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The Unbridled Party:
A Vegas Wedding

Bill and Jacqueline Get Married, Etc., March 29-April 7, 2000

By Bill Walsh

When Jacqueline and I last visited our favorite (only?) vacation spot, last October, we were planning our April 1 wedding. This time, we would say "I do." No fooling.

This report, I'm afraid, is likely to be shorter on (a) details and (b) laughs than the last one, which is bound to disappoint fans of (a) David Berman and (b) Matt Weatherford. Give me a break; I had other things on my mind.

DAY 1 (Wednesday, March 29): Fight or Flight

We awake early from a restless last night of "shacking up." Our pre-wedding accommodations will be in separate rooms (I hope Dr. Laura is sleeping easier).

The trip out would be first class all the way, we had decided, partly because of the solemn occasion but mostly to placate the easily wrinkled whims of the wedding dress. Now, we're not exactly used to traveling in style (at least we weren't yet), so when the 6 a.m. limousine pulls up at 5:45, our reaction is less "Ah, our birthright -- we'll be out when we're ready, Jeeves!" than "Oh, God, let's hurry up so the driver doesn't get sore at us!"

In the trip's first fortuitous upgrade, our limousine (I won't be caught dead saying "limo," even if dead people could talk) is the eight-passenger "stretch" rather than the standard six-passenger model. That dress gets to ride in style and comfort. So do the passengers, but anxiety quickly overtakes that as the driver starts to take a less-than-optimal route from Capitol Hill to Baltimore-Washington International and finds the road closed. Ironically (at least in the Alanis Morissette sense), this very special trip by two Washington Post staffers is being blocked by an overturned newspaper truck. But Jacqueline's Holly Hunter-in-"Broadcast News" instincts take over, and soon the driver is being talked through the correct route. That 6 a.m. pickup was for an 8 a.m. flight, so we have some margin for error, and as it turns out we arrive at BWI an hour early.

That first-class frisson is starting to grow on us. The limousine was only the first step; now we will fly first class for the first time, thanks to Jacqueline's America West frequent-flier Visa card, and we confidently stride into the preferred-passenger check-in line. Then comes our first indication that the Egalitarian Air Travel Act of 2000, repealing most if not all first-class privileges, has gone into effect on this very day. After plenty of cooing at the news of our wedding and the sight of the wedding-dress bag, the America West counter lady asks: "What are you going to do with that dress?" "Well, we bought first-class tickets so we could use the first-class closet," says my bride. "Ain't no closet on no 757," the counter lady replies. "Oh. Well ... I heard sometimes you can put a wedding dress in the cockpit ..." The lady laughs. "Cockpits on 757s are like this," she says, making the universal gesture for not-bigger-than-a-breadbox.

Our disillusionment grows as the lady slaps "HEAVY" tags on our suitcases and tells me I'll have to step behind the counter to lift them onto the conveyor belt. Forgetting for a moment the obvious question of why any passenger, let alone a first-class passenger, would be drafted to do the airline's manual labor without compensation, the only question I can come up with was "Are you sure your union allows this?"

Then there's the security checkpoint. The bride makes the mistake of asking "Do I have to lay my wedding dress on this belt?" -- a question that most terrorists apparently ask -- and is whisked away, with nary a word or an instant of eye contact, for a full search of her carry-on bags, which contain every electronic device known to man. We get a little worried when the search lady pulls on rubber gloves, but the body cavities are spared. Still no eye contact and no words, aside from the little jokes among the security staff that continue unabated as they perform this serious and vital task. Finally we're let loose, though the security staff has still never said a word to us or looked at us.

After all that, though, we make it to the gate in plenty of time to meet up with the parents of the bride, Jim and Shirley, and family friend Larry, better known as the King, all of whom were on the same flight, albeit in coach. They would play Elaine to our Jerry ("More anything?" "More everything!"). I set off in search of on-board reading material only to discover that about the only magazines currently sold in these United States are Maxim and its ilk -- those born-yesterday, too-smarmy-for-mixed-company, not-titillating-enough-for-anything-else proto-porn rags that litter the prurience gap between the venerable Esquire and the venerable Playboy. I purchase the least offensive of the Maxim clones and hope the bride and her mother look the other way.

When the boarding announcements start, our ears perk up. First class! Yippee!

Passengers needing assistance. Passengers traveling with small children or with players who stand on soft 16. Guatemalan passengers who have been diagnosed with lupus in the past 5 1/2 months. I don't remember hearing all these designations being given priority boarding before first-class passengers back in my coach days, but I suppose the grass is always greener. We finally do get to board before the riff-raff.

First class is nice. It isn't worth the money, but it's nice. As it turns out, the captain would be glad to harbor that wedding dress in the cockpit. And send a split of champagne to the happy couple. We get a choice, for heaven's sake, at breakfast time. The chile-relleno bake sounds intriguing, and I almost order it because I feel bad that nobody else will, but I opt for the "Belgium waffle," while the bride gets cereal with fruit and yogurt. (Belgium waffle! Sure enough, it's as good as France toast, England muffins, America cheese or Germany chocolate cake!)

