Three Perfect Days: Las Vegas - United Hub
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Las Vegas

By The Hub team, January 02, 2018

Story by Victoria De Silverio | Photography by Mark Hartman | Hemispheres, January 2018

Existing as much in the imagination as in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas is the ultimate projection of escapism. It is a town, as Joan Didion said, with “no 'time' … no night and no day and no past and no future." The city's nonstop sensory overload scrambles your frequencies, priming you for the gluttony and vice that brought you here. So you join the flow, the hustlers and the hopers, all navigating the same labyrinth, urging you to drink more, sleep less. Throw some money on the table—you feel lucky. And if you aren't, the yelps of losing and winning sound the same. After all, if it was peace and prudence you were after, you'd be in Santa Fe.

day 1 graphic

Wayne Newton, a helpful hoodoo root, robot mixologists

I arrive in Vegas ready to do some damage. Along with my friend Amy, who has bravely agreed to accompany me on the trip, I head for the super-size sandbox at Dig This, where a so-called “Aggression Session" allows you to channel your frustrations into the act of smashing a car with a 15-ton Caterpillar excavator. Surrounded by walls tagged with words of inspiration—MEAN PEOPLE! WRONG PASSWORDS!—I stare down a worn 1970s sedan while venue owner Ed Mumm amps me up: “Come on! What's got you riled?" I dig deep and spray-paint a name on the side of the car, a name that Mumm says many pent-up people have mangled in recent months. Then I climb aboard the excavator and seize the controls. With each grab, smash, and drop, the car is flattened and twisted into a metal mess, and sure enough my heavy emotions start to dissipate. “Everyone leaves here euphoric," Mumm says.

Cleansed, we take a taxi to Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage, where we Zen-out watching the animals frolic in pools. At one point, the finned artist Maverick swims up, takes a brush in his mouth and paints on our outstretched canvases. Sure, it's a bit Vegasy, but it's a rush to be so close to him, to see his tiny teeth behind what looks like a smile. As we leave, abstract inkblots in hand, Maverick gives us a wave. Talented and cute.

An artistic marine mammal at Siegfried & Roy's Dolphin HabitatAn artistic marine mammal at Siegfried & Roy's Dolphin Habitat

An Uber takes us across the Strip for lunch—we've been dying to try the plant-based Impossible Burger at Andrea's, a sleek restaurant inside the Encore. When the trio of sliders arrives—dressed in frisée, kimchi, pickles, kalbi sauce, and gochujang aioli—we lean in for a sniff. Smells like meat. Looks like meat. The texture is meaty too, only lighter. The secret is heme, an iron-rich molecule found in real meat, which the makers say they've lab-created atom for atom. As scientific experiments go, this one has to be among the tastiest.

“Britney, J.Lo, and Sir Elton John might play Vegas, but Wayne Newton is Vegas."

Ready to re-tox, we hit the Strip and walk south, passing the canals of the Venetian, where gondoliers transport tourists glued to their smartphones. We stop outside the casino at the LINQ. A hand-shaped hoodoo root has been burning a hole in Amy's pocket; she insists it's telling us to go in. The root leads us past a Tim McGraw slot machine and a Hangover slot machine. We take a seat among the silver-haired “grinds"—low-rollers at penny slots—and feed a $5 bill into a Cleopatra-themed machine. After three seconds, I'm done, but Amy hits a winning streak. A couple of boozy, piped-in-oxygen hours later, up $200, she cashes out. Her eyes look like saucers.

We're having an early dinner at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand, the French chef's fancy take on the open kitchen vibe of a sushi or tapas bar. With hunger for a compass, we find the monorail, which has a stop inside the hotel. The restaurant is small and the music is soft, two pleasant anomalies in Vegas, and our counter seats offer a front-row view of each course as it's prepared. The foie gras parfait with port wine reduction sets the stage for an outlay of memorable moments, the highlight being black cod in langoustine broth.

We tell the sommelier we're off to see Wayne Newton perform, and he's not sure if we're serious. We are. Britney, J.Lo, and Sir Elton might play Vegas, but Wayne Newton is Vegas. The 75-year-old singer has done more than 30,000 shows in this town, and as he takes the stage at the Bally's Windows Showroom, a fever hits the ladies in their evening finery and hair helmets. They are Wayniacs, and he is their Grateful Dead.

In the green room after the show, we corner Newton, and he tells us a story: “I was on a plane, and I hear, 'Wayne!' and I turn around. It was Elvis. It might as well have been God. I started mumbling what a big fan I was, and he says, 'Yeah, yeah, listen—do you know a girl by the name of Sandy?' And I say, 'Yes, as a matter of fact, we're dating.' And he said, 'So are we!' and we were instant friends."

