Beer and writhing in Las Vegas

Yes, I had a very nice holiday, thank you for asking. Probably the best one ever, in fact, with more jaw-dropping experiences than on any previous trip. The first of these took place within minutes of getting off the plane in Las Vegas: it had just got dark and so as I made my way to the hotel, I was treated to the full-on effect of the city's billion neon lights searing my retinas like a supernova. I wasn't driving, having been met at the airport by TC-er Chris Fata, to whom I am eternally grateful -- I'd have made perhaps 50 yards before causing a gawp-induced crash.

For Vegas is perhaps THE ultimate Trash City. Where else can you see King Arthur's Court nestling comfortably between a large-scale replica of the New York skyline, and an F-sized black pyramid? When you experience the sheer, stunning, inane, naff, stupid BRILLIANCE of it all, 'Showgirls' becomes entirely plausible.

I was staying in pyramid, the Luxor Hotel, probably the coolest place, and the only one that looked better in day-light than at night. The Excalibur next door looked like a precast concrete monstrosity when the sun was up, but was transformed into a fairy-tale castle beyond the dreams of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria after dark. Meanwhile, the Luxor just...vanished, making it the world's first stealth hotel. That is, except for the 20 million candle-power light shining up into space from its peak, which made it visible from 250 miles away. Woe betide any bird who flew across the beam...

It's a place devoted to the painless separation of wealth from its owners. And it's very good at its job. To give you some idea of the scale, the average casino game payout is round about 95%. but the remaining five percent is enough to cover all the costs - the wages, the construction, the shows, the pirate battles, the free drinks and cheap accomodation - and STILL provide a healthy profit for the investors. We are talking MAJOR cash-flow.

There are slots for all pockets, from 5c babies up to the monsters where you invest multiple dollars per spin -- and the biggest jackpot I saw was $7.7m. [I didn't win it, needless to say. The biggest I got was $30] Plus blackjack, poker, roulette, and a billion other ways to redistribute your salary, even discounting the boutiques, shops, bars, restaurants, thrill rides, roller coasters, all intended to keep you within twenty seconds of an opportunity to gamble.

You probably know there are no clocks and no windows, to prevent anything that might indicate the passage of time from distracting the punter. There are also no exit signs; once you get into the middle, it can take ages to work out how to leave. Not that there is any reason to: far better just to take the air-conditioned walkway to the next casino down, if you need to leave at all. And when your hotel has everything up to and including an IMAX cinema, even that's not very likely.

Eventually you will get bored with gambling. What else to do? Well, in my (heavily 'Showgirls'-coloured) case, Vegas is also famous for...lap-dances. I took advice from people who had more experience than I, and headed for Olympic Gardens, a downtown joint offering such things. And very pleasant they were too: I didn't quite require a change of underwear, but if I'd gone for a third, I might well have... It's an amazing ego boost. You know what it's like when a pretty girl smiles at you: well, imagine what it's like when she is also grinding away at your groin with most of her body, while wearing nothing but a small piece of dental floss, and with not so much "come-to-bed eyes" as with her entire body yelling it. My ego was quite robust enough to forget I was paying 20 bucks for the privilege!

The problem with Vegas is its utter intensity, which inevitably leads to burn-out and apathy. On my last night, I really should have gone down to the Mirage, where they have an exploding volcano. Every 20 minutes. But I just couldn't be arsed. I had run out of astonishment. The town had taken me, screwed me up, and spat me out. As a weekend destination, it's among the greatest in the world, a true Disneyland for adults, but believe me, it's NOT a place in which I would like to live...

[An expanded report on Vegas, plus the rest of the trip (Grand Canyon, Phoenix, New Orleans and New York) will appear in the next TC. Whenever THAT is...]


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