The Coffee Mug: A Trip to Las Vegas
Keith Ray


Las Vegas: a gambler's Mecca; a shopper's paradise; an entertainment conglomerate for all. No longer a "Vegas virgin", I can now sit back and take account of what Las Vegas means to me. For years now one of my most used and cherished coffee cups has been one that my mom brought me after returning from her trip to Las Vegas back in the mid 1980's. It's a white ceramic coffee cup with numerous marquees of various casinos overlaid one upon another. It's well used and has the coffee stains to prove it. I suppose I've always figured I would make it to "Vegas" one day, but being anything but a gambler I'd always shuffled the priority as far down the list as needed so as to make room for what I called "sure bets". Oh sure, I've seen the specials on the Travel Channel and have realized that over the last decade the megaresorts have created a new Las Vegas. A Las Vegas that one must see if only to visit the lobbies of the megaresorts and not so much as drop one single coin in a slot machine. I imagine that the Las Vegas of today is, in fact, quite different than those Vegas years that preceded it. There are, for sure, signs of the old Vegas, but one can tell that those signs are becoming rather dusty atop the desert sands compared to the new multimillion dollar complexes that are changing the face of the desert floor. I proclaim my self to be a "non-gambler" in the sense that, sure, I will drop $10 $20, $30 bucks in a slot machine over the course of a day or two. But hey, that's about it. No big time player here. And yes, I admit, I've thrown to the wayside more than my share of money over the years on nearly as many things all of which probably had lesser odds of "paying off" than any slot machine. So don't ask me why it's so hard to throw it away in a casino. My only answer is that it is. So what does a non-gambler do in Las Vegas and why would I want to return for another visit?

Arriving by air from the east, it didn't take long to notice that once past Dallas, TX, there wasn't much to look at from my little window on the plane. In fact, as things became more sparse on the ground, it wasn't long before the only thing of interest to look at were the small snake-like riverbeds that traveled across the landscape for miles and miles. And to go along with the theme of "nothingness", the riverbeds had nothing flowing through them. They were as dry as the sands that lay outstretched beyond them. Was this to be some foreshadowing of the inside of my wallet upon completing my trip to Las Vegas? Would I too be returning home with "nothing"? Now possessing the benefit of hindsight, it wouldn't be a trip home with nothing a cause of the casinos. No sir, my wallet could have been (I said could have been) easily emptied. But I, as opposed to the gambling man, would have had shopping bags galore in hand as proof of my winnings. As "Vegas Luck" would have it, I'm in tune with my surroundings and recognize that there was far more shopping at my fingertips than I could ever hope to shake my wallet at. I feel certain there are Shopper Anonymous groups that meet weekly too (ok if there's not, perhaps there should be). However, on a serious note, Las Vegas has some of the best shopping I've ever seen. In fact, while I won't make apologies for being a southern man born and raised in a place most people have never heard of (Alabama), nor will I make apologies for the enjoyment I receive from shopping, I have had some opportunities to travel to "the big cities" both here in the states and a few abroad, and can safely say that Las Vegas has some great shopping venues. And I'd be willing to bet (sorry, no pun intended) that you couldn't find one big city slicker that would disagree. Everything from your normal, everyday shopping to any designer store you can imagine. Everything from knick-knacks to patty-whacks, you name it and it is within reach. It is highly probable that one could spend days shopping never to be heard of or seen again. Not a bad gig if you can get it. And the best part is that it's equitable shopping. There's just as much available for men as there is for the ladies. The same can't be said for the shopping in my neighborhood.

Ok, there is gambling. That's an honest statement and serves to give the devil his due. However, I'm not going to elaborate on that fact. That's far too obvious. And then there's shopping for which I hopefully have given you some insight to at this point. But what else exist for the non-gambler in Las Vegas you ask. Well, there are shows and productions and shows and productions and shows and productions…shall I go on? I'm quite fortunate to report that I did, in fact, have some luck in Las Vegas. I was able to attend two great shows on my first visit, both of which were incredible; both incredible in the sense of the quality of entertainment they provided as well as how incredibly difficult it is to secure tickets for them. The first show was Celine Dion's "A New Day". Not being an overt Celine fan, I had some doubt as to how much I would enjoy the performance. I usually pride myself on having an open sense of adventure and usually have a fair amount of insight about things I know nothing about (yes, it is possible to have insight about nothing). Well, if my Las Vegas trip has a moral to the story all the while fully realizing that "Las Vegas" and "moral" are contradictory terms, the moral of the story would be that I will use the Celine show as a catalyst to reconnect with my sense of "don't knock it till you've tried it" and use the experience as a means to keep my eyes wide open for new adventures and opportunities. The show was astounding. It was everything I imagined it not to be. It was a paradigm shift in the way I view her music and her overall talent. Of course I realize that she is talented, I'm not saying that I thought less of her as an entertainer prior to the show, but rather she wasn't my cup of tea. Celine, hats off to you. Vous-etes magnifque! Bravo! This show, alone, is worth a trip (or three) back to Las Vegas. Call for tickets. If you get them, plan everything else from that point on.

