When you mention Las Vegas the superlatives just start flowing and can't stop.
With true madness the fastest growing city in America, Las Vegas, is built in the middle of a desert. They have 17 of the largest 20 hotels in the world. Of the 7 hotels in the world with more than 4,000 bedrooms they have 5. The largest is the MGM Grande which has 5,690 bedrooms. The lobby has 3,500 slot machines (with 2 cars on top of them), plus gaming tables, 5 restaurants, a shopping mall, 3 theatres and a pride of lions.
The most extreme is the Venetian which has a mock up of the Grand Canal in Venice on the SECOND floor. You can take an electric Gondola ride through the complex for $15 each and people do. The outside pool is surrounded by palm trees and is on an upper floor.
The most expensive is the Wynn which has 50 floors, an inside waterfall, an exclusive shopping Mall where there is a Ferrari shop. It opened in 2005 and cost a cool $2.5bn. That of course is as nothing to the latest schemes to hit the strip the apart condo complexes which are going up which will cost a cooler $10bn.
The tallest hotel is the Stratosphere which is 108 stories plus the rides on top. Yes, you get to choose between 3 outside fair ground rides above a 108 story building. And oh by the way it has the fastest lift in the world.
The hotel with the biggest Lobby in the world is the Luxor which is built like an Egyptian pyramid complete with reflective glass sides. Just for fun it beams the worlds brightest light into space. It has the fourth highest number of rooms in the world with 4,400.
The rudest named hotel is Hooters where the waitresses are chosen for their breasts.
There is the Fremont street experience which is simply a half mile long screen wrapped around the top of a street. At night they kill all of the neons and everyone gazes in wonder at a half mile of a video experience. It starts with an eagle flying down the road. It is billed as the worlds largest screen, has 12 million lights, 220 speakers and .5 megawatts of audio power.
We musn't forget the Grand Canyon. This is a mile deep and 8 miles wide in places. It is on almost every list of the 7 natural wonders of the world and is debatably the biggest canyon in the world. It certainly must have the most helicopter movements anywhere on the planet. The Hoover dam is a wonder in it's own right. It cost the lives of 114 men during construction. The heat from the chemical reaction caused by the concrete setting was dissipated to prevent cracking during construction by iced water (produced by a refrigeration plant) continually pumped through 1.5 inch steel pipes. The answer to the most frequently asked question which is how many people are buried in it is zero. The lake formed by it's construction is Lake Mead which is one of the largest artificial lakes in the world covering 157, 000 acres. It is currently at it's lowest level ever (except when they were filling it up of course).
Where we have patio heaters they have comfort coolers out of doors. They are literally trying to cool the world.
We chose to fly from Manchester direct with BMI. As we were waiting in the lounge we took the time to fill in the American entry questionnaires. The questions are amazing ( in the stupid sense) for example:
Q “Do you have a communicable disease; physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict”
A Well yes I'm very fond of coffee
Q “Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offence or crime involving moral turpitude....”
A Sorry I don't know what moral turpitude is
Q “Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage .........or between 1933 and 1945 were involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies”
A I was born in 1955 so to achieve this I would have to be involved in time travel.
We thought better of our answers and ticked no as expected.
The flight was long, long, long but it was fine. Thank the lord that we chose economy plus. Somewhere over the Atlantic your brain becomes that of a zombie. As you enter American airspace they warn you that you can no longer queue for the toilets. Something to do with anti terrorism. Uh?
Anyway you get there and then you queue to get interviewed by a man who asks where you are staying and why you have chosen to invade America. I wanted to make all sorts of clever remarks like:
- a) I intended to bring this small thermo nuclear weapon in for my friends
b) I had this idea to scam the gaming tables
c) Bog off, I've just spent 12 hours in a plane and you want to ask me damn fool questions.
However sense prevailed and we answered the questions sensibly. Anyway they eventually let us in and we walk out into the oven that is Vegas. We look for the bus. They don't do buses. So we catch a taxi. By this time it is around 2.00pm Vegas local but we got up this morning/yesterday at 5.00am English local to catch this flight, in other words we have now been up and awake already for 17 hours.
