Tuesday, April 10, 2007

44 Hours of Sin (City)

"Dad, can I swear?"

So began 44 hours in Sin City with my Jawa. A few thousand yards of Las Vegas Blvd., "The Strip" to tourists and locals alike, drew forth this response. He was staring up at New York, New York, our hotel, when he said it. I denied his request, naturally. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, except when your dad is in the front seat.

A word about New York, New York: last year, while attending the wedding of the Legendary Dr. Bandeau, I stopped into New York, New York while waiting for everyone else to arrive. At that time, I found it the goofiest, lamest, cheesiest theme hotel, casino or park on the planet. Something about the dueling pianos playing Billy Joel, or the reproduction of the bar already made into a movie ("Coyote Ugly") raised my legitimate and real urban hackles, so I sat at the least obnoxiously theme-y bar and sneered at the tourists around me.

This time, seeing it through a 9-year-old jawa's eyes, it seemed wonderfully colorful and fun, as true to its theme as Disneyland to Tomorrow, Fantasy, Adventure, Main Street and New Orleans, which is to say, just fine. In fact, I can't think of a better place to stay with a jawa, save for perhaps Mandalay Bay on the strength of its many and varied swimming options.

What do you do in Las Vegas when you are sans wife and cohort, but with jawa? You don't gamble and do very little strolling around, drink in hand. Instead, you spend hours in the arcades. In a strange, under-21 approximation of a bunch of guys at a bachelor party, we quickly dropped our stuff in our room, then zoomed down the elevator ... to get to Gameworks and drop $20 on video games.

Two hours passed as the Jawa strapped himself into interactive "Star Wars" games, "Jurassic Park" games, a skateboarding game and something where the entire machine swung around in circles as he fired at some kind of on-screen bogies. I stood there, hands in pockets, still trying to figure out if I was allowed to have a beer or not.

The problem is that it's very, very strange to walk around Las Vegas minus vices, treating it as if it were an adjacent land conjured by Disney. "Sin City," indeed. Weirdly, but not surprisingly, to be an obvious dad in Vegas is to be completely invisible. Nobody, not the packs of women, the packs of guys, the old guys, the young guys, the sports teams here for Easter tournaments, the guys shilling for strip joints and casinos, nobody acknowledges you, not even the other dads, who are busy re-assessing their masculine power even as you do your own.

As a sidelight, fifteen minutes after parking our car, the Jawa and I had this conversation:

"Dad, what does 'sin city' mean?"


"Because I think Detroit should be 'sin city'."


"Because that's where all the bad things happen. Sins are bad, right?"

After our week in Sun City WEST, we had only 44 hours, and the good fortune of local escorts, in Sin City. The soon-to-be-married Kathaleen, plus her Scottish fiancee Bill, steered us through the crowds and keyed the Jawa into his favorite attraction, the Bellagio water show. "Choreographed by some washed-out Broadway guy, I bet," said Kathaleen, dryly. Fiancee Bill eagerly assumed to role of good-time and knowledgeable uncle, reaching for the Jawa's hand each time they crossed one of Las Vegas' enormous crosswalks. He ground out local facts and anecdotes with a vehemence that suggested that is was he, and not his betrothed, who was an Associated Press reporter. At one point, after speaking accentless English all night, he disappeared from sight, only to reappear standing next to another Scottish guy, a blackjack dealer he knew, now speaking with a thick Scottish accent. Proximity?

The Jawa was quick to catch on to the Vegas vibe. He pushed the envelope all weekend, staying up until 11, waking up at 6:30, nervously eyeing the gaming tables, assessing the wisdom of slot machines ("I don't get it. There's no skill.") and, in what could be a frightening foreshadowing, demanding to head out and hit the arcades Sunday night at 9:30, after returning from dinner in suburban Henderson at Kathaleen & Bill's newish stucco home. He had the bug.

I had the pangs. "People come to Las Vegas for three things," said a wisdom-filled Jawa at one point. "They come here to smoke, to get drunk, and to gamble." Can't argue with that, and I'll readily admit some envy when we emerged from the elevator Sunday morning, hand-in-hand as the perfect father-son tabeleau, only to see a bunch of guys walking around in groups, their only cares being 1) how their money is holding up, and 2) whether they should drink bloody marys, to acknowledge that it is 9:15 on Sunday morning, or to just go straight to beer, which is better for the long run. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

One thing you miss when you're that bunch of guys is just how oversized and gross many Las Vegas tourists are. You spend you time at the sportsbook and you miss all of the tourists from Iowa. And you won't go to the Adventure Dome at Circus Circus, naturally, because Circus Circus is aged and decrepit (as are its visitors, generally), so that $100 you would spend on wristbands (to ride the rides at Adventure Dome) can be spent on food and beverage. And, if you choose, you get to shop, something that ranks very low on a jawa's agenda, just below clubbing and putting a twenty on the Mavs to cover at home against Milwaukee.

By Monday morning, the Jawa was planning his next trip. According to him, we will stay again at New York, New York, this time with Sandra Bullock, and we will stay for a week. Even though Las Vegas is not designed to provide many options for his favorite meal -- breakfast -- and even though that led to a 45-minute death march in search of first Denny's and then a simple donut, his plains remain grandiose.

But isn't the that nature of Las Vegas? You take your normal experience and expand it a few notches? You pay $4.50 for an ice cream cone, instead of $2.50. If you normally enjoy a few beers, you have twelve. A woman who normally wears a scoop neck wears a plunging V-neck instead. We all strive to be a little bit more over-the-top than we are in our normal lives, jawas included.

I've now been to Las Vegas twice only, but both times I had this sense of being swept out of town on my last day. We have been spent, and in our place comes new platoons of revelers, fresh and eager as we are worn-out and tired. As we checked out of New York, New York, I felt the urge to give a knowing, cynical nod to everyone checking in. Even our luggage looked tired, theirs wide-awake.

I write this with a 10.5 hour drive in my rearview. Rather than take two days to drive home, the Jawa and I humped it all the way, covering 600 miles and several ecosystems over the course of Monday. After 10 days in the desert, I can honestly say that I had to struggle to keep myself from pulling the car over and kissing every blade of green grass I saw yesterday. I am enjoying every one of the 63 degrees San Francisco has for us today, and am determined to eat all of the bad food I can manage, for tomorrow we truly return to our normal lives, with all of the checks and balances that normal lives require.

As for the Jawa, he spent 10 hours inventing new games of chance, to be played with something called "chew," with 1 chew equalled to 10 dollars. Vegas, baby.


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