West Coastin’: From L.A. with Love

“The one you said was haunted?”

So having arrived in California, our first task was to get lost.  For some reason the roads leading into Disney and thus the hotel had been blocked by the Anaheim police department.  We circled the block several times, analyzing the various routes, double-checking our GPS, wondering if our room had somehow exploded and left us lodge-less for the remaining week.  On our third try, the cop moved off, allowing traffic through; Dasad and I looked at each other, shrugged, and drove on to the Disney Paradise Pier Hotel.

Upon checking in, we discovered a gas leak had closed the street when a gaggle of construction worker busied themselves with repairs at the resort.  Our concierge assured us nothing was amiss and although flammable material spewed onto the road, we were perfectly safe.  After nearly seven hours in flight and nearly one attempting to enter the resort, I would not have cared had they admitted digging for uranium with dynamite.

Now before delving into the details of our travels, I want to say something about California weather.  In Maryland, humidity can sap nearly all of one’s energy, leaving one lethargic and crawling toward the nearest air conditioner like a drowning man clawing at the sea breeze.  Yet on the West Coast, sunshine and blue skies dissipate morning fog each and every day and nearly constant breezes found us rolling down windows and anticipating long walks through nearby shops and gardens.  It’s no wonder that many of the environmental reforms stemmed from the Californian coastline; with the constant seasonal threat of humidity, hurricanes, blizzards, and floods, East Coasters have a love/hate relationship with Mother Nature, at times indifferent to whether she’s healthy or near-death.

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A Weekend in Sin City

Leap year arriving only once every four years I wanted to post this email before midnight as Spring Break draws near my mind flies across the country even while my body remains stranded, still frozen amid a snow-less winter. This particular tale is several years old and follows the adventures of Desad and I while we trek cross-country through Arizona and Nevada on route to Sin City . . .

On Thursday, we left Williams and the Grand Canyon for Nevada and Vegas.  The trip north was relatively uneventful as we once again descending into the desert, which despite the short respite in the hills of Arizona still filled me with awe at how wide the world could be.  We planned on visiting Hoover Dam before making our way to Vegas, but approached the border with a not a small amount of apprehension considering the beefed-up security and a sign warning “construction ahead.”  I’m not an impatient person but prefer avoiding lines if possible.  Luckily only a few cars had stopped at the checkpoint and state trooper did not think much of the two East Coast boys in their travel-laden SUV.  He waved us through with no more than a cursory glance inside the Yukon, now swollen with coolers, groceries, and souvenirs.  We drove off feeling fortunate and yet a little indignant too.  Mostly harmless, indeed!

Now the road to the dam winds down into this beautiful ravine walled on either side by large red-brown boulders so smooth they almost appear artificial.  The blue waters of Lake Mead, which met our eyes as we emerged initially from the cliffs, were a welcome sight. Accustomed to living near water, I think the trip through the mesas and cliffs those last few days made me realize how much I missed the oceans, reservoirs, and bays of the East Coast.  It’s strange, I know, but it relaxes me to know I live so close to water.  A sea of grass or sand just isn’t the same.

The road into Nevada crosses atop the dam itself so even if you do not plan on stopping you can glimpse much of the lake and dam structure at least until tourists begin to swarm around you.  On the western side of the dam, a huge wall of solid concrete rises over 700 ft from the silken-blue ribbon of the Colorado tailing harmlessly through the ravine far below.   I’m told that the dam wall is actually taller than the Eiffel Tower, but staring at it reminded me more of that great gate in King Kong — it amuses me to think some great serpent or Krackon dwells on the other side.  Very impressive, all in all, this mixture of red rocks, white concrete, and blue water, yet subtlety does not exist here.  Dam propaganda saturates all the presentations and tours, trying to reinforce how magnificent and awe-inspiring the dam truly is — as if we were walking around blind; in the end it just made the visit a little ridiculous.  “America depends on the power, water, and agriculture provided by Hoover Dam.  We cannot exist without it.”  “Herbert Hoover: president, humanitarian, and super-genius.”  “Without Hoover Dam, it is doubtful whether America would have risen to meet the country’s needs during WWII.  Fascism would have consumed the world without this modern marvel.”

