It’s been three years, but I managed to get to Las Vegas for my birthday. It was a good trip overall, so here’s the stupid bulleted list trip report.
Flew in Thursday afternoon, out Monday afternoon, with the actual birthday being on Friday, so the timing was great. The trip was slightly front-loaded with activities and we spent the back half of the trip in “well, what now?” mode, but the pace was pretty decent.
This was a trip with a full crew. Bill shares the same birthday as me, and Marc’s often on these trips. We also had Lon, who I haven’t seen in a while, and my old roommate Andrew, who I think I last saw on one of these trips maybe ten years ago. And there was Todd, who I literally had not seen since he was on the 2002 birthday jaunt, when I stayed in the Elvis suite of the long-gone Stardust.
Because I’ve had to fly business select on so many last-second Southwest flights, this was a free trip, airfare-wise. The trip itself was flawless; very easy in and out. I brought no luggage, just a computer bag and a duffel.
No camera gear would fit in my duffel, except my Canon EOS M1, which is a bit garbage, and my iPhone took better pictures all trip.
We stayed at the Mirage. This may be the last time we stay at the Mirage, because it was recently purchased by Hard Rock and will probably be gutted and turned into something else soon. (Or not, given the economy.) I am not sure I’ve ever stayed there, although I’ve wandered through a lot. Rooms were decent, and the view of the strip was nice. The food and the casino were eh.
Went to Penn and Teller on Thursday. The show was decent. I think it was solid, but not outstanding. Some of the tricks were new, and this was one of the first shows of the year, so I think they’re still working stuff out. Great crowd, though.
Dinner at the Rio, a bit eh. We went to some diner and I got a thing of nachos about as big as a bus tub. The Rio is such a mixed bag and I’m a bit surprised it’s still rolling.
Birthday brunch at Bouchon was over the top. I had a chicken and waffles, and there were far too many pastries and breads. Amazing stuff, but I needed insulin after that one.
Got a Swedish massage at the Mirage spa for my birthday, and my shoulders hurt for days. But, like, in a good way.
For dinner we went to The Palm, which was also way over the top. Really loud in there on a Friday night. The food was great, and wagyu steak is always good.
I’ve always had really good luck gambling on my birthday. That streak continues, but for accounting purposes, I won’t say how well I did.
Had a good lunch the next day at the Grand Luxe in the Venetian. There are actually two of them, which is confusing. This was no Bouchon, but bacon was involved.
We went to Resorts World, which is the first time I’ve been to a brand new casino probably since the Wynn was built? Or maybe City Center, I guess. Anyway, it’s a weird looking place. It’s absolutely cavernous, and looks more like an airport than a casino. We went to some bar to get drinks and then a few minutes later, they told us football was starting and we had to pay fifty bucks each to keep sitting there, so nope.
Saw this show called OPM at the Cosmopolitan, which was really fun. It was themed like a futuristic starship’s variety show, and the interior was all cyberpunk/neon looking. There was an “android” hostess/MC who was funny, and then they had various acrobatic or musical things, all of which were impressive. The one I liked best was Billy and Emily England, who did a roller skating/acrobatic routine that was absolutely insane, especially in the close quarters of the very small stage.
Went to the Trop for a Sunday comedy show that had Mike Binder opening for Rich Hall. Binder was garbage. He started off with the “I’m old and I don’t understand pronouns” and went from there. Rich Hall was amazingly good. He played songs and did a ton of crowd work. Very quick, sharp, and it was hilarious to see him pivot a song on a dime to start singing about the concrete world trade show. I didn’t know what to expect from him since the last thing I knew him for was the Sniglets thing thirty years ago. Absolutely didn’t do that, and it was great. The Tropicana, not so much.
Weather was the coldest I’d ever seen. I think it was down to the mid-30s some nights, sitting in the mid/high-40s most days.
I walked an extreme amount every day, usually between 12 and 15 miles. That almost counterbalanced my meal schedule going completely sideways and eating like 100 Weight Watchers points per day.
The best part of this trip: I have not spent any time with guy friends in a long time, probably since three years ago. And the last time I was with a group this size was maybe 10? 15? years ago. I really needed this trip, and being able to just bullshit for hours with other tech geeks was absolutely awesome.
Good birthday. Good trip. I need to do this more than once a year, though.
Got back from Las Vegas last night, so I’m still digging through things and looking at photos and trying to get reset for work on Monday. Oh, and trying not to catch the death plague everyone’s worried about. (I actually wash my hands, so I’m not as worried about it. But now that I’ve said that, I’m probably the first person you’ll know to die of it.)
Anyway, here’s the trip rundown:
Flew in Sunday night, out Friday night, so it feels like it was a slightly shorter trip than usual.
Stayed at Vdara, which is a new one for me. It’s part of City Center, just north of Aria, sort of just below Bellagio, but not on the strip. Vdara is all suites, and has no casino. The rooms have a nice view, but it does take a minute to get to the strip, and there’s no food, other than a small snack shop place, or room service. I had a smaller suite, with a token kitchen (tiny fridge, two-burner stove, no oven, no dishwasher) that came with no dishes. Bill had an upgrade, which had full-size appliances and a washer/dryer, which was a first.
There are room service robots. You can order a soda or some sundries, and they load it up into this oversized Roomba thing which then drives to your room, rings the doorbell, and unlocks the top so you can get your stuff. It sounds pretty neat, but I didn’t want to pay $20 for a Coke and a Snickers bar.
Bill and Marc also came in on Sunday, and left Tuesday afternoon. I spent the rest of the trip by myself.
The first night, we went to the first place that was close by that I could pull up a reservation on OpenTable with no notice: the Strip House at Planet Hollywood, a New York steakhouse. It was decent, although the salt and pepper char threw me a bit. I didn’t pay much attention, but the decor had various old cheesecake photos or something on the walls.
