Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trip Number Two – A Return to Las Vegas

Before I get into my second visit to Las Vegas, I have to explain a change to this site. After thinking about it long and hard, I have decided to allow advertisements to appear here on my site. On one hand, I’m loath to do so. I think crass commercialism is already too prevalent in this society. There are ads everywhere and having a place to escape those appeals to me. But, I have to face the reality of my situation. The only way I generate an income is through two means. One is the equity on my house, and just like everyone else, I’m facing the end of that cash flow within a month or two. The other way I get any income is to sell things on the internet. Depending on what I have to sell, that can generate good money or not much of anything in any given month. Right now, with the economy the way it is, I’m not generating much. The demand for collectables is not very high when people are afraid to spend. Like millions of other people, I’m facing the all-to-real possibility that I may be homeless by the end of summer. So, any way I can generate any income is a welcome prospect for me at this time. If I can raise a few more bucks by placing ads on my blog, then that’s what I’m going to do.

But this only works if you click on those ads. So I’m asking every reader of this blog to please do so each and every time you visit this site. The more money I can generate, the longer I can keep a roof over my head, and the longer I can keep writing this blog. If I’m living in a box in downtown LA, there won’t be any electricity for me to plug in my computer and write and post these things. So click on those ads. Every time you do so helps me out tremendously. Thanks and I hope you understand.


It had been just a few short weeks since we had last visited Las Vegas, but we found ourselves packing up the car to return once again to the City of Sin. Usually, the drive from Los Angeles doesn’t bother me that much, but for some reason, the trip this time seemed to take forever. I usually break down the trip into segments; LA to Victorville; Victorville to Barstow; Barstow to Baker; Baker to Stateline; and Stateline to Las Vegas. Breaking the trip into smaller segments seems to make the trip go faster, at least psychologically. But doing that this time didn’t seem to work and the drive just kept going and going. The drive usually takes about 4 hours, but we finally pulled into the Mirage parking lot a little over 5 hours after we started. I guess traffic and road conditions slowed us down more than I would have liked.

We dragged all of our luggage into the Mirage Hotel & Casino ( and found the check-in desk. The clerk at the desk told that there was a good deal going on that week. For only $30 a night, we could upgrade our room to a suite. We agreed that it was good deal and went for it, and a few minutes later we found ourselves dragging our luggage through the casino to the elevators at the back of the building. I don’t really understand why these hotel/casinos always put the elevators at the back. It’s a pain in the ass to drag suitcases through all the Midwest yokels wandering around looking for just the right slot machine to park their asses at. I guess they’re hoping to introduce you to the casino right away in the hopes that you’ll throw your luggage in your room and run down to whatever gambling poison you’re addicted to and start losing your hard-earned cash immediately.

We managed to escape any major accident with the gamblers and made it to what we found was a private elevator to the floor our room was on. There was a security guard planted in front of that elevator and he demanded to see our keycards before he would let us pass, but he quickly became civil once he saw that we in fact belonged right where we were.

An elevator ride and a short walk down a hallway and we found ourselves in front of our room. The front door was a large double-door with a doorbell affixed in the wall next to it. We opened the door and walked in. Now, we had expected a large room. What we found was a room that was slightly bigger than our own house. It was HUGE! As we walked in, there was little kitchenette/wetbar to the right that opened up to a monstrous living room with a television and computer station and an attached dining room. That led into the king-size bedroom, complete with a television that rose out of a wooden chest with the push of a button. The bathroom took up a full third of the space, with a large glassed-in shower and a Jacuzzi bathtub along one wall and a giant walk-in closet along the other wall. There were only two floors above us and the view of the strip from our room was breathtaking. I would say that this was well worth the extra $30 to upgrade into.

But we were running late, so after ooh-ing and aah-ing at the room for a few minutes; we quickly changed into more presentable clothes and headed downstairs. The first thing we wanted to do was pick up our tickets for the Cirque du Soleil show we were seeing that night, “The Beatles’ Love” ( We found the box office and were immediately given tickets that were in the fourth row from the stage. Now it was time for dinner.

We had dinner reservations at our favorite restaurant in Las Vegas, Picasso at the Bellagio (, which was on the other side of Caesar’s Palace from us, or about half a mile away. We had eaten at this restaurant almost a decade ago, but we were running late to a show (I believe it was the Pet Shop Boys at the Hard Rock) and we had to rush the meal. We had always regretted that, as the meal was amazing and rushing it like that just seemed sacrilegious. So we were happy to get the chance to eat there again at a more leisured pace. We were going to the show that night, but that wasn’t until 9:30 and our restaurant reservations were at 5. We had plenty of time to relax and enjoy.

