Entering Las Vegas, I feel what I imagine a wanderer in the desert, dying of thirst, might feel surmounting a dune to lay eyes upon an oasis. We approached at night, a demand of Spencer’s that only came to make sense to me once we had arrived. The nighttime desert landscape, typically pitch black except for starlight, was suddenly interrupted by a river of glowing, vivid light. It was like a synthetic milky way competing with the actual one for visibility here, in the closest thing you can get to the middle-of-nowhere. Marvelous, colorful, and just a bit ostentatious, the scene was a perfect microcosm for what Las Vegas is really about – spectacle!
Two days away from our last showers and our last respite that didn’t happen in the Jeep’s bucket-seats, we looked “rode hard and put away wet” – in fact that may be an understatement. Parking at the beautiful Bellagio Casino, we hit the strip, the juxtaposition of our own dishevelment to the high-style and glamour of the sights and people around us only served to highlight said Gollum-ness. I’ll admit, I felt under-dressed, out-of-place, and very self-conscious.
Spencer seemed unshaken, perhaps being a millwright and a casual sorta guy, he has grown used to dirt under his fingernails and a blue-collar look that can look noticeably unconventional in a lot of “fancier” places. It was also not his first time in this high-wattage metropolis, whereas I was a Vegas virgin. I needed a drink as immediately as one could be attained. After I had downed two shots of Vodka with a splash of sprite in it and Spencer, his usual local IPA, we were $30+ down but feeling up. We were officially in Vegas-mode.
Vegas is a unique place. Once known simply as a place where gamblers and old film/music stars would go to die, it’s image has had quite the transformation over the past couple of decades. It is now a hugely popular spot for tourism, a center for arts, and the film and music stars that visit here are often much younger – many of them even with performance residencies here. And those aren’t the only celebrities that reside here in Las Vegas, the galleries of every hotel are a veritable lineup for New York Fashion week with fashion stars like Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana on the guest list.
There are custom art installations and sculptures that you could literally bump into if you aren’t paying attention while passing through your hotel lobby. The Bellagio Casino, for example, had one of the largest installations of Chihuly Glass I had ever seen, and I have lived in his home city for 8 years. Less than 100 feet is another exhibit – a constant feature at the Bellagio – transports you into a fall-themed fairy tale land, complete with a sleeping fairy that moves her wings. Bonus, the entire thing is made of living flowers. We took in the world-renowned Bellagio fountain show, marveling not only at the aquatic ballet itself perfectly synchronized to Sarah Brightman’s “Time to Say Goodbye”, but also its evocation of four uninterrupted minutes of silence from the crowd. Right off the strip, while heading to another casino, a window display featuring a 6 ft tall lollipop demanded a touring of its home gallery. Inside, was stunning pop art in a variety of media. Unfortunately for us, the sucker was not the edible kind.