The notorious Hot Babes truck cruising the strip, again, in Vegas. Photo by Kristin Carlson.
The “Hot Babes Direct To You” truck passed me approximately 500 times during my recent six days on the Las Vegas strip. I was also offered numerous “Hot Babes To Your Room Within 20 Minutes” nudie cards block by block. There were billboards of men in G-strings titled “Ifs, Ands, Butts” and “Australia’s Hottest Imports.”
The sexy----or seedy---side of Las Vegas seems to be alive and well despite our tough economy.
Without condoning prostitution or human objectification, I will say it made me happy in some strange way to see lines of guys still enthusiastically snapping their call girl cards together, wearing sandwich boards and t-shirts with phone numbers of 696-9696. I also loved watching a renewed amount of drunken wedding parties posing in front of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign and running in and out of those kitschy streetside chapels stashed between coin-op laundromats and burger joints.
This is part of what Vegas has always been at heart---dirty, unruly, spontaneous, unusual---and it has been threatened in recent times by the advent of shopping mall overload and voracious family-focused marketing campaigns. In my past four or five spring trips of business conferencing there, I have been so disappointed with the sterility of my experience. I was surrounded by inordinate numbers of somewhat out-of-shape American families and their children on the streets, roaming shiny new mall behemoths in matching Disney World t-shirts and Keds or Crocs, walking through smoky casinos with two or three youngsters in tow for magic shows or the coaster at New York New York. It seemed each child hauled several huge bags from the nearby M&M’s store or World of Coca-Cola. I felt like I was in an expansive, overpriced Wal-Mart.
My heart broke a little each time I saw a new family-friendly air-conditioned shopping center and good clean consumerism take the place of a questionable and grungy old gambling establishment. The worst was when the famed Stardust sign came down and the iconic Stardust itself was imploded in early 2007. It was officially the youngest, undamaged high-rise ever to be demolished. Why? To be replaced by another block of tame new family-friendly condos. I prefer the idea of old Vegas: rebels, gambling, booze, showgirls, feathers, limos, diamonds, fat Elvis, neon chaser lights, insane fantastic architecture of a kind seen nowhere else in this country other than churches.
Stardust sign in the last year of its life. Photo by Kristin Carlson.
This spring, however, there were signs beyond the continued success of Hot Girls Direct that Sin City has been changing back to its historic albeit younger face. The most noticeable was that instead of families, the casinos and restaurants this trip were full of beautifully dressed twenty-somethings playing the tables and drinking the drinks. The girls wore strappy stilettos, eyeliner, and short skirts. The men wore suit jackets and even pocket squares. There were also considerable numbers of tourists from England, France, and Asia to be seen. People were playing poker with $100 chips. Myself, I won $40 off a $2 investment in the penny slots.
The Lance Burton magic show was another step back in time.
I don’t think Lance has changed the flavor of his music, lighting, onstage Corvette, or showgirls’ costumes too much since he started his Vegas act 1994. Good for him. The man has some amazing classic tricks---turning hankies and batons into flocks of live white doves, disappearing into the ceiling chandelier while his onstage body turns into a busty female dancer. In fact, part of the disappearing act involves grabbing a young child under 10 from the audience who is spirited away with the magician into the eaves over the balcony, and drops along with him from the swaying light fixture. A quirky juggler throws flaming knives off a unicycle less than 6 feet from the audience, and only inches from the highly flammable aging red velvet stage curtain. These are daring feats of physics and liability that most entertainers don’t tackle in today’s world. That is style, and that is what Vegas is supposed to be for.
Although my hair and clothes were smokier than in past trips---a factor I don’t usually enjoy---I have to admit that I left the city feeling good about its seeming creep of reclamation of character. Some of the current iconic establishments, including Fremont Street and the Bellagio, were once again filled with foot traffic, a new crop of bright-eyed young gamblers, grandmas playing Triple Sevens on lever-pull slot machines at 9am, and the buzzing bells of people winning pennies and dollars. Maybe Vegas will turn back into Vegas afterall.