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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Good Time In Vegas Doesn't Have To Be A Gamble


Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

As the plane banked into it's final turn, the wing dipped and revealed below a glittering carpet of lights. Unlike the airborne views of other cities, these lights didn't merely glow; they danced, making the cityscape come alive. A few minutes later, the wheels galumphed onto the runway and the overhead speakers announced: "Welcome to Las Vegas!"
Variously called "Sin City" or "America's Playground," Las Vegas has always seemed to exist in its own continuum. Regardless of events occurring in other places, boom or bust, war or peace, this oasis of neon in the middle of a very dark desert glittered without pause. I suspect that other-worldly quality is one of the reasons Vegas remains today a favored tourist destination. Yet even Vegas has felt the pinch, although you have to look hard to find the signs. Unemployment has soared to over 13%, due mainly to the suspension of the construction of several large developments. Even the entertainment industry has seen jobs dribble away. And yet, even when facing these difficult times, Vegas still manages to flash it's trademark diamond-studded smile.
There are two tourist areas, the well-known stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard known as "The Strip," and the less elaborate downtown area. Downtown is the original "Strip," and most of the casinos that gave that famed stretch of Fremont the moniker "Glitter Gulch" in the early days are still there. Fremont is closed to traffic and roofed over by a conestoga-shaped multi-media screen that regularly displays fascinating shows of computerized video and choreographed music, all accompanied by the oohs and aahs of the appreciative crowds. There are small stages set up at a few places where live bands are heard in the evenings. Their music, reverberating off that hard roof, is loud and guaranteed to get the blood pumping. Other than the music and the videos though, there's not much else there except the casinos. While the Strip seems to grow glitzy hotel complexes like mushrooms, Downtown hasn't changed much in the last 75 years, except for Fremont Street. Fitzgerald's, Binion's, The California, The Golden Nugget, the Golden Spike, The Fremont, the iconic El Cortez, still wearing the same fascia it did when Vegas was young, they're all there, still glittery after all these years.

Fremont Street

The Strip is a sharp contrast to the historic quaintness of old downtown. The hotels here are huge and elaborate, constructed along themes. New York, New York and Paris, France obviously recall those great cities. Then there's the Venetian, complete with gondola rides, Caesar's Palace, recalling the days when Rome ruled the world. The Bellagio and the Palazzo recall an Italy of different days. The Mirage is the Middle East in the romantic days of Lawrence of Arabia. Excalibur is the Europe of Knights and Castles. Mandalay Bay recalls the days of the British Raj in Singapore. Treasure Island is the Caribbean of Pirate ships and epic battles. And of course, the mystic pyramid of the Luxor, the only hotel in the world clearly visible from space.

Dining in the Village
The Glory of Rome
A Quiet Stroll in Paris
The Eifel Rises into Desert Skies
The Grand Lady At Home in the Desert

This stretch of LV Blvd. is about two and a half miles long, a lot of which is navigable along elevated walkways. It's a real struggle on a summer day, with temps reaching well into triple digits (dry or not, that's just plain hot!), better at night, and a pure delight in the mid-to-late fall.
Say "Vegas" and most people think of gambling. And while there is plenty of that available, you can actually go to Vegas and have a great vacation without dropping a penny in a slot machine.
The other thing Vegas is known for is entertainment. Plays, musicals, live bands, magic acts that will astonish you, comedians that will leave your face aching from laughter, just about anything you'd want to see will be there in abundance. Some hotels, Circus Circus, for example have elaborate shows as well as indoor amusement parks. The themed hotels fascinate as well. Most of the big ones have shopping areas done up in authentic architecture. In Paris, you wander along a cobblestone lane lined by a neighborhood of shops and restaurants so authentically French, you find yourself thinking with the accent. Above, the ceiling is painted in a motif of blue skies and fluffy clouds that sing "April in Paris." In the New York "neighborhoods, you'll find the kind of gritty realism of Soho and The Village, apartment buildings with plants and air conditioners in the windows. You can spend hours in these places, thoroughly amazed.

I don't gamble. It's not a moral stand, I know I just have terrible luck. Yet, I love going to Vegas. There's just so much to do outside the casinos. We always felt we could take our kids there because they could have loads of fun without being exposed to the more adult-themed activities. And if I want a change of pace, I can rent a Harley from any one of several agencies and take off for a cleansing ride through the desert, perhaps taking the 5-hour jaunt to the Grand Canyon.

I accompany my wife to casinos in other places, and usually end up bored out of my mind. But there in the lights and buzz of that jewel in the desert, I can enjoy a great vacation.

The View from the top of the Eifel Tower
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