An “Imperial” Introduction to Las Vegas: The Story of our First Trip
(Twelve years ago today, Anne and I spent our first night in Las Vegas.)
We landed in Las Vegas at 11pm on New Year’s Eve. An hour later, Anne and I stared out of the windows at McCarran airport and watched the fireworks sparkle over the strip. We stood silently watching in what seemed to be complete solitude admiring the Luxor, MGM Grand and other resorts as we waited for the streets to re-open and allow shuttles and taxis access to the hotels so we could rest our heads after an exhausting couple of days.
Less than 24 hours prior, Anne and I stood at an alter and exchanged wedding rings surrounded by our bravest friends and family members as a blizzard whipped above the church and through Connecticut. Our groomsmen shoveled the steps at the church so that our guests could safely make it to their cars and so that we could squint through a picture with our wedding party in front of the church doors. Our robust guest list dwindled with each flake that fell but I barely noticed in the midst of celebrating with those brazen enough to trek through several feet of snow. Shortly after the reception, we learned that our flight to Vegas for later that night was cancelled and the earliest departure was in the early evening on the 31st. With so much wedding planning, we never gave much thought to a honeymoon until a few months prior to our big day. After speaking with a travel agent (they were relevant at one point) and explaining that we were looking for a good New Year’s Holiday get-a-way, she suggested Vegas. I had always wanted to go and Anne obliged.
As the final sparkles burned out over the strip, Anne and I dragged our suitcases to the shuttle stand. While it was just shy of 1am in Las Vegas, it felt like 4am to us because, well, it was in Connecticut. We didn’t expect to be stranded at the airport until then. When we landed, we were both excited to grab our bags, get to the hotel, grab a bite, shower and get some sleep. Instead, we sat in an airport Burger King and scarfed down Whoppers and fries and now, we were once again waiting for a shuttle to take us to our hotel.
I don’t remember our first ride onto the strip. I don’t remember seeing the streets lined with crazy party goers and drunk tourists. My first memory of the Vegas strip was being dropped off at the Imperial Palace (we’ll get to that later), trying to make it through a casino that was too loud, bumping into people that drank too much, checked into the hotel with a staff member that was too rude, and standing by the elevators for too, too, too long waiting to get to our room. When we FINALLY made it to our room, it was approaching 2am. We didn’t expect to walk into a room that had clearly not been renovated since the 70’s featuring a heart shaped tub, see through shower stall and zenith TV that didn’t work. It was only missing the coin operated vibrating option on the bed. But, we were exhausted and just wanted to shower and sleep. After settling in for a few minutes, Anne headed to the shower first, turned on the water and screeched.
“What happened,” I asked as I walked over.
“The shower head attached me,” she replied.
“The shower head popped off and
just missed smacking me in my face!”
I called the front desk to report the issue. They said they would be up as soon as they could. The Imperial Palace wasn’t really a choice as much as a recommendation. Our travel agent said, “it’s in a great location but a little old,” in her Fran Drescher voice. “Look, it isn’t the nicest hotel on the strip but you’re getting a great price and you’ll barely spend any time in the hotel.” Anne and I sat in the room, fighting off sleep, staring at the clock, hoping with each minute that the repair man would knock on our door and swoop us away to a magical suite with fresh fruit, tall windows with a magnificent strip view instead of a view of cement, a big screen TV, a lavish shower, free vouchers for an exquisite breakfast and a bag of casino chips. After all, this was Vegas and this is what is supposed to happen. Right?
“Can you call again,” Anne asked stirring me from my Vegas fantasy.
When I finally got someone on the line, I explained our situation and said, “we are exhausted! We’re on our honeymoon. We got married in a blizzard yesterday. We just want to take showers and go to bed. Please!”
The response, “look, it is New Year’s Eve. We’re kind of busy. What did you expect?” crushed me to the point that I gave up. We decided that it would be better if they could just fix it in the morning. At 4am with the noise of raucous partiers outside, next door, in the halls and all around, we finally fell asleep.
A loud knock on the door jarred me from my sleep. I forced my eyes open.
“MAINTENANCE!” a man shouted at the door.
Anne and I looked over at me. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Hold on,” I called out as I turned and looked at the clock. “9am? Did we even sleep?”
A large man with a thick salt and pepper mustache entered our room.
“You got a problem with your shower?” he said.
“Ummm…yeah,” Anne replied. “The shower head flew off and almost hit me in the face.”
“Wow! You must have partied pretty hard last night, huh?”
“What…no…we checked in late last night and just wanted to shower…” Anne replied.
We explained what our night was like. He seemed more interested in the story than our misery. He said he needed to grab a part and would be back. We decided to grab a bite to eat and then shower. We went to the Imperial Palace Emperor’s Buffet for breakfast and hoped that the shower would be fixed by the time we returned to our room. As I browsed the very limited selection, I felt like Vegas Vacation’s Clark Griswold choosing between yellow or gray mush at the buffet Cousin Eddie treated him to .* After choking down a mixture of yellow and gray mush and sludgy coffee, Anne and I returned to the room to find the shower and TV working. I honestly didn’t know how much more she could take. I’m pretty patient. Anne, on the other hand, has a low tolerance for ineptitude, rudeness, disorganization and unprofessionalism. At any moment, I was sure she was going to have our bags packed and a taxi waiting for us to go back to the airport.
Fortunately, as I finished showering, I was happy to find Anne had pulled herself together and was keeping a positive attitude. If our first night was so terrible, I was afraid of what the rest of Vegas had in store for us. We grabbed our camera and other tourist items and happily headed out of the hotel. But first, we had to make a pit stop at the front desk. Over the years, my wife has honed her skills as one of the world’s best complainers. I believe it was our first night at the Imperial Palace in which her tyranny on the world of bad customer service began. She eviscerated the front desk, managers and I believe a valet is still walking funny because of her tirade. I don’t recall how we reconciled our terrible evening but I’m positive it wasn’t with more yellow or gray mush.
Moments later, we stepped into the sunlight for the first time, I felt like we hadn’t seen daylight in years. The early afternoon sun fell warmly on my freshly shaven cheeks, the palm trees were flowing, the Mirage across the street gleamed, and the strip had a calm about it that I have only experienced in Vegas one other time when I walked to a business meeting before 7am many years later. It took me a moment to understand it. New Year’s Day is serene in Vegas. All of the New Year’s Eve debauchery gives way to a peaceful respite for a few brief hours while the partiers are either heading home or are nursing hangovers in their hotel rooms. For a city known for the lights, noise, parties, and its moniker “sin city,” my first happy memory in Las Vegas was the moment Anne and I touched hands and quietly began walking along the strip.
For the next few days we visited most of the resorts, had dinner at Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House, won $100 on an Elvis machine in MGM Grand, watched countless Bellagio Fountain shows, the Mirage volcano explode, toured Siegfried and Roy’s Magical Garden, dealt with the Imperial Palace and as our time in Vegas began to wind down, we even decided to extend our vacation an extra day. We began to understand the rhythm of Vegas and in a few short days, learned to navigate it. I’m not sure what would have happened if we spent all of New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas. Maybe the craziness of the night would have driven us home early. Perhaps we would have become the zombies that seek shelter in the darkness of their rooms on New Year’s Day. It is even probable that I would love Las Vegas as much as I do now. However, I know this; I will never forget our first night in Las Vegas and I’ll always remember my first walk down the strip with my wife.
*If you google, “vegas vacation movie disgusting buffet” the first result will be a Yelp Review of the Emperor’s Buffet.