So, I’m quickly learning that Americans don’t queue for anything, except for breakfast and Starbucks. It’s not even nine in the morning and I’m pretty much the only person on the monorail, heading to MGM Grand. Not that this particular hotel is a haven of quality eateries – I’m after an institution that’s nearby – but walking across its vast (VAST) casino floor, well, I can see that it’s open but ain’t nobody playing.
The walls from the waist up are smothered with television screens, each of them with a sports game of some kind. Baseball, basketball, American football, even the tennis from London. (No snooker, though, I notice, despite the fact that I know for sure, right at this moment, Ronnie is playing in Shanghai.) But anyway, I digress…
Not a single tourist betting on the matches, sitting at the slots, or spinning the wheel. But the Starbucks just at the side…. Woah. That queue is unreal. Twenty-five people in line, plus the six at the various counters. The funny thing is that I saw a couple playing real money online slots while in line for coffee, if you don’t find that funny, there’s something wrong with you.
That may not seem like much but, bearing in mind, there are four other various cafes and coffee outlets nearby and there ain’t a single person in line at those… That’s brand loyalty for you.
And that should have prepped me because where I was heading was also a place that commands loyalty. Denny’s. That institution. And when I got there, at a time when I figured that most other tourists would still be in bed or arriving at McCarran Airport, there was enough people wanting breakfast diner-style to warrant a queuing system.
I mean, look, hey, I’m British. There isn’t a queuing system in the world that can better me, but it was a surprise. And I haven’t to say, I’m not crazy sure that it was worth it.
What I remember of Denny’ from previous trips to the States… It seems memory is playing tricks on me as I recall it being hearty, soul-satisfying American food. Eggs over easy, toast thick and buttery, and coffee for days. Well, something’s been lost either in location or over the years as my breakfast wasn’t worth waiting for – smashed browns so hard and thin it could pass for a frisbee and bacon more crispy than, well, crisps.
I guess you can’t ever truly go home, kids.
But what Denny’s lost in nourishment, it made up for in people watching.
People go to Denny’s. All sorts of people – tourists and locals alike. And you can spot the Brits. I don’t know if it’s the clothes (we all can recognise Marks & Sparks and Monsoon stuff), the hair (the young woman nearby in the short shorts I knew was British because of her sloaney long straight brown hair. And a close listen in as she placed her order confirmed I was right), or maybe it’s just because we recognise what’s familiar.
‘Have you finished ma’am?’ My server came up on my blindside, her hand hovering above my largely-empty plate. (The food may have been not great but, goddamit, I was still going to eat it.)
‘Oh, yes. Thank you.’
‘Do you want anything else?’
‘Ah, no, thank you. The bill would be fine.’
‘No problem, ma’am.’
In truth, I had largely been distracted by the couple at the table next to mine. She had been on the phone constantly – either checking Insta, taking selfies and uploading them, or chatting to mates. Her boyfriend… Well, he was left to stare into space. Slouched down in his chair, his shoulders slumped over… He was completely blanked out of his girlfriend’s activity.
It was such a cliché of a scene. I almost felt bad for judging them; who was I to know or understand the dynamics of that, or any, relationship. Yet it seemed such a sad sight.
‘Here’s your bill, ma’am.’ My server returned, placing the bill down in front of me. ‘Take it to the front desk and they’ll help you out, OK?’
‘Thank you.’ I started to pack up what few things I had on the table into my bag.
‘Hey, Miss. Miss. Where you from?’ It was just background noise until it clicked that the question was being aimed at me. ‘Miss, where you from?’ It was the woman from the next table. Her phone was face down in front of her and she was talking to me.
She grinned, ‘I knew it’, before playfully slapping her boyfriend, adding, ‘I told you.’
‘How did you guess? Was it my clothes? My hair?’
‘No! I heard. I heard you. I love your accent. It’s beautiful.’
‘Ah, thank you. Are you guys local?’
‘No,’ The boyfriend chipped in. ‘We’re from Ohio.’
‘Ah, so you’re here on holiday too.’
‘It’s my birthday.’ The young woman touched her hand to her chest.
‘Oh, it was yesterday. Your accent… It’s so perfect.’
My cheeks flushed a little. ‘Did you do anything nice, yesterday?’
‘This,’ she said, gesticulating all around her. ‘This whole trip was my surprise present. I didn’t even know I was coming here,’ and she squeezed her boyfriend’s arm.
‘Wow,’ I said. As in, wow!
‘How long are you here for?’ Her boyfriend asked.
‘Ten days.’ I grimaced a little, giving recognition to what I was already fearing.
‘Oh, girl,’ she said. ‘Y’all gonna find it hard to fill up the days.’
‘Yeah,’ I smiled. ‘I’m thinking that already.’
‘You can get free show tickets through the timeshare pitches,’ he said.
‘The timeshare pitches,’ he said again. Which didn’t really help explain much. ‘The hawkers on The Strip? Many of them want you to go and sit through an hour of a timeshare pitch – but in exchange they’ll give you a show ticket. We sat through an hour yesterday-’ his girlfriend was nodding away ‘-just told them at the end we weren’t interested, and we got a free pair of tickets to see MJ Live this evening. Apparently the guy is good, man. Looks just like him.’
‘It sounds like you’ve got time to kill,’ the girlfriend added, ‘so you should do it.’
‘That’s a great tip, thank you.’ And with that I added that I should really get going and gave them a big smile. And they smiled back, and the girlfriend waved. See, another lesson for me to learn about judging people as you see them.
Though I did walk straight past the pack of hawkers outside.
Steps today: 19,384 (I did the whole southern section of The Strip – MGM to Mandalay Bay. And back again)
So, I think we’ve established that my breakfast at Denny’s outside MGM Grand wasn’t great. And that’s even before we take into account that, as a solo traveller, I was odds on to be put at the small table at the back by the kitchen. All of this, and it was still twenty-five bucks – same as yesterday’s gorgeous showing at Mon Ami Gabi.
Late lunch went to The Buffet at Bellagio. Now, this is a H.U.G.E. one. More than sixty dishes going – from Japanese and Chinese, to Italian and new American. It was a bit overwhelming tbh. And I kinda wish I had just eaten endless gelato – which is an option . But perhaps that wouldn’t have been worth the thirty bucks.
I think the most disappointing aspect, though, was the lighting. I know, very fussy of me. But I’ll chat about it another time but *everything* in Vegas is in dim lighting – the casino floors, the shopping arcades, the hotel lobbies, and even most of the restaurants. Deliberately designed to fool visitors into thinking it’s always evening – to seduce us into staying inside. To kid us that it’s always party time. But it’s actually beginning to make my eyes ache. I craved the natural lighting of Wynn’s yesterday. (Hell, I just crave actual natural light!) But it was a better buffet, better atmosphere, and better value.