Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Vegas, Baby!

The neon lights were fading into the background as I stumbled bleary-eyed down a poorly-lit sidewalk littered with pamphlets. “Hot Babes, Direct to Your Room,” they read, among other more suggestive titles. No thanks, I thought to myself. Oh, the irony.

The August sun had set many, many hours before, but the heat still emanated from the concrete like weeds from fertile ground, slowing my progress as I struggled along the north end of the strip, ambling slowly into the sketchier part of the city. My despair grew as I realize I might never find what I needed. It was something you’d think would be easy to find in the city of sin at 3 a.m. armed with a bit of cash and credit cards that still had room to spare, despite that ill-fated trip to the casino earlier in the day -- for I needed drugs.  

Most drugs, I imagine, could have been found within yards of where I walked, if I knew who to ask. All except the one I needed: Children's Tylenol.

Oh, and I also needed some baby formula.
"My wife is heading to Vegas for a conference,
so I said, that sounds like a great place to take
the kids" ... Bad Idea Jeans.
A few minutes before, I’d left my guest room at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino to begin this hapless and hopeless search. Behind, in the room, were not one but two screaming children – a five-month old and a 3-and-a-half year old – both with fully-developed fevers. Clearly, I had too many hot babes already. My wife was also in the room, growing more worried, frustrated, and miserable by the minute.

Right now, you’re likely thinking, “Why the hell would you bring two kids under 4 years old to Vegas?” When you thought I was just searching the streets for drugs, that was okay. But kids in Vegas? Guffaw!

As I searched in vain, I too realized – if it hadn’t dawned on me several times before – that taking our kids along on our one trip to Las Vegas was likely the worst idea we’d ever had.

My wife and I went on this four day mini-vacation because she needed to be there for a two-day work conference. It was the summer of 2006, back when we only had two kids and I worked in politics. When we heard she had to go, I wanted to go too. After all, Vegas is known the world over for awesome restaurants, unbelievable shows and entertainment, and an incredible nightlife. Why wouldn’t I want to go? We could make a long weekend of it, and just pay for my flight and one of the nights at the hotel.

Of course, we also knew my wife had to bring our new baby girl, as she was still being nursed. (She was a hungry baby, so we were also supplementing at bedtime and as necessary – hence the need to find formula that fateful night). The only real debate was what to do with our then 3-and-a-half-year old. We could have left her with grandparents for the trip. But we asked ourselves, what’s the difference between having one kid and two?

As it turned out, a heck of lot.

The 3-year-old showed the first signs she was getting sick on the plane ride there, screaming and crying a good part of the 4-hour flight, something she’d never done on the few plane trips we’d taken before. Any person who's been on a plane with a screaming child knows the agony. Any parent who's done so, knows the agony and the humiliation.
Within 24 hours of landing, both kids were running temperatures, and we were all miserable. We depleted the emergency Children's Tylenol we’d brought, and the baby consumed all the extra formula cans, as we tanked her up whenever we couldn't stop her from  crying.

By the second night there, we found ourselves in our own vacation version of hell. And that’s when my latenight trek for baby-quieting supplies occurred. It would have been easier to find a harem of escorts and some heroine than cherry-flavored Tylenol. I must've walked over a mile to find a drug store that was open.

And despite the reputation Vegas has as an entertainment Mecca, during our brief time there we didn’t have one decent meal out; we didn’t see a single show – except the free one in front of the Treasure Island hotel, where scantily-clad pirates of both genders dive off a fake boat into a murky pool – and the only raucous nightlife involved our hotel room's four walls and two screaming kids. It was also too hot that week to go to the pool. My wife didn't even get the chance to lose any money at the casinos. For my part, I spent about 20 minutes on a casino floor, losing 40 bucks and then retreating back to our room. To top it off, I spent the last two days of the trip trapped in that same room, alone with our sick children, as my wife attended her conference.

The only moderately fun thing we did as a family was go to the indoor amusement park at Circus-Circus, which is kind of like a county fair under a dome. Fun is a relative term in this usage.

The whole trip was, easily, our worst vacation ever.

I was reminded of this vacation story recently when I read a blog about a couple who’d taken their baby to a hotel near a ski resort in Colorado, traveling as a family while the husband attended a conference – kind of like us. The baby got a little sick and cried during the night, uncharacteristic for this child. Before they checked out two days later, a perturbed and disturbed neighbor decided to slip a mean note under their door, saying a ski hotel was no place for a baby. The couple was mortified.

You likely read about this story, as it went viral last week. And reactions were pretty split between those who thought the letter writer was obnoxious and those who thought the parents of the baby were insane. (I’m not linking to the story because I’ve heard the writer would rather the attention ebbed).

Reading this story, I was most struck by the sheer number of people foaming at the mouth to criticize the parents for taking a baby to a place like a ski resort. There are arguments to both sides of the debate. But as someone who has a decade of parenting under his belt, and occasionally lacks sound judgment, I’ve been in that hot seat more than once.

Other than Vegas, there was the time I took my wife out to her first Mothers’ Day dinner to this fancy Italian place, with our three-month-old baby tagging old along in her car seat; a cute idea, but a bad one. There was the time more recently when we took the two older girls to a Broadway play; the younger one cried through a few scenes after intermission because we refused to get her a $10 pack of Junior Mints. And then there was that time at church. Strike that. There was every time at church. I pretty much have to forcibly remove one of our loud children from church every time we attend as a family.

Whenever I hear one of these kids-ruining-an-adult’s-good-time type stories, it’s not rage I feel, or even just empathy. Rather, I am overcome by feelings of nostalgia.

And, usually, it takes me right back to Vegas.

As I said, going to Vegas with the kids may have been the worst decision we’ve made. But if they hadn’t gotten sick, it probably would have been just fine.

Of course, then I wouldn’t be able to say that one night I walked the streets of Sin City looking for drugs.
If you have any similar stories, I’d love to hear about it.  Just comment below.


Larry said...

First off, I am a fan of your writing. Skills!
It sounds like it was not a pretty situation. We are very cautious about traveling and even eating out with our kids especially when they were so young. It doesn't sound like fun.

Jack said...

I have spent a fair amount of time in Vegas. It is an easy car ride from LA there and in college it was a frequent destination.

I have even been there with my kids, but I would have gone nuts had my in-laws not been there to help watch the kids.

Enjoyed this, especially the part about walking around sin city looking for drugs.

Cort Ruddy said...

Thanks, Jack and Larry, for your comments. When this happened, years ago now, I saw the irony and the humor. And today I was moved to write it down. Glad you enjoyed it.