The tourists are elbow to elbow, sprawled on plastic chaise longues wedged into every available space along the broad expanse of hot concrete. The hot Las Vegas air is ripe with the smell of Hawaiian Tropic, mixed with the fruity scent of tall, rainbow-colored rum drinks.
My three kids in tow, I weave between the endless rows of sunbathers camped here, between the Lazy River and the wave pool.
It is just before noon . . . prime-time poolside at our hotel. And I realize I have a snowball's chance in hell--which is about what Las Vegas feels like right now--of finding four vacant lounge chairs side by side.
The kids begin to hound me, desperate to escape from the 106-degree heat. I shoulder their gear--towels, shoes, water bottles--and send them off to the Lazy River, already bursting with inflated tubes and hundreds of flailing bodies.
And--staggering now from the heat, the weight, the mounting frustration--I resume my hunt, circling the pool like a vulture.
I spot a prospect--a woman glancing around, putting away her magazine, beginning to collect her children's things. I stumble toward her and our eyes meet. She feels my pain. Without a word, she nods and beckons me.
"We're leaving as soon as I get my kids rounded up," she says, scooting over to give me a place to unload my things. She waves her arm down a row of chaise longues. "These four are ours. You can have all of them."
It's as close to a Vegas jackpot as I'll ever be: four lounge chairs together, just steps from the wave pool . . . the poolside equivalent of front-row concert seats.
"We've been here since 8:30," my benefactor says wearily. "That's the only way to get a good spot, you know. You've got to come down early, before the place fills up."
I imagine how that would play in my family of sleeping beauties. . . . "Wake up, girls. It's 8 a.m. Time to get out of bed and start enjoying our vacation."
It wouldn't put a dent in their chorus of snores.
It's lost on us, much of the famous Las Vegas cachet . . . the slot machines and blackjack tables, glamorous shows and sumptuous buffets.
But my family goes to Las Vegas every summer because it's cheap and easy. Our perfect vacation involves sleeping in and staying up late, spending days at the pool and nights roaming the Strip, with its myriad things to do and see.
My girls get into the ambience, the glitter and glitz . . . cascading water fountains, an erupting volcano, talking Greek statues, a pirate show. And blinding neon lights on every marquee.
And I savor a rare chance to be idle . . . to lie in the sun for hours, reading, sleeping or simply enjoying what has become my favorite pastime: Sightseeing at the hotel pool, with its parade of swimsuit-clad Americana . . . bodies of every shape, color and size, modeling the most improbable of swimwear.
This trip was no exception.
There was the buxom elderly woman who showed up every day squeezed into a different gaudy bikini, hauling a half-dozen kids who kept up a constant chorus of "Watch me, Granny!"
And the hairy heavy-set fellow whose bikini trunks were so tiny they practically disappeared beneath rolls of pale flesh every time he rose from his seat.
Folks who have never belonged to a gym, haven't heard of liposuction, don't consider cellulite a fashion faux pas. Who think it's OK to wear a string bikini if they can find one in a size XXX-L.
It is shocking at first, to be confronted with so much girth so unashamedly bared . . . especially for those accustomed to our local beaches, where everyone seems to sport flat stomachs and navel rings.
It is liberating to discover a tableau so forgiving of imperfection, a land where the cult of "body beautiful" fails to hold sway.
In L.A., we're obsessed with appearance, with the notion that every physical flaw must be either fixed or hidden. But here, on Las Vegas' concrete beaches, real life is on display, in all its pale, dimpled, jiggly variety.
So I order another tall, fruity rum drink (never mind the calories), lie back on my lounge, close my eyes and let out my stomach.
And the sigh you hear is the sound of mind and body, for once, at peace.
Sandy Banks can be e-mailed at email@example.com.