Sex and loathing in Las Vegas

In a great tradition of journalism, our writer gets doped up on pain medication and heads to Vegas for the annual Adult Entertainment Expo

From left, models Tray and Taylor at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.

From left, models Tray and Taylor at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.

Photo By Matthew Craggs

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold …”

And thank god for that. My back had been killing me since I boarded the plane for Las Vegas, and I was not looking forward to lugging my bags around without an anti-inflammatory. I was heading to Sin City for the Adult Entertainment Expo, and my bags only faintly resembled the luggage Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta felt necessary to take with them in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. My tame bag of drugs included 48 Ibuprofen, 16 chewable Pepto-Bismol tablets, half a bottle of Tums, and eight caps of Dayquil—all stuffed into a Ziploc emblazoned with Spider-Man’s mug.

Still, I felt prepared. The Vegas of today isn’t Thompson’s Vegas of 1971. Hell, it’s not even the Vegas of a decade ago. The family-friendly Vegas pushed on us a few years back ended in a broken marriage and sure enough the Harley-riding stepfather, “What happens in Vegas …” showed up. Now frat boys and families who never got the memo wander the over-priced Strip, neither group comfortable with the other’s presence. However, the one aspect of Vegas that has never, will never, change is the gratuitous sex—and I was headed into the cleavage of the beast.

Conventional wisdom

The Adult Entertainment Expo is the largest adult entertainment trade convention in the world, pulling in just over 22,000 attendees this year. Walking through the Sands Expo toward the large double doors that led into the convention was like strolling a twisted red carpet. Suits playing hooky from the nearby Consumer Electronics Show lined the entryway, snapping pictures of any actresses coming or going from work. It’s all in preparation for the thousands of flashes that were about to greet me.

Writer Matthew Craggs’ bag of drugs.

Photo By Matthew Craggs

If it wasn’t for the breasts, I could almost convince myself that I had wandered into any other convention in the world. Booths created rows in a large hall, bigger companies took up more space, and I could always tell where the free goodies were by the size of the crowd. Endless handouts and PR reps bogged me down for hours while I muscled my way through the crowds. Then I turned a corner, only to run face-first into a seven-foot bucking penis. Straddled by girls in bikinis, the penis acted as a phallic mechanical bull, thrusting wildly, and slamming woman after woman into the ground while the crowd cheered.

Rows of vibrators, strap-ons, $6,000 life-size realistic sex dolls, Obama condoms, bondage gear and pillows with indentations in them so women with implants can sleep comfortably on their stomachs—it was enough to make Aphrodite and Adephagia throw up their hands in surrender.

Everywhere, breasts accosted me. Stars signed autographs, video monitors ran porn, and 40-foot posters proclaimed the release of the latest XXX parody. Within five minutes, my brain shut down, and tits became almost boring. Granted I didn’t want to blink for fear of missing a pair, but even the sight of a gaggle of female porn stars snacking on hot dogs in the cafeteria did nothing for me.

It’s with this blasé attitude that I found myself staring down a wall filled with prosthetic vaginas. I thought back on the Expos of years past. Even as late as 2008, I could recall an Expo that took up two floors and was overflowing with exhibitors, porn stars, fans and all the free DVDs one could handle. Now, reduced in size, the convention felt more like a frivolous celebration of the products than a business convention. The suits that used to pop up throughout the aisles were largely gone, and those that remained stuck out like the cheerleader’s father at a college party.

“These will get you rock hard. Last for hours,” a bald salesman for Stiff 4 Hours yelled out at me when I came within 10 feet of his booth. “Best there …” He continued before trailing off at the sight of my credentials. “Oh, press.”

At the sight of two women walking his way, this time clearly sporting credentials signaling they owned an adult bookstore, he ran after them promising incredible deals if they stocked his product. While some tried to earn a living, most people came for the T ’n’ A. In addition to the seven-foot mechanical member, AEE also delivered Slick Chix female oil wrestling, a series of naughty stage games for fans, and professional and amateur pole-dancing contests. Even with waning attendance over the years, AEE still filled the halls thanks to the overwhelming power of sex.

Porn actress Naughty Alysha at the Adult Entertainment Expo.

Photo By Matthew Craggs

Casino royale with cheese

Casinos have tapped this vein as their latest effort to counter the difficult economic climate. On a previous trip to AEE, I stumbled upon an isolated portion of the Mandalay Bay casino called “The Party Pit.” Comprised of a series of gaming tables surrounding a small stage complete with flashing lights, a stripper pole, and, of course, a scantily clad woman dancing to the current Top 40, it mixed the two staples of Nevada: Sex and gambling.

This time, two years later, on a Thursday night, I found myself aimlessly wandering Luxor’s empty food court looking for signs of life. At 11 p.m. on a Thursday night, the shops stood closed, most restaurants were locked down, and only a few members of the cleanup crew remained. The casino downstairs, while not barren, was patchy at best. With one exception: The Luxor’s very own Party Pit surrounded by gamblers and tourists snapping photos. In only a few short years, seemingly every casino on the strip had emulated Mandalay Bay’s mash-up of women and cards.

It was easy to see why sex had infiltrated the casinos. Las Vegas, as a gambling town, was stagnant. Just one block off The Strip, rundown motels punctuated For Sale signs sitting atop empty lots that amounted to nothing more than fenced-in sections of the desert. Everything about Las Vegas—gambling, big shows and weddings—had become a cliché of itself. Losing a fortune on craps because you don’t understand the rules, Wayne Newton, and getting married by Elvis haven’t changed in 50 years. Vegas had to sex them up: The Party Pit, Cirque du Soleil’s naughty Zoomanity, and a wedding reception for two porn stars—even if it was by invite only.

Some salacious version of Lady Luck scored some friends and me an invite to the Eric John and Vicki Chase wedding reception at the Palazzo’s Sushi Samba. After receiving the approval of a large gentleman named Vinnie the Snakemannn, we entered to music pounding through the air and a crowd seething around the bride and groom. In the booths, bottles of Grey Goose appeared as though the servers were stocking BevMo’s empty shelves. A few quick searches on our iPhones identified which women in the room we did indeed recognize from our computer screens at home.

“You just touched a Goonie,” my friend Jess Parker yelled. I turned in time to see Corey Feldman disappear behind two bodyguards that put our doorman friend Vinnie to shame. The presence of Edgar Frog invigorated the party even more and as women started to flash the crowd, the bar began to mirror the same scene I continually came across in Vegas. Wherever there were women acting provocatively, the crowds would appear.

Around 4 a.m., Feldman left the club and, as everyone knows, it’s not a party without a Goonie. Shuffling out of the hotel, we hailed a cab and zoned out in euphoria and exhaustion. Our cab driver tried to overcharge us and I had to threaten to call the cops to get our money back. As he peeled out of the Luxor driveway sending a valet running to the curb, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. If he’d had a nice pair of tits, I might have let him keep the money.