Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Alice through the mirrorball horse or: How I fell in love with Vegas

My name is Amanda, not Alice. And I took a trip to Vegas, not Wonderland. I was wearing jeans, not a cute little blue dress with a white pinafore. And I didn't follow a rabbit, I followed my own desire. But other then those minute details my story and Alice, of Lewis Carrol fame, are pretty much the same.

Stepping off the plane in Las Vegas was like entering an alternate universe. Everything that was backward and forward in my Toronto was upside down and sideways on the Strip. I had planned this trip as a Christmas gift for my boyfriend with only Hollywood expectations and friends' tales to guide me, and that was all I needed in the end.

The first thing I did when I got to the luxurious Wynn hotel was jump on the bed. Maybe it was the desert air and the sun on my face, but after months of winter, this southern place made me feel free and rebellious. We hit the Strip as soon as I got tired of the bed and once we started exploring we realized how oddball Vegas really is. Nothing anyone says can prepare you for this. You could watch The Hangover a hundred times, but when you're used to people smoking outside and drinking inside, and then those practices are reversed, your head will spin. I had to stop myself from staring at people as they drank everywhere, inside and out. To test the limits Scott bought a beer and drank it in the Tiffany and Co. I was appalled, but the staff didn't even blink. The first time I sniffed cigarette smoke in the air at the casino I felt the need to alert someone until I noticed that the only person looking around like there was something wrong was me. Walking down the street was like walking down a midway at a fair. Left and right there were flashing lights, signs and music playing. Stores and hotels were like fun houses, designed to lure in all walks of life, and around every corner you caught glimpses of the freak show that is modern America. Women with so much plastic surgery and spray tan in their dramatic attempts to look young ended up looking like drag queens. The horribly obese stood next to the drastically thin amplifying each others' qualities without meaning to. My hunger for people-watching went into overdrive, and I was almost drooling at each new resort. As the sun went down the skirts inched higher on girls legs and the look of lust lingered longer in the groups of men. I watched all this with growing interest and thought "that plane may as well have been a rabbit hole after all."

Jet lag really is a bitch, but in this case I could forgive her, because waking up at 5:30am gave me and Scott the chance to watch the sunrise over the mountains. Laying in bed, seeing that orange glow creep over the sky made me feel peaceful and excited at the same time. Why couldn't I feel like this every morning? I guess it's just the magic of Vegas. We left the hotel and walked down the deserted Strip to find breakfast. We ended up at Hash House A Go Go which we'd seen on Man vs. Food. Being fans we had to try what Adam Richman had tried, so I ordered the chicken and waffles and Scott got the fried chicken eggs benny. When the plates arrived I understood why the U.S. has such problems with obesity! The plate was WIDER then my shoulders, and piled so high it required skewer scaffolding to support it. After an hour I had barely made a dent in my portion, whereas Scott had devoured his (I think he felt the need to best Richman at his own game). He was sorry for it later. The rest of the day was spent working off breakfast by shopping at the Premium Outlet Malls.

I love being able to find great deals, but I love seeing the different side of a city more and the bus ride to the outlets revealed that to me. I have never seen so many bail bondsmen in my entire life. At least five in a row, one shop was even called The Godfather and had a picture of a mobster holding a gun. Downtown Vegas has a different glimmer then the sparkling Strip. This is where old Vegas and poor Vegas mix together. Gazing out the window watching sagging apartment buildings go by and drug deals being exacted by young black men in white wife beaters I was reminded that I wasn't in Wonderland and not everyone here was on vacation. A reality cheque that I wasn't ready to pay yet.

That night we dined at the SW Steakhouse and surrounded by such opulence it was easy to forget about poverty in the rest of the city. One thing I learned on this trip is Vegas is the mistress of smoke and mirrors. Illusions of architecture and flowing booze make it harder to see through the haze of what's beyond the Strip. Las Vegas actually has the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. but it's hard to keep that in mind when you're having a good time amongst your new tourist friends in the casinos.

Our last full day in Vegas was packed to the tits with with activities. We made another trip off the Strip to visit Target and the University of Nevada. We went on a gondola ride at the Venetian. It was worth every penny to get to know our charming gondolier, Dante, and hear him sing. We went through Madame Tussauds' Wax Museum where Scott got a little too friendly with Jenna Jameson, and we rode the roller coster at New York, New York.

The icing on our vacation cake and the end of the evening was to go see O by Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio, but before we got there we watched a real Vegas show play out on the bus on the way back to the hotel. Three middle aged men tried to board the bus. All of them were drunk, but one was so much so that he was leaning sideways and tilting back and forth as if on a moving ship. The bus driver told his friends that they couldn't bring him on the bus, that he was way too intoxicated. The drunk men started yelling, as drunk men tend to do, and they told the bus driver that they were getting on no matter what. He reiterated that they would not get on, but if they left now he wouldn't call the police. At this they started shouting "CALL THE COPS! DO IT! CALL THEM!" all while trying to support their now slumped over friend sitting on the ground. Everyone on the bus was watching this discourse with amusement, especially the four tipsy women sitting in front of us. They had taken it upon themselves to narrate the entire debacle and were yelling out predictions as to what was going to transpire. A woman sitting behind us had her camera out and was taping the entire thing. It ended with one of our new southern sista's dragging Scott into a rendition of Crank Dat Soulja Boy, an invitation to drinks and everyone getting off the bus before the cops showed up. This is Vegas: a perfect cocktail of random drunkenness and new friends from different places.

Finally arriving at the Bellagio we waited for O to begin in front of the mirrorball horse in the lobby. As we watched people pose for pictures in front of the horse, it became for me a symbol of our trip and this crazy city. It's big, sparkly, over the top and not real, but it's fun to look at and that's why you fall in love with it.

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