Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Las Vegas: The Last Stand

As I write this it is August 2, some 66 days after our last full day in America. I didn't quite expect it to take this long to transfer the events of our rip-roaring road trip to the web, but I knew that the full story was still going to be something approaching epic.

So, it's the final day of our travels across the western United States. We have plans to see The Script at Mandalay Bay this evening, but are hungover enough to laze around in the hotel room till gone 11 this morning. We finally surface and start looking for somewhere to watch the Champions League final. It kicks off at 11.45am local time so there isn't long. Hennessy's, an Irish bar on the corner of Fremont, seems a reasonable place to start. It's not. It's pretty close to empty, and a rather too laid back man informs us that since the game is being shown on the FOX network, it won't be on in their bar. They can't afford it, clearly. Damn you Rupert, your influence is everywhere.

With all other avenues seemingly closed at this point and with so little time left, we settle on the sports book at The Golden Nugget. It's just next door to our hotel, where I had already paid a visit to the sports book and placed a $10 bet on the game. I needed the scores to be level at half-time, but Barcelona to be winning by full-time. It was 7/2, which for the maths geniuses out there among you is 3 and a half to 1. Still confused? You're such a girl. Basically, if both of those outcomes were to materialise I would win three and a half times my stake (that's the $10). So, $35 in other words.

Well, you need something to make watching Manchester United play in a Champions League final bearable. There's not enough time now to fully do justice to even an attempt at describing my contempt for Manchester United so I won't try. Besides, there is already too much football talk in this column and it's about a holiday in Las Vegas after all.

We are left with little option seating-wise (I was shrewd enough to bring my own), and find ourselves perched in front of a row of small screens. Most of these are positioned somewhere in the sky and all but one are showing baseball. There is always baseball going on somewhere in America, it seems, and in a Las Vegas hotel sports book there is always going to be at least 27 televisions showing whatever baseball happens to be going on.

We are near to a bar area (good news) which also serves food. I approach the bar and, since we have not had any breakfast and it is getting pretty close to lunchtime, we decide to order chips. Fries. Whatever. Unfortunately there is only one man serving and he seems doggedly determined not to notice that I exist (bad news). So desperate is he to avoid me that at one point I rack my brains to try and remember whether I might have got drunk and asked him out at some point last night. If I did I have really bad taste. Not only is he not my type, he's just downright rude and ignorant. Poor effort.

We are very close to kick-off when he finally acknowledges my existence and I am able to place my order. Instead of giving me a ticket with a number on it he asks my name. He's the one being a bit too forward now, if you ask me, but I want my chips and I want to watch United lose so I tell him. He asks me to go back to my seat (I'm in my seat you speccy knob!) and wait until he calls my name. I expect very little. I wait.

In the meantime a large group of men wearing either Manchester United or Barcelona shirts have entered the bar and somehow managed to blag the best seats in the house by the larger screens. It's the US sports book equivalent of towels on loungers I suspect. They must know the people who had been sat there previously. Anyway, despite their differing loyalties they seem to be getting on famously. There is no anymosity but then why should there be? How much can a group of men from America care anyway about the fortunes of one team from the north west of England and another from the Catalan region of Spain?

When the action starts they start whooping. They shout wholly inappropriate things like 'yeah, go Barcelona!' or 'whoooo, yeah Rooney baby!' and it reminds me of my shame at actually attending an NFL match or two at Wembley. This is how the American armchair viewer must feel when he sees the New York Giants going up against the Miami Dolphins in London. Large groups of people who can have absolutely no strong feelings either way about either team getting themselves all in a lather about a game they have a rudimentary knowledge of at best. All very undignified.

Barca score first, which means I need United to score by half-time to stand any chance with my bet. They do, and it's Rooney Baby. Or someone. I have never before even half-celebrated a goal by that granny-grabbing little wiener unless he's scored it while playing for England. Even then I begrudge it a little. But money and the kudos of being right are at stake here, so I allow myself to crack half a smile. Either that or the chips which have now finally arrived have given me a bit of wind.

The second half is a Barca masterclass, all of which I can enjoy without even a shred of guilt. The whooping is decidedly one-sided by now and one middle aged woman who you'd think might know better actually leaves in a full on strop when Barcelona's third goal goes in. The whistle goes, I'm $35 dollars better off (plus my stake, you remember the $10?) and I won't have to listen to any of my United supporting friends crowing about being European champions when I get back home tomorrow night. It's a win-win.

