CITY OF LOST WAGES: Where would you rather be a tourist: Las Vegas or Santa Barbara? I’m just back from Lost Wages, and I thought I’d see how our town stacks up.
SAND: Vegas has more of it. Everyone ignores it there except to bury a corpse in. Ours you can play on, spread a blanket on, get skin cancer on, and stub your cigarette in. Winner: Santa Barbara.
HOOKERS: Vegas has more of them. Prostitution is illegal on The Strip, but as a bartender we met put it, “In Las Vegas, anything goes.” Winner: Sin City.
CORRUPTION: You’ve gotta admit it: Our Channel City is boring. If you want mind-boggling corruption, go to the City of Bell. Those people know how to rack in millions from some low-rent town with a population smaller than the San Roque neighborhood. In the Old Days, when Vegas was run by the Mob, it was exciting — especially if you crossed the wrong person. Louis Prima and Keely Smith in the lounge, Frank Sinatra threatening to beat people up, his Rat Pack onstage cracking up the suckers. Guys being buried in the desert. Now Vegas is a place you take your wife, for Pete’s sake.
These days you don’t have to worry about insult comic Don (“Merchant of Venom”) Rickles calling you a “hockey puck.” Rickles got off to a great start when he spotted Sinatra in the audience. “Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody!” Sinatra’s pet name for Rickles was “Bullet Head.” The casinos can still clean you out, but at least your car won’t be torched if your marker bounces. Winner: Vegas, even though those colorful guys in the Mob are gone.
GAMBLING: Why make the (blazing hot, last weekend) drive to Sin City when you can lose your money just as easily over the mountains at the Chumash Casino? Sue and I were just overnighting in Vegas after a mountain outing.
True, San Marcos Pass is high-risk driving, as is the insane I-15 to Las Vegas from L.A. But if you’re stuck in a wreck scene on the pass, you’re closer to home. Winner: Santa Barbara.
THINGS TO DO: Believe it or not, once you’re cleaned out, there is beauty to be found, if you still have your car. The Red Rock country outside town is spectacular, and you can drive out to Mount Charleston. Whatever; Santa Barbara has the beaches, Stearns Wharf, the Mission, hiking trails, and the back country. (Disclosure: Vegas does not have a Mission.) Winner: S.B. But then, we don’t get 40 million tourists a year.
FOOD: The days of the $1.25 all-you-can-eat buffets seem to be gone in Vegas. At least I couldn’t find one last weekend. Sue and I ended up eating beer nuts at the Four Seasons bar. The Four Seasons, by the way, is one of the few Vegas hotels without a casino. But believe me, they get your money, starting at the check-in desk. Resort fee, internet fee. “You dummy,” a Rickles-style friend lectured me. “These days, with Vegas hurting, you could have scored an $82 room anywhere.” Sure, and shared a bathroom with a couple from Chicago and their nephews they sneaked in. Okay, okay, Vegas does have a terrific array of restaurants to feed all those Midwestern tourists. I love ours, but Vegas is the winner here. But is a blackened pork chop cooked by a celebrity chef’s brother-in-law worth the drive? Winner: Vegas.
ART AND CULTURE: Vegas has the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (the last time I visited, the place was as empty as the chapel), the Erotic Heritage Museum, the Burlesque Hall of Fame, and the Liberace Museum (about to close). We have free Sundays at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Winner: Santa Barbara.
CELEBRITIES: We’ve got just as many, except that we don’t have to shell out big bucks to see them. Vegas has acts like Cher (now a blonde, and she’s hired a screenwriter to turn her life story into a Broadway musical) and Paris Hilton (front page news when she was nailed for cocaine, and you’d think the town would be more blasé than that). I’d rather catch Jonathan Winters’s act on a Montecito street corner. Winner: Stay here and spot celebs at Lucky’s.
KNOCKOUT SKYLINE: The best we can do is a five-story Chapala Street condo that looks like a Moscow department store. Winner: Vegas.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: When Paris got off on probation, Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure warned her: “The Clark County Detention Center is not the Waldorf-Astoria.” During an inquest into a Costco shooting death, an officer was asked if it was common for a police officer to pull his weapon hundreds of times in five years. “In Las Vegas, yes,” the officer replied. To this, Justice of the Peace Tony (many people in Vegas are named Tony) Abbatangelo said, “That makes me feel good.” Winner: Stay home and read Dostoyevsky.
NAKED PEOPLE: Topless and nude pools are the hottest thing. What you’d get arrested for in Santa Barbara you pay to see and do in Sin City. Winner: Vegas. Just don’t try it at the Four Seasons.