What do 178 Elvises, a vat of Jello shooters, a flock of feathery show girls, four dozen pairs of brides & grooms, Oscar De La Hoya, 15,000 people in running shoes, and hundreds of cowboys have in common?
They were all part of the action on Marathon Weekend in Vegas, baby.
Add a partridge in a pear tree, and you’d be wailing a karaoke tune about having “Blue Christmas” with The King while ushering the holiday season Las Vegas style.
Picture a runners’ health expo next door to a cowboy marketplace set up because of a championship rodeo that’s come to town, while down the hall vendors hawk souvenirs of the boxing match of the year, which was marked by Manny “Pac Man” Pacquia cleaning Golden Boy De La Hoya’s clock.
Running shoes mingled with cowboy boots, as runners shopped the cowboy market getting their wildest west massages, while hosses wearing gigantic rodeo belts and 10-gallon hats bellied up to juice bars in the runners’ expo. Outside in one of many Jacuzzi tubs, a troupe of Latino homeboys swigged bottles of champagne chanting “Oscar – Oscar-Oscar!”
On race day, it was weird to be walking through a casino at 4:30 a.m. amidst a gaggle of gamblers still up from the night before, puffing on their cigs, boozing , and banging on one-armed bandits.
Partyers were coming home as I was headed out, all of us eyeballing each other as if each thought the others were crazy for being there at that hour of the a.m.
While it may not be odd to see the sun come up in Vegas, most see it over their shoulders as they head home after a hard night of partying. On this morning, thousands of runners met the sunrise head on.
At the start of the race, fireworks lit up the early morning gloom, and Elvis shouted out a Viva Las Vegas to a virtual ocean of runners shuffling along on their way to the beginning of their marathon adventure.
Then I was being chased by a gang of Elvis impersonators. Brides and grooms decked out in wedding running gear – veils and bouquets included – jogged by on their way to being hitched or re-hitched at a drive-by wedding chapel on Mile 5. Wedding cake was cut and served along the route as a toast to the happy couples, and at the chapel, a dozen Elvises, guzzling cans of Budweiser, served as the official witnesses.
Runners were surrounded by Wonderwomen, Supermen, Santa Clauses, women in turtle costumes, show girls, and even one Russian woman who ran the entire half marathon in five-inch platform shoes.
No, this was not one of those terrible pre-race nightmares that most runners have before a big race. I actually pinched myself. I was indeed awake and really running down the strip and around the downtown.
The night before, portly, tone deaf Elvis impersonators in running shoes had taken their turns as King for the night. Channeling their best inner Elvis, they put a karaoke machine through its paces. One man in the audience, with his hands over his ears actually fled in middle of some very LOUD off-tune crooning.
Fabulous by night, Las Vegas by day is a shabby wasteland, mostly glitter-free, and largely gray and decrepit in parts outside its well-known magnificent strip.
Sunday in Las Vegas is the morning after Saturday night in Las Vegas. There was moderate crowd support, and I suspect many of our cheerleaders were partiers who had not made it home yet. Still, the Elvises, showgirls, nuptials, Vegas flop houses, bail bond storefronts tattoo parlors and even an abandoned Elvis Presley Museum provided a good distraction, and helped pass the time running 13.1 miles. A little smooch from The King himself didn’t hurt either…and ladies, Elvis is NOT dead!
Monday morning, I am sure the Elvises, nursing sore running muscles, had already shed their Kingly raiments and were back at their their desks, their fame living on in strangers’ photo albums, already planning their training regimen for the Fabulous Vegas Marathon, 2009.