"This is extraordinary. Have you
ever been any place like this before?" Stuart asks the kids
over a hamburger.
Matthew pauses, thoughtfully dips a fat chip into a mammoth
bowl of ketchup, then replies seriously , "Yes, we absolutely
have. It's just like Burton in Kendal isn't it Dad?"
It's just like Burton in Kendal
A giant neon thermometer
reads ninety eight degrees. Black and leather clad Harley
riders hang out on the strip, barely dressed girls clinging
to their sweat soaked backs and silver machines. A multicoloured
neon sky-scape dominates the horizon, the Eiffel tower vying
for the tourist dollar with Venice and Aladdin's Palace.
Across the street, a state of the art roller coaster plummets
screaming pleasure seekers to the feet of the Statue Of
Liberty, before shooting them into a starless sky. Taxi's
speed past; itinerant billboards for erotica and exotica.
A cloying scent of hamburgers clings to the well heeled
and the greedy as warm pine air wafts from tropical gardens.
Tourists jostle on overcrowded intersections; ageing women
in low cut sequined tops gliding along the sidewalk, powered
by anticipation of glittering slots and lucky dollars. A
giggling mass of teenage girls, dipped in gold dust, ten
dollar jewels framing touched up hair and faces push through
the throng. They dream of meeting their prince, but may
end up settling for a tasteful Elvis. Out of the crowd a
wedding party emerges then disperses, the wilting bride
clutching wilted blooms, brushing past popcorn stuffed pensioners,
and on into Caesars Palace for a night of sex and Celine.
All-American men in shorts and cowboy hats with whiskey
on their breath leer after casino waitresses hurrying to
their night shift, American tan tights clinging to overweight
"Tell me Matthew," I say with some amusement, "In what way
is this like Burton in Kendal?" His memory of home has obviously
been distorted by time.
Anything goes in Vegas
My two sons sit either side of me,
enveloped in massive pure white bath towels, the Arabian
carpet in our Aladdin themed room providing a sumptuous
woven cushion. A long and energetic snorkelling session
in the bathtub has left the boys snug and sleepy, but not
yet ready to say goodnight to this buzzing desert city.
"What's the Eiffel Tower for Mum?" Matthew asks, gazing
at the impressive lookalike, conveniently stationed next
door in Paris. I think about it for a moment. Apart from
being a venue for wedding proposals, I'm not quite sure
what the point of it is. Our attention is arrested by an
explosion of light. The thousand dancing fountains of the
Bellagio Hotel begin their famous nightly routine, and we
have a birds eye view. The children dance around the room,
happily discarding towels, mirroring the fountains as they
kick and pirouette to a tune we can't hear through the solid
double glazing of our palace.
A thousand fountains dance outside
our hotel window. Every 15 minutes.
Stuart volunteers to babysit, and
I gratefully escape, pocketing a twenty dollar voucher for
the slots, compliments of the hotel. I wander through the
Arabian bazaar that surrounds our accommodation. Vast and
winding, the indoor complex comes complete with sky; a cloudless
evening light. I wait in one section for a promised rain
shower, which doesn't materialise. Then I take a walk past
heaving cafés and restaurants, busy coping with the evening
dinner rush. I skirt around fortune tellers reading paperback
novels, biding their time until the next client (no doubt
already foreseen). I wave away the shoe shiners who rush
forward to polish my world weary sandals, and march past
Gap Kids, DKNY and a variety of upmarket chain stores without
being tempted to buy. The whole experience is clean and
pleasant, so much easier than the hassle and bustle of a
foreign bazaar, with its' crowded littered walkways, rotten
smelling foods, oppressive heat and professional hustlers.
Eventually I come to a brightly lit casino.
An evening stroll in the bizarre
I draw in a deep breath as I enter
the flashing fairyland. It's like stepping into a vividly
remembered part of my childhood. Brought up near a seaside
town, I loved the pier entertainment, the amusements and
most of all the fruit machines, with their jingling bells,
blinking lights and tantalising promise of riches. A tingle
of childish excitement runs through my spine at the anticipation
of tiny copper cents showering into tinny metal trays. The
scale of this casino doesn't disappoint. It's mesmerising.
A thousand wheels whirr and blurr, all different, yet playing
the same game. But something isn't right, and I soon put
my finger on it. The place isn't loud enough. Waitresses
float quietly around like erotically dressed ghosts, their
trays of drinks wordlessly exchanged for tips. The punters
sit silent and stationary, moving only their arms in regular
rhythmic motions. Some push buttons, others insert notes,
one or two drag nervously on their waiting cigarettes, or
quaff a Margarita or a Bud light, their glittering dresses
reflected in the glass of the slots they are enslaved to.
Others are attached to their machines by a plastic coil,
as the slots gobble up credit on their gamblers store card.
Oversize bellies spill out over undersize jeans, while their
owners watch in dismay as last weeks wages disappear in
moments. I figure I have the stomach to become part of this
particular club, so I hitch up my lavalava over the pregnant
bump and make my way over to the change counter to present
my voucher to the cashier.
"You want to join the members club?" she says without looking
up. "You have a credit card and I.D?"
I'm startled by the proposition. "No, no, I don't want to
join any club. I just want the freebies on the voucher."
"To access the voucher you have to join the members club.
It allows you to play in any of the big four chains without
using cash. You put your members card in any machine and
it'll charge directly to your credit card account." I mumble
something about my credit card being in my room.
I shove a dollar note in a slot.
It comes right back out again. I put it in the other way
up. Again it's rejected. It's a conspiracy to make me join
Gamblers Associated. I wander round again instead. Things
have definitely changed in the gambling world since I gleefully
chucked my grannies pennies into the machines on New Brighton
pier. Coins aren't accepted here. Only dollar notes and
membership cards. There are no bells ringing to signify
a million dollar winner, no triumphant shouts of success,
and no jingling of winning coins. If you want to collect
your winnings, you press a button and the amount is printed
on a piece of paper and then presented to the cashier. Or
it goes straight to your credit card. Where's the fun in
that? I watch people playing lines of ten, chucking ten
dollars away in a single push of a button.
At the roulette and poker tables
it's much the same story; silent concentration and easy
loss. Broad shouldered guards stand unsmiling behind the
frontmen and women who spin the ball or split the deck.
It's slightly more upmarket than the slots; people are thin
or well dressed or Japanese. The women have expensive highlights,
and they sip on martini's or vodka tonics while their men
drink beer and both throw piles of pink and orange chips
onto red number seven or black thirty four. I love to play
roulette, but without any mates to egg me on, I am too shy
to sit at a table. I shuffle past each one, feeling sober
and pregnant, then order a diet coke at the bar. I feel
out of place, disconnected and tired. It's time to join
my family, get a good nights sleep, then hit 'Lost Vegas'
together in the morning. I make my way back to the Palace,
take the lift to the thirty fifth floor, and lie watching
the dancing fountains till I drift into a silent, alternative
dreamworld, where gambling is a noisy business, and I effortlessly
win a million dollars at the spin of a small metal ball.