With no plans and less than a month to go before Thanksgiving this year, I made the knee-jerk decision to take myself to Vegas.
The timing seemed questionable to some, too soon after the October 1 massacre at Mandalay Bay.
But, of course, as I recalled after 9/11 in New York City, there's no better time to visit and spend some money than when everybody else is scared off.
And I wanted to be somewhere that wouldn't remind me so much that it was Thanksgiving or that I had no plans. Although I'd spent the last two Turkey Days in Pennsylvania with a dear friend, thanks to strategically-timed business trips to Baltimore, I'd endured being an orphan on the fourth Thursday of November before in LA, and I had no desire for a repeat performance of that.
At least in Vegas, surely some Elvis impersonators would never take the holiday off...
...the "Big Apple Coaster" would be running its loop-de-loops at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino...
...and the Monorail would take me wherever I wanted to go, but without the throngs of tourists that usually pass through its turnstiles.
Because I couldn't bear the heartache of being turned away from the type of offbeat attractions that I usually visit while in Vegas, this time I stuck mostly to the Strip and its casinos, hoping to find the weird and wonderful amidst the mainstream and cliche.
Up until this visit, I'd mostly recoiled from the Epcot-like experience of the themed casinos, especially those built in the height of the building boom (and literal implosion boom) of the 1990s. None of those theme park-styled attractions felt real to me. I ached for the lost "old" Vegas of the Sands and the Dunes and the Riviera, Tropicana, and Flamingo. And I wondered by anyone would go to the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino when they could just go to Paris.
But now, to many visitors, the Paris does mark an Old Vegas—at least, an older Vegas—and a turning point in the architectural style of the Strip when million-dollar experiences gave way to billion-dollar luxuries.
And since my first trip to Vegas in the late 1990s, I still haven't been to the "real" Paris or the "real" Eiffel Tower. So, on Thanksgiving Day alone in Vegas, I was more than happy to visit a reasonable facsimile—to enter under an awning styled after the Paris Metro and take an elevator to the observation deck of a scale model of Le Tour Eiffel.
This tower a little more than half the size of the French one—built to the same exact specifications, just on a smaller scale. And it's the centerpiece of the hotel and casino, both of which were built around it (which explains the exposed wrought iron beams in the restaurant and the lobby.
Even more incredible were the people working there on the holiday—from the hostess who let me take a peek around the restaurant hours before it opened to the ticket-taker who told me how much he loves his job to the elevator operator who can rattle off encyclopedic factoids about the casino you're staying in, no matter which one.
In their own ways, the reminded me to be grateful and not forlorn on that "Day of Thanks." And from that birdcage 460 feet above the Strip, with 360-degree views of the Las Vegas Valley below, I made no pretenses that I was actually in France, looking down at the Hôtel de Ville or L'Arc de Triomphe.
But I finally let go of the need for it to be. This Thanksgiving, an approximation of Paris—and, a lovely one, at that—was enough to shift my gaze away from my own navel and experience something new on my own terms.
And for that freedom, I am eternally thankful.
Photo Essay: The (Temporary) View from Above Vegas
A Question of Reality
Upon the Fourth Thursday of November