Friday, May 3, 2013

2.12 - Coming Home.

It’s a Thursday, for what it’s worth, and I’m knackered. A big week in Vancouver and the emotional toll of making new friends and leaving them has me drained. I need to go somewhere quiet and recuperate…

Las Vegas.

The flight is uneventful, and I’m swiftly in a taxi and at my hotel. I step out of the taxi to the sounds of Springsteen singing that
“you can’t start a fire without a spark”
…and I know I chose the right place to stay.
It’s good to be back at the Hard Rock Hotel. The girl on the desk doesn’t welcome me back this time, but she does put me in a suite. I’d ticked the box for a cheap upgrade if any suites were unsold and ended up with a corner suite. It’s huge, has a vast bathroom with an epic bath, and not just a 42 inch TV, but two! I plug my ipod into the sound system and crank AC/DC’s Sin City.

I can’t take it easy in Vegas.
To the bar!

On the way I check out the displays of rock memorabilia. There’s one for a girl called Orianthi. I’ve never heard of her but she’s on the cover of Rock Guitar magazine, and playing a gig tonight at the HRH so I buy a ticket.
I head for the Pink Taco and a Sabana de Pollo. It’s as decent as I remember. The lady next to me isn’t very chatty, but the guy on the other side is. His name is Danny. He’s from Huntington Beach, California, but he has an English girlfriend from Shrewsbury, so seems excited to talk to another English person.
I join him for another drink at the new “Culinary Dropout” restaurant bar, then he goes to gamble while I go to the gig.
Sadly my timing is way off. I catch the last two songs of the support band Future Vilains, and they’re really good! D’oh! Then I have to hang around waiting for Orianthi, double d’oh!
Eventually she starts and, well, I’m not convinced. To me she looks like Christina Aguilera trying to be Jimmy Hendrix. She’s technically very good, but I wouldn’t call it Rock and Roll. Where’s the venom? Where’s the passion?
Other people seem to like it, so I leave them to it and go look for Danny. He’s propping up a blackjack table and making the most of the complimentary drinks. Though by the time he’s tipped the waitress they’re not that complimentary.

Danny explains the secret of how to win at BlackJack. Bet ten bucks. If you win, leave fifteen on, if you lose three in a row, quit.
Er, yeah, sure, that makes up for playing a game designed so the house always wins. No thanks.
Danny keeps winning while I stand there, and it looks temptingly easy as the players invite me to join in. But this is one of those occasions where being cynical is good.
“Not for me, thanks”
But Danny’s off to the loo, and is trusting/drunk enough to ask me to watch his chips, and play while he’s away.
It’s a mug’s game, but I still get a slight buzz from at least having a go at something new.

OK. Here we go…
Ten bucks bet.
I’m dealt 13.
“Hit me.”
Jack. Bust.

Ten bucks bet.
“Hit me”
Queen. Bust.

Ten bucks bet.
Oh, for……
“Hit me”
Five. Makes Nineteen.
“Woo-bloody –hoo”
Dealer draws twenty-one.

Colour me unimpressed.

I follow Danny’s three strikes rule and stop losing his money. He returns from the bathroom, doesn’t seem surprised I’ve lost three, doesn’t want his thirty bucks back, and proceeds to lose the rest of his three hundred dollars.

They built this city (not on Rock and Roll) but on games like this???!!!!! There really is one born every minute.

I point out that if we’re going to blow money in Vegas we might as well blow it on getting drunk, listening to loud music, and failing to chat-up attractive girls, so we head to a club.
But first we’re stopped by a skinny black lady named Lianna, who is apparently a masseuse, and is very keen that we take her upstairs so she can show how good a masseuse she is, but I decline.
“I already had a massage at the airport before my flight. I’m still quite loose, thanks”
Lianna gives me an odd look. She obviously takes her massaging very seriously.

The club is much more fun and me and Danny have a great time, until Danny gets too drunk and wants to fight people. I start to distance myself from him, I don’t want to be thrown out. I hope the bouncers can’t see us.
Then Danny decides he wants to fight me.
I hope the bouncers can see us!
But it’s just talk, he’s wasted.
I’m pretty tired too, and it’s the weekend tomorrow!!! Time for bed.

Exhaustion, hangover, and no “Do not disturb sign” in my room are a bad combination. There’s not even a notepad to make one. I yell at the persistent maids until I think to have reception bring a sign up.
Eventually I stagger out to the pool, and my hangover is quickly forgotten.

Oh, the Hard Rock Hotel pool. How I’ve missed you!
It’s a beautiful place, more like a beach than a hotel pool. With exotic plants and trees, music blasting, beautiful people, beautiful landscapes …and no fricking kids!!
My happy place.
I swim around for a bit. Soak in the hot tub. Then find a rare luxury: an unoccupied Lounger.
There’s a girl about my age on the next lounger sunbathing alone. I ask her how it’s going but she doesn’t say much.
Think of something, think of something…

…If she’s almost my age, she’s long since stopped being a girl…

No. Think of something useful!!

Think of something, think of something…

“I hear Prince is playing here tonight, do you know anything about it?”
“Yeah, my boyfriend runs up for Prince” comes the reply.

