I’d always imagined my first trip to Vegas would be pretty glam. I mean, it’s Vegas. I’d pack nothing but killer dresses and stiletto heels and would bring a George Clooney lookalike along as an accessory. I’d be his lady luck at all the big casinos and he’d count cards, but not in an obvious way, just in a way that won us a ton of cash so that we could get bottle service and rub elbows with celebs in VIP lounges.
But, my first trip to Vegas was nothing like that.
I ended up there this past February on a Sunday, purely by chance, stranded at the airport with a friend. Amanda and I were trying to get back to Dallas from San Francisco via Southwest Airlines, and our connecting flight had left without us.
Witness to our plight was an airline representative at the front desk. Her name was Carrie Joe and, despite having a very southern double name, her accent was distinctively northeastern. Hard. No-nonsense. Cut-the-bullshit, straight-to-the-point. My kinda lady.
“I just can’t believe those guys in San Francisco sent you girls here. What were they thinking? This connection—there was no way you two would make it. Too, too close.”
She shook her head angrily, and got on the horn. She was calling every department. She was going to get us a flight home. She was going to put us at the top of every standby list she could until she did.
We listened to her rant and rave and demand and cajole, our confidence in getting back to Dallas rising every time she picked up the phone to tear someone else a new one.
But…in the end, there were just no flights home to be had. To her credit, Carrie Joe seemed even more pissed off about that than we were. She even sounded a little worried about us. She said she had kids our age.
I hate to say it, but at that moment, I didn’t care that she was sorry and I didn’t care about her kids. I needed a cigarette.
We’d already been on two flights that day. I hadn’t had a cigarette in maybe six hours, which was way more hours than my body was used to going without one while not asleep, and I was on edge.
After the failed plans for a homebound flight, Carrie Joe started asking us questions. Questions that required our answers. Questions about hotels, which ones we might prefer. Questions about flights out the next morning, with their times and potential connections. Questions I didn’t give a shit about in my current state of mind.
Carrie Joe perceived my discomfort with intuition that astounded. Or maybe I was just that obviously not OK.
“You doing alright there?”
“I’m sorry. I just need a goddamn cigarette.”
I don’t normally speak like that to strangers. The nicotine craving was speaking through my mouth at that moment, though, and she’s a total bitch.
Carrie Joe just laughed and said, “There’s a smoker’s station right over there, baby. Go take a breather.”
Of course there was. This was Vegas, after all, and they make accommodations for people with vices like mine—even in the airport.
I thanked her, turned to Amanda and said, “Go with whatever you think’s best. I trust you,” then made a beeline for the smoke-filled chamber of death.
The smoker’s den was pretty disgusting and a little depressing. It separated the smokers from the rest of the airport with glass walls, so we were in a sort of fishbowl type situation, surrounded by plumes of tobacco smoke. It might have been my travel weary mind warping the view, but to me, everyone in there looked exposed, exhausted, and miserable.
I thought, not for the first time or even the hundredth time, that I should probably quit. But that was a challenge for a different day. After all, it’s very likely that nobody in the history of ever has quit smoking in the city of Las Vegas. No point in trying to be a hero.
So, I sucked the smoke down, watched the people around me trying their luck at the slot machines in this tiny, glass-walled room, and accepted the fact that at that moment, I was one of these people.
I pulled out a dollar, tried my own luck, and lost it almost immediately. That seemed about right.
Cigarette finished and a dollar poorer, I exited the chamber of death and went to check on the stranded flight situation.
Amanda was still standing with Carrie Joe, looking over some notes she’d written.
“What’s the plan?”
“This airport hotel has good reviews, and they can give us a discount because we’re ‘distressed passengers,'” she said, laughing but tired. We were both completely exhausted. Maybe not “distressed,” per say, but pretty damn near. “Then there’s a flight out in the morning. The hotel shuttle can take us there and back.”
“Perfect. Let’s do it.”
“Good. You girls have some fun. We’ll get you back home in the morning. I’m here tomorrow, so, you need anything, just ask for me. I’ll handle it,” Carrie Joe promised. And I knew she would.
We made it to the hotel shuttle. We were both dead on our feet coming off of a whirlwind weekend in San Francisco. All we’d wanted in the world before we’d touched down in Vegas was to get a good night’s sleep before work the next morning…but…here we were. Vegas, baby.
“If you want,” Amanda said tentatively, “we really don’t have to go out…but the hotel’s only a mile off the Strip.”
I looked at her, and we both laughed. Like not hitting the Strip was even in the realm of possibilities.
It was happening. The wheels were in motion. Now, it was just a matter of finalizing the logistics.
