Up until a few years ago, I used to go to Las Vegas during the World Series Of Poker. But after I gave up tournaments to only play cash games, there was very little reason for me to be in the midst of the huge crowds. I’d get up in the morning, spend an hour at the pool, then shower and go to the poker room, only to find there were dozens of people already on the list for the games I wanted to play. I didn’t want to wait hours for a seat, since during the other ten months of the year, there are still enough poker players, but not so many that the wait times seem interminable.
I put that strategy into play this weekend and found that, sure enough, days after the WSOP wrapped up, the entire city was much more manageable. However, it was ridiculously hot. Each day, the forecast should have read one word: “molten.” At 8am, it was already 95 degrees, heading for a peak of 115 by mid-afternoon. I decided going to the hotel pool would be like jumping into a bowl of chlorine soup, so I skipped it.
One of the few times I did go outside was to have a meal at the Peppermill, my favorite restaurant in Vegas. This time, I went at 6am — after playing all night — to have some breakfast before crashing. Before taking my order, the waitress, Kat, brought a full stack of pancakes to a guy sitting with two women at an adjacent table. When she got to me, I asked Kat what she thought were the chances he’d finish all three pancakes. She laughed and said, “Yeah, very few people do.” Knowing how gigantic they each are — the size of a dinner plate — I asked her to bring me a single pancake, a couple of scrambled eggs, and a glass of orange juice. While I waited, she brought full stacks to guys at two other tables, each time looking over at me as if to say, “Here’s another sucker!” For the record, I couldn’t even finish the short stack I’d ordered.
On my way back the hotel, I passed by a weird animatronic Elvis Presley in a cabinet like Zoltar, the fortune-telling machine that turned Tom Hanks from a boy into a man (and later back again) in the movie “Big.” But this one had a motion sensor that detected when someone walked nearby, which made the puppet head inside say, “Hi, I’m the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley, and I can tell your future. Now, don’t be no hound dog! Get on over here!”
Naturally, I kept walking, but shook my head at how lame the concept was, especially the song title mention. In addition, the whole Elvis thing doesn’t even have a future. His popularity has long since passed its prime in Vegas, one of the few cities besides Memphis that kept wringing every possible dollar out of his memory. That probably has something to do with the fact that he’s been dead for 46 years — and so is much of his fan base.
On the other hand, a smile did cross my face when the casino I stayed in switched its usual rock/country playlist to one featuring the late Tony Bennett, whose career lasted much longer than Presley’s and still appeals to multiple generations. Though no one made any announcement, simply throwing his music into the mix was a nice tribute.
Without a doubt, the biggest attraction in Las Vegas is the new Sphere. It’s next to the Venetian, but I had a great view of it from my room at the Encore. The inside is a concert venue which will open in late September with U2 in residence. But the outside, with an LED display visible on all sides, is already a big hit. I got a kick just watching it for long stretches. That photo above is just one of several images that move across its façade. Others include our globe, a lunar landscape, and a basketball promoting the NBA Summer League that just wrapped up its season in town.
I found the Sphere absolutely mesmerizing, a worthy but higher-tech venue to rival other free Vegas attractions like the Bellagio fountains and the Mirage volcano. I would have walked down The Strip for a closer look at the Sphere, but it’s hard to walk on melting sidewalks.