There are times when I am frightened of growing old, or worse yet, growing senile before growing old. Right now is one of those times. Since reaching the age of 45 Iâ€™ve become convinced that the calcification rate of my brain has been on an exponential rise. Whatâ€™s prompting this inopportune moment of introspection is the revelation that I simply donâ€™t remember much about getting from the check-in line at the Hilton up to my room. I think perhaps that I was still in something of a daze, the result of emerging from a 14-plus-hour car trip into a sensory smorgasbord that rivaled what poor Alex, with his eyelids clamped open, had to endure in â€œA Clockwork Orangeâ€ â€“ except that for me, it was all GOOD! I do remember that the check-in process reminded me of waiting for a ride at Disney World, what with the serpentine arrangement of ropes and stands, and that it took roughly a half-hour to complete. As I lugged my luggage up to my room on the 17th floor, I also remember realizing that this was by far the biggest hotel I had ever been inside in my entire life. Thatâ€™s not saying much, considering that the previous biggest hotel for me had been a turn-of-the-century vintage monstrosity (monstrous right down to the bordello-red flocked wallpaper) in Louisville, KY, site of the 1985(?) RiverCon science fiction convention. I slipped the key card into the slot, pushed the door open, and was immediately transformed into a stammering, apologetic idiot by what I saw. The part of the room that was visible to me was full of people. Three black couples, as I recall, all dressed to the nines and chatting amicably with each other. As my very white little face appeared in their doorway, the conversation stopped cold and all eyes swung to meet mine. All I could think of was a classic scene from â€œAnimal Houseâ€: â€œWeâ€¦are gonna die. Boone, weâ€™re the only white people here.â€ I did my best Ralph Kramden imitation, â€œHumunna, hummuna, hummunaâ€¦â€ but was saved from any additional embarrassment when one nattily attired fellow stepped up to me and quickly apologized â€“ he had checked out several minutes before via the TV link but hadnâ€™t yet (obviously) left the room. I was surprised at how quickly the front desk had reassigned the room, without housekeeping having cleaned it yet. I stood in the hallway for about five minutes while the roomâ€™s occupants gathered their remaining stuff and hustled past me toward the elevator. I hauled my duffel bag into the room and cautiously surveyed my surroundings. Of course, the room was a mess â€“ bed not made, empty soda cans scattered about, wastebaskets burgeoning â€“ but I was too blown away by the room itself to care all that much. I decided to make a quick call to housekeeping, knowing that with a hotel this big it would take forever for someone to get here, and then I would explore the room. â€œExploreâ€ is a better term than â€œlook aroundâ€, because the room was so big (by my Motel 6 standards) that I almost felt like calling my companions to say that if I wasnâ€™t back in an hour, to send out the St. Bernards. There were two sofas flanking a large coffee table in the center of the room, a large desk with a safe under the window, a large TV in a large entertainment center, and two steps up from the main level, a platform upon which sat a king-size bed with â€“ omigod â€“ a mirrored ceiling. Wasnâ€™t that kind of thing only a movie clichÃ©? Well, hey, wasnâ€™t this the place where Elvis used to play? It fits, I guess. Letâ€™s move onâ€¦closet space enough for a small family. A bathroom bigger than my first apartment. How could I have scored this room for the paltry sum I was paying? Somebody had obviously made a mistake, but would I be the one to correct it? HELL, no. I unzipped the duffel, threw the clothes in a drawer, set the shaving kit in the bathroom, and pondered my next move. True, the main objective of the trip was the Star Trek Experience, but that wouldnâ€™t happen until the next day. How to spend oneâ€™s first night in Vegas? A rumble from my stomach decided the matter. First order of business, food. And for Nerd tightwads like us, that could only mean one thing â€“ a buffet! But which one? There are so many hereâ€¦and once again I felt the fish-out-of-water feeling creeping up on me. This place is so huge, so over-the-top, with so many choices, how does one possibly decide what to do and where to go, especially if gambling isnâ€™t on the agenda? I got on the house phone with Josh and grabbed the complimentary copy of Showbiz magazine that looked like a good bet to provide us with at least something of a guide. During his research, Josh had come across the Carnival World Buffet at the Rio as being