My sister Monica called me from Florida one day in 1999. "Hey Sis, good news and bad. Robbie and I have to go to Vegas for a promotional event for his job. Not a big fan of Vegas but I'm keeping him company. Isn't that a close drive from where you live?" she asked.
"Wow, that sounds fun. Yeah, it's only a couple hour drive from here. Count me in."
My brother in law, Robbie was a Senior Executive at a music company that specialized in distribution of records, CD's and tapes. The trip to Vegas was one of the perks of the job. That was in the days when records, CD's and cassette tapes still existed. I realize that collectors still like vinyl records - but that's only for people with really thick glasses and a desire to tinker with expensive turntables.
A Country and Western radio station in the South - I'm not exactly sure what state, but I'm imagining Arkansas - had put on a contest to the first thirty callers. The prize was an all expenses paid trip for two to Las Vegas, accommodations at the Flamingo Hotel, and either a renewal or first time wedding vows with a group of thirty lovebird couples on Valentines Day. The real draw was this: the winners would have as their best man a famous Country and Western singer whose name escapes me at the moment. Perhaps he wasn't really that famous after all.
Two of my best friends, Chris and Betsy decided to make the trip with me. Betsy flew and Chris and I made the trip from Orange County in his yellow 1983 diesel 300SD Mercedes. Betsy loves Vegas - especially the nickel slots since a great time can be had at a bargain - and Chris flat out loves any kind of adventure.
The Flamingo Hotel is one of the older hotels in Las Vegas. Built by mobster Bugsy Siegel, it opened in 1946. It's smoky, loud, gaudy and decorated in lots of pink.
Monica and Robbie arrived at the hotel early.
"I think I'll get my hair done." said Monica
"Sounds good hon. I'll head over to the sports book and wait for you."
Las Vegas is a twenty four hour town - lots of action and excitement. But not on this morning. The sports book looked like a mausoleum. Not a soul in sight.
Robbie hoped the place would start to fill up soon. Add a little excitement. Scanning the Betting Board, he spied a chubby horse named Country Enough with odds of 70 - 1 Who doesn't love a long shot? Especially when they pay off. Country Enough had little hope of doing so - he had been hittin' the feed bag a bit too much.
"Fifty bucks on Country Enough please."
Robbie sat down to watch the race.
The trumpet blared.
And they're off! Insomnia in front by a head, Flannel Cake is second by a half, Frank Case in third by a length. Country Enough refused to break. Around the turn it's Flannel Cake on the rail and here comes Flannel Cake. Insomnia in front by a head. Bubble Bath is sixth by a half. And out of the pack comes Country Enough. It's Insomnia in front by a head. It's Country Enough and Insomnia. But wait - it's going to be a photo finish. And Country Enough wins! What an upset. The crowd goes wild.
Robbie jumped up from his seat. "Woot woot!" He looked around the room for someone, anyone to share the moment with. Not a soul. The only sound was the disembodied clang clang clang of someone in the far distance hitting the jackpot at the slot machine.
Hey hey! Back to the Group Wedding:
When you get married at The Flamingo Hotel, you have many choices. You could tie the knot under a lush, ivy covered outdoor gazebo, or you could enter a state of connubial bliss by the luxurious infinity pool by the waterfall, or you could exchange vows next to the architectural delight of a pool with its many flamingo sculptures that spew out water from their beaks.
If you're expecting any of these things for the Group Wedding, you won't be getting them, but then again beggars can't be choosers.
The Group Wedding was held in one of the convention rooms they had been unable to book for any other occasion that night. I guess the Shriners were at the MGM. We walked into a convention room that was partitioned off to make it the required size (small) by the use of one of those large accordion style room dividers. About thirty round tables had been set up with white tablecloths, pink carnation centerpieces and white folding chairs.
An arch covered with more pink carnations and baby's breath stood at the front of the room. The minister welcomed everyone. The thirty winning grooms, decked out in their wedding finery which is to say: a clean t-shirt and a new bolero tie, surrounded the minister. The not so famous Country and Western singer stood ready to perform his best man duties and then get the heck out of there and hit the blackjack tables.
A pleasant looking grandmotherly type woman with grey hair sat at an organ. The strains of The Wedding March began.
We all stood and turned our attention to the procession of bride-to-be's. All thirty of them.
How do I explain the brides while still sounding polite? There's just no way around it. You've seen that show Jerry Springer? These were the women they didn't let on the show.
Thus began a parade of women that I will describe like this: spandex pant wearin', Jenny Craig needin', single wide trailer dwellin', liposuction requirin', Pabst Blue Ribbon beer drinkin', 22 rifle carryin', dental plan not gettin', Wal-Mart shoppin', and some that might have been gender reassigns. Bless their hearts.
I looked over at the sweet little grandmotherly type who was playing the wedding march and noticed that she was breaking out in a sweat from the exertion. I don't think they told her ahead of time how long she would be playing. It looked like her arthritic fingers were cramping. In fact, by the time she was done, they looked something like this:
One of Robbie's co-workers was having a conniption fit, laughing so hard that I thought we were going to get kicked out. Robbie elbowed his friend. "Stop it, do you want to get us fired?" he said this with a smile on his face.
"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here to join these thirty couples in the state of Holy Matrimony." How fast can I get this ceremony over with and hit the craps tables? Then maybe check the yellow pages and hire one of those buxom escorts? is what the minister looked like was thinking.
But he didn't say that. "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
I didn't have the stomach to witness the kisses. After all, we were planning on enjoying the free buffet and I didn't want to lose my appetite.
Chris and I had our photograph taken next to the wedding cake. Our plan was to take the picture, show it to his family and trick them into thinking that we had gotten married that fine Valentines day in Vegas.
Valentines Day in Vegas is swarming with brides. And grooms - but nobody every notices them. We walked through the casino and saw more white than you would see in a blizzard in Alaska.
Chris, Betsy and I boarded the elevator. Three brides with their reluctant grooms in tow boarded with us. One of the brides was in a heated argument with her new husband - so much for connubial bliss. Trying to lighten the mood, Chris said "This sure is a great day for a wedding. In fact, the three of us just got married." His remark was met with lots of staring up at the elevator floor numbers as they changed.
That night, Robbie had a business function to attend, so Monica, Betsy, Chris and I headed out to a Japanese restaurant and enjoyed sushi and sake. Then Betsy, armed with a big gulp size cup full of nickels, a diet coke and a pack of cigarettes, headed for the slot machines where she enjoyed the entire evening with her groom - the one armed jack.
"Can't we do something that doesn't involve fatty foods, smoke filled rooms and gambling?" said Monica much to the agreement of Chris and Yours Truly.
We decided on a hike in Red Rock Canyon. Most people don't realize that while Las Vegas is filled with lights, music, action, hookers, dollar buffets, pawn shops, crime, showgirls, gambling, drugs and general Sin City fare - within a thirty minute drive, you can be hiking in breathtakingly beautiful wilderness.
Monica, Robbie, Chris and I set out for a peaceful morning hike. A sign posted at the entrance to the trail warned us Don't Harass the Biting Burros. "What are they going to do, hire an attorney if we harass them?" said Chris. Luckily, we never saw any of these fierce animals, but we did enjoy a relaxing meditation by a babbling brook - until Robbie's cell phone rang. "Time to get back to work." he said.
That meant Robbie was back to the demands of his job and the rest of us were back to the nickel slots. Other than Robbie's excitement with Country Enough, the rest of us didn't win anything in Vegas that weekend. But what we did come away with was laughter, stories and lasting friendships.