LAS VEGAS — I brought a book to see if I could do it.
I’m inside a cabana at Circa’s Stadium Swim, the hottest new pool downtown. Outside, it’s bright and loud, but I crack open Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” anyhow.
“Go, shorty,” the speakers blare, “it’s your birthday!”
The Mississippi is well worth reading about …
“Go, shorty, it’s your birthday.”
I close the book. The river may be remarkable, Mr. Twain. But I’m distracted.
Lesson One: Vegas pools are no place for beach reads.
Why am I here?
For a front-row look at a Friday by the pool at a time when people are coming out of isolation with shots in their arms and cash in their pockets.
I reserved a cabana for shade to observe the sights and sounds – to witness people as they grasp for some sense of normal.
With camera, notebook and pen, I waded in.
It’s a little past 5 p.m. The temperature is in the mid-80s. The sun is hard and hot. Giant video screens are tuned to sports. Big speakers pump out bass-heavy electronic music. It is loud.
Packs of tourists and locals crowd in and around Stadium Swim’s six pools. Some look like they just walked out of a casino – pandemic flab, jeans, T-shirts. Others look like Instagram influencers – fit, tan, wearing very little.
“Have fun seeing lots of butts,” my partner told me before work.
One thing’s for sure. My Hawaiian shirt ain’t coming off.
But there are plenty of places to get sun here –340 chaise lounges and 38 day beds spread over two rooftop levels.
Patrons in bikinis, board shorts, even street clothes, dangle feet in the water. Some sip alcohol-infused slushies from plastic cups. Others tilt back beers.
Looming over all of them is the 135-foot wall of screens broadcasting seven baseball games, two basketball games, one hockey game and an MMA card.
Under the screens, bros in backward hats stand among daybeds. They sip mixed drinks and periodically peer at the screens for scores.
Almost everyone is drinking. Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Corona, White Claw – they’re all here somewhere.
This is peak party time at Stadium Swim.
Lesson Two: Come thirsty.
The cabana costs a minimum of $1,000, plus gratuity for the server. Her name is Michelle. She’s from Brazil, her passion is photography, and she wears a green bikini.
Inside, there’s an L-shaped couch, lounge chair, 65-inch television, ceiling fan, sink, towels, cabinet and even a safe with a keypad.
The cabana is way too big for one person. It would be perfect with a group of three or four friends – although two cabanas can be connected for up to 25 people. There are 30 cabanas at Stadium Swim just like this one.
On the cabinet is a thick menu book. Food and bottle service. A bottle of Belvedere vodka? $450. Patron Silver tequila? $450. Want a bigger 1.75L bottle? $795.
On the food page, there are platters for large groups. Lobster Corn Dogs: $145. Gourmet Grazing Board (think poolside charcuterie): $125. Fruit Platter: $65. For smaller appetites, there’s the Stadium Dog ($10) and Taco Trio ($14). A lot more, too.
When I order a six-pack of bottled water, Michelle looks at me funny.
Lesson Three: Bring friends.
Grasping for normal
Around 6 p.m., shade covers everything.
Veronica Ramos, 30, splashes in a pool near my cabana. A rec-league soccer player from Los Angeles, she’s in Las Vegas with her friends to play a tournament.
They’ve taken up a whole corner of the pool to themselves. They dance and sing along to electronic music. They bob their heads when the beat drops.
Ramos is happy to be at a pool after the year she just had.
It’s the first time she’s been to Las Vegas since before the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s a part of her that feels unadjusted.
“It feels like I’m breaking the rules,” she says.
Ramos is fully vaccinated and proud of it.
“It’s nice to see people in the world,” she says.
On the second-level deck of Stadium Swim, Paula Pelligrino, an English teacher from Rhode Island, sunbathes in the final hour of light.
She, too, is glad to be far from home with friends. But her vaccination status is something she keeps to herself. That’s personal, she says.
What she does comment on is the scenery on her last night in town.
“The sky and the mountains,” she says, “are beautiful.”
Others were more concentrated on the action closer to the pool.
At one point, two men visit my cabana. One of the men pinches between his fingers a baggie of white powder.
“Want us to hook you up?” a voice says.
I decline, and they leave. Later, they’re removed by security.
Lesson Five: People go to the pool for different reasons.
The cabana next to mine is bumping. Men start cheering.
Two women are kissing deeply. The deeper and longer they kiss, the louder and longer the men cheer. I look over and see a lot of skin, a bottle of champagne.
It’s almost sundown. A big moon hangs in the purple sky. The temperature screen atop Binion’s Hotel-Casino reads 86 degrees.
Men outside the next door cabana pump fists. A woman with a foldable fan mimics the unce-unce-unce of the music blaring on the loudspeakers.
Nearby, a woman twirls in the pool for cell phone picture. She leans on the lip of the pool, sucks on her vape pen.
Ramos, the soccer player, and her friends part ways.
In their wake is a collection of left-behind items: four towels, four plastic cups, a Corona Extra can, a pair of tan sandals, a blue face mask.
There’s no telling what belongs to whom, but it’s no matter. A Circa employee quickly clears the debris. The pool is quiet again, the crowd now thin. The party is on the move.
The sun has set, but many sunglasses remain.
As I prepare to leave, I see a familiar face, people I actually know.
I walk up and say hello. One of them hands me a cold beer.
I close my notebook and stay a little longer.
Lesson Seven: In Las Vegas, the night is always young.