figure out why my clean shirt suddenly had white stains on it. Then it hit me. In the short time I had been outside, I was sweating profusely, but I didn't know it because my perspiration dessicated as soon as it was exposed to the air. The white stains were the salt distilled from my sweat.

That's what Vegas heat does to you. (That, and the fact that it bakes enough brain cells for you to think, ten years later, that someone would find that anecdote amusing.)

The key to having an interesting time in Vegas (as opposed to a GOOD time, which my wife has just by parking her ass in front of a nickel slot machine and watching the wheels spin with something approaching manic glee) is to get away from the Strip, get away from Fremont Street, and actually see the city. (Not that there's much to see; apart from those two areas of town, the tallest building in the city is eight stories. And the "Spaghetti Bowl" is nothing more than the intersection of two freeways, where somebody was too stupid to just build a cloverleaf and be done with it. The Orange Crush, it ain't.)

I found Vegas to be the place dreams go to die. (Sounds pretty depressing, doesn't it? Yet quite profound, if I do say so ...) There are at least two bars, complete with video poker machines, on every major street corner. There are more mobile home parks in Las Vegas than in the entire state of Alabama, only they have walls around them so they look a bit more like "residential communities". (Yeah ... "residential communities" that are a block square.) And there's a lot -- a LOT -- of baked brown dirt.

Still, within an hour's drive of Vegas, you have Red Rock Canyon to the west and Valley of Fire to the east (both of which raise the desert to high art). You have Mount Charleston to the north (a ski resort an hour from Las Vegas? The hell you say!) and Hoover Dam the other way. And, everywhere you look ... well, there's dirt.

I'm not looking forward to the heat, but I am looking forward to the wedding. I know a little bit about weddings in Vegas. Because that's where Karen and I got hitched. (And "hitched" is the perfect word to describe it.)

You must understand that Karen's approach to life is a lot like mine: Don't take yourself too damn seriously. And, being the second marriage for both of us, we had both done the "big wedding" fiascos. This wedding was going to be for us. So, we were going to make it the campiest wedding we had ever heard of. We invited nobody. We rented a convertible, both of us wearing jeans and casual shirts, and Karen pinned a veil to her hair. The veil billowed in the wind as we drove.

After a brief stop at McDonald's (just to finish our preparations), we pulled into a wedding chapel on the Strip. This one is famous for its drive-thru wedding window. We drove into the "Tunnel O' Vows", and gazed upon the cherubs and stars painted upon the canopy. (We nearly rammed the chapel wall while trying to read the inspirational message that wove through the cherub-star display. Whose idea was it to put a hard right turn there, anyway?) We pulled in behind a group of Harley bikers, who were finishing up their own ceremony. I think one biker was marrying another. Knowing Harley lovers, though, he might have been marrying his bike. I never found out the truth.

After discreetly passing the McDonald's bag to the "teller" at the window, we placed our order. "One wedding to go," we said, "and we'd like fries with that." We giggled as though we had invented the funniest joke in the world. The teller balefully glanced at us, as though we were the fifth couple that day to pull said stunt. The minister appeared, and while a kindly stranger took photos of the ceremony, we became husband and wife. Then the minister gave us our wedding fries. We toasted our nuptials with a small Diet Coke.

Since no one was behind us and we had use of the Tunnel O' Vows for a bit longer, we got out of the car and set up shop on the rear spoiler. I have a wonderful photo of my bride and me cutting into the wedding Hot Apple Pie, and feeding it to each other. (We tried freezing a piece for our first anniversary, but after a while, months-old Hot Apple Pie was just too disgusting to keep in the house. Sentimentality be damned.)

Then, we roared off into the sunset -- or at least, we tried to. Shortly after we pulled out on Las Vegas Blvd. heading downtown, a road rage incident erupted in front of us: woman in the car was cutting off guy in the truck, guy in truck whips in front of her, slams on the brakes, and gets out of the truck with fists clenched. Being newlyweds with other items on our agenda, we opted not to hang around to watch the fun. Ah well ...

The wedding we'll be attending just before Labor Day is going to be at the top of the Stratosphere Tower. It'll be a windy summer afternoon, and I'm expected to wear a suit. In 115-degree heat. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that.

Oh ... and this is the bride's fourth marriage. This might end up featuring more fireworks than that road rage incident.

(If they think they're gonna get me on that roller coaster, they're nuts ...)

posted by Gary @ 6:02 PM


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Location: Houston, Texas

Why the heck wouldn't you want to read the toxic byproducts of my mental processes? It's not like you're too busy to waste a minute or two here, you know. You ARE just killing time by mindlessly surfing the web. Pop open a brewski and stay a while.

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