Bare with me, this is a long one. My girlfriend and I were in Vegas the 18th through the 22nd and had, except for a few rough spots that can be chalked up to the tension of traveling together for the first time in an overwhelming, bizarre city, a marvelous time. The trip got off to an immediate good start when, miraculously, both flights were on time. We flew America West and overall, I was very pleased. Very smooth traveling to and from, and on our way back we volunteered our seats for $400 vouchers each. Hot damn. We took a short-bus shuttle to the Tropicana, where we were staying. At the front desk I pulled the old "free upgrade for the birthday girl?" and got a "mini-suite", which was, I'm assuming, just a bigger room. Now it was actually her birthday, or was going to be in two days, but they didn't ask for any sort of paperwork to prove this, so for you bargain hunters out there, maybe a little dishonesty can get you to the 18th floor. We began the long walk to the elevator which, when you have 3 bags apiece (okay, we overpacked, but keep in mind we had never been before and were both giddy as schoolgirls on amphetamenes) and forgot to ask for a bellhop, seems hundreds of miles long. Once we were carrying nothing but our fragile hopes and expectations, we realized that the walk seemed like only a few miles, and laughed heartily at out prior foolishness. But seriously, those elevators are not close to the front door at all. The room was nice enough; it was an island tower room that was clean but not new. We had a nice view of the strip and the pool, and although the faucet constantly ran in the bathroom, at least it ran quietly (and was fixed). The mirrors on the ceiling, and walls, and just about everywhere else you looked were a bit disconcerting at first, but after I put a paper bag over my face to keep from scaring myself I got over it. We didn't get settled in until about 8:30, which would be 10:30 our time, so food was a necessity. We went down to Calypso's, the 24-hour restaurant. Once we got to Calypso's, I thought my lack of blood sugar must have been giving me vertigo, until I realized my brain was just reeling at the "festive" "tropical" "decor". I ordered a sandwich, she ordered chicken fingers and we dined like royalty; royalty who really likes Denny's food, that is. Full of greasy greasiness, we ventured off to gamble. I played blackjack and slots and she played slots and slots and then we went to bed. In the morning we were awoken at 9, a bit early for our tastes, by room service, which was rather odd, since we hadnâ€™t ordered room service. We even had the "don not disturb" sign on the doorknob, and yet the knocking continued. I yelled that we didnâ€™t order any room service, which bought us 5 minutes of piece. Finally, kind of angry, I went to the door. They had sent up a mini-birthday cake for my girlfriend, complete with a hand drawn card. The room service delivery person apologized and I felt bad for yelling, and the whole thing was fairly ridiculous. It was a very nice gesture, we agreed, but poorly timed. Since we didnâ€™t feel like having heavily-iced cake for breakfast, we went downstairs and ate at the buffet, which Iâ€™m sure had some sort of tropical name that I canâ€™t remember. The food, in a nutshell, was not good. There wasnâ€™t that great a selection and what there was was bland. But it filled us up, or at least our bodies tricked us into thinking we were full so we would stop putting these substances inside of them. Then we began walking. The Tropicana is located pretty darn conveniently, especially for the strip. Thereâ€™s a Walgreenâ€™s just on the other side of the MGM Grand where you can buy film, etc. at a reasonable price, and the grand, NYNY, and Excalibur are on the other corners of the street. We went to the MGM first and saw the lions, which appeared drugged and kind of made me sad but were cute lying asleep next to each other. Then we went to NYNY, where my girlfriend bought some pink-lensed, zebra-striped sunglasses, then the Excalibur, which is just ridiculous and smells funny (Actually, all the casinos kind of smelled funny. And no, I donâ€™t think I was just smelling myself, thank you very much.) Then came a tram ride to Mandalay Bay, which was fancy and seemed to really cater to Asians. (the hotel, not the tram) We were going to see the shark thingee but decided to spend our $17 on pain relievers, since all the walking we had done was beginning to wear on our sad, little, atrophied muscles. Then we went to the Luxor, because she wanted to see the King Tut