The Pencilnecks in Vegas

U h oh.

Several years ago, I woke up and had one of those heart-stopping moments where you have no fargin’ idea where you are. I rolled over and heard a crinkle, and remembered where I was before I read the note.

It had a feminine scrawl and said “Get your ass out of bed and call me”.

This was the Vegas Hilton, and the note was from my wife: The Colonel. She was speaking at a picture framing convention, and I’d got here after a meeting in L.A. I was exhausted because by the time I retired I had been 42 hours awake.

I hobbled out of bed and wandered around the shower. I’d stayed here 5 years previously and back then it was a dump – cracked tile, worn carpet, stained ceiling….

I used to be a full time musician and I’ve stayed in some pretty ghastly accommodations, and I thought that I could find comfort just about anywhere, but I’m finding that as I get older, I’m beginning to admit to a certain “sleep fussiness”. I like clean. I appreciate not having somebody else’s hair in the sheets. I find it convenient to NOT have the TV remote screwed down into the nightstand. I kind of demand towels that don’t smell like a fungus. I refuse to stay in a hotel that has rotary phones in the rooms.

But now the Hilton had redone the rooms and they were nice and clean and had a bit of swank.

This was kind of a special trip for us. We’ve NEVER been on a trip together without the kids. The previous time we went away was our honeymoon in 2000. The Colonel’s mom, The Admiral, has retired, and she came to Spruce Grove to watch The Boys while we were away, and I was to take care of the accommodations after The Colonel’s convention.

“Why are we checking out?” she asked after she finished her gig.

I ahemed. “We’re going to stay at the Sahara!”

“Why.” It wasn’t a question.

“Well…” I said, passing a finger around the inside of my collar, “That’s where they put us!”

“Who?!” she asked. She was beginning to squint.

“The time share people!” I beamed, and as we’ll see, beaming is important in selling the idea of a time-share.

She leapt a foot. “What!?!?”

“Well you see, a ha-ha, last time I was here, I ran into George Wallace, and he comped us 3 nights stay in Vegas!”

“You made it sound like he was pulling some strings for you!” she said.

“Well not exactly,.” I said “It was during a performance and he passed around these certificates and had us leave then with his stage manager. I knew it was for a time share pitch, but it was so dashed smoothly done that I was kind of curious about the rest of the process.”

“And you booked it without checking with me.” She had a full Eastwood squint going now.

“You would’ve said no!” You’d think that a frank and manly answer would’ve satisfied her, but nope.

“And why the Sahara?! Isn’t it like, old?”

Now that was something I couldn’t answer. As I understood it, time-share pitches took place at the property they were selling, but it was for some place named “Tahiti Village”.

“Oh yeah,” she said. ‘Tahiti Village’ …that hardly sounds like something that ripped of everybody’s grandpa back in the 70’s.”

As we were cabbing over to the Sahara, we saw a billboard advertising rooms there for $19 a night.

“Uh oh,” I said.

If you were to pop onto The Sahara Casino and Resort’s webpage, you’d have found the following: “The Sahara offers 1,720 classically styled guest rooms…”

Yes they did.

The place smelled like an odd combination of pickles, disinfectant, potatoes, beef soup mix, and smoke. There was schmutz on the floors in the hallways, and the wallpaper was peeling like a sunburned snake. The spavined bed was like lying in a huge donut, the shower was a scalding dribble, the toilet ran constantly, there were no screens in the window (which overlooked an alley) and I’m pretty sure I could make out the residue of a chalk outline.

This isn’t it. But it’s not NOT it…

At the pre-determined time they herded us with the other cattle onto a shuttle bus, and we decanted in front of a newish high rise along with 8 or 10 other buses, and beaming greeters prodded us with their clipboards into a sort of holding cell. We were instructed to get in line and report to the desk Sergeant, then a different gal (who also beamed) took our name and directed us to go and wait on hard benches in the middle of the room, and soon we got called up to meet yet another beamer who looked like Paul Kangas – the financial news chap on PBS.

Paul sat us down in a big room with the other prey and began his probing.

