Friday, March 27, 2015

Six nights in Vegas

When all goes well, I make it to Vegas twice per year, typically in the spring and the fall, at least according to my recent history.

That changed last year, I only made it to Vegas in mid-November. I had to forgo a spring 2014 trip because my girlfriend had her heart set on San Antonio. She had been to Vegas with me three times in the two years we had been dating, so I couldn't tell her no. While I have no desire to hurry back to San Antonio, I enjoyed it and would welcome a return visit someday, even though the $630 bill for three nights at an Embassy Suites pained me greatly. 

Part of the ability to sell my girlfriend on a return trip to Vegas less than six months after our last trip is the weather. We've been in Vegas on Oct. 31, March 31, Oct. 31 and Nov. 19 during the past four trips. We had decent weather for Halloween during that first trip, and had a really nice afternoon at Palms Place during that March 31 trip, but the dates we've traveled haven't coincided with ideal pool weather. The idea of 90F weather in early May appeals to my girlfriend, even if we should be seeing daily averages of 60F or so here in Minnesota. Nobody swims outdoors in Minnesota in early May. It can get hot, but that's unlikely. Heat in Vegas is unavoidable come early May. Bring it on, we say!

Part of the reason I contemplated the first week in May was my interest in being a part of another sad chapter in Vegas history: the closing of the Riviera. I happened to be in town on a solo trip a few years ago when they closed O'Sheas (April 30, 2012). Being at a casino when it closes isn't a spectacular experience, but it was an entertaining atmosphere that Monday afternoon, and I won't miss the chance to do it again since I'll be in town for the closing of the Riv. 

I'm looking forward to those final hours at the Riv, in part because I've already arranged to meet with one member of the Vegas online community whose contributions have been appreciated by many in recent years. And I'll be able to share words and pictures from those final hours with my friends back home, as well as the tiny online community I'm connected to via this blog and its Twitter account. This blog isn't here to make money, it's an outlet for my recreational writing. But it would be nice to know my effort reaches some sort of audience. And if one member of that audience appreciates the effort, I'll be a happy bear. 

During our last trip in November we went to a few shows, which isn't something we've always made a priority. We were in town four nights, and we saw three shows. (More on this another day.) We may go to one mid-level show while we're in town later this year, but it's not a priority this time. 

Four nights will be spent at the Orleans, a regular destination during my visits, and two nights will be at Downtown Grand, our first time staying there. I enjoy being downtown, and I enjoy the Orleans a lot, so I'm always happy when I'm able to split my time between the two destinations. 

My biggest disappointment about the week we'll be in Vegas: I won't be able to attend a Las Vegas 51s game. I've wanted to go to a game for years. When I went to Vegas solo in early May 2012, I managed to visit when the 51s were out of town. Three years later I've done it again.

While I had been considering this trip for a few weeks, it wasn't booked until three nights ago. As soon as that happened my online activity increased exponentially. I keep tabs on the happenings in Vegas throughout the year, but I spend far too much time online during the weeks prior to departure. I'm terrible that way. 

Needless to say my blogging average will likely be better than an entry per week for the next month. Everybody wins! 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I couldn't close a deal

Previously I wrote about a faux game show coming to downtown Las Vegas, "Lovers or Losers: The Game Show."

In 2009 I attended a real game show. In Las Vegas.

As noted previously, I have enjoyed game shows about as far back as I can remember. As a teenager in the 1980s I thought the greatest job in the world would be game show host. And I've wanted to be on a game show for most of my life, dating back to my teenage years when I mailed a letter asking if "Press Your Luck" was planning a teen week. Never mind the fact I had no idea how I'd get from Minnesota to California to appear on the show. My parents weren't about to finance that trip. (I still have the "No, but thanks for watching" letter the show sent me more than 25 years ago.)

I've taken several solo trips to Vegas over the years. My friends all say they want to go to Vegas, but when you ask them to commit to a trip, the timing just isn't right. With nobody to join me in the fall of 2009 I went during the first week of November. I flew out on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 1, and stayed at a timeshare property west of the Orleans. 

I planned the trip because I could afford to go, I wanted to go and I hadn't been to Vegas in at least a year. I went in early November because I work weekends in October at a local haunted attraction.

As I started planning my trip I learned that the latest incarnation of "Let's Make a Deal" was coming to CBS, to be hosted by Wayne Brady. And it would tape at the Tropicana. I knew that my Vegas vacation would include attending a taping of the show if at all possible.

It turned out they had two taping days during the first week of November, Monday and Friday. And each day they'd tape two shows. 

I took the bus down Tropicana Avenue to the casino at 8 a.m. Monday morning to make sure I was in line early enough to ensure a seat in the audience. Game shows give out more tickets than they have seats for, as they know there's a no-show factor, and they want to ensure all the seat are full. 

