Sunrise on the Strip

February 28, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

I have just returned from my first visit to Las Vegas, and I guess the first question I should address is how I could reach my advanced age without ever visiting America's fabulous fun capital. One answer is that I am not much interested in boxing, Cirque du Soleil or Cher. Another answer is that I am a lousy gambler. If I want to waste money, I can easily do that by flushing it down the toilet. It's faster and more efficient than betting on blackjack or putting it in slot machines, though I admit that the slots provide a lot of lights and sounds for the buck, while the toilet just has an aspirant swirl.

I went for a convention of wedding and portrait photographers, which is to say an event in which people who actually make a good living at photography offer how-to advice to people who would like to make a good living at photography. As a side benefit, everyone gets to play with the camera manufacturers' new gear. That lady in the desert-sun-resistant sombrero at right was a model hired by the lens company Tamron as a subject for potential customers to aim the company's lenses at. I shot her with a prototype new zoom lens, and I will definitely want one when it hits the market. And, yes, I would want it even if Tamron had offered a potted plant as a test subject. Note the sharpness of her eyes.

I stayed at the convention hotel, the enormous Mandalay Bay, on the south end of the strip. The Mandalay Bay would like its claim to fame to be its Michael Jackson Theater, home of a tribute show celebrating Neverland's friend to boys everywhere. Alas, the Mandalay Bay's actual claim to fame is that in 2017, a man with an arsenal of assault rifles broke open his 32nd floor window and massacred 58 people--country music fans assembled for a festival in an adjoining lot. This tragedy galvanized change at the Mandalay Bay. Today, there is a sign about six inches square bolted into the wall near the entrance to the hotel, stating very firmly: "Notice--No Weapons Allowed." It's even got one of those circles with a slash through it encompassing a silhouette of a pistol and a knife. I guess this is in case an illiterate gunman tries to become the hotel's next mass shooter. He'll be deterred by the symbology. Problem solved, America! Who knew it would be so easy?

It was actually quite difficult to leave the Mandalay Bay. I don't mean that I felt bad about getting out of it. I mean that to get out, I had to hike about half a mile. But I was jet-lagged, and I had trouble sleeping, and I thought some fresh air and exercise would help. In getting out, I found a Las Vegas entertainment option that gives great value for the dollar. No, it's not the Blue Man Group show at the Luxor, or the standup comedians at Brad Garrett's (remember him?) club at the MGM, or some single-zero roulette wheel at a small casino off the Strip. It's taking a sunrise walk on the Strip.

One morning, just after the sun rose over the hills to the east of the Strip, I exited the Mandalay Bay, perforce unarmed. The air was cool and dry. I turned north and just managed to avoid a guy in an orange safety vest who clattered by on a skateboard. Ahead of me, the imposing blue-eyed Sphinx at the entrance to the Luxor gleamed in the sunlight. The Strip's characteristic neon was being overpowered by the sun, but this Sphinx didn't need neon to make an impression. The low light from the East gave his blue eyes an eerie glow. He seemed to be somewhat distraught, in shock, like a man who'd gone all in on a full house, only to lose to four of a kind, and perhaps thinking, "Jeez, what will I tell Mrs. Sphinx when she sees the Mastercard bill?"

At this hour of the morning, I saw the kinds of people you might expect I would see. There were joggers. There were service workers, sweeping up the trash and polishing surfaces. Most of these folks were tolerant, even genial, when I asked if I could take their picture. Then there was the guy at the top of this post, on the lo-rise bicycle. I heard him before I saw him. "Stupid bitch!" he yelled at a jogger he almost ran over. I turned, and when he saw me raise my camera, he raised his finger. "Fucking faggot!" he yelled, before pedaling away.

Well. It's a town with a bit of stress, I guess. 

Speaking of stress, it's a town that can teach life lessons to the youth of America. I encountered the pair in the picture below left just north of a casino-hotel called New York, New York. It is called this, presumably, because its owners needed a plausible motive to build its replica Statue of Liberty even bigger than the Sphinx down the street. The guy on the left volunteered that he had just lost $2,000 at the blackjack table. Which was a problem, he said, because his old man had given him a budget of $50 for gambling. (I assume he was using daddy's credit card.)

"At least we didn't blow it on hookers," said his buddy, the one with the bleached pompadour and the doofus expression. He was presumably going to be his friend's character witness.

"Yeah, that's right. That would be worse," said the failed blackjack player. He looked at me. "Wouldn't it?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Your father might think that if you'd spent it on hookers, at least you'd have gotten something for your money."

The kid looked dubious about that. "Either way," he said, "I think I am going to feel my father's belt." 

Pondering the role of corporal punishment in developing the next generation of Las Vegas regulars, I continued walking. I discovered that a walk on the Strip is a highly efficient way to burn calories. The city makes it efficient. Partly to help automobile traffic move by limiting the number of pedestrian crosswalks, the city has built flyover pedestrian bridges every few blocks along the Strip. (The way these bridges funnel foot traffic to the doors of certain major casinos is, I am sure, a coincidence.) To get people from the sidewalk level to the bridge level, there are escalators. A lot of them don't work, so you wind up walking up and down stairs, getting valuable cardio training with every step. I think Las Vegas uses the same escalator contractor as the Metro system back in my hometown, Washington, D.C. Small world!

As the sun rose higher, I started to see fewer joggers, fewer street sweepers and more guys wearing suit jackets and convention credentials on lanyards around their necks. So I turned around and headed back to the Mandalay Bay. I have read that the old Las Vegas, whose economy was based entirely on gambling, has given way to a new Las Vegas, with an economy based on conventions and family tourism. And that certainly seems correct, based on what I have seen. There's a lot more square footage devoted to retail and entertainment at the Mandalay Bay than there is to craps and roulette. It's actually not easy to spot a craps table; I never did.

Speaking of retail and entertainment, I dropped into the Michael Jackson souvenir store at the Mandalay Bay and found a genuine replica MJ bandleader's jacket, in black with red piping, in my size for only $149. I thought I might go to one of the ATM's on the casino floor and withdraw the cash to buy one. The ATM fee is only $7.99.

Another Las Vegas value! 






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