July 17, 2006

Things About Las Vegas That Don't Suck

Well, it had to happen eventually. Well, not that eventually: Like most things that go up here, it sat semi-completed on my hard drive for quite some time (long enough to be moved from one hard drive to another as a mttrafact). And I’m not going into the obvious advantages—the lax regulations pertaining to smoking and drinking, the temperate winters, the well-stocked thrift shops. Rather, herein I shall mention a few of the things that have made life here more bearable. Besides, once I do this, I can get to the "things that really suck" entry, and you know that'll be fun.

1. High Concentration of Beauty Supplies
You’d think that between the ladies of the Upper West Side, the ladymen of Chelsea and those painted and vulpine creatures that work for Conde Nast, New York City would be our nation’s beauty product capital. Not so: The confluence of showgirls, strippers, trophy wives and high-grade drag queens mean that Las Vegas has more makeup, hair and nails then anywhere else.
There’s a Sally Beauty Supply or a Fantastic Sam’s in seemingly every other strip mall, right next to the Walgreen’s or Rite Aid or CVS with the doublewide cosmetics aisle. If that’s not enough, we have two Sephoras, three Purebeautys, three Macs, three Avedas, two L’Occitanes, two Freshes, a Clinique, an Estee Lauder, a Shisedo, ten places to buy Avon and twenty outposts of Mary Kay cosmetics (I even parked next to one of those “saleswoman of the year” pink Cadillacs outside the Big Lots the other day.) Then there’s nearly three dozen wig shops, typified by Judy’s Fashion-Girl Wigs, Vegas Girl Wigs and the mighty Serge’s Showgirl Wigs. You know Serge’s is the shit because not only is it within walking distance of three tranny bars—a stiletto-heeled walk, it’s so close—but “celebrity hair stylists” come all the way from Hollywood to buy hair there.

2. Drive-Thrus
Well, the car thing has taken some getting used to, and I still wouldn’t say that I like it—driving being the only way to get to and from the bar, being stuck in traffic, shelling out vast sums of money for auto repairs, all make me long for the carefree days of easily accessible public transit. Still, there are two things that make me love having finally acquired a drivers’ license: cruising down the Strip at night cranking Public Image Ltd. (Try it sometime--it synchs up perfectly, the way the drum machines match the lights’ pulsation and Johnny Rotten’s cynicism perfectly fits the faces of tourists and casino workers and guys handing out porno flyers.) and going to the drive-thru. In-n-Out, Fatburger, Carl’s Jr., Jack-in-the-Box, Sonic, not to mention your usual round of Mc Donald’s and Burger King and Wendy’s and....
In-n-Out vs. Fatburger has long been a point of contention, with the two coming out about evenly matched in burger supremacy. In-n-Out has the handcut fries and the simple glory that is the double-double (although you need not stop there), yet Fatburger does offer an amazing array of toppings, a choice of fry widths, the mighty sausage-egg-and-cheese that rivals those of New York, and the best goddamn onion rings around. See, most places have the minced onion onion rings, which are like flavorless nothing. You need to have the whole ring of the onion, kept whole, breaded and deep friend, so that when you bite into it, the ribbon of onion slides out of the fried shell…
Yes, ahem, anyway, Carl’s Jr. is also a tasty late-night snack, though I love them less now that they took the chicken-bacon-guacamole sandwich off the menu. Jack-in-the-Box’s mascot kinda creeps me out, but they do have the heart-attack-inducing ciabatta breakfast sandwich, which involves ham and bacon and hollandaise, and you can get it 24 hours a day, none of that “no breakfast after 10:30am” shit. Sonic—well, I’ve never actually been to Sonic, but they have my former co-worker, the fabulous Brian Huskey on many of their commercials and I’m all for that. Very funny man, Brian Huskey. Always was.

3. Cadillacs
One way in which Las Vegas still lives up to its old-school rep is in the abundance of Cadillacs on the road. Indeed, the appropriately named Cashman Cadillac must be the leading retailer of its kind—their 40’s style metallic logo is affixed to half of the Caddies in town. Even when a Cadillac is fender-dented, primer-spattered, sun-bleached, chrome-peeled, and generally beat to shit, it’s still got a certain grandeur, like a deposed monarch. A king who waits tables is still a king.

4. Power 88
Sure, al the kids love the Area 108, but the hippest radio station in town is indisputably Power 88. Power 88 bills itself as “the people’s station” and fuck me if it ain’t. Within any two-hour period, you’ll hear the Ohio Players, the Notorious B.I.G., Larry Graham, En Vogue, Cee-Lo, Smokey Robinson… it sounds like a summer Saturday at the Fort Greene brownstone of Dave Chapelle’s coolest uncle, the one with the incredible record collection.
It was via the auspices of Power 88 that I originally heard Marlena Shaw’s “Go Away Little Boy” right after my dear friend Ben told me about it and that it had reminded him of me. It also provided me with the “Wha?” moment we all shared upon first hearing R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet.” (All that free-verse melisma dialogue and then “It’s a man.” “Wha?!?!”) And, since Power 88 is owned by the EOC, it means the only advertising is bought by sponsors meaning that instead of some idiot braying about strip clubs or gibbering about weight loss programs, we hear voices of Isaac Hayes-smoothness intoning the excellence of Prestige Janitorial Services or Community College of Southern Nevada.

