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Divine Diversion: a Las Vegas Vacation Diary
photo submitted by Susan Freedner
Ruth & Susan Freedner with Bette Midler poster
Following the close of our 2009 seasonal share on Fire Island, the first weekend in October, my identical twin Ruth and I overcame our procrastination tendencies and immediately planned and booked a trip to Las Vegas for the sole purpose of seeing Bette Midler. This was to be a long overdue and well-deserved vacation. Due to our obligations and Bette's schedule the first opportunity would be in January 2010. Book it Dano-we used the Internet, a new phenomenon for Ruth, and arranged flights-Jet Blue, hotel-The Mirage, tickets for Bette Midler-"The Showgirl Must Go On," at The Colosseum at Caesar's Palace, as well as one of the eight Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil shows now playing in Vegas.

Anticipation increased and my expectations continued to rise each week throughout the close of 2009, as we had seen Bette every time she appeared in NYC, sometimes seeing a show more than once. We are big fans, and my VSO (Very Significant Other), the artist known as Eckdahl (Cathy), had seen the Vegas show last June and raved about it. Bette's performances are truly all encompassing-upbeat production numbers, emotional ballads, as well as anecdotal jokes. She truly is the great Jewish entertainer, as she used to refer to herself.

Our non-stop flights were uneventful and on schedule and for that I am extremely grateful, as I enjoy traveling, don't mind flying, it's the take-offs and landings I find problematic. The security at JFK is significantly greater than at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, and friends that know us well advised that we not be our usual ebullient selves and joke around within earshot of TSA agents, although we did have a light-hearted exchange with the Bomb/Explosives agent in Vegas as we cleared security.

The carry-on liquids restrictions of no larger than 3 oz. bottles that fit in a quart Ziploc bag were very difficult for me to adhere to as, being a woman of a certain age, I now need more lotions and potions than ever before. You would not know it to look at me, but I am very high maintenance. There are eye, ear, and nose drops, as well as dry-skin soap, special shampoo, and exfoliating paraphernalia.

Our flight out left NYC at dawn on Tuesday, January 19 and, with the time change, we arrived in Vegas at 10 a.m. We had ample time to shuttle bus from the airport to The Mirage hotel on the Vegas strip, check-in, freshen up, and eat before heading over to Caesar's Palace, the next hotel over, for the 7:30 p.m. show-except for a weather aberration. The torrential rains that inundated all of California had moved east to the Vegas desert and, what might have been a leisurely mosey from our hotel to Caesar's, was now an impassable flooded Las Vegas Boulevard.

We therefore chose to eat in our hotel and happily discovered a Carnegie Deli right off the lobby. You can take the girls out of NYC, but you can't take NYC out of the girls, and this was truly serendipitous ethnic karma. We shared pastrami on rye and beef tongue on pumpernickel sandwiches, with deli mustard, sour pickles on the side and bottles of Dr. Brown's Diet Cream soda. The regular sandwiches are huge and there are also gargantuan combos on the menu for the more intrepid eaters.

Anxious to get to the show, we headed out where our friendly, informative doorman assured us that we would not be able to walk in the street and would have to take a cab. Hard to believe, but he was right, as we witnessed the few people walking trying to leap over rivers of rushing water four-feet wide and spilling over the curbs. The extra long cab line thankfully moved quickly and we arrived in plenty of time to chat with the couples sitting on either side of us, at our excellent center seats, not the big-spenders seats, but the next-best seats. We are the people that disprove the stereotype of New Yorkers as being unfriendly. We talk to everybody, especially those people who notice and comment that we are twins.

At this show, the more involved conversation was between Ruth and the couple from Bismarck, North Dakota. They knew Bette from her movies and then bought some CDs. They considered her an actor/singer and their comment was, "We didn't know she was funny," to which we answered, "You have no idea." They were really nice people, who told Ruth that it doesn't really feel any different if the temperature is -10º or -40º, which is difficult to believe as we certainly notice the difference between +30º and zero!

