My Best Christmas Present Ever
If Chicago is the city of big shoulders, then Las Vegas is the city of big fat guys chomping on cigars.
Looking down from the sky at night, the Windy City looks like a bright orange grid of hardworking streets and neighborhoods. Solid and strong.
Sin City, on the other hand, elicits thoughts of a human buffet table, decorated with millions of psychedelic lights that somebody keeps forgetting to put away after the holidays. A place where everyone is slightly drunk and always disorderly.
Chicago is stuffed pizza and beer. Las Vegas is a rum-soaked maraschino topped fruitcake covered in flames.
For more years than I can count, I have avoided Las Vegas like dog droppings in the grass. I have re-arranged meetings to avoid going there. I have skipped tournaments to avoid playing there.
Given the choice, my non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling sensibilities always preferred the less gaudy environs of any place else, but mostly, sweet home Chicago. Especially during the holidays.
Chicago is Marshall Field’s, with its tradition of tasteful storybook windows, wide streets covered in snow, hot chocolate at Ghirardelli’s and iceskating at Navy Pier.
Las Vegas has always seemed like a party girl whose makeup got a little smeared. She’s as hokey as a lava lamp and as stupefying as Anna Nicole Smith at an awards presentation. She's as sexy as the first time in the back seat of a pink Cadillac and as dangerous as a shark in a feeding frenzy. But, to her credit, she’s never embarrassed or ashamed, and she’s always more than happy to strut her stuff.
Has any town ever had a more lusty, lip-smacking come on -- What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas? Where else would lions, tigers and bare-naked ladies loom so large in a city’s legend?
I imagine prostitutes trolling the streets, taking languorous sucks on their cigarettes. Wrinkled old women in strawberry blond wigs, with white muslin gloves to keep their hands clean, plunking down their quarters into the slots at seven in the morning. Drive up chapels with ministers dressed in one-piece jumpsuits like fat Elvis, making a mockery of marriage around the clock. And fine cities like New York, Paris and Venice pimped out like drag queens in a stage show. Stand back, squint your eyes and you can hardly tell the difference between the real ones and the fakes.
To me, Las Vegas is to Christmas what Eminem is to the babe in the manger. If I had my choice, the holidays would be celebrated anywhere but in this sequined trailer park.
We would be in a cabin in the snowy woods with a fire in the fireplace. The Christmas tree would be real and the smell of spiced cider would be wafting from the kitchen. We’d be in jeans and turtlenecks, flannel shirts and fleece jackets.
Despite my misgivings, this tawdry, tacky, gold lame town that sleeps until noon is where I will be going to receive my best Christmas present ever. And I will go willingly in just a couple of days.
Because it isn’t where you are on Christmas. It’s who you are with on Christmas. And I will be with both my daughters at the same time and in the same place on Christmas Day for the first time in so long I can’t even count the years. Even better, their significant others will be there, too.
So bring it on, Vegas. I embrace your trashy flash. Let me hug your rhinestone cowboys and feast my eyes on the feathered fantasies floating above the lobbies of your hotels. Let me pose with Wayne Newton and play blackjack with my new, pinky ringed pals in their patent leather shoes.
As Christmas goes, there has never been a better present or a nicer place to be.