When an organization whose Board you’re on schedules its annual conference in Las Vegas, you sign up for the tax-deductible vacation. When you find out an artist you’ve loved for 35+ years has a very rare live performance at the same time, you go early and make it a weekend to remember for life. So, that’s what I did right before Halloween 2018.
We landed late Friday night and checked in at the Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay. Saturday morning, we rented a car at the onsite Avis and headed to Hoover Dam, a site neither of us had ever visited.
We hiked the top of the dam, walked through the visitor centers and learned about the engineering and construction marvel that was this cash-flow-positive government project from 100 years ago in the desert. We walked across the newish Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, learned about the two veterans for whom it’s named, and stopped in the middle for a terrifying (to me) picture from the edge. Then I ran back to the car, which was parked on reliable pavement on reliable rocks.
Next, we drove a few miles to Lake Mead National Recreation Area and caught the last window of time for renting jet skis that day and zipped across the glass surface of Lake Mead, surrounded by red rocks I’m sure mirrored the landscapes on Mars. I steered us around a narrow bend and within arm’s length of the “Danger- No Trespassing” signs just before the top of Hoover Dam, where we could gaze upon the sites we’d just seen, but from an entirely different vantage point. We marveled silently for several minutes before speeding back across the lake, returning the jet ski, and heading back to the Four Seasons to change clothes for the concert I’d been looking forward to for over 3 decades.
When I was in high school, I wanted permission to stay out later than I was usually allowed to see a live performance, and in the course of our discussion, my dad said, “It’s not like you’re going to see…Phil Collins or something!” And, he was right. But for the 30 years that followed, I’d hoped to see Phil Collins live, as I’ve loved his work with Genesis and his solo albums since childhood (I have “No Jacket Required” on cassette, CD, and vinyl). Turns out, my bride has loved his music and wanted to see him, too! Finally, that Saturday night at the MGM Grand, I saw Phil Collins. From row 17.
He’s had back surgery and had to sit for most of the show, but the performance was awesome. In fact, the only song he stood to sing was “In the Air Tonight.” His 17-year-old son played the drums seemingly at his dad’s level of expertise. Phil opened with “Against All Odds” and then belted out just about every song I could have hoped to hear during the couple hours that followed, closing with “Take Me Home,” the final song on the album I have in 3 formats.
Sunday morning, we walked to the Delano hotel’s Bathhouse Spa for a couples massage before breakfast. That afternoon, I had my Board meeting for a few hours, and then we had dinner scheduled at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
We sat at the bar, so that we could watch our food being prepared, banter with the various staff in charge of making sure we had the best drinks, appetizers, tastings, entrees, desserts, and pairings we could possibly have. We learned how the champagne varies among regions of France before sampling a few. It was an awesome experience, though it was the most expensive dinner we’ve ever had.
Next to the restaurant was the KA by Cirque du Soleil show, also at the MGM Grand, where we had tickets for the 9:30pm show. It featured acrobatics, martial arts, and incredible feats of strength and awesomeness all around us; we loved it. But, it did make me feel badly about my current level of physical fitness and agility (especially after the 2 hours of gluttony we’d just enjoyed at Robuchon).
After the show, we walked down the strip a bit, exploring New York-New York and then taking the tram back to the Four Seasons.
Monday, I attended my educational seminar all day; that night, we had an awards banquet at the hotel, and then a bunch of us went into the casino, where I won several hundred dollars playing blackjack! But then I got arrogant and lost all of it during 15 minutes of aggressive play.
Tuesday evening at 6:45pm, after the seminar, we were able to get an early table at Nobu Caesars Palace (at the urging of a friend I made at the seminar who’d been to Vegas several times). We each chose an omakase option, so the chef chose the courses. I also had a Japanese whisky flight that was delicious and introduced me to a smokier variety of whisky I’d not had before, Hakushu. The whole meal was amazing and delicious, but we broke Sunday night’s record for our most expensive meal ever, barely coming in below 4-figures. We were in a crowded casino at a crowded restaurant, but our table had a sort of lattice screen around it that made it feel intimate. The service was impeccable, and it felt like we’d been transported across the Pacific to our trip in June, but without the children.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel, donned elf costumes, and went to the Foundation Room, several floors above the Vegas strip, for a costume party thrown by some of the conference sponsors.
Naturally, I allied myself with a fellow Will Ferrell fan as quickly as possible.
We enjoyed the view and the company for a few hours before packing and going to bed around midnight, as we had an early flight out the next morning to get home in time for canvassing the ‘hood with our children.
We landed about 3pm and rushed home to get dressed as Buddy, Jovie, Deb, Miles Finch, and Mr Narwhal for our annual neighborhood pre-trick-or-treating potluck in a cul-de-sac down the street.
All in all, an awesome trip, and one I’d love to do again with the children one day. Las Vegas is pejoratively described as “sin city,” and maybe that’s true. But it’s also a city worth exploring for incredible meals, amazing shows, and–if you drive a bit–natural beauty. Maybe it should be described like this: Vegas–more than hookers and gambling! Give it a try.