We moved to Las Vegas in 2003, ‘though this gaudy desert oasis has always been part of my world… This big hustle that never sleeps… with all its bright lights and glitter, hopes and sizzle. Boom and bust. Where every resident has a special Vegas look about them… that says ‘I’ve seen it all buddy, go take your scam somewhere else.’ A special jaded look… not sated… or dated… jaded!
Gum chewing, liquor drinking, glitzy, busty, in your face, stand up, not particular judgmental, living life large. Or trying to. In pursuit of conspicuous happiness.
A circus of a town, with its own values and entrance fees. Expectation.
It’s not for everyone. Sun City appeals to more seniors than Las Vegas.
But to some, it’s home sweet home.
Brenda and I both feel very well positioned here.
I’m a life-time poker player. When we first arrived I’d go to the Bellagio – and then later the Wynn – around 10 pm on a Friday night and play conservative $16 limit Texas Hold ‘um. Only Coffee and Dr Pepper to drink. No alcohol. I’d usually stop for noodles in China town and get home about sun-up. 5, 6 or 7, depending. Then I’d be back on Saturday night, same time, same routine. Conservative, sober, $16 limit Texas Hold ‘um till dawn.
Never lost. Check with Brenda, she’ll tell you. ‘Cause on the week-ends you’d have gamblers coming to town looking for some action, who would – especially those with a few drinks in them – push their luck. Challenge odds. It was part of their Vegas experience. They laughed and roared when they bluffed out a win. But you can’t beat the odds over the course of several hours. OK, once or so, yea, so I didn’t play no-limit poker, where one or two bad beats could kill you, just steady, sober $16 limit and those woozy but adrenalized early morning players would lose like Eastern Illinois State against Kentucky. Kentucky being unbeatable regular odds.
But after a while it was just a job. After a while, winning $300 or $400 a night was a night’s work… not particular exciting or robust. A wife was left home neglected over the week-end. And my sleep habits wrecked for the week.
So you know how I feed my poker habit now… on line. I can sit at my desk here in the study, wearing a T-shirt and Bermuda shorts, my dogs at my feet, and look through the living room out to a panorama of the Las Vegas strip… and I’m OK playing Omaha for worthless Poker Star chits… although I’m up to a 6,662,719 count, thank you very much. Miss the sunrise noodles crowd in Chinatown, though.
As for sports betting, I’m in the hole there. Up in poker, down with the sports books… more than any other reason because of my perchance to say “let it ride with…”
You see, if you follow sports, and many in this town do, you will occasionally come up with a game that you have strong feelings about who is goin’ win, like you had a dream or something. You know, good reasons to bet this team over another.
And you look at the morning papers, and the team you are sure to win comes in as an under-dog. At those moments before I’d say to Brenda, “You see this, Whatshamacallit U is playing Kentucky and they’re favorites to win. Can you believe it.” Brenda will help with comments like, “Playing what?” But you know Kentucky will win so you go down to the Palms, a casino five minutes from my front door, and put a hundred on Kentucky and they win and you’re goin to make $187 or so, and subtracting the casino book’s vigorish, you almost double your money. Good for me, huh? It’s almost like stealing, what with good dreams and all.
So what do I do? Go down and pick up my $187 and spend the $87 win on lolly-pops for the homeless or something? No, what I do is to go down there, show my winning ticket and say “let it ride on Kentucky beating UNC,” UNC of course being the big favorite.
And UNC somehow squeaks out a win. My winning’s Zero. Time and again.
And what’s more friends, is that early on before I leaned that I can’t win in the long run with a “let it ride…” attitude, I’d win like three, sometimes four, week-end in a row…. Maybe even taking out the amount of money to cover my original bet, and then I’m playing with what they say is “house money.” I have a perfect record of always losing house money back to the house. 100%. We ain’t taking big, big money here. A thousand or so, but that could be in my bank now and more important than the amount is bragging rights that I beat the system here… ‘cause there is a group of gamblers in this town that that is all they do, sports betting. And they are living in big houses.
