Twenty-five years ago, I was a member of the Golden Bears, a team out of Albany that won a bronze medal in the 50+ competition of the World Senior Games. The games were held in Las Vegas, and still flush with our success, we took cabs out to the airport to catch our flight back to Albany — only to discover that the departure was delayed for several hours.
While my teammates were content to play the slots in the airport, I hailed another cab and set out to take a quick look at the Las Vegas we hadn’t seen because of the tournament and our need to rest. As I moseyed around The Strip, I was both fascinated and appalled by what I saw.
The Stratosphere Hotel, for example, sported a 1,149 foot tower (“Twice the height of any other structure in Las Vegas”) that housed several restaurants, luxury suits, and casinos — and, with its gigantic knobbed head bore a close resemblance to a penis made of steel and glass. The current extravaganza in the Strato-Theatre” was a “sexy vampire production.”
Then there’s Caesars Palace “celebrating the glory of Rome.” But not, however, the slave labor, the bloodthirsty entertainment for the masses, the aggressive militarism, nor the deranged, villainous rulers. Certainly not the parallel between the fall of Rome and the decline of Uncle Sam’s Ass.
The floor-show at Aria Hotel and Casino featured a tribute to the music and the life of Elvis Presley in what was billed as a “whimsical, powerful, sexy fusion of high technology and raw emotion.” Elvis the Pelvis, who started his career as a white boy doing black schtick, and ended up as a bloated, drug-addled, paranoid, “hip” version of Wayne Newton. The continuing miracle of sad, frustrated people mindlessly obsessed with fatuous celebrities.
The entrance to Bally’s contained eight miles of neon. Inside the night club, the main attraction was a recreation of the sinking of the Titanic. After all, what’s more fascinating than a show-biz version of somebody else’s tragedy? Unless, of course, it’s the nudie pool that offered “an escape from the traditional pool experience.”
The “legendary Donnie and Marie was bringing the house down” in the Flamingo. In the same neighborhood was the X Burlesque where equally legendary tits and asses were on display.
In Paris Las Vegas, there was a fifty-story Eiffel Tower containing several casinos and continental restaurants, where “the night is always young.” Likewise did New York New York offer opportunities for gambling and eating in half-scale models of the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station, Ellis Island, and the Empire State Building.
The Golden Gate boasted it’s gigantic shrimp cocktail that went for only $1.99 at the San Francisco Deli. The Hooters proudly advertized its world-famous chicken wings and bouncing boobs.
Indeed, even the economically blighted among us could afford to shell out the $35 or so that virtually all of these theme parks charged for one night’s stay. What a bargain! Especially since the local chamber of commerce produced “scientific evidence” that a visit to their city “will actually improve your overall health and outlook.”
Morte Las Vegas, where beneath the faux glamour, the phony fleeting thrills, the perpetual hope that the next card or the next number will produce untold riches, and the cut-rate abundance, the bottom line is always the bottom line.
Once our flight took off, I saw something far more meaningful and congenial in the outlying wastelands beyond the crowded stucco houses north of the city lights. Out where the only visible life-forms were some mesquite bushes and bristling Joshua trees. The beginning of the world must have looked like this: A blazing sphere of fire spilling over mountain peaks. Dark stones and deserts howling in the wind. So will the end be…with ancient seas sunken into the earth’s saline crust. ++
Author, professional basketball coach, columnist Charley Rosen, of Stone Ridge, has had nearly two dozen books published, both fiction and non-fiction.