Went downtown to the Fremont Street experience and wandered a bit. We went to the Fremont and Marc and I played some blackjack for a few minutes. I was slightly ahead, then went to make a dumb sports bet, and put $20 on the Rockies winning the World Series, which would pay out $1600, although of course that won’t happen.
Ate that night at Roy Choi’s Best Friend Korean BBQ restaurant at the Park MGM. Choi is the proprietor of the Kogi taco truck in LA, and this place is sort of a LA/hipster/Korean/Mexican joint. Decor is weird, looking like a liquor store in Koreatown, with the waitstaff all wearing track suits. Food was great – we all just did fixed menu and an endless array of different stuff came out, all excellent.
We had lunch at The Peppermill, which is always okay.
Brought Bill to the Boulevard Mall, the weirdo all-dead-anchors old mall, which now has a Goodwill as an anchor. Did a quick lap there, and it looked about the same as last year, except the Sears is now fully dead and stripped of logos. They’re supposedly stripping that out to open some little open-air mall next to the existing one.
Spent an afternoon taking a long walk through all the malls on the strip, then ate at Cabo Wabo for no other reason than gaming OpenTable of points. (Well, I like the nachos too, I guess.)
Drove out to Rachel, NV to see the Little A’le’Inn and extraterrestrial highway and all that. Stuck a Konrath sticker on the flying saucer in front of the Inn. Drove around “downtown” Rachel, which is more like 50 people living in trailers in the desert. Lots of old cars and broken-down stuff. Also found the black mailbox and got a Konrath sticker on that. And stopped at the Alien research center to buy books. They had Andrea’s dad’s book there, which was awesome.
Went to Meadows Mall, which is doing okay. Their Sears is also dead, but a Round One took over one floor of it. They have this new store called Curacao’s, which is interesting. It looks like a nicer Best Buy, but with a big toy department, furniture, jewelry, and cosmetics. Honestly, it looks like an alternate timeline where Wards somehow survived and actually updated their stores.
Went to UNLV because they have a copy of Dealer Wins in a special collection of Vegas gaming history books. I don’t know why I wanted to see a copy of my own book, especially since I have a half-dozen here, but it was neat. They have a very modern library, but it still reminds me of IU for some reason, which makes me horribly nostalgic, and everyone there looks like they are about twelve, so very strong “you can never go back” vibes, and I had to get the hell out of there.
There was really nothing to do that week as far as shows or comedians or anything. Although I know nothing about hockey, I probably should have gone to the hockey game, because for whatever reason, people are nuts there for the new hockey team.
Went to The Writer’s Block, which is a great little book store downtown. Bought a couple of books, and if you’re there, you should too, because we need more of this sort of thing.
Weather was about perfect for the trip. A little cold at night, maybe the sixties but going into the seventies in the day. Ideal walking weather, clear skies, a lot of sunshine, but no triple-digit weather.
The old Harley BBQ restaurant is now the most ghetto weed store imaginable.
They are putting a Target on the strip.
They renamed the Monte Carlo to the Park MGM. There is still an MGM Grand, so this is confusing.
The Sahara, which was the SLS last year, is now the Sahara again.
It was slightly quiet with the COVID scare, but not as bad as when I visited in October 2001.
Fuck resort fees. And fuck parking fees. And Vdara doesn’t even have a self-park garage. You either pay $30 a day to valet, or you pay $18 to self-park at the Aria, although the lot is on the far side of the Aria, so it’s a major hike.
I’m back from a week in Vegas. My allergies have gone full tilt since I returned yesterday afternoon, and I really should rail about ten Benadryl tablets and go to bed for another week, but I should probably write a dumb bulleted list of everything before I forget it.
As I mentioned in my last post, this trip was extremely unplanned and I did little research, except to book hotel/plane/car, and plan on writing all week.
I did not write all week. I probably got less writing done than if I stayed home.
I stayed at the Candlewood Suites, which is about a mile east of the strip, at Paradise and Flamingo. This is an odd location, because it’s an okay walk to the central strip, but there’s a lot of nothing between the two. It’s also about a quarter-mile north of the Hard Rock. There’s nothing north of there, unless you want to see the back of the Wynn golf course. You really don’t want to walk east of Paradise.
The hotel itself was nice, fairly updated, had a kitchenette and a nice desk and all that. But the toilet ran constantly, did this weak little half-flush every 174 seconds that eventually drove me nuts. The big plusses were no resort fee, no charge for parking, decent wifi, and no casino. Also, I could make oatmeal every day for breakfast, instead of going to a resort diner and eating 1700 calories of pancakes for $47.
Every single thing in Las Vegas is now a weed store. Everything. Okay, maybe not really, but the ads are everywhere. I can’t find an exact number, but I think Vegas has twice as many dispensaries as Oakland. And everyone sells CBD oil, every gift shop and gas station that has knock-off Chinese Vegas shirts for three for ten bucks. Every billboard is for weed or Jesus. Every taxi cab is fully wrapped in weed ads. It’s sort of bizarre how the gold rush has struck there.
I walked an insane amount on this trip, something like 40 or 50 miles. Way over 10,000 steps a day. There was a day of 25,000, which is about a half-marathon. Had a minor foot injury one day – ingrown toenail cut into the next toe, sock full of blood, etc. But I got it patched up and had no issues after that.
Tons of food. I found out quickly that the best way to handle things was OpenTable reservations, especially since you can now convert their points to Amazon cards. So even if I just wanted a seat at a bar at 11 in the morning, I’d make a reservation. Places of note: the Hofbrauhaus place on Paradise and Harmon (hard to go wrong with Bavarian sausages and waitresses in dirndls; Gordon Ramsay’s pub in Caesar’s (scotch eggs are so good, Waygu steak is also top-notch); and Wolfgang Puck’s bar in MGM. Ate way too much on this trip, and gained three or four pounds, which isn’t good, but the food was worth it.