5. Lee’s Liquors
Or, as I like to refer to it, The World’s Greatest Liquor Store. Or, as a friend calls it, “Disneyland for drunks.” There are those who swear by LeNell’s of Red Hook, but I’m sticking with Lee’s. For starters, not only do they carry Abita beer, but you can choose from three kinds. They have vodka, citron vodka, lemon vodka, lime vodka, orange vodka, apple vodka, peach vodka, pear vodka, melon vodka, watermelon vodka, strawberry vodka, raspberry vodka, cranberry vodka, blueberry vodka, coffee vodka, cappuccino vodka, chocolate vodka, vanilla vodka, merlot vodka, pepper vodka… all this and so much more on the vodka aisle. Yes, there’s a vodka aisle, right next to the gin aisle. Aisles: not shelves. Not even shelving units: aisles. And whether you want to spend $5.99 a bottle or $69.99 a bottle, you can find it here. Even, $1500 Erte Courvoisier. Finally, they have a frequent shopper card, just like at the supermarket. I mean, is that cool or what?

6. Random Elvis Impersonators
We all have things we gotta do to get through our day: park our cars, pick up our dry cleaning, go to the supermarket, sit at stoplights picking our noses. And often we do these things on the way to or from work, wearing our work clothes. However, in Las Vegas, it is the work of many men to be Elvis Presley. Thus, the not infrequent and always edifying sight of a fellow in white jumpsuit and sideburns riding a mall escalator, or walking through a casino parking lot (To his undoubtedly impressive ride. No Elvis drives a Honda. No Elvis drives a car that weighs less than two tons.) or buying kitty litter, or leaning out his window at the McDonald’s drive-thru. Hey, it’s just a job. A job with godlike overtones, but a job nonetheless.

7. The Museums of Tropicana Ave.
New York City has its museum mile: the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Whitney. We have Tropicana Avenue, home to the Liberace Museum and the Pinball Hall of Fame. The Liberace has expanded in the past few years, finally providing a suitable home to the world’s biggest rhinestone, the mirrored Rolls Royce and the patriotic sequined hotpants outfit. And, well, come Christmas time, the gift shop can’t be beat. Then, of course, we have the Pinball Hall of Fame, a far greater addition to our fair city than any flashy new casino. Hell, most of them time I spend not being there is wasted. I could be making myself insane getting wired on HyperBall or trying to get on the good side of the tempestuous Mata Hari machine or wondering at the strangely sex toy-like vibration of the Cosmos or continuing my futile attempts to get ghost car more than a mile down the matchbox highway on the Roadrunner.
While the Vegas history museum at the Tropicana itself recently closed, the notoriously gross “Bodies” exhibit recently opened, so the Trop is keeping up their end (to the end, apparently). I suppose their Titanic exhibit could also be considered a form of morbid fun, but whenever I hear the word “Titanic,” I think of Dion and DiCaprio and there ain’t nothin’ cool about that.

8. Big B’s Record Store/Zia Record Exchange
There is probably some complicated theory of psychic magnetism or at least real estate demographics that explains how I wind up residing within easy walking distance of two good record stores. Actually, it used to be three, but Balcony Lights finally closed, unfortunate for a vast amount of reasons, not the least of which was that it was one of the few places in Las Vegas you could walk into and have no idea you were in Las Vegas.
Regardless, Big B’s is something of an institution. Essentially, it’s your typical record store where you can buy the new Snow Patrol and the Cramps’ back catalogue and a three-foot-by-five-foot poster of P.J. Harvey and, if you want it, even—gasp!—an actual vinyl record, as well as peruse the poorly balanced table’s worth of flyers for the next three weeks of shows. So what sets this place apart? Well, every other record store I’ve been in where you could acquire the abovementioned items is staffed by, well, oh, how shall we put this… you know the kind of people I mean: record store clerks. But, unlike those supercilious creatures, the folks at Big B’s are actually friendly and helpful—when I recently went in to buy the latest … Trail of Dead CD, one of them actually went over and looked through an entire A-section’s worth of discs to find me a used copy. And they’ve done it more than once.
While the staff at Zia isn’t as out-of-their-way helpful, they’re still nicer than the average bear-like creature (In temperament, certainly not in physique: looks like a muskrat, thinks it acts like a recently awakened grizzly, really comes off more like the smallest member of the hyena pack.) ringing up your copy of In Between Days. Although the local musicians stocking the shelves in full stage regalia, fittingly, remain mute. Their used selection is vast to the point of ludicrousness and they’ve got a good-sized array of T-shirts and DVDs. Also, they have shows occasionally—nothing huge, but a fair reason for a late-afternoon stroll down to the shop.

Posted by lissa at July 17, 2006 11:58 PM