Unfinished Business… Pt. III

“The first time he flew, saw the Vegas skyline gently melt into view…”

Venetian, Las VegasSo to Vegas, then, which we finally reached only a couple of hours later than planned. If you want to enjoy yourself in Vegas, (well, on the strip at least) then your first task is to embrace it for the glorified shopping mall in the middle of the desert that it is. “Paris”? “New York”? “Venice”? Utterly fake and ridiculous as it may be, it’s all done on such a scale that even an old cynic like myself couldn’t help but be impressed. Once you’ve accepted all that, it can be great fun.

Pretty tiring, though: even in September, any attempts to walk around outside were quickly defeated by a harsh, dry desert heat that sucked our energy away, and when we retreated to the air-conditioned cool of the casinos, we quickly realised that they are carefully designed to keep you there–we naively assumed that it might be possible to walk along the strip through each of the casinos, but, in most cases, only a fairly small portion of the casino borders the strip itself, with the bulk of the gaming floor extending out to the back. So you find yourself getting hopelessly lost and disorientated, only to realise that you are miles away from where you wanted to be in a room with no exit signs. (Presumably the idea is that you respond to this discovery by thinking “well, I can’t find my way out of this room, so I’ll just sit here and put all my money into the slots instead.”)

Another thing that you have to be prepared for in Vegas is, well, the other patrons… Of course, this trip was not the first time that Sal and I have been to the, er, “larger than life”, USA, but our previous trips together had been to cosmopolitan New York, and before that most of the time I’d spent in the US had been in the big cities of the North East. So we were slightly unprepared for one aspect of spending time in Vegas: the sheer number of super-sized visitors.

One morning we had to be up really early in order to get away to the Grand Canyon, so we decided to grab a quick bite at the all-you-can-eat buffet in our hotel. Our early start meant that we joined the line for the buffet within a few minutes of it opening. There, in front of us, were some of the most, ahem, impressive human beings we’ve ever seen, several of whom looked like they might have eaten the person in front of them while they were waiting. Funnily enough, on the one other occasion we visited the breakfast buffet (when we arrived at a sensible time like 9:45, shortly before it closed) the clientèle was noticeably slimmer.

Our trip to the Grand Canyon, by helicopter, was probably the highlight of the whole US trip, although we were punished for our earlier thoughts when the dimensions of our fellow passengers forced us to sit in the middle of the helicopter–for safety reasons everyone travelling had to be weighed, and then that weight had to be distributed evenly around the cabin. In our case, unfortunately, this meant that the much larger couple also in our group were distributed at the sides, in the window seats, whilst Sal and I were asked to sandwich ourselves between them.

Other than that, though, it was an amazing experience. Never having been in a helicopter before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turns out that the sensation of flying in one feels much more like being in a hot air balloon–you just seem to float upwards and glide smoothly along–as opposed to the bumpiness of a plane. (Having said that, I’m not so sure about the “safety” video that they made us watch before going up, which contained gems like “If a door should open in-flight, do not be alarmed.” Luckily we were not required to put this piece of advice to the test).

Grand Canyon

In the evening, after our helicopter flight, we did something many tourists in Vegas never do: we left the strip and headed for Downtown. We’d had a tip-off about a locals’ bar there sometimes frequented by the likes of the Killers called The Beauty Bar, and had vowed to head over there and check it out. Our cabbie didn’t have a clue where it was, so we just asked for Downtown, and hoped for the best as we sped along Las Vegas Boulevard past the cluster of wedding chapels, resisting the temptation to ask him to swing into the drive-thru chapel.

We found it eventually, after asking directions from an old-school bouncer at the entrance to one of the old-school casinos on Freemont Street. The bar itself, which is styled like an old hairdressing salon, turned out to be having some kind of 50s night (or maybe it’s like that every night, who knows…) attended by all the cool kids from Vegas–and a smattering of teddy boys who looked like they remembered it from the first time round–who had all got properly dressed up for the occasion and were doing some impressive swing and jive dancing. We were in no way cool enough to be in there, so we installed ourselves at the bar drinking cans of Corona and watching. We also bought ourselves tickets to come back the following night to watch The Brain Jonestown Massacre (they of DiG! fame). They played out back in the parking lot, decked out with fairy lights, like something that might happen on The OC. We didn’t have an emotional crisis while failing to watch the band, though; we just stood in the crowd, listened and clapped. (And looked around carefully to see if any of The Killers–or anyone else famous–had turned up. They had not–I later found out that they were playing a gig in London that night–but they seemed to have sent along in their place a bunch of people who looked a bit like some famous people, including American versions of Rhys Ifans and Badly Drawn Boy). I hate to say it, but we left at 1 AM with the band still playing in order to get back to our hotel bed in preparation for our early flight to LA the next day. Having missed one flight already this trip, we weren’t about to do miss another one.

Brian Jonestown Massacre, Beauty Bar, Las Vegas

“Swore he just saw Elvis, playing poker at Dunes…”

Oh, and there was a bona fide sleb spot while we were in Vegas, too: wandering down to grab breakfast one morning, we noticed a crowd of people standing around watching a cordoned off portion of our hotel’s casino floor, where some unspecified thing was being filmed. To begin with, all we could see were some bored looking extras, but then we overheard someone in the crowd loudly announcing that it was in fact the filming of Ocean’s 13 (and clearly that’s a franchise with unlimited possibilities–Ocean’s 27 anyone?). As the extras closest to us were being arranged, we figured we’d hang around for a bit–shortly afterwards we were rewarded with Al Pacino, who turns out to be a tiny man. Anyway. Keep your eyes peeled for Ocean’s 13 when it comes out. If the rest of the film is up to the quality of the “Al Pacino walks into a restaurant” scene then I’m sure it’ll be a cracker…

What a tiny man
walking through the casino
It’s Al Pacino!