Let’s say I’m taking an alien visitor on a tour of Earth. Maybe I’ve shown him San Francisco. We’ve been to the redwood forests. Now we land in Vegas in the middle of the strip amid the lights and the people, the facades and flashing screens. Trucks parade up and down the street with billboards for every kind of entertainment from circus shows to strippers. It’s 100ºF at 9:00 p.m. on America’s playground. My little green friend looks around with impossibly big eyes and the starts scanning through his Terran dictionary looking for the alien equivalent of “WTF?” What do I tell this intergalactic friend of mine?
Beats the hell out of me.
Everything in Vegas is called The Something Experience. There’s The Fremont Street Experience, The Eiffel Tower Experience, naturally there’s Star Trek: The Experience, and I even saw a van advertising the Mobile Spray Tan Experience. (I missed that last one.) I think this is because when you finally limp out of town and collapse into a chair at the airport all you can really say is, “Well, that was an experience.” And indeed it was.
Getting My Geek On
If my alien tourist buddy was a Ferengi, there would be no need to explain Vegas. Maybe he could explain it to me. There is probably a rule of acquisition for each point of this business plan.
As soon as we got to our hotel, we dropped our bags in our room and headed straight to Star Trek: The Experience. As an aside, I considered painting on my Trill spots before we went on our Star Trek adventure, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to shower before dinner and thought it might seem strange if I was walking around town with spots all night. Clearly, I’m new around here.
I have now been transported aboard a star ship, I’ve stood on the bridge of the Enterprise D, I’ve faced down the Borg and lived to tell the tale. I sat at Quark’s bar and ordered a Tarmarian Frost. (My new favorite drink, by the way. I need to get my act together and throw another sci-fi party so I can make one for all of you.) And I met a runtling, intoxicated Gagh named “George” who has apparently served as the mascot of Quark’s Bar in Vegas for these 10 years. Cheers, George. To Shaka when the walls fell.
I didn’t come home with any new Trek gear as I had expected too. In general, the stuff in the shops is never the stuff that I want. If there had been a reasonably priced mek’leth to be had or a Dax symbiant puppet perhaps, they would have come home with me in a nanosecond, but my imagination often proves more elaborate than that which ready-made props can furnish. So be it.
So What Else is There to Do Around Here?
On the counter at the Hilton gift shop, I noticed some kind of wallet-sized reference card full of colorful little boxes. “Oh, that’s useful,” I thought as I reached for one, assuming from the colors and distribution of the colorful boxes that it was the periodic table of elements. My distance vision isn’t so great. Turns out it was a reference card for blackjack strategy. Less useful. To me.
Weaving though the labyrinth of various gambling machines that are strategically placed to disorient and confuse you on your way out the front door, I turned to Shawn.
“This I don’t get.”
“Why all this exists and why people like it.”
I’m looking at a thousand flashing machines that all seem to be some variety of digital slot machine bleeping and blinking like tacky flash banners on websites I refuse to patronize. The people sitting in front of them look catatonic and to a California girl, the noxious cloud of smoke is here is as foreign as it is nauseating.
Shawn shrugs. “Some people juggle geese.”
I didn’t gamble in Vegas, unless you count taking the city bus. I saw some very bendy acrobats bounce around like ping pong balls at Circus Circus and wove through a few casinos just to get the gist of things. Walking down the covered archway of Fremont Street while Queen blared down at me like some Greek god was frightening beyond all measure, though Shawn had fun figuring out how many LEDs were up there and hypothesizing about the software that controls the sky.
I ate what was easily the best rainbow roll I’ve ever had while I split a glass bottle of cold saki with Shawn at the bar in an Asian restaurant ever so slightly off the beaten path. There is clearly a lot of good food around here and we had a few of well-made drinks made by friendly bartenders.
“Is there anything to do in Vegas but drink?” Shawn asks one.
The bartender laughs. “Sure, there’s drugs too.”
By far, the most ludicrous thing I saw in Vegas was the shear number of people with babies in strollers and young ones by the hand. Why on earth would you bring a small child here? I’m reminded of the disclaimer that Sound and Fury presents before their Shakespeare shows at Renfaire. “If your kids don’t know where babies come from, they will by the end of the show.” They’re mostly kidding. Vegas isn’t. It seems like sex is used to sell everything here, down to doughnuts and lemonade. In the airport – I swear to god I’m telling the truth – I saw a larger than life-size poster of a barely-clad blonde toting an automatic weapon advertising for a gun store. And this was next to the security gauntlet. In the boxes along the sidewalk where one would find newspapers and real estate brochures in a normal town, here you find what could only be described as catalogs for hookers, with things like “$69 Special!” splashed across the front. Dude. I’m not going to expound on the merits or evils of this particular profession nor will I venture to proffer an opinion on its legality, but I have to think that there are easier ways to make $69.
And people are walking their kids around in this? Are you all nuts?
We spent some time in the evening on a patio at the Bellagio watching that fountain that’s in all the movies while sharing some drinks with friends. Behind us, muffled through glass doors, some particularly loud band played on for dancing. On the other side of the fountain, people wandered up and down Las Vegas Boulevard on their way to their next adventure. But our little spot in the middle was reasonably calm and removed. This was my favorite way to view the madness that is Las Vegas.
I Don’t Think We’re in Vegas Anymore, Toto
We spent Saturday off the strip. Our local friends had offered to take us hiking. Hiking? In Vegas? At 110ºF? Forgive me for sounding like a wimp. I’m all for the beauty of the desert and all that, but are you serious?
But when in Rome, so off we went. Would you believe that this is in Las Vegas?
A 20-minute car ride took us about 6000 feet above Las Vegas into the Spring Mountains. We watched low yuccas and joshua trees slowly give over to scrub pine and aspens. Grey skies to pure blue. The temperature dropped 30ºF. By the time we were at our destination, I would have been hard pressed to make any connection between the place I was standing and the place I had stood at the start of the day.
The geology was stupendous. Great sloping slabs of rock pocketed with caves worthy of fraggledom. Here and there in ridiculously upside-down caverns, the hooks and pegs of rather brave rock climbers could be seen embedded in the ceiling. The opposite rises showed old alluvial deposits twisted and looped up like taffy.
Aspens shimmer in a very different kind of way than the LEDs and neon in the valley bellow.
It’s quiet here, and green, and clean, and real. When my alien buddy and I land in Vegas, I’ll sit him down right here. “See?” We’ll sit here without the need of intergalactic dictionaries and drink it all in.
Photos from Shannon and Shawn’s Las Vegas Adventure can be found in my photo gallery. If you find yourself in Las Vegas, please hike Mary Jane Falls. If you find yourself in Las Vegas in the next 26 days, say hi to the Starship Enterprise for me. Live long and prosper.