Went to the Neon Boneyard, an outdoor collection of retired neon signs from casinos and hotels. Great stuff, although once you walk the loop and take your pictures, that’s like fifteen minutes total. Really weird to see signs for casinos which I used to go to all the time.
Walked around downtown on Fremont on a Monday afternoon, which was depressing as hell. You really need to go at night when it’s lit up. During the day, it’s all old people who don’t want to deal with that liberal bullshit down on the strip, and homeless buskers. It’s a great place to watch old women on mobility scooters with oxygen tanks chain-smoke. I went to the giant White Castle there out of a fit of nostalgia, and quickly remembered why I hadn’t eaten White Castle in thirty years.
Went to I think every mall in the area. The casino malls were no-brainers; you cut through them to use the air conditioning and avoid the pile-ups on the strip. The mall at Caesar’s is the highest-grossing mall in the country, and every few years, they say “fuck it, we need more” and basically Control-C Control-V the whole mall and double it in size. It’s about an expansion away from lapping Mall of America for size. It probably makes three times as much per square foot already.
Meadows Mall, just a bit north of Vegas, and Galleria at Sunset, down in Henderson, were both well-managed, orderly, large malls that had few vacancies, lots of national brands, and very little soul. Galleria has the biggest JC Penney I’ve ever seen.
And then there’s the Boulevard Mall. Holy shit, was this bizarre. So it’s a million and a quarter square foot mall, four anchors, all dead. The interior has this crazy early sixties art deco look to it, but they’ve gone sideways on filling the mall. For example, the first floor of Dillard’s became a Goodwill store. The upstairs is now a telemarketing call center. A Circuit City became an Asian grocery store. A JC Penney got carved up into an indoor go-kart track and a laser tag arena. A bunch of stores became an aquarium. The top floors of a Macy’s is now office space for Anthem Blue Cross. A bunch of the stores in the mall are various local Filipino-related businesses. There’s an imitation Cinnabon. There’s a store that only sells Mexican potato chips. They were blasting slow jazz at excruciating volume through the concourses. There were 19 different kiosks selling CBD oil. The whole thing was just sensory overload, so confusing.
I didn’t go in, but the Liberace museum – the original one – is now an escape room. The new museum is now a Mexican catering hall.
This was the first* time I’d visited Vegas in the spring — I usually visit in either January or during the summer. So it while it would be hot in the late afternoon, it was actually cool in the morning, and would require a jacket. It only got unreasonably hot one or two days. It also rained on Tuesday, a crazy desert rainstorm where it dumped an insane amount of rain quickly, and suddenly nobody knew how to drive.
(* I actually just realized I was in Las Vegas overnight almost exactly twenty years ago, when I moved east. That was my first real visit, outside of an airport layover. But I don’t think I was even outside. I pulled into the Luxor, ate at the food court, fell asleep, and then left the next morning.)
I went to the SLS casino, which used to be the Sahara, and saw Eddie Griffin. That was a weird one, and I went on a lark, because no other comedians were there all week. It was maybe a 200-seater, and I had tickets about a row of tables back from stage. He’s working on a new hour for Netflix, taping this June. It was a bit sloppy. Maybe he drank too much, maybe he didn’t care about a Wednesday night show, but he did a little over two hours, and I think he’s about halfway to getting that hour done. There was some good stuff, but very uneven. (What’s even funnier is reading the Yelp reviews of uptight white midwesterners who were offended by his show.)
Saw Blue Man Group at their new spot at the Luxor. I think this was the seventh time I’d seen them — three in NY at the original Astor Theater, and three in Vegas. I know it’s corny and not cool and whatever, but I like going, like the drumming, and like the sound and music. I don’t like how many people try to video the thing, even though they tell you not to video the thing, but everyone’s the center of the universe these days.
Drove out to Valley of Fire, but this was the hottest day of the week, and with the heat and the altitude, I was pretty much done after about 30 minutes of walking and climbing around. Also, people climbing all over that famous red stone arch and taking selfies, even though there are a thousand DO NOT CLIMB signs all over it.
Went to the Pawn Stars pawn shop. Of course, none of the people from the show were there. They have opened a little plaza next to it, built from steel containers, filled with various little shops. Chumlee has a candy store, which is a tiny little room with some pick-a-mix bins and about as much candy as a typical Kroger grocery. I guess he works there sometimes, though. There’s also a CBD oil store, of course.
I should be don’t-ask-don’t-tell on gambling. I didn’t do much of it, did okay, let’s leave it at that.
Overall, a good trip, although I wish I would have done more writing. Also dreading a week of emails tomorrow morning, but not much I can do about that.
I have this horrible urge to switch this site from WordPress to a static site generator. I’m most familiar with Jekyll, but I also know it would be slow as hell on a site with 1200 long posts. Maybe Hugo. Maybe this is a stupid idea, because it would involve typing metadata by hand and screwing up tags in every post. But it means I could use a regular text editor instead of this piece of garbage in WP. And I could work offline. And I wouldn’t have to worry about break-ins constantly, because WordPress is basically a virus injection device that happens to have a blog engine in it.
I have to take a week off next month. I spent a lot of time researching places to go so I didn’t end up sitting around the house like I did when this happened in November, but I just narrowly missed the window on deals, and airfare is stupid expensive right now. I had about a dozen potentials that I was running the numbers on, and either because of price, distance, weather, or comfort, they all fell out, and I ended up booking another Vegas trip.
I haven’t thought much about it or planned anything yet, but I mostly want to be able to write, take pictures of ruin, and have a car so I could drive out to surrounding areas easily. I also wanted a kitchen. And this seems counterintuitive, but I hate daily maid service. I spend all morning waiting and wondering when my work is going to be interrupted by housekeeping. So I booked an extended stay hotel, similar to the one I had over Christmas. It’s about a mile east of the strip, has a kitchenette, and no daily housekeeping. No casino, no spa, no magic show, no attractions, but also no resort fee, and free parking. That’s as far as I’ve gotten with the trip planning.