Wow. With one short sentence she’s destroyed any hopes of hanging out, created a likelihood that I can learn a lot about the show, and confused the hell out of me.
What the hell does “runs up” mean? He makes dresses? Climbs hills? Comes in second place at every contest Prince enters?
Instead of asking that, I ask about the show. It seems Prince is indeed performing, but the tickets are 250 a pop. Now as a fan of music, I respect Prince’s achievements, and would like to see him perform, but I don’t particularly like his own songs, so 250 is ridiculous.

Speaking of value, I head to Mr Lucky’s diner for dinner. It’s rubbish. The service is slow, the décor is plain, but it has one thing going for it: The Gambler’s Special. Not on the menu, but a big salad, shrimps, steak and spuds for 7.77 is a bargain in Vegas, especially at the HRH.
Afterwards I wander into the trendy clothes shop, but the assistants tell me where to go.
They’re more interested in my night out than selling me anything and suggest I head downtown. This is a good idea, I’ve been meaning to go and see Fremont street since Ben recommended it last time.

I hop in a taxi, and only 25 bucks later(!) I’m under the giant LED canopy. There’s some bloke blaring a saxophone, people dressed as all sorts of celebrities and a real buzz about the place. It’s less dressy than the strip. The strip tends to be a mix of everything from shorts and sandals to suits and shiny shoes. Here there’s no suits, just happy people.
There’s lots of live music. I find a fantastically energetic band playing covers of chart hits, with a guy and a girl taking turns on the vocals. There’s an outdoor corner bar to watch the action from so I can rest my weary bones and thoroughly enjoy the show.
Eventually they take a break for the lightshow. It’s pretty impressive. The canopy is huge and there’s a live Bon Jovi video playing through the masses of speakers. All kinds of spaceships blast around overhead, the Battlestar Galactica flying past the Enterprise, Klingon’s dueling with Thunderbirds and Cylons.
Somehow I make it back to the hotel at a respectable hour and get some sleep.

Saturday. Rejuvenated I head out to the pool again. After a soak and a swim I nip to the gym for a long overdue workout, though it means running on a treadmill, yawn!
Back to the pool and I meet an hispanic guy who’s celebrating his 22nd birthday with a group of mates. He tells me I look 25, until I take my cap off.
“Keep the cap on”
It’s a nice day at the pool, a good warm-up for tomorrow’s insanity - anyone who read RTW1 should remember what Sunday at the HRH pool means.
But it’s Saturday night. Where to eat?

I know!

I can’t believe I’ve been travelling for, what, 48 days? ..and not been in one Hooters Bar!

I taxi to the Hooters casino and head for the bar. There’s an epic queue for tables, but I get a spot at the bar. People who misunderstand the appeal of Hooters should see that queue. It’s Saturday night in Vegas. There’s plenty of places where you can go and eat and stare at girls wearing a lot less than the Hooters waitresses. Yet here’s a huge queue of men, women, couples and families waiting to get in.

Of course the barflies are good for a conversation. The guy next to me is from South Dakota, but seems to have a kid in every state. He always stays here when visiting Vegas and seems confused that I’d want to stay elsewhere.

Strengthened by my Philly Cheese Steak I do the epic casino trek. Through MGM Grand, across to New York, New York, and down to Planet Hollywood. Red Light Vegas recently ended their residency here, but I’m pleased to find a band called Evenflow playing. They’re extremely good, and throw in some heavier songs with the usual uninspired requests.
“No, we’re not playing Journey!”
Thank goodness.
“…til after midnight”
Two years on and people still want the same song?! Sixty years of rock and roll and that’s the best song you can think of?!

Being “Evenflow” they can knock out some impressive Pearl Jam, and the guitarist is particularly impressive, playing behind his head at every opportunity. There’s some drunken tall guy next to me. Keeps mumbling things but I’m not sure what. A small blonde woman arrives with a bloke, both looking a bit worse for wear – but then it is a Saturday night in Vegas. She introduces herself as Jen, and Andy is leaning on the bar.
“Does my head look alright?” she asks.
“Er, eh? You mean your hair?”
“er, yeah, sure, they both look fine”
“Up or down?”
“erm, I’d say Hair down, head up”
This gets me a free beer from Jen and is enough to convince drunken tall bloke that we’re a match made in heaven.
“Why aren’t you dancing with her?”
“Because that’s her husband!” I explain, for the fourth time.
Suddenly everyone wants to find me a woman. Jen is asking ladies politely, Andy is drunkenly yelling at them, and Tally McPissed is insisting that me and Jen are the perfect couple.
“There’s nobody here right for you” says Jen.
“I know. Thanks. But the music’s great isn’t…”
“But I’ll keep looking!”

