I was in Las Vegas last week for a conference. I hadn’t been for years, and even then, barely went to The Strip (I used to go for volleyball tournaments and we always stayed on the cheap downtown).
Hoo boy, the Strip. I was prepared to hate it, since it’s an enormous resource-suck. But … it’s SO big, and SUCH an unapologetic rip-off, that I found I somehow didn’t hate it … it was just fascinating.
I stayed at The Flamingo, which was a half-mile from the Sands Convention Center. The first day it took me a half-hour to walk that, since I did one of those Billy in Family Circus go-all-over-the-place paths. I ended up walking through the Venetian, which is in front of the convention center.
The Venetian is a mock-up of Venice, complete with canals, and gondolas, and gondoliers, and dressed-up street performers, including one whose gig is to wear all white and stand like a statue. Also, there’s a shopping center fashioned like Venetian streets.
That “sky” above is a painted ceiling. It always looks like dusk in there. I had lunch at one of the restaurants (in the “piazza,” on the “canal”) and the waiter said he gets completely confused because there’s no natural light.
It’s also huge. The Venetian is mammoth … you can spend a half-hour strolling through the maze of walkways, and on the grand canal floor, there’s Burberry, Movado, and dozens of other boutique-y brands. I encountered most of them when I was desperately seeking a muffin. Finally I discovered that the floor below the canal (?) is where the tobacco shop, boulangerie and plain ol’ food court dwell.
Out front is a campanile (i.e., a clock tower), an imitation of Venice’s famous Rialto bridge (with moving sidewalks inside so overweight Americans don’t actually have to walk), more canals and gondolas–though I never heard the gondoliers outside singing to the boaters. Probably don’t want to get heckled by the drunks.
The convention center is mammoth too. The main hallway is over 300 yards long, there are 5 floors, and for some reason, our keynote speeches and coffee were on the fifth floor, and the smaller rooms were on the third. Thus, a half-mile of walking twice a day, just for the intro and lunch sessions.
Add to that the walking I did to get there, to get back, to get around and to explore, and I think I walked 10-15 miles in two days. My legs were sore for an hour and a half.
On Thursday after the conference, a fellow conferee and I explored the MGM Grand. We walked in the MGM for an hour, and in the midst of a casino, dozens of restaurants and shops and clubs, there’s a lion habitat. (Check out the “Photos” link below the picture to see a slide show.) Lions in a casino–exactly the kind of tacky spectacle I’d been expecting, only there are 20 lions that live on a huge ranch, and 3 at any given time are visiting. So that explained why they looked muscular and healthy (the same could not be said for the people gawping at them).
We also visited Paris, which like the Venetian, imitated a grand european city. Paris has the same kind of ceiling over its casino floor, and has a half-size Eiffel Tower. We went to the top (for the full-size price), but the view was impressive. Incidentally, the tickets say, “No unauthorized weddings.” When we were up there, one couple was attempting to have an unauthorized honeymoon. But they managed to keep their clothes on.
Back on the street, drunks with balloon hats, carnival barkers handing out cards for strip clubs, and a guy with 4 teeth, attempting to sell me a golf shirt for $10 so he could gamble. It was an XL; I was the only one it would fit. Despite my longstanding policy of buying golf shirts of nearly toothless strangers, this time I passed.
So I’ve changed my mind. It’s still a deeply weird place, and an environmental nightmare, but boy howdy is it ever worth exploring.