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TRAVEL : Well, Bill, Here's a Way to Meet Real Americans : The President can continue his quest by taking an overnight tour to Vegas--only $10 round-trip from Ventura County.

September 23, 1993|JAMES GILDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Now that Bill Clinton is firmly in office, it will be interesting to note if his mode of transportation changes. Famous for his bus tours around the country during the presidential campaign, he has said repeatedly he would like to continue with bus travel because it is an excellent way to meet the "real people" of America.

Well, Bill, the next time you are in Summerland, come on down to Ventura County. If you want a quick and inexpensive dose of "real people," you can travel with us by bus to that middle-class Mecca in the desert, Las Vegas.

Appealing to a cross-section of Americans, these turnaround trips are frequented by the backbone, the bread and butter, the heart and soul of our country: the working and retired working-class.

For only $10 round-trip, a real bargain considering the size of the federal deficit, you can board a bus from Golden Trails Charters in Ventura, Santa Paula, Fillmore or even Piru on any Saturday. For a mere $40, you, Hillary, Al and Tipper can enjoy the group transportation. But leave little Chelsea home because gambling is about all there is to do in Las Vegas when one is there for a mere 12 hours, and she's not quite up to the legal age.

Boarding the bus in Santa Paula at 7:15 a.m., you will note immediately that this isn't quite the type of bus you became accustomed to during the campaign. Amenities are limited to seating for about 40--but there is a toilet at the rear of the bus.

Leg room, important to a man of your stature, not to mention your height, is sorely lacking, especially when the "real person" in front of you puts his seat in full recline. Best to sit next to someone you like who has showered recently because it gets rather cozy on the six hour, one-way journey.

The first stop is for lunch in Barstow, and as your luck would have it, it is at your favorite restaurant, McDonald's. A city with little apparent charm, Barstow's main function and primary source of industry seems to be catering to bus tours to Las Vegas. With only a half-hour stop, you won't likely get in a jog before your Big Mac.

Excitement builds on the bus as you near the border of California and Nevada. Several casinos huddle at the state line, still 45 minutes from Vegas, to greet those anxious gamblers who just can't wait to hear the cling and clang of slot machines disgorging their riches. Your first stop is only a few miles from the border, in Jean, Nev., at the Gold Strike Casino.

Unless you are into hiking in the desert or counting grains of sand, there is nothing to do after the bus drops you off but gamble. This is not by accident, but entirely by design. You are held captive by geography. This is why the casinos subsidize your bus ride.

The Gold Strike is hardly the casino at Monte Carlo. This seems to be the spot of choice for the more modest players. But the nickel slots are not the only gambling opportunities doing brisk business. Several blackjack tables have $25 minimum bet signs displayed to a full contingent of players. Black ($100) and green ($25) chips are in evidence, if not abundance.

Fortune might smile on you for spending only $10 on quarters, vainly feeding the voracious appetite of the quarter slots as you try to win a brand new Mercedes Benz. After a quick and inexpensive bite to eat at the buffet, it is nearly time for the bus to arrive. Now, Bill, you are ready to move on to bigger and better things.

Downtown Las Vegas is also know as Glitter Gulch, so named because of the acres of neon signs decorating the exteriors of the wall-to-wall casinos. Here too, Bill, is the historical beginning of Las Vegas, the birthplace of legalized gambling, long before Bugsy Siegel had designs on the Vegas Strip. Do not expect to find historical museums, however. All enterprises are geared strictly to creating gambling fever in us "real people."

Irish-themed Fitzgerald's Hotel and Casino, complete with Blarney Stone, is the bus stop and pick-up point. There are over a dozen casinos in the downtown area within easy walking distance and the famous strip is a short taxi or, as I'm sure you'd prefer, bus ride away.

As the evening wears on, Bill, your eyes become bleary. You can no longer count to 21. Non-gambling diversions begin to gain appeal while you await the 2 a.m. bus that will whisk you home. You might watch that person fall asleep in the Keno lounge, mouth wide open, snoring loudly.

Or you can jealously watch the high-rollers with their stacks of black chips. That might be fun, until you realize that a lot of AIDS projects or homeless shelters could be funded with the money they are frittering away. By the time the bus arrives, you are probably ready to head home.

You'll make yourself as comfortable as possible for the long ride, probably sleeping fitfully as the bus driver makes several reassuring stops for coffee and fresh air. He'll even say he's spent his time in Las Vegas in a motel room, sleeping in anticipation of the long, lonely drive home.

As the sun starts to rise, your trip draws to an end. The bus pulls into Santa Paula at 8:15 a.m. You will actually have had a 25-hour turnaround.

For only $10, not counting gaming losses (or, for the lucky few, winnings) and meals, you have had an entertaining 12 hours, plus the opportunity to observe and interact with us "real people." All you will want to do now is go to sleep.

Rest, sweet Willie, you've kept this campaign pledge. Next time you can take Air Force One.

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