And enjoy we did. We were very happy that after a decade, the quality of this restaurant hadn’t diminished at all. Our table was right at the window, so we could see the water show out on “Lake Como” easily. The real Picasso paintings hung around the walls were stunning to look at. The service was impeccable. And the food was just wonderful, especially Skip’s main course of stuffed and roasted pigeon that actually tasted like a wild game bird (as opposed to a farmed game bird) and could have been made in Heaven. But everything was great and about three and half hours later, we left the restaurant happily with a bottle of wine tucked under our arm to drink later in our room.

(I don’t think the restaurant was supposed to sell us that bottle. I know it’s against the law for restaurants to do that here in LA. But we were dying to try this wine and after begging, the restaurant allowed it. We never did get around to drinking it in our room. Once we got home, we opened it and found that it was corked, or spoiled. We got in touch with the restaurant and several days later, we received a box through UPS that contained THREE bottles of wine, including a very nice bottle of aged sherry. Now, that’s service, and it just endures us to this restaurant even more.)

We got back to the Mirage and dumped the wine in our room. We also took the time to watch the Mirage’s volcano eruption show from above in our room. Even without the soundtrack, it was quite stunning to watch the volcano “erupt” from that high up. We got back downstairs just in time for the doors to open for the late show of “Love”. We grabbed a drink and found our seats. The show was performed “in the round”, a large stage in the middle surrounded by seats on all sides. There were already Cirque performers in costume wandering around the stage and setting the mood for the upcoming show.

I’ve always been suspicious of these Cirque shows. I’ve seen bits and pieces performed various times on TV and it just never appealed to me. It all just seemed like gymnastics in costume and I got very bored very fast watching the routines on television. But I’d heard so much about this show and, after all, it was set to the Beatles’ music and was sanctioned by all the various Beatles’ parties, so I felt it was something I needed to experience. And I’m glad I did. The show was great. There was some of that costumed gymnastics aspect to it, but mostly it was like a beautiful modern dance performance linked together in theme by the Beatles’ music. One of my favorite parts came during the song “Yellow Submarine”, when the performers covered the entire audience with a large, white satin bag, letting everyone experience John & Yoko’s “Baggism” project. All the while, projections of the Yellow Submarine were coasting over the bag. It’s hard to describe here, but it was a wonderful moment. The show was full of wonderful, beautiful moments though, and got a well deserved standing ovation when it all came to an end.

Skip and I were too jacked up about the show to retire back to our room, so instead we used free passes to get into the Revolution Lounge (, which was designed by the Cirque organization to add on to the Beatles experience of the show. It was a nice looking bar, but was sparsely populated by what seemed to be Eastern Europeans and the music of choice that evening seemed to be early hip-hop, which made no sense to us at all. So we fled after a few minutes and made our way to BLT Burger (, which was one of the only late night restaurants still open in the area. It turned out to be a great choice. We split a wonderful burger and I enjoyed a great caramel/vanilla milkshake spiked with Makers’ Mark Bourbon. It was a perfect way to end the day.

We woke up late the next day and took our time getting ready. By the time we left our room, it was well past noon. We walked next door to Caesar’s Palace ( Forum Shops and watched the statues come to life before having lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois ( It was a nice lunch of upscale Chinese food, but it in no way came near the brilliance of the Chinois here in Los Angeles.

After that we walked back over to the Bellagio and visited their Gallery of Fine Arts (, which was presenting a modern art show called “Lichtenstein, Warhol and Friends”. It was a rather small instillation, but featured a couple of wonderful pieces I had never seen before, including Sol LeWitt’s “Floor Piece #4”, making it well worth the time to check it out.

It was getting late in the afternoon, so we went back and got our car and drove over to the Stratosphere ( This is the tallest hotel in Las Vegas. You can see it poking above the other hotels from miles away. I was there because I wanted to ride the thrill rides that had been built at the top of the tower ( I had ridden Big Shot several times before. This is a ride that shoots you straight up at 45 MPH, until you are over 1000 feet above the Strip. I rode it again and it was no problem for me. Thrilling, but I’ve done it before at other parks, although not quite so high up. The roller coaster that used to run around the top of the tower had been removed thankfully. I had always found that rather dull. But two new rides had replaced it and those were what I was there to ride. The first one, Insanity, is a mechanical arm that swings out over the Strip and twirls you in your seat at 3 Gs until you are staring straight down at the ground. This was rather nerve-wracking and I was glad when the ride was over. But it was nowhere near as horrifying as the final ride. This one, named X-Scream, is a large teeter-totter that propels the car you’re sitting in 28 feet over the edge of the tower. It then swings down so you’re facing the ground, before swinging back up and then down again. I came close to losing it completely on that ride. I have to say that now that it’s over and done that I’m proud of myself and I’m really glad I rode those rides. But I doubt I’ll ever do it again. And I’m someone who really liked the extreme rides at most parks.

