There was something poetic in WINNING a trip to Vegas… especially when I’d never won anything in my life EVER.
It all began when my old friend Paul Price invited the hubby & me to a little party Lucky Brand Jeans was throwing to announce their newest fragrance collaboration with Liz Claiborne, Lucky No.6. Paul is a VP with the company and was being hospitable. It’s so seldom that I get to see my old friend. Therefore, I made certain to attend, even though it appeared to be a sales-related event, as opposed to an editorially driven one. Sales events are for the business side of a company and attract those on the sales/ buying/ advertising/money-crunching side of related businesses. They are traditionally DULL. Editorial parties are more glitzy, aimed at attracting celebrities and press. HUGE difference! However, because I wanted to see Paul and because this gathering was at a newish Asian-themed space that was only a couple of blocks from the PMc studio and I had wanted to check it out, off I went.
When I entered, I was given a little bracelet with a number on it. “This is for the drawing.” I was told. I gamely let them close it around my wrist, KNOWING that it was not going to amount to anything except shattered hopes and acute disappointment.
My anxiety level really climbed when the drawing began and the BEGINNING prizes were $500 Lucky Brand gift certificates. “Wow!” My hubby exclaimed, scurrying out to the front desk to get one for himself. He returned disappointed. “They will only give them to those who were invited, not their Plus One.” He reported.
Naturally, I did not win any of the gift certificates. Whatever came afterwards, I don’t remember. I do remember that, when they announced that there was a GRAND prize – a trip for two to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas- I barely glanced at the numbers on my wrist. “I don’t know why I’m even bothering to look.” I whispered to the hubby. “I never win ANYTHING!”
The numbers were read. I won! I jumped up, let out a whoop, accompanied by screams of, “Oh my god! It’s ME! It’s ME!” and scrambled to the front of the room. PMc photographer Clint Spaulding clicked as quickly as he could in between his laughter. Everyone was laughing because I was acting like such a ninny. “You were so embarrassing!” Paul told me later. “It was as if you were on “The Price is Right” and had just won a washer and dryer!”
Like I care.
As the plans were ironed out with the people from Liz Claiborne, it suddenly dawned on me how much this “prize” would cost US. They were paying for the plane fare (coach) and three nights at the Hard Rock (the cheapest room available). I became depressed. “Do you realize what’s going on here?” I asked my husband. “They are not even giving us expense money to get to and from the airports. We are not getting anything to spend on food or entertainment. Even being as careful as we can, this will cost us $1000, at least!”
I decided I did not want to go. I have been so spoiled over the last decades from being flown to exotic locales for deejaying and writing assignments and being completely taken care of by my hosts. Not only would I receive financial compensation but also, whoever had hired me and/or had flown a group of us to an event or locale would make certain that any downtime was filled with entertaining activities. Years of that sort of treatment makes one spoiled and lazy and overcome with a rotten sense of entitlement.
The unfortunate result is that I could not get excited about going on the cheap and having no per diems. Though it had been a very very long time since I had been to Vegas, I HAD been there. There are so many places I have not been, that I really could not accept that I had to pay to see something I had already seen…though in much earlier configurations. I had been there with my “high roller” parents when I was a kid and as a freshman at University of Arizona. I knew that it had gone through the same transformation as South Beach, so it was more a continuation of what Circus Circus had started (huge theme parks under one roof) than the old-line mid-century ranch modern I had first experienced with the Rat Pack infested Sands and Desert Inn.
However, my husband was so excited, he had already developed a new isometric exercise he was practicing around the apartment. It involved a continuous up and down motion with his right arm. I knew I was trapped. I knew I could not disappoint him. Reluctantly, I agreed to shut up and not give in to my decision to phone up the Claiborne representative and LOOK the gift horse in the mouth (because SOME alleged gift horses are of the TROJAN variety…as was the one in this case).
So… off we went.
