I didn’t expect to like Las Vegas, but the place sort of sneaks up on you.
Though more than 40 million people come through here each year, the city is immaculately clean. Police presence is muted and panhandlers non-existent.
Gambling, of course, is what draws all those visitors. Casinos line Las Vegas Boulevard for miles. The famed Strip, with its fake Eiffel Tower and New York skyscrapers and its gondolas and Chinese gardens, is certainly over the top, but strangely it’s not tacky and gaudy like the Canadian side of Niagra Falls.
Inside the loud, cavernous casinos, you can wager a bet on the turn of a card at the blackjack and poker tables, on the roll of dice, the spin of roulette wheels, the push of buttons on slot machines. You can even bet on the outcome of a soccer game in Greece or on the winner of the American League pennant – the Yankees are 9-6 favorites.
The casinos, though, weren’t crowded – many of the card tables were empty or attracted just one or two gamblers. I was able to nurse $20 through three nights of light betting on the poker slots at Planet Hollywood. About an hour a time was all I could muster before getting bored. I eventually lost it all – the machine wins 60 percent of the time, I’m told – but I had several enjoyable hours of pushing buttons, watching the casino night life and drinking freely of the its gin and scotch.
The food can be superb – I had the best prime rib of my life at Binion’s steakhouse – and the entertainment top notch. Elton John, Cher and Janet Lopez performed within a couple of blocks of each other during our time there. They were too rich for our budget, though. We opted instead for Cirque du Soleil’s breathtaking “O” show at the Bellagio. It’s a stunning mixture of the athleticism of high-flying trapeze artists, the beauty and grace of synchronized swimming and the mayhem of the Marx Brothers.
The old section of Vegas along Fremont Avenue retains some of the naughtiness of a bygone era. There, under the roof of a pedestrian mall that connects some of the oldest casinos in town, fortune tellers will read your palm, guys stand naked except for a jockstrap playing bad electrical guitar and girls dressed as nuns flash their breasts with cops standing not 10 feet away.
“That’s just wrong,” Doris said.
I found it exhilarating. No, not the fake nuns’ bare breasts, but the fact that they were out there baring them. I wish New York had preserved the some of the seediness of the Times Square that I remember as a kid instead of allowing all it to be sanitized and Disneyfied.
But three days is enough. We leave tomorrow for the canyons of Zion and Bryce and, of course, the grandest of all.