Organized Crime-sharing (or, Driving in Vegas, the “Chicago Way”)

“Geez, Mr. Uber, dem’s some awful nice cars youse got dere.  I’m just tinkin’, it would be a shame if dey was to get into some kinda jam, y’know what I’m sayin’?”

I saw this outside the Tropicana Hotel and Casino on the Strip last week.  It’s nice to see the Mafia can still change with the times.

Disclaimer: I refuse to go to their website and ruin the illusion.

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The lady is ambivalent, but she doesn’t know it yet

This summer will mark my 30-somethingth trip to Vegas. (Disclaimer: last year I celebrated my 30-somethingth trip to Vegas.)  I first started going in 1988, when I finally got enough vacation that I didn’t use it all up going home to see my family at Christmas.  I chose Las Vegas because I had seen it so many times in movies and on TV.  For me, travel is about seeing things in person that I have seen in movies and on TV.  I’ve been to London and Los Angeles, and spent my time there looking for things I would recognize, so I would feel like I was traveling. I’ve also been to Milan, Vienna, and Vancouver.  I remember nothing about them.  (Disclaimer: I was in Vancouver in 1986. I’m sure if I went back, I would recognize stuff, since about 60% of TV shows are now shot there.)

One of the reasons I recognize Vegas is the 1964 film Viva Las Vegas, starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret.  (Disclaimer: Most of the landmarks in the movie has since been destroyed, and the rest have been extensively remodeled.  Do not watch this movie and then go to Vegas expecting to see stuff you recognize.)  I was only 3 when the movie came out, but I remember it being on TV a lot of Saturday afternoons in the early 1970’s.  As a result, it’s one of only two movies I really remember from my childhood.  (The other is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.)

This is the plot synopsis from IMDB:

Race car driver Lucky Jackson goes to Las Vegas to earn money to pay for a new engine for his motor car. Working as a waiter, he still finds the time to court young Rusty Martin.

This is the plot synopsis from me in the early 1970’s:

Ann-Margret wears skimpy outfits while stuff happens around her. Sometimes she goes away for a while, but then she comes back in a different skimpy outfit.

I developed a lifelong crush on Ann-Margret from this movie.  (Note to self: We actually got to see her perform in Vegas back in 1990.  When we finally have to execute my bucket list, find something else to do that day.)

The clip above is my favorite song from the movie, “The Lady Loves Me”.  1970’s me describes the scene this way:

Ann-Margret changes from a skimpy red swimsuit into skimpy yellow shorts, while stuff happens around her.  Maybe.  And I think there’s music of some sort.

To put the scene in context, earlier in the movie, Ann-Margret walked into a scene in skimpy white shorts, and stuff happened around her.  (Note to self: Shut up, 1970’s me!  I’m trying to make a point!)  Lucky (Elvis) is a race car driver/mechanic who tried to pick up Rusty (Ann-Margret) by telling her her car needed repair work when it didn’t.  She found out and is still angry.  Then he bumps into her at his hotel, where she works as a pool manager.  So he attempts to compensate for his earlier petty fraud by wooing her with song.

Anyway, as I was watching this scene, 2016 me noticed a few things that 1970’s me missed.

  1. At the beginning of the scene, Rusty steps out of the pool after helping some kids.  There is a continuous walk-and-talk shot from the pool to the dressing room.  As she closes the door behind her, you can see that she was standing in the pool in white high heels.  (She wears the same heels through the rest of the song.)
  2. Rusty dresses faster than the Flash.  She is still wearing the red swimsuit when he sings “I’m her ideal, her heart’s desire” at 0:49 in the clip.  At 0:56, seven seconds later, she tosses the swimsuit on the screen as he sings, “She’d like to cuddle up with me”, and her hair is already tied back with a yellow ribbon.  By the time she starts her verse at 1:09, she’s wearing the yellow shorts and top outfit.  That’s a complete change of wardrobe in 20 seconds, and when she comes out from behind the screen, we see she’s still wearing her sensible white pool heels.
  3. Why does the inside of a women’s dressing room (which I’ve never seen) look like the women’s department at J.C. Penney (which I have seen)?  Do they still look like that half a century later?  And who owns all those clothes?  Aren’t they worried that someone will steal them, like at J.C. Penney?  Do they have those clip-on RFID tags?  Did they even have clip-on RFID tags in 1964?
  4. Lucky is clearly sure of himself, and it appears that his assumption about her feelings is not unfounded.  He has chosen to serenade her with what is clearly a duet, and she’s clearly willing to play along.  If she truly “loathed him”, wouldn’t it make much more sense to ignore him, or call the lifeguard?  He’d look pretty foolish just walking around singing “The lady loves me, but she doesn’t know it yet.” at random intervals with no lady around.
  5. Wait a minute, isn’t she a lifeguard?  If not, it’s pretty unsafe for her to be teaching small children to swim.  The hotel is probably looking at some sort of lawsuit.
  6. Notice how there is no background noise in the pool area.  We just saw Rusty teaching small children to dive less than a minute ago.  How are their parents keeping them quiet enough for a musical interlude?  I would expect at least one overheard conversation like this:
    • Mother: Kids, gather up your things.  It’s time to go.
    • Susie: Mommy, why was Miss Martin giving us swimming lessons in high heels?
    • Mother: For the same reason your father wears a suit to change the oil — it’s the Sixties.  Now hurry up.  I have to go put on a dress and pearls and start dinner.
  7. And when did this become a lost parental art?
  8. Rusty sings, “He’s one man I could learn to hate.”  Earlier she indicated that she loathes him.  How much of a learning curve does that require?
  9. Lucky is so focused on Rusty that he fails to notice that he has walked backward onto a diving board.  1970’s me wouldn’t have noticed the diving board, either.  Or the pool.  Or the guitar.

