Thursday, September 3, 2009

Google Maps, Extra Mode and Mimosas – The Vacation Weekend in Review

Part Two:

Ok, I’m in the middle of talking about my vacation when all sorts of things in the sports world pop up. I live in Oregon, yet I grew up in Boise, so tonight’s football game between the University of Oregon Ducks and Boise State Broncos has some interest to me. I remember BSU from the pre-smurf turf days, when they won a Division 1-AA title back in the 1980’s, and they’ve come a long way since then. The Ducks meanwhile have put together a solid football program that doubles as a tremendous fashion statement each week, wondering what garish or thoughtful combination they’ll show up in. I’ll just say that this is a game that the scoreboard operator is going to be busy, and I would want to be the team that has the ball last in this one. I’ll call this 49 to 45 Oregon, in a wacky shootout, but I’ll be paying attention to the game while watching the Timbers play Rochester tonight at PGE Park. I’ll predict another Timbers win tonight, peppered with an Andrew Gregor meltdown.

Besides, a columnist who I am beginning to appreciate quite a bit, Bill Simmons, is talking about his Vegas trip just last weekend, and so apparently, it’s a hot topic to talk about.

Friday, August 21:

We had done a ton of research before leaving to Vegas to find an actual grocery store that wasn’t a complete production to get to. Girl and I had talked about going to Trader Joe’s, Albertson’s, or even a Safeway before we located a Von’s that wasn’t too far off the Strip per Google Maps. We confirmed the location on their website, as it should be just behind the Rio. After hearing the temperature would hit 108 on Friday, we made the call to turn in early on Thursday night to get up early to go there Friday first thing.

Sure enough, my cell phone alarm rang at 9 AM, we dressed quickly and gulped down some yogurt and water, and were out the door just before 10 AM. The plan was to go there before it got unbearable, and if needed, catch a cab back to MGM if it was too warm. The Strip wasn’t too full of people this early, and so we made great time heading from MGM to Caesar’s Palace, then cutting over to the Rio. The shadows kept things very cool as well, so we didn’t realize how warm it was until we left the comfort of the shadows, and were on Flamingo Road heading west. I’d only ventured off the Strip a few times, and our path would take us over Highway 15 to the other side. By 10:30 AM, the sun was beating down pretty good, and we were both sweating pretty good as we hit the crosswalk to head over the freeway. At least there was a nice walking path, and so we didn’t have to worry about traffic.

However, as we wandered across, I wasn’t sure if it was heat hallucinations or random illusions, but we weren’t exactly seeing any shopping complex that might house a grocery store. With the temperature getting warmer, we decided to high tail it to the Rio and reassess our situation. We wandered in, found some water and extra sunscreen, and we made the decision to trudge up north to at least get a better visual idea if the store even existed or not.

The Rio reminded me of some very old school casino, full of dark colors, older slot machines, and plenty of card tables. It seems pretty comfortable if you wanted to stay off the Strip, but be close enough to go there if you wanted to. In addition, the Palms and Gold Coast casinos are close by, so it’s not like your are in an island, unlike the Orleans casino, even with taxis all over town. This was also my first chance to throw down some gambling, as we sat at a slot machine where I dropped in a $20 to see if I could win anything. I got lucky with the first few spins, but soon enough, my money was gone, and we were reapplying sunscreen to venture outside. The security people smiled at us, as we got ready to venture out.

We wandered north of the Rio past their convention center, and at the place the map told us the grocery store would be is now a big hole in the ground. We looked about to see if there was anything else remotely close, but the heat drove us back inside without our mission being accomplished. While it was disappointing, we did get to see a different part of Las Vegas, and we also saw the Palms up close, a place that we would see in greater detail Saturday night. We obtained more water, reapplied sunscreen, and about noon, we left the Rio to head back to the Strip. There were a few hearty souls joining us on the walk heading west, and we actually did OK heading over, not getting too heated up. Once we got back on the Strip, the buildings provided some good shade at points. Since we’d hit the Walgreen’s the previous night, we popped into the CVS Pharmacy on the strip. Their food selection and prices were actually a lot better, and so we loaded up on snacks, and headed back to our room to cool off, then head to the pool.

The shower never felt so good to cool off, and we weren’t too burnt, and after a lunch and some bad daytime TV, we headed to the MGM Pool complex to find some chairs and relax. The MGM Grand pool area is at least 3 to 4 Portland city blocks of pools, a lazy river, bars and clubs, and although the temperature had now officially hit the target of 108, it was reasonably nice in the pool area, with a light breeze and water misters keeping things reasonable. After a few passes, we settled into two seats in the BackLot pool, home of the lazy river, and lounged around for a few hours. Girl and I also took a few laps around the lazy river, which was a mess of kids playing bumper tubes, groups hanging on the side drinking causing bottlenecks, or couples trying to get freaky in secret alcoves. It’s still a really nice area, and as the hours passed, the pool became more and more clear.

We also encountered one of the odd things that had changed since we were here in December. We bought a big drink cup at Dick’s Last Resort in December, and had it refilled everywhere we went. We brought our cups back this time, but MGM Grand wouldn’t refill another place’s cup. Well, it was a bit annoying, but at least, we had a nice cup with a permanent straw and nice lid.

Since the Lazy River closes at 6 PM, we moved over to the Academy pool, one of 5 available, and chilled out more. There was a DJ providing some great background music, which started a few impromptu dance contests. The people watching was simply amazing, as I heard a lot of goofy stories about the preceding night’s activities, while also watching an older guy try to hang with his much younger girlfriend and people she met.