For those interested, here are some Vegas facts: You want to go out to dinner? I don’t know where you live, but let’s say you have a choice of 100 places to go, that includes the very finest fine dining in your area to every fast food joint. 100.
In Vegas last count it was 2,374 — not counting fast food. Best strip buffet for the food, hands down, is at Caesar’s Casino… though it cost about $60 a head and it can be a two hour wait unless you pay $15 a person for an “early sit.” Next best for our money is M’s buffet on the southern edge of town.
You go on Friday afternoon before 2:30 pm and you pay the lunch costs of $15.99 (that includes drinks and wine) and they start putting out the dinner grub at 2:45… and that’s all you can eat, part’ner, of top shelve buffeting. Nowhere in the world can you beat the food and wine at M’s on Friday afternoon for $15.99. And as a local with M’s slot machine card, it is sometimes half price, just to get you in the door. You don’t have to play the machines. As an alternative you can go to the Santa Fe Casino 10 am Sunday brunch for $11.99. That will be an everything you can possibly imagine breakfast that slides into an everything you can imagine lunch, with all you can drink champagne. Trust me on all this. It is very good.
Steak houses? There are hundreds to choose from… but we go to Outback on Sahara Avenue. I know, I know, I know, big deal, Outback! But their top meat’s just as good as any Ruth Chris’ in town and a fraction the cost.
I’m from North Carolina, y’all, where you’ll find your world famous Smithfield barbeque and your Calabash seafood. Now NC chopped BBQ hasn’t found its way here yet – that I know of – but your Calabash seafood basket is alive at two Joe’s Crab Shack locations in the Vegas valley. And for memorable eating, try the Las Vegas Road Kill grill.
Fast food… White Castle just opened, though there are those who say the local In and Out Burgers are as good as these things can be. We like Steak and Shake. And hoagies? Try Capriati’s which is right across the street from our place. Asian, we lived in Thailand for a bunch of years and eat Thai with great authority. The Khrun Thai restaurant, a block from our house, is the best Thai eating this side of the Pacific… and when we walk in that place, they all know our names and they all know what we like, and they all say good bye with a big smile. And if you don’t like our Khrung Thai restaurant well there is another Thai restaurant here, I’ve forgotten its name, but by reputation it’s the best outside Thailand… but you better make reservations a couple of weeks ahead of time. We went through that protocol once and I found it on par with Khung Thai, though Brenda claims our neighborhood place was still better.
Shows: We’ve seen them all. Tested ever venue. I went to some of the topless places when we first got here, but it was an overload, and somehow I missed the point… and coincidentally I didn’t have the thousands randy male visitors spend in those places. We have a lot of local friends. I don’t know anyone who has frequented any of those place every. They are talked about only in as much as they are part of the landscape here, but then so are the trucks that drive around with big well lite signs on the back saying, “Girls directly to your room. Call XXX-XXX-XXXX.” Pretty obvious what’s goin’ on, but for residents, these trucks just take up space on the road ways. Have absolute no bearing on lives of anyone I know.
If you have read these Rants and Yarns over the past year, you will know that when we moved from our big house to this smaller townhouse we met the wonderful Alma, a Mexican illegal who helped Brenda move, and is still with us, helping Brenda do everything from cooking to cleaning to shopping to watching/commenting on the news. She has an infectious laugh and an unfailing sense of good will. She gives Brenda who has been in a wheel chair since her 2010 stroke freedom she never expected to have again… there is nothing the two of them can’t do. Alma’s 50th birthday is February 6th. We’re going out with her son to Magionnes, our favorite Italian restaurant, and then her son and I are dropping her and Brenda off at the Rio to attend the all-male Chippendale burlesque show. She doesn’t know this yet, but listen come next Friday night about 9 pm our time, you’ll hear her laugh, it’ll carry to the east coast, easy.
