22 May 2011
'Universe of the Bizarre'
Las Vegas. Day off.
I know, I know – what the hell are we doing in Las Vegas? Well, first of all U2 is attending the Billboard Awards tonight to pick up a gong for staging the most successful tour since Noah set sail. After that the touring party fragments a little with some Spiderman and some Glastonbury errands to run, so we won’t all see each other for a couple of days. This effectively provides the first real day off for Team Content and me, which is very welcome indeed, even if we are in this madhouse of a city. I made enquiries last night as to what time breakfast finished downstairs and got the joyous answer of 1pm. (Result!) However, when Run and I arrived at the hotel restaurant around noon in greatly tousled state, we were told that there would be a wait for a table of about an hour.
Forgetting for a moment where we were, I suggested that we simply head out and find some breakfast elsewhere. Ah, Las Vegas. Everything is so over-scale here that places which look just-across-the-way turn out to be a major hike. So much so that we ended up taking the free overhead train but this only deposited us in another casino. Run has never been to Las Vegas before so in a way it was the perfect introduction. Amid glimpses of the Sphinx, the New York Skyline, King Arthur’s Castle, etc., we wandered zombie-like amongst the crowds of other zombies across packed casino floors, bewildered by lights flashing, bells ringing and the endless chug-chug-chug of the one-arm bandits. Could there be somewhere for a little breakfast? Anywhere? Out of desperation we looked in at the appropriately named “Dick’s Last Resort”, who’s gimmick is to mimic a low-life bar and grill with aggressively rude waitstaff, but it was way too early in our day for that kind of carry-on and besides, living in England this would hardly be a novelty. To avoid spiralling into a vortex of caffeine-withdrawal, we just settled for coffee and a doughnut from a stand and retreated to the Hotel Fabulous. There’s rarely a time when arriving in Las Vegas isn’t a surreal experience but being flung into the place at zero notice after the couple of weeks that we’ve all just lived through put it into a whole new universe of the bizarre.
I went back to bed for a few hours, figuring that this insane adult’s playground might make slightly more sense after dusk. Besides, it’s been a while since we had a day off and I was feeling the need to regroup. A small group of us rendezvoused poolside later and headed down to the strip. I’m realising that it’s been quite a few years since I was in Las Vegas. I think my last visit was in 2004 doing a musical at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel, an experience about which I could write a book. There’s been an enormous amount of building since then, during what was a seemingly endless growth period before the world collapsed. That said, there’s little sign of recession here, the casinos are busy, the streets packed and the taxis working overtime.
First stop was the Flamingo, before getting serious and heading down to Fremont Street. The downtown area still retains an amount of the low-rent sleazy charm that has been sanitized out of existence in the antiseptic over-Cirqued, celebrity-cheffed mall-casinos of the Strip. I particularly wanted Run to see the Fremont St roof of lightbulbs with its simple lo-res motion graphics that were the twin sister to the PopMart giant video screen. Imagine my disappointment to discover that this milestone in entertainment display has been ‘modernised’ and replaced with boringly regular LED video panels. I was gutted – it’s like tearing down Stonehenge and putting up a multi-storey car park. Something so ground-breaking, unique and beautiful now rendered utterly mediocre.
Not having been blessed with the gambling gene my interest tends to wane pretty quickly in these places (though, needless to say, if they had pinball machines, I’d be there all night), so we didn’t overstay our welcome. A few games of blackjack were played and even I had a go on the dollar roulette. Grotesque souvenirs were purchased, outlandish t-shirts for some, me settling for a small tin of “Bitch Mints” and another of “After Dick Mints” that I will secrete strategically amongst the possessions of some lucky souls in our touring party for maximum comedy effect.
We’re off in the morning, so that’s our 24-hour Vegas hit done with. It was fun for the first-timers and a good reminder for me that there’s really no need to hurry back.