Las Vegas has always had a special place in my family. I think Nevada occupies that space for many families in the American Southwest. Disneyland or a theme park is an expensive ordeal that requires planning. Vegas is kind of a place your exhausted parents can get the whole family packed in to the car and end up in a medium-nice motel, with some cheap buffet food, and tons of things to look at. I think my parents were ingenius for taking us there so often. Even with conservative parents, they did not see Vegas as a cesspool of sin or debauchery. None of us drank, smoke, or gambled anyway.
As a child, many of our family vacations were to Vegas or Reno. I celebrated my sixth birthday there, at Hard Rock Cafe, with some color-coordinated M&Ms from the M&M store on the strip to boot. It was a great birthday. I remember going as a teenager with my family and taking in the Fremont Street Experience, something my parents did together when they were first dating.
When I worked abroad, nobody was interested in hearing about Vegas. They wanted to learn more about Hollywood and New York City. Vegas was written off as trashy. I don’t care what people say, I will always love going there. The desert scenery and the dry heat feel right. People in the Southwest are always laid-back, low-key, and weirdly intriguing to me.
In the past three years, Casey and I tried to find any excuse to go to Vegas. And we did. Here are travel journals from three different visits from three different years.
My first visit with Casey was in 2018. My mom and grandparents headed for a memorial concert of their beloved Hong Kong singer at Harrah’s in Vegas and we drove for twelve hours there. It was not a short drive but it was worth it. We scouted the strip for the best $5 craps tables. It became an addiction. We liked the Flamingo casino most of all. I walked away from the weekend $80 richer than I started. I consider that a victory in Vegas.
The second time we went was in 2019. Why didn’t we go while we were living in Texas? By this point we were literally searching for any excuse to go back to Vegas. I earned a teacher’s union grant to attend a conference at the Tropicana hotel. They paid for lodging and even the flight. They even served us all our meals. I walked away from this weekend with at least $150. The reason why: we discovered Fremont Street. While Tropicana was on the strip, we decided to head off of there and see what we could find. We found $5 craps tables at Hooters, but it wasn’t enough. Fremont had tons of casinos with $5 tables and I won big. On Fremont Street, they have much more attentive waitresses for a much more working-class clientale. We befriended a dealer who told us about the best hot pot restaurant in Vegas. We also went to a medieval show, a childhood fantasy come true.
Our latest trip was just days before the worldwide quarantine. It was a last hoorah, unknowingly. Casey got assigned a business trip to Vegas and again, our lodging was paid for. This time we were nestled downtown. I definitely think the food is better down there. I had arguably world’s BEST fried chicken. It was in a fancy restaurant with a private booth and cloth napkins, the cheapest drink was $15 so you knew it was swanky. It was so amazing. There was also Asian street food just a hop, step and a jump from our hotel. Casey was out all day working and I spent at least six hours laying on the same pool bench. It was pretty awesome. At night, we played for hours. We didn’t win much this time but with craps, it’s hard to lose too badly if you’re poor (me). Craps is defintely our game and unites us as a couple. It is an amazing game.
Whatever you think about Vegas, it’s a great time. I won’t romanticize it in a way that old movies do, as a place where hearts get broken and where fortune reverses overnight, but it is a really fun place where the drinks pour easy.