Shows on the strip we’ve seen over the years include Dion, the water show spectaculars, Seinfeld, Foxworthy, the Cable Guy, Rita Rudner, local magicians, hypnotists, Mama Mia!, Jersey Boys, Excalibur, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, the Lion King, Blue Man group, Bocelli, half dozen comedy clubs and others I’ve forgotten. We don’t do the Strip shows much anymore… some of the stuff we’ve seen was good, but new, good and unique seems to be drying up. And though the quality of the selection is down, it still remains expensive on the strip. Good seats at a headliner concert will go for $200 to $300. And the water shows, I don’t know, they are lost on me. I get bored. That’s “O” and “La Reve” and the others. We saw the King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table a dozen times with our grandson… who never got tired of the stampeding horses and witches and dragons and handsome knights… ‘course the grandson’s name is Tristan, as is one of those knights, so he would always want to go to see his name sake out there doing battle with evil… plus they served a meal of chicken and stuff at every show and you have to eat with your hands, which we found out was right up the alley of a 10 year old boy. We also were repeat offenders at Rita Rudner’s show because she made us laugh… and Mama Mia we attended a half dozen times because it just made us happy. It was a wonderful production here on the Strip. The Lion King not so much.
But lately – since 2012 – we’ve mostly restricted our evening outings to the Smith Center, a fine arts center near the downtown area that was built with city money and matching big money from local fine arts people. I don’t know the final construction costs, but the city contributed 105 million dollars to the project, I know. It is as fine a building for singing and dancing and the playing of musical instruments as you can find in this world. There simply isn’t a bad seat. No matter where in the main room, you are hit from all side with clear wonderful sounds emanating from the stage. We are regulars at Las Vegas Philharmonic orchestra programs and always say their Christmas show is the center piece of our holidays. I don’t know where all those musicians come from. I’m thinking they are part of the musical labor force here in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, because they are 100 musicians at each of their recitals. At least for the Christmas show – but also last Easter – they were joined by a 60-person local chorus… and remember this theater was recently built at great expense to incorporate state of the arts acoustic. The mellifluous sounds those 150 plus people make is just awesome. You are lost for words to describe the wonderful music washing over you.
Every single night in that main room, and in smaller side venues, world class performers come… day after day after day.
And here’s the thing. Tickets are very reasonable. Entertainment is world class. Price of admission is less than an oil change.
Last night we went to see Burt Bacharach. The tickets were my Christmas present from Brenda… She knew I always loved his music… and she went ahead with getting the tickets although we had once before had a bad experience with a Pointer Sisters concert at the Orleans Casino. They were the original Pointer Sisters in their late 60s or early 70s, and their voices were gone, as was their two step dance numbers. It was just awful.
But I didn’t say anything to Brenda, well, for one it was at the Smith Center and two it was a present, so we were going to see Burt Bacharach – who must be in his late 70s – and I was committed to enjoying it. It’s Super Bowl week-end here in Vegas town and they aren’t goin’ book anything shoddy, are they?
We were in our seats early and at the stroke of 7:30 Burt walked awkwardly to center stage from stage left. He was small man wearing what looked like blue jeans with a tux coat. White haired, GQ looking, eyes dancing. He thanked us for coming and said he wanted to play us some songs he had written and with a sweeping hand to the 11 people who made up his stage group he sat down at a grand piano and played music from my youth. The three singers in his group were people I had never heard of, but they were not America Idol in talent… they were talented enough for Burt Bacharach to pick them to sing his songs. And the other musicians were also Burt Bacharach-level talents. All played several musical instruments, including Burt’s son who came out to play a rhythm keyboard.
Two hours he went – without a break – without a single moment less than the highest quality of entertainment. While others in the dozen of professionals on stage had their individual times to play or sing, the spotlight shined bright on Burt’s white head all the time. You would listen to the sounds and realize the man playing the piano invented them. They were his creation. He was the epic center; with the light, he was the genus-vortex.
He would occasionally play one of his well known songs on the piano and sing the lyrics in a low horsey voice, occasionally looking up at the audience but for most part his white head down fingers running the score on the piano keys.
More than two hours, without a break. Pure magic. With encores he came back and played more. He ended the night singing “Raindrops keep falling on my head.”
Next time anyone you knows plans a trip to Vegas town, tell them to check what’s playing at the Smith Center… and pick a show there to go to. It will be best thing happening in Vegas at the time.
