I recently visited Las Vegas and found it had morphed from a hay ride into a bullet train, and from Hookers-ville into Kids R Us. When I lived there in 1980, it was all about high rollers, call girls, comps, 1950's de'cor, being laid back and knowing everyone who worked on the strip. It was a small town in big city clothes. Today, freebies are rare, and fast food is plentiful. Billboards reveal "ostentation in overdrive" with flashing fluorescents and snappy video presentations. Casino tables are relative "dead zones," so hotels charge for everything else, from shows to monorail rides. It's a supersized theme park with focus on the family.
Thirty years ago, I might have stumbled upon the Dirty Old Man Delegation, the Boozers Brigade or the Strippers Symposium. But during this trip I naturally found a kiddie-land favorite: the Annual Clown Convention, which was held at the Orleans hotel. I confronted a sea of painted faces, kooky costumes and bulbous, red noses; and got to root for my favorite contestant in the "Top Clown" competition. Most had "silly billy" names, such as Cricket, Snickers and Krinkles.
"I love kids. I had three for breakfast," veteran clown Jim Howle told five children sitting before him on a makeshift stage. He pulled paper from his shoe, "Here's a footnote."
A pink clown whispered to me, "I'm a beginner and earn a living as a waitress and construction worker." A brightly dressed Charlie Chaplin said, "I'm full time with a business license. I do 300 performances each year."
Tables in the back of the room offered novelty items for sale from lime green wigs to Technicolor costumes, magic tricks and books. "Here Comes the Clown," "Talk like a Dummy" and "Stop that Heckler" were a few of the titles.