You may remember I mentioned in last week’s column that my “31 Horror Movies” challenge, a task I finished by the skin of my teeth late Halloween night, was delayed by a trip to Las Vegas. If you put down your spoonful of shredded wheat and thought, “This Clint guy actually leaves the house?” you’d have a point. I’m a homebody by nature; perfectly content to spend his spare time in “The Workshop,” a place in Castle Clint I go to when I really need to get some thinking done. And by “thinking” I actually mean playing an ancient video game while listening to my “Hi-Fi”.
What a time to pick a trip to Vegas, right? If you’re wondering, no, I wasn’t there for the tragic shooting but it was a close call. I was there the week after and, wouldn’t you know it, my friends and I had rooms booked at the Mandalay Bay thus ensuring that all our mothers expressed continued grave misgivings about us going. I got off easy; one friend of mine got one of those endless “I’m never going to see you again” hugs before we all got in the car and kept telling her, “I don’t know…I just have a bad feeling about your trip.” Wow…thanks mom.
Motherly fears of the world ending aside, Vegas was just as fun an experience as the previous time I went 10 years ago. We ate at a whopping three buffets, one of which I refused to leave until I had eaten six plates’ worth, each with its own theme, from the “Americana” plate to the “I have no idea what exactly is in these sushi rolls” plate.
I finally got my chance to try my luck at Baccarat, a game I studied for two weeks before the trip only to discover you’re essentially betting on the results of a coin flip. Needless to say, my dreams of being James Bond, passing the “shoe” around and saying words like “Banque,” ended with me crying my way back to the cashier.
I got called away from a 10 a.m. video blackjack session at the Mandalay Bay bar, nursing a complementary ginger ale, by a text urging me to find my way through three casinos and out to the street to meet everyone for lunch at “The Bruxie”, where I ate a giant waffle-sandwich stuffed with fried chicken and a sunny side up egg.
We took an uncomfortably crammed cab ride away from the strip thus letting us see what Vegas is actually like as a functioning city, before ending up at the perpetual street-party of Freemont Street where I bought a giant drink full of pineapple juice, cherries, and other unknown weirdness that put me in a head state to be perhaps a little too transfixed by one of Freemont’s lithe “Dancing D.J.'s” before escaping to the Freemont Walgreens for a bottled water and a breather.
And you know I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t hit the arcade at the New York, New York Casino where I played some ski ball, the largest Space Invaders game I’ve never seen, and took point of pride in setting the high score on their ancient Ms. Pac-Man machine.
But it was that third day in Vegas where we discovered what can happen when fun and “promotions for fun” collide, as with this ad from a 1979 Journal Gazette featuring a similar promotional Vegas deal from Tylman’s Photographic Studio in Charleston. In an effort to save a couple bucks on some exhibits we approached a booth on the walkway between the Mandalay and the Excalibur and a few words and few signatures later, three of us had agreed to our very first timeshare presentation. Why not? The guy said it was only going to take two hours and at the very end, boom, free tickets and 25-dollar stacks at the Luxor. Needless to say the experience did not go quite as planned.
Our shuttle drove us clear out of the city and just when I started to suspect we were all going to be taken to a preserve to be hunted for sport, we arrived at a lone timeshare complex planted in the Vegas desert where our friendly presentation about the value of property we had no intention of signing up for quickly ballooned in time until about three hours later we were exhaustively given the “final” sales pitch. Our polite refusal was followed by another 30 minutes of “good cop, bad cop” between our initial agent and her “supervisor," the type of dude who chews gum right in your face and calls everyone "Guy", who exhorted us all to pay for the timeshare with our credit cards.
When they finally got the hint we weren’t going to budge, they were officially “done” with us; the process to get our free stuff involved us being moved to and from a bewildering series of rooms and cubicles, each one full of dazed people we hadn’t seen before who we all had to assume were lost souls doomed to be trapped forever. When we finally had our tickets and a voucher for chips, we were practically kicked out a side exit only to discover the sun had long set and the one shuttle we found waiting by the curb wasn’t leaving for another 30 minutes.
As we considered the possibility that we would indeed never get to leave, others soon filed out and soon we were all heading back to the strip in relative silence whereupon one fellow traveler finally broke the dazed tension with a simple question: “Hey, none of ya’ll actually bought a timeshare, right?” We all shouted “No!” as one and laughed the laugh of a group of people who made it out of an unexpected adventure alive and with their credit ratings intact.
Finally back at the strip we enjoyed a late artisanal slice at “800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza,” told the tale of the timeshare, and retreated back to the hotel. Vegas is such a weird place with so much to do in such a concentrated area, it’s a vacation where it really is what you decide to make of it.
And later that night, we kept it real in classic Central Illinois fashion: We played cards in the room, ate drug store snacks, and watched ‘80s music videos on MTV Classic. And we still had one more buffet to hit the next day. Let’s see James Bond do that.