Bette was fabulous as she, individually, and the show, in general, exceeded my extremely high expectations. For those, like us, who have seen every show she's done, I would say it's an over-the top retrospective of her wildly creative and hysterical production numbers, the subdued, emotional ballads, and the bawdy jokes. She was in excellent voice for the hit songs, some of which included "The Rose," "Wind Beneath My Wings," "Hello in There," and "From a Distance," and she did a call-and-response with the lead guitarist on "When a Man Loves a Woman." Some production numbers were, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and the Delores Disco Parody Medley, which features Bette as Delores Del Lago, the mermaid in a motorized wheel-chair, with her usual three back-up Harlettes now joined by the 16 showgirls that she named the Caesar Salad Girls. During the show, Bette announced the 'girls' would be in the lobby after the show to collect for Haiti Relief and that she would match everything collected and was hoping to raise $400,000 by the end of her run the next weekend. With state of the art wheelchairs, these 20 people whiz around the stage in a well-choreographed routine. Bette now calls herself the People's Diva and to me she is and always was. We laughed, we cried, we had a wonderful time, as it was all that I had anticipated and more. Oh, by the way, an usher told us that during the two year run, Bette has never missed a performance.

Ruth had researched the ubiquitous Vegas all-you-can-eat buffets on the Internet and determined, that since quality and not just quantity was important to us, we would not settle for the inexpensive offerings, but would avail ourselves of the bountiful, Bellagio, breakfast buffet, from 7-11 a.m., for $14.95. We arrived at 9:50 a.m., and learned that we did not have to leave at 11 a.m., but could stay as they set-up for lunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. We proceeded to leisurely dine for 21/2 hours, swearing that we need not ever eat again, and the bottomless cup of coffee provided more than enough caffeine for the rest of the trip.

That night, since we were still digesting breakfast, we stayed in the room as I was determined to watch the University of Kansas men's basketball team play a Big-12 conference home game-they won. When at home, I call my mother-in-law in Emporia, Kansas after each KU Jayhawk game to discuss the statistical minutiae and so I did, as what are cell phones for? This time I also regaled her with a very detailed description of the breakfast buffet, which she found more entertaining than the game: pancakes, and waffles, and French toast, oh my! Bacon, and sausage, and Canadian bacon-yikes! Fabulous fresh berries-have to have antioxidant fiber-followed by a mini-pastry-get the Pepto!

Thursday morning and we were not really hungry, but definitely needed a morning cup of coffee and, since neither of us is a Starbuck fan, we remembered seeing a sign for a bistro style coffee emporium called Roasted Bean-nearly a mile away from anything else in the lobby of the Mirage. It was worth the walk, and we needed the exercise. The coffee was excellent and they offered muffins/bagels, which was more than enough to start the day. There are dozens and dozens of shops within the hotel and we did browse through the offerings, looking for small mementos to bring home. We also had to pick-up the tickets we had ordered on the Internet for the Cirque du Soleil "The Beatles LOVE" show at The Mirage, which is the reason we chose to stay there.

We had previously seen most of the Cirque du Soleil shows that had played under the tent when they came to NYC and were not really interested in seeing, as Bette might say, more French-Canadian acrobats, however a few friends from Fire Island, who had seen this particular show, and knew that the twins were huge Beatles fans, strongly suggested that we see this while we were in Vegas. Thanks Sal Piro: you were absolutely right-we loved it! I would say it was not totally acrobatic as it entailed significant dancing, a number of new-fangled electronically controlled "toys" that moved along the floor, as well as characterizations of the Beatles, from boys in Liverpool through their many incarnations. The music and audio interviews were perfectly blended to tell their story. One of the highlights was the LED strands of lights hanging from the very high ceiling for "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds;" another was the fabric used as screens for videos of the Fab Four.

Before the show started I talked with the couple sitting on my right and it seems that, whenever you start a conversation, you start by asking where you're from, and they were from a small town in Wisconsin. When I told them I was from NYC, they wanted to know how close it was to Syracuse, as she had a brother who lived there. She told me that her town was small-how small was it? It doesn't have a traffic light, just a STOP sign. She said there were 171 people living in her town and I told her there were more people than that living in my apartment building. She said that when she retires she aspires to move to Madison-the big city.

