“Bright lights city gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire”
When I was a teenager I used to hang out at Whitley Bay’s Spanish City, a Victorian seaside pleasure dome that was home to a resident funfair, ballroom and penny arcades. I loved two rides, the Waltzer and Grand National, and spent most of my time trying to get noticed either by the boys who operated them or those who hung out there who were a lot older than me, had tattoos and rode motorbikes. If the fairground lads did notice you then you were treated to free rides where they pushed you faster and faster till you screamed yourself hoarse and the bikers used to take you for rides along the seafront ‘bopping the bends’ and having the motorbike equivalent of ‘drag races’, till the police came. The song I remember most played on those funrides that seemed to fit the whole atmosphere of excitement, danger and transgressing boundaries, was Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas”.
The real thing didn’t exactly set my soul on fire but it gave me plenty to laugh at and smile about. We stayed in a Super 8 Motel on Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip), sandwiched between the ‘Little White Wedding Chapel’ and the ‘Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel’ with ‘Sin City Hostel’ and ‘Pleasure Sluts’, a tattoo parlour whose strapline was “Sluts are people too”, nearby. The wedding industry in Vegas must do a roaring trade as there were wall to wall weddings day and night with costume, formal dress, flowers and stretch limo companies reaping the benefits as well. Some of the weddings were beautiful, but one I saw where a cocky young man came out of the chapel dressed in jeans, a peculiar hat and sunglasses, in front of his new bride dressed in red wedding gear and high heels, carrying a bouquet, who struggled to keep up with him as he hawked and spat on the pavement. I hope they have a better marriage than I think they will. But what really tickled my fancy was the huge image of Elvis holding a guitar, attached to the side of the building, whose hips moved from side to side, and also the notice that proclaimed Liz Taylor and her last husband was married there.
There is a bus, the Deuce, that runs back and forth along The Strip. For $8 (the prices went up on Sunday) you can get on and off, travel as far as you like, for 24 hours. A bargain. It’s a stop/start kind of journey but from the top deck you get to see all the big casinos and attractions. We were headed for the Luxor Hotel to purchase tickets for the musical, “Menopause” and the bus took us past the Stratosphere, a huge tower that takes you from bottom to top in a couple of seconds. Apparently, once your stomach settles down the view is fantastic. The next big attraction we came across was The Sahara Hotel complex that was designed/themed like a minoret, and so it went on -‘Paris’ with its Eiffel Tower and “Round the World in 80 Days” balloon, MGM Grand with its huge golden lion, Excalibur with castles and turrets, ‘New York, New York’ and the statue of Liberty as well as all the commemorations to the firefighters of 9/11 and the Luxur with a massive pyramid flanked by replicas of the creatures who guard the pyramids in the Valley of Kings.
But it was at night that everything really took off, with light shows, glamour and glitz. So much happened on the sidewalks too as actors, musicians, street artists, buskers and dancers took to the streets to earn change from the crowds. The place was heaving and in my younger years I’d have been in the thick of it. As a geriatric whose body is dropping to bits I carefully avoided the scrums and sedately watched the fountain shows at the Bellaggio, which were spectacular, and enjoyed people-watching, no longer trying to get the attention of the dangerous boys. Although I do have to admit, if one came along and made me an offer, I might not refuse…