By this time it was getting late and we had dinner reservations we had to get to. We headed down the tower, found our car and drove across the Strip to the MGM Grand Hotel for our dinner at Fiamma Tratorria ( Several years ago, Skip and I enjoyed a meal cooked by Fiamma chef Carlos Buscaglia, during a guest stint at Napa Rose restaurant in the Disneyland Resort. It was an amazing meal and we were so enthusiastic about it that the chef came out to meet us. He told us that if we really wanted a good meal that we should come to his Las Vegas restaurant and let him know we were coming. After all this time, we were going to call him on that. We had written him several weeks before, but he told us that he was unfortunately going to be out of town on the day we were visiting. But he also told us that he would let his staff know and they would take good care of us. That they did. Skip and I had decided to share an opener and then ordered a main course each. But the kitchen sent out so much food that we couldn’t eat it all and we ended up passing on dessert completely (which always breaks my heart). Everything was amazing, but the highlight of the meal was my Pink Snapper with Roasted Vegetables and Pine Nuts. It was wonderful in the simplicity of its preparation and flavors. The Spaghetti and Kobe meatballs the kitchen sent out were pretty wonderful as well, as was Skip’s Lobster Gnocchi with Black Truffles. It was a great meal and I hope we can return again some day.

But now we had to run as we had less than an hour to get out to the Stateline and Buffalo Bill’s Hotel & Casino so we could see Blondie ( play at their arena. We arrived just in time and made our way to our third row center seats we had bought several weeks earlier. I had seen Blondie several times in the 70’s, including a show at the Whiskey in Hollywood where they opened for Tom Petty and the place was less than half full. This was when they had their original, and best, bass player, Gary Valentine. But I had never seen them once they hit the big time and Skip had never seen them at all. I was there mainly for Skip’s benefit, and entered the show feeling suspicious about the whole thing and convinced I was going to have a terrible time. I tried, but the onslaught of so many wonderful hit songs and the fact that even at an advanced age, Debby Harry still had an exuberant stage presence, and before I knew it I was enjoying myself, while watching in wonder as aging gamblers danced in front of the stage with their walkers. (To be fair, the young ones seemed to be dancing a lot as well.) I had to admit it was a great show, and we left for the return to Las Vegas happy and exhausted.

We woke up the next day early, as we had a wine tasting event in Los Angeles, so we needed to get home. We packed up our belongings and took the elevator downstairs to check out. Somehow or other, the total check we received from the hotel was about $60 lighter than what we expected. We saw that the show tickets were only $99 each, and we had been quoted $124 each. There were a few other discrepancies, but since it was all in our favor, we kept quite and enjoyed the fact that we had upgraded to an amazing room without it costing us any more in the long run.

We had a quick lunch at Simon at Palm’s Place ( on our way out of town. Kerry Simon’s restaurant here in Los Angeles is one of our favorite mid-priced restaurants. This one in Las Vegas is a beautiful room, but the food at lunch, mostly salads and sandwiches, was only okay. We’ll have to return someday for dinner.

And with that we were gone again. In these two trips we managed to see and do everything we had wanted (with the exception of a few restaurants). We had missed a lot in the nine years since we had last been there. I feel liked we’ve caught up now. We’re hoping for a return trip before the end of the year. Then we can stretch out and visit friends and see the city through their eyes. I’m sure the local Las Vegas will be an entirely different experience than what we had as visitors.


Next week I’ll be back with the final trip of the three in Rome, Italy. There are a few more trips coming up. We are going to Arizona for 5 days in a couple of weeks. We’ll be visiting relatives in Tucson and Phoenix. We’re also taking a quick trip to San Francisco right after returning from Arizona so we can see Throbbing Gristle perform live. I’ll wait until after those trips to decide about writing about them. I’m hoping to get to some band and record store stories soon. Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy yourselves. And click on those ads!

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