too much typing—since 2003



I've been on vacation this week, the first part of which was spent with several friends in Las Vegas. I am not, it's fair to say, a Vegas kind of guy: for one thing, gambling holds no appeal for me, not because I have any puritanical moral objections to it, but simply because I know the odds and don't think it's fun to throw money away. What can I say? Anyway, we went more to see Las Vegas, for our various reasons (Rose is an architect, for example) than to actually do Las Vegas. Here are a couple of observations.

1. As you walk down the strip, you'll notice tight little groups of people, usually youngish men, often Latino, advertising "strippers" who can entertain you in your hotel room. (Prostitution is not legal in Clark County, but enormous winking and nudging clearly occurs.) What's interesting about these guys is their routine is highly stylized. They'll sort of roll from side to side, alternating their balance from one foot to another, and when a guy approaches (doesn't matter whether he's with a woman or not), they'll move toward him. They carry little brochures advertising their "product," which they'll slap against their other hand as they call you out. Even though many of them actually have t-shirts imprinted with phrases like Strippers - 24 hours direct to your room, that slapping gesture immediately establishes their purpose to anyone who's been in Las Vegas for more than a few minutes.

One wonders how that gesture developed, at what point it became the thing to do, and how it spread from the various vendors to be nearly universal. Someone should send out a semiotically inclined anthropologist to research this phenomenon.

2. While we stayed in one of the older, rattier hotels (the Tropicana - because it was cheaper), we never made it to the oldest part of Las Vegas. In our two days there, we wandered about through most of the major casinos from Mandalay Bay down to Caesars Palace - including many of the newer casinos pitched toward the new, more family-friendly Vegas, which are essentially shopping malls crossbred with amusement parks. These tend to have themes, which are signaled in their names: Excalibur (medieval hoo-ha, apparently the favorite of families with younger children), New York New York, Desert Passage. What's interesting about these is the way these themes get played out in the structure and layout of the malls...errr, casinos. I imagine designers and architects fan out to photograph and study actual buildings from which they can cop details and layout. But that's not sufficient...since even if you copy the design of a genuine Moroccan building (say), that doesn't guarantee that the public will read it as "Moroccan." (It's doubtful they're that specific, either.) So it seems likely that they'd also need to research what the public imagines for such an "Arabian Knights" scenario - probably from movies, TV shows, etc. Which probably explains why much of Desert Passage looks like a small-scale set from Casablanca.

PS: Yes, the rumors you've heard are true: I indeed was in Las Vegas at the same time as Britney Spears. However, the media story about some hometown boyfriend marrying her for twelve hours is, shall we say, somewhat misleading. I will say only that I will never forget those twelve hours, and that I'll never play the trombone again.

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