On our most recent trip to Las Vegas, Peter was dismayed to see the Sahara Hotel and Casino had shut down. It was yet another of the older Strip casino-hotels to close, as the town itself becomes nostalgic for the way things were. The relatively new Encore casino had a nightclub named Sinatra, but most of the showrooms in which he performed in Las Vegas no longer exist. Peter went so far to opine that it would be neat to jump in a time machine and visit the Vegas of the past.
I’m not sure I agree. Effectively, I’ve already been in that time machine and the Vegas that was, was an adults-only place. Today’s Vegas is far more mainstream, and fun for people of all ages, tastes, and money.
I first saw Las Vegas in 1980, when my mother and I crossed the country from San Diego to western Massachusetts to visit my cousin (once removed) Louise. On the way back, I convinced my mother to stop over in Las Vegas. I wanted to see Caesars Palace, which was the epitome of glamor to my teenage self, in no small part because it had recently been featured in a TV movie starring my favorite actor, Omar Sharif. (Yeah, that was atypical about me, but it sure beat swooning over Leif Garrett).
There was little I could do in Las Vegas. When I walked into Caesars Palace with my mother, a security guard shooed me out of the casino, directing me to walk on a pathway on the edge that made sure I didn’t go near any of the games. We could and did walk around the front, where I posed with my mother in front of one of the Roman statues:
The drive-up entrance to the casino was far more modest than it is today:
As viewed from Caesars Palace, the rest of the Strip was far smaller and less impressive than it is today. There’s no Venitian, Wynn, or Encore. Tom Jones? Didn’t he do a Prince cover?
My mother and I (always budget travellers) stayed right on the strip in a modest motel called the Tam O’Shanter.
I didn’t see Las Vegas again until 2002 when Peter’s parents moved to nearby Henderson, Nevada. It was dramatically different. Not only was it fresher and glitzier than it had been, all three generations could go out and have a fun time together. We looked at the lions at the MGM Grand, watched the 3D M&M experience in a small mall that had sprung up on the Strip, and watched the pirates fight at Treasure Island. We rode the gondolas at the Venetian and saw street performers put on free shows underneath a video canopy at Fremont Street. Back at Caesar’s Palace, we could go shopping and I had my picture taken with Caesar, Mark Anthony, Hannibal, and Cleopatra. We often had to walk through casinos to get to the entertainment, but it was ok to have children as long as they were moving in a direction.
But I suppose I can see some of the appeal of old Vegas. It was a time when adults had no qualms about segregating some forms of entertainment and their children. These days, even entertainment that ought to be restricted just isn’t. Go into an R-rated movie and you’re more likely than not to find an 8-year-old munching popcorn next to you as the actors on screen simulate a steamy sex scene. My friends threw an adults-only Halloween party, and I walked in to find a couple handing their toddler around for adoration to people in bondage gear. Honestly, people, I love my kids, but I don’t love yours, and I sure as hell don’t want them asking me to help them pull up their pants while I’m trying to play a poker game. Children just weren’t in the scene in 1980 Las Vegas, and while that limited its pull, it almost certainly had its own appeal in just that aspect.
These days there’s very little children may only experience upon reaching a certain age, and that’s only because of legal restrictions, not societal ones. And even then, it’s not necessarily something to look forward to: I don’t even know if my children will smoke, drink, gamble, or watch strippers. But if you want an environment that doesn’t have children in it, you almost always have to choose a place that specializes in one of the above vices.
In any case, thanks to the grandparents willing to do some babysitting, Peter took me to enjoy the glamor of Caesars Palace that I couldn’t experience in 1980. We dressed up, and went to the high-limit area, where I watched him play a few hands of baccarat between a dour Chinese man with a suitcase full of $100 bills, and a young millionaire from Arkansas. It was a lovely sociable experience, and we spent some of Peter’s winnings in a casino bar with silhouetted dancers and showy bartenders. So if you want the adult fun, modern Las Vegas will give it to you, too. But it’s got something for everyone now.