And all that free bottled watter. The first-class restroom comes in handy.

Unfortunately, my shot at free headphones is spoiled. For one thing, it's the latest James Bond thriller (the oeuvre hasn't thrilled me since "Live and Let Die," partly because of declining quality but mostly because I'm no longer 13). More crushing, though, is the fact that they never alert you to the start of the movie. You get an announcement before the lengthy series of shorts and self-serving airline crap, but those who wanted to watch the movie and only the movie are out of luck if they didn't pay close attention to the silent screen. So I might have watched the Bond flick, but I never got the chance. I did occasionally glance up, headphone-free, and judging from the number of stupid piece-of-shit cliche scenes in which our heroes are running and diving to escape the fiery explosions going off right behind them, it was just as well.

Here's another disappointing thing about first class: You eventually have to return to the real world. We traipse through McCarran (nickname: Most Misspelled Airport in the World), past countless pictures of the guy holding a toddler-size lobster. Shirl, now walking with Jacqueline, continues her conversation with the nice young lady she had sat next to on the flight, and the woman is amused to learn of our wedding plans. She announces that she dumped her husband's sorry ass (much to the embarrassment of the sorry-ass ex, with whom she is traveling) and proclaims, "Here's what I did with his ring," whereupon she lifts her shirt to reveal a diamond-studded navel. "Is this your first time?" she continues, looking at Jacqueline. My bride-to-be sneaks a peek at her torso before answering "Yep."

We endure the mandatory Las Vegas public-address brainwashing about how Danny Gans is the greatest thing since split aces (more on that big lie later) and park ourselves at the baggage carousel for what should be a short wait. Forty-five minutes later, Jacqueline is getting tired of holding the taller-than-she-is dress above her head and I'm storming into the America West baggage office in search of an explanation. "The bags are on their way," I'm told.

"What's the problem? You can catapult hundreds and hundreds of tons of steel and flesh into the sky and across the country but you can't drive some luggage across a tarmac?"

"Well, there were 170 bags!"

"Um, OK. How many do most of your flights carry -- six?"

After almost an hour, we finally get our bags, despite the best efforts of our fellow passengers to blindly walk off with them. (Many bags look alike, you know.) Then it's off to the taxi line, which is a tad long. Our traveling companions got their luggage a few minutes earlier and decided to get their own cab. Jacqueline and I finally get one, all the while continuing to treat the dress gingerly, keeping it with us in the back seat, only to see the hacker try to pile bags on top of it.

Our destination: The Monte Carlo. We have a strange relationship with this hotel. On one of our first visits to Las Vegas together we spent a very boring several hours in the casino, walking and eating with friends, and we were less than impressed. As the wedding plans took shape, however, the place's affordable elegance started to appeal to us. At one point we were even leaning toward holding both the ceremony and the reception there. Then it was to be Bellagio chapel and Monte Carlo reception. This stood until January, when the mother of the bride -- after firming up the Monte Carlo reception -- decided just for the heck of it to price a Bellagio reception. Next thing we knew, the whole shindig was set for Bellagio. But Monte Carlo (Bellagio Lite) remained our preferred choice for guest accommodations (the monorail looms large) and as a site for a night-before gathering (at the brewpub).

Still, as we cart our luggage into the Monte Carlo on the Wednesday before our Saturday wedding, we are dealing with an unknown quantity: We are about to check in to this hotel for the first time. The desk clerk is all set to give me a room next to Jacqueline's when the information vanishes from her screen. She ascertains that her boss has gone in and snatched the room away, knowing full well that she was about to finalize it, and she makes no attempt to hide her anger. I'm not all that upset, but this clerk can't seem to let it go. Jacqueline, her parents and I all end up on the same floor, but we're in different wings. The room is fine, perhaps half a notch below the Golden Nugget, our usual haunt. I have a good view of the New York-New York roller coaster.

We meet up for lunch and end up, inevitably, at the Monte Carlo Pub & Brewery, where the atmosphere is nice and the sandwiches are huge -- and on great breads (I had a Cuban, the others had clubs). I had a glass of the house-made light beer, to get firmly into the Vegas spirit. An extra added bonus: The dozens of TVs brought in for the NCAA basketball Final Four are tuned to the Andre Agassi-Tim Henman tennis match from Key Biscayne. Andre, a favorite in our household, saves several match points to pull out a close third-set tiebreaker (10-8, if I remember correctly). And we're amazed and gratified to see that ours wasn't the only table watching closely.

Jim, the father of the bride, had expressed interest in playing a little blackjack, and after lunch Jacqueline and I are only too happy to oblige. We find an empty $5 table at Monte Carlo, and the four of us sit down to play. Five dollars is usually a little rich for my blood, but I had vowed to get over that, especially with such a large portion of this trip being spent on the Strip. This is a special moment: It was easy to forget, but we had never been to Las Vegas with Jacqueline's parents before. I'm the only one having any sort of luck to speak of, and I cash in $87.50 on my $40 investment. Not a bad start.

