Saturday, April 22, 2006

My Las Vegas column

Here's the column about Las Vegas I wrote about.

A trip back to Las Vegas, my favorite fantasy city

It was in December of 1997 when I discovered Las Vegas, a fantasy world known for gambling, show girls and unfettered fun.

The occasion was a unique alignment of stars in which the Chief Joseph Days rodeo committee had been nominated as one of the top five in the small rodeo category and Miss Rodeo Oregon -- Teah Jones (now Evans) -- of Lostine was in contention for the nation’s top cowgirl title at the Miss Rodeo America contest. The awarding of the top rodeo award and the cowgirl pageant were both occurring during the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas, and the Chieftain decided to send me to document the events.

To say I was excited was an understatement -- in the previous 20 years the Chieftain had paid my way all the way to La Grande once or twice to cover a story.The newspaper got its money’s worth in terms of news coverage: a report and photos of the rodeo committee at the PRCA awards dinner (Sidney, Iowa, won the top award, I think) and the story of Teah’s second runner-up finish in a field of cowgirl beauties. I think I also wrote a kind of travelogue, talking about Las Vegas and the behind-the-scenes world of national rodeo.

But I also managed to squeeze in a ton of fun in America’s neon city, traveling up and down the famous Las Vegas Strip, fascinated with the fantasy-themed and the energy of the City that Never Sleeps. I think I at least poked my head into every casino.Along with the CJD committee, I stayed in The Orleans, then a relatively new casino/hotel off the Strip with several restaurants, bars, a bowling alley, a movie theater and a million slot machines. I pretty much got lost every day of my four-day stay -- inside the hotel. My room was a long way from the elevator, and I remember that it seemed a mile up that hall after I finally came home to roost after already walking a million miles in exploring Las Vegas.

I’d brought along at least $20 worth of nickels to gamble and lost them all in the city’s hungry video poker machines.

Anyway, at that time they were still promoting Las Vegas as a family vacation spot, and that summer I took my 14-year-old son there for a week’s vacation. By then I’d discovered a LV forum site on the Internet and thoroughly planned our vacation.

It was a week to remember. We stayed in the luxurious Egyptian-themed Luxor, went to the MGM and Circus Circus amusement parks, watched a jousting tournament at Excalibur and saw the magic of Lance Burton. We watched a free pirate ship battle at Treasure Island, caught strings of beads at the free Masquerade Parade at Rio and took a tour of Hoover Dam. We watched a lightning storm in the distant mountains and the lights of the Strip at night from the vantage point of the top of the Stratosphere. We went downtown to watch the Fremont Experience light show and had a free photo taken with $1 million dollars then displayed at Bunion’s Horseshoe casino. My favorite souvenir was a humorous pastel caricature by a New York New York artist of my son that he still hates.

I think I budgeted $10 a day for me to gamble and him to play arcade games, and I think I ended up giving him part of my share -- I was always too tired at the end of the day to slip out to visit those video poker machines after he was settled down for the night.After that memorable vacation, which also included my son’s first ride in an airplane, I told him that I would take him back to Las Vegas when he was 21.

Flash forward seven years, and we recently returned from our second trip to Las Vegas together. He had his 21st birthday in April while at advanced training for National Guard in Georgia.There have been a lot of changes in Las Vegas since the last time we were there together -- Bunion’s had gone bankrupt and the million dollars sold off, the pirate show now featured sexy girls (so I hear) and at least six major new hotels -- including Bellagio, Aladdin, Venetian and Paris -- had been built. Family vacations were no longer promoted, and the new slogan is “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

“Do you have every day planned like last time,” he asked on the plane. “No,” I said. “We’ll play it by ear this time.”
Though this was a G-rated vacation, relatively speaking, I’ve already used my allotted space so we’ll just leave what happened in Vegas in Vegas -- for now anyway.

I wrote a detailed trip report for my Las Vegas forum ( for the 1997 trip, but procastinated this time around and still don't have it done. Couldn't find photos of me and Matt on the computer when he was 14 (will look) so the photo above is of the Bellagio conservatory, decked out for autumn in October, 2006.

1 comment:

Lily and Addie make four said...

You and matt have the same shoes and the same glasses...