My husband and I have vastly different attitudes towards air travel timing. I’m the type who likes to be early, get everything checked in, go through all the check points and then relax until it’s time to board. I actually like airports and can happily waste time going through the shops and eating food I would normally shun. I firmly believe that food eaten while on vacation does not count calorically. And, I am, probably, one of the few who actually misses airplane meals. Those gloppy sauces, air-bloated rolls and dried out brownie-ish desserts always fascinated me. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Midwest, where this was always the face of Haute Cuisine.
My husband, on the other hand, is never on time. When we attend events, we normally have to meet at the event rather than arrive together because we are usually coming from different locations. I have solved our timing differences in those cases by always putting his name on the list separately from mine. If he is not there by the time I arrive (he never is), I just remind the person at the front door that my husband is on his way, and I go inside and get on with it. It works out splendidly. Unfortunately, I had not figured out a way to allow for our time differences when traveling long distances… yet.
Sure enough, even though we kept to my time table until we went through the security check points, my husband decided we had LOTS of time before the plane took off and we should just take it easy, have breakfast and read the newspapers. The result was that they were literally starting to shut the door to the plane when I finally convinced him that it REALLY WAS TIME TO BOARD.
Squished into our seats, the flight was long, but fine. We arrived in Vegas nearly the same time we had left New York, due to the time difference. The weather was exactly like the weather in New York, due to all those gassy cows in the Amazon… or El Niño… or the approaching apocalypse.
The only negative was our taxi driver. She spent the entire trip to the hotel complaining about what bad tippers New Yorkers are and that we didn’t realize how little money Vegas cabbies make and that their entire take really depends on tips. The result was that we ended up being bullied into giving this woman twice what we would normally. Actually, I think we were just paying for the right to get as far away from her as possible.
As the hotel had warned us earlier, out rooms were not ready. In Vegas, check-in time is 3 PM because no one is expected to get up early, even when checking out. I can’t argue with that reasoning because I have never checked out of a hotel without asking for late checkout. It’s the only civilized way to end a vacation.
Because it wasn’t warm enough to sit by the pool… , which, except for the adjoining hot tub, wasn’t open anyway, we decided to spend the time finding some store my husband had read about. We both love to walk around and explore, so this was totally fine with us.
We walked in the opposite direction from The Strip. We walked and walked on a sidewalk along a highway, nearly being run down by various squat Latinos on bicycles. It seems that no one rides their bicycles on the streets of Vegas…not that I blame them. The main drags in Vegas are filled with flashy, loud and very expensive cars being driven at extremely fast speeds. It reminded me of what Woodward Ave. was like when I was growing up in Detroit (except for the expensive part). As we walked Vegas that weekend, seeing fender-benders was not uncommon. Considering the typical car involved in these mishaps, I would think that their insurance rates must be through the roof.
When we returned to the hotel and got up to our room, I had to laugh when I opened the drawn drapes. Our promised “mountain view” did, in fact, give a view of a mountain range… a DISTANT mountain range. What had been left out of the room’s panoramic description recited to us when we had registered was that it was the unsightly PARKING LOT directly below us that was our REAL view. Yech! I believe that’s what is called a sin of omission.
Another omission was the presence of the one person I knew at the Hard Rock. My old friend, Kerry Simon (AKA “The Rock & Roll Chef”) is a co-owner of the acclaimed restaurant that bears his name in the Hard Rock’s lobby, across from Nobu. Kerry had warned me that he might be in LA when we were in Vegas because he was overseeing the opening of a new restaurant there. Sure enough, we were informed he was not in town when we checked. “Do you know when he’s returning?” I asked. “Kerry always makes his own schedule.” We were told curtly. “We have no idea where he’ll be or when he’ll be there.” Ok…
Nevertheless, it was all up hill from then on. We had a GREAT time. We were so tired that first night, we just did a bit of the strip, then returned to the hotel, had a (VERY EXPENSIVE) burger and crashed.
