Paul Goodwin

Double whiskey, coke, no ice (Las Vegas Pt I)

Published on Fri 16 Apr 2010

I saw a really good band on Wednesday, completely out of the blue, when I went to The Cornerhouse to keep me awake until a sensible hour so I could get back onto UK time. Anyway, they're called The Momeraths and they made me grin a lot. A charming perfect harmony boy/girl twee poppy indie thing made more interesting by the girl generally taking a drumstick to anything that was near her, including a tom, a couple of chairs, a tambourine and a glockenspiel (though she probably used proper mallets, or whatever glockenspiel playing sticks are called, for that). It's the first time I've bought a CD off a band I've not seen before for ages.

In another extravagant effort to distract myself from the crippling loneliness of my day-to-day life, Andy and I went to Las Vegas last week (and got back just in time it seems - I'd probably be dead, or at least broke, by now if the volcanic ash crisis had trapped us there). I went down to London last Wednesday so that we didn't have to stress about getting to Gatwick in time, and we got there in plenty of time. I'd lost my sunglasses (along with my passport for a while - that was a horrible hour or two) at some point the previous weekend while clearing up my house ready for some building work (more of that another time probably) so once we'd checked in under the watchful gaze of a man with a gun that looked like something out of Aliens I went on a whistlestop tour of Sunglasses, Sunglass Hut, Sunglass Shack and Sunglass Lean-to in an effort to find some for less than 70, before resorting to Boots. Once that and some breakfast was sorted (9.30am) we started on the whiskey and coke and quiz machine until flight time. 

It's about 10 hours from London to Vegas, so there was time for a few films though, as ever, the in-flight entertainment system was playing up. I'm tempted to write to Branson. I saw Up In The Air (ok, but not as good as I'd been led to believe), It's Complicated (a bit crap, but Alec Baldwin was in it, so I let it drift by while thinking about Tina Fey) some of Sherlock Holmes (meh, but it wasn't helped by the sound cutting out for about 70% of the time) and I'm pretty sure something else, but I forget what.

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We got out of the airport at about 4pm local time after a monster queue at immigration, and took a taxi the long way round to our hotel, the MGM Grand, which was the biggest hotel in the world for a while, until they built an even bigger one up the road. We washed the metaphorical dust off our feet and then went to explore the hotel a bit before wandering up The Strip. The hotels in Vegas seem to need to have a gimmick, and the gimmick of the MGM Grand is that it has a lion enclosure. A lion enclosure. To be honest it was less impressive than it sounds - they were just lazing around on top of the walkway whenever I went past. One thing that all the hotels have in common is that if you touch any piece of metal (in particular handrails and door handles) you have decent odds of getting a fairly jolting electric shock. Dunno what that's about. Andy took to insulating his hand with his passport before going near anything.

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There are a few things that strike you as soon as you get outside. First is how hot it is (in the 80s in early April, apparently rising to the 100s pretty soon) and how air conditioned the hotels are. Second is the lines of Mexican guys flicking cards advertising girls at everyone (they sound a bit like cicadas, and get right in your way on already crowded pavements), not to mention the massive trailers advertising the same thing which go past when you're trying to take pictures of things. Here are two separate attempts I made to take pictures of the Bellagio fountains (they make an appearance in Ocean's 11).

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Third is how ridiculous most of the casinos are. The one over the road was New York themed, complete with Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and rollercoaster,

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and there was one over the road from that shaped like a castle. Admittedly a plastic looking castle, but a castle nonetheless. The two most ridiculous though, in my opinion, are the Paris themed one, complete with Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe

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and The Venetian, with an indoor Grand Canal (much like Venusfort the Italian themed shopping mall in Tokyo that I went to last year if you remember that - actally, quite a lot of the crazier things reminded me of Japan), a big campanile, and a model of the Rialto Bridge with, wait for it, travelators on. Travelators.

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After a wander and takeaway margaritas from some cocktail themed bar and restaurant I got the second best steak I've had in the last few weeks, realised I was quite incredibly tired and went to bed.

We got up bright and early the next day, still not quite being accustomed to the time and went over the road to Hooters for a breakfast of "deadly deuces": 2 sausage "links", 2 eggs "over easy", 2 little rashers of bacon and 2 huge pancakes. Served with maple syrup and, for some reason, a small pot of clotted cream. The coffee was both bottomless and extremely nice.

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There was a blackjack table with a minimum bet of $3 per hand, which was by far the cheapest we'd seen at that point, so I had a bit of a go, and pretty soon was $60 up. As ever with these things I carried on for longer than I should but, for the one and only time of the weekend, I still left the table in profit. We wandered down to the Mandalay Bay casino, and picked up a cab to a shooting range a couple of miles out of town to fire some guns.

