It begins with panties on the airport floor. There they are, an abandoned pair of ladies' unmentionables lying like a little silk welcome mat at the door to the terminal train. They're right where someone dropped them in the rush for . . . what? An urgent flight? A really urgent tryst? Hey, it's Vegas. It could have been either. Or both.
Of the four tourists deplaning from Washington, two relish this bawdy Vegas augury, one is merely curious and one is openly disgusted. And so starts one weekend in Sin City for a quartet of Washingtonians with four divergent ideas of what constitutes fun.
The siren song of Vegas has a verse for every vice -- gamblers, drinkers, voyeurs, karaoke singers and lovers of hokey showbiz all flock to this improbable Gomorrah. But does that explain why the city is lodged, year after year, near the top of America's list of favorite destinations? Is there pleasure here for the nice as well the naughty?
In short, what are the odds that Vegas can simultaneously entertain these four workmates, now stepping over the undies into a hot Saturday morning:
Joe Vegas: A slots-loving, buffet-dwelling, thrice-a-year regular with an all-night appetite for video poker, comp drinks and his fellow low rollers.
The Sophisticate: A cuff-shooting, whiskey-sipping nostalgnik for Old Vegas, when men played cards and gals were only naked from the waist up.
Turbogirl: A low-carb, high-speed party hopper who can dance the clubs till dawn and hike the canyons till noon.
The Curmudgeon: A lover of high art and haute cuisine who disdains all things blinking, winking and odd.
Saturday, 11:15 a.m.
In Vegas, you can start gambling before you even claim your luggage, and the bingbingbing soundtrack of the next 49 hours begins in the airport's arrival hall. The Curmudgeon and the Sophisticate stop at a ticket booth to book table space for Gladys Knight, the Folies Bergere and a Rat Pack tribute. "Buddy Hackett was a good friend of mine," confides Judy, the ticket agent, in a cigarette-seasoned croak. She has the figure -- and mascara -- of a former showgirl. And a heart of gold, the Curmudgeon suspects, after Judy sprints a hundred yards to give the group a tourist map of the Strip.
Turbogirl rents a car and, creeping through the stop-and-gawk traffic along the Strip, drops the others at their hotels. Everyone is staying in different places and everyone plans -- in the service of maximum research -- to upgrade hotels for the second night. (Sunday nights are cheaper.)
First stop, Luxor -- a pyramid-shaped behemoth with an enormous lobby-cum-casino dominated by two giant Sphinxes. The Curmudgeon is overwhelmed. There are about 10 lines for check-in, each 15 or 20 people deep. After dumping her bags in her room (huge, soulless, with a weird slanted wall -- pyramid, remember?) she goes in search of lunch and immediately gets lost. It's impossible to walk in a straight line in this nightmarish maze of slot machines, bells, whistles, music, sirens -- like 10,000 car alarms going off at once. It hurts her curmudgeonly head.
Joe Vegas, meanwhile, is happily surprised by Circus Circus, an outlying Strip giant reportedly past its prime. Yes, his view is dominated by the Vegas freight yard and the glass roof of the hotel's Adventuredome, an indoor kiddie theme park. Still, it's clean, fairly spacious and a lot nicer than he expected for $49. Joe Vegas doesn't spend much time in his room anyway.