As We See It

[The Strip Sense]

As he prepares to leave town, Steve Friess ticks down his Vegas bucket list

Tony Bennett, with daughter Antonia Bennett, at The Pearl in the Palms on July 24, 2011.
Photo: Tom Donoghue/

“The best is yet to come, and babe, won’t it be fine,” Tony Bennett crooned to the rapt audience at the Palms. “You think you’ve seen the sun, but you ain’t seen it shine.”

That was Sunday, a night I almost never go out. And I was legitimately exhausted to boot, because on Friday I’d driven to Cedar City, Utah, to see a play at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and then woke up early to spend Saturday hiking in Zion National Park.

I toyed with the idea of passing on Bennett, but then remembered what was propelling this frenzy of activity in the first place: My time in Las Vegas is ticking down, and I don’t want to regret things I didn’t do. By the end of August, my partner and I will be en route to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to participate in a fellowship I earned, and there’s no telling whether we’ll move back.

I am treating this as a major life passage. And I’ve learned through prior life passages that it’s extremely important to me to squeeze every last drop out of the last epoch before it’s over and my world changes forever.

Thus, my Vegas bucket list. Getting out to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, wading into the slippery, icy waters of the Narrows at Zion and seeing the great Tony Bennett, that last genuine connection to an era of tuxedoes and mid-century standards, were all things I’d said many times I needed to do sooner or later.

There is no later—and the list grows every time I look around. I still want to interview Siegfried Fischbacher and see Little Bavaria. I want to learn how to play craps. I want to take one of those Mob bus tours. I want to eat at Pamplemousse. I want to have that long-postponed coffee with author Jack Sheehan. I want to swim with dolphins at the Mirage. I want to be “hypnotized” by Anthony Cools after drinking a margarita from an Eiffel Tower-shaped container. I want to visit Ely and Panaca. I want to see the vineyards of Amargosa Valley. I want to buy or sell something at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop. I want to sing along at Don’t Tell Mama. I want to play cards with Bobby Baldwin. I want to see a boxing match. I want to hear Dayvid Figler perform spoken-word at Painters & Poets Jam. I want to see a play at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. I want Heidi Knapp Rinella to ask her readers where in Vegas I can buy Maynard’s Wine Gums.

The Vegas Bucket List meme is contagious. On Twitter and Facebook, I heard more of what must be considered quintessential Vegas experiences I’ve never done but also want to. Jeff Leatherrock hopes one day to meet Jackie Gaughan and eat at the Golden Steer. Virginia Valentine wants to go canoeing below Hoover Dam and fly on an F-15 at Nellis. Amy Turner wants to take a gondolier ride at the Venetian and ascend the Eiffel Tower. Malya Donoff wants to fly the Downtown zipline.

There’s no way to do it all and no way to do it exactly right. I got to the Shakespeare Festival, but I saw Noises Off, a terribly amusing farce decidedly not written by the Bard. We got to the Narrows but in inappropriate footwear, so we couldn’t go much farther than the river’s edge. And Bennett was a study in ageless glory and form, but I didn’t get to interview him, and that’s always a piece of my fantasy with artists I admire.

My partner views all this as silly and melodramatic. “It’s not like Vegas is going anywhere,” he says. “You can always come back.”

But that’s beside the point. Vegas changes so fast. That’s its appeal. Nothing will be quite as it is now.

On Sunday, Bennett belted: “We’re gonna drain the cup dry.” For the next four weeks or so, I sure intend to.


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