When we got in there I was a little bit nervous about the guy toting something that appeared to take mortar shells and complaining that it kept jamming. It made a hell of a noise when he shot it. Anyway, we were given T-shirts to shoot at as well as a couple of man shaped targets and got through a selection of 4 machine guns (I think my favourite was the uzi, but it was the first one and I was still a bit tentative) a magnum, a desert eagle (which has a massive kick) and a pump action shotgun. I managed to hit my T-shirt with (I counted) 73 of 75 rounds and here's my effort with the shotgun.

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I reckon I'd be ok in a combat situation, as long as the enemy stood motionless about 30 feet away, and I had someone to load my weapons. Shooting guns is cool. And big and clever.

We wandered back towards the city, pausing for me to buy some clothes (I hideously underpacked - don't know what was going on) and catching a cab at a hunting themed casino (after quickly losing my profit from Hooters to a lady that I thought at the time was the surliest blackjack dealer in the world) - the guys who stand out the front of places beckoning cabs for you from a queue of them for a dollar a time are onto a pretty good thing it seems to me.

After dropping our targets and stuff back at the room, we got the monorail from our hotel to the other end of The Strip to go up the tower at Stratosphere, a hotel whose gimmick is having a massive tower with fairground rides on the top (that go over the edge). "Sod that" was the general opinion of rides that go off the side of huge towers, but I do like looking down on things. It was incredibly hot, so on the way we wandered into this cool looking shop with the intention of buying some water and possibly tat. 

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As we were about to go in there were two guys in CSI T-shirts coming out carrying souvenir CSI director's chairs, which Andy later said he thought was a bit of an impractical thing to take on a plane. Just inside the door were two guys in CSI T-shirts wearing souvenir replica CSI access all areas passes. Going a bit far I thought. Then I noticed Laurence Fishburne was standing in the corner, and before we could go up and congratulate him on his performance in Snakes on a Plane or The Pelican Brief (or Lethal Weapon) someone else with a souvenir CSI pass told us that the shop wasn't actually open and would we mind going away.

Stratosphere is pretty high. It looks a bit like the CN Tower, but is built in sections rather than being formed out of a single moulding of concrete (get me and my CN Tower knowledge).

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At the top they sold a cocktail called Rocket Fuel in a novelty massive glass, and it would've seemed rude not to have one.

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It was pretty disgusting, but did a job. Not as much of a job as it did on the old Australian woman that started talking to Andy when I popped to the loo.

"Ah possums, ah just wanted somethin' ta quench ma facking thirst and nah ah'm fackin' blotto - I gotta get back ta facking Circus Circus and take ma facking nephew ta see a facking show, and then we're goin' ta fackin' Anaheim for a fackin' week of fackin' disney shite tamarra - cud ya be a nice pair a poms and help me ta tha fackin' bus stop?".

The view was pretty great - it looks like Sim City, albeit without the massive spider robot thing.

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These were the first clouds we'd seen since we'd been there.

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Once we'd helped Dame Edna to the bus stop we went to the Sahara casino where we'd seen some $1 blackjack and played that for a while, with the new surliest dealer champion, Pat. She spoke four languages, not including the clicking language of the African bushmen, had known Elvis (she said there was a photo of the two of them on ebay recently), toured the world as a dancer and now, in her 60's, was dealing extremely low stakes blackjack to the kind of people who play extremely low stakes blackjack. She wasn't best pleased. Fair enough I guess, but it's not much fun when the dealer isn't very nice to you.

Once we'd run out of dollars we walked all the way back down the strip, pausing only for some oversized beers, and to watch the eruption of the fake volcano outside The Mirage casino. Andy had to drag me past The Wynn, where Garth Brooks was playing. I'd have definitely gone if I'd not been overruled.

We got back to the MGM, had some pretty good dinner then went for a look round New York, New York, which has replica streets inside. The buildings aren't as tall as the real ones, so they've made the windows get smaller towards the top in an effort to instil some perspective. Andy was feeling tired so went to bed while I played some blackjack on a rare $10 table that we found in the MGM. It was really good fun. The best thing about blackjack is that everyone around the table including the (non-surly) dealers wants you to win, so it's really convival. Also in this case the dealer didn't know the rules so if you surrendered, instead of taking half your stake he treated it like a win. There was a lot of surrendering done until he twigged. I lasted a few hours until I lost the money I started with, and had a lovely time, and a fair amount of free beer.

That's enough for now. I need to get some sleep because I have builders coming at some ungodly hour, assuming my house, which is currently being held up by 3 metal poles, survives the piledriving they're conveniently doing on Coldham's Lane tonight. As I said every time a dealer got 21 in a particularly unlikely way, what are the odds? I'll leave it with some amusing adverts I saw.

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