Monday, April 25, 2011

First Trip to Vegas

          Vegas is a tiny wellspring of hearty diligence, an oasis of the bacchanalian senses along a street known as "The Strip." It might be five miles long, but then again, if you're counting the miles along The Strip you're not the target demographic for Vegas' main industry, monetized gratification. Vegas is what I thought LA would be. In comparison, my experiences in LA have been tame. Driving down The Strip, in Vegas, has more excitement, flash and pizazz then I honestly was expecting. This city built on the power of neon attraction. As an exotic dancer reveals the wonder and fullness of her breasts, Vegas opens herself wide for the neon show down under beneath. It is a neon rose whose synthetically velvety petals bloom full with the varied colors of lust for money, power, sex, escape, food, importance and stature, all blooming full in varying degrees of each. In its lesser displays of desires immediately gratified, Vegas can entertain a tame or moderate sense of lust bringing an often enjoyable passion to a day or trip. The desire for great food, new shows, a little extra pocket cash and beautiful people are mainstays of human desire in a society that can afford them. I make it a habit to wonder about the very nature of things, as if to divine their unique characteristics into one definition. To that end I posit there's something more to Vegas than the electric sex of neon lights promising orgasmic payouts from the loosest slots. A brief scan of American television programming should dispel all question about our need for Vegas to exist and can even give a glimpse as to the nature of the role that Vegas serves for us, as a nation. Vegas is, as I can see, America's DIY, personalized reality show. It has all the makings for it, easy access to: risk, sex, food, and other people blindly seeking the same thing in close confines of each other. Is your life missing a spot of drama? Need to invent a little fury, chaos, joy or sadness to make meaning out of Life? Perhaps you need to create an obstacle and then overcome it? Vegas baby... In Vegas, you star in your own reality show, YouTV. For most people visiting Sin City, one episode on YouTV is gambling.

Personally, I hate gambling. Hate it. With a roiling, intrinsic fury I hate gambling. I hate the uncertainty. No... that's not true. I hate the certainty that I'm going to lose my money. After even a cursory review of 'the odds' at winning in Vegas, I can not spend my money on that. I have nothing against gambling in a moral sense. Gambling is nothing where there is no one to act on it. Gambling is just one of those things that people praise when it pays out and scorn when it runs them dry. I am no fickle friend to gambling. I am no friend at all to it, except I guess for my $3. I was staying at the Treasure Island hotel last week, on official business for work. During my stay I did approach and court a slot machine, one among many of the herd of silly play toys. This being my first forray into gambling I learned a few things real quick. First, as you approach a slot machine you run the gauntlet of the slot machine's manipulative foreplay: the casino floor. The casino is designed to keep you in. There are no clocks on the walls. All clocks are swept clean from even the memory of the casino floor. Bright colors, fight for your attention over the flashing lights and clamour of almost winners so close to winning they come close to blowing their load of cash on the very next bet. For slightly serious gamblers and beyond, the alcohol is free and delivered by women in short skirts; that's a one-two punch: a pair of gams delivering the happy juice. With ample inebriation and disorientation, the casino has you set up for the slot machine to knock you down. Slot machines are jealous, joyless bitches. They wear the prettiest faces, tease man and woman alike, sound bells of conciliatory odds in place of guaranteed payouts and create an aura of pretty, shiny, want-to-touch. The draw is visceral. But like a toxic lover, former or current, the payout is almost never worth the time and money invested.
Despite, or because of, this amazing stigma and sacred place our society has for Vegas, and gambling in Vegas, I decided to partake, to test the waters and have an experience I had not had before. I sat down at a slot machine. I don't remember which one but only vaguely where it is in relation to the elevator bank at the edge of the casino floor. I had three dollars and decided I wasn't going to waste my time on chump change bets. None of that coin crap for this high-roller. I was going to bet all three dollars in one place because I wanted the bigger payout, and wanted to get to sleep faster. So, I found one that took dollar bets, added my three and pushed the button. I remember for a brief moment looking for directions and guidance on how the payout scheme works, and how to tell if I'd won. I learned that any cash payout above $1500 has to be handled at the change counter and is not paid out in a flood of canvas bags each with well worn dollar signs on them. My gambling experience was a comedic non-event. These are the exact steps of my gambling experience:
1. read directions
2. look for place to insert money
3. insert money
4. push button
5. go back to bed.
Within five seconds of pushing the "GAMBLE ALL THREE DOLLARS YOU CRAZY TEXAN" button the machine went silent without performing any magical feat of pulling money out of thin air, from behind my ear, or even from it's own money tray. So it sat, lights flashing, sounds abuzzing beckoning the next taker to place their bets. It's like the machine didn't even notice me sitting there. There was no hug or even a hint of a shoulder shrug or 'keep your chin up champ' speech. As easily as I was forgotten from the machine's cognition I started chuckling to myself. What was I expecting after all? I gave a machine money with no pre-arranged agreement in place that it would return all, part or more than I had given it. Like a terrible lover, it took my money without blinking and made not even a motion to console me. So, in this episode of my DIY Reality Show, I bet it all and had nothing to show for it. Drama.