I brought my costume in a bag so I didn't have to wear it on the bus. I wore pink scrubs, with a pink cartoon jacket and a nurses hat. The scrubs were one of my costumes for the asylum maze I worked in at the haunted attraction. The idea was that I was a pediatric nurse, and my makeup included false eyelashes and bloody red tears. I have longer hair, and despite the fact I'm 6 feet tall, some people wouldn't realize it was a guy wearing the pink scrubs, at least until I spoke. I surprised a lot of people. 

Ever wonder why LMAD contestants dress as if it's Halloween? As the story goes, way back in the 1960s people use to wear their Sunday best to go to the show. One week a woman showed up with a fancy had and/or a sign, and that got the attention of host Monty Hall. That inspired future contestants to try other stunts to get Monty's attention. Soon LMAD became a daily costume party.

LMAD gave us $10 in free play at Tropicana for showing up, and we waited in line for hours to attend the mid-afternoon taping. It was a lot of standing or sitting around and talking with others in line, and there was a break where we could grab a snack inside the Tropicana, although it lacked a lot of quick, easy fast food options, as I recall. 

By early afternoon we were being filed into the makeshift studio in the back of the Tropicana, and soon the show was underway. Host Wayne Brady would pick people out of the audience to play games for prizes, and he doesn't pick the players at random. There's a short interview potential contestants do prior to the taping, and the producers decide who they think will make a good contestant. 

I wasn't picked on Monday afternoon to play a game. Before the show ended we were told they'd have a few open seats for the second taping of the day, and we were welcome to stay and fill a seat if we wanted. Most people left, but I figured I might as well stay and watch them tape a second show. I had little hope I'd bet picked to play a game on the second day. They had 200+ new contestants to choose from, why would they choose somebody who they passed over during the first taping?

I recall being told they'd choose somebody from the 30-40 holdovers who stayed to fill a seat during the second taping, but I'm not sure if they did. It's not as if all of us sat together in one section, we filled seats mostly at the far ends of the studio, out of camera range for many shots during the game. 

The next taping day was Friday and I went back in the morning to do it again. Same result. I stayed for the second taping, despite having no hope of being picked.

I remember Friday better. I wound up in line that morning next to a group of locals, including a young, attractive woman who was full of energy all day. Her grandmother was part of her group, and by the time we were being seated for the taping, they wanted to make sure I was part of their group and we were seated down in front.

I was so sure the cute, personable woman was going to be picked. She struck me as a perfect contestant, but she didn't get picked either. I don't think their group stayed for the second taping, but I was going home the next day, I hadn't won money playing blackjack that week and I didn't have big Friday night plans since I was on a solo trip, so I stayed just for the experience of seeing a TV game show taped one more time. 

The latest incarnation of LMAD is decent. I'm not a big fan of the fact they have Wayne Brady and his announcer do skits and bits during the show, and unlike the classic version of the game, there are no pricing games. They've worked in a few games that incorporate trivia, and they have some fun games of strategy and luck that are fun to watch, so I watch it during those rare weekday afternoons I'm not working. 

I tried to videotape all the shows I attended, and I know I saw myself in the audience in most, if not all of them. I don't remember a lot about the games, the players or the Big Deals, at this point, as it has been five years since those shows aired, and I haven't seen them since they aired. Obviously I'd have more vivid memories had I been picked as a contestant.

So why wasn't I picked? It's hard to say. I think I project well and have a lot of the qualities a producer looks for in screening contestants. Despite that, LMAD passed me over, and I have yet to be picked as a contestant after attending six tapings of "The Price is Right."

In hindsight I might have made a stupid decision when I attended LMAD. It's a costume party, sure, but you never seem to see any gory, creepy costumes. I wore pink scrubs, and a white nurse hat, as well as my pink animal print jacket. One thing I didn't do before attending the taping, however, is wash my costume. I had fake blood on the shirt and pants, and the old-fashioned white hat had blood stains on it. I wore the jacket closed to cover the shirt, the pants weren't covered in blood, and I didn't wear any Halloween make up. But perhaps my costume was bloody enough that they didn't want me to be on camera. I don't know it for a fact, but my hunch is that I killed any chance I had of being picked because of my poor costume choice.

I wish I would have rinsed the costume in my shower after Monday's taping. The fake blood is water soluble, so I could have rinsed all of it out and skipped wearing the hat on Friday. It might not have gotten me picked as a contestant, but it wouldn't have hurt my chances. 

Since that November 2009 trip LMAD moved to Hollywood. It started in Vegas because Wayne was doing a show at the Veneitan, if I recall correctly, and this allowed him to do double duty easily. Once he was able to end his run of Venetian shows they moved the production out of Vegas. I never had a chance to go back to Vegas and try my luck again. Had they continued to tape the show in Vegas, I would have made a point to try again. 

