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Las Vegas Soufflé

By Jean Southworth

September 2001

Certainly we wouldn’t have gone, were our plane tickets not already in hand, or at least, the e-ticket confirmation in hand. Flying just two weeks after the terrorist strikes wasn’t part of the original plan, but there we were, off to Las Vegas for Jim’s Uncle Bob and his surprise 50th birthday celebration.

Portland airport was pretty quiet and the National Guardsmen made me happy. F-16 jets roared overhead, which startled me; we’d not heard that sound since leaving Luke Air Force Base. There are a few additions to the litany of questions upon check-in. Instead of just, "Has your luggage been out of your control?" there are inquiries regarding sharp objects, like those dangerous long handled plastic combs. My tweezers and nail clippers safely packed, we checked nearly everything.

The security gate line was short and quick; I was almost disappointed they didn’t inspect our little carry-on, surely suspect with all Jim’s electronic toys inside. Our sister-in-law, Lisa, got frisked up against the wall at this point. She is as petite and not-threatening as they come.

I can’t count the number of times I had to show my driver’s license, even removing it from the little plastic wallet cover. I’ve only had to do that at Fred Meyer—once.

For all those news reports of low travel numbers and analogies of cannons shooting down empty concourses, our plane was full, over-full, actually. Apparently the airlines canceled a bunch of flights and consolidated the rest. Jim and I got voluntarily bumped in exchange for two free round trip tickets anywhere Alaska flies, a prize well worth the inconvenience of a two hour detour to Seattle.

Seattle airport was a Christmas rush; those cannons would hurt plenty here. Long lines at security. The men’s room even had a line, and the guys were coming out baffled and amused. I thought I heard something about a celebrity inside, so I craned my neck for a look. Some guy laughed and scolded me, "no peeking." There was no celebrity; apparently, these men just had never stood in line for the restroom before. You could say it was a day of firsts.

We could have gotten another bump with vouchers, and much more, in Seattle--the ticket agents were a little desperate--but decided we shouldn’t miss our reason for going: Uncle Bob’s birthday party.

My sense of security wavered when they accepted my I.D. with Jim’s ticket. I never thought I looked like Jim. The plane was packed, of course, but the overhead bins were nearly empty. Apparently, everyone else checked their stuff, too. Something about those empty bins spooked me. The flight was uneventful, except for an altered flight path into Las Vegas. On our one previous trip there, the pilot gave us a close-up aerial show of the casino Strip. Now a helicopter hovers in that space and the planes are all diverted in a round-about loop.

Bob and KaSey’s birthday dinner was nice and we got to spend more time with Bruce and Lisa the next day. None of us is a big gambler or drinker, so food is our best bet in Las Vegas.

Jim and I stayed in the Carriage House , a residential suite hotel just off the Strip. There’s no gambling but you get a separate bedroom and a full kitchen. Most hotels offer tours to Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon. Ours offered twice-weekly shuttle runs to Safeway.

Vegas promotes itself as family friendly, but don’t be fooled. The Carriage House, M & M World and the Coca Cola Museum are about the only rated-G spots I know. Walking the Strip is at least a PG-13 experience. There are recreated casino versions of Paris, Venice, Rio, Egypt and Morocco. In the past, tourists visited these casinos as an alternative to dangerous international travel. Sticking to the U.S. was safer, you know.

Jim and I visited the recently built and newly bankrupt Aladdin Hotel and Casino for dinner. They remain operational, but I imagine its Middle Eastern theme is not helpful these days. The Santa Fe restaurant was closed but Commander’s Palace was open-- that wonderful place from New Orleans. Jim was uncertain. "I’m underdressed for that," he said. Undeterred, I approached the Maitre D’, Santino, a guy straight from the Godfather.

"Do you have a dress code?" I asked, thinking that they may be uncharacteristically lenient.

"No, no!" assured Santino. I explained my husband was concerned about his attire. "Where is he?" asked Santino. I pointed to Jim in his dress shorts, belt, T-shirt and tennis shoes. Santino went over and made a new friend. We were going to dinner at Commander’s Palace.

Santino seated us in the most prominent spot, but the place was largely empty, barring the table of prom kids in tuxes, gowns and tiaras. I wished I’d brought my tiara to accessorize my denim skirt and knit pink top. Jim’s T-shirt read "DRAGON BALL Z" on the front. We considered turning it backwards until we remembered the large colorful cartoon characters on the other side. Jim did remove his Safety Town hat.

The prices were high, of course, and our appetites minimal after too much time at M & M World that afternoon, so I was going to order light. Jim grew anxious and tried to think of the most sophisticated drink possible. He came up with red wine. He doesn’t even really like red wine. I’ve never seen him order it in 20 years. The waiter asked him, what kind? I suggested he give Jim some tips. The restaurant slowly filled with extravagantly dressed diners.

Everything was ALA carte. I ordered a fancy tomato salad and a bowl of gumbo. Bananas Foster for dessert later, perhaps. Again, Jim grew anxious and pointed to the most expensive entree he could find, a $39 soufflé. Twice the waiter asked if Jim would like that served with my gumbo. Sure. Jim also ordered a salad along with mine. He’d done his duty to Santino.

The small army of waiters, working in a hierarchy I never fully understood, served us well. The gumbo was hot and flavorful. Jim’s soufflé resembled a fluffy pot pie. With a flourish, the waiter sliced the top and poured in some white sauce from a small gravy boat.

I asked Jim how he liked his soufflé. "Sweet, but good," he said. We switched meals and I commented that is was almost like a dessert. I asked the waiter what was in the soufflé and he said something about raisins and whiskey sauce. I figured the seafood or chicken or whatever was assumed.

Our bill arrived, a full $30 less than we’d presumed. The soufflé was $9, not $39. Jim had eaten the soufflé dessert, not the soufflé entree. I’m so glad we’d been too full to order Bananas Foster for dessert, too.

We left a huge tip and stopped for a photo with Santino on the way out. We never told him about the soufflé, just that we’d had a lovely time and the food had been delicious.

Las Vegas airport was a nightmare of lines snaking throughout the terminal. Security people said they’d never seen anything like it, ever. They confiscated all beverages at the security gates and the garbage cans overflowed. Sitting on the rims were untouched frappucinos. A water bottle or espresso drink as a chemical attack perhaps?

Our flight to Portland was overbooked, again the result of cancellation and consolidation. Jim and I put ourselves on the bump list, but they ended up not needing us. Undoubtedly, several passengers remained stuck in lines weaving the terminal. The plane took off full and precisely on time.

Once on the plane, my seatmate and I discussed the long lines and she told me there had been some type of "incident" at the airport earlier. I didn’t need to know any more. The overhead bins stayed nearly vacant. It really is all different now. I can’t stop thinking about the empty bins and full frappucinos. I’m trying real hard to think of dessert soufflés instead.