12:45 p.m. From the bus window, I watch as two pretty girls in bikinis obligingly smile and hold still for a camera, while two others chat with a tough-looking guy on an impressive street bike. He has sat immobile in that same exact spot for the entire parade. The parade had to divert its path to avoid him.
12:40 p.m. I sign my name and receive an envelope with a $100 bill.
12:00-12:30 p.m. I follow a petite black girl who walks with such swagger everyone flips open their camera phones to capture her strut. Behind me are two 40-something cougars with flaming red hair. We are a small part of a long, glorious line of 281 bikini-clad local women; our skin, tattoos and cellulite and every line and curve of our bodies are on full-daylight display. Some wear flip-flops, others stilettos, and all are more or less in bikini shape. We progress, single-file, from the Fashion Show mall, across the Strip, down past the Wynn, over the footbridge and back to the front of the mall. As you might imagine, every step of the way, people—mostly men—are lined up with their cameras, camera phones and video cameras. I feel self-conscious.
11:59 a.m. I run through the mall in a bikini, afraid I missed the parade, and arrive just in time to find a spot near the back — but not at the very end of the line. Who wants to be there?
11:55 a.m. I’m interviewing a male bystander about why he came out to the parade — duh — and he suggests I join the ranks. After all, they need more women to ensure that they break the Guinness Book of World record for the World’s Largest Bikini Parade (if you want to know when and where the former one was staged, Google it) and you get a free bikini and a hundred dollars. I already have as much information as I need about the frivolous event, so I say, "what the hell," tuck my notebook into my purse and join the chaos ensuing inside a mall bathroom, where women are frenetically changing, adjusting and primping as parade organizers shout at us to hurry up.
11:50 a.m. I begin talking to a male bystander who is obviously eavesdropping on the interview I’m conducting with three bikini-clad young women. Jimmy Oakenshaw, his alias, says he came out because he heard on Channel 8 that there was going to be a parade of 300 women in bikinis all the way down the Strip. He is mad that there are actually less than 300 women and the route only runs basically across the street and back. Oakenshaw is trying to maintain that he came out here because it “is a world record!” and not because of the hundreds of girls in bikinis. I'm so sure.
11:40 a.m. Dozens of women in colorful two-pieces are standing outside the Fashion Show, waiting, while dozens of spectators are standing around, waiting and looking at the women. I start talking to three slender girls to find out who they are and why they are here. One is “not yet a student, trying to decide what I want to do,” one is “a licensed aesthetician, going back to makeup school,” and one, a beautiful 20-year-old, is pre-med at UNLV and works at Betsey Johnson at the Fashion Show. The store stylist grabbed her from behind the counter and told her to go participate in the parade. Not a bad way to get paid. The other two are here because they have a lot of free time and frequently make good cash at posted-on-Craigslist gigs like this; after the parade they are heading to a bikini bike wash, a job they frequently do for fun and easy money. Amber Bugg, the Betsey Johnson salesgirl, explains, “It’s some of the best money you can get because most of the guys with bikes have money.” In retrospect: This explains why those young girls were hanging around the intimidating biker at 12:45. I ask Bugg if she thinks all this hullaballoo about parades and bikinis and world records is silly. Her response: “Nothing is silly when you live in Vegas!”
11:20-11:40 a.m. I’m riding on a bus with a bunch of bikini models. Despite having a police car escort, we are moving very slowly down the Strip from the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign down to the Fashion Show Mall. The girls are pretty, but not very engaging. They are too busy brushing Bobbi Brown powder on their faces, wiping off their tattoo makeup, text messaging and gossiping about Holly Madison (“She’s so pretty!” “She’s had a lot of work done” and in mocking imitation: “My life is so hard, we have parties every day and we have to go to Disneyland!”) Some are UNLV students, most got involved with the bikini fashion show through Impact modeling, and at least one went to my high school and dances at Bad Girls at the Hilton.
11:15 a.m. I interview a pale and pigtailed Holly Madison as she sits in a pink Cadillac next to two showgirls and an Elvis impersonator driver. The pink Cadillac will precede us on our journey down the Strip, transporting the models from the fashion show to the parade, in which they will also take part. I glean the following vital data:
Holly, after returning to L.A. this weekend to shoot Dancing with the Stars, will be back in Vegas next week—permanently. She is moving to Las Vegas, will live (temporarily) at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino and has two new projects in the works that she’s not allowed to talk about but says, “hopefully I’ll get to show everyone Vegas through my eyes.” She also plans on throwing lots of pool parties. I wonder if I'm invited. No she is not dating Russell Brand. She keeps her skin flawless (like “polished ivory” one R-J reporter rhapsodized) by using Proactiv and staying out of the sun (except for today). She hates shopping and just goes “in and out” at Just Cavalli at the Forum Shops at Caesars. She loves Las Vegas because, “It’s like a small town and a big city all at once! It’s so fun!”
10:30 a.m. Bikini models strut the makeshift runway in broad daylight in front of the Las Vegas Sign, showing off fashions from the fifties to today. From what I can tell, they all pretty much look the same. Except for the '50s, during which granny panty bottoms appear to have been the height of fashion, only the music changes s each decade takes the stage (“Holiday (Celebrate)” for the '80s, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” for the '90s).
There is Hawaiian floral, pink check and black-and-white polka dots for the '50s. Neon in the '60s. Hot pink, gold lame and tie-die in the '80s. Animal print and patterns in the '90s. Understated monochromatic black and brown for the new millennium. Straw bags, oversized shades, espadrilles and big Pretty Woman-style sunhats have apparently always been in fashion.
10:20 a.m. Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown explains that the LVCVA is throwing the “World’s Largest Pool Party” because, “Even in this economic downturn, people want and people need some downtime now and then. What better place to play than Las Vegas? We want to welcome the world to Las Vegas, Nevada!” Mayor Oscar Goodman, standing next to his showgirls and, as she is introduced, “Showgirl Next Door” Holly Madison, proclaims, “I love this job!”
10:00 a.m. Goodman, arm-in-arm with two showgirls in red feathers, takes the platform in front of the now 50-year-old Las Vegas Sign. He booms into the microphone, as media cameras click and film.
“Las Vegas is a special place to visit in the summertime, filled with beautiful swimming pools to suit everyone’s tastes, so we’re doing something distinctive. We’re the first city in the Western Hemisphere to declare summer — one month ahead of everybody else. Only in Vegas can it be celebrated with such splash. I hereby declare May 14th to be summer in paradise!”
Vegas is no Fiji, but an adult playground overrun with hundreds of hot chicks in tiny bits of polyester and spandex might just, as the commissioner hopes, provide a pleasant respite from the downturn for a sunny season.