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Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Vegas Redux

Happy Birthday to me and all that rot. Rick and I had been wanting to go see Cirque du Soleil's O and Mystere for a while, so my birthday served as the perfect excuse. I called and got tickets to O for Friday and Mystere on Saturday. On Thursday we started our drive and ended up in Bakersfield for the night. The next morning we both woke up significantly earlier than we would've under normal circumstances and bounced out of bed at a quarter to seven. We hit the trail and were in Vegas by 12:30. With giddy bouncing in my seat, we pulled onto the Strip and drove the length of it. At the time, I warned Rick that I was doing this now so that he could see "The Strip", but that there was no way in hell I'd be driving down it again during the trip. Friday afternoon in Vegas is a lot like a college campus in the week preceding the start of the school year. There's more out of towners than average, but it hasn't come near to what it will be like on Saturday night. There's a feeling of expectation and preparation in the air. We cruised on up to Treasure Island to visit the restroom, grab a mocha frappucino, and pick up our tickets to both shows. Next we whisked ourselves over to the Convention Center Hilton to immerse ourselves in the Star Trek Experience. When I was in Vegas three years ago, this attraction had just opened. Then it was a zoo. Now it was much much mellower. After touring the museum and reading the entire timeline, we got in line for the ride. Now, I'm not a big Star Trek junkie, but I've always enjoyed the show. Still, I can say with great enthusiasm that the Star Trek experience is unbelievably well executed. If you've ever enjoyed Star Trek at all, then you've got to see this ride. After the ride, you exit into the Promenade of Deep Space Nine. We retired to Quark's Bar for lunch. Our time there was made even more fun by our waiter Kent. This is a guy who clearly enjoys his job. He brought us our Holy Rings of Betazed (onion rings) with "sauce from the Planet Ketch" and our Wrap of Kahn. Kent could be heard all over the restaurant announcing various meals.

After lunch we headed to the hotel to check in and found that our room, which we got from Priceline for the bargain basement price of $50, included a jacuzzi tub. This would be such a blessing as the weekend wore on. One thing you can say about Vegas is that you get plenty of exercise walking around. By Saturday night, I was quite happy to soak my bones, and especially my feet, in the tub.

By 7:00 we were back on the town. Vegas was starting to show the signs that this was going to be a very busy weekend. We started by touring Paris, Bellagio, and Caesar's Palace. We started to notice several things. One, there seemed to be an unusually large proportion of very tall women in this town. They were everywhere. Now, I can guess that some of them were showgirls, but many of them weren't the showgirl type at all (too ugly, too oddly shaped, too heavy, too old, etc.). Second, people in Vegas wear a lot of things they wouldn't ordinarily wear. On Sunday night there was a lovely young black woman with her four girlfriends. Each was wearing a monochrome outfit. The girl in green had a halter top that was split down the center to show her cleavage and tied with spaghetti straps over the shoulders and around the midriff. This was coupled with a long skirt. She seemed incredibly self-conscious. This was made worse when she turned around at her table and one breast popped out the side. Luckily one of her friends tipped her off immediately, but she was clearly mortified. Also, everywhere she walked she would pick up the front of her skirt. Had she been wearing the dress confidently, she could've pulled it off easily, but as it stood, I just kind of felt a little bad for her. Anyway, third was a high quotient of interracial couples, which is cool. Fourth was that Nevada drivers, especially taxi drivers, seem to have even less regard for traffic laws than Californians. I never once saw a taxi driver stop at a stop sign, or really even slow down. Fifth, I saw more ambulances in one weekend than I'd seen all year. Every time we walked out of a hotel, there was an ambulance trying to get down Las Vegas Boulevard. I actually lost count. It was somewhere between fifteen and twenty ambulances I saw in three days, and that was only when we were outside, which was almost never because it was over a hundred degrees outside. Sixth, every casino was basically exactly the same when you came right down to it. Only the ceilings changed. They all had way too many slot machines. They all had the same kinds. And everyone had a few card and roulette and craps tables.They all had a special room for high rollers. Finally, almost every hotel had a Starbucks Coffee. Usually, I'm the sort to avoid Starbucks like the plague, but here in the land of desert heat, mocha frappucinos sounded uncommonly good.

We concluded our first evening by seeing O. Our seats were cheaper because of a "partially obstructed view." When I bought the tickets, the agent assured me that they weren't that bad, and boy was she right. In the middle of the second section on the aisle, the "obstruction" was a thin handrail that didn't block anything really. In fact, it was perfect for being able to see the entire stage clearly. The opening performance lowered down right in front of us. As for the show itself, it was magical. I've always heard sort of wishy washy mixed reviews of O. For my ninety dollars, I walked away with more visuals than my brain could digest in weeks. The water added an elment of quick set change that was fabulous. When a performer was done with their act, they just dived in. Visually haunting and musically passionate, it was the best Cirque I've seen to date. Mind you, I've seen Saltimbanco, Mystere, Drallion, and Quidam. Quidam remains my favorite road show, but O takes the overall crown. Everything was done with precision and perfection. Even the clowns, which can be so tiresome, left us with new vocabulary. I'll never be able to say Ai Yai Yai the same way again. Add to this the burning man, the duo trapeze, the carousel horses, and the bateau, and the show was just stunning. Unfortunately, this left Mystere in the dust for the next night. With less inspiring seats and a cast that was clearly a little off their mark that night, Mystere just couldn't hold a candle to O. Still, it was well worth seeing. The strong men in Mystere is the most singularly stunning and erotic thing I've ever seen two men do. Add this to the spinning cube, the bungee trapeze, and pole climbers, and the show is still better than anything else in Vegas. My coworker Jo-Ann has been stressing about her daughter's future since she is not a good student. I was reminded that maybe the right thing for her to do as a gymnist could be to run away and join the circus. Cirque du Soleil that is.

