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Vegas, in a blur.

I’ve been rolling around thoughts about Vegas, and it’s been difficult to make those thoughts gel into a coherent posting, because it was, well, kind of a blur.

There was good reason for this: I got 4 hours of sleep on Friday night, pulled a full day at the Collegiate Wushu Tournament, including the requisite raging after-party, and then got 5 1/2 hours of sleep on a *very* hard floor on Saturday night. By the time I drove back to Portland from Eugene, packed my stuff, and hopped on the plane to Vegas on Sunday evening, I was completely wiped out. I spent most of the flight napping fitfully.

…and then, I somehow found the stamina to get off the plane, dress myself up, and traipse around with Alicia until 5am, that same evening.

Alicia and I had a room at the Treasure Island, so we met up with Alyson and Carolyn and the two other friends sharing their room, and we went to the in-hotel club for some booty shakin’. The club had some tie-in with Ed Hardy that was equal parts appalling and amusing, but otherwise, it was fairly uneventful. Half of the other ladies in our group needed to be up at 6:30am for their textiles show, so after they went to bed, I went with the non-textiles-show contingent over to the Bellagio to roam around. It was certainly classier than the Treasure Island, and the blown glass artwork pieces throughout the hotel were as unique and gorgeous as I’d been told. We had a few drinks, and then tried out a club inside the Bellagio, and that made for a pretty amusing bit of people-watching.

One pattern did emerge over the weekend, as we observed and chatted with various people in the hotels and clubs: the vast majority of them were either from the Northwest, or had some very-close ties to it. We met people whose parents were from Portland, or who had their own homes in Seattle, or who came from towns near the Oregon/Washington border. I’m hard-pressed to think of a conversation where our origins came up and our temporary new friends didn’t have some connection to the Northwest. It was strangely comforting to find people who were at least of a similar mindset to mine, because many of the individuals roaming the streets of Vegas seemed almost alien in their conversations and behaviors.

On a less-encouraging note, I also experienced a crushing disappointment: after we returned to the Treasure Island, that first night, we met a dude there who was kind enough to buy each of us ladies a drink. At one point during our conversation, he mentioned that he’d been playing poker at a table with three Chinamen earlier, and he actually used the word “Chinamen.” So, of COURSE, I responded with the (to me) obvious movie reference: “Dude, ‘Chinaman’ is not the preferred nomenclature.” I waited for a laugh that never came: he completely missed that it was a Big Lebowski reference, and thought I was actually offended because he said, “Chinamen.” I kind of didn’t want to talk to him anymore after that.

Monday involved traipsing around at the Forum Shoppes for a bit, which felt more vast and endless than any mall I can recall having gone to.  I was amused at the “blue sky with clouds” treatment painted on the ceiling, which was not at all badly executed. It was more the fact that they’d painted that imagery above, presumably to create the bright, airy, and freeing feeling that comes with daylight and blue skies, and then paired it with dim and depressing shopping mall lighting.

Later in the evening, we biffed on over to the Mirage to have dinner and go to their nighclub, because we all had free passes. It’s very, very easy to get free passes to clubs in Vegas if you’re female: even just wandering the streets, you’ll likely be accosted by promoters who will give you more passes than you can possibly use, and who’ll instruct you to bring any and all of your female friends. The Mirage was, apparently, rumored to be the best of the choices we had available.

That plan? Uh, didn’t work out so well, because some quasi-famous DJ/rapper whom I don’t particularly care about was making an appearance that night. We stood in line for over an hour–very close to the front of said line, even–and watched various bouncers and staffers pace back and forth in front of us, and occasionally grant entry to some person or another who’d likely bribed their way in. Woooo, excitement. We gave up our spots in line, in favor of seeking out another club in the same hotel.

We found what we wanted, and it turned out to be the most enjoyable spot yet: they had karaoke, and when there weren’t singers lined up, the dance beats were awesome. We also befriended a guy, who was essentially Pretty Fly For A White Guy personified, and he won us over by boldly approaching us–a group of 5 girls, which would be enough to intimidate any male of the species–and simply chatting and dancing with us without a care in the world. He didn’t try anything skeevy or untoward with any of us, and he was completely unconcerned about whether or not his dance moves looked impressive or cool. He had a genuine enthusiasm for just making friends and grooving to good music that was incredibly honest and endearing.

