Thursday, August 4, 2011

On the Road - 11: Viva Las Vegas

On a sweltering July 27, I set off for a mini-vacation to Las Vegas. With me in the car were two friends, M. and R., both of whom I have known for more than fifteen years. We packed our car wisely: a half-eaten box of Pappa John's finest, two mountainous crates of bottled water ("buy one get one free" at Rite-Aid), a dazzling array of beverages thoughtfully buried in chips of ice in a giant cooler, and two ipods filled with road trip-appropriate music.

This was R's first time to Vegas so he was very excited. He kept asking all sorts of questions, most pertinent, others not so much. Pretty soon we were out on the Interstate 15, going a leisurely 80 miles and admiring the scenery. The land out there is so bleak and so vast that it naturally inspires awe and a deep sense of isolation. The mountains that crop up alarmingly close to the roadside are stark and stern, studded with harsh rocks and nothing else.

While I was busy driving, M. snapped pictures from the passenger seat.
3.5 hours and multiple iterations of "Hotel California" later, the Vegas skyline emerged triumphantly from the desert. I have been to Vegas before, but each time I go I feel the same feeling of contentment at the first sight of the skyline. Vegas has a rejuvenating quality to it. The city itself is nothing short of a miracle, prospering (although not so much in the recent years) in the middle of the desert and being an evergreen hope-refueling station for millions for decades. During day it looks surprisingly ordinary. At night, with all the lights turned on in their full glory, it transforms into an astonishing world, one that is self-contained and endless at the same time. It is earnest without being too ironic. Which is why it is able to pull off showy gimmicks without seeming kitschy. Where else would you be able to visit a replica of the Eiffel Tower or see a miniature Statue of Liberty or a giant-ass Sphinx without lapsing into peals of derisive laughter? Vegas takes itself seriously, and that compels you to do the same. True, its unabashedly consumerist and capitalist nature turns many away, but the beauty of the strip is it offers something for everybody. You can manage to have a terrific time without once having to gamble. Or drink. Just walking around and seeing the charged crowds gliding on the hot concrete is enough to get the adrenaline going. I have walked many many miles on UCLA's campus over the last four years, but none of them can beat the walks I have taken on the illuminated strip at midnight.

We were staying at the Monte Carlo. For some reason checking in at Vegas hotels takes a shit load of time. You are waiting and waiting and waiting for eternity. There were a bunch of French tourists in line ahead of me and when it was their turn at the judgement desk, things stalled. The dude working the counter mysteriously disappeared in some office, taking a sheaf of passports with him. 

I switched lines twice before I could reach the desk. By the time I was done, I had been in line for more than twenty minutes. Do you realize the significance of that? Monte Carlo robbed me of twenty minutes, twenty glorious minutes which I could have used to bankrupt half the freaking strip. By the way, I peeked at my French friends as I ducked into the elevators. They were still patiently waiting at their desk. No sign of the dude who took their passports and slipped into his office.

My buddy M. was pretty critical of our room. It was tucked away in the nether regions of the fourth floor with a gloomy view of maintenance pipes and heating ducts. I guess he was expecting a presidential suite view. Since we weren't going to be in the room for that much anyway, I wasn't too concerned.

Here's a pic of our hotel:
Monte Carlo's location is pretty convenient. Across from MGM and next to New York New York, it is not too far from the strip's more coveted casinos like Bellagio, Caesar's and the Venetian.The Monte Carlo is owned by MGM Resorts International, a massive conglomerate that practically owns half the strip.

Our adventures for the next two days were fairly ordinary and don't involve any tigers, missing teeth or hilarious cameos by boxing legends. I will skip a lot of boring crap and focus on three experiences that stand out:
  • Vegas is the last place I would expect to discuss cricket with anyone. And yet that is precisely what happened. We decided to have lunch in our hotel's restaurant. As we were settling down, our server approached R. and asked, "You are Indian, right?" I whiffed a strong English accent. Without waiting for confirmation he went on, now addressing all of us, "You guys follow cricket at all? What about the current India-England test series, eh?" He was positively gleaming with delight as he finished his question. You see, India is touring England for two months and they are engaged in a bitter dual to decide who will inherit the World No. 1 crown. He then beckoned another server, an Indian, and told us how they always tease each other about the game and all that. After we paid our bill, he came to us again and confided his feelings about Australians. Australia dominated world cricket for much of the 90's and were horrible bullies on the field for most of their time at the top. The Brits and Australians have an intense rivalry that goes well beyond the scope of cricket. So I wasn't too shocked when he said, "Glad to see the Australians down. Those guys are practically animals. Animals, I tell you."
  •  The Monte Carlo is home to the Minus 5 ice bar, the second of its kind on the strip. Entry starts at $15 and includes rental jackets and boots. Everything inside - chairs, tables, walls, sculptures, the bar - is made of ice. Even glasses. We were giddy with excitement when we put our jackets and boots on. A blast of intensely chilly air greeted us warmly. The bartender, shockingly, was dressed in jeans and a threadbare sweatshirt. "I'm from North Dakota and I was unemployed for a long time. Seen it all. The cold doesn't bother me much", he said as a way of explanation to all the incredulous looks he was getting. A great experience. 
The Stratosphere at night
  •  The Stratosphere is a 1149 ft tall tower located at the northern end of the strip. Its 107th and 109th floors offer stunning vistas of the whole strip. The top of the tower houses three thrill rides (all out in the open) that supposedly take riders to the brink of oblivion. Recklessness being my middle name, I was salivating at the prospect of visiting. We trooped up to the hotel, bought our tickets, and semi-patiently waited in line. M. chickened out and just flat out refused to board any of the rides at the top of the tower. So R. and I, the two brave souls, had to make the journey alone. First, a word about the view: sublime. Absolutely sublime. An unbeatable feeling of being at the top of the world.

Here are some other random pictures from the strip that I took with my fancy camera. Vegas offers a lot of great picture opportunities, and it was one of the things that I was looking forward to doing. I was satisfied with the pictures I was able to take.

The fountains at Bellagio: the best damn dance show in all of Las Vegas

A great end to my last true summer vacation for a long, long while. Just the kind of boost I needed before medical school. Bring it on!

1 comment:

  1. very long time for new post.what's going on in St.Louis?