I had never been to Las Vegas and, though I’m not a gambler by any stretch of the imagination, agreed that it sounded fun. Besides, my sister, Jill, lives in nearby Henderson so, I reasoned, it would be a good opportunity to see her and the kids. And, as my close friends know, I’m a huge Patsy Cline fan and have been to New York, Virginia, Nashville and Camden, Tennessee on what Tim refers to as our “Patsy Pilgrimages.” Since Patsy performed at a casino on the old strip three months before she died, I figured I could make this one of those pilgrimages. Primarily, we decided that it would be a good way to celebrate Valentine’s Day and booked our stay accordingly.

 

And, with any luck, we would return to a St. Louis free of ice and snow.

 

Now, I love to travel. I like seeing sights, love hotels and I love to experience new cities. There’s only one little problem with doing all of these things: I hate to fly. Not just because of the cramped airplanes, the long lines or the way travelers are treated like cattle.

 

I’m absolutely terrified of plane crashes. (This may or may not explain my fascination with Patsy Cline.)

 

And it’s not just once I’m on the plane, either. I start obsessing about flying days in advance and, on the morning of any given flight, Tim’s lucky to get three words out of me. That’s how bad it is. For the last nineteen years Tim has held my hand during take-off, which is, in my mind, the worst part of flying. And if the plane happens to hit turbulence or to suddenly bank, well, I might as well be wearing a catheter. The unfortunate thing about this trip and my dislike for take-off is that we were unable to get a direct flight; we were scheduled to leave St. Louis at eight o’clock and fly into Salt Lake City, where we would have a three and a half hour layover before flying on to Las Vegas. Yes, two take-offs in one day.

 

Oh, and did I mention the three and a half hour layover?

 

In Salt Lake City, no less.

 

Tim and I always travel light, each of us packing only enough to fit into carry-ons, and saving us the delays associated with baggage check. Since we were going to be gone for five days, I packed my laptop, too, reasoning that we might want to check e-mails or do a bit of research on Vegas once we got there.

 

The morning of our flight our taxi was early. Considering my pre-flight jitters and how much I detest waiting for anything, this was fine. We arrived to a surprisingly busy airport, printed our boarding passes and headed toward our gate. As we approached the security checkpoint, we did everything we were supposed to do: shoes, belts and coats were removed and placed in the plastic tubs provided along with the few toiletries we were allowed, stuffed inside a Ziploc baggy. Boarding passes and driver’s licenses were in-hand.

 

A sign announced that all laptops were to be removed from their cases before being placed in yet another plastic tub. I quickly unzipped the soft cloth case that normally carries my laptop and placed both into a tub. As I was watching my things slowly vanish into the scanner and wondering why I had worn socks with holes in the toes, I became aware that the TSA agent was trying to tell me something. I couldn’t hear him but his face was not happy. I put a hand to my ear, the universal symbol that either I couldn’t hear him or that I was incredibly old.

 

“Your case cannot go in the same tub as your laptop!” he bellowed.

 

Now, as I mentioned earlier, the carrying case I own is soft…not rigid, incredibly flimsy. There was absolutely no way it could conceal anything. Nevertheless, wanting only to be through security and at the gate to await my inevitable death in a fiery crash, I quickly placed the case in the other tub with my shoes, belt, wallet and watch.

 

Once we reached our gate and took seats, the wait to board our plane was surprisingly short. As usual, being the budget travelers that we are, we were some of the last people to board, our seats far in the back of the plane. Luckily, we found the room to store our carry-on luggage and I stored my laptop under the seat in front of me. Although I’m sure I broke three or four bones in Tim’s hand during the take-off, it was relatively uneventful. A sticker on the back of the seat in front of me announced that the plane was equipped with Wi-Fi so, once I was convinced that we were safely in the air I pulled out my laptop to do a little web surfing. After a couple of failed attempts to log on, I discovered the reason for my difficulties: the airline wasn’t giving us free Wi-Fi, they wanted almost thirteen dollars. Grumbling to myself, I put the laptop back in its case and placed it back under the seat before falling asleep.

 

The layover in Salt Lake City went by incredibly fast although, by the time our plane for Las Vegas was boarding, I could have given directions to any new arrival to any part of the airport. Seated on our second plane, again two of the last to board, I nearly broke Tim’s hand again on takeoff. Fortunately, the flight time from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas is just under an hour but, when the pilot began his approach into Las Vegas, our descent was a little too fast for my liking. Like nose-dive fast.

 

“Who the hell is flying this thing?” I asked Tim, a cold sweat breaking out across my forehead.

 

“It wasn’t that bad,” laughed Tim.

 

Fine, I thought. I’ll remember that next time you scream like a girl over a little garden snake.

 

Las Vegas was great. A little over the top, sure, a little expensive, yes, but a great place to “people watch.” It was nice, too, hearing French, German, Spanish and Mandarin walking down the streets, something I miss about living in San Francisco.

 

My favorite question of the whole trip was a drunk asking a waitress “How much are the ninety-nine cent margaritas?” It barely beat out a sign on the front of a souvenir shop that said “If it’s in stock we have it!”

 

Really?

 

We walked for miles every day we were there, enjoying the warmer temperatures and crazy gigantic casinos like the Luxor, the Venetian, New York, New York, the MGM Grand, Paris, the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace and Treasure Island, to name a few.  The real kicker was that our own hotel, the Riviera, didn’t give away free Wi-Fi, either. Despite the eight dollars they were charging us each day in the form of a “resort fee,” they wanted to charge us an additional nine dollars to use the internet.

 

We made it to the old strip, too, where Patsy had performed at the now-defunct Mint back in 1962. At a local antique store, Tim found memorabilia from the Mint and surprised me with it for Valentine’s Day. We spent a day with my sister, Jill, who drove us to Hoover Dam, a truly marvelous spectacle, before taking us back to her place, where we had dinner and a nice evening.

 

As usual, it was nice to be home again and we were both happy that the ice and snow were gone from our street. But, as is often the case, I’m ready to go again. Whether you’re a gambler or, like me, prefer to drink and “people watch,” I would highly recommend Las Vegas. Either way, it turned out to be one of the best Valentine’s Days I can remember.

 

BY: CURTIS COMER