Saturday, February 26, 2011

Taking Your Kids to Vegas: Fear and Loathing Meet the Griswold Family.

I negotiated the right turn onto the strip, meshing with the cabs, limos, buses and pedestrians like a poorly functioning zipper. The first thing she saw was a massive billboard which pulsed with more wattage than one of Palin's red dresses.

My daughter gazed up at the illuminated row of six male torsos, cropped at their necks and waists. Their tanned firmness made me feel solid about our planned visit to Cheesecake factory.

"Dad, what's Chippendale's?" my ten-year-old asked.

"Um, it's a place where people watch muscular guys strip almost naked and pay them money."

"Can guys go? Like, would you ever go there?"

"You know, I would, but the young guys who work there don't like us old alums coming around and distracting their customers."

No response. "Do you think any of them are gay?"

"Absolutely. All of them are."

This morning, my family and I returned from a five-day trip to Vegas. Please, try not to judge.

Try not to judge how, each time we cruised the strip, my wife or I had to answer a different question:

"Dad, why is that pregnant lady in handcuffs? And why are the police making her walk a straight line?"

I always replied confidently and calmly. "Actually, if you look a little closer, her boyfriend is wearing the cuffs. Hey, who wants to ride the roller coaster at New York, New York?"

"Dad, why do you need to call a number to meet girls? Can't you just meet them in person around here?"

Again, I had to be cool. "Yes, Las Vegas has more lazy people than any other city besides Houston. Look it up. Now who's excited to see Blue Man Group?"

Bad parenting? On the surface, perhaps. But after evaluating our mid-Winter break vacation options, Las Vegas seemed a no-brainer—a short flight, a condo with a pool, nice weather, strippers and gambling.

We don't see much of our fifteen-year-old anymore, so five days in Sin City with her became the equivalent of five months of her brief appearances around our house. She wasn't a happy camper about an extended trip with immediate family only, exiling herself to her iPod and texting universe. After my wife and I put down our feet and insisted that she engage more with the family, it didn't take her long for some true self-actualization out by the pool:

"I never realized how much I miss my ankle hairs when I shave my legs." I didn't feel the need to respond. How does a father follow up such depth?

I must admit that I had my own self-actualizing poolside moment, upon doffing my shirt and glancing down at my white upper body. My chest looked like Steve Martin's head was face down on top of it. When the hell did I start looking like this? Oh, sure, for quite a while, I've had a smattering of gray chest hair, but this was a freaking white out.

At that moment, I resolved to visit the drugstore for three boxes of "Just for Yeti" prior to visiting another sunny winter destination.

Our trip was by no means devoid of more wholesome educational value. We drove out to Red Rock Canyon, which is like visiting the surface of Mars, and Hoover Dam, which is one of the most incredible and beautiful structures I've ever seen. And because we declined a GPS device in our already fully loaded Hyundai Excel, we spent a lot of time in the car "talking."

"Dad, I know you think you know where we are, but that's not the same 7-Eleven."

"Dad, do another U-turn. Those are fun."

"Dad, let Mom drive. We still love you, but please let Mom drive."

We shared a lot of laughs, many at my expense, but we really did have fun. I know, Las Vegas is seedy, it's greedy, it's sketchy and it's skeezy, and I've got one more observation:

It's the best trip we've ever taken.

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