Entry for May 23, 2006 — Las Vegas

Friends, I hope you’re having a good week. Janice’s and my trip to the U.S. Southwest went well. We left from Boston’s Logan Airport on Saturday, 6 May 2006, and stayed at the Bally’s/Paris Hotel in Las Vegas.

Gene & Janice hit Sin City
Viva Las Vegas!

We walked up and down the infamous Strip, exploring the various hotels, casinos, shopping malls, and restaurants. While the heart of Las Vegas Boulevard is only a few miles long, the desert air and the oversize scale of the themed buildings (which Batman artists Bill Finger and Dick Sprang would have appreciated) made distances seem smaller than they actually were.

We overdid the walking a bit on the first two days, although I believe that the casinos may make the sidewalks bumpier to lure people back into the air-conditioned gambling halls. Sore feet and hot, dry weather (especially compared with New England, where it rained for almost two weeks straight) didn’t stop us from seeing anything.

Janice attended the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communications and found the sessions informative. I joined her at the opening reception (free food) and even met a Belgian technical writer! There were sessions that interested me as a copy editor at a computing magazine, but since my employer declined to pay for registration, I was free to roam.

Janice and I went to the “Star Trek Experience” at the Hilton, where we enjoyed the exhibits of props from the long-running space opera franchise. I rode a virtual-reality simulation, sat on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC 1701-D, and had a Romulan ale at “Quark’s Bar.” Definitely recommended for any speculative fiction fan.

Of the casinos that Janice and I visited, we liked the Venetian (and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum), landmark Caesar’s Palace, the indoor plazas of the Paris and Aladdin, and the upscale art galleries at the Bellagio. From our hotel room window, we could see the Paris’ half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower (and sunbathers at its rooftop swimming pool) and the Bellagio’s famous dancing fountains.

Although I’m not a big gambler and found the thousands of senior citizens sitting for hours in smoky rows of slot machines a bit depressing, I played videogames and pool near the lion exhibit at the MGM Grand, walked with Janice through glass aquarium tunnels at the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, and ate pizza in New York, New York’s replica of downtown Manhattan. We also admired the ancient Egyptian style of the Luxor and saw scantily-clad showgirls duel on pirate ships in front of the Treasure Island.

While Janice was in conference sessions from 8:30 a.m. to about 5:00 p.m. from Monday through Wednesday, I went to the old downtown casinos. The neighborhood around them was a bit seedy, but it verified Las Vegas’ reputation as a sort of Disneyland for adults. The numerous people at street corners passing out leaflets for escorts and strip clubs notwithstanding, I felt reasonably safe and saw many tourist families.

I also managed to find some book stores and comic book/gaming shops near the University of Las Vegas campus. At first, I tried to walk, but the distances ended up forcing me to take buses and taxicabs. Between the casinos on the south/central strip, we were rode an affordable monorail.

We didn’t get to any of the major stage productions, which range from standup comedy and magic shows to old-fashioned crooners, circus acrobats, celebrity impersonators, and topless revues (and sometimes combinations of all of the above), but we took several amusing photos at Madame Tussaud’s. Most casinos prohibit cameras, which was a pity, given the opulent décor.

Time and money are always in short supply, especially with many fine restaurants. We did feast at a New York-style delicatessen at Caesar’s and the “Round Table Buffet” at the Excalibur. Despite the 90-degree F temperatures, we didn’t take advantage of the hotel pools because the casinos have limited hours to keep everyone focused on gambling. The high-roller tables and games were interesting to watch.

On Wednesday, May 10, Janice and I took bus tours to the Hoover Dam. The massive civil engineering project was impressive not only because of its scale and Depression-era art deco style, but also because it was finished two years ahead of schedule and under budget–if only Boston’s “Big Dig” were as successful! The Colorado River and Lake Mead provided our first glimpses of the wilderness.

We saw the desert landscape of Nevada being encroached upon by Las Vegas’ rapid suburban growth, and I stopped at the Ethel M Chocolate factory and a cactus botanical garden. Next post: Beyond Sin City! -Gene

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