However, looking back, I think that Hoover Dam in many ways prepared us for Vegas.  Only I wonder if there exists any true seed of magnificence in Vegas or is it all just fabrication?  Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  We arrived in Vegas sometime around 4PM, I think; still far too sunny to consider the town “alive.”   The smell that met us as we entered Mandalay Bay was unusual and not entirely pleasant like they had cleaned the floors with some combination of bleach mixed with menthol.  The people too were equally distinguished.  We saw an old woman dressed in a black one-piece swimsuit complete with matching high-heels, sunglasses, and feathered (crow?) hat.  I had thought such creatures existed only in movies really.  Other guests greeted us on the elevator with bloodshot winks and practiced jumping up and down as the elevator fell reeking of alcohol.  Girls dressed scantily in Catholic school uniforms waited impatiently outside a private elevator in the lobby, while families speaking in various dialects and languages crowded in the lobby.  If the hotel was populated by the characters dreamed up by Todd McFarlane or American McGee, I doubt it could be stranger.

After losing about $100 at the casino (myself individually; Dasad won $30), we decided to walk the strip.  One thing I will say about Vegas the architecture of some of these casinos is quite impressive.  New York, New York for instance features a miniature version of New York complete with bridges, fountains, and inside amid the slots a makeshift replica of Central Park complete with autumn leaves and a blue domed sky so while you may be gambling at least you don’t feel like your gambling.  The Paris casino adopts a similarly impressive structure and an “outdoor” gambling arcade as well, and sits directly across from the Bellagio fountains, which are perhaps one of the only truly elegant shows in town. No admission, beautiful scores, and a fantastic piece of artistry.  The buffets there were likewise worth the trip.  Expensive (~$20 a head), the food is nevertheless exquisite and delicious (particularly the desserts) — the Alladin is the reputed king of buffets, but I recommend the Bellagio; superb fish!

Walking on the Strip in the sun was a bit of a chore though.  Every few feet or so, you are accosted by Mexicans handing out “trading cards” of hookers and strippers, which most tourists grab, laugh at, and discard on the street.  The effect of such is that the sidewalks — which apparently are not cleaned all that often — are littered with porn.  Yet even if you avoid staring at the ground, the Vegas hotels routinely flash clips of thong-ed dancers on their color marquees so it really is impossible to avoid it all.

On Sat after gambling a little bit more (I lost another $100; Dasad won $60), we decided to visit a few more exhibits around the city.  On Friday, we saw an exhibit of Ansel Adams (I attached a few of my favorites photos) and so on our last day, we saw an exhibit on Ruben at the Venetian.  Afterwards we went to the Star Trek ride.  Now we had this powerpass credit card, which allowed us free admission onto a number of attractions.  LD (my second travel-mate) saw that the Star Trek Experience was included and so we traversed to the Vegas Hilton and whatever awaited us there.  Now I’m no Star Trek geek.  If you asked me my favorite series, I would have to say the one where Scottie cuts off Vader’s hand with the Borg saber.  I don’t do space. Yet I must admit, the Hilton’s exhibit was pretty cool.  They transformed part of the casino to look like the docking bay of a space ship and had compiled a complete star history timeline thing accompanied with a large supply of Star Trek memorabilia.  I was clueless to what everything was, but it was pretty awesome that someone had put so much work into it.  LD enjoyed it at any rate.

I won’t speak of the 3-D rides.  Let’s just say that I was probed and prodded in my chair by Borg aliens, and leave it at that.  It was unpleasant and Dasad had a good laugh at my expense.  The seriousness of some of the actors though really surprised me though.  I mean if I had to shout “The quantum computer indicated that the photon canons are clogged!  Reverse phase and fire the intergalactic fusion missiles at those space scum!” while pushing imaginary buttons several times a day without laughing I’d be fired within an hour.  One poor guy had to pick out a tourist and yell at him during the ride.  “You think this is a joke?!  One more snigger and I’ll toss you in the brig with the other space trash.  It’s that kind of attitude that separates the space commanders from the Klingon carrion.” (try saying that five times fast without laughing; I dare you).