One of the handy things about Bellingham is that, because of its proximity to Vancouver, there’s an airport that has some decent direct routes that one wouldn’t normally expect for a small town. I’m assuming this is because it’s easier for Vancouverites to cross the land border than make an international flight. Allegiant Air flies to San Francisco, San Diego, Reno, Phoenix, and – woo hoo! – Las Vegas.
Sadly, there weren’t two available seats next to each other on the flight, so Claire and I sat in window seats, one in front of the other, sharing a bag of Cheez-Its over the head rest. The flight to Las Vegas was about two and a half hours long, and soon enough, we were in a shuttle bus heading towards the Las Vegas Strip. We didn’t have hotel reservations, but looking at the amount of rooms that are on the Strip, we figured we’d be okay. Our first choice, decided upon on a whim more than anything, was New York-New York, and indeed, they had a room for us. As we took the elevator (oh yes, Britain, I’m starting to use scraps of American English), there’s that feeling of anticipation that one always has when heading for your hotel room: what will the view be like. Ordinarily, I’m not that lucky with such stuff, but this time was different. Couldn’t have asked for a better view, because when looking at Las Vegas Strip hotels on Wikipedia, my favourite – the MGM Grand, which I think is simply a stunningly beautiful thing at night – was right across the street. And room 3136 looked down on the fake Statue of Liberty and the real roller coaster that goes around the front of New York-New York.
We had a smoke (yep, quitting smoking didn’t last long, but I’ve switched from the chemically-enhanced Camel Lights to additive-free American Spirits, so that’s something, right?) and went for a walk in the drizzle. Not the sort of weather one thinks about Las Vegas having, really. Past the toy-town medieval Excalibur, past the Egyptian-themed Luxor, and into the golden, shiny (but not really on a dull drizzly day), Mandalay Bay.
Thousands of slot machines; thousands of lame joke opportunities playing on the similarities between the words “slots” and “sluts.” We had a cocktail at the bar as waitresses squeezed, scooped, and sprayed into short, low-cut red dresses ferried drinks to gamblers. I got my first compliment of the trip from a bar tender with a shaved head who was jealous of my thick head of hair. (Other compliments: that I looked like a rock star, and more specifically and fairly inaccurately, like John Lennon. Maybe they were both sarcastic, but I still lorded it over the compliment-free Claire, though.)
Being a tad more anal about things than Claire, I’d checked out where the wedding chapel was on Google Maps. It was really the only thing that I had an idea about the location of. And there it was, exactly where I was thinking it should be. We stood at a pedestrian crossing next to the Mandalay Bay car park, and looked over at the Little Church of the West where, the next day, we’d be getting married. When we decided to do it in Vegas, we checked out a few websites, and fairly quickly dismissed the idea of an Elvis wedding, but when we saw the Little Church, we immediately agreed that it was the one we wanted, and, as it turns out, in a small way, we would be getting an Elvis wedding, as it was the place where he and Ann Margaret got married in “Viva Las Vegas.” Plenty of famous people have got married there (list), including Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford, and Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie. With a history like that, all signs point to a long, successful marriage for Claire and I, right?
The drizzle got a bit drizzlier, we larked around walking back towards the main part of the Strip; taking photos of the nice, decrepit-but-cool-looking motels dotted between the dirty, vacant lots that backed up against the runway side of the airport.
We hopped in a taxi to go downtown to the marriage bureau to get our licence. It’s funny how things that are really important in one’s own life mean nothing to others; when we told the cab driver where we wanted to go, he asked if he were getting married. We told him we were, and he just kinda went “huh.”
The marriage bureau looked very much like any other municipal building: double doors, a big desk with forms on it, and snaking metal barriers for the people to queue up within. Beyond them, behind glass were windows clerks dealt with the paperwork. We filled in the forms, and got in the queue behind two other couples, one of which were already wearing their wedding gear. A very friendly Hispanic woman went through the forms with us, and patiently smiled at the couple of silly errors we’d made. Fifty five dollars later, we had our marriage certificate. We were free to get married! The security guard offered his congratulations as we left, and we stood outside, having a cig and chatting to a woman from Phoenix who was worried that she wouldn’t be able to get a certificate that day as it was President’s Day, and a lot of government buildings are usually closed, but, this is Vegas!
Hopped up on the joy of having a piece of paper in our hands, we walked a couple of blocks to the downtown, old Vegas-y bit; on and around Fremont Street. It’s the bit of Vegas that’s in the video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Funny, watching that video again, how that is exactly what my imagination of Las Vegas was formed by. I’ve seen the city in countless films and photographs, but in my head, when I thought of Las Vegas, it was half-remembered bits of that video. This downtown bit is the nicest bit, I think. Partly because there’s a pedestrianised area, and it’s a lot less stressful than dealing with the too-narrow-for-the-amount-of-people pavements on the Strip. And there’s lots of very cool neon.
Fremont Street itself is covered by a street-long canopy. At one point, all the neon was turned off and the canopy’s LED display lit up the whole street with graphics, animation and videos, all to the sound of George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” Virtually everyone on the street stood still and looked up. A perfect time to be a pickpocket, I’d imagine.
After a steak and lobster supper (yum! yum! yum!), we got a cab back to the hotel, and saw the Strip from a distance along the freeway, had a short wander around our end of the Strip, and capped off the night with a couple of caipirinhas in the casino bar, and enjoyed the novelty of being able to smoke indoors.
A bit tipsy, we went upstairs and slept as single people for the last time. This entry’s already getting a bit long, so I figure it might make sense to split it in two. Next up: the wedding day.