I have never been a game show contestant, and it saddens me a bit. Being a game show contestant is not an obsession, but it's still a goal, and hope to someday make it happen, even if it means I have to skip making a trip to Vegas to do it. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The losers will be the ticket buyers

I've long been a fan of game shows. I grew up watching them as faithfully as I watched cartoons. I was watching Wheel of Fortune before I could read. I was watching The Price is Right before I knew how to count money. I was watching Match Game even though I had no idea why the double entendres were funny.

The good folks at Vegas Chatter noted earlier today that a new game show is coming to downtown Las Vegas. "Lovers or Losers: The Game Show" is coming to the Plaza.

From what little I know about it thus far, it sounds like nothing more than a bastardized version of "The Newlywed Game." Hosted by Willis of "Diff'rent Strokes" fame, the show will allegedly be taped for broadcast. There's a chance it will end up on some cable channel, there's no shortage of airtime to fill, but this strikes me as a lame way to make a buck or two rather than produce a game show.

I won't tell people what they should or shouldn't spend their money on. If you think $40 or more is a fair price to pay for watching some sort of competition between couples, more power to you. I'm sure it will be a humor-based show. And it's not a crime to pay for comedy. But I have a hard time believing I want to spend any money while in Vegas to watch a knock off of a television game show.

A real game show doesn't sell tickets to attend a taping of it. Even shows like "The Price is Right" and "Let's Make a Deal," where anyone in the audience could be picked to play a game and win a car, don't charge for tickets. And I bet enough people would pay for a ticket to see The Price is Right that they'd still be turning people away every day. But that's another story.

If you have to charge for tickets to see an unknown game show, it tells me there's not a cable network backing your show. If a cable network is producing a show, you'd think they'd be attaching their name to it, and promoting the hell out of it to drum up interest long before the first episode hits the airwaves rather than charging for tickets to an unproven commodity.

I suspect a lot of complimentary tickets are going to be given away to fill the showroom.

The Plaza's info page notes that couples participating in the game are vying for prizes, but there's no indication the prizes are anything spectacular. I'm sure there are some nice, modest prizes to be won, but I doubt that this show will be giving away new cars or big cash prizes with any degree of regularity. There might be a major prize offered to make the show seem legitimate, but I'd bet the odds of actually winning a major prize are long.

I'll be anxious to read a review of Lovers or Losers. I might be off the mark, but experience tells me I'll be more right than wrong.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Teach them while they're young

I was intrigued by Steve Friess' recent Las Vegas Weekly article, arguing against the idea that Vegas failed to become a family-friendly destination.

His article talks about the efforts to market Vegas as an option for family vacations during the 1990s, a strategy that has been almost universally deemed a failure. While there are signs that the effort failed, the reality is that even after the demise of a few of the marquee attractions that offered family fun, there are plenty of ways for families to spend their time in Vegas all these years later, and Friess details that.

I'm not a parent, and I'm not a prude. But at the same time, I question the wisdom of turning to Vegas as the vacation destination of choice by parents with children in tow.

Yes, there are plenty of family-oriented things to do in the Vegas area today. And there are plenty of low-cost options for families that cannot afford an elaborate vacation to Orlando. Vegas seems like a great alternative to the expensive Disney vacations and other tourist traps that gouge you at every turn. But Vegas is still an adult playground, and it saddens me to see children introduced to it.

You can't venture up and down the strip, or many other places, without seeing the excesses of alcohol on display. And it won't be long before you expose your children to the tantalizing world of prostitution. If you don't walk past porn slappers passing out handbills for busty young babes that make me tingle below the belt, your children are going to see a rolling billboard featuring a sex kitten with a come-hither look, promising she'll come directly to your room. And probably for the low, low price of $69.

Unless you're staying at a timeshare property away from the strip, you had better be prepared for your children to be exposed to young adults with alcohol-soaked morals and few sexual inhibitions if you try to use the pool during the mating season. This assumes you're not staying at a property that has managed to market its pool as a "day club." If that's the case, forget the pool.

For every Mac King magic show there are dozens of walking, talking examples of decadence and hedonism. Don't get me wrong, I love a good smoke show as much as the next guy, but kids don't need to see loose morals on parade. Life is challenging enough. Why give children a taste of adults behaving mischievously while they're still trying to cope with the fact that they're growing hair in places they've never had it?

Friess' article points out that families can see and do many things away from the strip, and come and go while avoiding the trappings that have made Vegas an adult playground for decades.

Perhaps I'm not giving parents enough credit. I'll try to remind myself of that the next time I see a young woman, young enough to be my daughter, carrying an infant through the Orleans food court at 2 a.m., or walk behind a couple with children in tow on the Vegas strip at 1:30 in the morning.