Wednesday, June 18, 2008

F'Loathing Vegas 2: The Wedding

Having returned from Las Vegas, let me say that I am happy to be back on American soil.

I have in the works a huge, vitriolic screed against the airline industry in general and U.S. Air in particular, but I'll let that wait until later in the week. Today, I just have to tell you about the wedding.

When last we spoke (or I wrote and you (some of you) read), I was sitting in my reasonably comfortable hotel room in the shopping-mall-slash-concentration-camp known as Circus Circus, awaiting for the time to spring to action, leaping feet first into itchy tuxedo pants and head off into hundred-degree heat to take part in the hitching of Danielle Best and Brian Kocher.

Well, the moment came. Amy and her sisters and mother were out gallivanting during the day, getting their hair teased into submission, nails on all appendages groomed and buffed and shaved, then, later, stuffed into garments of near-taffeta, lace and other natural and unnatural fibers. The guys… well, Brian, Amy's father, Dan, and I all met in the bar for a couple of drinks. I listened while Brian talked football to the bartender. Later, we returned to our rooms. This is how guys prepare for weddings.

The ceremony was held at "Viva Las Vegas", famous for its themed weddings and ministers who dress like Elvis. An Elvis did not preside over this particular ceremony, however, and neither was an Elvis present at the union of the preceding wedding, which was attended by upwards of one hundred Mexican-Indians crammed into the less-than-spacious-but-more-than-modest main chapel. I mention this because I'm sure people would love to hear about an Elvis-officiated wedding. Sadly, this was not the case, but I'll refer you to one Bill and Michelle Hahner of Pittsburgh, who did have an Elvis wedding. I mention this because that's what I do. I mention things.

The actual ceremony was something of a Navy SEAL landing. Brian, best man Mike Spano and I, along with Brian's mother and her boyfriend, were shuttled off the strip and into "Downtown Las Vegas" via limousine, and awaited the arrival of the women and the father of the bride, who would be coming by second limousine. Our awaiting took place in the "Blue Hawaii" room, where "Viva Las Vegas" stores spare tuxedos for those grooms on the go. Brian and Mike smoked as they waited. I don't smoke, so I didn't. A few minutes later, a woman named either Tiffany or Britney ushered us to the back of the building and gave us our places at the gazebo, where the ceremony would take place. Then we were ushered back. That was our rehearsal.

Four minutes later, we were ushered once again to the gazebo and barked at by a no-nonsense photographer about positioning. I took a few seconds to study a digital camera pointed at us, taking note of the various cables spooling from it and the blinking "Tape Please" icon in the viewfinder. This camera would provide streaming video to the "Viva Las Vegas" website, so that all of the Best/Kocher friends and family not present in the stifling heat could witness the holy union for themselves, courtesy of a broadband connection.

The no-nonsense photographer picked up a remote and suddenly the traditional wedding march filled the gazebo, the little area with the wooden benches for the spectators and the rest of the parking lot a few feet away. In came Amy and Liz, as the bridesmaids, and one-year-old Haley, as the bewildered flower girl. Then came Danielle, being given away by Dan. She arrived resplendent in the gazebo. Haley then took this as her cue to stand on the train of Danielle's lovely white dress.

Three minutes, eighteen seconds later, they were pronounced husband and wife by a smiling and speed-reading minister. Eleven minutes later, after every conceivable set of photographs that can be taken in an eleven-minute time span, we were in the Champagne Room, drinking… champagne and eating Boston Cream Cake. We toasted the couple as quickly as possible and were on our way again by Nine PM sharp.

Another set of limousines whisked us off to the Venetian Hotel and Casino back on the Las Vegas Strip, where we tumbled into genuine gondolas, gondola'ed by genuine gondoliers. I had been under the mistaken impression that the Venice reproduction canals were inside—there might be as far as I know—but we gondola'ed around outside, as the sun set and the temperature fell to a breezy 97. I will take this time to mention that we were all still in our formalwear.

After the gondola, it was decided that we would take a brisk walk down to the Belagio (Terry Benedict's joint) to see their magnificent fountain. According to the map, the Belagio is a mere quarter inch from the Venetian. Two miles later, dodging drunken revelers, distraught bankruptees and a gauntlet of Latinos who snapped discount hooker coupons at us, we arrived bedraggled, distraught, disheveled and distressed at the Belagio. Well, not distressed. The absurdity of the situation kept us laughing. The constant drunken bellowing of "Congratulations" to Danielle (and one "Suckers!") accompanied us on our journey.

