Opening night in Vegas felt like a scene out of Cocktails. We sat in a dive bar in the casino watching some dueling piano players belting out everything from Billy Joel to Aerosmith before a highly intoxicated and adoring crowd. You saw real talent pounding away at the keys and in that packed house off the strip at 3am. And in their resignation to sing such classics as Salt N’Pepa and Def Leppard you could feel that years of lessons and practice had resulted to this pinnacle, this moment, belting out retreads and begging for tips from vacationers unable to let the music end. This is what Vegas is, both expectations and disappointment, both promise and failure. It is a loud and crazy party and a buzz that lingers but won’t last. It is time standing still and people holding on when reality bucks you from the heights of Bellagio and the Wynn to the “f*ckin Harrah’s casino."
Nothing is cheap in Vegas. Those recession specials you may be looking for…forget it. If anything you are paying more for your indulgences than less. When you ask the cab drivers for good recommendations and price, just multiply it by two. You forget you are paying their recommendation kickbacks as well. They will all recommend the same place (Rio) too and a price that sounds affordable ($25). By the time you get all the way out to the isolated fortress of a casino and walk up to the register you get blind-sided by truth ($50). What? Too hungry to fight it and too far to turn back you take the hit and expect to make it back up at the tables (-$250).
That’s the other thing; the black jack tables are abusive. The $5 black jack tables don’t exist in reality and O’Sheas doesn’t count. That place along with Excalibur and the “f*ckin Harrah’s” casino makes you feel less Vegas like the Venetian and more Vegas like the venereal..as in the diseases of people frequenting! You are more likely to find $15 dollar tables than $10 anywhere and consistently while losing money on a $15 black jack table I’d watch them hike the antes up to $25 for new players. Vegas is most definitely not in a recession.
The bars are cool and we enjoyed the ice bar in the Mandalay and the Chandelier bar in the Cosmopolitan but $10 single jack and cokes leave you wanting. The pursuit of a buzz makes you want to shell out for doubles or sit at black jack tables too long waiting for your drink. And you can taste the quality difference from a free drink at the penny machines to the free drink at the $15 black jack table. One is a single and one is some sort of bottle backwash handed around from fellow gamblers. And sadly the backwash probably has a better chance of getting you hammered.
The last night we checked out The Mystere at Treasure Island. The show was amazing and I’m in awe of the acrobats. They possess real talent and it seemed fitting to book end the pianos to the performers in the show. When I walked out of Mystere I had fully absorbed Vegas minus the mushrooms. I was walking on a cloud of lights and sounds. The night was mine, the last night, and I was prepared to go out with a bang…then my wallet was raped and pillaged by Pirates. The dealers in Treasure Island decided that I was carrying too much bounty in my pockets and decided to wash my good high with it. When we walked out of the casino a couple of hours after the show had ended I was ready to jump into the pirate performance going on outside and walk the plank.
The trip was great and a needed escape/birthday and one realizes how fast time can fly. I turned 21 in Vegas and had the Midas touch. Everything I touched turned to gold and I couldn’t lose. Fourteen years, two lifetimes, and twenty new casinos later I have an aluminum touch, as in collecting them to keep eating and surviving after Vegas. Sitting in a restaurant in the South Coast casino off the strip with my good friends Sam and Jess and my girlfriend I realized the important things in life are not always what we can spend or buy but what we have to lose, and I had another $100 so I stumbled to the atm and pulled up to one more black jack table. Ah Vegas, you heartless vixen how I love you.