« A fitting end to the Year of the Rat | Main | The trouble with decluttering »

Chasing the rainbow

Last week,  I got the kind of call that makes me love being a journalist. My editor wanted a profile of wunderkind hit180px-Welcome_to_vegas.jpg machine, music producer and Canadian icon David Foster. Foster was in Las Vegas rehearsing and performing a star-studded PBS show featuring him and some of the talent he has nurtured in his 35-year career - names like Peter Cetera of Chicago, Kenny G., Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and Michael BublĂ© -- to name just a few.  And the best way to do a profile is seeing a person in action, doing what they do.

Suddenly I was booking flights to Vegas, searching for a hotel room for the busy Memorial Day weekend and observing two days of rehearsals and the resulting concert with some 8,000 fans at the Mandalay Bay Event Centre. The details of that behind-the-scenes experience will be saved for the actual article (look for it in November or December 2008 Canadian Reader's Digest). But I will say this: Foster has won 15 Grammys and it is no fluke.  He is an extraordinary musician with a no-fail ear for what works. He knows how to showcase a singer's unique gift and to hone songs so that they hit an emotional core. Watching him collaborate with his proteges, tweaking things just so, was a true privilege. The PBS show will air sometime in the fall.  I felt lucky to be there to see it take shape.

Feeling lucky in Las Vegas: now that is odd. Vegas struck me, at its  essence, as a very unlucky place -- well at least for those desperate to be lucky or get lucky.

Luck breeds luck and that seems particularly true in Vegas. Those who "have" do well in Vegas - especially those who have true  talent like Foster and his musical friends. Appearing all in the same week at various Vegas venues were other stars like Robin Williams, the Police, Christine Aguilera, Cher, Barry Manilow, Roseanne Barr, Jay Leno, David Copperfield, Tom Jones, Blue Rodeo and Penn & Teller. And each show draws a huge crowd, seemingly unaffected by the competition. For them Vegas is a gold mine: a captive, appreciative audience all wanting to be touched by star dust, or at least tell a friend back home on the Canadian prairie they saw it sparkling in the not-so-far distance. 

If I had a lot of money, and didn't care about dropping big chunks of it at the gaming tables or other Vegas attractions , Vegas would be a lot of fun. There are great restaurants, decadent spas, top restaurants, luxury hotels and a smorgasbord of world class entertainment, not only featuring headlining singers and comedians but shows like the ever-mutating franchise of Cirque du Soliel, which has at least five(!) top-rated shows running concurrently on the "Strip." Stars undoubtedly feel at home in Vegas as they are both respected and shielded here. The more posh establishments even  have special VIP check-ins , with their own set of secure elevators so stars and glitteratiS don't have to wait with the Vegas hoi polloi.

And the hoi polloi come in droves. Some 30 million visitors, on average, come to Vegas each year.  Think of it: the entire population of Canada  descending primarily on a 12 block section called the "Strip." In the elevators and casinos over just three days I heard Russian, Polish, Spanish, German, Chinese, Swedish, French, Italian,  Japanese and more, not to mention every variation of English-language accent from Scottish burr, Antipodean lilt,  and the full range of US and Canadian twang. And all, it seems, are hoping for a bit of luck.

The Egyptian Fantasy
But here, for most, the Las Vegas fantasy prevails. It prevails in the multiple "themed" hotels - you can stay in a castle, in a pirate lair, in Paris, New York, or Venice.  I inhabited ancient Egypt at the Luxor, looking out my window at the butt end of the Sphinx and sleeping in the slant-walled room of a black glass pyramid. ( My take: there is no such thing as pyramid power, at least not for me on the casino floor. But I kinda liked the hieroglyphics.) 

Fantasy prevails in the hyped-up sexuality that is everywhere, particularly
in the perfectly toned-865312-1597290-thumbnail.jpg
Reality: my view
abs, pert behinds, or chiseled jaw images on billboards and elevator posters promoting a whole range of vicarious sexual experiences. There's the  topless review "Phantasy" (seemingly geared to men); "Thunder from Down Under" (seemingly geared to women or gay men),  the show called "Sexy" at the MGM Grand ( I think both genders, but can't be sure) or the hyped "Zumanity" a Cirque du Soleil hit that seems to be geared to the lumpen mass who dream of "if only" sexual experiences of the beautiful, athletic and highly flexible.

