After nearly a week of fooling around in the hills and desert adjacent to Las Vegas we ventured into the world-famous den of iniquity night before last.

Vegas and I go way back. Mary and I have been there a few times. I actually lived there one winter during which I attempted to make a living by counting cards and driving a taxi. That was in my bachelor days (1979). I also used to pass through the city in 1971-72 during semester breaks as I commuted between Utah State University in Logan and Victorville, California where my parents lived.

Each time I see the city after years away I am amazed at how much it has changed. The first time I ever saw Vegas I was fifteen and sitting in the back seat of the family’s ’57 Ford Ranch Wagon on our way from Victorville to Germany where Dad had a new assignment with the Air Force. I remember Vegas as big and glitzy even then. Of course, Vegas in 1965 was small potatoes compared to Vegas of today.

I’ve been around the world a few times and Vegas, or specifically The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevaard), is unique. It’s like an oversized carnival. The flashing lights, the bright colors, the pseudo-chic boutiques, the over-stretched limos, the one-up-manship of the hotels and casinos. Vegas’s theme is an insistent “Look at me! Spend your money here!”

Forget about experiencing Vegas from your car. Traffic on The Strip fairly crawls and distractions abound so as to make the ride a painstakingly slow and unnervingly dangerous one. In a country where shoppers regularly troll parking lots at Walmart to avoid walking an extra hundred feet, this is one place where pedestrians rule. The sidewalks are at capacity and pedestrian bridges have displaced crosswalks lest there be no opportunity for cars to move.

We parked near the Circus Circus Casino, a fading and somewhat shabby establishment compared to its heyday in the 70s when I used to stop there on my way to Logan. Circus Circus seems to have fallen into disfavor like a former movie star who can no longer get a table at a restaurant. The brighter lights and gleaming towers of the new Vegas (Bellagio, Venetian, Luxor) beckoned us as we headed south.

What is it about cities that attracts homeless people? Whatever it is, Vegas has it. We noticed Vietnam Veteran status is well represented among today’s homeless, although I have my doubts as to its authenticity. There is also a trend toward disarming frankness in the shabby, hand-lettered cardboard signs which bums flash to synopsize their plight and lay claim to your generosity: “NEED MONEY FOR BOOZE & PROSTITUTES” or “LOST MONEY AT THE TABLES. NEED BUS FARE”

Also new since our last visit are the gamuts of illegal-alien types who proffer selections of plastic cards at passers-by. Playing cards? Not exactly. They’re photos of large-breasted, naked women who “Want to meet you!” for the suspiciously small fee of $35 or $45. Yeah. Sure.

With the possible exception of Broadway, Vegas has more “shows” than any city. They don’t give seats away however. We thought we’d bite the bullet on this trip and fork over the $100 – $150 admission. You know, see what all the fuss is about. But when it came down to it, we just couldn’t do it. There are too many other things we’d rather spend $200 or $300 on.

I think we walked about five or six miles in all. Anyway, we were plenty weary by the time we got back to our car at 10 PM – despite having fortified ourselves with mochas. Thinking about the evening and the thousands of people we had passed by, I was struck by the paucity of pretty girls. This wasn’t Walmart, after all. The sidewalks and casino aisles of Vegas seem like the kind of place where pretty girls would congregate. But I really didn’t remember a single one. How to explain it? I don’t honestly know. I can think of several contributing factors but none amounts to a real explanation. There is the obesity epidemic – being fat doesn’t help. There is also the unflattering fashion of today’s youth that seems to emphasize the worst of one’s anatomy.

The issue was academic in the final analysis. I looked over at the woman beside me. The one who walked The Strip at my side that night and has been my intimate for the past 33 years or so and I realized that she was the prettiest girl on The Strip that night. How’s that for lucky?