The outdoor fountain of the Belagio is glorious, though "fountain" isn't quite the appropriate description. "Controlled Geyser" is a little more accurate. Accompanying the strains of Aaron Copeland's "Appalacian Suite" (I think; over the crowd's roar, I couldn't quite make out the music entirely; it could have been "Turkey in the Straw" for all I know), jets and arcs and walls of water plumed into the air, fifty and sixty stories. Truly awe-inspiring. Particularly considering that we were in the middle of a desert.

Exhausted and delirious, we were acutely aware that we were limo-less at the moment, and that our own hotel was many, many miles away. We debated taking a bus. The debate didn't last long, so we searched for a cab. Cab stands in Las Vegas are plentiful, but difficult to get to if you don't know the ins and outs of the Casino/Hotel system. We had to circumnavigate the Belagio—the long way around, as it turned out—to reach one. During this venture, we passed through another hooker coupon hand-out gauntlet. As usual, I politely declined each card snapped at me (the sound of these cards snapping will haunt my dreams) until we reached the end of one gauntlet. I noticed this last man because he was so unlike the previous hooker-coupon vendors. For one thing, he was tall, white and wasn't giving out hooker coupons. Instead, he held a sign that read: "Find a wife, a girlfriend, a partner – but not a whore! It's an affront to God!"

I stopped and turned to the hooker-coupon vendor next to this sanctimonious in-need-of-a-hobby and took as many hooker coupons as he'd give me. I wound up with four, including one for "Brandi" who would come "in person" to your hotel room for the low-low rate of $35.

An aside: there are commodities which are perfectly reasonable for which to be purchased at a discount, just as there are things you would be ill-advised to pay less-than-retail. On this negative side, I would suggest avoiding things like meat, milk and prostitutes. Looking at the airbrushed model on the card in my hand and doubting very highly that she was, indeed, Brandi, my mind reeled as to what a $35 hooker would actually look like. Would she have two nostrils, for instance? And any of her own teeth, hair or fingers? And what in God's name would she do for $35 besides put you, eventually, in the hospital? Still, in light of the incongruity of anyone protesting sin in Sin City, I decided to make my stand then and there and accept my God-given (or Julio-given) hooker coupons.

Outside the Belagio, we were lucky enough to find an unoccupied limo (Thanks Rick!) who agreed to shuttle us back to Circus Circus, allowing us use of his generous bar as well. So we returned in as much style as we came (as far as the Venetian, anyway). If you are ever seized with the urge to trot up and down the Las Vegas Strip, don't do it in formal wear. Just my two cents.

The following day was spent at the Adventuredome, the world's largest and most-disappointing indoor theme park. That the rides are uninspiring and the price exorbitant—not to mention the dead-eyed zombie teenagers who work there, completely ambivalent to your existence and can't even be bothered to smile or even make eye contact, merely demanding your money—is not the biggest problem. It's the utter lack of humanity to be found there. Circus Circus, from my experience, is the worst of the hotels on the Strip not because it looks like it should have been condemned due to want of interest—indeed, its discrepancy is the sole of its charm—it's because there isn't a single person employed within who, unless you're feeding them a constant stream of money, could care less about you.

There's uniformly encompassing cynicism to be found in Vegas as a whole. Everywhere you look, a sign, a video screen, a passing bus, a commercial—ads screaming for you to give them your money. The world's best slots! The world's best sluts! Magicians, stage shows, lowest minimum blackjack tables! Grand buffets! Jimmy Buffetts! Pay us! Pay us! Pay us! Vegas is a giant vacuum hose affixed to your wallet immediately upon your disembarking the plane. There are more slot machines in the airport than there are places to sit. Finding a water fountain in airport, hotel or casino is next to impossible because they want to sell you bottles of water for $3 each. But, at least in the majority of the places we visited, the people extorting from you are at least pleasant, whether you're spending money or just passing through.

At Circus Circus, if you somehow caught on fire, you'd have to pay for extinguishing. And end up charged some sort of rescue tax. I couldn't wait to go on a four-mile hike in a tuxedo just to find someone who might smile—with me, at me, I didn't care. For a hotel whose theme is clowns and joy, it was a truly joyless experience. Nearly everyone I encountered there was miserable. If you didn't have clean towels in your room, or if the dead prostitute under the bed hadn't yet been changed, that was somehow your fault. And you'll pay accordingly. And even when you were paying, they didn't seem particularly interested in your business. They could take or leave you. And I do understand that this is the discount hotel on the Strip, a step up from a Motel 6 (which also boast their own casinos!), but I felt like I had somehow become a dissident or a person of a lower caste, unworthy of even the smallest notice, let alone a kind word. Mirthless, joyless: Circus Circus.