“Got any kids?” he asked.

“Sure do!” I said, producing my phone and opening the pictures.

After 20 very thorough minutes of my children, a beaming carnival barker got up on stage and began The Pitch. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Paul unbiting his tongue.

The Barker showed us a video and told us how great and successful the company was and how much we’re going to love it. I leaned over to Paul and said – as a joke – “I sure hope we can get one of these!” which apparently was “two steps back” in terms of endearing me to my wife.

Then we started out on the tour. There had to be nearly 50 sales reps leading corn-fed couples from all points on the compass, and I have to say that Paul was probably the least offensive one.

To be fair, the property seemed dashed nice. We went to all of the different suites, the gym, the pools, and it even had a really cool sort of fake river that you can lay in an inner tube and drift around the property.

I confess that the lazy river temporarily weakened me…

Then came The Close, and as we sat down The Colonel began cracking her knuckles and doing neck stretches. Every person in the room had gathered around to see the impending scrap and wagers were being taken in the corner. I leaned back in my chair and began beaming myself.

“You folks deserve to get away more…” Paul said.

“My husband travels too much already,” The Colonel said.

“Well what about you? Don’t you deserve to get away?” he asked, predictably.

“Pfhfht. Have you ever tried traveling with him?” she jabbed a thumb at me (and I thought at the time that it lacked the tactful note).

“Well maybe this should be for you to get away with your friends?” Paul offered.

“Ha! Like I’d spend $33,000 to do that. Try again,” she said.

“Don’t forget; you can trade your time in this resort and go anywhere!”

“Ha!” This was a different ‘ha’ than the last one; the first one was sort of a barking laugh, but this ‘ha’ nearly cracked the far window.

“I don’t need to spend $33,000 just to trade unused weeks in other resorts! A membership in RCI is a couple of hundred bucks and the Internet is full of disgruntled people who found they can’t trade their weeks after all.”

Paul dabbed at his forehead. “Well maybe we can do a little better on the price…”

He distinctly asked us three separate times to spend $33,000 and he eventually sliced the price of entry down to $6000 before curling up like a burnt feather under The Colonel’s rebuttals.

Then came the sales manager, right out of central casting. He’d apparently just emigrated from Eastern Europe, and had slicked black hair, loud cologne, a wispy mustache, and he shot his cuffs constantly. He looked like a greased weasel.

The Weasel beamed.

“Hcello! I got good news for you nize peoples. We just got a list of zee foreclosures in zee building and we need to turn zem over before we can zell anyting else – but only for zuch wonderful peoples such as like youselves. Just sign here Pleze.”

I could’ve told the ass that that was a bad idea.

The Colonel snapped.

I felt my ears pop, and bits of stuff started falling from the ceiling. Distant dogs started barking, car alarms went off, and small fires broke out in wastebaskets.

It happened so fast that I can’t be certain what she replied with…but it gave the distinct impression of lasting a lot longer than it did. It was loud in some places, and louder in others.

All in all, it had all the qualities of a dentist drill crossed with an air raid siren and a rock crusher. Whatever she hit him with, The Weasel withered like a salted snail.

The crowd raised the triumphant Colonel on its shoulders and carried her out to the waiting shuttle buses. I very much doubt that they sold anything in that group, but not to worry: there was another line of buses spilling more rubes into the clutches of the beaming clipboard holders.

Of course, the original Sahara is no longer there. It was sold, then closed in 2011, then bulldozed, then something else built, then sold again to some billionaire who named it the Sahara again.

Later that night we dined at Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak at the MGM – and it was by far and away the Best Meal I’ve Ever Had. Ever ever ever…and I’ve had lots of meals. Absolutely perfect. It even changed the way I cook.

I’m not kidding: the Best Meal I’ve ever had.

As we walked around after dinner, we got pounced on by some more of the Lampreys that rope people into time-share presentations.

“Hey! How’d you wonderful folks like to see a Circe du Soleil show for free?”

The Colonel snapped to attention, her ears came up in tufted little points…and she was beaming.

Uh oh.

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