One of my favorite parts of going to Las Vegas is the cultural diversity. It seemed as though every other person that we walked past was speaking a foreign language of some sort, or at least an accent from another region.
This was particularly true in the case of our taxi drivers. Some of them attempted light chatter, many didn’t even bother. A gruff, heavily accented “Where you going?” was about all they were willing to give. One, however, stood out above all the rest. He said his name was Andy, but my guess is that wasn’t his given name. A native of Albania, Andy said he had come to the United States in 1992, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by his thick accent that he had been here twenty years. He has, though, picked up some combination of New York slang and Hawaiian pidgin. He asked us where we were from and we told him Seattle. He got very excited.
“No! You kiddin’ me brah. I LOVE Seattle. I used to live there but I hate the weather. No lie brah. I love the people. I could live there no more. Best people. The weather? Fuggedaboudit.”
He told us that when he first left Albania, he landed in Brooklyn. He spent a couple years there and then moved to San Diego. After that was Seattle, Alaska ( I go to sleep, it’s dark. I wake up 10 hours later, it’s dark.) and finally, Vegas.
He said, ” I run the 7-11 in Seattle. That Kurt Cobain- great guy. He come in, he say, ‘Andy I got no cash.’ I tell him ‘You beautiful, man. No worries.’ He say, ‘But Andy, I go on tour. Don’t know when I can pay you.’ I say, ‘We all good. I no worry.’ He come in, he buy pack of gum wit a hundred. He tell me ‘keep the change.’ Shaun Kemp, he nice guy too. The best. Man, I love Seattle.”
The skeptic in me did the math. I know Kurt Cobain died in 1994, because I was pregnant with Sydney at the time. If he came in ’92 and spent 2 years in New York, he must have come at the beginning of the year and only stayed in San Diego a very short time. I want to believe the story, but I take it with a giant grain of salt and just smile from the back seat.
Andy drops us off at Caesar’s Palace, the site of our show for that night. We were going to see “Absinthe.” When we mentioned to Jessica, the girl who checked us into our hotel, that we planned to see the show, she looked a little nervous.
“So, do you know anything about the show?” She asked.
Jeff told her that he had seen it recently on his last guys trip and she said, “Oh, ok good. I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting into.”
Jeff was still concerned. He had thought the show was funny, but he also knows that I’m a bit of a prude. The best way to describe this show is, well, it’s what you would get if Cirque Du Soleil and Steve Buscemi had a baby: A little freaky, some crazy acrobatics, and a weird host who likes to harass and humiliate audience members. Jeff had made sure not to get front row seats in what he referred to as “the heckle zone.” We watched people getting seated up there, and every time I cringed as I imagined what about them he might use against them. Jeff tried plying me with the house drink specialty in hopes of loosening me up. A group of four, two couples, came in and sat down next to me. I didn’t look at them too closely, other than that the girls were tiny and pretty, and the guy who sat next to me was about 6’5 and 200 pounds of pure muscle.
Jeff leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Parker would be so excited.”
I said, “About what?”
He said, “That Shaggy and Fred are here,” and nodded towards the two couples.
I looked at Mr. Muscles next to me and couldn’t figure out what he meant until I glanced further down the aisle to see the other guy in the group. I almost choked on my drink. He was leaning forward animatedly (no pun intended) talking to the two girls. He had reddish brown hair in a style I would call “Prince Valiant” and he had a reddish-brown goatee. It was Shaggy. I got the giggles, and I couldn’t stop.
When the show began I was a little nervous. Jeff had made so many disclaimers that I was expecting to be horrified. In reality, it wasn’t so bad. It was a little crude, but mostly it was just amazing feats of human strength and grace that left even Mr. Muscles in awe. The host, called The Gazillionaire, seemed a little off his game, and I suspect it had something to do with the woman in the front row. I don’t know if she was drunk, disabled or just suffering from a severe case of narcolepsy, but I couldn’t help myself from looking at her throughout. Her husband seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the show and laughed heartily when the Gazillionaire dubbed them “The Republicans.” He claimed they had purchased the two empty seats on either side of them to distance themselves from the rest of the undesirables in the audience. The woman could barely hold her head up. Every once in a while she would look up, start laughing and clap her hands. The Gazillionaire made a few attempts to razz her, but finally dismissed her with a wave of his hand, saying, “Aww, never mind. Just go back to sleep.” It was odd.