Jacqueline and I try to play a little video poker, but only my money is good around here. Jacqueline's crisp new $20 bills are rejected by the adjacent machine, much to her dismay. Perhaps Monte Carlo hasn't gotten around to reprogramming its machines for the redesigned Jackson note. I cash in two bucks ahead and we briefly separate. I decide to take a walk, to explore the Holiday Inn Boardwalk next door and perhaps beyond, and so we plan to reconvene at Bellagio for our 4 p.m. meeting with Nicole, who is coordinating the reception.

I note the Boardwalk's $3 blackjack tables and not-as-dismal-as-reputed atmosphere (though a place with a store called Toe Rings and Foot Things can't be all good) and return to Monte Carlo, but I'm unable to locate the bride and her family and so I take the monorail to Bellagio by myself.

I arrive at the catering office at 3:55 and am quite surprised to find that I'm the first one there. It seems even more odd at 4:05, and I peek into the Monet 1 ballroom to see that, sure enough, everybody has ditched me. (Oh, boy, you've been forgotten ...) A husband had better get used to such things, right? Any peevishness is quickly soothed by a look at the space. We have Monet 1 and 2 and the adjoining marble balcony, which overlooks the swimming pools. Awesome. The ballrooms are not yet specifically set up for our reception, but already it's clear that they will be beautiful. The standard tablecloths look as though we designed them for the event; they're a dark-gold damask, a perfect fit with the unofficial wedding colors of white, gold and black, and with the bronze-brown tint we applied to the Elvis-and-Priscilla Vegas wedding picture we used for the cover of the programs that will adorn these tables. Even the missteps have a golden lining. When it becomes clear that the mixer controls for the sound system won't work in the spot Nicole had designated for the dance floor, the idea of reversing the layout of the room gradually grows on everyone as not only acceptable, but preferable.

Terence, my brother and best man, is scheduled to arrive this afternoon from Phoenix and check in at the Barbary Coast, and so we decide to try to meet up with him on the way to a Stratosphere/dinner/cheap blackjack excursion. Our first stroll to the Barbary Coast finds him not yet checked in, and so we take a leisurely walk through Paris-Las Vegas before trying again. This time, wouldn't you know, we find him at the check-in desk. I ride up to his fourth-floor room to check out the digs. Nice, roomy room for the money, but not quite as luxurious as I had expected.

We end up at Imperial Palace in our search for transportation and take separate groom's-side and bride's-side cabs to the Stratosphere. Neither Terence nor the bride's parents had been up the tower before (in fact, this is Terence's first time in Las Vegas). Jacqueline and I are big fans of the view, and her parents agree. Terence finds it a little on the, uh, high side.

We decide to walk to the Sahara for $1 blackjack. It's only when we're three-quarters of the way there that we realize it's more of a walk than we thought. On the way we see the new roller coaster doing test runs along its Strip-hugging track. Looks like a fun ride. We walk in through the NASCAR Cafe entrance to find some $1 tables, but they're in a harshly lighted little room off the main casino. The "real" tables are more crowded and everyone's thirsty, so we settle in for some video poker at the bar. Again Jacqueline's money is not accepted, but I give Terence, Jim and Shirley a quick course in the game. These aren't good pay tables, and we all lose. The drink situation is made bizarrely complicated, with Jacqueline and me getting comps but being forced to sign "checks" a couple of times. Jacqueline is told they'll let it slide this time but her strawberry margarita normally incurs a surcharge. We weren't paying close attention to the other side of the bar, but I think they gypped Jim and Shirl into paying while playing.

Dinner suddenly doesn't seem absolutely necessary, and Jacqueline's parents decide to head back to the Monte Carlo. So Jacqueline, Terence and I head to the blackjack pit and find three empty seats at a dollar table. This will be Terence's first session ever. He's been practicing on the excellent Casino Verite software and has basic strategy down pretty well. I stick with $2 and $3 bets for the most part, but Jacqueline (as always) strays into $5 territory and, surprisingly, so does Terence. I thought we had come here to give him a break the first time around! His derring-do pays off, and he turns $20 into $82. My $20 becomes $50. Even Jacqueline wins (this would not be a common occurrence this time around). The table provides a good taste of Vegas atmosphere, with a loud but harmless 30-something woman liberally contributing commentary. We all live up to the Generation X stereotype, and soon the talk turns to such classic TV as "The Monkees," "The Banana Splits" and "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp." Terence strikes a nerve by mentioning "The Hillbilly Bears," and soon this woman is doing a credible hillbilly-bear voice. When the topic of the wedding comes up, the woman insists in no uncertain terms that we must visit Red Rock Canyon. Sounds interesting -- maybe next trip. No, she says, it must be done. She will not take no for an answer. I hope she isn't reading this report, because we will fail in that mission.

Then it's back by cab to Monte Carlo and into bed. It's been a long day -- and a longer report than I thought (Bermanistas rejoice!), but I promise things will get increasingly sketchy as the trip continues.

NEXT: Families That Stand Together Hit Together