What I Learned in Vegas (This Time Around)

Does Vegas ever get old? If you are like me, the answer is a resounding, "No!" Vegas seems to get better with every visit - once the initial electric shock wears off, you can relax and enjoy what the city has to offer at a less 'touristy' pace.

Or so it was with me last week when I went to Las Vegas, Nevada for the National Conference of Teachers of English. Of course, I showed up in town with grand plans to drive up to Antelope Canyon, or Area 51, or even just go for a hike in Red Rock Canyon. I always show up with big travel plans.

Las Vegas casino, Las Vegas strip
Our hotel / casino - New York New York!

I really only had one free day in Vegas, and then the teacher's conference began. I was tired from the flight down, and opted to just spend the day strolling the Strip rather than get up early, rent a car, and spend the entire day driving. I think it was for the best.

The conference was wonderful - I learned a lot about literacy, engaging reluctant readers, and student blogging, to name a few sessions. I met some new authors, some favorite authors, and ended up coming home with 63 free books to add to my home and classroom collections. Not too shabby!

Las Vegas conference, free books
All the free books I scored at NCTE12 in Las Vegas!

But here's what I really learned in Vegas, this time around...

#1: Vegas is a great place see celebrities

Up until this trip, I hadn't really seen anyone famous in Las Vegas, other than the wax figures in Madame Tussaud's at the Venetian. That makes sense, though, as I was always darting from location to location, determined to see, experience, and photograph everything that there was to see, experience, and photograph. 

This time around, however, I took in Vegas low and slow every day after the conference, meandering from casino to casino casually - generally just enjoying the act of people-watching. While doing just this outside Caesar's Palace, I was drawn to a lady leaning alongside the pedway, just staring into the Caesar's Palace back parking lot. Curious, I peeked over her shoulder and asked her what she was looking at. (I'm nosy like that.)

"My friend works for a cattle ranch, and she's got her horses here, all corralled up in Caesar's Palace," the woman replied. Indeed, there were about four horse trailers all lined up along the side of the road. "Shania Twain is filming her music video here. They're sending a bunch of ranch horses running down Las Vegas Boulevard."

Las Vegas celebrities, Las Vegas strip, Las Vegas boulevard
A music video in the making on Las Vegas Boulevard

Now, I'm not really a Shania fan, but it was exciting to think I might get to watch a music video being filmed. Even as I talked to the lady, police cruisers had begun to pull up along the intersections along Las Vegas Boulevard and began to cut off the traffic flow. I watched the Caesar's Palace parking lot for a while more, and saw, from a distance, Shania Twain exit her vehicle and head straight into the area of Caesar's Palace where the horses were corralled. Thanking the super-informative woman, I headed further down the boulevard.

I didn't get to see the video up close - the streets had become unbearably packed by then - but I did watch with a certain amount of interest as about 40 ranch horses, unsaddled, came clomping up Las Vegas Boulevard, led by a couple of cowboys and followed by a petite, black-clad Shania Twain. I tried getting photos, but she was just too small and the distance too great.

Las Vegas celebrities, Las Vegas boulevard
Shania is tiny brunette-headed dot next to the black-hatted cowboy in this shot

Another celebrity, albeit somewhat obscure, that I got to meet during the conference was Natalie Merchant, a singer-songwriter from my and even my father's youth. She once was lead singer for the band 10,000 Maniacs, and then went solo. I was a big fan of her work in the mid-1990s. ("Carnival" is my favorite song of hers.) Anyway, she wrote a children's book of poetry, and was at our English Teacher's conference to present it, and of course, to sing for us.

Las Vegas celebrities, NCTE conference
Natalie Merchant, live and up close!

I was super pumped to be seeing her, and so I snagged a seat in the second row, right by the stage. I couldn't have gotten any closer, as the first row was reserved. I was thrilled! She was a very laid-back but entertaining performer, and didn't seem to mind me filming nearly every song she performed. In fact, she'd make it a point to look right at my camera as she sang - thank you, Natalie!

#2:  Roulette is my game of choice

I am not a gambler... not really. I usually put in about $5.00 total into the penny slots over the course of a four day trip to Vegas. This time, though, I got more into the spirit of things, and tried my hand at roulette. Sitting down at a table in New York New York, I badgered the dealer to explain the game to me and help me out. She wasn't really supposed to, but she obliged. I was also lucky to sit with some very helpful people who pointed out the tips and tricks of the game.