That is weird! We get to the Treasure Island hotel via the most circuitous route possible and go into the lobby. It is the largest lobby I have ever seen. We queue, check in and then I am so thirsty that I have to have water. I order three from the bar. The bar man asks how old Chris is and is he 21.
“No he isn't. Now give with the water”.
“I'm sorry sir then I cannot serve you”.
He relents and tells Chris to stand a further foot away and gives us the water.
If security was bad going out then it was worse coming back. We queued and eventually got our boarding passes. Mine had a big red cross scrawled all over it. I was special. Too bloody right I was special. Queuing to get through the security gates I was called over for my own “special” checks.
I went through my own special gateway which blew jets of air at me in all ways. Then a close body search. Then they sniffed all my hand luggage with a special sniffing device. Then it was show us your lap top. So that was it. I'd brought a lap top into America and that was suspicious, clearly. I needed a drink after that and found some water.
Eventually we boarded the plane at about 2.00pm local and it took off. We now had to pretend that it was really night time and have an evening meal and then go to sleep. I watched the on board display of painfully slow progress across the surface of the earth. Eventually when we only had a thousand miles left to go. I knew we would make it.
Driving down the M6 at 12 noon our bodies were confused again, they now thought it was 4.00am. Some how we'd just been awake for an awfully long time again.
On Telecommunications and Time
When we eventually crashed out at around 11.00pm local on that first night that was the equivalent of 7am English local, Vegas was 8 hours behind. So when I awoke at 4.00am local and couldn't sleep (because my body thought it was 12 noon English) I went for a walk and phoned my wife. It was 12 noon for her and we had a nice chat before I went back to bed and she had her lunch.
And so it went, I'd call her as she went to bed when it was lunch time for me, when I got up at 8.00am it was her tea time. The phones connected instantly and the lines were some of the clearest ever.
Marriage does seem like big business in Vegas. We saw several bridal parties. One groom, bride, pastor, video cameraman and best man were seen getting married on top of the Stratosphere tower. We saw another bridal party setting off in a helicopter to get married hovering over the strip.
On Size and Food
The attitude to size is pretty relaxed – if you want to be so fat that you can't walk. Heh that's OK. If you've got money then that’s fine. You can get around in an electric wheelchair. No problemo. It's kind of serious though if you haven't any money. The gulf between the haves and the generally hispanic have nots is enormous.
You do get used to very fat people rolling out of cars and wheezing toward the air conditioning.
Of course, the portion sizes are so enormous as to make it easy to get huge fast. But then that is all about the value for money proposition. The bigger the meal the better the value.
On The Bus
There is a bus that cruises up and down the Strip. Called the Deuce at every stop it plays the jingle. “Have fun, get out of the sun. Ride the Deuce, 2 dollars each way 3 dollars all day”
They haven't heard of diesel. Petrol is cheap - like £1.25 per gallon, cheap. Cars are big and so cheap. Parking lots are huge. Parking is easy. If it wasn't for the stupid speed limits this would be motoring heaven.
On the Monday morning I was flicking through one of the Vegas mags and saw an advert for the “Gun Store” where you could go and shoot some real guns. Iain had seen it too and very rapidly we thought it would be cool to do. I looked at the map we had and off we set.
We called in to see the Rubens exhibition and then walked to the intersection where the road headed off for the Gun Store. I asked a man how to get there and he said it's down there about a mile. We set off. He said that we couldn't walk it we'd have to take a bus.
So we stood in the searing heat for about 10 minutes until a bus came along. We got on and paid. We asked another man where to get off and he said he'd let us know. It was an awfully long mile. In fact we read afterwards that it was actually 3 miles. We got there and went into this low building and explained that we'd like to shoot something.
They had every gun imaginable and said what did we want to shoot. Since we didn't know I said “We'd like to shoot an AK47 and oh a magnum 44”. Right oh that's 17 dollars or something stupid they said and I paid.
We had to choose a target each I chose Saddam and the lads chose a standard man target. We went to queue for a couple of minutes then each shot off our automatic rounds which took like a minute each. We then went out got the Magnum 44 and shot that. That was it. The AK47 was loud and had a bit of recoil, the Magnum was like a small hammer hitting your hand.
