Ode to Vegas
By Denny Stein
“Wanna go to Vegas?!” It’s an invitation I dread. I don’t gamble, smoke or drink. I don’t much care for crowds, noisy drunks, sleazy “girly ad” vendors, loud blaring music, or scantily clad Midwesterners. But I’m a good sport, and if you’re going to a convention, or a pool tournament, I’ll go along and find something to amuse me. Honest.
First, let’s save some money. TIP: On-line deals are everywhere for Vegas. The Trump International Hotel Las Vegas had a special for $129 a night. Southwest Airlines had $46 one-way tickets available. Fox Rent a Car is a local (western) company that has much better rates than the big name auto rental companies. Las Vegas is not a cheap proposition, but you can make a dent in it.
The Trump International Hotel is somewhat of an anomaly. Just off the Strip, on Fashion Show Drive, it is a non-smoking, no casino hotel. Already I’m pleased. You can walk to the Strip, take the bus, the monorail, or taxis to enjoy your individual vices, see a show, or just explore, but when you get back, the focus is on your comfort. The room decor at the Trump is tasteful and calm; the furniture made with quality materials, the color scheme subdued browns, whites and black, with touches of gold. The bed was comfortable, made up with high quality linens, the couch and chairs inviting. Our windows looked out onto highway, sky and mountains, and a large billboard featuring a woman’s generous torso that echoed the hills. If you looked to the right the Vegas Strip curved around and the Riviera, Circus Circus and the Stratosphere hove into view. We had a refrigerator, stove and bar. TIP: Stay somewhere really nice, pop out and get your own cereal, milk, peanut butter and jelly, tuna and mayo, crackers and cheese. If you can’t go all out, then live high, dine low. Room service is pricey.
But I have to admit that the lobby level DJT Restaurant was lovely. It is small with curved booths around a central pier. Set into the walls are semi-private tables, much like you’d find in middle eastern bistros. Evidently from the laughter emanating from behind another wall, there were also private dining areas. The wait staff was friendly and helpful, especially welcome to a solo diner who requests a light dinner and a list of the ingredients. Fresh salmon and delicate scallops, accompanied by a croquette of beet rissoto proved to be not only light but attractively plated and delicious.
TIP: Remember the net! The Spa at Trump had a great package deal on-line, “The Heart of Trump,” for a facial, a massage and a pedicure. Included in the package price was a donation to the American heart Association and a CD of the music heard in the spa. As my erstwhile traveling companion and pool player left for the tournaments, I donned my complimentary thick fluffy robe and “elevatored” down 46 floors to the spa. It was delicious. Sparkling clean, sparkling tiles and glass, icy carafes of water with lemon or cucumber, exotic teas, apples and bananas are available in the comfortable lounge area. My spa services were provided by Joanne, Tricia and April. Each woman was talented, professional, and friendly and had that invaluable sense of when to chat and when to just let you drift away on your own thoughts. And no one pressured me to buy products that I didn’t want. “The Heart of Trump” may be an oxymoron, but the spa and its staff won my heart. I went back to my room absolutely refreshed.
There is a Resort Fee at the Trump, but surprisingly it was totally reasonable. $19.95 a day covered free valet parking, high speed Wi-Fi, use of the spotless Fitness Center, plenty of bottled water, daily newspapers, a 10% hotel store discount, a $25 spa discount, printing of faxes and your boarding pass, and a courtesy shuttle to Caesar’s Palace and The Wynn. Plus, they offered late checkout. TIP: The Trump welcomes dogs, for a fee, and though we left our little one at home, there were several to be seen in line to check-in or going out for a walk.
Semi-eager to try something new, I had used a social networking coupon site to see what else Las Vegas offered. I found a Groupon.com deal for “Stripper 101, How to Learn to Pole Dance!” at Planet Hollywood’s V Theater. And it was half off. So Friday afternoon I took my trepidatious little old lady self over there, checked in, and waited at the tiny stripper bar next to the theatre. It really wasn’t all that scary, four TV screens flickered silently with basketball, motocross, and Jackass shows, one firefighter/stripper pole stood empty on a small platform in the center, and people were eating bar food at several tables. Groups of “students” signed in and had their picture taken around a leopard print covered chair and brass pole, with the promise of a print, $10, available after the class. Dress ranged from sensible to wannabe stripper, but the majority, young and old, wore sneakers, tees or tank tops, and a few sported feather boas. There were ladies from Wisconsin “looking for something new to do,” young women on pre-marital sprees, and “why not?!” girls, all nervous but game for some Las Vegas fun.
And it was fun. Stripper 101 is really an interactive show, and the instructor, Jada, was a consummate entertainer. She had a great spiel, a great body, was funny, encouraging and kind. She’d been stripping for ten years, and instructing here for three; she was married (no children) and worked about three jobs to make ends meet. We were ushered into a small room with about ten ceiling to floor poles, plenty of leopard print chairs, black and red décor and a roaring fire at one end, sexy dance music pulsed through the room, and hips couldn’t help but sway. The atmosphere was almost seductive.
First lesson: Lap Dancing. I learned new meanings for “cookie” and “piñata,” and secret insider tips: there’s no touching in lap dancing, “don’t grind, just brush,” keep balanced or you’ll fall down, and if falling forward, re-balance while picking up the tips off the floor. There was a lot of laughter. Jada, who had the legs, strength and balance of an athlete, said it was much easier to dance in front of women, since they understood the skill and power that were needed, but it was easier to take money from men. Trying to pole dance was really difficult unless you were in great shape (and I don’t mean curvaceous). Wrapping legs, arms and torso around the pole, jumping up and sliding down, or stretching sexily without throwing out a vital joint would take daily practice. By the time the class ended, with Jada hanging upside down by her legs from the pole, everyone was breathless, envious, and enlightened. The last step was your Official Stripper License, with your own stripper name. Mine reads: “This is to certify that Botoxxia has completed Stripper 101,” and is signed by Jada. I think I’ll frame it next to my law degree.
Las Vegas, though, is usually about being in the audience, not on stage. The best show in Vegas, for my money, is Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio. Incorporating all the mystery and adventure of its traveling shows (see the review of Quidam in the March 22, 2011 edition), “O” adds the primal depth of water. At center stage lies a large pool out of which swim, float and crawl the dreams, hopes and nightmares of humanity. These painted, striped, bejeweled characters fly through the air and traverse mist-shrouded plains. They defy the gravities of earth, sea and imagination. To see a preview of the spectacular “O” go to the Cirque website, http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/o. Then go to Las Vegas and drown yourself in the drumbeats and swirling colors of “O” up close.
If you look up the Trump International Las Vegas Hotel, ignore the ads showing women who are preternaturally blonde and pathologically thin accompanied by a man with dark looks, greasy hair and a five o’clock shadow. The lobby will be filled instead with conventioneers discussing large earth moving equipment, teen-age prom queens, and the ubiquitous families from Wisconsin or North Carolina. The folks who work at the Trump will treat you like royalty at home, answer your questions, call your cabs, give you extra towels, and chat about your day. There was a certain quality about their niceness that made it genuine, and the hotel comfortable, easy to enjoy. As Carlos and Roger, working the nightshift, told me, “We enjoy having guests.” So go to Vegas, it can be affordable, entertaining and harmless. TIP: What happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas because it all makes a great story.