Black cod at L'Atelier de Jo\u00ebl RobuchonBlack cod at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Minus5° Ice Experience (as in, it's 5 below 0 degrees Celsius) or Tipsy Robot, where the mixologists are robots? We do both. In between stops, our 50-something Lyft driver tells us he grew up down the street from the infamous mobster Tony “The Ant" Spilotro. “When he went missing, I remember watching the news wondering when he was gonna pop up. And he popped up: in cornfields in Indiana—dead."

Pumped up from our brush with royalty, we hit the Strip again, and it's even more bonkers than before. We can't make up our minds where to go for a cocktail. Will it be

The night's interminable cocktail spree, which includes to-go yard-long frozen margaritas from It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere, continues at Peppermill Fireside Lounge, where all nights in Vegas should end—or start. This cocktail bar is a bona fide classic, with an interior wrapped in the softest glow of pink and blue neon tubing. Taking the last sips of a 64-ounce scorpion bowl, we decide it's time to go, since it's actually 5 a.m. Here.

But then—there's usually a but then in Vegas—as we're settling the bill, a voice rises behind me: “Where are the girls?" I turn around and see that the voice belongs to a guy in a white suit and a shirt with buttons at least two holes off. He looks like Nicolas Cage. “Yes, it's Nicolas Cage," says another man, pointing. I look again: a furrowed brow squeezing two eyes together like lemons. I've seen that look before. It's Nicolas Cage. Silently, Amy and I agree there's time for one more.

Day 2 Graphic

A towering slot machine, a dangerous burger, a quickie wedding

After a tiny sleep in our luxurious two-story suite at Skylofts at MGM Grand, we chug espresso and hop on the Deuce Bus to Downtown. Once the epicenter of Vegas, this is where the city's first settlement (by Mormons) and casinos (by mobsters) were founded, and where a teenage Wayne Newton got his start. Much ado has been made about Downtown in recent years, as it's had an epic and expensive revitalization.

We walk over to Eat on Carson Avenue, a breakfast and lunch spot that would fit very easily into every city's Brooklyn. The aroma from the kitchen, and a healthy hangover, make us want to order everything. Hedging our hunger, we settle for three plates: huevos motuleños, a truffled egg sandwich, and addictive deviled eggs.

Back outside, we spy El Cortez Hotel & Casino. Built in 1941, it's the longest continuously operating hotel casino in Vegas, and it was once owned by Bugsy Siegel and friends. After a round of old fashioneds in the low-lit cocktail lounge, we head out without gambling. The hoodoo root hasn't made a peep since yesterday.

The faux skyline at New York-New YorkThe faux skyline at New York-New York

We reunite with crazy almost immediately. At the intersection of South Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street, we stand at the foot of what appears to be the world's largest slot machine, the 12-story SlotZilla, which is flanked by two huge bedazzled showgirls. Above our heads, bodies are flying, Superman-style, tethered to an 850-foot zip line.

Continuing on Fremont, we see a Japanese Michael Jackson impersonator trying to sing and moonwalk at the same time outside the Heart Attack Grill, a burger place with signs that say the food might to kill you. Of course we go in. Waitresses in nurses' uniforms serve Bypass Burgers to diners in hospital gowns, while a bartender with a stethoscope around his neck mixes triple Butterfat Milkshakes. “Vegetarian" options include onion rings fried in lard and filterless Lucky Strikes. Anyone over 350 pounds eats for free. To date, two customers have left on stretchers, with one definitely not coming back for more. His ashes are in a jar on the bar.

We opt for a less adventurous meal: BBQ burnt ends and a sea bass to share at Carson Kitchen. Housed in a repurposed mid-century motel, Carson and its fellow tenants—a donut shop, a sushi restaurant—indicate how Downtown has gone from a derelict no-fly zone to an area where people live and work.

“Waitresses in nurses' uniforms serve burgers to diners in hospital gowns."

Catty-corner to the Plaza Hotel & Casino (home of former mayor Oscar B. Goodman's Beef•Booze•Broads restaurant) is Fremont Street's first hotel, built in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada, now the Golden Gate, a Rat Pack classic. The original facade peeks through the glittery makeover. Across the way is Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel, where owner/convicted murder Benny Binion invented the concept of comping, which allowed even low-ballers to feel like big shots and drink for free.

Around the corner, at the Main Street Station Hotel and Casino, we see the first big-ticket effort (in the 1990s) to lure the crowds back Downtown after the center of gravity shifted to the Strip. The property's museum-quality details—stained glass from the Lillian Russell Mansion, chandeliers from the Paris Opera House—make it a magical place to lose money. A nice security guard escorts us to the men's room, where, strategically attached to a urinal, there is a slab of the Berlin Wall.

The Neon Museum

A different kind of unification is underway at our next stop: the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, where we watch a quickie service that begins with a minister in gold sunglasses and a rhinestone jumpsuit singing “It's Now or Never" and ends with strobe lights and dry ice. Back in the lobby, a guy behind the desk is on the phone: “A showgirl? No problem. A zombie showgirl? No problem."

