Viva Reno, baby

A walkway over Las Vegas Strip. Late afternoon. One hundred degrees. Inhaling gritty pore-clogging heat. Awaiting sensory overload.

The Statue of Liberty, one-third scale, holds a torch over taxis careening up Tropicana. A roller coaster thunders with carloads of thrill mongers. A 45-foot bronze lion roasts atop a pedestal flanked by the MGM Grand’s fountains.

Speaking of fountains, nearby is the $1.6 billion wonder of a Bellagio complete with eight-acre mechanical lake set to burst, spout and flush every 30 minutes. Speaking of wonders, behind me lurks a medieval castle—all turrets, crenellations and purple-robed Merlin.

A mom, dad and two kids exit castle and head for New York New York, carrying a clear bag stuffed with plush toys. The girl, about 6, whines softly. Mom goes off, teeth clenched: “You little ennghnm! If you didn’t walk as slow as a turtle, we could do more stuff.”

Vegas. Family fun. Amusement park with free catalogs of strippers displaying wares—minus XXXed-out nipples—on every street corner.

The sky dims. The lights—more computer screens than neon—crank up. Guys pitching timeshare condos or Grand Canyon trips are replaced by sex hawkers. A girl with deep-set eyes and a perma-frown holds out cards with photos of topless females. Priced to move. The girl taps the undersides of cards to attract attention.

A dad with his boy, about 9, walks along a sidewalk carpeted with porn promos. For $49, Kandi’ll dance in your hotel room. The boy strolls on Kandi’s breasts.

Everything in Vegas is an “experience.” Feast on authentic Coney Island hot dogs. Shop at the 100-foot translucent Coke bottle. Take a gondola ride through indoor canals at the Venetian. Singing gondoliers and all. Free exotic bird shows at the Tropicana, tourist interaction encouraged: “Everybody know the YMCA?”

The Fremont Street Experience consists of a roof over a street between several blocks of old casinos. Add kiosks selling shiny things. Cops keep the riffraff out.

The Eiffel Tower Experience includes guides who speak a gut-grinding version of French, which they immediately translate in case tourists or native French speakers get confused.

“Mayre-see bow-koo,” a guide says, “Thank you very much.”

It costs $9 to ride up the 460-foot high Eiffel and take in the gasping affluence of its surroundings. The Bellagio fountain erupts, spouting more than 200 feet in the air. Thanks to Vegas’s recent high-rise condo proliferation, many enjoy this fine view every crazy day.

There’s more to Vegas than Cheez Whiz. You also can encounter fine art. Nevada residents get $3 discounts at the Bellagio’s Gallery of Fine Art and at the Guggenheim Hermitage at the Venetian. That’s ’cause Nevada grants tax exemptions to casinos for upping our cultural literacy.

Maybe it’s the heat or the poolside drinks I’d experienced before arriving at the Venetian, but the Guggenheim mini-exhibit From Renoir to Rothko feels ridiculous. Not the art, mind you, just the experience. Perhaps it’s the pretentious chatter on the prerecorded electronic devices that serve as tour guides. Paintings are numbered. Punch in the number for commentary. A couple dozen people stare at the works of Braque, Picasso, Chagall and Miro, nodding solemnly at words being piped into their brains. I stop listening and quietly appreciate Vasily Kandinsky’s “Small Pleasures.”

I buy a postcard of the Kandinsky piece. Because of my obstinate take on prerecorded tour guides, I know nothing about the work—only that its images reach, clasp and glow with random moments of light. Like a fountain, tower, statue, mini-golf course or Wheel of Fortune slot machine. A rich cultural amalgam.

The card sits by my desk, reminding me how great it is to be back in Reno.

I didn’t get to the Bellagio’s gallery during my trip to Vegas last week. If I hadn’t walked as slow as a turtle, I could have done more stuff.