By the way, it was still raining. It rained for the entire time we were in the Vegas desert, with the sun coming out as we left for the airport at sunset on Friday. Since we had each been to Vegas two previous times, separately, we did not feel the need to 'see the sights,' and it would not have been possible to spend any appreciable time outdoors, so we were fortunate that we had no plans to do so. We had a bite to eat at California Pizza Kitchen, in the lobby of the Mirage, before the show, something light, soup/salad, and then after the show it was back to the all-too-familiar Carnegie Deli, as you really can't get enough of that back-home feeling. We are very spoiled New Yorkers and on a fairly regular basis, for special occasions and whenever there are Restaurant Week specials, we dine at some of the finest restaurants in New York, so there was no reason to seek out four-star restaurants or celebrity chefs in Vegas.

TGIF and we'd be heading home, but it loomed as a really long day as our flight had a scheduled ETD of 10 p.m. You already know how we are: when we like doing something, we do it again, so back to the Roasted Bean for a light breakfast, coffee and muffin/bagel. If we do anything three times, it's become tradition. We had to check out by noon, so we packed and checked our bags with the valet, and then still had many hours to fill.

We decided to see "Avatar," as that would be like seeing a third Vegas show. The concierge provided us with the information for where and when it was playing. We were advised that it had to be seen in 3D and we were able to see the IMAX version, at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms. The young man at the ticket booth was advised that we wanted to receive the Senior Discount, and he asked to see proof. That is quite the compliment! It was fantastic! The visuals, the sound, all of the special effects, and yes, the story: the twins identified with the indigenous blue people of Pandora and the whole circle of life synchronicity aspect, so we wept and sobbed when the bad humans fought the blue people. I kept this overview simplistic so as not to give the dénouement away for those who have not seen it yet. Ruth had a few queasy stomach moments as she does suffer from motion sickness and commented that she should have worn her motion sickness Sea-Bands. Each version of the film has a different running time, the IMAX 3D version running close to 3 hours, so we passed a significant part of the afternoon at the movies. The movie actually ran twice as long as each of the live shows we had seen, as it seems to be de rigueur for Vegas that the shows are an hour-and-a-half, with no intermission.

We returned to the Mirage and still had to pass some significant time, so we hit the casino. Did I mention that the twins don't gamble? Sorry to disappoint those people who know me dealing blackjack at the Arts Project of Cherry Grove Casino Weekend for the past two decades or more. Ruth sat down at a slot machine and lost her designated $20 and quit. I proceeded to take the lucky $50 bill, which Cathy had given me to gamble with, over to the cashier to change into five $10 bills. Cathy had held onto that lucky bill since her trip last year, as it was part of the winnings from a scratch-off lottery ticket she played with her mother. I quickly lost $30 playing the $.25 slots, where each maximum play was $1.25. I put the remaining $20 back in my pocket to return to lucky Cathy to play Lotto tickets back home in Brooklyn. Then I took single dollar bills and began to play the $.05 slot, where each maximum play cost $.25. After losing a few dollars I hit it big: I won $16.10 on one play and in order to experience the thrill of winning I decided to cash out. Since I don't gamble I learned that no coins come pouring out of the machine-that used to be exciting, even if it was just nickels. Now you press a button to cash out and the machine issues a printed ticket with a bar code. You take that ticket to another machine, similar to an ATM, and after you insert the winning ticket, the machine pays your winnings. I received three five-dollar bills, one single dollar bill, and two nickels-whoopee doo!

I took my winnings and we headed across the casino to the California Pizza Kitchen, where we shared a salad and a regular small pizza. One last trek around the casino and it was time to get our luggage and head to the airport. I believe that our flight is called the red-eye-it departs at 10 p.m. and flies through the night, and the time zones, to land at JFK at 5:30 a.m., oy vay! Even though I have no trouble sleeping, anywhere, anytime, and did in fact sleep at least half of the four hour flight, arriving home at 7 a.m. on Saturday was more than a little disconcerting. Do I go to bed? How long do I sleep? When do I eat? What meal will it be? It took the entire weekend to readjust my schedule. Once again I am most grateful that the entire trip was safe and uneventful, as the twins had an outstanding vacation, a truly divine diversion!
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