We were all scheduled to fly home on Tuesday evening, and when we woke up that morning, most of the girls were tired and more interested in lounging by the not-terribly-warm pool. Alicia and I felt restless, however, and like we hadn’t experienced enough of the city, so we decided to take off on our own adventures. Our first stop was at Old Downtown, where we roamed the streets and checked out the old-school casinos that were prominent before the Strip took over. The Old Downtown area certainly has a dustier, more weathered feeling to it, and the streets were quiet. I had to wonder if the neighborhood would’ve given me a different impression if we’d gone there at night, when the visible age would be covered by darkness and drowned out by neon and flashing lights, but even then, it probably wouldn’t have had the hustle and bustle of night life on the Strip. There wasn’t a lot happening in the area, but we did make a point of braving the inside of the Golden Nugget, though, and finding their display for, yes, the world’s largest gold nugget.

The highlight of the trip came soon after, however: we wound up taking a trip across town to the Liberace Museum. There was a free shuttle bus to the museum, and it was empty aside from Alicia, myself, and two blue-haired old ladies. When we arrived, the Museum itself was at the far end of a deserted strip mall parking lot, and well away from the Strip and Old Downtown. The collection was impressive, once you went inside, though: there were several of Liberace’s spangly cars on display, along with many of his *gorgeous* pianos, a vast collection of his wacky rhinestone-encrusted outfits, and the world’s largest rhinestone, which was a thank-you gift from the Swarovski company to Liberace himself.

My vague recollections of what I’d picked up about Liberace through pop culture when I was a little kid could largely be summed up by saying, “Liberace wore a lot of shiny costumes, performed in some way or another, and led a strange lifestyle.” I’d always assumed that he’d made a name for himself through TV, and that most of it was built upon his being a Weird Person.  That weirdness was certainly a factor, too: the museum displayed videos of him flying onto stage on wires, giving over-the-top performances, and being generally flamboyant. I was briefly amazed that such an over-the-top character came to prominence, especially in the more-conservative times that came before I was born, but once I remembered that people like Lady Gaga exist, it was suddenly no longer shocking.

What I learned from the museum, however, was that he was not just an accomplished pianist, but something of a prodigy: he started playing at the age of 4, and earned a scholarship by the age of 7! He’d played at Carnegie Hall, earned half a dozen gold records in his lifetime, and he’d had a rich and extensive musical background before he ever made himself a presence on the boob tube. I was impressed, after hearing that, and it made me long for the days when being famous actually required having some sort of talent.

By the time we got back from the museum and had a bite to eat, it was time to fly home, after two nights and two days. I went into the trip with very little concept of what to expect, and no explicit goals or must-sees in my mind, and it was nice to just do things on the spur of the moment, and enjoy the ride. I didn’t fall in love with the place, by any means, and I don’t expect I ever would, but I did leave with a certain desire to go back again.

As I stepped on the plane, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that I’d seen the wrong side of Vegas. Gambling, glitz, nightclubs, and expensive drinks have never held a great deal of fascination for me, and that seemed like the sort of thing I could find anywhere. That part was only interesting because it was so far removed from how I usually spend my evenings; I’d much rather be hoisting a pint at a pub in jeans and a t-shirt, than clinking martinis at an upscale hotel bar filled with sequined and gilded patrons. Our Tuesday wanderings were a taste of the sort of thing I’d have loved to see more of: the history, the curiosities, the kitsch. Even catching Cirque du Soleil or seeing showgirls in feathered costumes would’ve felt more uniquely Vegas, and would have been more what I expected. Still, it was a brief stay in a world outside my own, so I wouldn’t take back the time I spent there.

And yes, I did play a slot machine. Two, in fact: Star Trek and Star Wars. I am weak and thoroughly geek.

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