Our plan was to not make plans except for one night. On that night, we wanted to attend something special. Our first choice was to see Prince perform at the Rio in a club that had been renamed the 3121 Club, in honor of his latest album. The only catch was that Prince is in residence only during weekends, so we assumed we would never be able to score tickets. We read that the shows were 2 ½ hours in length and were extraordinary. We had both seen Prince before, but this sounded too good to pass up. However, if we couldn’t get in, we would try for the Cirque du Soleil Beatles Show. Love the Beatles, but I really hate mime, even when it’s in the guise of acrobats, contortionists and top-level production values.
Happily, we were in Vegas during a slow weekend. We walked up to the 3121 Club’s box office and were able to score tickets just before, what we thought was, showtime. Hahaha. After all, this was VEGAS. There was no way that any show of worth was going to start at 10 PM! Once we got inside, we realized the showtime was actually 12:30 AM. Lucky for us, we were allowed to leave the club.
It is important to know that if you gamble in Vegas, you are plied with drinks and they don’t cost anything (except for the tips). Waitresses walk around with trays of bottled water and take orders, even from those playing the penny slots. Therefore, why would you waste 2 ½ hours paying for drinks in a club?
When we returned to the 3121 Club, the place was packed. It really didn’t matter because the beautiful ornate space was small and the stage was easy to view from anywhere. We were relegated to the dance floor because we paid $125 per ticket, which was for standing room. The tables that lined the two raised areas surrounding the dance floor were for those who wanted to spend in excess of $300 for dinner.
The show was absolutely outrageous. I’ve seen Prince at his best and at his worse. The former was when he performed his earliest shows at The Ritz in the 80’s, famously wearing a jockstrap; the latter was around 1987 during the two nights I deejayed his then current tour’s after parties. I had gone to the show on the second night and Prince was in a pissy mood about something that had gone on during rehearsal. He kind of sleepwalked through the performance and refused to play any guitar. The after party was awful too. As great as he had been on the first night, he did a complete 180 that night. The band had warned me before he arrived, telling me about his mood. It affected me directly when I put on a Rick James song and Prince walked over and dragged the needle across the record. You could hear the entire room audibly gasp. I got back at him (it was MY record, so how DARE he scratch it!) by putting on his favorite song by Parliament Funkadelic (he had excitably informed me of this the night before after I had put it on) and, then, walking out of the room. The record’s length was in excess of 20 minutes, so I just let the room wonder for nearly that long whether I was ever coming back. Of course I came back. The ploy worked because he behaved himself the remainder of the night.
Here I was, giving him another chance. I can always separate the person from their art. I’ve been a DJ and interviewer/writer for enough time to realize that some real jerks can be responsible for some fabulous entertainment. Besides, I had heard that he had found religion in the ensuing years, so I thought that, maybe, he was a bit more at peace with himself and his ego.
Whatever was the reason, the Prince performing in Vegas was all about pleasing the audience. For 2 ½ hours, he rarely left the stage. When he did (to make costume changes), you could still hear his voice emceeing the proceedings. But even when he wasn’t there, the performers he left behind on the stage were more than up to the task of keeping the excitement going. This backing group included Fred Wesley, the jazz music professor/ trombonist/ writer/ musical director/ arranger/ for everyone from Count Basie to P-Funk to De La Soul and, most importantly, James Brown, (Wesley wrote Brown’s “Hot Pants” and “The Payback”), the unreal saxophonist Maceo Parker (James Brown/ P-Funk/Bootsy), slap-bass pioneer Larry Graham (Sly & the Family Stone/Graham Central Station) and Prince’s infamous percussionist of yore, the still bodacious Sheila E. About the only people missing from the line-up were Wendy and Lisa. Maybe they were too busy soundtracking “Heroes”?