On Saturday, we met John and Stacy for lunch at Mon Ami Gabi and spent rest of the day hanging out with them. It was really nice to see John again. They just bought a house and are settling into Vegas life. John was my best friend when I lived in LA. I'm happy that he's finally found a good match for himself. I hope he and Stacy will be happy together. They certainly have a love for Disney to share. Stacy is a collector with a capital C. Their five bedroom house is nearly full to the brim with Disney (and some other) collectables. We spent the bulk of Saturday with them touring several more hotels. After dinner near their house and a tour of their new home, we headed back to the Strip to see the Venetian. This is truly the current jewel of the strip, complete with Gondola rides, the Rialto Bridge, and St. Mark’s Square. It does the best job of recreating another city. We ended up trying to catch a gondola ride the next day (since they’re actually cheaper there than in Venice), but we got there too late. Sunday had been such a busy day that time got away from us a bit. We started the morning checking out Mandalay Bay, but found ourselves under-impressed. We changed plans and headed back to The Mirage to see the Dolphins and The Secret Garden of Sigfried and Roy. It turned out, there was a baby dolphin born just on May 15th. He was happily swimming around the pool with his mother. The Secret Garden housed several of Sigfried and Roy’s tigers and lions, plus a black panther. They were gorgeous. Apparently even though Sigfried and Roy seem ultimately very creepy to me, they are doing some pretty wonderful things for the preservation of several species. So we hung out in the gardens and near the dolphin pool for an hour or so, and then decided to head back to the MGM Grand to get a photo with the Lion Cubs. We’d wandered through the MGM Grand on our way to Paris for lunch with Stacy and John the day before. They have a really great Lion Habitat with the tag line “Here human, human, human.” Anyway, they offered a chance to hold and feed a three week old lion cub and have your picture taken. I like almost everyone else in line on Sunday was more interested in holding, petting, and feeding the lion than the photo, but now as the photo sits next to me on my desk, I’m really happy to have it. The lion’s fur felt a lot like thin lamb’s wool. Though this lion may grow up to be a fierce predator, at three weeks old, little Indigo cared little about anything beyond keeping his bottle firmly suctioned to his face. So Rick fed a lion, I held and petted a lion, and we both have photos for our desks that turned out pretty nice.

After that we headed out towards Hoover Dam. We arrived just in the nick of time to catch the last tour. Literally, as soon as we crossed the threshold, they started closing the rolling door to the Visitor’s Center. After a twenty minute tour, we walked the length of the dam, strolling just across the Arizona border and back again. We headed back to town after that with a brief pitstop in Boulder City for a chocolate dipped cone at Dairy Queen. We stopped at the Luxor and found that it wasn’t all that impressive. Truly, it isn’t aging particularly well in the baking Vegas sunshine. So we headed over to Excalibur next door via cable tram. Excalibur was a lot of fun actually. We went downstairs to the carnival area and did our biggest gambling for the weekend. I had the fellow guess my weight, which he was shy by twenty pounds! I’ve always carried my weight well, but I never suspected I was hiding twenty pounds. I would guess that he was trying to be polite, but he guessed the next woman as about fourteen pounds over her weight. So I selected a prize (an Excalibur coffee mug) and wandered on. Then Rick threw some bean bags to win me a cute little cootie creature. We then tried the ring toss where every bottle was a bottle of Chaucer’s Mead! Anyway, it was much more fun than any of the real gambling upstairs. If the casinos had more fun games like that then I’d be much more into gambling. Dropping coins in a slot machine and pressing a button just doesn’t entertain me much. I ended up spending a grand total of $9 on gambling this weekend. That just about suits me. Most of that was spent on an Addams Family slot machine in the hopes of making it to the bonus round.

We concluded our day with dinner at the Paris buffet. According to John the locals don’t like the Paris buffet because it serves provincial French cuisine rather than standard buffet fair. So much the better for me. I was totally uninterested in standard buffet food, but having a Brittany crepe, beef bourganogn, lamb curry, sautéed snow peas and squash, yummy potato dishes, bananas Norman, fresh baguette, and a perfectly grilled pork chop that was what I’d been day dreaming about all day. The snow peas were the best looking vegetable I’d seen in days. I’ve never had fresh, crunchy vegetables at a buffet before, but these were perfect. I had half a plate of those alone. Of course, I did eat too much, but we’d skipped lunch, so it all balances out eventually.

Finally we retired to the hotel for another soak in the hot tub and to pack up. At 9:30 the next morning, we went back to Caesar’s and Bellagio to buy the last few items we couldn’t live/leave without. Rick bought a small toy accordion from The Museum Company and I bought a lovely silk scarf from the Cirque du Soleil shop. We then headed out with the rest of the students leaving on the last day of school. The roads were packed, and the nine hours of drive time it took to get there stretched to twelve hours for the trip home. Luckily, the San Jose Public library rescued us with books on tape I’d picked up before departure. We listened to Fahrenheit 451 first, which was even more ominous after a weekend in Vegas. Every syllable of Beatty’s speech to Montag rang true after three days in Sin City. We followed that up with How the Irish Saved Civilization read by Liam Neeson. Arriving home at 10:30 to a cat in much need of love and snuggles, we washed up and headed for bed. Tigger curled up in her usual spot between us for as much petting as she could stand before we drifted off to dreamland. Back at work on Monday morning, it’s a little tough to get back to the swing of things. I’d best hit it and do some real work.


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