by Abby Margolis Newman
"What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" is a familiar phrase. I remember another saying from my childhood, displayed on a poster by my anti-Vietnam-war parents circa 1970: "War is not healthy for children or other living things."
I propose a new hybrid: "What happens in Vegas is not healthy for children or other living things." A few weeks ago, our family traveled to Las Vegas to see the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show, "Love." I've been a Beatles fan my whole life - what child of the 60's or 70's wasn't? - and enjoyed the non-Beatles Cirque du Soleil show I saw years ago while living in New York. The good news: the "Love" show had gotten excellent reviews. The bad news: the show is exclusively playing in Las Vegas.
I've never been attracted to gambling in general, or Las Vegas in particular - in fact, the idea has repelled me. I don't like crowds, bright neon lights, smoking, alcohol, or tacky people. And to my mind, these things personified Las Vegas. But as we planned our overnight trip from San Francisco - including our three boys, aged 16, 15 and 11 (all Beatles fans themselves) - I tried to overcome my reluctance and concentrate on the show's positive buzz.
How bad could it be? I thought. We'd be there for less than 24 hours.
First of all, when we got off the plane, it was 105 humid degrees outside. Normally, the only time I voluntarily submit to temperatures like that is during Bikram Yoga classes... and I know I can get the hell out of there after 90 minutes. This heat was relentless, endless, depressing.
We got to our hotel and were thrust into a long line at the check-in desk - well, more of a throng. As the crowd pressed in on us, I whispered to my husband, "I have to get out of here," and made my way toward the "Love" box office to pick up our tickets. On the way, I had no choice but to walk directly through the casino area: dozens, maybe hundreds, of slot machines; poker tables; the whatever-it's-called game with the spinning ball and the numbers. And hundreds of people gambling - at two in the afternoon. With drinks and lit cigarettes in their hands. Gasping, I made my way to the box office, trying not to gape at the heavily-made-up women in skintight dresses that barely covered their asses.
After a dip in the pool and an overpriced meal at one of the hotel's many overpriced restaurants, we headed to the show, which was fabulous. It was a stunningly creative, magical, unique, colorful burst of music and acrobatics - all set to Beatles songs.
But here's the problem: the show ended before 9 pm, and none of us were tired. So we decided to take a walk outdoors - big mistake. Big, big mistake. And I'm not just talking about the fact that it was still 100 degrees outside. Any of you who have experienced "the Strip" in Las Vegas will know exactly what I mean. This is not a family-friendly stretch of real estate. Keep in mind: my youngest, Henry, is only 11.
Not only were there gigantic neon-lit billboards on every block featuring gigantic-breasted (and barely dressed) women, but there were clusters of men on every street corner wearing sandwich boards advertising, "Girls Now!" "Best Girls, Fast to YOU" and so on - who were helpfully providing postcard-sized photos of their superior brand of "girls," in every case completely topless. Prostitution is not technically legal in Las Vegas, but some believe that police and casino owners look the other way - it's just too widespread a problem for them to truly crack down on. In any case, there seems to be a fine (almost invisible) line between legal hawking of "female escorts" for men visiting Vegas, and actual solicitation of prostitution.
As it gradually dawned on me that the entire strip was filled with these types of "enticements," my instinct was to slap my hands over Henry's eyes and drag everyone back to our hotel - or, a la Harry Potter, "apparate" us back home. But we had promised the boys ice cream, and so grimly made our way down the street toward the famous Fake Paris, complete with Fake Eiffel Tower. The ground was literally covered with postcards of topless, huge-chested women. The sandwich-board men were ubiquitous. The neon signs were bright and blinking. The crowds were relentless. The heat was oppressive. The cigarette smoke was stifling. The loud, drunken jerks were, well, loud and drunk. The general tackiness was unbearable. With every step, I rued our decision to venture outside.
We got the ice cream, then scurried back to the hotel. The next morning, we hightailed it out of there.
I loved the Beatles "Love" show and I'm glad I saw it, but I will never return to the city my oldest son, Jonah, described as a "skeeze-fried hellhole." Aaron, my 15-year-old, had an even harsher assessment: "If there is one place that is literally God-forsaken," he said, "it's Las Vegas." I couldn't agree more.