Another fantasy -- that changing your figure will change your life -- is perhaps behind the apparent explosion of breast implants among legions of young to youngish women in Vegas from stars or their super-thin-but-stacked girlfriends, to star-wannabees and showgirls, to store clerks, chambermaids and giggling co-eds prepping, it seems, for Girls Gone Wild auditions. The abundance of round taut orbs reminded me of the scary reproducing  pods in the Donald Sutherland remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (Ahhhhhh... scream and fingerpoint.. another set!) But plastic surgery is improving - new jobs seem more real. At times I felt like Elaine in Seinfield wanting to pretend to trip to bump these perfect confections, just to reassure my science-graduate (aging) self that gravity DOES still exist as a force in the universe and these displays, (phew), are merely silicon specimens made to defy it.

Fantasy -- or at least wishful thinking-- prevailed in the five drunk young men who sat down beside me when I was the lone player Friday night at a Black Jack table. One guy to my right proceeded to win. He was on a roll and as he won successive hands he got pumped. I was trying to learn so I watched. He was young enough to be my son, but seeing my interest in his hands,  he started to flirt with me. (Alas, I wasn't flattered: drunk come ons even as a middle-aged woman are not complimentary). When he had asked my name three times in short slurred succession,  I got up to leave. He shouted out, a last ditch bold attempt : "So, do you wanna make out?" to the laugher of his friends and the dealer and even me as I walked away. No doubt he was leaving Vegas in the morning and dammit, he had to somehow get laid even if it meant hitting on a woman 25 years his senior in a blatant, desperate, 11th-hour bid.

And most of all fantasy prevails among all those Vegas gamblers, whether short-term vistors or long-term residents, who hope against the house odds that their mundane life or financial troubles will suddenly evaporate with the toss of the dice, the spin of the wheel, a card dealt from a deck, or the chance meeting at the casino of a wealthy potential suitor.

And that I found depressing. Vegas is full of evidence that legions are clinging to the dream of the one lucky break:  hangers-on at celebrity functions whose only real talent seems to be knowing someone who knows someone and who hope they can charm a star to sleep with or slip him a demo tape; people playing slots who look like they have come off a shift and hope to make rent; young men and women making huge ridiculous bets on a number like a birthday only to see a single spin take it all away.

The fantasy of the easy win seduces everywhere, even at slots machines in corner stores, gas stations, the airport, grocery stores. I was buying a pair of stockings at a Walgreens on the Strip and noticed four video slots in a corner. An elderly women, with her bag of prescription meds hanging from her arm, was at one. She did not, in any way, look like she was having fun. She looked, instead, that she was hoping to recoup what she had just spent on life-extending drugs. 

Tired of this sort of scene, on Saturday, I rented a car and drove to the Hoover Dam to marvel at a different kind of dream -- the power of functional engineering to remake our world and make places like Vegas bloom, indeed make possible all the the settlements in the arid west. But even that dream has a harsh reality - Vegas and the west is running out of water, vividly displayed by the shockingly low water line of Mead Lake, the reservoir created by the dam.

Driving back into the city it began to rain - a rarity for Vegas. I passed pawnshops, payday loan outfits and cheap rental apartments, all catering to those dreaming of that lucky break. And then the sun broke through. And there, arching over the city was a huge rainbow. I pulled over to look at it and couldn`t believe my eyes. The perspective was such that it appeared to end right over the Strip at the golden glistening towers of the Trump Hotel and Casino. 865312-1595612-thumbnail.jpg
Trump Gold at the End of the Rainbow ( click to enlarge)

Standing in the pouring rain getting myself and my camera wet, but having sun on my shoulders, I snapped a picture of this stunning mythic phenomenon as it hung over the non-descript facade of a retail plaza. And I laughed, because for me as a journalist, capturing this living metaphor on my cheap digital camera is a chronicler's lucky break. A visual representation of what I was trying to describe in words: the enduring mythic dream to find the pot of gold.

I dropped my rental car at the airport and happily headed home.

Posted on Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 05:22PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.