So here we are in Vegas. Remember I told you I’d signed up for the Las Vegas Marathon? Due to a number of factors and excuses — some valid and some bogus — I stopped training, or even exercising more than two months ago. It’s touch and go whether I’ll actually get my feet on The Strip. File under bogus: that I just got too busy with winemaking to train. File under valid: I wrenched my back lifting bins of grapes and just lately I’ve had a recurrence of back spasms. All of which is leading Andy to mutter under his breath at ten minute intervals, “So I’m being dragged to Vegas to see you limp across the parking lot, then quit.”

But the rooms were booked, as were the airline tickets, so here we are. And it was seconds after arriving that I started to second guess my decision. The first hour at Mandalay Bay, I felt like the Country Cousin thrust into Sin City. San Francisco may be sophisticated in wine, literature and politics, but they roll up the sidewalks at about 10:30 PM. Our flight got us into the hotel at about quarter to ten, so we scrambled up to our room and rushed back down to the Casino because: WE’VE GOT TO GET INTO A RESTAURANT BEFORE IT CLOSES! Er, Vegas NEVER closes. There is food, booze, gambling and shows 24/7.

Even Andy forgot that one, but he ends up in Vegas at least once a year for trade shows, so he pretty much knows the drill. Last time I was in Vegas? I know this is going to date me, but it was back when Vegas was sleazy, seedy and clinging to vestiges of its faded Rat Pack glory. It was in the 80s when we came here. On a car trip. Just after buying our first house together, so we were broke. We stayed in a campground and took the bus into the casinos. Which pretty much meant Caesar’s. Not the new Caesar’s but the old Caesar’s, because it was the only “big” casino in town. I remember we won enough at slots to get ourselves into the Wax Museum, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum and get a $5.00 steak dinner buffet. We thought we were high rollers.

I did have a brief overnight here last year with my niece on our way through on a road trip. We saw an Elvis imitator, did some Karaoke and took off for Yosemite within 12 hours. So my impression of Vegas is more than twenty years out of date.

Things have changed.

First of all, it seemed like a three mile hike from one end of the Mandalay Bay complex to the other. These hotels are HUGE. There are small Balkan countries that aren’t this size. Every path led through a casino, past a band blasting out at top volume and among mobs of drunk, under-dressed women and predatory men. Another thing I learned at Vegas. They really frown on picture taking. As in the 8 foot tall security man will come over and give you a growled warning if you try to take a picture anywhere near a slot machine. I guess I looked like a slick criminal out of Ocean’s Eleven and he feared I was planning a heist. So stock photography is going to have to do this weekend.

We parked ourselves at Wolfgang Pucks to get some ravioli and reconnoiter. It was then that the scene started to change. Suddenly there were cowboys everywhere. Real cowboys. Not just dudes in cowboy hats. But grizzled, leathery-faced, bronc-busting type cowboys. Turns out, it’s the National Finals Rodeo! this week. And the Cowboy Marketplace is here at Mandalay Bay. This is huge. We’re talking boots, hats, cowboy furniture, horse trailers, saddles, fencing material. A trade show and exhibit of every accouterment you need for the cowboy lifestyle. I’ve died and gone to Cowboy Heaven. And it’s covered with neon, surrounded by casinos and peopled by drunks in Ross Dress for Less fashions.

That would be enough, but then I find that the big Oscar de la Hoya fight happens tomorrow night. In fact, Mandalay Bay is the headquarters for de la Hoya’s opponent, Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao is staying here. Boo. Why couldn’t it be Oscar? Maybe Oscar will show up to trash talk him a little and psyche him out.

Oscar's the guy on the left. Yeah, Oscar!

Oscar’s on the left. What a doll!

Then I can meet Oscar and say, “Hey, I named my terrier after you!” I think that would make us best buddies.

Why did we name him Oscar de la Hoya? Hey, what else would you call a welterweight, brown faced handsome boy?

Why did we name this dog Oscar de la Hoya? Hey, what else would you call a small, feisty, fightin’, brown faced handsome boy?


Well, it’s way past a San Franciscan’s bedtime. So we headed back up to the room. Gotta be fresh for some serious Cowboy Shopping. And Oscar de la Hoya. Then there’s that Marathon. Oh, yeah, the Marathon. . .

Stay tuned. I’m revising downward. Now walking across the parking lot is starting to look like it might be enough of an accomplishment.