So, in actuality, the show was much tamer than the hype. I think both Jeff and I were relieved. But mostly Jeff.
After the show I talked him into going into Max Brenner’s. This is my kind of place; where the meal is just a speed bump on the way to the dessert, and they are specifically famous for their chocolate desserts. When I was in New York a couple of years ago, my mom and I had eaten lunch at the Max Brenner’s in downtown Manhattan. As we made our way out, I noticed the most amazing-looking dessert pizza I had ever seen. About a month or so later, Max Brenner’s dessert pizza was featured on the Food Network show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” I’ve been craving it ever since.
Jeff was not impressed.
“Can’t you get this same thing from Papa Murphy’s for $3.00?”
“It’s not the same,” I insisted. “It can’t be. It’s famous.”
We looked through the dessert menu and told the waitress that we wanted half of a dessert pizza with the works, and we’d try the sugar waffles banana split also. The dessert pizza was ok. We shouldn’t have ordered “the works.” It was covered in melted chocolate chunks, bananas, hazelnuts, peanut butter sauce, and toasted mini marshmallows. One bite was great. The rest was just too much.
But the sugar waffles- GOOD LORD! Sweet waffles with vanilla ice cream, brulee’d bananas, caramel sauce, a vial of warm chocolate sauce to drizzle, candied rice krispies and chocolate pearls to sprinkle over the top. It was the single best dessert I’ve ever eaten. I felt so sick afterwards. But it was totally worth it.
The next morning at breakfast I noticed a stamp on Jeff’s hand. I couldn’t quite read what it said, as it had smeared.
“What’s that from?”
“What happens in Vegas…”
“We’re still IN Vegas. Where did you get that? I don’t have one.”
“Seriously. You’ve had insomnia the past couple nights. Did you go out while I was asleep?”
He laughed again. “I’ve gotta have some secrets.”
I looked closer. I squinted. Absinthe.
“Hmm. They didn’t stamp my hand.”
His eyes twinkled. “Mystery solved.”
While Jeff did some work, I figured that was a good time to do my souvenir shopping for the kids. It’s pretty difficult to find appropriate souvenirs for children in Las Vegas. I texted Sydney.
“You’re hard to souvenir shop for.”
She texted back, “That’s because I wouldn’t use anything that has ANYTHING to do with Las Vegas.”
We finally compromised on copper earrings in the shape of wolves.
I texted my mother.
“What do Zoe and Nathan want for souvenirs?”
“What do they have?”
After some back and forth about what types of things I had seen, I texted her again.
“Tell Zoe they have ‘Big Bang Theory’ bobbleheads.
Sigh. Nathan. My own personal parental guidance system.
I walked back to the hotel with my bags of random souvenirs. The Strip is lined with people in costumes who get paid in tips for getting their picture taken. God help the person who tries to get a shot without paying.
I passed the Elmo. I heard him say to the guy right behind me, “Wazzup, pimp?”
Further down was the Michael Jackson impersonator with a boom box playing, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” while Mario and Luigi tapped their giant feet next to him.
I’d have to say out of all of them (including creepy dirty SpongeBob, Alan from “The Hangover” and a very unfit Ironman) the one that really caught my eye was the guy from KISS. I texted Jeff.
“On my way back. I’ve now seen it all. Gene Simmons on a Rascal.”
He texted back, “It’s prob the real Gene Simmons.”
Saturday Night’s show was “Wayne Brady.” He was performing that weekend only at the Mirage, which also happened to be the location of the buffet Jeff had pre-purchased for half-off on Travelzoo. The buffet itself was fine. It was a buffet. What we hadn’t anticipated was that it would be dinner and a show, courtesy of the highly inebriated twenty-something Canadians at the tables next to us. There’s nothing quite like the condescending life-coaching/insults of a drunk know-it-all.
We got done with dinner at about 830 and our show wasn’t until 10.
Jeff said, “What are we going to do for the next hour?”
