July 21, 2009

Vegas, Baby

One year to the weekend, coincidentally, I am back in Vegas. With a journalist, even. My friend Liz and I are taking a road trip. She has flown in from New York and we are spending two days in Vegas on our way to touring several Western National Parks. Vegas has not been immune from the financial crisis, and hotel rates were very cheap this July. Except for Saturday, July 18. I don't know why this is. But when the Stratsophere is charging upward of $125 a night on Saturday and $29 on Sunday, something is afoot.

So, our options slightly limited, we opted for the Golden Nugget. I've probably been to Vegas, what? two dozen times? and I've never been Downtown, much less stayed there. And for those of you who think the clientele in fancy Vegas -- Caesar's, Paris, Mandalay -- is downmarket, well you ain't seen nothin' till you've been down on Fremont street and in and out of the downtown casinos.

The Nugget is a lovely hotel. It's four-star, clean, spacious and comfortable. Our first night there, with the blackout curtains drawn, we slept something like 10 hours. It was gorgeous.

The people -- well that's a whole 'nother thing. It's actually kind of sad: The saggy, hard-looking and overweight showgirl types who have bad teeth and don't look a day under 50, although they probably are about 30. The dealers and cocktail waitresses who look like they're just trying to get through a shift. Hey, I know work isn't glamorous. And that kind of work really isn't. But there's usually an illusion about it. But not Downtown.

The upside of downtown for tourists is cheap tables and penny slots. (Although we discovered that coins seem to have gone out of fashion; now you play with -- and for -- tickets on the machines. Quieter, but not more fun.)
I played a few hands of blackjack at an empty $5 table and won about $35. It was a thrill. Liz, it turns out, has no idea how to play blackjack, and the whole thing amazed her. We played a little video poker (she doesn't know how to do that, either) and I taught her how to play video blackjack while we sat at some casino bar drinking our 99 cent margaritas and $2 Coronas. For those of you who saw "The Hangover" we definitely had the opposite experience. Were there two tamer people in town? (OK, two tamer people who weren't holding up "Repent Sinners" signs?)

I'm always excited when I get to Vegas and then after 36 hours, max, I'm ready to hit the road. The neon, especially downtown, is thrilling. The Fremont Street Experience is weird. The 114 degree temperatures I could do without. No matter who I go with, we always have grand plans, and end up shopping and eating and ready to bail on the place as soon as we can.

But Vegas was just the beginning ... now on to the Grand Canyon.

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