I was in Las Vegas over the weekend. If the country is in a serious bail out/tarp fund recession, you wouldn't know it in Las Vegas.
The traffic slowed to a crawl 45 minutes out on interstate 15. It was bumper to bumper until I pulled into my hotel.
I have been coming to Vegas since I was 19. It never changes but it is never the same. That is not as much of a contradiction as you might think.
I can't remember the last time I drove to Las Vegas. It has to be seven years. What I remember as landmarks on the strip are dwarfed by new hotels. The end of the southern strip used to be Cesars; it is now almost lost in the middle of the strip.
You don't notice it as much if you are in a cab coming from the airport. The cabs usually avoid the strip as much as they can.
The strip never really looks the same to me from one time to the next. I am rarely at the same hotel visit to visit. They are always tearing down or building up and constantly re-decorating. Some of my best memories are in hotels that don't even exist any more.
What never changes is the product. Gambling, drinking, and sexy entertainment have always been on the push list. They just keep building bigger and fancier boxes to lure you into purchasing the product.
I watched the gaming tables give way to more slots. The slots went from mechanical bandits to digital video robbers. Keno was gone from the coffee shops many trips ago. And now coins are gone.
The new slot machines don't take change. The least amount you can invest in a machine is a paper dollar. If you win, you don't get that rush of hearing coins clanging into the tray below. What you get is "credits" in the form of a paper receipt, like what you get at a grocery store. You can cash them in at the cage or use it like paper money in another machine. When it prints out, the machine plays the "sound" of coins hitting the tray. Even in this digital age it is virtually not the same.
The big scam is the odds on forgetting to cash in a 3 dollar receipt or losing it altogether. They are absolutely in favor of the house. The phrase "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" is never more true than for your cash. In fact, I found a two dollar coupon hidden among my travel receipts. It says in bold letters that it is only good for the next 60 days and only at the same hotel. The odds must be very long on me remembering to bring it back in the next two months.
Las Vegas used to be a romantic dream to me. Performing there was the apex. Early on it was like a Sinatra fantasy. People dressed up after dark. There was a ketchy class to it all. Everyone could pretend to be a high roller. You could get a good table for a show by tipping the right amount. Now it's over priced cover charges and tickets. (The cover for the Lounge at the Wynn is $100.00 per person. The only entertainment inside is a DJ, and call drinks are $20 bucks each.)
Now days you see guys walking around the casino at night in "wife beaters", flip flops and a bottle of Bud dangling from their hand. It isn't what Frank had in mind when he opened Cal Neva.
The dream ended for me in 1978. I was booked as opening act for Donny and Marie at the Hilton. They couldn't have been hotter then. They had their show on TV and even installed an ice rink on stage for the "Osmond Ice Dancers" also on there television show. We did two shows a night seven nights a week, no day off, for three weeks.
I learned then that Vegas is a two day town. Like dead fish it begins to smell after three days. I still think of that time as the longest three weeks of my life. Las Vegas was never the same for me after that. I have made countless visits since, and had some great times, but from 1978 on it was just a job, not a dream.
I know I am a romantic at heart. Elegant Las Vegas was then and is now an oxymoron. Now I leave Las Vegas with a paycheck not winnings and I write off expenses not losses. But there is something in me that misses the Rat Pack, or knowing that Sinatra and Elvis might be in town.
Perhaps it is the curse of age. I remember a different world. The twin towers were majestic, Iran was Persia, Russia was the only evil empire, no one blogged or Twittered, and the mob ran Vegas. Maybe those were the good old days maybe they weren't. The only thing for sure is: that's not the way it is now.
Donny and Marie were back in Las Vegas last weekend. Their picture is ten stories high on the side of the Flamingo Hotel. They are hot again because Marie was on "Dancing with the Stars". They sell expensive pictures of the Rat Pack at the gift shop. There is are fourteen performing Elvis impersonators, and Sinatra songs play over the Muzak system. Go figure.