6/24, Summerlin, Nevada: Like fiddling Nero playing bluegrass ditties while Rome went up in flames, I am a safe distance from the burning neon of the Vegas Strip, fifteen minutes west in the bedroom community named after Howard Hughes's mother. Apparently Mr. Hughes had the sagacity to buy up plenty of this now hyper-developed desert back when it was three casinos and a guy named Guido. Nice timing. Nowadays you can't give a property away around here – literally!
I love my little perch at the swank J.W. Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa – it's my perennial home away from home when visiting this part of the world. After a long day's drive through the incomparably majestic topography of Utah, the plush bed and richly appointed spa were most welcome creature comforts. While stalwart tourists walk the Strip in the sweltering three-digit heat, I am happy with the resort's modest-sized casino and hailing distance from five high quality golf courses. I know, I'm so bourgeois.
Truth is, we did venture down to the action last night around chow-time, to do battle with the hands-down champeen of the buffet wars here in Vegas. The Buffet at The Wynn is a good football field-sized venue where — for a quite reasonable tariff — one can fashion a world cuisine tour for oneself that will leave you somewhere between sated and bloated – depending on your powers of self-control.
I exerted little to none of said quality, consuming in rough order: a Caesar salad; three pieces of shrimp tempura sushi; two slices of pizza; a good wad of cheesy risotto; two end slices of prime rib; four pork potstickers; mashed potatoes and gravy; succotash; kim chee; Indian lentils; a piece of jerk chicken; sea bass……I know I'm leaving something vitally important out, but you get the idea. It was all prepared in diligent fashion, tasted fresh and custom-cooked – an amazing thing to say when you consider the volume of food the kitchen staff is generating. Bravo.
I know, it was just the other day that I went on an angry screed about hunger in America, and here I go ending my soul-searching journey with a 6K-calorie dinner. I am drawn like a moth to fire to the buffets in Las Vegas, which actually provided inspiration for a song back when I made my living as part of a pop band called Was (Not Was). I was sitting at the buffet at the Rio Hotel many moons ago when I saw a wedding party enter, gowns, tuxes, witnesses and all.
I took notes at the time, thinking it sad that one would go all-you-can-eat after such an austere ceremony, and later turned my reflections into a song called Wedding Vows in Vegas. My partner Don and I decided we had to find a quintessential lounge singer-type to warble the words, and had the good fortune to land Frank Sinatra Jr., who loved the lyric so much he quoted his dad's arranger Nelson Riddle: "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage." The folks at the David Letterman Late Show took notice of the strange pairing, and we performed it with Mr. Sinatra one night back in 1989.
Back then, Las Vegas was humming with activity, rooms were booked to the gills and huge cranes were stretching over every square mile of the impossibly blue sky. A sign of the times is a photo essay in today's Las Vegas Sun, a catalogue of too-optimistic developments that nose-dived into the financial deep-end as the economy went from stale to sour. For an unabashed Vegas-lover like myself, that's a sad state of affairs, and a blue note ending to our happy road odyssey across these great United States.