Foreword by Stan Lerner: Reading Mark’s post I could not help but to think back to my first college trip to Las Vegas, which was so good I actually can’t remember it. Subsequently, Vegas became the place of some of my most illicit behavior and “Night Tribe” one of my best live shows. I hope Mark and friends keep going back because, like a fine bottle of wine, Vegas really does get better with age!
Nearly everyone in Los Angeles has had his or her Vegas experience. Every time we go back, each one of us tries desperately to live up to, or rather, relive that one experience that stands above the rest. Well, I just had mine last weekend, and part of me knows that reliving this one would be iniquitous.
I packed my bags Friday morning and left about three hours later than I wanted to. Twenty of my closest friends and I caravanned up the 15, stopped at the In-N-Out in Barstow, and checked in at The Venetian roughly four hours later.
When you walk into The Venetian, a wave of pumped-in grandma perfume hits your nose and waters your eyes. You are immediately stained with faux-everything: Faux-smells, faux-Venice, faux-gondolas, faux-jackpots, faux-women. Fake pleasure threatens your every move, every brain signal, and eventually your wallet. Yet, here with what turned out to be 50 other fraternity brothers and their dates for our annual Formal extravaganza, I knew I was in good company to thwart the bashings of a town that used to be (or is it still?) run by the Mob. Lllllleeet’s get ready to RUMBLE!
Round 1: Dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio. $25 dollar entrees sitting outside the patio of a fake Venetian square didn’t put me in good position. A Lebanese waiter approached our table and demanded we look at HIS choices on the wine list. I opted for a glass of Fat Tire and thought I had him beat. I proceeded to order the Tortellini Pesto and Pea dish while my date ordered a hearty Fettuccini with Beef. BAM! A hard punch in the jaw as the waiter put down in front of me six lonely tortellini pieces and a teaspoon of peas. Way to get a bang for your buck, Mark. Hers wasn’t great either, but I proceeded to scarf down the tiny bit she graciously left for me as we left hungrier than we came…Point: Vegas. (By the way, waiters suck in Vegas.)
Round 2: TAO Club at The Venetian. Thanks to my roommate’s connections, a handful of us pass the line that wraps around the mezzanine and get into Tao for free. We headed past the first and second floor restaurant levels; passing the biggest Buddha statue I have ever seen. The third floor was much bigger than expected, as a cordial bouncer let us through. Getting into the dance room, we were greeted by two dancers dressed in something other than clothes dancing in the most suggestive of ways. The drinks were strong, maybe too strong, and the ice glowed blue. My date was thoroughly amused. However, about two hours into our adventure, we got bored and went looking for something better. I am quietly proud of myself for feeling this way…Point: Mark.
Round 3: Playboy Club at The Palms. Thanks to another friend’s connections, a handful of us pass the line that raps around the lobby and get into Playboy for, you guessed it, free. An elevator led us to the top floor. Upon exiting the elevator, we were in club heaven. Three of us ordered a shot of absinthe and proceeded to have the time of our lives in lucid drunkenness. Some Playboy bunnies walked the floors while others dealt blackjack tables with $50 buy-ins. The view of the Strip was impeccable and the eclectic music playing on the speaker systems and on the dance floor was the perfect metaphor for what the club had to offer. However, nothing that the club offered provided me with the experience of a lifetime.
One of my friends (let’s call him Jim) came to Vegas stud. In fact, he was one of maybe two fraternity brothers who came here stud. Lucky him. Jim took the drinks as they came at him, along with the women too. While a few of us were tipping a bunny to give him a good time at the club, a 300-pound monster of a woman slipped her backside to Jim’s front side and gave him the ride of his life. He took it in stride and the pictures I got of it provide me the pleasure of his pain. However, he got to dance with the bunny too. And part of me feels that it wasn’t because I talked her into doing it. Way to go Jim. Thank you for letting me live vicariously through you…Point: Mark.
Round 4: Formal at The Palms. The men wore tuxes, the women wore whatever. The open bar we could afford was abysmal and everyone was way too emotional. When you are having the time of your life for three days, a low point must play in somewhere. This is where it played. Women were crying over stupid fights they were picking with their dates, the DJ was jacked up on something, and the penthouse suite was taking a beating for it. A destroyed Jacuzzi and a broken glass door had us out of The Palms by 2:00am. This was much shorter than the 4:00am adventure we had the night before and I was much more sober because the bar ran out of cheap vodka. The cab line was way too long and I couldn’t get my date home fast enough. However, looking back at this, I wouldn’t have wanted my “downer” time in Vegas any other way…Point: tie.
Round 5: Checkout. Not only was I reeling from a completely unnecessary hangover, but the wounds from the night before still hadn’t healed. I went down to the lobby Coffee Bean in my pajamas, hoping to wake up for a four-hour car ride back home. I was greeted by three other friends looking to do the same thing. Our faces said it all. The saggy eyes and droopy shoulders said we all had a rough night and this morning wasn’t any easier. Being with good company, my $8.00 cappuccino went down much smoother than I had anticipated. I got dressed and checked out before I realized I hadn’t spent a dime gambling in Vegas! One of my buddies won $400. Another had won $4,000! Where’s my dough? I felt like it was spent on over-priced food and one too many drinks. I decided to shoot for the moon and put $20 into a Video Poker Machine. In five minutes, I turned it into $65 and walked to the valet with a smile on my face. My date and I boarded the 15 Freeway with a chip on our shoulder, mixed emotions and all…Point: Mark.
To sum up, Vegas is full of bullshit. That’s what Vegas is about and exploiting its fake winnings and fake décor are what it’s all about. However, doing Vegas right isn’t about going to the right clubs or seeing the right shows or eating the right food. It’s about being in good company. What I remember from the Playboy Club wasn’t a single bunny, but a 300-pound woman from who knows where freaking on my friend Jim. I don’t remember why we were all fighting with each other on formal night, but I know we are all closer for being in it together. Coming back to L.A. where downtown doesn’t grow in an environment of aloofness and independency, I realize that in order to do L.A. right, we must do it together. So let’s all go to Crocker Club, and pay waaaaay too much for drinks, together. Point: L.A.