Sunday, January 29, 2006

Las Vegas 1/06: Escape from the New York Area

FEW DAYS ARE AS difficult to jump-start as the first workday after a trip to Las Vegas. In my case, I failed. A night-arriving flight delayed by an hour, plus further waiting on the Garden State Parkway due to a single-lane construction obstruction, resulted in my arriving home from Newark Airport well past my normal bedtime. Factor in a three–time zone lag and you can see why I called in for another vacation day Wednesday morning. I went back to sleep and didn't arise until noon. It's just as well that I didn't remember any dreams, because they would have been of Las Vegas and thus plunge me further into a funk.

But you don't want to read about my grinding readjustment to 9-to-5 responsibility. So let's go back to Thursday, January 19. You are getting sleepy . . . you are heading to Newark in a limousine . . . the sun is edging over the Manhattan skyline . . . 99¢ shrimp cocktails are dancing in your head. . . .

Thursday morning began with a quick, bleary trip to the bagel store for Diet Cokes and one last classic Tri-State Area bagel before descending into the Vegas Valley. For a destination now known for fine dining and star chefs, it is damned tough to get decent bagels or pizza in Vegas. Bugsy Siegel and Sam Giancana are gettin' no props on those counts. Local food thus secured, I returned home and made a last check of my list before 5:30 rolled around, and with it the car from Air Brook.

My dad used to volunteer transport to and from Newark, but he is no longer comfortable on the roads that early, so I have been using the large local car service Air Brook. The cost is well worth avoiding the hassle of driving to, and parking at, the labyrinthine expanse of Newark Airport. Basically, my vacation starts the minute I walk out the door. And on occasion — including this one — it starts in a stretch limo. When you book with Air Brook, you usually get a driver with a Lincoln Town Car, which is plenty. Sometimes, though, the guy who catches the job has a stretch. Not that I had any objections. I just found it mildly ridiculous to be floating around in the back of this spacious sled. Hell, the driver was probably happy to have just some pudgy shlub with only two pieces of luggage instead of a gaggle of drunken prom-goers who might hurl cheap canap├ęs and Popov all over the leather seats.

With no January weather extremes to fight, we arrived at Newark swiftly. I dropped my one piece of checked luggage off at the curb and cruised through the sparse security line with no trouble save keeping my beltless pants up — the belt, along with the keys and all other metal, was in a plastic bag in my backpack. I have flown eight round-trip flights since 9/11, and not once have I been detained for a more thorough search. I guess I just blend in. Or, I am able to read the sign that says, in effect, "Don't walk through the metal detector with metal, jackass," a feat somehow beyond quite a few of my fellow flyers. We've only been on Condition Vermillion or Chartreuse or whatever for four years, so I can see how some may only slowly be awakening to it.

Getting onboard was likewise trouble free. I spent most of the time before takeoff hoping I would have a row to myself. The January flights out to Las Vegas have tended to be sparsely filled. In this hope, I was rewarded — in fact, much of the back of the plane was empty, and the flight crew asked for volunteers to fill in some of the seats to redistribute the plane's weight for takeoff. I assume this means we would fly in circles if all of us suddenly moved to one side in midair, but I had no desire to test this bold aerodynamic theory. Once they relocated, we were shortly in the air.

A word on in-flight "entertainment." Not once have I sampled the movie offered during the flights I have taken. All of them have been craptacular, and that's even before the films are edited for content or length. The stock disclaimer they slap on the movies amuses me: "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been edited for content and length and reformatted for home viewing," or some such claptrap. If they really want me to view one of these offerings, the notice would read,
This film has been modified from its original version. To this threadbare romantic comedy, we have added three lightsaber duels, a dinosaur fight, a clown chasing coeds with a chainsaw, TV's Peter Griffin, and Dracula. In addition, the groovy granny and the wisdom-laden-minority characters will now be played by Lenny and Carl from The Simpsons. The soundtrack will feature "Yakity Sax" from the Benny Hill Show during car chases — of which there are seven — "Powerhouse" by Raymond Scott, and various college fight songs performed on kazoo. Thank you for flying Continental, where we hate light romantic comedies too.
Now you're talking. The film offered this time, In Her Shoes — which sounds like either where Imelda Marcos sank most of her pin money or where a foot fetishist might do his dirty sinful business — featured the Joker-like Cameron Diaz, New Age retread Shirley MacLaine, and one of the aforementioned groovy grannies who, inexplicably, was wearing a World Poker Tour baseball cap. This communicates to me that the only way an cinematic senior can be relevant to a 20- or 30-something cast (and viewership) is if she adopts their trends, fashions, and obsessions, rather than being valuable for their decades of wisdom or experience. Not sure about your grandmothers, but my maternal grandmother would have excoriated this depiction with several zesty four-letter words, then disappeared for bingo at the K of C in a cloud of Benson & Hedges smoke. I don't know how director Curtis Hanson goes from L.A. Confidential to this crap, short of owing the Mob a large sum of 'scarole, but such is Hollowwood.

Fortunately, an iPod stuffed with downloaded WFMU programming and a backpack groaning with crossword puzzles and poker books helped me escape the film's clutches. The flight itself was uneventful and steady. As we descended below the cloud deck, I could feel my pulse accelerating. Soon, I knew we would cross the Grand Canyon, cast a shadow on the green-blue expanse of Lake Mead, traverse the last miles of scrub-dotted russet sandstone and desert, crest the mountains ringing the valley, and — as grids of recent housing developments gave way to the unmistakable backdrop that is the Las Vegas Strip — shudder to a rolling stop on the tarmac of McCarran Airport. This we did with merciful delicacy, and two minutes early to boot. I slid over to the window seat to watch the hotels glide by as we taxied: the gleaming Mandalay Bay, the ominous black-glass Luxor pyramid, the candylike fairytale towers of Excalibur . . . all the way to the white spire of the Stratosphere capping the Strip, and beyond, the low cluster of older properties guarding Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas. It was there that I was staying. It is there that we shall travel in our next post.

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