It had to be perfect. There was very little room for mistakes or ambiguity. If I was going to nail this anniversary vacation, giving Amanda a truly memorable trip and thereby securing my status as "thoughtful," then every contingency must be considered. Our decennial anniversary deserved nothing less. Only the cream of the crop of leisurely activities would make the cut. This would take skill. This would take commitment. Most importantly, this would take the patience of digging through a myriad of mostly valueless results when the words "vacation Las Vegas" were typed in the google search bar.
No matter how many Yelp or Tripadvisor reviews you read, at some point you're going to have to make a decision. There's too much to see, too much to read, and far too many options. To stay on the strip or not stay on the strip. Which shows do we see? Where do we eat? What's worth spending our precious and limited time?
You can read all you want. You can make lists of pros and cons. Go ahead, build up your tower of pre-conceived notions. It doesn't matter. Once our plane landed, the real education on Las Vegas and our Anniversary vacation EXTRAVAGANZA began.
Here's what we learned:
1. Little League
It doesn't matter what you do, or how well you do it. In Las Vegas, everyone gets a trophy. From the moment your step off of the plane, you are bombarded with advertisements. The only thing remarkable about advertising in the Las Vegas is the massive amount of money spent on one basic concept. Be it a show, a restaurant, a resort, or a used underwear store, they're all #1. I'm not saying that they value their product, and it's many mentionable qualities. No. Those don't matter. The only thing that matters is that someone, somewhere, listed them as #1 at what they do.
Advertising executives in Las Vegas must be collectively stroked out by the desert sun, or too enamored with the potential of free drinks at the penny slots, to realize that at some point as potential customer may wonder what it is they're selling. But they can't be bothered with that. They show up Monday morning, splatter the heading that there product was listed #1 by some random blogger or daily rag, then head back to the golf course for the back nine. It's good work if you can get it.
2. Beware the Good Deal
We needed a car. Parts of our vacation would include trips out to Red Rock Canyon and the Grand Canyon. That's a bit of a haul on rollerskates, so a rental was needed. Now, I rent cars often. I usually rent from one of the bigger chains because they have offices near my house, but that simply wasn't an option in Vegas. My jaw draped perilously close to the floor when I saw the going rate for rental cars in Vegas. I think they confused rent with purchase.
However, in the long list of available rentals, two companies listed near the bottom certainly captured my attention with their commitment to competitive pricing. But, it made no sense. Why were two companies so much cheaper than the rest. Were they fly-by-night operations? Did "full-size" really mean "horse drawn carriage?" If so, I'd need new boots.
But still, I booked it.
As we approached the sales counter, my heart sank into my stomach. Every other rental company visible in the rental center zoomed customers through the check-in process and got them quickly on their way. All the while, "cheap company A" had a line a mile long, the head of which consisted of employees seemingly arguing with would be customers and trying to convince them to purchase their "guaranteed fuel program" like something out of a bad timeshare pitch.
I knew it. This would be painful.
When our turn arrived, I approached the counter, gave the employee my name and reservation number, and awaited my paperwork. The deal I agreed to, through a third party website, was for $77, not including insurance. The employee confirmed my selection, entered the info on my driver's license, and returned with a price of $207, and change. As soon as the price left her lips, I quickly snapped, "no." Apparently, that's the magic word because she immediately tried to renegotiate by stuttering, "uhh, how about $130?". I informed her that this too was an errant price and that I refused to pay it. I showed her the agreement on my handy dandy smart phone, which was listed as follows:
Base Rate - $47.85
Tax and Fees - $29.68
Total Price - $77.53
Upon seeing this, she informed me that I would need to add all three of those figures together to get the real price. This when the reigns on "snarky Jamey" could be held no longer. Right there at the counter, two lessons were given. First we discussed the meaning and usage of the word "Total" in the English language. Next, I made her add the base rate to the tax and fees rate, and even instructed her how to carry the one, a la first grade arithmetic.
This brazen act led to a silent solidarity among fellow screwed over customers, as smiles were shared and heads were collectively nodded in approval. No longer would we stand for this injustice. No longer would additional fees and fuel plans balloon our prices beyond budgetary constraints. This is America, damnit! We're not going to allow you to terrorize our vacations by stealing manna from our Vegas buffet mouths!
