As I left Phoenix, any legendary bird attempting to rise from the flames fire would have been distinctly soggy, doused by the sheets of rain pouring down from a severely un-Arizonan sky. They may not get much rain there, but they do tend to get an entire month's worth in one American-sized helping. This was the same storm which succeeded in flushing a jet off the runway in California, parking it on the forecourt of a nearby garage: the pilot has now bought a house with the Green Shield stamps. Actually, that little incident brushed a little nearer home than I'd like as three days prior, I'd flown on the very same airline, Southwest, out of the very same airport, Las Vegas. Luckily, at that point conditions were a little calmer and Chris + I endured nothing traumatic than a surfeit of in-flight peanuts.
Las Vegas itself, on the other hand, was its usual wonderful, insane, excessive self. Since last visit, three more mega-hotels had popped up, including the Paris and the Venetian: the former had a 2/3 scale model of the Eiffel Tower in front, while the latter boasts a quarter-mile long Grand Canal, complete with gondolas (on the second floor, no less!) and a lobby which made the Sistine Chapel look like the daubings of a ten-year old. Bear in mind that this is all being built out of the quarters we drop into the slots...
Though we didn't do too badly on this score. We were pleased to renew our acquaintance with our favourite Safebuster machines, though they are getting harder to find as newer, flashier models replace them. The wonderful thing about Safebuster is that you can tell when it's going to pay out: the top is a safe with a combination lock which spins, and when you get three numbers in the right order, it goes into jackpot mode, paying out anywhere from $4 to $10,000. As you get the numbers, it "crosses them off" a panel at the top, and it's surprising how many people walk away when two are gone, and the machine is on the verge of coughing up.
Thus, we have learned to "predate" on these machines; lurk innocently in the background, breathing discouragements under our breath, while some wizened granny fills it up for us, only to pounce the second she walks away. Then we nail the final cross down and rejoice in the resounding jingle of quarters, spilling out of the machine like guts from a freshly-slaughtered buffalo. We never quite managed enough to send that resignation fax, but on the last day, we left with over a hundred dollars. Plus, it's just such fun -- when you win, you win, and when you lose, the combination lock turns for an additional adrenaline boost.
Unfortunately, these machines are getting rarer - the condition of the ones we found was distinctly shabby - and I fear for their future. It may not be long before they are replaced by the bane of my gambling life: video slots. There's something reassuringly solid about a machine with proper reels and I feel I'm getting some kind of mechanical recompense for my quarter, not just a flashing screen. Plus, frankly, I don't trust video games -- I've played enough of them to know that they can cheat the player without the slightest qualm. No matter the flashy features they may have, give me something with a handle on the side, that doesn't gives you an electric shock if you are wearing the wrong kind of jumper.
It would be wrong to think that all our time in Vegas was spent gambling, or even that all my time in America was spent in Vegas, but here is not the place to reveal lurid details of a connection between the George Foreman Fat-Reducing Party Grill and cherry-liqueur chocolates. However, I will add that any readers looking for an alarm clock should check out the brutally kitsch wake-up calls currently on offer from Trash City's commercial depot, as located at a trade show we bumped into behind the Venetian...