A family walked in and asked to shoot. They asked the lad how old he was. It turned out he was 12, so that was OK. There was a sign up pointing out that taking replica guns onto airplanes probably needed to be checked with your airline first.
We walked out, stood around in the searing heat and then caught the bus back to the strip and into the hotel New York, New York.
We went looking for a bus to take us to the designer mall and it turned out – it didn't exist. So we caught a taxi......
On Taxis and Taxi Drivers
Taxi drivers in Vegas seem to be programmed to talk. I am used to taxi drivers in London who grunt occasionally but that is all. The drivers in Vegas seem to have an urge to tell you about how fabulous the place is and they are. The first taxi driver told us about the developments going on in Vegas.
The last said something like (and please read this with an American accent)
" Hi guys. Thanks for getting into my cab. He'h I've got to tell yous guys that I've got the most fantastic job anywhere in the world. This very morning I was on the knuckle (thats a technical term we cabbies use for being the next person to pick some one up). Well I gets a call from my buddy Billy. He says he's just had this girl who wanted a lift but he says to her to catch my cab. And, he says to her if you want to make me, Freddy, happy why don't you flash your boobies at him. And do you Know what I gave that babe a lift back to her place and she says to me "your buddy says you'd like to see my boobies ". I says to her yes ma'am and right there and then she lifts her top and shows me them thar babies. I tell you man -Of course yous all understand that she was a working girl, you know a prostitute, so it was OK.
I cant wait to get home and tell my wife.
She just loves some of the stories I have to tell.
I tell you man I came out here in about 88 and it was so wonderful that with all the gamblin and all that I just had to get out here.
I started off doing a bit of selling and it wasn't no good so my wife she says to me that why not try taxiing and I did and it's the best job in the whole world.”
We see a sign for a Beatles show, “Love”, and he is off again. “The Beatles were the best group in the whole world. Heh guys, I went to see them once in the 60's. It was fantastic with all that screaming and all. Then they come over here and set up this show. My Buddy just loves the Beatles he listens to breakfast with the Beatles every Sunday. Hey the show is the best in the world. All those tunes, man.”
There is a sign for a play called the "Menopause".
"Heh guys that is jusst the funniest show I ever seen. They take the songs from around the baby boomers time, you know Aretha Franklin and so on and they change the words. I didn't want to go but, heh man, my wife took me and I was glad I went because it was soo funny. Man they gave out fans at the beginning and there was all sorts of jokes. You young ones won't get some of them but it was soo funny.
Oh heh were at the airport.
It's your lucky day guys cos your with the sweetman.” He reaches down by the side of the seat and produces a container box of sweets and hands them out. He gets out of the taxi takes out the bags. I hand him a 20 and he asks how much change I want. The fare is 13.60 but I say just give me 5.
He drives off into the distance to tell any one and everyone about how fantastic this job he has.
The Grand Canyon and the Desert
The people carrier came to pick us up at 3.50. We travelled slowly and stopped at 2 more hotels until eventually we arrived at the Maverick heliport around 4.45. An hour to travel maybe 3 miles!
We checked in, paid our money, were weighed and then in a group of 7 stepped out to the waiting helicopters. Each helicopter held 7 people plus the pilot, in a 4 4 configuration. We took off in turn and followed a walk way with each chopper following the one behind. We rose into the air and across Vegas before swinging over the desert.
The ride was over barren scenery best judged by the photos until Lake Mead swung into view and we saw the Hoover dam in the distance. We carried on out over Boulder until we reached the Grand Canyon, which I have to say had been so hyped was something of a disappointment.
We landed, took loads of photos, drank some Champagne ate some crudités and then within 30 minutes we were rising up again and heading back the way we had come. As we looked across the skies there were scattered helicopters all heading back before dark.