I really wish she’d stop and leave me alone to enjoy the…
“Hang on. She’s gorgeous!”
“The white girl in the black dress with the black girl in the white dress” I answer, monochromatically.
Jen charges off.
Yeah, right. Like a gorgeous, early-twenties, brunette is going to respond to the “my friend fancies you!” level of chat-up lines and come over.
At least it’s keeping Jen busy so I can enjoy the…
“Hi, I’m Monique”
“Oh, er, hello”
“Your friend thinks I’m a prostitute”
“Does she?” I reply. Given the scenario, Jen has a point. But Monique explains that she works in “Promotions” so that clears up any possible doubt. And she’s French.
“Vraiment?” I ask, hoping that’s a French word.
“Oui, Parlez-Vous Francais?”
“Ah! Bien Sur!”
Somehow I manage to babble in French for a while without accusing her dog of smoking hosepipes and she’s smiling at me. I switch back to English.
“Why is your friend wearing a Tiara?”
“It’s her birthday”
Of course it is. Now I can’t really buy Monique a drink and ignore her mate, but what the hell, I haven’t been blowing my money on blackjack.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
“Strawberry Margherita”
“…and your mate”
Her friend comes over and says “Adios”
“It’s a drink”
“Right. Barman!”
“I need to see their IDs”
“Oh. I don’t have my ID”. Says Monique. “Here’s my club wristband from earlier”
“No. Sorry”
Her mate doesn’t have ID either.
“We’ll nip home and get them” says Monique. “Wait here”.

And so ends one of the weirdest encounters of both trips. I watched the band for another hour and a half. They were very good until the end, though they did of course play “Don’t stop believing”. They finished with “Enter Sandman” by which time Jen and Andy had left, and I’d found myself someone to dance with.

Monique didn’t return, so I’ll never know whether she was just a nice, forgetful woman with a penchant for older English guys.

Sunday. Rehab.
As you know by now, Rehab is an ironic name. So a late night with evenflow wasn’t the best preparation. Luckily the queue was short at 1pm:
“We’re having a lull, but it’ll soon get busy again…and we go on til 7pm”
I passed the security check, stepped out into the bright sunshine and took in the sight that greeted me.
How can you possibly improve on perfection? Sunshine, drinks, beautiful happy people dancing, jumping and splashing to loud pumping music.
Hundreds of them.
It’s madness in the pool. Balls are flying everywhere. Some are being kept aloft through impromptu volleyball games, most are being launched at anyone not looking.
I exhale as one hits me in the face, knocking my cap off.
“I’m really sorry!” apologises my extremely attractive, bikini clad attacker, and gives me a big hug.
Awesome. Forget opening lines. Just smack ‘em in the face with a beachball!

And so went the next six hours. I didn’t even drink. Just splashed in the pool and danced like a fool.
I love rehab. It’s all the fun of a nightclub without the pretension. Instead of prancing about on high heels in tonnes of make-up, the girls let loose. The guys are still prancing about showing off their muscles, but there’s plenty of chubby, pastey, old, bald, or crazy guys just having fun.
As one of the more direct song lyrics puts it:
“This is f**king awesome!”

There’s just one disappointment. The dueling piano show no longer happens at the HRH. This is a real bummer for me. After a day’s partying it was the perfect way to spend the evening last time. There’s no point going clubbing again, and leaving the hotel seems like hard work. I eat in the Pink Taco again, and for once get a free drink by gambling the minimum on the bar machine.
Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

Monday. Last day in Vegas. One last chance to enjoy the glorious pool. I meet some guys who are going to ride Harleys for a week, then see Santana and some other bands in Vegas. Sounds awesome.
There’s a man desperately searching the pool for his wedding ring, egged on by his wife. Poor sod.
I somehow manage a workout, though I don’t last long. Gym’s are boring at the best of times, but with the sun shining and the pool calling me back..

There’s still some beachballs knocking around. After rescuing a ball a couple of times I’m invited to join in a game. There’s a very intense dude keeping count and insisting we can keep the ball up for 50 hits. (Well, yeah, if we all stand together and make small hits dude…)
We reach 95 and I think he’s going to explode with joy.

Tattoos on girls are getting more popular and larger. One girl has two angel wings and a devil tail all over her back. She’s talking to some pretty boy.
“Do you know what it symbolizes?” she asks him
“Er, like wings…”
She pulls a face and asks me.
“Yeah, sure. It’s the duality of your personality. As a Gemini you have two distinct sides to your character, pulling you in different directions…”
Her face lights up, glad to be validated by a clearly intelligent human being. Then she returns to talking to the good looking guy.
Who am I to argue!

As the sun’s beginning to set I find a nice spot to take in the last hour. But I’m dragged into yet another game of volleyball. This one’s great fun. No intense dude. The circle is widely spread, the ball goes high, and there’s great delight in the extremes people go to in keeping the ball aloft.
Full stretch dives are the norm. Re-emerging to cries of “again!” as the ball falls back on the spluttering hero. Even those who are not playing are joining in, with “celebrity shots” from the sun loungers rescuing our ball and keeping the dream alive. Every rescue is greeted with a cheer, none more so than when a wayward shot is returned by the lifeguard from her high chair.

Sadly our numbers eventually dwindle as people have to leave. I rescue my shirt and towel, and as I leave the pool area I take one last look around.

If I ever came into a fortune I wouldn’t buy a big house. I’d rent a suite here.
…and a second one so you can come and visit.

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