Just before we were able to don matching kilts, paint our faces, and start war chants, the manager arrived at the desk and confirmed my low, low price. Whew, that was close. He had no idea how close he was revolution. I had the mob on my side. Crisis averted. And even though the rental employee smiled at me through her teeth, I could tell she was still terribly confused by addition.
3. "Oh, it's just right there"
Here's a Vegas vacation Jamey pro tip: pack rollerblades. Even though they seem to be adjoining, everything in Vegas is extremely spread out. Distance is simply a mirage.
4. Jose Canseco in a push-up bra
I just think I'm savvy. In reality, my naivety is apparently limitless. I would never have thought that adult aged human being would consider the Vegas strip, at midnight (or any time for that matter), as an appropriate place to bring their children. Walking the sidewalk of the Vegas strip is like having an AOL email account in the late nineties. No matter why you're there, eventually you're going to get spammed by porn peddlers.
This usually comes in the form of people wearing shirts with the words "Girls, Girls, Girls"across the back, handing out flyers for free cover charge to the nearest strip establishment. These flyers resemble business cards seemingly designed by a ruthless hoard of 13 year old boys. They don't waste time with helpful information. It's just a picture of a nude, or at best scantily clad, twenty year old and an address. By the end of the night, the sidewalk is littered with these cards.
And there, as parents struggle to negotiate the crowded sidewalks and bright lights, they can't be bothered with checking on the actions of their cute little rugrats. This usually leads to the kids picking these cards up and trading them around like the world's most inappropriate baseball card. Amanda and I watched in horror as a young couple walked away from their four year old little boy, who stopped in the middle of a busy intersection to kneel down and pick up booby cards...in Vegas....at night.....in a crowd of hundreds. Sometimes you wish child services responded to some sort of bat signal.
Time in Vegas isn't really measured in hours. That's far too complicated. Rather, it's measured in motif. The morning hours are dominated by hangover shuffles, heels-in-hand walks of shame, and bathing suits. The afternoon is dominated by those seeking to acquire show tickets in their comfy shoes and sunglasses. But nighttime. Oh nighttime. That's when the hair gel, hooker heels, teeny skirts, and shiny shirts come out to play. We enjoyed this time of day the most. That's when the people watching aspects of Vegas really kick it into high gear. On our final night in town, we decided to run out to a nearby restaurant for a nice meal before seeing Cirque Du Soleil. As our weary feet knowingly carried us through yet another stale and smokey casino, a bustling group of young twenty-somethings burst out in front of us. They couldn't be bothered with the fact that they'd nearly trampled us to death. No, no. They were far too important and well dressed for such a selfless notion.
The group dynamics were as follows: Two single girls, complete with skanky dresses and blown out hair. One single guy with shiny shoes, a shiny tan, and an even shinier shirt. Finally, the ring leaders. The power couple at the center of this obnoxious orbit were straight out of central casting for Jersey Shore. The guy was a brand of confident rarely seen in the human race, completely devoid of insecurities. His best girl was a sight to behold. She was about 5'5", 84 lbs, in a shiny leopard pattern dress like something out of that terrible toddlers and tiaras show. Her shoes were more stilts than heels. I began to wonder if she might be a Cirque performer.
Just as my disillusionment with the human race reached it's climax a cleansing and powerful wind of humility swept across the group. In the course of their young and invincible strut through the casino, stilt girl failed to consider that the equation of ridiculous shoes + marble floor would most likely result in tragedy. Time slowed as her ankles resembled those of a baby deer struggling to take it's first steps. It took her a GOOD second and a half to complete her fall. Captain slick hair, try as he might, was unable to rescue his toothpick with bangs from her descent. In the struggle, they ended up collectively collapsing in the middle of the crowded casino. For that moment, the glitz and fake glamour of Vegas revealed itself as lacking the stability and foundation of common sense. This was Vegas in a nutshell.
Don't let this blog fool you. It was an amazing vacation. We had a blast. We spent time together....alone. We made each other laugh. We pushed each other to hike the freaking Grand Canyon. And we even massaged each others calves the next day as the limitations of ibuprofen became all too obvious. It wasn't perfect, but we were. We committed ourselves to enjoying our time away. We committed to having long, in depth conversations about grown up topics. And mostly, we committed ourselves to go with the flow, even if it involved a math lesson or two.