The next show was Cirque de Soleil's "O". This was a treat as well. I had seen their production of Alegria several years back. It was amazing and very entertaining. "O", however, was more spectacular and yet another shot in the arm for increasing my awareness of and for the Arts. Did I mention I was on the very first row? That in and of it's self is amazing. I've never had a front row seat for anything. And it's probable that I won't be lucky enough to have a front row seat ever again unless it's to my own funeral (and that's questionable). I actually had to be sure my feet were not too far out in front of me in order to keep from interfering with the artists as they zipped in front of me. I was so close that I considered myself a part of the show. Now that's good seats! These were both shows and productions that will forever endure as "performances seen" and that rank at the top of my list. And how do you top performances such as these each night? I'll tell you how: simply walk down to Lake Bellagio for a stunning water ballet hosted by the Bellagio, that's how. Now these are just two of hundreds of acts in the city each night. The entertainment menu is full of diverse selections from which you can choose. And the best part is that the odds are well in your favor that whatever show you choose, it will both dazzle and amaze you and entertain you and it's money you won't mind leaving in Las Vegas. The return on the investment is high.

Now that I've played a few slots, have done some shopping, have taken in a couple of shows, what's left for me, the non-gambler? Of course there's always eating. From fast food to enormous buffets at every turn to fine dining extraordinaire. "Good Eats" is always a player and can be found just around the bend at every turn. This is a lofty subject and maybe not viewed as entertainment by some, a point on which we would have to stop here and agree to disagree. Best to grab a travel guide on this subject. It's immense.

So what else you ask (as if the shows and shopping were not enough)? The Hotels and Mega resorts alone can fulfill one's need for entertainment. In fact, I spent a great deal of time each day visiting as many of the Hotels and Megaresorts as I could fit in. In fact the shopping and the shows limited how much sightseeing I could do. Well, that and the fact my feet couldn't stand but so much pounding against the asphalt. But for a non-gambler, this was but another avenue of entertainment well worth the many miles traversed. The Venetian: wow! Caesar's Palace: wow! MGM Grand: wow! The Mirage (the place I stayed): wow! Paris, Paris: wow! The Bellagio: wow! I could go on and on, but again there are numerous written accounts of each of these places where more justice is done than any I could hope to accomplish in written words. My point is that visiting the hotels is in itself a something to do for the non-gambler and takes a great deal of planning to accomplish even a portion of it. The view of the desert from atop the faux Eiffel Tower and how the Las Vegas Strip sits upon the desert floor, surrounded by the distant mountains is worth the trip to the top. It lends a real perspective of just how bizarre an operation of this magnitude is all while occurring in the middle of the desert. A real oasis to be certain. The fountains at Bellagio, the enormity of the inside of the MGM Grand; the NewYork, NewYork, The Luxor; the lush tropical theme of The Mirage…!

Since I'm simply rendering a thumb nail sketch of my experience and seeing as I was only in Las Vegas for 3 days and 3 nights, I have to limit my account of the city to what I know and draw my final conclusion. There is one thing that I can tell you and that is Las Vegas has a lot to offer visitors, both the gamblers and the non-gamblers alike. So for all the non-gamblers who have ever questioned where Las Vegas should fall on their list of travel priorities, fear not and delay your plans no longer. There is something in the desert for everyone. It's truly a giant sandbox for adults. The Las Vegas strip is an entertainment conglomerate where you can find just about whatever it is you're seeking. The old Las Vegas (downtown) is well worth the visit also and very recommended. The Freemont Experience is just that, an experience. Will I go back to Las Vegas? You better bet it all on the fact that I will. My foresight tells me that the next trip will be even better. Why? Because I've made a dent on the Vegas "todo" list and will now be able to move about at less than a break-neck pace and therefore better able to take my time and not feel as though I have to move on to see the next whatever. I'll be better able to slow down and people watch if I want, which is itself another venue of entertainment. And one last note: as for people, Las Vegas has a lot of people moving about at one time. It's truly amazing that there are so many people in one small area of the world at one time. And to think that such a large (incredibly large) number of people have converged in the middle of a desert is mind-boggling. But if you have any doubt as to whether Las Vegas has the ability to handle such a mass of people, rest assured that this is one town that has it down to a science. From the airport to the taxis to the cleanliness of the streets, its all clockwork; and ironically enough there's hardly a clock in sight. I suppose that with the amount of money this town draws, the "Directors" and "Producers" of Las Vegas know exactly how important it is it keep it all moving and on time. In fact, summing it up, it's just that: Las Vegas is a show in and of itself. Every aspect, every employee, every show, every casino, every visitor and every picturesque mountain that encircles the desert floor creating the stage called "the valley" all work in tandem and all are players in this show called "Las Vegas". So as I sit here sipping coffee from my old Las Vegas coffee mug, I can tell you that this old mug has new meaning; it no longer represents an item on my travel "to do" list, but now represents an item on my travel "to do again" list. Thanks for the mug, mamma. I didn't have to buy one while there. I already had one back home.