I did spend too long shopping for a new laptop bag, because the one I got for free at a 2009 Microsoft trade show has finally fallen apart. After much hemming and hawing, I got this one and it seems good.
The GNC at Concord Mall closed. And it wasn’t part of GNC corporate shuttering stores because they’re going bankrupt or whatever; it’s because they are moving the store a mile or two south, into the strip mall next to Wal-Mart. I found this sad for weird nostalgic reasons, because I had a girlfriend in the summer between high school and college who was a manager there, and I was working at Wards that summer and when we both closed, I’d go over there to meet her and we’d drive around the Michiana desolation all night, looking for 24-hour diners or places to park. That was a big backdrop to a book I’ll never write about that summer. And that was thirty years ago this year. Ugh.
I went to Hilltop Mall in Richmond and they are starting renovation (or not) and have half the stores in the mall covered in plywood and sealed off. It’s really eerie – check my Instagram for a better look. This mall is sort of trapped in time, with a lot of Seventies look to it, lots of brown tile and brick. That will all be gutted and it will be turned all white and generic like an Apple store. I don’t have deep nostalgic feelings for this mall, but I do have a weird connection, and it will be sad when it’s blanded up.
I think my weird deja vu connection to this mall is that it partially reminds me of the old Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, the double-decker design with the open top deck, and the general decor. I used to go to Scottsdale every other Friday morning when I got my paycheck at IUSB, and I have a lot of strong memories of wandering the halls when it was completely dead in there during the day, and Hilltop has a similar vibe. (Scottsdale is long gone, demalled in the early 00s. Very little about it online, too. I already know about the deadmalls post and the South Bend Tribune slideshow.)
I am getting really sick of the whole dead mall thing. Part of it is the inevitability of change that I have to disregard when I pine for the old days of malls. Part of it is that almost everyone in social media groups about malls are absolutely insufferable. Part of it is that many of them hold this MAGA-like belief that we need to go back to an old time that didn’t really exist. It’s all just depressing to me, and I need to get past it, but I can’t.
So yeah, I’m going off to take a bunch of pictures of dead malls in Vegas. And I will walk all of the non-dead malls underneath the casinos. I think if you walked the perimeter of every floor of every Simon mall in Las Vegas, you’d essentially walk an entire marathon, except it would be air conditioned to 61 degrees and full of people drinking yard-long frozen margaritas.
I’m also stuck on the idea of buying a new camera before I leave, and I need to shut that shit down and burn through the large cache of film I haven’t been shooting all year.
I planned on blogging more from KonCon in Las Vegas last week, but I didn’t, because I am lazy. I probably should write a synopsis of the trip, but the TL;DR is that it was way too fucking hot – usually at or above 110 each day, and even hours after the sun set, it was still above 100. So that’s why it’s so cheap to go in July.
Someone asked me for some advice on Vegas while I was gone. I have not spent much time there in years, and everything I mentioned in my book about Vegas is largely gone. But my response to this question in an email is an interesting companion to the trip itself and my thoughts during it, so I’ll just leave this here for your amusement.
I waste a lot of time on this site when I am planning: http://www.lvrevealed.com/deathwatch/ – their casino reviews are decent, but I am sort of obsessed with who is rumored to get imploded in the near future.
If you look at a map of the strip, most of the mid-strip properties are what I’d consider first tier (Bellagio, Paris, Harrah’s, Caesars, etc), and the Wynn is north strip, but I’d group it in with those mid-strip properties. Same with Aria/City Center, which is technically south strip. It’s the newest; I’ve never stayed there, but from eating/shopping there, it’s pretty high end.
The south strip was the big deal maybe 10-15 years ago, and that stuff is now dated, but can be tolerable to stay there. It can be cheap, and the location is decent. So Mandalay Bay, MGM, NYNY, Luxor, Excalibur in that order. (Most of those are owned/run by the same monopoly, so they’re similar.) Tropicana got bought by Hilton and redone, so the rooms are nice, but there’s not a lot in there.An example: the Luxor is not that trendy of a property – I think it was so-so when I stayed there in like 99, and now it’s really lost its focus. It used to be Egyptian-themed, and they decided that maybe flyover rednecks aren’t into that, so they started de-theming it and ripping out the king tut stuff, but it’s still got these random stone pyramid walls in places. But, the rooms are now ridiculously cheap, and it’s a really good location, and connected to the big mall by Mandalay Bay. So if you don’t plan on spending a lot of time in your room, it could be an option.
Everything north strip is shit. Everything downtown is total shit. Everything that’s not on the strip is mostly shit, unless you stumble on some deal to stay in a timeshare at Trump or something weird like that.
Absolutely do not stay at Hooters like I did. I won’t go into the horror stories, but I’ve stayed at hotels in rural Mexico that were much nicer.
I used to never rent a car and cab it from the airport and around town. But the last few times, I’ve found an okay deal on a rental car bundled with the hotel (I think I used Expedia this time) and if you drive at least once a day, it’s usually a better deal. You can generally park at any hotel for free, or valet for almost nothing.
If you are driving, don’t actually drive on the strip to get north/south. Either go west to I-15, or go east to Paradise, Maryland, or Eastern.
Think of whatever amount of water a person would drink in a day that would be entirely excessive, and double that.
You can drive off the strip and buy a case of water for four bucks or whatever, or you can buy two bottles of water at a hotel for seven bucks. The problem is almost none of the hotels have a fridge. You can buy a crappy foam cooler at the grocery store and then commit to filling it with ice every other hour, but that’s a huge pain in the ass.
Opentable is a good way to get reservations for dinner. There’s a surprisingly large number of high-end restaurants with decent food.
Every buffet is a ripoff. Wynn is almost tolerable, if you pace yourself and don’t eat all day and go in with the plan of fucking them by eating five pounds of lobster. But I made the mistake of going to the MGM buffet, and paid $35 for about $10 of Sizzler-grade food.