Aside from a half-hearted "4-D" cartoon featuring Daffy Duck and Marvin the Martian, beautifully animated but "scripted" in the most modest of senses—and "4-D", by the way, means that water shoots at you, your seat vibrates and a very sharp metal rod will jab you in the back, corresponding (or not) to the action on screen while the polarized glasses on your face gives you something just short of a migraine—the Adventureland Dome offered very little of fun for me. I take that back—we spent a good 40 minutes in line for a 9-minute game of lazer tag with other urchins around us and that was a terrific time. Little bastards hid in the dark and just waited for me to blunder past them. I'd never played lazer tag before and definitely enjoyed the hell out of that. But $24.95 for a six-minute cartoon and a 9-minute game? Not the best value I've ever received for my money.

The rest of Saturday was spent again wandering the Strip. We had wanted to catch the outdoor show at Treasure Island ("The Sirens of Ti"), which boasted two pirate ships, one that sinks, an elaborate water battle and songs and dances. But we arrived too late and couldn't find a place to stand on the rope and plank bridge amid the throngs of other spectators. Catching a bit of the audio, though, I don't believe we missed that much. Seeing the majestic ship "The Bull" sail up to the Sirens' ship, though, was pretty neat.

We did get to see the lion habitat at the MGM Grand, which had been closed on Thursday for re-lioning, or something. Two unconscious great cats dozed on a glass catwalk above us as we wormed our way through the inevitable crowd. Some folks bitched that the cats were asleep, but that's primarily what lions do. What did they expect? There wasn't a nearby gazelle exhibit to loose them .. all.

On our way to our next adventure, I paid $5 to take a picture with a parrot on my arm. I love parrots, particularly blue macaws. I'd own one if they were less than the cost of a used car and wouldn't simply make an expensive meal for one of my dogs. And I didn't mind paying the "donation" for the picture because I knew the money would go to keeping the bird alive. It looked well-cared-for and loved. It was more interested in the seed it was fed by its owner than it was in me, of course, but I didn't mind.

A half-hour later, our mobile family pack was on Fremont Street, aka "Old Vegas", where one can find "Rouge" and "The Golden Nugget" and a Walgreens that sold water for less than $3 a bottle. And here we found the respectable sleaze we'd so been missing on the Strip. Here were the salt-of-the-Earth people playing slots with handles. There were still families clustered about, but they at least had the good sense to look intimidated and uneasy. I felt a little better—I always do with freaks around.

Fremont Street is also home to an enormous LCD canopy—the largest television screen in the world—where "Karl the Technician" interviewed people on the street in between video shows. Ten blocks long and loud, we saw a tribute to Queen and a couple of other things that, because of what happened next, I don't remember too clearly.

For those joining us with the entertainment already in progress, I should point out that Amy and I are fond of the demon rum. We like an occasional nip and we love a good Bacchanalia. So finding a joint on Fremont Street that sold half-gallon margaritas in football-shaped mugs for $14 was a bit like dipping a monkey in champagne…whatever that means. The upshot: a half-gallon of something made from 151 Rum, Banana Schnapps and various other poisonous concoctions made Vegas so much … funnier.

Please allow me to point out that we two are professionals when it comes to being shitfaced in dangerous cities. We're trained in street savvy, kickboxing and looking too adorable to mug. Plus, when we drink, we become incredibly witty and urbane and an absolute joy to be around. Someday, there will be statues in our honor in all the cities we did not get killed in. Oh, and when you're dehydrated, 151 rum kicks in quick.

Okay, so I wasn't allowed to pose with the Chippendale dancers when Amy and her mom and sister were, even though the three guys were obviously way more interested in me than they were the women. I still maintain that there's a severe bias and that the half-dressed trio were threatened by my masculinity. Most right-thinking people are.

I can't say with certainty what we did once the football was a quarter-drunk. I know we considered going into a strip club until the very nice Italian women standing outside informed us that the cover was $20 apiece. I know we played a slot machine at The Golden Nugget and ably succeeded in losing a dollar. And I know we somehow wound up, probably by bus, back on the Strip where we ended up back inside the Venetian, not to mention Treasure Island and, possibly, the Flamingo. I remember the overwhelming smell of cocoanut and the unmistakable feeling that the go-go dancers were transvestites. I know that we saw a lot of Vegas that night, if only because we were seeing double by the time we (somehow) made it back to Circus Circus.

If we had actually been in possession of better judgment, I would say that we ate at Graveyard Breakfast at one of the restaurants against the aforementioned, but let's face it: we were out of our minds. I do recall that the food tasted better than anything I'd had to eat that day prior to the Football of Love and Joy. And I am proud to say that it stayed down the rest of the night, even when I woke up the next morning in the familiar state of "Still Drunk".

And that, my friends, is how to properly do Vegas. Don't try this at home. Unless you live in Vegas, in which case, none of the above will be news to you.

Coming soon: "how not to get back from Las Vegas". Or, "how to not get back from Las Vegas".

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