Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I had the kind of great day yesterday that one can only have in Las Vegas - certainly in February and maybe any time of the year. A Chicago friend of mine who is visiting family in San Diego decided to fly in to have lunch and spend the afternoon with me. She, like other Midwesterners, has been enduring an epic winter, so she was pretty happy to get to San Diego where, although rainy, it was 60 degrees. She was overjoyed to get here where it's 67 and brightly sunny.

I picked her up at the airport after her 1-hour flight over the very beautiful scenery between San Diego and Las Vegas.
Getting in and out of McCarran Airport is unusually easy and convenient for a busy airport. Long-time locals will tell you it's terrible compared to how it once was, but they say that about the traffic too and, let me tell you, if they think the traffic here is a problem, they would think the traffic on the Kennedy in Chicago was other-worldly.

I had decided on lunch at the Bellagio because it's the most lovely, if not the most spectacular, of the Strip properties. ("Spectacular" is most definitely not a synonym for "lovely" where Las Vegas is concerned.) We had a fabulous lunch at a gorgeous restaurant overlooking the ridiculously named, but dazzling Lake Bellagio (yes, the one with the fountains and the music that you remember from the end of Ocean's Eleven). Eating in Las Vegas is a treat: there are countless superb restaurants. I've been eating here for three years now (and I have a lot of wonderful memories and, unfortunately, a few extra pounds to show for it), and I've barely scratched the surface. Dining in Chicago was great, too, but its restaurant scene lacks two of the best features of the restaurant scene out here. In Chicago, there was not a concentration of magnificent restaurants all located on one boulevard (with easy, free parking everywhere) within 20 minutes of my home, and nothing good is open 24/7. We don't crave great restaurant meals in the wee hours or on Easter very often, but it's a kick to know that, if we do, we're in business.

While my friend and I were waiting to be seated, we sat just outside the Bellagio and enjoyed the balmy weather, the mosaic tile floors, and each other's company. After lunch, we decided she couldn't spend an afternoon on the Strip without gambling a bit. At the Bellagio, high-falutin' establishment that it is, you can't play blackjack for a reasonable minimum bet without playing at a table with one of those monstrous auto-shufflers. I know suckers exist to be exploited, but come on - the game already favors the house without skewing the very mechanics of card delivery to further that advantage. So we retrieved the car from the valet and drove over to the Venetian, my favorite place to gamble on the Strip. There, we sat down with some very nice people and a dealer who remembered me (a phenomenon I'm not sure whether to be pleased or alarmed by), and I taught my friend to play blackjack. We only had half an hour to play before I needed to get her back to the airport and, obligingly, she got a couple blackjacks and drew to 21 a couple times in that short time. As we walked back to the car, she sounded just like a real player and I'm confident I've found (created?) a new gambling buddy.

Even at 4:45, the short drive to the airport was a breeze and so were my car trip back home and her flight back to San Diego. It was a perfect day. The weather here is undeniably a big draw, but it's only the tip of the enjoyment iceberg.

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