If you’re into steak, Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak at the MGM has a fairly insane three-course beef selection that is not cheap but is awesome. Or in the opposite direction, there’s the Golden Steer, which looks a little dodgy because it’s ancient and has never been remodeled, but it’s cool because it’s ancient and has never been remodeled – it’s one of those old-school places where the brat pack used to hang out.
Everyone associates the Grand Canyon with Vegas, but really it’s like a 4-5 hour drive each way, and easy to kill an entire day to spend a few minutes there.
If you are actually interested in going to Area 51/Rachel I could fill up another post with details on that.
If you are there and hit the wall and need to bug out and go somewhere quiet to get work done or whatever, go to UNLV. You can hide in their library and use wifi without any hassle.
There’s a huge Fry’s Electronics south of the strip, at a big outdoor mall right before 215. There’s a Target at Flamingo and Maryland. There’s a few Vons grocery stores (Safeway-owned, I think) on Tropicana and Flamingo.
Pinball Hall of Fame on Tropicana is worth checking out. The atomic testing museum on Flamingo is neat, but their Area 51 exhibit is pretty cheesy.
If you want to tour the neon graveyard, book it early. They have limited tours and they always fill up.
I got in the cab after no line at all in front of McCarran airport, a first, even when I came out to Vegas a few weeks after 9/11, when people in rural Arkansas thought the Taliban would probably fly an Airbus into their grain silo Any Day Now. The roller bag and new camera backpack went in the back of the minivan, and we headed off to the Planet Ho.
“Long flight?” the cabbie asked me. He was one of those guys that was all belly and no neck, probably transplanted out to Nevada to avoid an alimony lawsuit.
“No, a couple hours, but they really cram you in there.”
“What you need is a good rub and tug,” he said. “I know just the place.”
Ah, Las Vegas. A city of subtleties. How can I go a whole year in the land of fruits and nuts without time in a city where the number one occupation is handing out flyers for prostitutes?
So I turned 40. I spent the morning fucking around with a radio-controlled helicopter whose battery would not hold a charge, then went to Denny’s for the annual cholesterol boost, got an allergy shot (not at Denny’s), and drove out to the former Oakland Naval Air Station, now known for cheap Southwest flights to all sorts of mid-sized towns across the country (provided you weigh less than Kevin Smith.) Not a single TSA problem happened to me, although I did see them putting a beat-down on a tourist who did not understand the complexities of “liquids in a ziplock bag, you motherfucker”. (I realize it is difficult for some people to remember if shampoo is a liquid, solid, or gas. Certainly a valid reason for every single media outlet in the United States to spend roughly twenty trillion dollars of TV time lamenting over those jackboot thugs that won’t let you bring a machete in your carry-on luggage anymore.) Did you know Amelia Earhart’s first attempt at her final flight took off from Oakland airport? Also, did you know that Purdue paid for that plane? And did you know her plane was taken by aliens and will re-appear in the middle of the shitty remake of Close Encounters that will probably come out in the next few years? Actually, I don’t know that they’re remaking it, but they’re remaking everything else, so expect Will Smith to be building a giant Devil’s Tower in his living room any time now.
I used to know a bit about Vegas. It was my default vacation, and I even wrote a book about it. But since I published that thing in 2004, damn near every thing I mentioned there has been imploded and replaced by a chrome and glass tower. A big chunk of the strip used to be crappy t-shirt shops and places you could rent a high-test sports car from an Armenian illegal for cash on the barrelhead; now the whole stretch looks like some kind of futuristic spaceport in a Tom Cruise summer blockbuster. Back in the day, I used to write these trip reports, bulleted lists of all the neato things I paid money to see. Now I’m not into reports as much; I prefer manifestos, scathing diatribes on the cold burn of a multinational real estate project for the rich masquerading as an entertainment option by selling a $16 cocktail, especially the ones that won’t let me post a million to one bet on an earthquake or tsunami during the upcoming superbowl. Fuck all of them and their stupid corporate house rules – I want some real action, the kind I need to drive to some beaten whore casino and hardware store in the middle of the desert, the kind of place that sells dollar hot dogs and not at a loss, because the meat is from Costco.
I got to the Planet Ho (aka the Planet Hollywood, which used to be the Aladdin, which went under a rename after they realized a giant arab with a sword between his teeth isn’t the best mascot for a casino when you need to pull in red-staters to make the nut) and Bill already checked in a dozen hours earlier, the victim of a horrible plane schedule that only left a crack-of-dawn flight or a near-redeye his only options for the long haul out from Indiana. I usually bunk with him on these trips, partly to save us both money, and partly because when I stay by myself, I tend to do things like drink Singapore Slings with mezcal on the side until I black out and kick in a toilet in the middle of the night. (You didn’t read the book, did you?) We both turned 40 at the same time, or rather him about an hour before me, which is probably why he’s a foot taller than me.
Everyone asks me what the hell I do on these trips, and the simple answer is that instead of gambling, soliciting the service of whores, or drinking my body weight in grain alcohol, I usually eat. And now that I have lost a ton of weight and spend all day and night obsessing over the stupid Weight Watchers online app, my only desire in a place like Vegas is to run train on thousands of calories of Oprah-sized portions of grub. And there’s no shortage of it; every ten yards is yet another opportunity to get large vats of deep-fried everything to go with your huge tub of whatever drink you’re downing. The best way to raise house advantage in any game of chance is by diabetic coma. Ask anyone waddling down the strip, and they’ll tell you all about their fifth or sixth meal that day.
