I looked up "vega" in the online Spanish dictionary and it means "a flat and fertile plain or valley." That should mean that the name Las Vegas refers to several flat and fertile plains or valleys, yet all I see from my window at the Trump Hotel is desert. Mountains to the right, the strip at dead center, with more mountains to the left. I'm definitely positioned within a valley, but I'm not sure how fertile it is, or ever was, for agriculture and wildlife. One thing that does grow in Las Vegas, however, is money and I'm not even referring to the gambling. My wife and I usually fly to New York once a year for vacation and end up doing a bit of shopping while we're there. It's New York, so there are boutiques and small shops literally everywhere. Lately, however, we've mainly used Manhattan for walking, eating, and catching a few shows. Ever since we started coming to Vegas, we've been doing the bulk of our purchasing at the carnival of outlets mainlining through the strip. Nowhere else are there so many stores, with so much merchandise, in so concentrated of an area.
Today is my third day in Sin City and I awoke with a great excitement when I learned that All Saints would be having a huge sale this morning. I'm very particular about my denim, mainly because I have a thin waist with large legs, making my search for the perfect fit a bit more difficult. My jeans have to be cut just right and when I find some that are tailored perfectly, I'm willing to pay - a lot. It's not so different from how many of my customers feel about whiskey - they know exactly what they're looking for and how difficult it can sometimes be to find it. As with spirits, there are designer brands that will deliver both the style and the quality for the money. Some deliver only one of the two. Many offer neither, yet charge you as if they did. It takes time, experience, and a few failures to ultimately understand what you're paying for when it comes to good denim, as it does with good whiskey. In many ways, shopping for designer jeans is not unlike shopping for a nice bottle of booze.
I decided to take a cab over to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where the huge All Saints store is located, and hike the couple miles back for some exercise. I hailed a taxi in front of the lobby and slid into the back seat. My driver's name was Mimiko and she had beautifully vibrant skin with an African accent.
"Where are you from originally?" she asked after I told her my destination.
"San Francisco," I replied. "Where are you from originally?"
"Kenya," she answered, but I had already guessed Kenya. East Africans have absolutely the most beautiful cheek bones in the entire world. Mimiko's face gave her away.
"How often do you get home to visit?" I asked.
"Once a year. It's a long flight."
"Where do you connect through?" I inquired.
"London," she said. "Only one stop to Nairobi with British Airways."
Another thing that flourishes in Las Vegas is hospitality. I've never had so many friendly conversations with complete strangers than I have in my last few days here. Spending the bulk of my time alone while my wife attends a conference, I've managed to make a few new friends. Mimiko and I talked about the food on the BA Heathrow route and how global warming is making the transatlantic flight more turbulent.
"I almost flew out of my seat last time over," Mimiko shared, "and I went home during the dry season to nothing but rain."
"It's not good for our commute, but maybe Kenya will become the new Napa Valley. We can go in on some land together and plant Cabernet vines. What do you think?"
She laughed in what sounded like musical spasms and told me she already knew of the perfect site. As we pulled into the Cosmo lobby we agreed to 50/50 terms for ownership. A handshake sealed the deal.
The open container policy in Las Vegas isn't good for containing public drunkenness, but it is handy when you've got a can of beer in your back pocket and a budding thirst under the desert sun. I popped the lid, took a sip, and made my way upstairs to do some shopping. After escaping with two pairs of Iggy fit acid wash and some navy blue shorts, I began my trek back to the North end of the strip. In typical Vegas style, the most convenient (and comfortably shaded) path cuts through some of the most affluent shopping districts: the Forum at Caesar's and Canal Street inside the Venetian. Seeking a break from the overhead heat I decided to seek refuge inside the air-conditioned hallways.
One thing that blows my mind about Vegas is the amount of people out and about, spending freely and extravagantly. We happened to come during an especially crowded time of the year with the Electric Daisy Carnival descending on the city this weekend. The EDC is like a city of its own walled inside the local racecar speedway - 300,000+ people dressed in 1990's rave culture garb, dancing with Molly (the new name for MDMA instead of Ecstasy), and swinging neon-colored glow sticks with flashing lights. However, being that I was out at 10:30 AM, only a few hours after last night's festivities had finally ended, I only had the usual gang of tourists and thrill-seekers to contend with.
I couldn't help but stop at the Chanel store as I walked by, just because someday I would like to have the means to buy my wife a purse there without taking out a mortgage. As I perused the selection, I was secretly eavesdropping on a group of women at the main counter, harping over which two purses they were going to end up with.
"No, no! You need a classic look!" the mother, I'm assuming, said to one of her daughters.
"But you can't see the CC logo!" she whined back.
I sighed and thought to myself how much the wine and spirits world has become like the fashion one. We've gotten farther and farther way from actually enjoying the quality of our wine and clothing, and more concerned with others knowing how much we spent on them. I examined what I thought was the most elegant of the larger handbags and checked the card inside for the price: $3600. That's a lot of money, I thought. However, it's not more than I see bottles of Bordeaux go for daily on our auction site. At least you can wear this for the rest of your life, I reasoned, rather than drink it down during a single meal. There's something about shopping while you're intoxicated that fills you with courage, a bravado that replaces your usually rational common sense. The fact that I was in Vegas only made it more intense. Isn't that what this city is about? Making bold decisions, doing what's normally impossible, and feeling great about it?
In the end, I balked because I knew my wife, while probably sleeping with the bag by her side and marvelling over it like her first born, would never be able to wear a Chanel purse without feeling guilty about what she could've done with that amount of money. Seven years at K&L has also shaped my wine connoisseurship in a similar fashion. I'm more than able to appreciate why first-growth Bordeaux is revered so highly. I'm definitely a sucker for mature, Grand Cru Burgundy. However, I'm not willing to trade cases of great bottles, two months worth of fantastic drinking experiences, for the one lone bottle of Chateau Latour. At least not at this point in my life. I'd never be able to rid that thought from my brain while uncorking two grand's worth of grape juice. There's just no way.
When you're actually considering a purchase of that magnitude, everything else seems like an absolute bargain afterward. What's $300 when you were just about to drop four grand? I was searching for a nice gift for my wife, seeing that we were celebrating later that evening, so I stopped by another high-end store in search of the perfect shoes. I spotted them instantly. They had her size. I threw down the credit card. Deal done, with thousands of dollars saved, instead of hundreds spent. I was giddy and electric the rest of the way back.
When my wife came by later that evening and I surprised her with the gift, she was stunned. She instantly removed her ballet flats and slid into the elegant fit of the new pair."Oh my God," she said, "They're sooooo comfortable! I can't believe how they feel!" I was relieved. Not only were the shoes incredbily beautiful, they were "hand-crafted" (another great booze-related term) with the finest leather inside as well. For the money, I had hoped there would be a big difference in the quality and fit, as well as the exterior, and there definitely was.
Ultimately, that's what we're all shopping for. We want something special. We want something of quality. But we also don't want to feel like we overpaid for something that wasn't worth it. There's plenty of amazing shopping to be done in Las Vegas, the land of fertile valleys and plains. It can be an oasis in the middle of a desert if you know what you're looking for, but endlessly barren and empty if you don't.