VIVA LOST WAGES!

What’s the only city in the world where you can play slot machines in the airport? Find ancient Egypt, New York, Monte Carlo, Venice, and Paris all within walking distance? Arrive in a $50,000 Mercedes and leave in a $150,000 Greyhound bus?

Why, Las Vegas, Nevada, of course!

My husband and I recently spent a few days in Sin City. We didn’t take the kids with us because we wanted to have a good time.

The plane trips between EWR and LAS were long and boring. Of course, a boring plane ride is not a bad thing when you consider how “interesting” a plane trip can be. We arrived at McCarran Airport (the one with the slot machines) and took a shuttle to our hotel, the MGM Grand.

The Grand is IMMENSE. At 171,000 square feet, the casino is big enough to land aircraft in. Six swimming pools. A restaurant in a Hollywood rain forest. A den of lions. Expensive shops. Restaurants ranging from McDonald’s and Nathan’s to Emeril and Wolfgang Puck. A wedding chapel. Enough booze to fill the six swimming pools. Shows. An eat-till-you-drop buffet. A sports betting area where you can watch and bet on several games and horse races at once (I had a patient who would consider that heaven. When he came back from dialysis he’d call his bookie to place bets on basketball games. He and his roommate were both diabetics, and they’d bet on each other’s blood sugar readings.) And a recreation of New York’s infamous Studio 54 disco.

(A sidebar: Back in the disco inferno of the late 70’s, Studio 54 was THE place to see and be seen as part of New York’s night life. Every night, hordes of would-be patrons lined up outside the red velvet cordon hoping that owners Steve Rubell [portrayed by Mike Myers in the film “54”] and Ian Schraeder would deem them wealthy, beautiful, chic, trendy, famous, glam, or just weird enough to be worthy of entry. The “gray people” [anyone from Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island or –- horrors! -- New Jersey!] would be left out. One Halloween, a would-be Lady Godiva was denied entrance but her horse was let in. Another time, even Cher, for reasons still unknown, was kept out.

One admitted, the elect would rub shoulders with the likes of Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol, the designer Halston, or Mick Jagger’s ex Bianca while stepping out to the crowded dance floor, taking care not to trip over people doing cocaine or each other in the corner. While aerialists performed above the revelers, an electric man in the moon would snort coke from a spoon and light up.

54 was closed in 1980 by the party poopers at the IRS for non-payment of taxes. Rubell and Schraeder spent a few years in prison for tax evasion and drugs. Rubell eventually died of AIDS. The place, once a symbol of 70’s New York decadence, is now a theater showing “Cabaret”, a musical about 30’s Berlin decadence. At least in the MGM Grand version of Studio 54, everyone is admitted.)

Our room was on the 27th floor with a sweeping view of Las Vegas’s famous Strip and the mountains in the distance. Across the street was New York, New York, accessible by a pedestrian bridge. We didn’t spend much time in NY, NY. Where we live, we can walk a few blocks, get a bus, and half an hour and 2 bucks later, we’re in the real thing. Down the Strip is the Paris, complete with a 50-story replica of the Eiffel Tower. I took a picture of the Eiffel Tower as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge. Only in Vegas!

One phenomenon I found particularly intriguing was the sight of dozens of guests dressed in “business casual” attire, wearing name badges and shlepping briefcases and binders, on their way to the various corporate functions being held at the hotel. I’m in Las Vegas, one the world’s premier resorts, surrounded by thousands of guests dressed in shorts, jeans, swimwear, T-shirts, and flip-flops going to the casino, the bars and restaurants, the shops, or to soak up sun and frozen Margaritas by the pool. The last thing I want to do is sit in a conference room while some pencil-necked geek with a slide projector drones on about sales figures or cost analyses.

We did our share of hotel hopping: we visited the Bellaggio, with a spectacular indoor garden and a garden of huge glass flowers blooming from the ceiling in the lobby, strolled through the streets of the Left Bank in the Monte Carlo, got lost in Bally’s, and stopped in at the Flamingo. >

We were originally going to stay in the Flamingo because ‘mingers are my favorite animal. I’ve got flamingo scrubs, flamingo socks, flamingo toys and chatchkes, even a flamingo tattooed on my right leg. When we had the house in Toms River, I painted a ‘minger on the front door, which I’m sure greatly enhanced its sales value when we sold it. The Flamingo Hotel was a really nice place and we’re staying there next year. It has a wildlife sanctuary which is home to various species of waterfowl: ibises, ducks, cranes, penguins, and of course, flamingos. I couldn’t resist the souvenir shop with its vast array of all things flamingo. I exercised remarkable restraint in limiting my purchases to a flamingo top and a pair of flamingo shorts.

(Another sidebar: The Flamingo is one of Las Vegas’s first hotels, having been built in the 40’s by the mobster Bugsy Siegel. Everyone thought ol’ Bugsy was crazy building a resort in the desert in the middle of nowhere. He called it the Flamingo because that was the nickname he gave his girlfriend because of her exceptionally long legs.)

Did we win? Hell no, as evidenced by the fact that we’re still working. We play mostly quarter slots, so we’re not exactly high rollers. We’ll never get comp rooms on what we bet. We used to live about an hour north of Atlantic City but I think we went there maybe 3-4 times. But still, we had a good time.

Finally, a Las Vegas joke: Father Gilbert went to Las Vegas for his vacation. He arrived at the airport and got into a cab. The cab driver turned around, looked at Father Gilbert, and exclaimed, “Oh, my God, Elvis, it’s you! It’s really you! We knew you were alive all along!”

Father Gilbert said, “Elvis? What makes you think I’m Elvis? I don’t look like him or sound like him. Now please take me to my hotel.”

The cab arrived at the hotel, and the doorman opened the door to let Father Gilbert out. The doorman looked at Father Gilbert, and exclaimed, “Elvis! I can’t believe it! You’re back!”

Father Gilbert said, “Is everyone in this city crazy? Why does everyone think I’m Elvis?”

Father Gilbert arrived at the check in desk, and the clerk exclaimed, “Elvis! My God, it’s a miracle! You’re alive! We’re going to give you the penthouse suite free. You’ll have an unlimited line in the casino, we can get you free tickets to any show or sporting event you want, we’ll tell the kitchen to make you anything you want at any time. We’ll arrange to have girls brought to your room at any time. You just name it and it’s yours!”

Father Gilbert responded, “Well, thang yuh verruh much.” (I didn’t say it was a good joke!)