We did other stuff, too. Marc came into town from Seattle a bit later that night, carrying a deck of loyalty cards, with complex arbitrage plans that I think involved somehow getting rated at casino play from dental work paid for at high altitude with a Costco Amex card and then refinanced through a platinum MasterCard and turned into airline miles then exchanged for mortgage-backed securities. (I may have missed part of that procedure. I barely manage to remember to use my Safeway Club Card four out of ten times.) Tom also arrived much later from Chicago. I ate an entire fish and chips at one Irish pub, swapping out the chips for beer-battered onion rings, and then we ended up at another Irish pub, where I ate a dozen different appetizers while Bill and Tom found a little game where if you drank a pint of beer in under seven seconds, you got the drink for free. Now, I’ve seen Bill drink an entire yard of Guinness in under seven seconds after eating a five-gallon bucket full of shepherd’s pie, so it was no surprise they could easily do the limit of two beers each, each day we were in town.
Andrew got into town the next day. We split a townhouse out at Colonial Crest back in 93-94, but I hadn’t seen him since. Within twelve hours, we had him on a mechanical bull in an imitation rock bar, while Bill entered some kind of redneck regression and started drinking Bud Lite. But before that, there was a many-hundred dollar brunch where I ate a progression of Kobe beef sliders and wedge salad, and I took a bunch of pictures of lions at the MGM, which is pretty boring, but it beats losing $300 at blackjack in fifteen minutes flat, which is what Bill managed to do.
That night, we all went to La Reve, which is hard to explain except it’s one of those freaky acrobat musical numbers, where people are contorting in weird ways and flying through the air on wires. This particular one, up at the Wynn, involved a huge theater in the round, with the stage actually consisting of a deep swimming pool and a series of raising and lowering rings and platforms. There was once a time when I worked at heights, hanging stage lights from catwalks dozens of feet in the air, taking long naps behind followspots while waiting for my cue to launch a few thousand watts and lumens at a performer. Now, I sit through shows like this wondering what they used to generate snow these days, and how they always hit their marks on these flips and dives and swoops and twists, especially when we could never get three rehearsals and two performances of a school musical run without some idiot tripping on a cable and knocking over ten thousand 1980s dollars of lights.
Of course there was a Mexican dinner before the show, and another dinner after, along with another round of “let’s drink all of the beers at this pub for free”, of which I did not participate, but it’s always fun to watch the disbelief involved.
On Saturday, we all went to the main event, calorie-wise: a giant dinner at Craftsteak. I did this once before, but this time we got to meet up with Jeremy, who I also hadn’t seen for decades, since the UCS days of telling people that you spelled ezmail with a z, and god damn it, stop trying to telnet to easymail. They sat us all down at a giant round table and brought out seven courses of Kobe steak, plus seven appetizers, and then finished it with nine different desserts. Each of the 23 things I put on my plate (plus rolls) was easily a day’s worth of WW points. Oh, and a diet Coke.
A last-second addition: we got tickets to Drew Carey’s improv thing, which was the cast of Who’s Line Is It Anyway, doing all of the usual improv exercises. Our seats were pretty far back, plus they were taping the thing for TV, which involved these long camera booms randomly swooping across the line of sight, but it was a good comedy geek moment to see the now-obviously-does-not-eat-at-Craftsteak Carey leading the rest of the group.
I didn’t gamble much. I blew about a hundred bucks on a Casino War table in the Pleasure Pit, which is Planet Ho’s evil little trick which involves distracting gamblers with 300cc bags of saline or silicone strategically placed at eye level. Very bad odds, very stingy on the drinks. That was the worst hundred dollar glass of ice and diet Coke you could possibly find, but at least I didn’t do as much damage as my colleagues.
Cap it all off with a run at the breakfast buffet: giant vats of bacon, pancakes, french toast, waffles, and 197 different desserts. I got back on the plane as fast as I arrived, and bailed out the Toyota on a sunny Oakland Sunday afternoon that required no jacket. We did not steal any of Mike Tyson’s tigers, and nobody got tazered, but it was still a pretty okay weekend. And by some god damned miracle, I ended up down a half pound at this week’s weigh-in. A birthday miracle!
Okay, I have been back a week, but it has been a crazy week. First off, here are the pictures from Vegas:
These are the first pictures with my new DSLR. I took roughly 500 shots over the trip, but I still have no idea what I’m doing, so this is the best 20% of that. I do love taking pictures with the new camera, but there is a certain amount of overhead, mostly in the amount of stuff I have to haul around. I’m convinced there is a better bag than Canon’s stock one, though. And also, I could use a better lens, maybe something with a bit more length and speed. There were a few shots where I simply didn’t have the right lens, and couldn’t get it to work. It’s also possible that I had to set any of the 17,583 settings on the camera differently.
And yes, I am switching back to flickr. I think. My frustrations with online photo hosting is the topic of another post.
Anyway, the trip to Vegas was good, but short. We stayed at the Flamingo, saw Kathleen Madigan at the South Point casino, hung out at the Venetian quite a bit, and hit a bunch of touristy stuff (pinball hall of fame, atomic testing museum, the reef aquarium at Mandalay Bay.) I also saw quite a bit of the ‘new’ strip, which I have mixed feelings about. The new City Center is pretty phenomenal, even though it looks a lot more like an airport in a European country than a casino. I’m not saying the stylings of the old Boardwalk were much better, but I do miss our old cheapo place to stay on the strip.
Anyway, good trip. It was, of course, too short, and I feel like I didn’t spend enough money or gamble enough, but I guess those are both good…
Hello from Las Vegas. I am writing from the 19th floor of the Stratosphere, which has aged about 28 years since I was last here in 2002. At a much too early hour this morning, I loaded up my little Toyota with six giant bags of mostly laundry and two bags of laptops and headed west. The plan is to get to LA tomorrow and bust my ass to find us a nice apartment. Sarah will be arriving on Friday, and we will hopefully sign whatever has to be signed, then leave behind my car (and the junk inside) at a friend of Sarah’s, then fly back to Colorado to finish off everything going on there.
