Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vegas Baby! Part II

In Part I of my Vegas column, my girlfriend and I arrived in Las Vegas, explored many casinos, and ended our night with Penn & Teller.

On the Sunday morning of our stay, we decided to begin the day with a traditional Vegas-style breakfast buffet in The Riviera where we were staying. There are often long lines at buffets in Vegas, which are not as cheap as you'd think. You have to go out of the way to find a really cheap one, and then you'll probably be hit with hidden fees and add-ons etc. Anyway, the Sunday brunch buffet at The Riviera was OK, though it's tempting to spend too much time eating just to make sure you get your money's worth. We stuffed ourselves and then started on our way to The Gun Store.

The Gun Store is a gun store in Las Vegas that boasts an indoor firing range where tourists can shoot a wide variety of machine guns. They have many rental packages that would allow you to shoot a combination of guns for a set price.

We took the monorail to the MGM Grand and then walked to the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. ("The Strip") and Tropicana Ave. The intersections along the Strip in Vegas are designed with overpasses so the authorities do not have to scrape clueless or drunk tourists off of the pavement every day. Like New York's streets, the tourist-heavy overpasses are populated with homeless people begging for money with cardboard signs, wanna-be rapper street hoodlums trying to hawk their demo CDs for "donations," and legit street performers.

At the bus stop, and older man in a tuxedo waited with us with a luggage carrier. We asked him how much the buses cost and struck up a conversation with him. He told us that he was a magician and performs "wherever they will let me." We told him we were headed to The Gun Store and he told us that we were going to see a side of Las Vegas that tourists never see. He said we'd see husbands selling their wives on the street into sexual slavery and all kinds of homeless. We did see at least one homeless person among the trampled people beyond the world of the casinos, and what I've heard from others who have been or lived in Las Vegas is that much of it is a wasteland of meth-heads and Mexicans. There is plenty of desert and run-down looking areas, but we did not see the white trash purgatory we had been promised.

It did not take us much time to get to The Gun Store. It is a plain building with a small parking lot on a street that has apartment complexes on one side and auto body shops and chain restaurants on the other. The Gun Store has an indoor shooting range where people can shoot all kinds of guns as well as an actual gun store where you can buy a gun or other firearms-related items. When we got there, the place was packed. Tourists from all over America long to shoot big guns while they're in Vegas, and The Gun Store has tapped this market with relish. Business was booming. I signed up to shoot an AK-47 and an M249 Saw and my girlfriend got the "Women's package" that for her consisted of a pink AK-47 with a 'Hello Kitty' sticker on it and a handgun. Slender women worked the cash registers, though I did catch a glimpse of one girl loading bullets into a magazine in a back room. Men in tactical pants and t-shirts, all of them armed with handguns, took customers and guns back and forth to the inside shooting range. There was a jovial atmosphere there- one group of men made one of their number wear a women's pink Gun Store tank top- and things moved quickly considering how crowded it was.

My girlfriend got to shoot a handgun and the special women's AK; I shot a regular AK and an M249 Saw. The Saw makes a great roaring sound and you can hear and feel it when you're waiting on the other side of the double bulletproof glass. I had my photo taken with the Saw and sent it to a few people, including my brother, a former Marine. "The M249 Saw; I carried that pig for a whole year. Enjoy," he texted me, following it up with "The only good thing to ever come out of France."

After the Gun Store we caught another bus back to The Strip and made our way north, making a point to walk through The Paris and The Flamingo. There were some things in Las Vegas that we just didn't do because they seemed too crowded and too expensive to be much fun. Riding the $14 roller-coaster in New York, N.Y. and spending about $18 to go to the top of the faux Eiffel Tower at The Paris were among them.

The Bradley Ogden restaurant in Caesar's Palace was where my girlfriend, a very knowledgeable yet non-obnoxious organic food enthusiast, decided we would go for a meal at a nice restaurant. She chose wisely. It was a very memorable meal and the food and service were outstanding. I felt underdressed wearing a t-shirt and jeans in such a fancy place – the waitresses there wear jackets and ties in some androgynous policy that's only a little unsettling. Our fancy meal done, we stopped back at our hotel briefly and then set out to see the midnight laser light show on Fremont Street.

Fremont Street, which is what is called "Old Vegas," has many casinos on it along with arcades, tourist shops and bars. There is a long zip line running much of the covered street and all night you can see merry visitors soaring overhead harnessed to the line. There are outdoor stages where cheesy cover bands will play for a handfuls of people but act like they are playing to a sold-out stadium. Spotting a man dressed like Paul Stanley of KISS, I asked him where Ace was. "I don't know," was his answer. I soon realized why the KISS impersonators were there: the light show that night was a KISS-themed one, with video clips interspersed with song clips of famous KISS songs, namely 'Rock and Roll All Night.' Another interesting a propos note for KISS fans: the bus line we took to get to Fremont Street is called "The Deuce."

There was not enough time to see everything we wanted to see in Vegas, but we vowed to return.

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