The biggest question of all is this: HOW DOES RUSTY KNOW THE LYRICS? Lucky is apparently making the song up as he goes, and yet she knows exactly when to come in with her lines. I’ve watched my old improv group make up songs on the fly, so I know how hard that is.  This seems too effortless.  It’s almost as if Rusty knows the song already.   Hmmm, is it possible that she has already seen Viva Las Vegas?  Maybe even has a recording of the soundtrack? And if so, how does Lucky know to pick one of the songs from that LP? I believe that either Lucky or Rusty (or both of them?) are trapped in a time loop, and forced to repeat the day over and over until they end up together.*

* Or maybe not.  Maybe Ann-Margret is supposed to end up with Cesare Danova, the Italian racing count.  Or maybe learning to hate Lucky isn’t as easy as it seems given her loathing, and she’s still trying to get it right.

General trivia note: Among the uncredited background people in Viva Las Vegas are singer Toni Basil (“Mickey”), actress Teri Garr (Young Frankenstein), and actors Kent McCord (Adam-12) and Lance LeGault (you’d know him if you saw him).  If you are under 40, you have no idea who I’m talking about, do you?

A tale of two Trips

Last week was my annual vacation.  I got home Friday night around midnight.  Three hours later I came down with something.  Not sure exactly what.  From the symptoms, it feels like something in the food poisoning/bronchitis/Captain Trips from The Stand family.

I hate being sick.  Oh sure, it’s fun.  All the cool kids are getting sick.  And it drives the chicks wild.  But it’s not for me.  That’s not how I roll.  (Disclaimer: After almost 53 years, I’m not sure exactly how I do roll, but based on the available data, it does not include being fun, doing what the cool kids do, or driving the chicks wild.)

Having said that, I’m very happy that whatever this is, it waited for me to get back from vacation.  Being sick in a hotel room on the Vegas Strip would largely negate the value of being in a hotel room on the Vegas Strip.  And I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to kill me.  My record to date of surviving unfortunate situations is roughly Always-0. (Disclaimer:  I don’t expect to retain my perfect record for the rest of the century, but if I can get out with only one loss, I’ll be satisfied.)

Nevertheless, if this is a non-lethal strain of food poisoning/bronchitis/Captain Trips, I really hope I start seeing visions of Mother Abigail soon.  I just came from Vegas, and I’d hate to have to walk all the way back feeling like this.

Cabin in the neon woods

Yesterday I returned from my annual vacation in Las Vegas.  This was my 32nd trip to Vegas over the last 25 years.  (I made a couple weekend jaunts over the years when I worked for a boss in Silicon Valley.)  I love Vegas because they entertain me, because I can leave my problems 3000 miles behind me for a week, and because there are no time constraints.  If I want to go to breakfast at 1AM or play blackjack at 10AM or see a show at 3PM, Vegas will accommodate me.

I’ve taken traveling companions with me to Vegas a few times, but mostly I go by myself.  And having been there so many times, it’s no longer an “adventure” per se.  I have seen everything I want to see at least once, so I’m never under any pressure to fill every moment of every day and night with activity.  What I don’t get to this year, I’ll get to next year.  So if I feel like sleeping in or watching TV in the hotel room, so be it.  That’s why I refer to Vegas as my cabin in the woods.  (Disclaimer: The only way you would ever catch me in a real cabin in the woods is if it had a TV.  And a casino.  And air conditioning.  And no woods.)  I never bring back great stories of what I did, because largely, I sit around and play blackjack, and wander the Strip sightseeing the rest of the time.  My motto: What happens in Vegas is boring to others.  What stays in Vegas is my money.

But, because of my God-given gift for sensing weirdness all around me, I always find ordinary things that entertain or astonish me.  I’ve taken some pictures of my trip, which are posted here.  Below is a sampling of non-visual events from Las Vegas 2013:

  • I realize that I have become a jaded traveler.  As the plane landed in Vegas, an 8-year old kid a couple rows behind me exclaimed, “It’s so exciting we didn’t die!”  I’ve been on probably 200 planes in my life.  Somewhere along the way, I guess I started taking not dying for granted.  (I also wonder who put the idea of dying on a plane in an 8-year old’s mind.  I really hope it was a 12-year old sibling.  Otherwise it’s borderline child abuse.)
  • There are a lot of Gordon Ramsey restaurants in the hotels on the Strip.  Given all the yelling and swearing, why would anyone work there?
  • One of the casinos has a “comedy hypnotist” show.  I heard one of their advertisements over the PA system.  “Come watch your friends do outrageous things, or be hypnotized yourself!”  Hmmm, I can come watch my friends be publicly humiliated!  Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll get up on stage so I can be hypnotized to stop smoking and feel better about myself!
  • I happened to arrive on the last day of something called the Electric Daisy Carnival.  It’s some sort of techno-rock weekend festival that attracts upwards of 100,000 people every year.  If you took Woodstock, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Lady Gaga and threw them into the Brundlefly machine, it would approximate the crowds waiting in line for the shuttle to the fairgrounds on Sunday night.  The average male was early 20s, dressed in something tie-dyed, something with a superhero logo, and some sort of headgear.  The average female was also early 20s, and “dressed” in a thong bikini, thigh-high striped stockings, fake fur snow boots, ribbons, and glitter.  Tutus are also common, and one girl was carrying a hula hoop.  From the pictures in the Las Vegas paper, the audience made the performers look like an IBM board of directors meeting.  Go Google “Electric Daisy Carnival” if you think I’m kidding.

Vegas Picturebook 2013