“Too many songs, too little time.” Was the announcement Prince yelled to start the show. How true. No matter how many hits and jams they grinded out, there were so many more missing. But, that’s not a criticism; merely an observation. Knowing Prince (which, despite his presence in two days of my life, I don’t literally), I’m sure the show changes with each performance. And, despite all the costume changes, not one of outfits was in any shade of purple! (“Purple Drought”?) Another surprise was his involvement with the audience. Not only did he engage in good-natured banter between some songs, but he also had a habit of running into the audience and dragging people back onto the stage. The playfulness was ever-present and the staging allowed you to not only see the band at all times, even when members were taking breaks in a loft they climbed up to on a spiral staircase, but you could always see Prince, which, considering his wee size, could have presented a problem.
It was nice that he showed his good humor. He had brought a smile to my face 20 years ago when I was told of his phone call to my bosses after the first night (and I thought ONLY night) I deejayed for him. He had someone place the call and tell Palladium’s manager to tell Steve Rubell that Prince wanted to book the club again that night for another private post-show party. Then, Prince got on the phone and told the club’s manager, “I want that disco jockey Anita again who played for me last night. One more thing: I know you meant respect with your food choices like that quiche, but we are Negroes and we like Negro food. So, tonight, could we have chicken and ribs and greens and food like that instead?”
But, back to the present…
The 3121 Club’s show ended at 3 AM. We were a couple of VERY happy customers. Therefore, I recommend that you check this engagement out if you’re planning a Vegas weekend. The chance to see Prince in such an intimate space for so many hours and with such an all-star line-up is not to be missed.
A weekend…or just three days anytime…is really the limit for Vegas. After that long, all the glitz and desperation gets boring and rather sad. It REALLY gets old having people CONSTANTLY approaching you with, “Could I ask you a question?” The questions are, “Where are you from?” and “Are you going to be in Vegas tomorrow night?” These hustlers are encountered on the streets and inside the malls in all of the hotels. They are like gnats! It finally got to the point where, whenever some smiley person would get in our faces and inquire, “May I ask you a question?”, we would just say, “New York and no!”, then walk very swiftly away. This did not make them happy.
And another tip:
Do not ever walk on the same side of the street as the Treasure Island Hotel. The reason for this warning is that they present little teaser shows outside throughout the night. Unfortunately, once the singers and dancers appear amongst the pirate ships, the sidewalks and bridges directly in front of the hotel become clogged with families. Because these typical families appear to consist of about ten kids each, complete with at least one double stroller, it is pure hell. There is no way to move. If you try to get around them, they get totally vicious and shove you. I swear, I thought I had been dropped into some class trip from hell until I realized that each “class” was, in actuality, ONE family! The solution: Stay on the opposite side of the strip. You can still hear the music (yech!), see the dancers (yech!) and view the fireworks (Ooh!).
The same goes for the infamous Dancing Waters. They are best viewed from a distance. The one time I found myself next to them, the crowds squished me in. When I decided to accept my fate, I was finally freed when an announcement came on that the waters were temporarily delayed because of the winds. However, I must say that a defining moment of my weekend was when I entered the strip one evening just as the waters came on and energetically gushed to Sinatra singing “Luck Be a Lady Tonight”. Perfect.
Almost perfect was what had transpired the morning we were going home. I thought all was well when my husband actually arrived in the lobby according to my timetable. I had preceded him because I had to check out since everything was in my name because I had been the winner of the trip. Ha. As he stood there grumbling about how early it was, he decided to hit the slots because he had not used up the amount the hotel gives players if they get one of these little cards that keeps track of your winnings (if there are any). These create points that can be redeemed for goods sold in the hotel. They also give you a credit to play with. My husband was determined not to leave without using up his credit. The clock was ticking.
My solution? I gave him his airplane ticket and told him I’d meet him at the airport… hopefully.
Of course, he skidded in at the last moment. Of course, he tried to rub that in (“See! I made it!”). I didn’t care. I was relaxed. And someone on the plane was nice enough to let us sit together.
We had such a great time, we are now booked for a return trip. Hell…it sure beats the Hamptons.