Fri Sep 12 12:51:32 PDT 2003
Leaving Las Vegas -- Las Vegas, NV

When I arrived in Vegas on Tuesday night I was completely exhausted from pedaling against the wind all day, and wanted only to go to sleep. But after taking a shower I managed to convince myself to go out to Fremont Street, a recently-renovated pedestrian district that Paul and Jeri told me about. The city has lined this five-block corridor with an overhead canopy of 200,000 lights, which can shine in many different colors. At night, this canopy lights up hourly for a synchronized light-and-sound show with animations playing in sync to classic sounds. It was quite impressive, but the thing that most struck me was the supports for the canopy, which looked remarkably like the mechanical models built in this report on Fractal Branching Robots. They weren't articulated of course, but I could just imagine them coming to life.

There are casinos everywhere in Vegas. Even the convenience stores all have a bank of slot machines against one wall in case you start feeling lucky while you buy your eggs and milk. I'm almost surprised there are no slots in the library, although I haven't looked at their special "Gambling and Local" collection yet.

I wandered into one of the casinos along Fremont Street and was completely overwhelmed. It was all blinking lights and flashy noises and spinning things, and I couldn't figure anything out. I had planned to lose a bit of money in Vegas, as part of the excitement and experience, but even the slot machines were covered in explanatory text and seemed much too complicated. I wandered on through and right back out to motel and went to sleep.

Eventually I figured out the slot machines, and it turns out the principle is pretty simple: you put in a quarter (or dollar or whatever), push a button, and get some flashing lights and spinning wheels. As a general rule, nothing comes out, but on the rare occasion you win, money doesn't come pouring out. Instead you are awarded your win in "credits" which you can use for further play, or cash out by pressing a button. Some casinos have a ticket system where you cash out and the machine prints a barcoded ticket worth a certain value at the casino cashier. It seemed to me that this completely eliminates the main appeal of the slot machines, the sound of your winnings pouring into a gratifying pile.

I spent Wednesday the 10th cruising the Strip, checking out the big casino-hotels. The Las Vegas Strip seems like an old episode "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" It abounds with pilfered monuments from around the world. Nefarious hotel owners have made off with the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Seattle Space Needle, the Empire State Building, the Arc d'Triomphe, and many other priceless landmarks. Its quite surreal to see them all in one place.

Honestly I found the Strip more than a little overhwelming. In addition, the presence of so many strangers made me feel lonlier than I ever do when I'm alone in the desert. It's the phenomenon you see in any large city; the more people, the more barriers. But I did enjoy the sights.

I had heard that Penn and Teller just started an indefinite engagement at the Mirage, and was terribly excited to see them -- they are among my favorite magicians. Alas, even though they play nightly, they are evidently on vacation until today, Friday, when I intend to leave town. Instead I went to see Blue Man Group at the Luxor, which I enjoyed enormously. The Luxor itself is quite impressive too, a huge glass pyramid with a spotlight on top. But even more impressive is the interior, which is a space large enough that they have other buildings contained inside of it. The entrance to the hotel is guarded by a reproduction Sphinx, and the inside is decorated with enormous statues of Egyptian gods, such as you would find on the most glamourous Pharoah's tomb.

My second favorite hotel was probably the Paris, the appropriators of the Eiffel Tower and Arc d'Triomphe. What impressed me about it was again the interior. You walk in from the outside at night, and its like you walked into Paris in the late afternoon. They have painted their enormous high-ceilinged first floor with blue sky and clouds, and lit the whole place so brightly that it seems like daytime, or early evening anyhow. Their ventilation system is also subtly scented to smell more like outdoors than indoors.

Thursday the 11th I took a tour to the Hoover Dam. It is one of the civil engineering wonders of the world, in that it was completed two years ahead of schedule and two million dollars under budget. I found the actual structure a little less amazing than I expected. It is certainly a very large dam, larger than any I've seen, but not so much larger as I thought it would be. I wandered around and checked out some very nice views, but I don't think I will be coming back to Vegas to see the Dam again.

I spent Thursday evening admiring some of the hotels I had missed on Wednesday, and finally got up the nerve to try my hand at roullette. I actually won on a 36-to-1, netting a bunch of money early on, but I kept gambling it again until I broke even and cashed out. I never did get around to trying Craps.

Today I'm finally heading out again. I was tempted to stay another night for Penn and Teller, but I'm feeling the call of the open road rather strongly now. I have two weeks left before I get to San Francisco!