I don't know what year it is where you are, but where I am right this minute, it's 1996. But not for long. In about six
hours, it will be 1997 and we can all say goodbye to the old year, make resolutions we'll keep until at least noon tomorrow, and commence writing the
wrong date on all our checks.
Ah, 1996...the fifteenth year of O.J. Simpson trials. Or was it the sixteenth? Time flies when you're having fun.
1996 was the year when I was afraid to go to funerals for fear that everyone, the deceased included, would start doing the Macarena. 1996 was
the year when I caught the flu and turned so many weird colors, people were mistaking me for Dennis Rodman's hair. 1996 was the year when all
the laborers in California, collectively, made less money than Mike Ovitz got in severance pay from Disney.
1996 was they year when even people who hated Bob Dole got sick of jokes about him being old and mean. Or should have. 1996
was the year when even people who hated Bill Clinton got sick of jokes about him being tubby and horny. Or should have.
In comics, 1996 was the year when you could buy a share of stock in Marvel for less than the price of a copy of Iron Man.
1996 was the year when no one was quite sure what happened between Rob Liefeld and Image, but they were sure happy about it. 1996 was the year
when the caliber of people in San Diego's convention hall actually went down after the comic fans left and the politicians arrived.
What a year, what a year.
I also don't know where you are but, uncharacteristically, I know where I am. I'm in Las Vegas where tonight, an estimated half a
million people will converge on The Strip for what promises to be the biggest crowd in this town since Sinatra's entourage clashed with a meeting of
Even now, police are closing off Las Vegas Boulevard to all motor vehicles — which should, of course, have no noticeable impact
on the taxi situation. At 9 PM, while a huge mob gathers to cheer, 1100 pounds of T.N.T. will be used to implode the Hacienda Hotel. That
they've elected to do this tonight of all nights is typical of the excess with which all things in Vegas are done except for payouts. Yeah,
like they need this to attract a crowd to the Strip this evening.
No one will miss the Hacienda. Standing down at one edge of The Strip, it was a shabby inn. The one time I stayed there,
the room was $14 for the night and, given the ambiance, that seemed high.
I was there that night to meet a wonderful gentleman named Dexter Maitland who was then appearing in a shopworn Minsky's
Burlesque revue in the Hacienda showroom. Mr. Maitland was — and, I hope, still is — one of the last surviving veterans of the
original Minsky's Burlesque. He billed himself as "the oldest living straight man" in the business, which prompted a friendly note/challenge
for the honor from George Burns. (The salutation on George's letter was, "Dear Kid," which was apropos since Maitland, then 89, was a good six
years younger than Burns.)
I will have to tell you all about Mr. Maitland another time since, even as I was typing the above, I was informed that I have to go
watch the final moments of life for the highly-expendable Hacienda Hotel. My friend here — the same one who, you might recall, forced me
to go see a Barry Manilow concert earlier this year — has decided we must not miss this. She once danced in a show at the Hacienda Hotel
(not Minsky's) and she often had the fantasy of blowing the place up. Now that someone is making her dream a reality, she has to be
there to see it and I, apparently, have no choice but to accompany her. I will report back to you upon our return, by which time it will
probably be 1997. See you next year.
Okay, it's next year and I'm back. Here is my report...
We leave the room at 6:30 and quickly find that all the good restaurants have lines that extend to Reno and double back. Rather
than risk missing the bringdown, we opt for fast food and it's a good thing we do. Walking down the Strip from Harrah's to the Hacienda (about
one mile) takes darn close to sixty minutes. The last forty or so are spent inching our way through a crowd massing at Tropicana and Las Vegas
Boulevards, right outside the M.G.M. Grand, opposite where a new hotel — New York, New York — is scheduled to open this weekend.
The facade of New York, New York looks like what Manhattan would look like if Chester Gould had designed it and been short on
space. There's a scaled-down Empire State Building right near a scaled-down Statue of Liberty, right near a scaled-down Chrysler Building and
so on. A roller coaster careens through and around all these edifices, and the insides are said to be themed to replicate the New York
experience, which I guess means that none of the dealers speak English and you can get mugged between the roulette tables.
Clark County Police are working the crowd, and I have never seen officers of the law get along so well with drunken revelers.
Most of the people love the cops, and at least a couple of rather attractive women seem determined to hug and kiss every man in sight sporting a
badge. If it had ever been like this in L.A., Rodney King would never have happened.
This is my first-ever New Year's Eve in Las Vegas, and the town seems to have it down to a science. Earlier today, drinking
glasses mysteriously disappeared throughout the town. Even the glass tumblers in my hotel room's bathroom were quietly replaced by plastic
All along the strip, police officers and hotel employees are confiscating glasses, bottles and cans — apparently the cause of no
small amounts of damage in years past. Instead, they have thousands of plastic cups, most bearing hotel logos, and will gladly pour your
beverage into one for you. Even in the casinos at the high rollers' tables, drinks are being served in plastic.
By 8:00, we've gotten about as close as we're going to get to the Hacienda, packed into a throng between the Luxor hotel and the
Tropicana, with a decent view of the condemned casino. My immediate thought is that they don't need the 1100 pounds of explosives; the noise of
this crowd could easily reduce the place to rubble.
I can't recall ever seeing so many people in one place at one time. Even standing in the middle of the street, it's enough to
give a snail claustrophobia. And every so often, for no visible reason, everyone decides to start screaming. I think of all the people
who are massing at that very moment in Times Square — the real one across the country, not the scaled-down one across the street. How I
yearn for the relative peace and quiet where they are now.