Today’s drive took just about thirteen hours. The Yaris wasn’t bad. It was exceptional on gas mileage; the thousand-odd miles took less than three tanks. I started full, filled up twice, and I am at 3/4. The tiny engine and jumpy automatic transmission were not that great crossing the rockies. No problems, but with the right lane being semis with their blinkers on going about 12 mph, and fucknuts in suburbans and jacked-up hummers in the left lane trying to go like 117, the winding, twisting two-lane roads filled with heavy up-grades and down-grades got a little nerve-wracking. It was beautiful, with the snow and mountains and all that, but it would have been better if I was the only one out on the road.
Then I got to Utah. I knew I was in Utah when I stopped for gas and some chick came up to me and was all too friendly and started asking me where I was headed and where I was from and how I was doing. And that’s when I realized I was in mormon country. And that’s when I remembered that Mitt Romney was a mormon, and his ideal country if he ended up becoming president (and if Bush could win in 2004 with like a -37% approval rating, who knows about this guy) would be everyone getting in everyone’s shit like this constantly. And then I remembered if you spend a half a million dollars on real estate in the Bahamas, you are automatically a citizen. But I was overthinking all of this.
And speaking of having way too much to think about, when did the entire state of Utah close for business? From the time I left CO to the time I reached I-15, I saw about as much commerce as you’d expect to see in Hiroshima in mid-August of 1945. This place made Goshen Indiana look like one of those CGI cities in those Star Wars prequels where there are 17894 levels deep of rocket pods on platforms on cities on floating cities. The only thing there was white snow on either side of me, like twin tanning mirrors, burning out my retinas. I have some prescription sunglasses, and thank the baby jesus for those, or I would be configuring this computer to read me my web pages from now on.
The only thing that kept me relatively sane was the iPod. I loaded up every comedy and spoken word album I could possibly find, and kept going on that. I wish I had more podcasts, because I have no idea how I will continue to drive another five hours tomorrow.
So I am in Vegas, although I do not plan on going out tonight, and I will check out and leave early tomorrow morning, so I can get to LA to make an appointment. It is weird to be here so soon after having just been here, although I was here for such a short time last time, that a week here would not seem so horrible. But Monday nights are always a very beat time to be here, and Monday nights at the Stratosphere are particularly horrible. Yes, I could drive somewhere else, but I’m sitting here in bed and it still feels like I’m in a microcompact car with 12-inch tires going 80 on a badly paved Utah highway, so I don’t think that losing $300 at a blackjack table at Caesar’s is going to do much for me.
It is weird to have my car – the car I actually own, as opposed to a rental – here in Vegas. I think that’s a first for me. It’s also odd to think that this car will not be going back to Colorado. I mean, it was odd enough thinking last night that I would be getting on a plane for Vegas; I kept rethinking my packing strategy, like “can I get this in my carry-on?” before remembering that I would just throw it all in the hatchback and hit the gas. But it’s unusual to think that this car, which since its arrival from the Japanese motherland, had never been more than 25 miles from its home dealership in Aurora. Maybe it will be back, but I’m guessing that if we were ever forced to drive cross-country again, it would be in the Subaru. (And if I was ever forced to drive cross-country, I would hope one of you would take the tiny toy tire iron on top of the spare of my car and beat me in the head until I remembered that flying is almost always a better deal, unless you’re moving a car, or maybe trafficking drugs.)
I think that’s about it. It’s a dump here, but I think it was $39. There is a Coke machine on this floor that has a thing where I can tap my Amex card and it sells me a Coke. And this technology is there because a Coke costs $2.50. But I’d rather pay $2.50 on an Amex for a Coke than spend 47 precious minutes of my life trying to get the fucking thing to read a completely pristine dollar bill. Anyway, I need to go to bed. This probably won’t get posted until tomorrow, since I have no wireless here, but I’ll pretend it’s going out there now, and say something like “next time I see you, I will be in LA.”
So I went to Vegas for my birthday this year. (I have pictures, but most of them are stupid, and I have been apathetic about posting pictures. I’m vaguely thinking about writing a Rails app to handle my photos, but I’m sure the migration path will be a nightmare.) I went to Sarah’s family reunion last year, on Superbowl weekend, but didn’t hit the usual 1/20 weekend. This year, we switched off, and I went solo for the birthdays, and she’s in Vegas with her family now.
Bill Perry (the other birthday boy) initially got us a room at Bally’s, which was a new spot for me. The rest of the cast of characters was new to this celebration, and also people I hadn’t seen in a long time. First, there was the team of Marc VH and Tom, both old pals from the days of the sparcstation cluster in the basement of Lindley Hall. Bill recruited Marc to Seattle right before he got me there in ’95, so I saw a lot of him at Spry (his office was next to mine for a while), and because he and Bill went on to the same company, we all ran in the same circles. Tom was an AI in the CS department, and finished a PhD there. He also just finished a law degree and passed the bar in Illinois. He used to work for Lucent in every odd place in the world, and last time I saw him was before he went on a long stint in Saudi Arabia. Now he lives in Chicago and does patent stuff for a huge law firm there.
Marc is always interesting to talk to, because he is one of the most dark, sarcastic, and cynical people ever, and couple that with his intelligence, and you have a lot of strange conversation. And Tom’s great to talk to, because he’s the sort of investigative person who will ask many questions to hear about your experience or opinion. And he’s got the uncanny ability of being able to go back to a forgotten but unfinished conversation from earlier on. It’s like he’s one of those stack-based computers, where things get cleared and the next-oldest thing comes back up for action.
And the kicker is that my old pal and housemate Simms showed up, too! Simms met a lady out in LV and has gone head over heels, so he made his second trip of that month to see her. But he also hung with us, and it’s always interesting to add a new thing to the mix. Like, it’s weird that Bill and Simms just met, but they probably live less than a mile from each other in Bloomington.