exhibit, which was a mere $5. The King Tut exhibit is okay if you can get past the melodramatic "tour guide" tape they give you to listen to (and since there are few wall labels, you really have to listen to it to understand what all this stuff is) and how fake everything looks. If you squint just right, the gold-painted plaster statues can look real, I suppose, but over all, kind of cheesy. After Tut we went back to our room for some needed rest. We decided to check out downtown that night and got a cab downstairs. The cab rides and cabbies were really the defining parts of the trip for me, and the first one was an experience I will never forget. We got in the cab and immediately the cabbie began muttering, barely audible. "Downtown" we said naively. This naivete displeased our cabbie, and we were quickly asked to give a more specific destination, so we said the Golden Nugget. Off we went. Very quickly. In the parking lot. Almost hitting pedestrians. The cabbie muttered about the sonsabitches who didnâ€™t think enough to get out of the way and thought they could walk whereever they wanted. Uh oh. The rest of the cab ride was basically a chance to observe the bitterest, most life-hating man I have ever met. He told a charming story about two gay men who had the misfortune of getting in his cab, where he baited them before taking them to a sushi restaurant. He told us how Vegas was the best place to get divorced, and since we were there, we should just break up now. He told us about his own marriage (prompted by my girlfriend who got a jab in the ribs for it) and how his wifeâ€™s friends tried repeatedly to break them up. He told us that, if not for the traffic, he would be going 85 down this highway. At one point, after tailgating a car and having to slam on the brakes and swerve to avoid rearending them, he said, "Eh, that was a good move there, wasnâ€™t it. Didnâ€™t hit him." I concurred and found religion simultaneously. Finally we were deposited at the Golden Nugget, where the cabby gave me a pat on the back like we were old friends. Downtown, my girlfriend and I discovered that we were downtown people. Less walking, more old-school, glitterier in that neony, Vegas way; the sleaze of single people instead of family sleaze, no kids. Weâ€™re young (mid 20s) and the strip is just too theme-parky. If we go again weâ€™ll stay downtown and visit the strip one night instead of the other way around. Plus, at the Fremont, I won enough for a meal at the 2nd Street Grill, which wasnâ€™t bad. The next day was my girlfriendâ€™s actual birthday (stop singing). We walked down the strip some more and got really tired and cranky after a while. Finally we returned to the hotel and relaxed. We got a late start on the evening and had to take another frantic cab ride to Treasure Island to pick up our Mystere tickets and then to Top of the World. Top of the World, while not a crushing blow, was a disappointment, and that was party due to the restaurant and partly due to us. First of all, my girlfriend didnâ€™t really know what was going to be on the menu and never really mentioned that she didnâ€™t want a steak or seafoodâ€¦oops. Then, more laughably, the whole I-can-see-weâ€™re-moving-but-it-doesnâ€™t-feel-like-it thing gave me a bit of vertigo, but that doesnâ€™t make me any less of a man. Then we went off to the show. I really liked Mystere. It was very different from anything Iâ€™ve ever seen before. We had front row seats, but could see everything pretty well, as I think you could have from any seat in the house. It is simply amazing what these people can do with their bodies. I wonâ€™t give anything away, but I was impressed. If youâ€™re looking for any sort of story, you wonâ€™t find it here, but you should be entertained. The next day we went down to the Venetian for a gondola ride. This was entertaining enough, and the Venetian certainly was a cool place. Then we went back and spent the rest of the day and night relaxing and gambling. We ate at a Mexican restaurant in the MGM, which was surprisingly decent, judged against the stuff available in Austin. All in all, the trip was very enjoyable. Having never been to Vegas before Iâ€™m glad we did everything we did, but if we go back, weâ€™ll definitely do some things differently. The best thing about the whole trip, however, was that the flight from Austin to Vegas to Phoenix was overbooked, and we volunteered our seats for $400 vouchers (each) and still got home only an hour and a half late. So really, we came out ahead, which, on a trip to Vegas, makes us winners. Yay!