It’s important to emphasize at this point that our luggage was waiting for us in Dallas. And while Amanda had wisely worn jeans and a cute top to the airport, that morning I hadn’t been able to resist opting for my comfy yoga pants, which were not exactly appropriate out-on-the-town attire.
Neither of us was wearing any makeup, and while hitting the Strip in yoga pants was one thing, hitting it sans makeup was quite another. There are many sins that are acceptable to commit in Sin City, but we were pretty sure that that wasn’t one of them. So we walked over to a CVS next to our hotel to gather supplies for the evening.
The CVS in Las Vegas was unlike any CVS I’ve ever seen in my life.
In addition to all of the regular ol’ CVS stuff, they had several hats of the beer-holder variety, silly straws, fancy plastic champagne and margarita glasses in a variety of colors that one would normally only expect to see in a specialty shop like Party City. There were also plastic cups for jello shots. Cases of beer. Bottles of wine. Handles of liquor. You get the picture.
Amanda and I picked up some champagne for our pre-Strip toast, gathered makeup, and gave the clothing isle a once-over in vain hopes of finding something that was more appropriate on-the-town attire than yoga pants.
CVS offered an extensive collection of very touristy shirts, but no bottoms—except for opaque tights. I bought two pairs, wondering how many pairs of tights one had to layer for the opaqueness to go away, and hoping that the magic number was two. I was thinking I could go totally 80s with a sexy oversized top and leggings. I don’t know. It seemed like a great idea amidst the beer hats and vodka handles.
We also picked up some bangles, cheap bracelets, and necklaces, you know, to really tie our outfits together.
We went to pay for all of these goodies, and then a fun thing happened. My card was declined.
It was declined because apparently Bank of America found it highly suspicious that I was suddenly in Las Vegas. I’d called BoA to tell them I’d be traveling this weekend to San Fran, and they’d marked that in their little record system, but this jaunt to Vegas was too much. It wasn’t to be believed. Someone had clearly stolen my card and headed out for a night on the town.
While it’s great that they were that concerned about my security, it was also pretty annoying. I had to call and go through the whole automated system before I could regain access to my card.
While doing this, I was reminded of my parents’ sage advice to always carry a little cash when I travel. The older I get, the more I realize how right they usually are about nearly everything.
We got it all sorted, then back at the hotel, the second hiccup of the evening became apparent. Or, rather, transparent.
I learned that it turns out the number of layered tights required to make them not see-through isn’t two. And the increased tightness of two layered tights makes breathing a laborious task. So my 80s funky, big-top, tight bottom combo wasn’t going to work. The yoga pants were there to stay, and I made my peace with it. (Hippie joke!)
We put on some party music to try to put us in a going out mood and not an “oh my God we’ve been traveling all day let’s just sleep please” mood. As we drank our champagne from the classy plastic cups the hotel had thoughtfully provided, we toasted “To Vegas!”
A cab picked us up from the hotel and we told him we wanted to go to the Strip.
“Where on the Strip?” he asked with a tone that was half exasperation, half annoyance. Hmmm. We hadn’t thought this far ahead.
Amanda and I, being from Louisiana, had both imagined the Strip to be much like Bourbon Street. Just a sort of street you stumble down, checking out cool looking things as you go while trying to avoid all manner of filth sloshing around on the ground beneath your feet. It is not, in fact, like that at all.
It’s made up of these massive hotels, just…gargantuan. The size of small towns, nearly. And none of them is really within easy walking distance of another, even if they’re sort of right next door.
Amanda had a place in mind, though. “What about Paris?”
“The one with the Eiffel Tower replica? Ooh, yeah, let’s go there!”
But our cabbie had other ideas.
“You do not want to go to Paris,” he told us definitely.
“No. Paris is no good. Where you want to go is Wynn Las Vegas.”
“I’ve never heard of it.” Amanda said, unconvinced.
“Wynn is good!”
“How much does Wynn pay you to recommend it to tourists?” I asked.
He laughed me off, saying, “Oh, the casinos, no, they don’t pay. The strip clubs? They pay $20 a head. But you aren’t going to the strip clubs.”
“No, we’re not.”
“Then we go to Wynn!”
Amanda and I looked at one another. I could tell that neither of us was convinced that we actually wanted to go to Wynn. But we were too tired to argue. And apparently, we go to Wynn!
He dropped us off at the entrance and we walked inside.
It was massive. It was grand. It was borderline obscene how gaudy it was.
Which was cool to see. But, it was also a place we’d never heard of. And we’d wanted to go to Paris.
“We’ll just stay and play enough slots to get a free drink, then head out, sound good?”
