What happened in Vegas

We didn’t end up with a tiger in our room or even a bad hangover, but we had a blast on our first trip to Las Vegas earlier this month anyway.

I’ll admit I didn’t expect to like the town. After all, nothing is authentic or real. It’s Disney World for adults.

But it turns out, this fantasy land is a great escape, even if you’re escaping from Tinseltown. And it seemed fitting that our first trip to Vegas was for the wedding of our friends Mike Schaming — who played in The Placemats cover band with Kenley – and Mike’s fiancée, Amy Reid.

We checked into our sleek and modern hotel room at Palms Place, took out cash from the ATM and headed to the hotel casino. Kenley won back the $12 our two beers cost by playing Blackjack on the video poker machine at the bar. Beginner’s luck.

But we both grew confident. Maybe the tips we learned at poker night with Denise, Eric, Kevin, Justin, Jorge and Shawn had helped. (Always assume the dealer has a face card.)

But by the time the weekend was over, we had lost the $12 several times over.

Kenny Rogers was right: Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away. And after my first trip to Vegas, I’ve decided I’d rather place my bets at the nearest shopping center. At least you walk away in a cute pair of shoes!

After dinner (at Yellowtail in the Bellagio casino), we headed to the New York-New York complex, where we met up with the bride and groom for Zumanity, the sensual side of Cirque du Soleil.

There was sexual innuendo, raunchy narration and lots of audience participation, but there was also amazing dancing and acrobatics (all done in partial nudity) — and all of it really beautiful and truly sexy. Definitely an only-in-Vegas experience.

We ended the evening with Marty and Valerie Fort in Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon, where we played more Blackjack on video poker machines while drinking Miller Lite out of large plastic pitchers. I felt at home. So this is what South Carolina would be like if they ever make video poker legal again, huh?

The next day, Kenley and I relived the day we got engaged, with a romantic lunch at Mon Ami Gabi under the “Eiffel Tower” in the Paris casino. At roughly one-half the size of the genuine-article monument, and with a view of Caesars Palace instead of Napoleon’s tomb, the tower is what the French call “faux.” Kenley called it “fauxing awesome.”

Amy and Mike got married in the Glass Gardens at the Chapel of the Flowers. Elvis performed the ceremony, and the couple exchanged vows based on The King’s lyrics: “I promise to love you tender. I promise you’ll always be my teddy bear. I promise I won’t be cruel. I promise I won’t get all shook up. I promise I won’t have a suspicious mind.”

It was perfect for the Columbia guitar hero and his biggest fan.

(For those of you who are wondering — Mom — the bride and groom were officially married in a private service with two witnesses, before the Elvis ceremony.)

I had a chance to stop inside the chapel offices to get cash for our cab. Six women at six desks were answering phones that were ringing off the hook: “Congratulations. Your wedding date has been reserved.” They have four chapels on site, and I saw two other brides arrive while we were there: one in a formal wedding dress, the other in jeans and a T-shirt.

The chapel also performs renewal-of-vows ceremonies.

Plan Z: Kenley and I move back to Columbia and open up a wedding chapel next to Marty’s Rock Academy on Rosewood. Marty will handle the finances, and I’ll handle the ceremony. Kenley and Patrick Baxley (Mike’s bandmate in Hot Lava Monster) can take turns as Elvis. I know a good florist, caterer and a wedding photographer or two. Just need to find a preacher man or woman.

We had a little time before dinner, so to continue the Elvis theme, several of us went back to Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall for the free “Big Elvis” show. Big Elvis is far bigger than Elvis ever was, but his voice is deep and soulful, especially when he does Elvis’ gospel numbers. He was ranked No. 8 in TIME magazine’s list of top Elvis impersonators. Just found this article from the November 2010 issue of Details magazine, which tells his really interesting story and battle with his weight.

It was another only-in-Vegas experience. And yes, Kenley wants you to know that it made me cry.

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Amy and Mike treated their wedding guests to a dinner at Tom Colicchio’s CraftSteak in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. Colicchio is the head judge on the reality TV show “Top Chef.” And there’s a reason for that. I don’t claim to be a foodie, but it was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had.

(This statement prompted much discussion. What was your best meal ever? Mine includes my first lobster at the Home Port restaurant in Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard and the $200 dinner the Wofford girls enjoyed in celebration of our 30th birthdays in New York. Anyone remember the name of that restaurant?)

The meal at CraftSteak was served family-style. Nothing was too dry, and there were no overly rich sauces. Everything — from the carrots with honey to the 24-hour braised short ribs — was prepared simply and seasoned perfectly. It tasted like food is supposed to taste: delicious.

I’m already saving up for a trip to Colicchio’s Craft in Los Angeles.

After dinner, we continued the wedding celebration at Studio 54, also in the MGM Grand. The DJ knew exactly how to get everyone on the dance floor: Even Marty.

On our way home the next day, we walked through the historic but aging Sahara casino, which reportedly is closing its doors May 16. Old dealers sat behind faded poker tables, and regulars with cigarettes dangling from their lips wasted their last chance to get lucky.

The Sahara is one of the last hotels standing from the Rat Pack days, but the kitschy décor — which might have looked exotic in 1952 when the casino opened — just looked seedy compared with the glamour of the strip’s newest hotel, the Cosmopolitan, which features a three-story chandelier strung with 2 million crystals.

When we returned from Sin City to the City of Angels, we were excited to pick up Malia, who enjoyed a luxurious vacation of her own. She stayed at The Kennel Club, where we were greeted by a pack of large dogs that made themselves comfortable behind the receptionist’s desk (which was advertised as the VIP luxury suite).

The Kennel Club also offers limousine service to pick up your pet; individual themed cottages; magnetic massage; a bedtime story; and a mint on your dog’s pillow.

We opted for the “standard accommodations.” But Malia welcomed us home anyway.

Then it was back to our apartment, where we had less than a week to recover before my brother, Patrick, and his girlfriend, Laura, arrived for a visit.

Details on those adventures are coming soon.


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