I said, “I don’t know about you, but Superman’s calling my name.”
“Superman already called your name. It turns out he was just asking for money.”
He wasn’t lying. I had been lured in a couple nights before by the Superman slot machine. I was a huge Superman fan as a kid. I had a Superman doll that came in and stole Barbie’s heart away from Ken. I listened over and over to the Superman II soundtrack record, and even chose one of the songs for an ice skating routine. Me personally, I wanted to be Wonder Woman, not Lois Lane. I found Lois annoying, with her smoker’s voice and habit of playing damsel in distress, mostly in problems she’d created for herself. But I digress.
So, I had been drawn to the Superman game. It didn’t matter that I was losing 50 cents each time I pushed the button. I was enjoying every minute of it- the music, the movie clips, and my favorite, the bonus game for losing. It would say, “You’re not a winner, but Superman saves the day!” at which point Superman (Christopher Reeves) would fly across the screen,
wink and smile at me, and then start flying around the earth to reverse its rotation. This caused a reversal of fortune as well, resulting in an exciting $3.75 win.
We discussed the odds of various casino games and finally settled on spending a few minutes at the roulette table. Jeff handed me $40 and I tentatively sidled up to the table. He left to go to the bathroom. I got my chips and put my $10 minimum bet on three numbers- 25 (my birthday), 4 and 6. I had to reach all the way across the table to put the last two down, and the dealer offered to do it for me going forward. He spun the wheel, dropped the ball and it landed on 25. I had won! I had only put $4 down on it, so I was surprised to see the giant stack of chips the dealer pushed my way.
I said, “Wait. What did I win?”
The woman next to me laughed. “Oh darlin’, don’t you know? You put 4 chips down on the winning number. Each chip won at 35-1.”
Jeff said later that he left a timid woman with a few chips and when he came back I had a giant stack of chips in front of me, was cracking jokes and ordering the dealer around like I owned the place. He’s exaggerating. A little.
Soon it was time to head to the show. We got seated and Jeff kept chuckling as we waited for it to start. I asked him what was so funny and he gestured towards a woman a couple rows in front of us. She was scrolling through the pictures on her camera.
“What is she looking at?”
“Herself. Really bad pictures of herself.”
I watched her for a while, and she took about 10 selfies. After each one, she’d look at the screen. Jeff would groan and laugh every time he saw what she had taken. I didn’t have a clear view, but judging by his reaction, none of them were turning out well. I considered offering to take a picture for her.
As for the actual show we had gone to see, we hadn’t realized that instead of stand up comedy, Wayne Brady does an improv comedy show in the style of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” It was very entertaining, he was smart and quick on his feet and hilarious. He was also very adept at putting the drunk woman heckling him throughout the show in her place.
“You WISH you were Rod Stewart!” She yelled from the back row.
Really. Wayne Brady wishes he was Rod Stewart. What kind of insult is that? But she got much worse. Let’s just say that even if my kids didn’t read my blog, which they do, I wouldn’t print what she said. I felt sorry for the people she was with. Oh, and happy birthday Wayne.
Sunday morning we packed our stuff, stowed our bags with the bellman and headed for the pool for our last few hours before it was time to leave for the airport. It was forecast to reach 106 degrees. It was noon and already scorching hot.
We made it about 10 minutes laying out before we had to get into the water. I took my kindle and posted up on an edge, shoulder deep. I’ve been reading a fantastic book about the father of Alexandre Dumas, the author of “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers.” The book is called “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo” and is set in both France and the former Saint Domingue ( now Haiti) during the time of the French Revolution.
I was so immersed in the book that it took me a minute to realize the man standing next to me was speaking French.
I wanted to tell him what I was reading. I wanted to know if he knew his country’s legacy of slavery, of revolution, of race relations and of those who fought to make things right. Instead I just smiled to myself and enjoyed the ambiance of reading a book about French history while people spoke French around me. It was meant to be.
I know a lot of people don’t like Las Vegas. It is, after all, sin city. But it’s also a place where people come together from all over the world to see musicals and concerts, to see inspiring works of art and architecture, to eat food prepared by the most creative chefs in the world. I think your Vegas experience is whatever you want it to be. And ours was fabulous.