Thankfully, the experience is not nearly as depressing as I'd anticipated, despite the life-size replica of the world's tallest man, who, at an impossible eight feet 11.1 inches, also looked like the world's saddest man. (Robert Wadlow died in 1940, at age 22.)
Vegas is not about fine lunches, but there are plenty of opportunities for snacking between breakfast and dinner. I start with Kidd's Marshmallow Factory in Henderson. Kidd's free self-guided tour is an appropriate way to commune with the spirit of Las Vegas, a place arguably built on fluff. Each visitor is rewarded with a sample of what the French call guimauves miniatures (that's mini-marshmallows to you). "I feel like I'm in an episode of I Love Lucy," remarks one sightseer, gazing upon the tranquilizing sight of white clouds traveling down the assembly line. That Lucy episode took place in a chocolate factory not unlike the nearby Ethel M. (no relation to Lucy's sidekick), which also offers free tours. To balance this diet, an enthusiastic cabbie suggests I investigate Fun City Popcorn—then proceeds to drive me there. Excellent caramel and cheese corn await.
I'd heard that everyone at the Luxor hotel walks like an Egyptian, down to the doormen, who wear headdresses and flowing white pants. This I had to see. The Luxor's entrance is dominated by a 10-story-high sphinx, and the hotel is even more elaborately landscaped inside. (Attention, Guinness: the Luxor boasts the world's largest atrium, allegedly big enough to hold nine 747's.) Here you may engage in any number of Egypto-activities; I choose a virtual-reality romp called "In Search of the Obelisk."
Perhaps inspired by the Guinness Museum's video spectacle of a man putting away 100 yards of spaghetti in 27.75 seconds, I begin to experience a Pavlovian craving for pasta. Piero's is a favorite hangout of Jerry Lewis, Tom Selleck, and Debbie Reynolds. I don't normally eat dinner this soon after lunch, but I'm told to arrive early if I have a curtain to catch. (I do. I'm holding a ticket to Debbie Reynolds's show.) Time is short. I forgo Piero's "world-famous osso buco" in favor of a dreamy linguine pomodoro.
A two-minute walk from Piero's is the Debbie Reynolds Hotel/Casino/Hollywood Movie Museum, where Debbie and the Uptown Country Singers take the show to supercamp. (The curtain doesn't rise until eight, but I'm advised to arrive at least an hour ahead of time.) Debbie doesn't disappoint. Amid a collection of Hollywood memorabilia that is—ahem, Guinness—the largest of its kind, the voice of Charlotte in "Charlotte's Web" turns in a performance that is nothing less than a brilliantly bitchy dissertation on survival: disparaging Liz Taylor and Eddie Fisher, trying to explain her claim to fame to the younger ones in the crowd ("I'm Princess Leia's mother") over a montage of her greatest celluloid hits. Debbie personalizes each pre-autographed program for her fans. Alas, there is no time for Debbie to personalize mine; I'm in a mad hurry to make it back to the Treasure Island Showroom.
Cirque du Soleil doesn't do stupid pet tricks; only humans are dumb enough to entrust life and limb to a fraying bungee cord. While the troupe is busy defying gravity, I weigh myself down with more popcorn and a super-size Coke.
THURSDAY, 12:33 A.M.
At this point, I'm too beat and too stuffed to venture beyond the Treasure Island lobby, so I devise my own independent study course in gaming: Intensive Baccarat 101. I don't want to spend any dough, so I just spend my time watching.
Now, I'd imagined baccarat to be an elegant affair, the one game left for which people still dress, Cary Grant-style. I was wrong. Tonight's big man at the tables—the Baccarat Player—is dressed like any other American in Vegas, pairing white socks with sandals and the like. But the Baccarat Player is doing something right: he is winning. After the dealer invites me, for the fifth time, to join the fun, I decide to turn in for the evening. Or is it morning?
No offense to Jodi and Elias, the Luxor hotel's remarkably lifelike talking robotic camels, but I feel myself craving the company of living, breathing quadrupeds: I miss my dog. So off I go, 40 miles from Treasure Island (where I've checked out and left my bags with the bellman) to the Mountain T Ranch, which offers 90-minute, $20 horseback rides. What a difference 40 miles can make! Not only is it 10 degrees cooler up here, but at the Mountain T, waiting as if just for me, are two magnificent mixed pit bulls, distant cousins of the dog I left at home.
Bruce Weber should consider doing a shoot here at the Mountain T; staff members have names like Bo and Autumn and are impossibly photogenic. I entrust my neck to a 13-year-old horse named Rooster, and my trail guide, Rick, promises that the ride will "take you back a hundred years." It does exactly that—punctuated by the breathtaking scenery of Mount Charleston and the canyons of La Madre Mountain, complete with yuccas, Joshua trees, miscellaneous cacti, deep-red Indian paintbrush, and a cameo appearance by a horned toad.
Just before I left, my friend Jennifer challenged me to find real fashion in Las Vegas. Okay, I declared, I will find Vivienne Westwood. Jennifer's response: "No way."
Way, Jen. There in the lobby of the Mirage, I discover the Street of Shops, a series of boutiques stocking fashion-forward numbers by Todd Oldham, Byron Lars, Ozbek, Moschino, and—ha!—Westwood. There are other locales, too: the Fashion Show Mall has Saks, Louis Vuitton, and Banana Republic; among the Forum Shops at Caesars you'll find Versace, Gucci, the country's only freestanding Estee Lauder boutique, and a Warner Bros. Studio Store. (It's called "Warnerius Fraternius Studius Storius.")