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Deal Us In

"This is as close as you can get to what Vegas was like 30 years ago," says maitre d' Pepe Gonzalez, who spent almost three decades at the old Desert Inn. "The small room, the intimacy with the audience. Nowadays everybody's hanging from a trapeze."

Well, not everybody. It may have been a few years since Gladys Knight hopped her midnight train to Georgia, but the lady still knows how to put on a show. Over at the Flamingo, where the Curmudgeon warily joins a front-row table already filled with female R&B fans, the Pipless Knight is looking fabulous in a Japanese silk top, white flowy pants and lots of bling. By the end, the audience is shouting "Tell it, sister!" -- it's part concert, part revival meeting. This communal table thing is fun after all, the Curmudgeon realizes. It's like a girlfriends' night out.

Sights of Las Vegas include the Eiffel Tower at the Paris casino, one of many themed resorts. (Las Vegas News Bureau/lvcva)

_____Las Vegas_____
11 Ways to Cut Costs, From Free Rides to Cheap Shows (The Washington Post, May 2, 2004)
A Warren of Buffets: 8 Places to Fill Your Plate. And Fill It Again. (The Washington Post, May 2, 2004)
Booking a Room in Las Vegas (The Washington Post, May 2, 2004)
Day Trips: It's Only Natural (The Washington Post, May 2, 2004)
Vegas Show-O-Matic (pdf)
Museum-O-Matic (pdf)

Girlfriends, fiancees -- Vegas is just full of love. The Little Church of the West is positively overrun with the recently betrothed. As Turbogirl walks by, a guest named Ron invites her to be his date at the ceremony (Can she be ready in three minutes? Or at least ditch the soda can?) and she gladly accepts. The chapel is tiny, and the ceremony is over almost before it begins. With a click-click of the camera and a clap-clap from the guests, the bride and groom are down the aisle, as the next happy couple queues up.

10 p.m.

The Curmudgeon and Joe Vegas meet at Luxor, where they've snagged second-row seats for Blue Man Group. They're told to put on plastic rain ponchos -- not a good sign. But the Blue Men, a trio of cobalt-hued, kettle-drum-beating, paint-spattering, Twinkie-slinging performance artists, turn out to be smart and subversive -- and very, very funny. The finale is an avalanche of paper that rolls from the back of the audience to the front, leaving them momentarily buried above their heads.

Just across the Strip, the Sophisticate maintains his good-old-days buzz at the Tropicana's Folies Bergere, an R-rated feathers-and-flesh revue that has been keeping showgirls fully employed and semi-dressed since 1959. The show is an extravagant appreciation of women through the decades. (It turns out that whatever the era, American women were at their best in towering feather headdresses with bare breasts.) The Sophisticate toasts every leggy doll and even finds himself cheering and hooting for Wally Eastwood, a juggling comedian. He recovers some of his Dino cool in time to settle in for a long and losing run of blackjack at the Flamingo. "Hit me, baby," he says to the startled croupier.

10:45 p.m.

Even at this "early" hour, a long line has formed to get into Rain. But Turbogirl -- and now Turboboy, a friend who has joined her from L.A. -- are VIPs tonight, having bought passes online that let them cut to the front. She gets the nod from the black-clad bouncer and enters, ready to be bowled over by this temple of hipness and finds . . . guys in Gap attire? Squealing girls fresh from pledging? Turbogirl and friend are deeply unimpressed. They leave, wondering even more so about Britney's taste in music.

After the Rain letdown, they find the nearby outdoor lounge by the pool quite chill -- in that Next Generation Sinatra kind of way. The music is cool-cat mellow and the Pee Wee Playhouse furniture fashionably uncomfortable.

SUNDAY, 3:20 a.m.

Joe Vegas has been working the Strip. One by one, he hits the big ones. At the MGM Grand, the party is going strong at Studio 54 (maybe the Beautiful People waiting in line to get in were more Beautiful earlier in the evening). At Paris, he watches a bachelorette party slowly disintegrate around the penny slots. When one of the bridesmaids accidentally knocks over the bride's beer, screaming ensues, then claws. After the slapping begins, guards escort the group to the street, where they belong.

He returns to Circus Circus, finding it freakishly active. There are still kids trolling the aisles. He stops for dinner -- at the Krispy Kreme in the casino, where he buys two pumpkin spice donuts and takes them to his room.

11 a.m.

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