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Don't gamble on Vegas being your cup of tea

I hear people talking all the time about going out of town "on business." It always makes me a little bit envious. I'm a teacher. I never get to go out of town on business. When I used to be a coach, I got to take trips on yellow school buses to exotic places like Winder and Loganville.

Once, the school system sent me to Athens for AP training and I got to live in Russell Hall for five days. The bathroom is still down the hall, in case you haven't been there in a while. Another time, I got to take a two-hour tour of the school district in which I teach. It was August and the bus window at my seat wouldn't open. Afterward, they fed us a sack lunch, however. The apple in mine was rotten.

My wife, however, works as a nurse-midwife, and once every couple of years or so the practice for which she works sends her on real business trips - to conferences and so forth. If I have been good, I get to go with her. I actually have it better than she does because while she is in meetings and lectures all day, I get to explore.

Medical people have conferences in some interesting places, too. We've been to New Orleans a couple of times and San Francisco and even Jackson Hole, Wyo. I wish my boss would send me to Jackson Hole. It's a lot better place to visit than Winder.

Now I told you all of that, of course, to tell you this. This week, I have accompanied my lovely wife, Lisa, to Las Vegas. We had been here once before - in broad daylight, accompanied by our three children. We saw a side of Vegas this time that our children didn't see.

This place is, quite frankly, awful.

To begin with, it's hot as the very dickens. And I'm from the South. I know hot.

It is also spread out. We are staying on The Strip, at the Flamingo, because that happens to be where the conference is being held. The Flamingo is supposed to be a holdover from the days of "Old Las Vegas." There are much more visually impressive places to stay, in case you are considering defying the president and sending your company's executives on an excursion out this way. One is called Paris and has a model of the Eiffel Tower growing through its ceiling. Another, New York, N.Y., has the Statue of Liberty out front and a replica of the Chrysler Building towers over it. Then there is the Venetian, which has a canal, complete with gondolas and guys in striped shirts singing to you in bad Italian while you ride. One hotel has its own water park and another has two giant pirate ships that duke it out four or five times a night.

If you do decide to come to Vegas, bring money - lots and lots of money. Everything is high here except the humidity. The days of the 99-cent shrimp cocktails and $5.99 prime rib buffets have gone the way of the Rat Pack and Fat Elvis. The $3.99 breakfast special costs $12 now and a $6 burger will cost you about $15.

Las Vegas is a show city, and if you are willing to pay the price you can see anything and everything. They have big-time stars like Bette Midler and Carrot Top and up-and-coming young performers, like Donnie and Marie and Cher. They also have magicians, topless dancers, dirty musicians and, I think, 13 or 14 Cirque du Soleil presentations. If you can think of it, you can see it in Las Vegas.

Of course the reason the city exists is gambling. The big-time hotels are built around bigger-time casinos, and you can't get to a restaurant, theater or even a bathroom in any of the gigantic facilities without walking past gaming tables and slot machines. I don't partake of either. I am smart enough to figure out that they didn't build a single one of those multi-billion dollar venues by paying people money. If it weren't for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all when it comes to games of chance, so I kept what little money I had and spent it on overpriced shows and overpriced food. And I don't have to tell you which ones I saw because everybody knows that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

I will tell you this, however. If you get a chance to have your wife hypnotized by Anthony Cools, go for it.

I will also tell you my three favorite things about Vegas. No. 3: Getting my picture made with "Tiger Woods" at Madam Tussauds Wax Museum. No. 2: Watching the fountains dance outside the Bellagio. It really was amazing - and free! The No. 1 thing, by far, I liked best about my trip to Vegas was the sign at the airport assuring me that the flight to Atlanta would be leaving on time.

Next time I get a chance to come to Las Vegas, I think I'll just opt for Russell Hall.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.