As We See It

[Neon Eden]

A single Saturday shows the best—and strangest—of Las Vegas

Shoe business: Ladies paid $100 on Saturday night to race across the casino floor at the Palazzo.
Photo: Leila Navidi

The day begins with a somber reminder of the sacrifice of military families. The day ends 16 hours later with a reminder of how many of us use the freedom those military families secure: We execute our God-given right to be fat, drunk and stupid.

In between all that, it’s Saturday in Las Vegas, and like the chefs at Comme Ça, I’m feasting on the whole hog. I traveled from one event to the next to see our city—its muscle and fat, its liver and belly and brain, its innards and ears.

I arrive at Aliante Station in North Las Vegas, where U.S. Army Reservists of the 405th Civil Affairs Battalion and their families have gathered in a ballroom to prepare for deployment. The soldiers will head to Afghanistan next month, and this seminar will help them understand services and benefits available to them and provide tips on how to get through it.

For Colin Veltman, 28, this is his second deployment; the first was to Iraq in 2006. He’s better prepared this time and has tried to prepare his wife, whom he married in June 2010. “Sometimes it may sound like I don’t care what’s happening at home, but that’s not the case,” he says, “but sometimes all I can say is, ‘I miss you. I love you. And I’m sorry I’m not there.’”

Kerri Veltman, 34, is strong and independent, a former single mom who is an office manager and also has her own business. She knew what she was getting herself into but concedes that she’s nervous.

And, “It’s humbling, and I feel honored,” she says. “It’s something I never expected to feel, and it’s humbling because he’s sacrificing everything he has to offer for the United States.”

May they return safely.

Next I head to Catholic Charities on Las Vegas Boulevard, where they’re doing the annual “Phone Home” program, during which they set up a phone bank so people without access to a phone can call a loved one. There are also tables with clothing and toiletries.

Janet Hampton and two friends have sewn 300 stockings for the event and collected donated items and bought some more to fill those stockings. All told, they made 1,000 stockings for nonprofits all on one sewing machine, so for three months, they cut and they sew. She’s 72 and could have retired a few years ago as a produce manager at Smith’s, which donated $500 to the stocking campaign, but then she wouldn’t be able to give away as much money. Think about that: She literally works for other people.

James Smith got to call his mom in Dallas. He came here about a month ago from Fort Collins, Colorado, to look for work. He gambled what money he had; hopefully his brother will come through with a bus ticket. We should do an ad campaign, a mirror of “What happens here ...” that would tell stories like Smith’s.

I drive the Strip and see bobbing cowboy hats in town for National Finals Rodeo.

I’m at the Bellagio, where I’ve come to see who won a $20,000 scavenger hunt. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here. I’d forgotten the aesthetic—luxurious cheese. It smells vaguely drunk in here.

At the Bank, comedian Amy Sedaris will announce the winners of the SCVNGR Presents the Downy Unstopables Hunt. SCVNGR is a mobile app that does scavenger hunts, and this one is sponsored by Downy Unstopables, a new product that smells like Downy, the fabric softener. But even more so! They’re not lying, and they’re not kidding around with this stuff. God love American capitalism.

Next, the Palazzo for the Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Stiletto Dash. Women, whose heels must be at least 3 inches, have paid $100 so we can watch them run a 50-yard dash across the casino floor. This event is so Vegas, vaguely misogynist, but you can’t say that because nobody likes a scold and it’s for a good cause—Opportunity Village. It screams present-day Vegas while being totally anachronistic. You can imagine the guys on Mad Men cutting out early for martinis and a stiletto race.

Brooke Burke, who is on a TV show, or something, is on the red carpet. “Brooke, over here!” the paparazzi shout. “Who are you?” I yell out.

I’m told there are 200 participants.

Alas, in a neck-and-neck sprint, my favorite, Endia Abrante, who owns a showgirl-themed party-planning business, stumbles. About once per race, someone falls. This is the first year of the dash, and everyone is fairly well-behaved, but I can see it getting big, becoming a go-to event for recent Duke University graduates and other awfuls.

I head Downtown to Beauty Bar for Freakshow Wrestling, a fantastic parody of professional wrestling, which, of course, is its own parody. I’m missing the Michael Jackson Cirque show at Mandalay Bay, but I have no regrets, figuring it’s an irony-free zone there.

Here at Beauty Bar, on the other hand, a guy in a banana outfit is fighting a big, pink, furry Elvis. Overheard: “Banana is gonna get creamed, bro.”

As the crowd gets drunker, they get bloodlusty. A scary Santa is shooting fire from his mouth.

J. Patrick Coolican is a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. Follow him on Twitter @jpcoolican or email him at [email protected] His Neon Eden radio show airs Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. on 91.5 FM.
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