Done with the penny slots - I've moved on to bigger and better!

What fun I had! I made $65.00 off a $20.00 bill my first night, made $45.00 from $20.00 the second night, and lost $40.00 the third night. Overall, I played for hours, had lots of laughs, and didn't lose out in the end.

Some things I learned about roulette: it is much more fun to bet on the numbers rather than black or red, odd or even. The payout is more profitable, and if you spread your chips and split numbers, your odds are even better. Also, if you bet at a $10 table, and you only have 7 chips left, the dealer will let you play with just your 7 chips.

If you want a $5 or $10 table, either gamble in the morning or afternoon. If you are cute and convincing, you might be able to find a pit boss who will let you play for $5.00 at an empty table, just as long as no one else comes. (This happened to me a lot - I must be pretty cute and/or convincing!) I played roulette at a $15 table for about 45 minutes at only $5 a hand one night - I felt like I had some big secret that no one else had!

Vegas' newest pro-gambler - or not!

#3: There is no better place to meet people from around the world

If you want to make international friends, and quickly, sit around a table in Las Vegas and be as happy and friendly as you can. Las Vegas is full of people from literally everywhere, and most are in just as good a mood as you.

At one point, I was sitting at a table with a rich Russian, a funny Kenyan, a newlywed couple from Turkey, a handsome Mexican, a quiet man from Israel, and two party-ready Austrians. I was, of course, the clueless Canadian! Our dealer was from Ethiopia. It was an international table in America with, ironically, not a single American. It was the most fun I've ever had sitting around a table. Everyone was laughing and joking, and no one called anyone by their name. I'd call out, "Hey Turkey, bet on black." He would reply, "Sure thing, Canada." If you had walked by and not known what was happening, you'd think we were being racist, but such was not the case.

Cosmopolitan casino Las Vegas, Las Vegas casinos
Hang out with friends in Vegas - "The Chandelier Lounge" is a great place to do so!

Our table was so fun, all the same people got together again on the second night at the exact same table! Good times in Vegas!

#4: Sleep schmeep

In any other place in the world, having only two and a half hours of sleep before a conference would be deadly. Not so in Las Vegas, which I think has been built upon a giant wormhole that warps and twists time as we know it.

Knowing full well that I had to get up early in the morning for my conference, I made plans to go to bed by 10:00 p.m., already at this point feeling sleep-deprived. However, 'one last round' at the roulette table led to meeting some fun people from Wales, which then led to cheering them on at the blackjack table (which I can play, but only from the sidelines), which then led to dancing in Coyote Ugly's, which then led to casino hopping from club to club, which then led to 5 in the morning and no sleep. All done with practically zero drinks, too, I might proudly add. (I'm too cheap to buy drinks, and when I'm traveling, I run on adrenaline just fine.)

Las Vegas clubs, New York New York club, Las Vegas Coyote Ugly
A fun place to dance, especially if you like early-90s rap!

It is hard to say, "Nah, I think I'll just go back to my hotel room and go to bed," when all of Vegas is out there waiting for you! And I still had a great day in my conference, learned lots, and got free books!

#5: M'n'Ms are fun to play with, not just eat

If you head to the giant four-story M'n'M store on Las Vegas Boulevard, don't just wander around, buy a cheap dispenser and leave. There is so much more to the store! My favorite part is the Personalized M'n'M Machine, which has the capability of printing names and clip-art pictures onto the M'n'Ms of your choice.

Located on the third-story of the building, the Personalized M'n'M machine begins with two computer stands, where you type in the names you'd like to see printed on the M'n'Ms, and select any clip-art you'd like to add. The machine spits out a receipt, which you use to pay for your selections. The people running the counter will give you a container, which you then fill with colorful M'n'Ms of your choice. This is the practical part.

customized MnMs, Las Vegas shop
Dumping my candies into the machine

The fun begins when you get to dump your container of M'n'Ms into the machine, which then flashes, whirrs, sings, and clicks as it fills your container with custom-designed-by-you M'n'Ms. Tasty, fun, and a great gift!

MnM shop Las Vegas
My lovely personalized M'n'Ms!


  1. your M&M's are almost too pretty to eat!

    1. I only took them out of the container to photograph! They're back inside again! LOL