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Vegas!

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Gambling is bad news -- almost as bad as the stock market, I've heard. But I decided that since I was passing through Las Vegas, I should probably check out the wonders of The Strip.

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William Shatner, that guy from Priceline, negotiated for a hotel room for me and I guess he has a sense of humor. I ended up in the Hard Rock Hotel.

Hard Rock indeed. I could barely hear the clerk at the desk at over the music. Even the elevators had rock piped in -- and loud.

Aging, hung-over rockers in leather and chains wandered dopily though the casino with their scantily-clad harlots in tow.

On the walls dippy but apparently immortal rock lyrics were carved in stainless steel. Over one entrance, "U don't have 2 B rich 2 B my girl!" a quote from Prince, or whatever he calls himself.

The obvious implication was that these rock quotes were on par with "When in the course of human events..."

Around the casino floor were dozens of glass cases containing rock relics such as one of Pete Townshend's smashed guitars, autographed, of course, and various gaudy gowns worn by rock personalities on stage.

Tourists gawked at the sacred clothes as if they were on par with the Shroud of Turin.

I was a duck out of water. Nobody looked friendly. Nobody said hi. For once, longed for a boring but friendly farmer to come along so we could discuss crops for half-an-hour -- but none came.

When I got to the room, I discovered why the Hard Rock was giving away its rooms so cheap. Several jackhammers pounded away on the old swimming pool outside the window in order to make room for a new swimming pool outside the window.

Hard rock of a different sort. My temples throbbed.

So, I laced up my tennis shoes and decided to explore The Strip. Everything is so close, I thought. I will walk.

But those casinos are a quarter-mile long! Every one of them!

By dumb chance, I walked through the doors of the Bellagio. It was pretty much how I imagined heaven as a child.

Subsequent research helped me understand what I had tripped into: The Bellagio was built fifteen years ago at a cost of $1.6 billion. The outdoor fountains alone cost $50 million.

I have never seen such over-the-top opulence. A twenty-seven-foot tall chocolate fountain. Incredible glass sculptures. A huge conservatory with fifty-foot tall bamboo.

I kept imagining: If the economy really goes belly up, this place is going to be surrounded by a barbed wire fence, an abandoned symbol of the excess which ended our era of prosperity.

But on this night, the Bellagio was packed.

I went over to the high-stakes poker tables. I am not sure, but I believe you needed $10,000 just to sit down.

The players at one table were arguing. One of the players -- the one with the biggest stack of chips -- was supposedly cheating by visiting with his buddies behind him.

The pit boss came over. Lots of growling and snorting and carrying on before the buddies were escorted away by security and the man was allowed to continue to play.

Conflict! I hate it. So I left to explore the massive marble hallways. Several restaurants along the halls didn't even list their price. At one, they offered your own wine expert for an additional $63.

Again, no friendly faces.

Eventually, I found a door. Outside was a cab which took me back to the Hard Rock. The jackhammers had stopped. I hid in my room.

Eventually, however, hunger forced me out. I went downstairs, found a well-lit café and, even though the music was still pounding, enjoyed a Reuben sandwich.

Say what you will about Vegas, they know hospitality. The food came fast. The service was impeccable. And the Reuben was tops.

But at seven the next morning, the jackhammers started pounding. I agreed with the Bob Dylan lyrics carved in the elevator, "there must be some way outta here said the joker to the thief!"

I lasted less than twenty-four hours. I saw only two casinos. I didn't lose a dime. I merely lost my hearing.

And as my Ford Ranger carried me off into the desert, I shook the dust from my feet and didn't look back lest I be turned into a pillar of salt.

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