(And the irony is not lost on me; any minute now, those people in Times Square are going to watch a large ball drop, and we're going to
watch a large hotel drop.)
At 8:30, the crowd is screaming to bring the place down, which is a waste of everyone's lungs. Everyone knows it's coming down
(or going up; take your pick) at five minutes to nine. Still, it's not like these people have anything better to do just now.
A huge reviewing stand is set up, filled with V.I.P.s, and as I glance about, I'd guess that there are not more than, oh, about five
thousand cameras here. The professional TV and movie cameras, of course, make sense. So do the zillion hand-held camcorders, in a way
— although if I came to see something like this (and I guess I did), I think I'd rather see it with the naked eye than through a
viewfinder. Tape replays from better vantage points will not likely be scarce.
What I don't get is the people with little ten-dollar disposal Instamatics and Polaroid Swingers. What kind of Richard Avedon
moments do they expect to immortalize on film?
My friend has struck up a conversation with a stranger who seems wise in the science of building demolition. He is a local and he
has been present at the implosions in recent years of the Dunes, the Landmark and, most recently and sadly, the Sands. Each of these venerable
structures has been razed to make way for a newer and larger "mega-resort," as they call them, the word "hotel" seeming somehow insufficient.
Those three were all Vegas relics but this building is only a little more than twenty years old, having replaced an earlier Hacienda
Hotel on the same site. The Circus Circus company — which owns the Circus Circus, the Excalibur, the Luxor and part of the new Monte
Carlo — recently added the Hacienda to their holdings, then decided they could do something bigger on the land. They have announced the
Paradise Project (tentative name), which is to have a tropical theme, not unlike the Tropicana, which is directly across the boulevard. Thus,
they will fill the critical and pressing need for a tropical-themed mega-resort on this side of the street.
Even if the gent we're talking to hadn't told us he was a veteran of these events, we could have guessed. Like a number of folks
in the crowd, he has brought along a small mask, such as one wears to avoid germs or pollen. "When the building goes down," he explains to us,
"the dust cloud can get pretty ugly." Gee, I sure am glad we came. I so love inhaling plaster.
He has more to say on the subject of hotel annihilation but out here, with people screaming and music coming from half a hundred
sources (no two playing the same tune), I only catch about one out of every five fun facts. The T.N.T., he explains, is not what really causes
the hotel to crumble; all it does is to ignite drums of jet fuel which have been strategically placed around the structure. There will be a
massive fireworks display for ten minutes before the event, then a pause so that the smoke from the fireworks can dissipate. Then a laser light
show will illuminate the Hacienda, culminating in a laser-projected countdown...and then, the Main Event (aka "Kablooey!").
By 8:45, the crowd looks close to charging and tearing the place down by hand. It's probably not true, but it amuses me to think
that the hundred thousand people who are here all lost money gambling at the Hacienda and have shown up here tonight to gloat.
Finally, just before 8:50, music starts pouring forth from speakers and the crowd goes wild: The show is starting!
They're playing the Mission: Impossible theme but everyone is yelling, "James Bond, James Bond!" Then the fireworks
I've never been a big fan of pyrotechnics but these — rocketing off the roof of the Hacienda and from all around it — are
so spectacular, you just have to stand there with your mouth open and gape. They come so fast that there isn't even time to "ooh" between
them. For six or seven minutes, the fireworks are astounding and relentless and there's no earthly way I or anyone could describe them on
paper. You had to be there.
The laser show, if any, is lost in the melee. There is a pause and suddenly, every window of the Hacienda Hotel is filled with
flames. Fire is balling up and out of every orifice; it's hard to tell where the fireworks leave off and the T.N.T. begins. The crowd is
screaming so loud, you'd think they couldn't be any louder...but when there is visible movement of the building downward, the decibels increase three
The structure's collapse is not well-lighted. With eyes still stinging from a hundred simultaneous Fourth of July displays, we
miss most of it. And, sure enough, as the building goes down, the dust goes up. A huge cloud rises and we all grasp for hankies and
Kleenex to breathe through. In a moment, the cloud is gone, much of it settling on us, and a whoop goes up —
— and then comes a gale of laughter. Dimly through the mist, we see that part of the hotel is still standing.
90% of the Hacienda is kitty litter but one side of the building has miraculously remained, stubbornly refusing to join the rest in
oblivion. We watch for a few minutes to see if it's going to fall — it looks like it could — but then the crowd disperses, pouring
into nearby hotels and off down the Strip where, word is, the Doobie Brothers and Sinbad are performing outside the Mirage. The Hacienda Hotel
is history. Most of it, anyway.
It takes us another hour to make our way back down the Strip. By 10:00, I decide that I am the only person in the entire 702 area
code who is over eighteen, sober and not wearing a funny hat. I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that I am the
Designated Driver for the entire state.
By 11:00, we are exhausted, just from elbowing through masses of humanity. But it's New Year's Eve: You can't go to bed on the
wrong side of the midnight hour.
1997 arrives pretty much on schedule and people couldn't be happier. We go through this every 365 days, saying good riddance to a
bad year and all its pains and problems, assuring ourselves that the new one will be oh-so-much better. No doubt, come 12/31/97, we'll be happy
to be rid of that dog of a year and full of hope for 1998, but that's just the way we are — full of optimism, at least for one evening per
annum. I enjoyed spending that night in Vegas this time and I'm already thinking of coming back next time.
Who knows? By then, they may be ready to implode Project Paradise.
Happy new year.