That kiddie park may be one of the last vestiges of the city's recent effort to promote itself as a "family destination," which finally collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity. All the pirate shows in the world couldn't distract little eyes from the litter of pornography blowing up and down the streets. Squads of immigrant workers line the sidewalks, passing out XXX-rated fliers. The Sophisticate, threading this gantlet of boobs and butts (and more), is amazed by the phenomenon of matronly Hispanic women handing dirty pictures to matronly Midwestern women.
The Flamingo, in the heart of the Strip, is a positive respite from the tawdry sidewalk commerce (only in Vegas can a casino be considered a haven of morality). The Sophisticate, lamenting the demolition of the venerable old Sands Hotel, was hoping for a shot of retro-Vegas from the Flamingo. Alas, not much of the swinging 1960s remains in its generic marbled lobby (although the art nouveau flamingo lamps are kind of swell) -- but the place was opened in 1946 by Bugsy Siegel himself. That's something. His room is plain and comfortable. Where there is an ice bucket, there is hope.
Turbogirl's spacious corner room at Harrah's is an upgrade she artfully finagled by asking the check-in guy, "So, can I have an upgrade?" (It worked, it really did -- unless all the rooms are this size, with a big bouncy bed, casino-top views and a table long enough to stack her future winnings.)
But she has no time to hang in her room; she has to go shopping -- for a little something special to wear tonight at Rain, the hot nightclub at the Palms hotel where Britney Spears has been spotted. Bare Essentials, an off-Strip boutique, seems to attract a clientele that wears two sequins as a top and one for the bottom. She tries on a long red dress that would look great at the Oscars, if there was a Best Porn Actress category.
The Curmudgeon, now officially depressed, wanders past the neon-lit Chapel at Luxor (all major credit cards accepted, and conveniently located next to the food court) and ducks into the King Tut Tomb and Museum. She's surprised to find an intriguing exhibit featuring life-size reproductions of burial chambers and artifacts, Tut's sarcophagus and assorted statues, pottery and jewelry. Plus, it's quiet.
Refreshed, slightly, the Curmudgeon hops a cab to Caesars Palace and immediately wishes she was staying there. It's so appealingly retro, with genuine cigarette girls, and the guests seem younger and hipper. Svelte teens dressed in the uniform of the moment -- short pleated schoolgirl skirts with thigh-high boots -- stalk the Forum Shops, a mall with a Piazza Navona-style fountain and a cool faux-sky ceiling. A fancy clock store has a life-size Elvis statue in the entryway and a silver Porsche in the window. The Curmudgeon isn't sure what the connection is, but she realizes she is smiling.
Joe Vegas, though, isn't smiling. He's paid $9 to ride to the top of the Stratosphere, the hotel-casino marked by a 1,149-foot observation tower. He came for the High Roller, a coaster that wraps around the tower's pinnacle. But it's closed -- and no one can tell him why.
Vegas is about all kinds of thrills these days. Before the tower, Joe Vegas spent $29.99 to visit Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton, though he's no Trekkie. Other than Spock and other original characters, he recognized nothing, even as dozens of nerds took notes and plenty of pictures. Then, actors dressed as Klingons (he thinks) guided him from the bridge of the Enterprise to a jarring motion ride. By trip's end, he'd not only saved the universe but developed a whopping headache and queasy stomach.
For her thrill of the day, Turbogirl shoots a semiautomatic rifle at a target of Osama bin Laden. She pays $20 for the privilege at the Gun Store and Indoor Range on Tropicana Avenue. Dave, her instructor, presses his palm into her back -- to keep her from being pushed by the recoil -- as she aims. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! Even through her ear protectors, Turbogirl is stunned by the shattering blasts from her M16, until Dave tells her they came from the guy two booths over. Her own shots are three times as loud. Take that, Osama.
It's an uncivilized time for dinner, but the Sophisticate's ticket to the Rat Pack tribute at the Greek Isles Hotel includes the obligatory prime rib. He sits down in the plush dinner theater just in time to hear Buddy Hackett's recorded voice call down the spirits of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. And then there they are! A reasonable facsimile of the Rat Pack, swinging in tuxes, crooning the old songs and cracking vintage booze-and-broad jokes. (And a more va-va-va-voom "Marilyn" you'll never ogle.)