Sunday, December 17, 2006

Vegas, Baby!

In the days when I had more time than money, I’d drive just about anywhere for fun. I’ve driven to Idaho, Seattle, Salt Lake City, the Grand Canyon, and lots of places in-between. Nowadays, though, I only drive long distances when I want to avoid getting on an airplane. Since I’ve been flying far too much lately, I decided to drive to Las Vegas, this week, to attend my friend Suzanne’s wedding. Luckily for me, I now have far more money than I have time, because it ended up being the most expensive trip to Vegas I’ve ever taken!

My family always had a soft spot for Las Vegas. We didn’t take many vacations when I was a kid, but my parents—and sometimes my aunt and grandmother—would slip away maybe once a year to the casinos. They’d usually stay at the Stardust or some other hotel from Vegas’s postwar heyday. There they’d play the slot machines until the wee hours of the morning. To my young mind, the whole thing seemed so glamorous. My parents would leave Friday night and return home Sunday morning, tired but happy. My sister Vicki and I got to tag along a couple of times; but it was very clear that Vegas was meant exclusively for people who were old enough to drink, gamble, and see women dance topless in one of the many adult entertainment clubs.

When I was in college, I always drove through Vegas en route to Provo, UT, where Vicki went to school. By then I had lost all interest in alcohol and gambling; but my aunt, who accompanied me on one of my trips, still heard the sirens call and so stayed up all night playing the slots while I slept soundly in the hotel. Fast forward to 1986 when Tim and I eloped to the Little Chapel of the West (located in the parking lot of the now demolished Hacienda hotel), followed two years later by the National Broadcasters Association convention, where we had to share a hotel room with one of Tim’s coworkers because the entire town was booked for the night. I swore then that I would never return to Las Vegas.

Suzanne’s wedding was scheduled at 3PM, so I left home at 8:30AM. I was heading north on the I-15 by 10AM. It had been eighteen years since I’d passed through this part of the world. Still, it was quite a shock to see how much it had developed. Victorville is now practically a suburb of Los Angeles and even sleepy little Apple Valley, where my aunt once owned some investment property, has turned into a boom town. By the way, if you’re still mourning the loss of Bob’s restaurants in Los Angeles, I’m happy to report that Big Boy is alive and well on the I-15, with not one but three (!) roadside eateries between Victorville and the state line. Speaking of which, I was dismayed to see how much the small outpost of Primm has changed over the years. The first town to greet drivers on the Nevada side of I-15, Primm used to consist of a couple of ramshackle casinos where gamblers left their last handful of coins before crossing into California. Today Primm is home to multiple factory outlets tucked behind ridiculously oversized storefronts. Little did I know that even more garish architecture was yet to come.

It seems we always approached Las Vegas at night when I was younger. After miles and miles of desert darkness, we’d suddenly see a glow in the distance and know we were almost there. This time I knew I had arrived by the black smudge of smog hanging over the city. That’s also when I started noticing the huge hotels rising above the landscape—some looking vaguely familiar, as if they were trying to copy the far more fabulous buildings of NYC and Paris. And they were all right on top of each other! I was horrified. Almost every stylish hotel and casino of the 1950s and ‘60s has been replaced by crude monstrosities trying to mimic other parts of the world. As my tow-truck driver, who grew-up in Las Vegas, said, “Things have changed for the worse.” I agreed. But I’m starting to get ahead of myself...

While I was waiting to turn right into the Riviera hotel—where Suzanne was getting married in little over an hour—a pedestrian pointed toward the front of my car and yelled, “You’re leaking!” Sure enough, as soon as I parked, I saw black fluid pouring from the engine. All thoughts of driving to the post-wedding reception (and elsewhere) were dashed. My roommate for the evening, Karen G. (not to be confused with my best friend Karen C. or my high school friend Karen H.!), checked under the hood and determined that the black fluid was water not oil. Still, I didn’t dare drive the car and decided, after much deliberation with Tim (in LA) and other wedding guests, to have the car towed to the nearest Honda dealer the next morning.

So, after staying up well past 1AM, I woke-up at 6AM and called AAA for a tow. Despite everyone’s diagnosis that the problem was probably just a broken hose, the Honda guys convinced me that I needed a new radiator. I didn’t leave Las Vegas until 1PM. Luckily I had brought student papers to grade just in case of such an emergency (be careful what you plan for!)

Did I really need a new radiator? I’m not a mechanic, so have no idea. But everyone at the Honda dealer was extremely nice and concerned for my safety, so I can only hope they did not rip me off in the process. Will I ever return to Las Vegas? Probably not. Nonetheless, the wedding was very lovely and I got to spend time with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Plus, I got to experience “Love,” Cirque du Soleil’s tribute to the Beatles. But you’ll need to read my next installment for that story...


No comments: