Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Henderson Chronicles, Part 3: Fiesta Henderson

There are undoubtedly tourists who visit the Las Vegas Strip that, within the span of a few days, feel overloaded. So much to see, so many lights, so much packed to the sides of one roadway. What do you see first? How can you see possibly anything, really, when there's so much that reaches out, wanting you to go here, eat here, gamble here, spend money on souvenirs here?

Las Vegas has the right idea. When people are in this part of Nevada, they are here. There's nowhere else to go like there would be if you were to drive from Los Angeles to San Diego as a tourist, as my family and I did when we first visited Southern California in April 2003. What you see is what there is.

It's not a bad thing. It demonstrates the justified confidence Las Vegas has in itself to provide people with truly unforgettable experiences, depending of course on what you're planning to do because some experiences can become forgettable depending on alcohol intake.

This is why Henderson is a terrific counterpoint to Las Vegas. If you feel overloaded, just drive off the Strip to Henderson. See the town where most Vegas employees live. I don't think there are many who could live where they work. Celine Dion has property in Lake Las Vegas. The Amazing Johnathan, my favorite act in Las Vegas, lives in Henderson, with a garage that has a lot of classic cars and a drive-in movie screen, and he creates one hell of a disturbing display on Halloween. He is the expert on dark ambiance. It's not just spookiness. Blood curdles. He has that twisted talent.

The most relation that Fiesta Henderson has to Las Vegas is its sign at its entrance. It's big, it's bright at night, with green light pulsing down the sides, and advertisements on the white billboards within about what benefits gamblers might find. On the Thursday we were there, the 19th, you had to earn 300 points in the slot tournament area to receive a sweatshirt with Fiesta Henderson's logo on it.

That's as far as it stretches to match Vegas, and with good reason. This is a casino for locals to pop in, play a few slots, see a movie at Regal Fiesta Henderson 12, and it is not empowered to create such a high-voltage atmosphere because people in Henderson live life regularly as anyone does, just wanting a bit of a break from the world, or perhaps even working in a less blazing universe like Vegas is. It's relaxed, it's easy, and it only asks that you hang around for a bit and see what it has to offer.

For us, it offered a room on the 8th floor, and a fairly better experience than Mom and Dad had when they stayed there for three nights last June. One night, the shower dripped loudly all night, and then the Internet wi-fi service crapped out, with the front desk telling Dad to call Cox Cable to find out what was wrong. The hotel couldn't do it themselves? What happened to guest services?

I didn't dread our stay there because first, we got two free nights because of the problems Mom and Dad had had on that visit, and perhaps we'd be treated a little better because of it. We were treated reasonably, though the sink backed up halfway before we left to go downstairs to Fatburger, and later that night, the bathtub backed up, requiring the plumbing guys to come up again, and then on Thursday night, our last night, the Internet wi-fi crapped out yet again. Nothing could be done about it, and Dad wasn't going to bother with it, and I felt fine without Internet access. That's why I didn't write another blog entry after the first one, written three hours after we had arrived.

The casino floor has two entry points. One is toward this big tree decoration where a Denny's is behind it, and the other is near the food court that includes Fatburger and Subway, the box office and entrance to Regal Fiesta Henderson 12, and a Starbucks next to that. It's like walking through a tightly-spaced farmer's market, having to squeeze past slot machines at times. And there are some very impressive slot machines, such as one with a Breakfast at Tiffany's theme that deceitfully presents itself as a penny slot machine. It actually requires a 60-cent minimum bet. That was the only one I was hoping to try, but I wasn't going to spend 60 cents on one spin when I could easily get a book from one of the local libraries there one day for either 25 cents or 50 cents, and I'm sure there's magazines sold for 10 cents. I'd get more value out of any of those than I would out of one spin, no matter how technologically impressive the machine, especially with the silhouette of a cat walking across the digital display of the lower buttons, and clips from the movie also used.

I was hoping to find a new Zorro slot machine I had read about in the Southern California Gaming Guide, but it appeared that Fiesta Henderson decided to blow a good portion of its budget on the four Breakfast at Tiffany's slot machines, the two The Hangover slot machines, and two Godzilla-themed slot machines, the latter looking like 3D through the glass screen also being used as a digital display. Subtly.

Slot machine themes at Fiesta Henderson are mostly plain. The idea here seems to have been to buy up as many cheap machines as possible and save most of the money for just a few of the really new ones, advanced technology and all of that. Give players something to gravitate toward. Me, I need a theme I can get into, and a Bruce Lee one wasn't going to do it, nor was an "Alfred Hitchcock Theater" one (with the famous director a cartoonish figure on the video screen), nor ones themed to Egypt, the wild west, cats, and others I've long since forgotten. It's like me with the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. I love the way that it is all year, with those 999 grim grinning ghosts gallivanting around the property, because I can use my imagination, think up my own stories involving them. How did this ghost get here? Why does the one in that coffin want out so badly? What makes the doors look like they're breathing? With the Nightmare Before Christmas theme toward the holidays, the story is already set. Someone else has decided on it and I can only stand to ride it once just because it's the Haunted Mansion, and then I can do no more because I don't want to be at the mercy of someone else's storytelling. The Haunted Mansion is the only instance in which I feel strongly about that.

With slot machines, I don't necessarily need a kind of bare-bones storyline that I can fill in, but just something to involve me. The most I could think about while playing six slot machines across two days at Fiesta Henderson (Including two called Kitty Glitter and Miss Kitty, which I only played because of our dog Kitty) was about who created these themes, whether there were conferences about them, who built them, who decided that the other symbols outside of the theming should be Js and Qs and Ks and 10s, how long these particular slot machines have been here, how much they've paid out so far, and exactly how many bonuses each slot machine would give me before it finally gave up on me for being a pussy gambler with only one dollar in it, playing only one line. I'm comfortable that way.

I need a more involving theme from a slot machine, though. Breakfast at Tiffany's would have done it if it had truly been a penny slot machine. Some more basic slot machines do the trick, such as one called Cops and Doughnuts, in which one bonus round has you choosing excuses for speeding on the screen (One says, "It's dangerous to drive the speed limit.") and gaining more credits, or double the credits from that. Plus, the video reels include donuts, photos of the different police officers in the game, jail bars, and a few other things. Much better than J, Q, K, and 10. It's not one I seek out often, but it is my dad's favorite slot machine, so I usually know where to find him when there's one available.

Fiesta Henderson also has this invisible sheen of cigarette smoke. It's not as heavy as in some casinos, where you can almost see it in some spots, but it's there, not only from those in the casino currently smoking, but past smokers too. It's not as dominating, but it's like you can smell past visitors, perhaps even those who have been there months ago.

In its drive to not be so demanding, Fiesta Henderson just sits there. Explore whatever you want. Go upstairs to the slot machines there, see the closed bingo room, the trash that still has to be rolled out to the dumpster, the numbers board shut off. See where the buffet is, how big the serving stations are, and then look down on the casino floor, almost directly above the Denny's. After 1, 2 in the morning, janitors come out and clean up a few areas, since it's the best time. Repairs are made, and very quickly too. One collection of slot machines was closed off early Thursday morning and later that day, I saw no trace of the equipment that was there to do whatever they had to do.

It fits in perfectly with Henderson's unassuming nature, saying that anyone is most welcome to visit. For Las Vegas tourists more adventurous than those who prefer to remain on the Strip, it could be decompression from the rush of the Strip, that is if they think of it that way. Remember, different Vegases for different people. Henderson has personality, but it's not eager to show it right away. It wants people to explore, to see what they like, what they want to do, and then the city will reveal itself, always for the good, and always gradually.