Saturday, October 23, 2010

Vegas then, Vegas Now

About a month ago, my husband and I went to Vegas for a weekend to meet friends and partake in a hockey tradition called Frozen Fury. It's a pre-season game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Colorado Avalanche - a group gets together and converges there and make a mini-group-vacation out of the weekend.

I looked forward to going, not so much for the hockey, though I don't mind hockey at all, but because I have always loved the excitement of Vegas. The adult Disneyland, the forbidden fruit of gambling, the neon of the strip, the old school charm of downtown, intermingling with my own childhood memories of our first family trip to California when we made a side trip to Vegas, with our parents and grandparents. I even remember my grandmother loving the lights when we drove up the driveway to our hotel, and how we got upgraded from our reserved rooms (which which given away by mistake) to suites, and how that made us feel like VIPs. That was back when I was 11 or so and living in Vancouver.

Yes, that was the first time I went to Vegas - when I was only 11 or so, my siblings even younger, the adults taking turns to go on the casino floor to gamble, or to go to shows, while the kids got to go to Circus Circus and win armfuls of stuffed animals - really good ones - better than the ones at the local PNE (Vancouver's annual summer fair). Later times I went to Vegas including one time when I was already living in Los Angeles, and my grandmother came down with my two sisters and met me there - that was a whole lot of fun also, but it was also when I realized my grandmother wasn't doing that well - she took a lot of time to walk from one casino to another, and finally just felt too worn out and took to the bed one evening. But on a positive note, I do remember on that trip I played a lot of blackjack and won.

Another time I went to Vegas was after I graduated from my MBA program in 2001, and my dad and sister came down for my grad, and the day after we hopped into my car and drove out to Vegas and spent the night, again, terrific fun. I remember being so pooped after arriving there that night, but my sister had the energy to go out for a late night stroll on the strip.

Other positive memory was around the year 2006 or so when I worked for The Wine Country and bought wine for a couple of different departments - Germany/Austria and Southern Hemisphere. That meant that I had to taste wine from different vendors to choose what to stock in those departments and build departments that were attractive and made sense. There was a tasting presented by a group of Australian producers who were in the U.S. mostly to make a presentation to Robert Parker for the Wine Advocate - they had been on the east coast, and the importer was trying to schedule them to fly to LA for a tasting, but in the end could only arrange a tasting in Las Vegas. I was invited to the tasting with an offer to pay for the plane ticket if I chose to attend. I chose to attend! Booked the flight - a same day flight - flew to Vegas in the morning and flew back in the evening, as my husband opted not to come with, I opted not to stay the night, so it ended up being a single day event.

It was in the middle of August. It was 80 degrees in Los Angeles at the time, 100 or more in Vegas. I flew there without luggage, just my purse and a notebook I think, boarded a shuttle, surprised the shuttle driver with no luggage and tipped him anyway, got to Cesar's Palace, found the restaurant where the tasting was held, and found my way to the tasting room. Was faced with about 15 winemakers from Australia, all showing about 9 red wines each and 1 white wine. In August in Las Vegas. Everyone was dying for cold, crisp white wine, but there was about 8 of the those among 100 high alcohol robust Shiraz, Cabs, and Grenaches.

The tasting was good and a good deal of fun anyway. The people were terrific and I was happy and excited to be there, and still high from being flown over to Vegas for the day to attend a tasting. "This is my job!" I thought to myself, and the glamor of it extended to how I felt about Vegas.

After the tasting, even after spitting each wine, I was under the influence. There was a couple of hours to kill before catching my flight back to LA, so I headed to onto the strip to one of my favorite places to gamble, O'Shea's. There, I played $5 blackjack for an hour or so, winning money, and enjoying myself as I did so. Then I grabbed a shuttle to the airport, flew home, and closed another great visit to Vegas. My only regret is that I didn't push hubby to go with me and spend the night there.

Then in 2008, I went to Vegas with hubby for Frozen Fury for the first time. Drove with a friend at night and got there around 2 am as though we were characters in a movie. Had a great time again playing blackjack everywhere and I won money everywhere. Went to Lotus of Siam for the first time and bought everyone dinner along with a bottle of 07 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste and one of their bottles of single vineyard Donnhoff Spatlese after picking up my jaw looking at Bank's awesome wine list (about 10 pages of German wines, maybe even more, on Sommelier Bank's amazing list - a must-see if you haven't seen it). Terrific wines, delicious food, fantastic pairing.... and my friends liked it too... Great times, even though this was the fall of 2008 and Vegas already showed that look about it that it was falling into recessionary times. The bon temps were not rolling so much; tables were only half open and the dealers were looking a little more glum than usual.

Fast forward to October 2010 - Frozen Fury 2010 - first off, the friends and company and hockey were terrific. I wouldn't have changed a thing here. But the town, it has gone to hell. Or, I my tastes have changed. Or both. Maybe gambling doesn't excite me as much now that I'm in full time sales where every day my work is a gamble, and mostly, I win, whereas in a Vegas casino, forget about it. I could swear that in the old days it was so much easier to win in Vegas - it was like they wanted you to win there, so you would love being there and come back - but now, they want you to lose it now, lose it large, lose it fast, and don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.
The gambling is what is supposed to be "the thing" in Vegas - it is now horrible. Minimums are high. Dealers are unenthused. They are obviously not making much money, that tells me. When dealers are making money, they are happy, they are chatty, they make the whole experience fun, and then they get tipped more. This must not be what is going on. The whole gambling experience there is now very dreary and depressing. At least that was my experience.

The skank factor is way up. Dancing girls in skivvies are the biggest asset now in Vegas, not good solid entertain or fun gambling, but young girls in stripper costumes pretending to strip or pole dance everywhere - in gambling pits, on tables in restaurants, you name it. Perhaps I'm old or a prude, but it's not my cup of tea.

Service - the absence of this in a tourist town is striking. The staff are clueless, not interested in helping, give you the feeling of trying to rip you off, and do not make you feel like you're on vacation. Pass. I can go to Santa Ynez or Paso Robles and feel like queen for a weekend in a small inn, dine in small cozy restaurants and go wine tasting, and feel like I'm on a real vacation instead of constantly battling with employees who are clearly hurting and being screwed over by an overzealous, awful management company in a town that's going to pot.

I could go on. I looked at condos in this town because of the idea of investment property. You can buy a beautiful almost new condo in this town for less than $200,000 (unheard of in LA) but it is in a virtually empty building where no one else hardly lives, and the management fee for month is close to $900/mo. Pass.

The soul and all that was good to me about Vegas has been sucked out of the place, and replaced with a skeleton. A blogger that I read and enjoy called Vegas Rex, who has that dark sense of humor I enjoy in writing, said something like Vegas used to be the spoiled girl who had daddy's platinum credit card; now she is some troubled girl who ran away from home and is turning tricks behind the truck stop. Distrurbing reference, but totally agree. Las Vegas used to give me an image and idea of fun, partying, gambling, short-term excess; now it has left me wanting to avoid it for the forseeable future.

Give me San Francisco, Vancouver, Napa, Santa Ynez, Paso Robles, any of these places for a weekend instead.
P.S. I did go to a Van Morrison concert and that was fun. Van Morrison singing Brown Eyed Girl - I didn't think I would get to see that in my lifetime, but I did!

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