Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Return To Vegas

So go on admit it, this is what you have all been waiting for? You don't give a rat's arse about California. About tense bus journeys, buses that think they are boats, expensive steak houses or any of that crap. You want me to talk about Las Vegas, don't you?

I'm going to whether you like it or not. It's Tuesday morning and we are due back in Vegas today. We have five nights booked at the Fitzgerald Hotel on Freemont Street. What is more, we have tickets for a show tonight at the Imperial Palace Hotel on the strip. It's a Motown-themed show, but essentially it is four lads from Australia singing on a stage. It worked for the Temptations, although they almost certainly were not Australian.

We have a leisurely breakfast at the Best Western, listening to some well-travelled old timer vent his spleen about the price of fish in Paris. Or something. I wondered at that moment whether he had ever been to Ruth Chris's. I notice a tip jar on the breakfast counter. Like many Americans who prepare your food for you, the chef wants paying twice for doing his job once. We decline and move on.

Freemont Street is a couple of miles off the strip. Despite this, you are still fully aware that you are in Las Vegas when you amble along it towards the many hotels to which it is home. Just like the famous strip at Las Vegas Boulevard, Freemont is all bright lights and casinos. It is here that you will find the famous Vegas Vic, the neon sign resembling a cowboy which was originally built outside the Pioneer Club in 1951. In the interests of equality, there's a Vegas Vicki too.

We pull into the Fitzgerald and stop to ask the Valet to impart his wisdom to us on the subject of parking. He advises us that we can park just around the corner, but that if we so wish we can stop the car in the valet lane for now so that we can register our arrival. Provided someone waits in the car. Probably best to choose the someone who doesn't need to lug a wheelchair out of the boot to go inside and register, so I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

It's probably about 15 minutes later but feels like 10 times that when Emma finally emerges from the hotel, all registered up. There is just time to go to the wrong room (having read the number as 420 instead of 620) before we get a quick change and are back out on to Freemont. Thankfully we never make it into room 420, and nobody seems overly disturbed by our repeated efforts to break in to their room using entirely the wrong key.

The in-room literature had advised us that there would be a bus leaving from the corner of Freemont regularly to take passengers back down to the strip. Emma has forgotten something from the room so while she makes the journey back to pick it up I go off investigating bus stop locations. I meet her back outside the Fitzgerald soon after and report that I have found the stop. The 'Deuce' travels right the way down to Las Vegas Boulevard from this corner of Freemont around every 15 minutes. It would turn out to be vital to the second part of our stay in Vegas.

It's incredibly busy. It seems that almost everyone staying on Freemont has decided that they're only going to be there to sleep, and that the main action is back down on the strip. We reach the Deuce before anyone else has boarded, which is handy because there is only space enough for one wheelchair user close to the front of the bus. There's a seat-belt which the driver insists on fastening around my chair. He also insists on knowing whereabouts on the strip we want to be dropped off. He obviously needs as much notice as possible for the arduous task of pressing a button to make the lift flip out from the doorway.

It takes longer than we had expected to reach the strip. The Deuce leaves Freemont at around 3.30 pm but it is after 4.00 by the time we disembark just outside The Mirage. The show starts at 7.30, but the doors open an hour earlier than that and we have been advised to get there in plenty of time. We cross the strip towards the Imperial Palace where we play a few games of electronic poker and enjoy a bit of liquid refreshment. We have chips and burger in a sports-themed fast food joint somewhere in the massive bowels of the place.

We make our way to the theatre level and are met by a burly usher. He says something to me and I shoot something back matter-of-factly, just making tedious small talk in that polite way that people have;

"Oh, you're from New York?" he says.

"I'm from England." I answer curtly, and he laughs in my face. I seem to have had the misfortune to happen upon the only American who not only appreciates irony, but is a formidable exponent of it. Never before in the history of mankind has a Lancastrian been duped by the ironic wit of an American. It is indeed a landmark event.

He shows us to our seats, which are placed at a table close to the front of the stage. That's all very well, the only sticking point is that the seats face across the theatre rather than to the front towards the stage. Either we will have to spend the entire evening twisting to face the front, or we will be watching the walls instead. He lets us take our alcohol in with us, which at first I consider to be a bonus. It is only later that I realise how costly it would turn out to be.

There's still around half an hour before the show starts, and a waitress comes over to offer us drinks. It's table service, there being no visible bar accessible to customers. We still have the drinks that we brought in with us, and we're not speedy drinkers anyway. Drinking is a marathon, not a sprint;

'Would you like some drinks, sir?" asks the waitress.

"No thanks, we're ok for now." I answer, gesturing to the half full bottle in my hand. She nods politely and flashes me an exaggerated smile. The kind of smile you can only get in America. She wanders off to enquire as to the drinking needs of someone at another table. I take a swig of my beer and think nothing of it, but it will be the last I see of a drinks waitress that evening.

All of which makes it all the more fortunate that the entertainment is of a high quality. Human Nature might just be four lads from Australia belting out Motown classics, but they are top drawer at what they do. I say lads, they are actually slightly advancing in years. The leader, Phil, looks to have made it way into his 40's despite his attempts to stay youthful via the gift of hairspray. Brothers Andrew and Mike are much more like what you would expect from what is essentially a boy band, but the fourth member, Toby, is something else entirely.

It's not overly cruel to suggest that he does not have boy band looks. His nose puts me in mind of someone who might earn their living in the front row for Saints but, to give him his due, his singing talents are extroardinary. He's the bass, and he reaches notes that are so low that Rolf Harris would struggle to replicate them on his Didgeridoo. That's a musical instrument, you know?

Pretty soon they are in full flow, belting out all the classics from 'Reach Out (I'll Be There)' to 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' to 'My Girl'. The latter rendition sees one poor audience member (possibly planted but that is an overly cynical view, and this column does nothing but what it says on the tin) dragged up on stage to sing along with Andrew. The plant notion is only backed up by the fact that, while she's no Diana Ross, the unfortunate audience member is not as truly terrible as you might expect someone plucked from the audience against their will to be.

Yet even that effort is outshone by Toby's ritual humiliation of one woman in the audience. He begins talking to 'June' between songs and somewhere along the line he comes over all Theopolis P Wildebeast. He's touching himself inappropriately, singing and speaking in an absurdly low tone, and generally behaving in a manner which might be deemed sleazy were it not so comical;

'Who is this fella with you?" asks Toby as he threatens to jump into the audience;

"My ex-husband." quips June, either playing along with brilliant comic timing or so taken with the perfectly resistable Toby that she is about to ditch her other half before the flight home;

'Can you shut your eyes for this bit, sir." Toby asks the man accompanying June, to howls of laughter, most of it just a preferable alternative to the mortifying embarrassment that most of us feel at that moment. Throughout the rest of the show Toby makes several more references to June, all of which are met with more laughter. The audience are writing their own jokes by now but thankfully the standard of the singing never drops.

By the end the four of them are in the audience shaking hands and trying to make blatantly reluctant people dance with them. I can't see Emma at this point, as she is hiding behind some kind of metaphorical sofa. She hates anything like this and all I am thinking at a time like this is how awful it will be if one of these goons drags her up on stage and makes a public spectacle of her. She'll never forgive me for existing. That's how these things work, isn't it chaps?

Human Nature are in the casino straight after the show for a meet and greet, but we can't take the excitement. We're still relatively sober because at no point during the show does another waitress come over to our table and enquire about whether we might like any more drinks. We have one or two more in the casino, get back on the Deuce and turn it in for the night, with attention turned to tomorrow, and trying to find a way to organise a trip to the Grand Canyon.....

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