The choppers landed and refueled and then we swung over Las Vegas taking in the lights before landing again at the airport. All in all it was a wow of a trip, but not that much of a wow
On David Copperfield
We walked into the theatre in the MGM Grande. I was surprised by how small the theatre was. It was organised cabaret style in order that they could serve drinks. We declined drinks and having our photograph taken, thank you. The seats we had which we had booked in July were on row 2, almost on the stage, but at the edge of the theatre. They gave us an excellent view of everything that was going on.
The show was the middle one of 3 that David would do that day. He was doing this for a few weeks. The show started with a video telling us how fabulous he was and all the records he held. A large box appeared in the middle of the stage with lights showing through the canvas sides showing that nothing was inside. The reveal came and David was sitting inside the box on a motorbike. That was something of a wow.
They produced a large steel plate and invited some members of the audience to verify that indeed it was solid. This they duly did. They then placed the plate on top of a steel table arrangement. David was by now under the table. His assistants then covered the whole lot with a tarpaulin. David magically passed through the plate and appeared on the top. But he didn't he crawled round the outside. The audience thought the trick a wow though and applauded.
They then produced an apparatus with a box on some rails which David crawled into. The box compressed until it appeared that David was about 18 inches tall . Great excitement. However from where we sat you could see his body had simply turned a right angle and was bunched up at 90 degrees to the stage. I know you go to these events to be wowed but there is also an element of wanting to know how it is done. However when you figure it out – it kind of spoils it.
He then went into a patter about he was going to make a girl pregnant on the stage. They chose a girl from the audience (who had been prebriefed, the audience wasn't meant to know this). David took her down to the front, had a joke wedding and then persuaded a lady to choose a 3 of diamonds from the pack. A scan of the brides tummy showed the baby holding the card.
There was a sequence with a kid chosen from the audience and told to watch an easel. Queue lots of jokes. There was another sequence with a duck.
He then went into a patter about how his father had been forbidden by his father from being a magician. David's grandfather then forbad him from becoming a magician. He then went on to generate some numbers by asking members of the audience for some numbers which he then wrote on a large display. The first person he asked he asked if he wore boxer or y fronts. the response was boxers. He asked the next time when he made love. After a long embarrassed hesitation the man and his wife admitted that they couldn’t remember. David wrote can't remember on the board. The third person he asked was for 2 numbers. With a great drum role he announced that he had put a cassette of the answers into a box and he had written them down and what is more he had put the numbers onto some number plates which were the numbers off his grandfathers car. There was a great drum role and a box appeared containing his grandfathers car. He started the car. This was perhaps the most impressive reveal of the day.
David then went on to plan his greatest trick of all time which was to travel real time half way across the world. He put a video image into the screen which was meant to be of Perth in Australia. He told a story about a man who wanted very much for his daughter to visit him and David was meant to make this happen. A girl was chosen from the audience to make the journey and they all set off to "Perth" They appeared in Perth on the beach with the video showing it all. The girl embraced her father, they showed a polaroid they had taken in the theatre and they magicked themselves back bringing sand from the beach where they had been with them. Huge applause and rapidly move on to the final trick.
David produced some giant silver balls which the audience threw around until the music stopped. When it the people holding the balls were called onto the stage and given seats on a giant plinth. they were given torches and asked to flash them around. Surprise, surprise big reveal and they had gone. They had obviously just walked out of the back and round to the front of the theatre. Huge applause and final bow and it's all over.
Because it's all so fast and furious and you don't know what to expect next it is difficult to put the whole thing into sequence and you come out with your head spinning at the spectacle. It is all very well done. However there is something of the production line about the whole thing.
So what did we do?
Sunday Arrive Check in at TI Go for wander round Venetian and other bits Have posh steak meal in TI Monday Visit Rubens exhibition Shoot some guns Designer Mall Lunch at Subways Back to hotel Fremont St Experience Tuesday Bellagio- Ansell Adams Exhibition Lunch at Luxor Back to Treasure Island – Afternoon at Spa Evening huge Sandwich at MG Grande – David Copperfield Wednesday Try to see Mike Tyson – no show Bus down to Stratosphere Oxygen Bar Lunch at Mcdonalds Back to TI Out to Grand Canyon Wander round again Thursday Wander round shopping mall Then back to plane