So yeah, the trip. Sarah was in LA for a couple of days, and she got back on Friday morning, but I had all of my gear packed in the car and had to fly out Friday afternoon, so we just crossed paths, sort of. I parked in the underground garage, even though it costs like $30 a day, because I have this unnatural fear of parking in the $6 lot that’s about 80 miles away, and having a freak snowstorm bury my car, so I would have to dig it out with my shoe, or maybe a copy of The Onion from the airport concourse. My foot was also bothering me again (rapid climate change) and I didn’t want to walk two hours to get to the gate.
My plane was late. I talked to a music schoolteacher who was flying to play golf. I, up to this point, was on a crazy “stop fucking around” diet since 1/1, and had gone off of caffeine, sugar, fried things, and much more. But I was tired as hell, so that all went out the window. I had a crazy russian cab driver (aren’t they all?) at LAS who started talking to me about subprime mortgages and how he was flipping properties, but now it’s all fucked. (We had a lot of weird cab drivers that weekend. One was this Large Marge type who kept bitching about how everything from new condos to global warming was specifically designed to fuck over cabbies. I.e. “these fuckers at CES don’t even want to go to the strip clubs anymore!” We also had this guy going to the airport who was a dried-out punk rock oldster who told this insanely long story about how he lived in the mountains, and the city fucked up the zoning drawings and he had to hire one of those diviner guys to find his septic tank.)
Bally’s isn’t bad. It’s a place to sleep. Tom and Marc stayed there; Simms was out at the Tropicana. Tom and Marc have a collective IQ of about 780 and therefore spent an insane amount of time playing poker. Marc, at any given time, could tell you exactly what casinos were having poker tournaments at what time. (He has this human wikipedia quality, and could probably tell you the volume of concrete being used for each construction project on the strip, off the top of his head.) While they played poker, me and Bill did other stuff, or and of course Simms was off doing his own sort of stuff.
We went to Kraftsteak for dinner on Saturday. For $200 a person, they bring out a metric fuckload of food, including a million apps, and about a dozen cuts of kobe beef. I wasn’t 100% with the food for whatever reason, but the desserts were pretty incredible. They just brought out a bunch of plates of different cakes and ice cream and whatnot. Good stuff, but like I said, not $200 good. The In-N-Out I had with Simms was much better.
The trip in general was nice, but way too short. I got there on Friday night and flew back on Monday. I did get to see everyone, got the variety pack thing at the Coke store, saw Penn and Teller again, and saw comedian Bobby Slayton, and didn’t lose too much gambling. But I felt like I had a low-grade cold or flu the whole time, and wanted nothing but sleep. To counteract that, I fell off the caffeine wagon something fierce. Also, because my ankle was fucked up, I took a dose of Prednisone to try to knock it back in line. Normally, that would make me have an unstoppable appetite and extreme insomnia, both of which are good for a land of unlimited buffets and 24-hour gambling, but it never really took.
My biggest impression was that Vegas is really changing fast. The Stardust is gone; the Frontier and Boardwalk are levelled. The entire area from the Monte Carlo to the Bellagio are one giant construction site. The Aladdin has been redone to be a giant Planet Hollywood. Every little t-shirt shop or fast food joint with frontage on the strip has been sold and levelled. I guess a lot of my favorites are still there, but at some point in the near future, the Bellagio, recently the most posh place on the strip, will be bulldozed for something newer. And I’m not talking about in 50 years; it wouldn’t surprise me if they closed in 2010.
And the strange thing is that I will be in, or maybe through Vegas at least two more times this year, as I move west. Both times will probably be a single-night break in driving, and not a gambling orgy. But maybe I will get more pictures.
Yes, I’m alive. I have not been writing here for three reasons. The last in the list is that I’ve been sick for a few days, and sleeping in.
The next reason is that when I wasn’t sick and sleeping in, I’ve been working on book #3. The first draft of the first third is done, and I’ve been going over that on paper while I’ve been pushing around the outline of the next third. It’s going well, and that’s all I’ll say at this point. Once I am over this bug, I will get back on my schedule of waking up at 6:30, taking a shower, and then writing until 9:30. It works well, except that it would be a lot easier if I didn’t go to work and kept writing past 9:30.
And I went to Vegas. I actually was in Henderson, at Sunset Station, for Sarah’s family reunion. We did get to the strip once, to shop at Caesars. (Oddly enough, we saw Pete Rose there, signing autographs.) But the base of operations was just out of town, and that worked out fine. We spent a lot of time with a lot of family, watched the superbowl, gambled a bit, ate a lot, and had a good time. Sunset Station is also in this strip mall suburbia, with a big mall and a bunch of big-box stores scattered everywhere. I forgot to bring my full-spectrum light, and found that when I didn’t use it and spent all day in a casino, I crashed horribly. So I spent an hour or two each morning walking through parking lots and in laps around the casino, getting lots of sun and a little exercise.
Another thing we did that was fun was go to the Valley of Fire. It’s a huge park about 50 miles from Vegas, and a lot of it looks like the surface of Mars. There are red sandstone formations everywhere, and a lot of desert scrub land. I got a lot of neat pictures there, and we also saw them shooting a commercial for the new Porsche; when we were entering, six of the new cars came out, in formation. Also, when we left, we stopped at this truck stop that was also a fireworks warehouse and sold cheap cigs and other trucker necessities. It was hilarious to read all of the manly and jingoistic names on the giant explosives, like “RED WHITE AND BLUE GLORY” or “THE DEADLY PUMA” or “SHAKE AND BAKE” or whatever. (Okay, not the last one.)
Oh, and on the drive back, I saw a B-2 stealth bomber for the first time. It was heading toward Nellis and totally looked like a UFO.
(Pictures of everything [but not the bomber] are here. No captions – I have no time.)
BTW, John Sheppard’s book Small Town Punk has been released and is out. I got my copy while I was gone, and I’m re-reading it. The new version has been edited a ton, and is missing the old ending, but still, go check it out.