The Smith Center in Las Vegas gives true meaning to supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
There are other advantages to living in Vegas. Lots to talk about. Water’s always on the agenda, ‘cause it’s like Lake Meade is sinking out of sight. It is argued that California is getting more than its share of our lake.
And always there is real estate to talk about. Everyone has something to say on the subject. This is a city in transformation. Even though the Hispanics population is exploding, and some communities are turning into barrios, the Hispanic are good housekeepers. This changing demographics put some people off, but listen, houses here are selling sometimes a quarter or a third the price of a similar structure in San Francisco or Palo Alto. Compare price per sq. foot anywhere that has quality of life amenities like Las Vegas; Las Vegas is going to look good for a retirement destination. Plus think about this. IKEA is opening a giant outlet here in the SW part of the valley in 2016.
Why you think that is? Well, check out percentage of IKEA successes in picking housing markets with solid growth potential.
Las Vegas housing is a true US bargain.
And there’s never a bad day’s weather in Vegas town. Golf? Dozens of clubs. Day trips? Zion, Grand Canyon, 30 ghost towns… to name a few. Taxes? No state, low property. Politics? Republican. The water show at the Bellagio. The Ferris Wheel. Racetrack. Glider rides. Red Rock park.
And then there are the personalities that visit and live here. Our local paper’s gossip column has big, big names in them. All sports people come here. Movie starts. International jet setters. I mean Prince Harry was here last month…. No maybe longer ago than that… whatever, he was romping around at a party in his penthouse naked, and everyone thought – even now still thinks – that the young Mister Harry’s a fine fellow.
And speaking of Harrys, how ‘bout ol’ Harry Reid? Everyone knows him right?
He’s a local boy, born and raised right outside the city limits…
City limits of this town where someone shot Sonny Liston dead, probably for not doing something he should have done or not done in the boxing ring.
Where it is common knowledge that the casino will hire people to bust your kneecaps if you squelch on a betting debt or if you squeal to the authorities about the big boys skimming profits.
This is a town where every few days there is a police shooting of some dumb sumbitch who didn’t believe Las Vegas Metro police shoot to kill. Listen you tell people who need to know, Metro will shoot your sorry ass dead if you mess with Vegas core industries. Don’t walk around with a toy pistol in your belt and expect the local police to send you to detention. If they approach someone with a toy in their belt and they tell that person to carefully pull that whatever it is out using only two fingers on the handle and to drop it in front of them… and that person does anything else but that, the Metro will shoot him.
There will be something on the evening news, and in the papers the next day… and then in a couple of weeks an inquest will clear the police of any wrong doing, and that will be the end of the story. This has happened it seems more than fifty times since we moved here ten years ago. Toy guns, knives, don’t matter, you got something in your waist band and the local police tell you to be careful and drop it, and the people don’t, well, those people be dead soon.
Most of the mobster stuff never reaches the paper. The Casino’s “wet” work is done professionally and out of sight. But we all know it goes on. This is Vegas.
Like the police, the Casinos don’t bluff.
So here’s something to think about. Maybe people hereabout are talking about it. I don’t know. But last month one of the top money finaglers in all of Nevada was convicted of illegally moving some of Harry Reid political money around and was sentence to jail time. I don’t know all the details. I just know the guy’s been around. Got some juice. Knows stuff. And he’s goin’ to the big house for some hard time… and Harry wasn’t charged with any crime. Didn’t take any blame. Let the guy take the fall all by himself.
Then – again this is last month – we get a mighty busted up Harry Reid, who according to Harry Reid sources, was hit by some elastic exercise equipment that he apparently broke as he was pulling it back toward his face.
Howsoever, there has been no media pictures of that exercise equipment that skinny Harry Reid broke.
Whatever, there is no question ol’ Harry Reid got hit in the face. Hard. By some thing or some body.
I have absolutely no proof that anything untoward happened beyond what Harry Reid has been saying… that he broke the exercise equipment pulling it back to his face…
I’m just saying. This is Vegas. Take a look below.