ADVENTURES IN BOOBY-SITTING

One of my favorite things about living in Las Vegas is all the visits from old friends. At least it was one of my favorite things when my wife and I moved here three years ago.

These visits have become exactly the same, no matter who’s visiting. First comes the notification: "Dude, we’re coming to Vegas!" This is usually followed by a "woo-hoo!" or some variation thereof.

Notification is tendered anywhere between three days and three hours prior to arrival. (Jamie, our Los Angeles friend, phones from Interstate 15.)

Whatever plans Jo Ann and I have — work, medical procedures, court appearances — are instantaneously trivialized because fun is the only responsibility possible to have in Las Vegas. (The commercials even say so.)

If said friends are flying, then the Corey Shuttle must drive 20 miles just to drive the half-mile between McCarran and whichever Strip hotel they overpaid for on vegas.com.

"Have you seen the taxi lines?" my college roommate, Marc, asked in 2006.

The visitation-notification phone call also is the time to ask what show or concert tickets I can provide for free.

"Dude, I know you’ve got the hook-ups!" another Los Angeles friend, Dan, insisted last year.

The R-J forbids reporters from accepting, much less requesting, free tickets unless it’s for an event we’re assigned to cover. While I have no problem with this policy, Dan does.

"So, just say you’re assigned to review ‘O,’ " he suggested.

Bruce Feher, owner of a Las Vegas realty service company, caused one of his longtime friendships to implode during a similar visitation-notification call.

"He still won’t talk to me because I couldn’t get him Celine (Dion) tickets," Feher reported. "How was I supposed to get him Celine tickets?"

Feher replied to a mass e-mail I sent requesting visitor horror stories. Another R-J reader, Christine Hollohan, complained about how inconsiderate some friends are while making her valley home theirs.

"You pay for all the food, and they leave you with no shampoo, no beer or booze, an empty refrigerator, and a huge pile of dirty towels and sheets to wash," she wrote, "as well as a sink full of dirty dishes."

Jo Ann and I would love guest experiences that go that well. In fact, we bought a house with a big guest bedroom, and stocked it with a dozen tiny shampoo bottles from the 99 Cents Store, specifically to be abused in this manner.

That room has never been used (except by us in ways I shouldn’t go into). Even my parents stay only at Bellagio (and today’s cheaper rates, combined with my sexual innuendo in the last sentence, will ensure that they will continue to).

For Jo Ann and me, all reunion activity must occur in or around a Strip hotel, because our friends are in Vegas (woo-hoo!) and Vegas is a town that starts at Mandalay Bay and ends at the Stratosphere.

"Does the monorail go to your house?" Dan once asked.

During our first year here, I tried proving the existence of real Las Vegans who live in real structures without concierge desks. I proudly showed my New York friend, Roy, around our first apartment complex, the Oasis Gateway in northwest Las Vegas.

"Wow," he said sarcastically. "I never saw a pool before."

Roy demanded to be returned to The Hotel immediately.

When to reluctantly drive to the Strip becomes a particularly contentious bone. Having jobs that we must report to during the day is not a concept our guests grasp right away. All need convincing, some more than others. I always feel that one or two suspect that I’m lying; that secretly, I’m drinking from giant purple beer bongs at noon on a Wednesday with other out-of-towners whom I like more.

Dinner is when we are finally able to rendezvous. It can be Chinese, Italian, American. It doesn’t matter as long as one requirement is met: outrageous expense. Because they’re only here every couple of years, each set of friends reasons, why shouldn’t they treat themselves?

The food is about as good as the conversation, which — shouted above trendy rhythms — invariably centers on how cool it must be to live in the adult Disneyland.

"You are so lucky," we’re told. "You can gamble any time you want."

When the check/mortgage statement arrives, it is immediately slapped by two credit cards. It wouldn’t be right for either party not to. This usually results in a 50/50 split — even though we’re not the couple who ordered the $45 half-a-chicken.

"I agree that if I ask you to come and visit, I should pay," wrote Vicki Bennett, a retired Tropicana casino host who would rather be watching TV with her two golden retrievers than playing tour guide. "But if they just come and visit, I still seem to pay."

At least the treat’s on my parents when they come. But if the stay stretches beyond three days, this becomes merely a different kind of "Groundhog Day" to dread on the Strip.

"The shrimp were too salty last night," Mom reported during our most recent weeklong game of try-every-hotel-buffet, a game that can be played no later than 6 p.m. because, "oh no, I’m not waiting in those long lines."

While my parents are in bed by Leno, dinner is just an opening act to our friends, who never want to eat it before 10 p.m. on weeknights. And my inexcusable failure to procure four free tickets to the hottest event in town means that after-dinner entertainment will consist entirely of watching them play table games at their hotel until our eyelids require toothpicks for propping.

"We have a system," Roy told me as he approached a Mandalay Bay roulette wheel flashing four reds in a row.

"Watch."

Jury duty is easier to get out of than this. There are no gazes to catch (they’re all on the action) to deploy our favorite fake excuse. (If we ever mention our dog, we’re lying — just as I once did to explain my lack of geometry homework.)

"Dude, you’re not leaving," Dan stepped away from a Harrah’s blackjack table just long enough to demand, fully expecting my "juice" to help him cut the line for Pure at 1:30 a.m. one Friday morning.

At least I’ve never fielded the request that Feher reports is frequently made of him.

"I tell them: ‘Go online, man!’ " he said. "I’m not driving to Pahrump!" (Not surprisingly, this request comes from married men visiting without their wives.)

Two years ago, I discovered that my Los Angeles friend, Sandy, visits Vegas three times a year without calling. Offense was my first reaction.

"It’s a girls’-night-out thing," she explained after a mutual friend made the mistake of leaking her whereabouts one weekend.

Sandy, you’re officially forgiven.

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.

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