one of the top buffets in town (which as I understand it is no longer the case). â€˜Nuff said. I left the room to rendezvous with my companions just as housekeeping arrived to clean it. Finding the Rio wasnâ€™t as difficult as I thought it would be, and of course the drive there from the Hilton was infinitely entertaining. One huge hotel/casino after another went by as we made our way through the bustle that is the Strip. It became clear almost immediately that even with the slow pace we were making along LV Blvd., things were going by too quickly to really take in. We would have to come back here on foot later. The Rio was another jaw-dropper for us initiates; the red and purple neon essentially covering the entire complex seemed almost otherworldly. The walk from self-parking again seemed interminable, especially with our growing fatigue and hunger. When we entered the main casino, the effect was one of giddy disorientation. When coming into the Hilton, we had been relatively well shielded from the main casinoâ€¦it had sort of been off in the distance as weâ€™d headed toward the main desk. The Rio was quite different. Here, suddenly, we actually were on a casino floor, surrounded by machines, tables, cocktail waitresses in amazing costumes, a decibel level rivaling the tarmac at a major airport, and of course, throngs of people seriously intent on taking this place to the cleaners (but of course mostly doing the opposite). The three of us immediately fell victim to one of the main tenets of casino design: keep the mark in the building and near the machines and tables. Make it difficult to move around or through the casino, and throw off his sense of direction by either not having enough signs or having them show apparently contradictory information. This sign says the buffet is this wayâ€¦wait, now this one says itâ€™s back that wayâ€¦how can anything as big as the Carnival World Buffet be so hard to find?? Well, what finally directed us to the buffet was the line waiting for it. Here is where we fell victim to yet another fact of Vegas life: there doesnâ€™t seem to be any particular set time that people usually eat or perform other normally regularly scheduled functions. In this city oneâ€™s circadian rhythm is deliberately thrown into disarray (helped, no doubt, by the famed absence of clocks). It was late for us as far as dinnertime was concerned, but here we were, being told that it would be at least another hour before we would get in. We gazed longingly past the crowd to catch a glimpse of the various food stations inside the buffet, watched huge numbers of people gorge themselves on international cuisine, then sadly turned away. We took some solace in the knowledge that a place this big was sure to have other restaurants, and we began threading our way back through the casino to try to find one. Now Iâ€™m the kind of guy whose first activity upon entering a large building like a museum or stadium is to find a floor plan and carry a copy in full view at all times. Without that normal crutch, it took us a while to find another restaurant. I canâ€™t remember the name of the place now, but I remember it was Italian, and that you ordered your food at a counter, deli-style. I ordered lasagna and was amazed at the size of the portion. I was being introduced to still another main aspect of the Vegas experience: nothing is ever done small here. We took our plastic dinnerware laden with pasta to a small table and dug inâ€¦and again I was amazed by Bradâ€™s capacity for food. He plowed through his lasagna in no time, and then ordered a second portion. I could barely finish mine. As he mopped up the last of the sauce, his eye caught a gelato stand at the other end of the restaurant. When he returned from it a minute or two later, there must have been a quart of the rich confection in the huge bowl he was carrying. He explained that the cost of the gelato got progressively lower the more scoops one ordered â€“ something like $2.00 for one, $3.00 for two, etc. Heâ€™d ordered three, and the fellow behind the counter had thrown in a fourth for free. Brad was definitely in his element, going on about how heâ€™d scored so much gelato for less than four dollars. I began to wonder if there would be time to do anything else that evening other than sit and watch Brad eat. I neednâ€™t have worried â€“ he devoured that stuff like a black hole devours stellar matter. Unbelievable. We were rested and fed. It was only about 9:00 pm local time. We were three unfettered fellows in Las Vegas for the first time, and our main objective was still hours away. Letâ€™s put some of that legendary Nerd brainpower to the task of finding something uniquely Vegas to do. Hmmmâ€¦.