There may be a KOA in Las Vegas. I have never used it. Instead take the kids to one of those hotels on the strip. My grandkids like the Excalibur with its turrets and towers and fake knights in armor. They thrill at going down to the basement where there is a kids’ wonderland of games, 3-D movies, prizes, and action. The boys can shoot at moving targets; the girls angle fishing roads at plastic fish floating by on a revolving stage. Then one of the girls takes up the gun and with sure aim hits to win a prize. The boys hang their heads in shame and demand more coins to try to beat this budding Annie Oakley.
Take the kids on a side trip to the Bellagio. They have a season-changing display of flowers and plants in a vast indoor garden. I am always surprised how the kids delight at the plants, the flowers, the bushes and trees so artfully arranged in so artificial a way. Well, you think, they have traversed the Great Plains, driven along the Platte River for hours, climbed up to the Eisenhower tunnel and skimmed through the mists of the Rockies. They have seen the crags and rocks of Utah and they are yet to see the endless beaches. Let them revel in this totally artificial creation so stuffed with visual delights for a little longer.
The kids will soon enough become aware of the gaming tables. State law forbids lingering to see what actually happens at these tables. Instead I buy them a pack of cards and in the room we study the basics of Texas Hold-em. They catch on fast and the game is now a firm family favorite.
I can still beat the oldest boy at chess, but that is also a passing fancy on my part—he will soon enough take my queen and king.
It was 1986 and we were relocating from Leavenworth, Washington to Albuquerque, New Mexico in a 1980 Toyota Corolla and a 1985 Honda Civic. The Corolla died when it washed away in a flood in Kansas as my son imprudently drove it into raging waters and he had to clamber out the window. How do sons survive their impetuousness? The Honda did 125.000 miles and was killed by the son of a friend to whom I gave it—he forgot to keep the oil level full.
Any rate, we pulled in to Las Vegas beneath the glittering lights of Circus-Circus. The kids, who were then young and are now grown to full adult-hood and kids of their own, awoke and beheld the lights. They were agog. I still recall the movement of the lights, the solicitous attendants who took the cars, and an easy passage to a comfortable room. I have not been back since but next time in Las Vegas, I will take their kids, my grandkids to Circus-Circus and see if we can relive that magic coming.
I go often to Las Vegas now. It is a long story, but a lady whom I think of as a surrogate daughter, or is it “informally-adopted” daughter, and her beautiful daughter, the offspring of a South African mother and a Japanese-America father live there. We often fly the Iowa kids from Cedar Rapids to Las Vegas on those cheap Allegiant Air flights and then drive down to Huntington Beach. We always spend a few days with the Las Vegas side of the family. I love to see my grandsons flirt with the Las Vegas kid who is so familiar with the fountains of the Bellagio, the gondolas of Venice, the tower of Paris, and the shops of Caesar’s Palace. They chatter as we amble down the broad sidewalks and stop to watch the fountains of the Bellagio play to yet another tune that sets grandpa humming and makes him happy. They flit from shop to shop with the promise of a purchase by grandpa.
We love to go to FAO Schwartz where there are three floors of toys. I love to go to FAO Schwartz where there are three floors of toys. We have a simple rule: one toy for each kid and no more expensive than $40 apiece. Las Vegas is not cheap, whatever you may recall of the first visit in 1978. I linger over the puppets—light and whimsical: the baker, the jailer, the policeman. As a kid myself I used to give puppet shows on the mine at the annual fete. My best was Punch and Judy. It is no longer acceptable for Punch bashes Judy to death for a trivial offence. But then, so many years ago, it was greeted with delight. I buy myself a puppet and sometimes induce a grandkid to choose a puppet too. We will play with them in Huntington Beach where there is a portable theater that I made on the last visit. The oldest grandson chooses a chess set of Disney heroes/heroines versus Disney villains/ wicked-ladies. How can I say no, even though it costs more than the set limit? I collect Disney villains myself and he knows it—he knows my soft spots already and he knows how to exploit them to his benefit. Variously they settle on very-large stuffed animals, plastic blocks, yet another Lego set—better not forget to buy the glue to stick it together once made. The final bill is outrageous—there are five of them on this visit, and we have yet to buy lunch. Forget that $40 limit; it is but a starting point for negotiations.
The next day take them to the Lied Las Vegas children’s’ museum. It is far from the strip, although you can espy the towers from the parking lot. This part of town could be any hot, desert town of the west. The museum is, however, superb. When we last went about a year ago there was an exhibit call Yuk, or something like that. It showed the inner working of the human body in a way that the grandkids were transfixed. Then there are vast spaces filled with everything imaginable to keep a kid intrigued. The morning passed fast and the kids protested the need to leave and go find a bite to eat. This is Las Vegas’ best kept kids oriented secret.
I took the boys to the car museum at the Imperial Palace. That is one of my favorite spots. I took the girls to Bodies, The Exhibition. The boys scoffed and asked: “who want to see that?” Although I should have taken the mothers, for there were some awkward questions as we stared at bodies inside and outside and as I tried to pass rapidly through the section on developing babies. I did not get a degree in law for nothing. Came in handy then. But if you do not have a degree in law, take the mothers with. Nothing they should not see—but damn it. I am the grandfather, not the grandmother.
The biggest curse of taking kids to Las Vegas is the overwhelming temptation to buy them every second T-shirt you see. Resist. There are only so many they need. Let their parents buy them at Old Navy. Also if you do not exercise restraint, you can fill them with junk food. My rule is simple: we eat at the most expensive Chinese restaurant we can find. They love orange chicken; I love anything Chinese food. Make sure at least one of the shared dishes is only vegetables. They may not eat it; but your conscience is clear. And you can tell the mothers and fathers in a firm tone: “We always ate a balanced meal of rice, meat, and vegetables. Look how rosy their cheeks.”
Take them in a taxi down to Freemont Street, the old part of town. En route you can point to the chapel where their parents, the second wed, were wed. A real Elvis look-alike officiated. Then we headed for the Ritz Carlton in Henderson overlooking Lake Las Vegas for a posh wedding feast. Take them in a taxi to that sublime spot and walk them down the lake as you did to older ones, the offspring of the first married. On that happy day when your second daughter tied the knot. Actually the older grandkids recall that first visit to Las Vegas and being spoilt over the weekend of their aunt’s wedding. “Can we get some more of that ice cream you bought us last time? “they ask.
Happy memories and dreams of more to come this Christmas when all eight grandkids will be with me in Las Vegas.