The Luxury Hotels
Vegas is enormous and yet all the enormity is encompassed in a small section of a small city. I say Vegas is enormous because when experienced from what appears to be the most locally common form of transportation, the human foot, The Strip stretches on beyond normal limits of the human attention span. Impeding the limits of the human attention span is the intricacy and planning and partially comendable skullduggery with which each blaring speaker, neon sign, lewd poster, flashing marquee, outdoor coverband, and alcohol vendor is placed. But forgive me, these are just the intruding sights to see at ground level. Look above street level and you'll fall humble or greedy at the colorful, windowed mountains sitting idly, bright and gaudy yet all the while immovable and silent. They are as mountains built to reflect our desires and our deepest wishes while being just as out of reach to us as those same desires and wishes. You can see the mountain tops and even walk to its street-corner base and as long as you remain at the base you'll never be able to reach the top of the mountain. You could crane your head, squint an eye and hold your arms in a position just so and from that one very specific and limited view you could say you've reached the top and achieved your dreams and yet in the next minute when you close your hand around the mountain to embrace your moment you'll capture naught but air and an invented memory of greatness. These mountains of Vegas are the luxury hotels.

Try as hard as the bohemian, anti-establishment sentiments of artists may, art will always follow money. Vegas is a strong, proud and jaw slackening example of how art thrives in a culture of money. I hope to return to Vegas numerous times to witness more of this in its highly unexpected manifestations. The one place I was able to see art thrive beyond mere means of survival was at The Wynn, and specifically at bar / lounge combination of the Parasol Down and the Parasol Up.
The Parasol Down is a delightfully enchanting bar sitting in a nook surrounded on either side by grand circular stairs. In an attempt to describe the Parasol Down in a sentence or, to be succinct about the environment created by Parasol Down; It is a vivid explosion, in red, of Victorian decor sensibilities, magnified by the vibrancy of the world through a child's eyes and nestled in a private nook between two grand staircases. If you do believe in, at least the possibility of, a world slightly removed from our own and wonderously inexplicable, the Parasol Down is surely then a mirror to a world whose heart beats with a living imagination. Above the grand stairs, in anticipation of rain that will never come or an unexpected precipitation of fabulous, hang gargantuan parasols of bright colors, shapes and designs. Imagine the color and heart of Seuss with the fantastic imaginings of Tim Burton; these are the great parasols that mark the bar / lounge combo. The Parasol Down creates an ambiance bigger than its square footage and is certainly a place I'll be returning to when next I visit Las Vegas. The Parasol Up, at the top of the dual, grand, circular stairs, is a lounge in the same style and serves at the conduit from / to the gambling floor. As you journey beyond the Parasol Up toward the exits here you'll find artistry as well in the mosaic floors, select botany and vivid lights.

Path through Vegas to the Other Side and a Final Olfactory Comment
With enough sobriety, when the casino floor and the slot machines can be seen for something other than their anticipated fiscal rewards, Vegas is fun. Having an appropriate sense of the clear chasms that await anyone who falls from their own grace, is one way to ensure your safe passage through. If you go gambling: never carry your debit/credit card on you, bring your own watch or timer, bring only an amount of cash you are comfortable with losing and assume it is lost before you start playing, bring friends with you who pay their bills on time and successfully manage their debt to income ratio. Vegas can be a lot of fun.

Oh yeah, Vegas sometimes smells like strippers and despair.

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