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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Must Love Dogs

My mom is a morning person. My dad loves to stay up late. When I’m in Vegas with them, I do both. Monday morning after the (most exciting) Super Bowl (ever) greeted us with deserted desert sidewalks under a cerulean sky certain of a stellar day in store. Our tradition is to  park on top of the Bellagio to take in traces of morning sun filtering over Paris across Las Vegas Boulevard. We stroll around the conservatory, which is empty of people this time of day. Then off she went for a walk, while I pick up the pace for a four mile run.

Venetian, Love, Las Vegas
Bellagio, Las Vegas, Year of the Dog
Coffee, dog, mom.  Three of my favorite things, at the Bellagio.
Ahhhh. Dry feet. No snow. No ice. Not many people, just a few fellow runners. I can remember the days as the only runner, getting cross-eyed looks from confused club-goers tumbling out of the oontz oontz clubs. The only runner dodging blue-hair, fanny pack-wearing mall walker types. No more. Like so many things in Vegas, we are doing our favorite ‘alone’ thing together.

Finding inspiration on the strip
Chinese New Year must be one of the most fun times to be in  Vegas. (Who am I kidding? Every time is the most fun time to be in Vegas.) The Year of the Dog has arrived. While it’s not nearly as fun to say as 2017's Year of the Cock, dogs are everywhere. The Bellagio went big, with an 18-foot Husky. He has bright blue eyes and a wagging tail. Other real-looking fake dogs looked out from all the conservatory flowers.

Bellagio, Las Vegas, Year of the Dog
Not exactly ruffing it at Bellagio
I love dogs. Canines have become the new kids in the casino as many strip hotels are dog-friendly these days. I’m good with seeing dogs everywhere. I ran down to Mandalay, then back up to Caesars. Then we drove back down to MSS, and met with the rest of our party for breakfast at the BBBB (Buffet Behind Boar’s head Bar). It’s no Eat. It’s no Peppermill. But, hey, it’s quick, cheap, decent. And we had big plans.

My mom’s close friend since junior high (they met in 1956 for those counting at home) and her hubby drove out from Long Beach to join my mom, dad, and me on this trip. After breakfast, we drove to Aria (more free parking!) and walked over to Crystals. I had booked the five of us for James Turrell art exhibit Akhob at Louis Vuitton. I’d been before, and it ranked in the  five Vegas experiences for me. I had to take them. (See for more about Akhob.) James Turrell has another, smaller exhibit by the elevators at Crystal.

Aria, Las Vegas, James Turrell
The other JT's exhibit at Aria
They enjoyed it. I loved it. But now it was noon, and we hadn’t gambled at all. We needed a remedy, fast.

We walked next door to Cosmo, home of happiness and joy. I figured my little troop of spirited seniors would last maybe 15 minutes before we headed back to the Hawaiian Senior Center downtown. I really wanted them to behold the magic and (possible) mayhem of the Chandelier bar, if just for a moment.

Three hours and several Cosmo-styled mai tais (for them, this DD had one) later, four more fans of Chandelier level 1 were born. Bartender Jeff kept them laughing and lubricated from behind the bar. My machine manufactured drink tickets like crazy. My mom’s machine didn’t. I reassured her to be patient. Turns out it was out of paper. (Put cash in, then cash out, and put the voucher back in again to make sure there’s paper. She didn’t learn this until she tried to cash out.) My mom’s friend’s machine also didn’t produce any tickets. They were pretty bummed out.

“Don’t worry, honey,” said cute Jeff from behind the bar. “I’ll take care of you.”

And take care of her, of all of us, he did. We didn't pay for a single drink.

Young Jeff the bartender was sweet, funny, inclusive, and lovely. He made jokes and drinks, and we found it hard to leave him. The video poker stayed even for hours. My dad doesn’t like short pay VP. I don’t blame him. My parents have been retired for 15 years, and every dollar counts. I get it. But I am all for less-than-ideal VP when you have a charmer like Jeff behind the bar, making your parents laugh and remember their best stories.

Chandelier Bar, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas
It's never too late to discover Chandelier
My dad said the last time he’d had a mai tai had been in 1969, when, pre-children, my parents had mai tais by a crackling campfire after boating with their dear friends John and Judy. John was due to leave for the Viet Nam war the next week. They mai tai’d to forget the looming dread and fear. They mai tai’d to celebrate their youthful friendship, and all things lake. Fifty-two years later, John is a retired Marine and still married to Judy. Fifty-two years later, my parents, also still married, drank mai tais and told stories with their lifelong friends, laughed at Jeff’s jokes, and rediscovered a forgotten corner of their fun-loving, free-wheeling youth.

Jeff and the Cosmo came through with one of our best days in Vegas, and there have been many a best day in Vegas.

Jeff and the Cosmo embody what makes Vegas special. When my parents land in Vegas, our roles vanish. We are just people having fun together. We are good friends who happen to be related. I relish these stories,  and glow on inside like my own private Akhob. These moments are pure magic, to see my parents abandon their worries and routines to Just. Have. Fun.

We headed back downtown, and I showed off my Vegas skills by exiting a backed up I-15 North on Sahara, hooking a quick right on Highline, and zipping downtown in no time via Industrial in the late afternoon carmelized sun. After some blackjack, and a light dinner, we headed to Brillant, a new and yes, immersive, experience at the Neon Museum.


Artist Craig Winslow incorporated 40 signs of the Neon Museum’s boneyard (not part of the regular old sign tour) with two tall columns of projected, computerized lights that make the signs appear to shine, strobe, bounce and dance again. The soundtrack is full old school Vegas tunes, with one Panic at the Disco! Song at the end. The exhibit sells out, so get tickets in advance. Adults are $23, and seniors $15. They carded my parents and their friends at the door. They were delighted. Photos and videos are forbidden, so I don't have a pic.

We played a little video poker as the night wore down, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open much past midnight. Sweet Vegas dreams filled our heads after a happy day. And the best Vegas dreams of all end by waking up in Vegas. In mere hours, my mom and I would start our favorite part of the vacay day, the Sunrise (Second Sunset) Strip Stroll.

Venetian, Love, Las Vegas
Big Love at Venetian

(Pro tip: Pearl and higher Mlife status members park for free at MGM properties. If you have the Hyatt credit card, you qualify for Pearl status automatically, but you do have to go to the Mlife website to activate it. It takes a couple weeks. If you don’t already have the Hyatt card, consider it. You’ll get 40,000 points after spending $2000 over 3 months, which is enough for 2 nights at Vdara, Mandalay Bay, NYNY, MGM Grand or Signature, etc. Or you could stay at the Hyatt Place across from the Hard Rock for 5 nights, free. Granted, Hyatt Place has no casino. It does have a free airport shuttle, no resort fees, and free breakfast.)  The card is free the first year, and $75 a year afterwards. A free night at a Hyatt is included (for category 1-4, so MGM, NYNY, Monte Carlo/Park, Excalibur etc are free).


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