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Gaming Guru

Brian Haynes
 

Las Vegas rings in the New Year

4 January 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A new year. A new decade.

Another reason to party the night away, as if they needed one.

As 2009 came to a close, thousands upon thousands of revelers descended onto the Strip and the Fremont Street Experience to drink excessively, watch fireworks explode and say goodbye to what was generally a dismal year for many Americans.

There were no made-for-TV motorcycle jumps in town this year, but Strip hotels had their usual complement of celebrities including the likes of Eva Longoria Parker, Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian.

Even throwbacks such as foul-mouthed comedian Andrew "Dice" Clay and big-hair rock band Slaughter were on hand to throw out 2009.

"2009 was a tough year for everyone," Massachusetts resident Jennifer Grant said after the clock struck midnight. "To be able to celebrate with all my friends and all of these people is an experience I'll never forget."

The party started much earlier for some near the Monte Carlo when, at about a quarter to 7, a group of kids created a new game –– slap your buddy with a nudie card.

The kids, who all seemed under 10, picked up from the ground the ubiquitous only-in-Vegas postcards of near-porn and began hitting each other with them and tossing them into the air like confetti. They giggled, as did their parents. Meanwhile, the crowd grew, and by 7 p.m. it started spreading into the street near CityCenter. A dull roar erupted spontaneously into a major scream that echoed through the concrete and glass canyon.

The cops ordered everyone back onto the sidewalk, but nobody cared. The crowd continued into the street.

The cops gave in and moved the metal barriers.

More than 3,200 Las Vegas police officers were on duty for the night, most of them posted up and down the Strip to keep watch over revelers packed into the street. And in less conspicuous places around the valley, some 200 soldiers from the Nevada National Guard guarded airports and flood channel entrances.

Tourism officials expected roughly 315,000 out-of-towners — a small bump from last year — to be in town for the largest New Year's Eve celebration this side of the Mississippi.

As the crowd grew, partyers bought trinkets from street vendors, chugged beers so big they are probably illegal in some states, and lined up at the restrooms in the nice and warm casinos.

Outside MGM Grand, a trio from Utah snapped photos of themselves.

"We're drunk," Jennifer Long said.

Since getting to town, Long, her husband, John, and his sister, Dawn Carter, saw a show, drank in a bar and laughed themselves silly.

John Long, carrying a cowboy boot-shaped jug of booze, shoved his face into his wife's cleavage as his sister shot a picture.

They all said they hoped 2010 is better than 2009.

"I'm just hoping to survive," Carter said.

Added John, pointing to his wife, "I just hope she doesn't get pregnant."

Down the block at Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, the crowd seemed sparser than in years past, when walking through the intersection could be a near-death experience. It might have been the inexplicable odor that hovered over the location all night, which smelled worse than a fast food joint's trash bin during a garbage strike in July.

At the Fremont Street Experience, Pittsburg, Calif., residents Jim Cross and Emmy Marra explained that they had a room on the Strip but preferred the downtown celebration.

"When you want the true Vegas experience, it's Fremont Street," said Cross, sounding like a promotional video. "This is where it's happening."

About 35,000 people were expected to ring in the new year under the lighted canopy, listening to tribute bands mimic the hits of Aerosmith, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin and others.

Elsewhere on Fremont Street, Alaskan Tom Beard handed his camera to a Las Vegas police officer to take a photo of him and three others in front of a local landmark, in this case the Las Vegas Club.

After obliging, the officer turned the tables by pulling out her own camera and having Beard snap a photo of her and three colleagues.

For Beard, a Coast Guard officer from Kodiak, Alaska, and his wife Robin, it was all part of the package. "Without a doubt, we're loving it," he said. "We wanted to spend New Year's in some place besides Kodiak."

Joining them were Kelly and Angie Huffaker, who closed the Comfort Inn they own in Kodiak for the season and drove south.

"We decided to take a couple of months and go where we can get some sun" said Kelly Huffaker, noting that Kodiak gets about five hours a day of sunshine in mid-winter.

Although they have a timeshare near the Strip, the Huffakers still came to Fremont Street.

"You just can't walk out of your room on to the Strip and get this," he said, gesturing to the video projected on the canopy. The Fremont Street Experience show featured fireworks under the canopy at midnight, but they were dwarfed by the fireworks display that launched from atop seven hotel rooftops along the Strip.

The $500,000 pyrotechnic extravaganza, dubbed "America's Party: A Vegas Celebration," returned to rooftops after fizzling last year when the fireworks were launched from parking lots and garages.

Two minutes before midnight a group of balloons set sail from near the Bellagio. People were still streaming in. "How about Harrah's?" a guy said to his buddy.

"Greg. We're not gonna make it."

Just then, the clock on the Bally's marquee began the countdown from one minute.

With 30 seconds left, the fireworks began. At zero, the show passed amazing and went straight to crazy-unprecedented. An old lady put her hand over her mouth, the cops stopped talking to one another and looked up, and the crowd roared.

Hours before the fireworks lit up the sky and the calendar officially turned, newlyweds Ryan and Carina Cornwell, in a tuxedo and white wedding dress, respectively, watched the Bellagio fountains with their equally decked out wedding party.

The couple, who met while Ryan was studying abroad in Denmark, married in Las Vegas because Cornwell, an officer in the Marines, will be deployed overseas in March, and Carina, who is Danish, could not remain in the United States otherwise. "We're going to party our asses off," she said. "We're in Vegas."

Some took their partying to the extreme, like the skinny little guy, about 22, who leaned against the wall outside Planet Hollywood about 9 p.m., puked on the wall, wiped his mouth with a napkin and stopped to watch the passing crowd.

A middle-aged couple recorded the Bellagio fountains across the street, a trio of young women wearing balloon animals on their heads screamed by, a roar erupted from somewhere down the block.

The skinny kid turned, puked on the wall again, wiped his mouth, and headed into P.F. Chang's.

About an hour later, a girl in a tiny — really tiny — gold party dress and 6-inch heels took a tumble stepping off a curb.

The crowd went wild.

A woman swaddled a newborn as she passed by. The baby slept through it all.

First-time Las Vegas visitors, Jeremy and Gillian Richardson of Canada, summed it up simply.

"It's a lot of drunk people," he said. "It's pretty much how I imagined."

At least one couple celebrating New Year's Eve on the Strip were happy to see 2009 end.

Although he was enjoying his last day of this decade, Steve Peckham said he'd been out of work 2 1/2 years and hoped 2010 would bring a rebound in the economy.

"Only one way for it to go now," he said.

His wife, Leslee, said she knows they aren't the only family that's hurting. They live in Massachusetts but read about Las Vegas' hardships while visiting in-laws here.

"When you look at all the people here," she said, "you know they're looking for something better the next year."