The afternoon is spent trying and failing to spend my winnings in the casinos on the strip. We need to get to Mandalay Bay by 6.30 and it is the very last stop on the journey. Rather than head straight there we had decided to get off half way down again and take in some liquid refreshment. Inevitably we would end up where we needed to be. What we had not reckoned with is the endless amounts of stupidly laid out walk-ways, lifts and unfathomable crossings which litter the bottom end of the strip. It took us the best part of an hour to walk the last part of the journey and in that time we did not have even a moment to take in another fabulously refreshing vodka and orange.

Finally we arrive at Mandalay Bay and join the queue. There is another wheelchair user waiting with us and when the usher arrives he takes us both through a side door, down a passageway towards a lift. The lady must have been listening to me and Emma talking along the way because she interrupts us with;

"Oh excuse me, I'm sorry, but are you guys from England?"

"Yes." I answer.

"Oh that's so cool, I was just saying to my girlfriend here that I have another girlfriend who lives in England."

She delivers this news as if living in England is the most revolutionary thing a person could do, and that the chances of an American actually achieving it are roughly the same as that of being killed by a slice of cake;

"Oh really." I say, trying not to sound too much like I am humouring her;



I am not a religious man as you know but I will swear on whatever you would like me to that this is the actual answer she gave me. To have the myth confirmed that there are Americans out there who think Wales is in England is just the most fabulously satisfying yet somehow depressing and annoying turn of events.

"Wales is not really in England though, is it?" I point out.

"No? Oh, I'm sorry." she says.

"It's ok. I'll let you off but I am not sure the Welsh would."

She is led to a row that is fairly central to the stage but I'm not so lucky. We are a long, long, long way up in the clouds in the House Of Blues and Emma and I are asked to keep moving and eventually arrive in what can only be described as a rather crappy location at the side of the stage. There is a particularly amorous young couple sat next to us and I remember wondering what their disabilities might be. No signs of any wheelchairs, canes, sticks, not even a good old fashioned limp in the brief moments they are detached from each other. Sex addiction is my best guess.

There is a perfectly pleasant warm-up act playing on stage. I can mostly only see the top of his head but he strums his acoustic guitar expertly and sings songs about love and angst of the type only a melancholy lunatic such as myself could endure, never mind enjoy. But I like him. Deal with it. I can't remember his name, but I like him. I can't remember the name of everyone I have ever liked. Can you? Honestly?

Somewhere in the middle of his set I get the munchies and head to the small kiosk at the end of the row of seating. I'm used to either salty or sweet popcorn but in the absence of either at this unique little location I settle on cheesy popcorn. Think Wotsits with an extra 'this is going to make you sick' kick. Emma tries them but declines any other offer I make for her to help me with the huge, cone-shaped bag. Half of it will be picked up by the cleaners when we leave our hotel room tomorrow afternoon.

And so to The Script. For the uninitiated they are a fairly successful Irish band who sing songs about love and angst. Right up my street then. Actually, they are and always were Emma's choice but there is much to enjoy with the likes of 'The Man Who Can't Be Moved', 'Falling To Pieces', 'For The First Time' and the agonisingly brilliant 'I'm Yours' belted out at volumes loud enough for you not to hear the whooping from the crowd. Maybe they were Manchester United fans and just didn't have the stomach for it.

The Script's guitarist, rather than it's singer, does most of the talking in between numbers and at a certain point he begins to annoy me. He's warming to his task as guitarist/compere and I'm sure at one point he is convinced that he is Ardal O'Hanlon. He's not. He's not even Frank Carson. Stick to the music, son, and you'll go far. Well, you have already got to Las Vegas, which isn't exactly round the corner from Dublin, now is it?

The singer's role, other than singing, is mostly to strut around stage as if he would eat himself were he made of chocolate. Or even liquorice. He's too vain for my tastes but Emma seems taken with him. I'm not the jealous type so I don't make an issue of it. Besides, it would be a little rich to pick a fight about that now when I'm fully aware that I'll be at some English venue screaming and crying like a bitch next time Joss tours the UK.

Anyway, it's our last night and there is no way in the world we are falling out tonight.

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