What could possibly be more Vegas than a wedding ceremony led by an Elvis impersonator who, upon request, will also dress as Merlin the Magician? Well, the giant blinking ruby slipper on Las Vegas Boulevard comes close. The ruby slipper is one of the salvaged relics at the Neon Museum, a meandering open-air space containing more than 200 decommissioned signs, ranging from the elegant, swooping letters of the Moulin Rouge to the jagged, retro-futuristic Stardust sign, which became an emblem of the Atomic Age (tourists gathered on the hotel roof to watch the mushroom clouds of nuclear tests, as you would a fireworks display).

A quick Lyft takes us back to the Fremont Street area and Container Park, where stacked shipping containers accommodate dozens of retail and culinary start-ups. At Cheffini's Hot Dogs, we have draft beer and grilled franks wrapped in bacon and a mess of fixings. On our way out, a giant metal praying mantis roars and spits fire into the air, because, as Barry Manilow said, “There's just no quiet in Vegas."

Day 3 Graphic

Bubbly in the Grand Canyon, a hike in the hills, a ride in the sky

We rise early in our Tower Suite at ARIA Resort and Casino because we have a big morning planned: a helicopter flight over—and into—the Grand Canyon. After a ride to the airport in a Maverick Helicopters limo, we meet our fellow flyers. We are eight in total, which seems a crowd until we hop aboard the chopper. It's surprisingly spacious, with wraparound glass, and every seat is a good one.

We fly east over the desolate beauty of the Mojave Desert, passing an extinct stratovolcano that bears black scars from lava flows many millennia old, and the blue waters of Lake Mead, with its own scars—white lines like bathtub rings from the endless rise and fall of water levels. We pass over the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. The massive structure, roughly 70 stories of concrete and steel, seems tiny against the vast nothingness that surrounds it.

The lobby at ARIAThe lobby at ARIA

Deeper east, the pilot points out a wild horse slaloming through sunburnt shrubs, then loops low over the edge of the Grand Canyon, dipping between steep walls and following the curve of the Colorado. Our final descent is 3,500 feet to a clifftop perch just 300 feet above the riverbank. At a picnic table, the pilot sets out croissants and uncorks Champagne. The impossible scale and sublime beauty of the canyon are mesmerizing, overwhelming, though this fact seems lost on the rabble of chipmunks scrabbling around for crumbs.

It's noon when we get back to the city, so we pick up our rental car and head straight for Yardbird, a shrine to Southern comfort food next to the Palazzo, for a boxed lunch of Lewellyn's Fine Fried Chicken and Fried Green Tomato BLTs, made with smoked pork belly. We plan to drive a few miles west to Red Rock Canyon, for a picnic and a hike. As we leave, we bump into Spider-Man—who we saw earlier in front of the Bellagio fountain show. We get to talking, and he tells us his favorite Red Rock hikes, which isn't exactly heroic, but it is helpful.

A half-hour later we're driving through the otherworldly Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Around us, crimson and orange formations rise like flames from the muted tones of the desert toward a cloudless sky. But, lunch is getting cold. We stop at the base of the rocks to eat and study the map, then set out on the most challenging hike suggested by Spidey: a five-mile scramble up to a 2,000-foot overlook. When we finally reach the top—it's really good we brought hiking shoes—we watch the sun sink behind the Spring Mountains, its horizontal rays directed to a city ramping up for the night shift.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation AreaRed Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

“Dangling 900 feet above the ground at the end of a metal arm, spinning like a top, feels like the ultimate gamble."

Dinner tonight is in Chinatown, at Aburiya Raku, a Japanese restaurant in a strip mall favored by off-duty chefs and visiting stars like Tom Colicchio. The name alone, which translates as “Charcoal Grill House Enjoyment," is worth the detour. Alongside the homestyle dishes are little touches like green-tea salt and Koregusu, a Japanese chili liquor. It's our last meal in Vegas, so we cast wallet worries aside and keep a parade of small plates coming, focusing on the robata (charcoal grilled) menu: butter sautéed scallops, Kobe beef skewers, duck with balsamic soy—made all the more delicious with a dry sparkling sake.

Back at the Strip, we wonder if we should leave it at that. But then, like a burning bush, we spot a flier on our dashboard. It's one of many we've picked up here promising discount drinks, discount shows, or discount companionship. This one is shilling the thrill rides at the top of the Stratosphere Tower, including one they call Insanity the Ride. Dangling 900 feet above the ground at the end of a metal arm, spinning like a top, feels like the ultimate gamble. So we ask the hoodoo root for guidance. The root tells us to do it, and we do.

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Adjusting to Customer Demand, United Adds New Nonstop Service to Florida

By United Newsroom, August 12, 2020

CHICAGO, Aug. 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines today announced plans to add up to 28 daily nonstop flights this winter connecting customers in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four popular Florida destinations. The new, nonstop flights reflect United's continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

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