There is an undeniable allure that has brought my wife and I to Las Vegas again. With temperatures of over 110 degrees in late July, we have spent three nights there, to enjoy a little eating, shopping, and concert hopping. Not being party animals or gambling tycoons, nonetheless our itinerary incorporated an ambitious agenda of activities for daily enjoyment. These endeavors included dining/window shopping at Caesar’s luxurious, Forum Shops, a nature photo breather amidst the desert environs of the Mount Charleston resort, and a memorable concert of a legendary rock band accompanied by the Friday night freak show of the Fremont Street Experience.
On the first night, while we hesitated to go outside of our Harrahs cocoon of hospitality, we also found our central location ideal for visiting nearby attractions. Exceeding our daily budget, we splurged on an amazing Italian dinner at Carmine’s in the Caesar Forum indoor mall. It was obvious from the sumptuous ambience and quality service there, we had stepped into the sophisticated life of New York luxury. Perusing the glamorous but pricey aisles of upscale clothing and accessories shops after dinner, we soon realized our fantasy of Las Vegas escape had just begun.
Finding affordable dining became a major wake up call for us now. Venturing outside the strip on the second day, we found a less pretentious place to live. Suburban Vegas distanced us now from tourist glamour madness, enabling us to find inexpensive diners and well stocked supermarkets to manage our daily eating regimen. The dark side of Vegas living away from the strip, however, became obvious as we drove through a tedium of endless, urban sprawl surroundings teeming with homeless/drifter people congregating on street corners. It was clear to me then that the image of Las Vegas as place to strike it rich was very misleading.
On our previous visits to Las Vegas, we had always found its location ideal for outdoor relaxation in backcountry settings. While many tourists to Vegas would opt to book exorbitantly priced tours to the Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam, we elected to begin our third day to independently revisit a less ambitious respite from this urban chaos; Mount Charleston. Accessibly located northwest of the city, the appearance of Joshua tree groves and steeply reddish canyons on our leisurely drive up to the 8,000 feet summit as always did not disappoint. Enjoying the cooler confines of eighty degrees now at the mountain lodge, we ate breakfast in peaceful bliss over a spectacular panorama of mountain peaks, overlooking the arid Mojave Desert expanse below.
For the main event portion of our third day visit, we chose to attend the 40th anniversary concert of Boston in the Fremont Street section of the city. Concerns for sitting three hours in the 100 degree heat of the Las Vegas Outdoor Event Center subsided quickly as this iconic, classic rock band took the stage at dusk. Employing multiple guitar harmonies, impeccable vocal riffs and a mesmerizing backdrop of space age visuals, Boston rose to the occasion with a memorable set list of past hits recorded.
As the stars shone brightly for us, on this clear, Friday night, the fun would continue for us after the concert at the adjacent, Fremont Street Experience. Amidst the allure of laser light shows, overhead, zip-line daredevils, and bizarre, costume sightings, we curiously strolled under the famed canopy of “Old Vegas” past midnight. Picture a Bon Jovi video projecting overhead with a woman singing, who wears a Tarzan suit, with bosoms bared to all and you might have had an accurate picture of the weirdness we experienced then.
“What happens in Las Vegas stays in Vegas” is the image of popular belief, as the famous saying goes. It is not for this traveler, however, that one could make that assumption, In the brief span of three days, I have witnessed the contradictions of my own life, alternating between an self- centered ambition to acquire more material possessions in the future or a new paradigm of zen-like pursuit of an inner satisfaction of the present moment. As I resign myself to a new life of moderation in retirement, Las Vegas will continue to provide the ultimate test of my will to transition from the excesses of my ego centered past.