While attending the National Communication Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas, I learned that, yes, it is possible to do an all-nighter without gambling or clubbing. Nothing against those activities, of course, but Jenny and I wanted to explore some of Sin City’s other nocturnal delights. Here’s the itinerary:
6:30 p.m., Neon Boneyard: Joined by our pal Chip Hall, we wandered an outdoor museum dedicated to some of Vegas’s glittering, twinkling, glowing marquees that have drawn gamblers and gangsters to the desert for decades. The fee is a bit steep, and entrance requires a reservation, but the trip is essential for anyone who loves classic neon. Though many of the signs no longer function, strategically placed lights produce delightfully eerie shadows on these icons of the past.
8:30 p.m., Zombie Burlesque: Jenny and I had never seen a Vegas show, and I’m a bit amazed that Jenny OK’d this one as our first. The good news is that the “burlesque” was pretty much PG-13. A little skin, some naughty humor, but nothing too raunchy. Best of all, the theme was a goofy send-up of 50s and 60s atomic-age pop culture, a hidden history of America’s hidden zombies next door, and a genuinely sweet message about diversity that rings especially true in an Age of Trump. Oh, and free jello-shots.
10:30 p.m., El Cortez and Fremont Street: Jenny, Chip, and I grabbed a meal at Siegel's 1941, a comfy old school restaurant at El Cortez, one of Vegas’s original mob haunts. Their off-menu prime rib dinner is delectable [well, it's palatable], but this time I went for a wedge salad and some caffeine. Afterward we surveyed the enclosed zaniness of Fremont Street, where you can snap photos with a Tony Montana lookalike, rock out to competing 80s cover bands, and pay dearly to drink from a replica of the Christmas Story leg-lampshade.
1:30 a.m., Fremont Street and Vegas Boulevard: Jenny and I continued our adventures north of the Strip, driving around some of the city’s funkier environs in search of neon signage for a video I've long wanted to produce. At this point, we were both getting sleepy, but neither of us would discuss quitting. We both remember pooping out around this time in an ill-fated Santa Cruz all-nighter we attempted a few years back. Every time I proposed a retry, Jenny’d say, “Nope. This time we’ll wait for a place like Vegas or Paris.” Now that we were here, there was no way we’d give up.
2:30 a.m., Flamingo Wildlife Habitat: We returned to the Strip, racing south on an interstate that had been a traffic-jammed parking lot just a few hours ago. Inside the Flamingo, the “Vegas, Baby!” vibe had begun to sour for a few folks: Woo Girls crying in the bathroom, couples arguing next to taxi cabs ("But you said you loved me!"), guys itching for a fight, that sort of thing. Jenny and I made our way to the habitat, searching for flamingos and koi. I was a little annoyed that the lights had been switched off, but the sight of fish sleeping in their shadowy pools delighted us nonetheless.
3:30 a.m., Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: While hard core late-night gamblers (Sorry, I mean “gamers”) plugged away, hoping for their big break, Jenny and I visited one of the Bellagio’s lesser-known destinations. The hotel’s high-end shopping mall offerings were closed, but the gardens remained available - and free! At the Conservatory, we wandered quiet walkways amid gorgeous arrangements of autumn blooms, stared upward at an indoor waterwheel, snapped pictures and - Hey! Did that tree just wink at us? Yeah, the Bellagio’s got an animatronic tree - because, of course it does.
4:30 a.m., Caesars Palace and LINQ: Getting our Third Wind, we toured Caesars Palace, which famously doesn’t include an apostrophe because, “Everyone’s a Caesar here.” Well, OK, but you could put the apostrophe after the second ’s,’ right? Never mind. Anyway we gazed upward at replicas of Italian statues, including a version of Michelangelo’s “David.” At LINQ we found an all-night breakfast at Hash House A Go Go. Jenny ordered Froot Loops, and I got a BLT Bloody Mary - because who doesn’t enjoy cheap vodka, soggy bacon, wilted lettuce, and a side of toast?
5:30 a.m., Luxor and Excalibur: I’d always wanted to visit the inside of the Luxor pyramid, so we drove about a half-mile south to our last stops of the night. The Luxor is suitably mammoth, a vast atrium filled with shops and restaurants and leering advertisements of Criss Angel and Carrot Top. Jenny was hankering to check out Excalibur, so we boarded a moving walkway through the omnitopian continuum and found ourselves in a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy domain that also offers 24-hour Krispy Kreme donuts. I figured my Bloody Mary needed some company, and the price was right.
6:30 a.m., Exit: Riding the travelator back to the Luxor and our parking garage, we noticed that the sun rise had begun to color the clouds in delicate wisps of pink. We wandered past creepy video gaming devices - the ones featuring life-sized and blandly sexy dealers who appear to look around before beckoning you from across the floor (“There’s a seat over here!”) - and exited into the cool morning air. Driving north and then east, the sun now glowed fully fat orange and round, celebrating the new day.
Next All-Nighter? But of course: Paris!