Snow covered the ground back home in Pennsylvania. Las Vegas' warm sunshine and comfortably cool air were a welcomed relief from a rather raw winter. We walked about a hundred miles through the mobbed airport, fought our way through obnoxious/grouchy air travelers to grab our bags, and eventually found ourselves standing in the first of what would be many quietly organized lines while waiting for a cab.
At this point, I said aloud to Art, "This reminds me of waiting in line at Six Flaggs' Great Adventure, or Disneyland." The sentiment was independently repeated later that night by our friend Miroslav. The same theme recurred throughout the entire trip. Las Vegas really is like one giant amusement park. And as Art became fond of saying, "if you're not having fun in Las Vegas, it's your own damned fault!"
We hopped into our cab and drove to our first Vegas bunk, Viva Las Vegas Villas. A word about Vegas cabbies: they're much friendlier/chattier than cabbies we're accustomed to on the East Coast. Philly cab drivers typically pretend you're not there, while New York cabbies often don't speak a recognizable language. With two exceptions, all of the Vegas cabbies we rode with were open, congenial fellows who seemed to delight in suggesting things to do and see while in town.
We also surmised that Vegas was very clean for being a bustling city. And compared to East Coast cities, Vegas instilled an unusual sensation of safety. Even in the seedier areas, such as the off-strip region that housed Viva Las Vegas Villas. There was very little fear or loathing to be had -- everything seemed so open and alert that we were very much at ease with our surroundings from the outset.
Several of the most popular quickie wedding chapels lined the side of the street on which Viva Las Vegas Villas stood, including places that advertised their "drive-through" wedding services. The other side of the street sported sex shops and mid-range nudie bars. The glittery Stratosphere Tower stood a few blocks up the road.
Viva Las Vegas Villas is one part theme motel, two parts wedding chapel. The motel is most renown for its "Elvis Suite," which includes a pink Cadillac converted into a bed. I first found the motel while looking for theme rooms that would compliment our "Star Trek Wedding." Viva offered a spacey room, but we liked the "Gothic/Dracula's Castle" theme room better. We really wanted to stay someplace uber cheesy to start off; somewhere we'd never see again. Something once-in-a-lifetime. And oh, did we ever get what we wanted.
The fellow at the front desk was very chatty and friendly. The motel decor belied a keen eye for kitsch detail. A pink Cadillac was parked in the courtyard. A funky glass elevator glowed with cheeky lightbulbs at night. All of the outside motel walls and doors sported mural-like paintings depicting impossible wood grain and stonework. The manager gave us a grand tour of our room and showed us all of its cutesy features. The coolest was a painting of Dracula inside the bathroom door. It was very dark inside the room, but the whole thing was enchantingly hilarious. We gawked at and played in the room for a bit, made a few critical "we're here" phonecalls, then clumsily hailed a cab to take us to the courthouse for our Nevada marriage license.
After filing our paperwork and grabbing the necessary certificates, we walked over to The Fremont Street Experience, which is stretch of enclosed road accentuated by glittering casinos, stores, street merchants, and girly bars. The highlight of "the experience" is a canopy comprised of thousands of lights that encloses the street. At the top of each hour, a musical lightshow illuminates the street from above. It's quite an overwhelmingly psychedelic sight. The first show we witnessed had a 70's-theme, replete with afros, Abba, and The Village People.
As we looked up at the blanket of synchronized lights, Art and I both became aware of how lousy we felt. The scant few hours of restless napping aboard the airplane had not compensated for the sleep we missed from our previous preparatory all-nighter. We crawled to the northern tip of the "experience" until we found a restaurant inside The Golden Gate, which is said to be the oldest hotel in Las Vegas.
Art had read a brief mention of the diner in our printed travel book, The Irreverent Guide to Las Vegas. What a find! For $12 combined, we feasted on large portions of tasty breakfast food that completely re-invigorated us. Feeling re-hydrated and peppy, we strolled up Fremont Street with renewed energy an hour later. A perky street merchant sold us a beautiful stylized Chinese glass dragon. We became enamored with a two-story Native-American shop that displayed a wide selection of unique Indian items, high-end and low. There was also a street artist who created photo-realistic fantasy portraits with simple spray-paint cans as onlookers watched. This guy drew a huge crowd; he was as much an attraction as the light canopy itself! We caught another incredible lightshow, this one had a more traditional Vegas theme, featuring Sammy Davis Jr. tunes and great greasy gobs of Tom Jones' ditties.
The Fremont Street Experience was a wholly unique, uh, experience. Glitzy, innovative, tacky, and overwhelming all at the same time. Within three hours of landing, we were already in love with Vegas and had seen things we'd never seen before.
We took a cab back to our funny theme room around 11:00 and waited for our friend Miroslav to arrive from California. Art dozed a bit on the super-squishy and comfy "coffin" bed until Miroslav knocked on the door, which was around half-past midnight. Miroslav and I go way back; he's been my friend since high school. Heck, I even took Miroslav to my junior prom! Next to Art, he's the coolest, most interesting fellow I've ever known. Since I always made a point to introduce him to everyone, he met Art a few months after I first met Art -- that was back in 1991. It meant the world to me that Miroslav came out to be with us for the wedding. He was staying at a motel across the street from Viva Las Vegas Villas. The three of us gabbed about everything and nothing for a few hours, then split up and headed for bed around 3:00 a.m..