“Yeah,” Amanda agreed.
We walked in and made our way past men playing cards in suits smoking cigars, women on their arms in dresses that hugged every curve and hit just beneath the ass paired with heels that lengthened their legs so that it felt like I was eye-level with their knees.
I ignored them and walked my yoga pants toward the slot machines as quickly as my ballet flats would carry me.
Amanda had more casino experience than I, because while we’d both grown up in Louisiana, she’d also gone to college and PT school there. She’d been old enough to frequent them after finals were through or whenever else Louisianan students felt like blowing off steam. I’d gone to college in Texas, a land lacking in casinos. The slot machine I’d played in the airport was only my third one to ever try my hand at.
So Amanda knew how you get free drinks in a casino, and I did not.
“We’ve got to find some machines near other people, people who have drinks in their hands,” she told me, pulling me away from the machine I’d originally picked just because it was the first one I’d come across. Like a total rookie.
“There’s no one serving drinks around here. You see any cocktail waitresses nearby? We’ll die of thirst if we stop here.”
I looked around. I didn’t see anyone serving. She was right.
We walked to the far corner of the casino, where there were two or three waitresses walking around with trays filled with drinks, and a handful of patrons who were sharing this casino experience with us on a Sunday night.
The players at the slot machines were cut from a different cloth than the ones playing at the tables. These were our people. No ass-hitting dresses here. Just regular ol’ Joes getting down to business, one dollar at a time.
Amanda and I sat down and fed our machines. A waitress was beside us in minutes.
“What can I get you ladies?” she asked. I searched her face for any sign of shock at our attire. The jeans. The yoga pants. The hastily applied bare minimum CVS makeup.
She just looked tired, though. Worn out. Too seasoned by this stage in her life to be shocked by much, even though she didn’t seem all that much older than Amanda and me.
“Double vodka soda with lime, please,” I asked. Amanda put her order in, and then our waitress flitted off to fulfill them, free of charge.
I was amazed.
I’d always heard you could get free drinks at the casino just for playing, but I’d been skeptical of this. It seemed like a poor business practice. It’s likely that I just underestimate exactly how much money the casino is betting I’ll lose to them. The house always wins in the end. Isn’t that what they say?
Well, maybe those are the odds, but it turned out it was my lucky night. By the time she got back, I’d won $8.19, baby.
It was enough to pay for a cab to take us to another casino. Because while this one had been fine, whenever we finally did get back to Dallas we sort of wanted to be able to tell people we’d actually gone somewhere they’d heard of. And Wynn just didn’t seem like it would cut it.
By that time, Amanda had figured out where we really wanted to go, and it wasn’t Paris. It was Italy. We were going to the Venetian.
There was no location haggling with the next cab driver. He took us straight there, no problem. Turns out, when you have an exact destination in mind, getting where you’re going is much easier. That sort of works as a metaphor for life, too…but I digress.
Anyway, the Venetian was palatial. It was all done up in decorations for Chinese New Year, which seemed a little odd…because I didn’t know that that was such a big holiday in Italy, but we went with it.
We stopped by the slots for more free drinks and to try winning another round, but this time the house won. Bye-bye $8.19. I barely knew ye.
Bored with that (losing isn’t nearly as much fun as winning), we went exploring. Amanda had heard the Venetian actually had a man-made canal that ran through it. This was another Vegas myth I was skeptical of. Could a building even have this sort of thing, and still be within safety codes? It just seemed so…impossible.
But Amanda said that it did, and that there was even a boat you could ride down it, a gondola. You know. As if you really were in Venice.
Walking around, I became more and more convinced that, in Vegas, nothing was impossible. The Venetian had its own mall. And also, a waterfall. A really high one. And, just…so much glam. I felt like I was in the roaring 20s. Nothing was too over-the-top to exist here.
Then, we came to it. The canal. Beneath a ceiling painted like the sky. Here, have a look:
My breath was literally taken away. We were in another world. All because we’d missed a flight. It was a sort of travelers’ miracle. A random coincidence that lead to an amazing experience…which, the more I travel, the more I’m realizing is just the sort of miracle that seems to happen over an over again.
Between the discomfort of actually traveling and all of the stuff that doesn’t go according to plan and leads to annoyances, there are real gems. Pockets of amazingness I’d never be exposed to if I didn’t make the effort to get the hell out of town every once in a while.
We went back to our airport hotel not long after that and enjoyed a precious few glorious hours of sleep before catching our flight home.
And, just like that, a few short hours after visiting Venice I was back at work. Sitting in my cubicle. Mired in real life.
At least until my next trip :)