We left the pool around 7 PM as it started to get dark, then headed up to dress, get our official Players Cards, eat somewhere at MGM Grand, and then gamble a bit. The Players Club line was always packed when we walked past before, but this time, we choose a good time to go and quickly got our cards so we could accrue points. We then chose the Studio Café for our meal, and ended up being seated in a section with the very best waiter, Russ. He gave us some great meal suggestions, took care of us quite nicely, and was pleasant until a large group of young men looking very frat-like were seated next to us.

Apparently, the boys were here on a bachelor party of about 10 of them, and they were all very much alpha males. They were dismissive to Russ while he tried to get their original drink orders, and then the real fun began. Apparently, the groom in the group had hooked up with a cougar (term for an older woman) the previous night, and he had pictures of the encounter, including a few with lots of uncovered body parts. It was one of the most crass, offensive conversations I’d had the displeasure to overhear, and so we finished our meal, left a huge tip, and a note of consolation for Russ for having to deal with this.

We gambled for a bit, hitting only a couple of big jackpots, and were back in our room just after midnight. Girl and I decided that our Saturday schedule would involve her working for a bit, I would explore booking a show for either Sunday or Monday night and a nice dinner, then we would head to the Palms early for our concert. I had a plan of preferred restaurants, and so we were ready to go for Saturday.

Saturday, August 21st:

This bed is comfortable. I mean really comfortable, and the blackout curtains make the room really dark. We slept in a bit after all the activity for Friday, and around the lunchtime hour, Girl settled in to work, while I visited the concierge for information about a show and dinner. We had decided to check out the Crazy Horse Paris show, because it was reasonably pricey, and rumored to be rather sexy.

The concierge was very nice, and answered all my questions expertly, which is what you would expect. We determined that Monday would work a bit better for dinner reservations, and so I chose craftsteak for our dinner early, then the 10:30 PM performance for Crazy Horse. We had looked at the craftsteak menu, and with girl’s recent issues with gluten, we found the menu options there to work better with her dietary restrictions.

I then headed over to the sports book to place a few bets. Every time I go to Vegas, I always plunk down money on my favorite teams to win titles. I put down my money on West Ham to win the EPL, the Trail Blazers to win the NBA, the US to win the World Cup (yes, the tables were out), and then I chose Manchester City as my EPL dark horse. I had to put money on the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl, even though at this point, I’m wondering if they will win three games all year. With my errands complete, I headed back to the room to find Girl working hard. I settled in to watch some baseball, with our goal to dress and be at the Palms by 5 PM.

The work didn’t take that long, and soon enough we were dressing up nice for the show. Considering the concert tickets were expensive and we were in a very nice menu, we wanted to dress up, and we didn’t disappoint. I found a dark shirt and slack that worked, while Girl was absolutely gorgeous in a black dress. We did make a few wardrobe adjustments, and also got a bit of our drink on in the room before we left, since we had a full bar in the room. We left the room at 5:30 with the goal to hit the Palms by 6 PM. We got a cab rather quickly, and headed off to the Palms. The cabbie was very nice, asking us about the show we were seeing, and had the stunned look of gratefulness as we gave $20 for an $11 tax bill and let him keep the change.

The Palms is very nice and very new. We walked into the main room, and saw the gambling floor, and the entrance to the concert hall very close. It seemed like the crowd here was very young and hip, and was more into the scene than actually gambling, but at this point, it was about gambling a bit and getting more drink before the show. We found a Star Trek slot machine and dropped some money in, and Girl was the big winner of our early gambling. We also got a few drinks from the cocktail girls, and tipped big, which kept them coming back. By 7:15, we had stopped gambling, and entered the line to get into the show.

The Palms concert hall has only 2,500 seats, with a smaller general admission area on the floor, and then seats in various balconies around the floor. The farthest seat from the stage is about 150 yards, so we weren’t too worried about getting close. The security line was checking IDs for alcohol, and as they delayed some of the people in front of us to check them, the line moved and some folks behind us jumped ahead to get downstairs. I got a little upset with security in delaying us, but they apologized and we were soon walking the stairs to get to the floor. What we found when we got there was about 4 rows of folks next to the stage, and most of them were shorter than us, so Girl and I were soon standing within 15 feet of the stage with prime standing views.

I headed out to get a few drinks before the concert started, and so we were pretty happy as the opening act took the stage. It was the same lineup that we saw in Shittle, Peter, Bjorn and John with the opening act, then Mode later. I was also getting updates from the Timbers match, as we were playing Miami at home, trying to keep their winning streak going. I showed girl the updates as they came in, and exactly at 8 PM, the lights dropped and the show began.

Peter, Bjorn and John showed some huge energy early, and I grew to like their songs, especially being more familiar with their catalog. For a three piece, they have a pretty big sound, and their musical skill is better than average. It was also nice to see some of the fans actually singing along, which only spurred their energy. They were done at 8:30 PM, and it was time to set up for Mode. The crowd was getting more and more full, and just before 9 PM, the place was getting fuller as the lights fell again, and Depeche Mode took the stage.

Within a minute, it was apparent this was a much different show that I saw on August 10 in Shittle. The crowd was loud, and sang along with the first song without being asked, and the guys seemed overwhelmed at the crazy energy in the building. I saw Dave get into the show at points in Shittle, but he was absolutely beaming when he realized this place was ready to erupt. The show pretty much followed the same song list as before, with a few surprises, but to see artists feed off the fan energy, smile like crazy, and just have fun was truly an amazing experience. I can appreciate entertainers who really give everything for a show, and they certainly did. We also got the word about 9:30 PM that Portland had pushed their unbeaten streak to 22 games, and so it was a great night all the way around. There were even a couple of encores, as they hit the highlights of their catalog. By the time they were done, it was a couple of hours later, and we saw an absolutely beaming band, happy to perform in front of appreciative people.

Girl’s feet were starting to bug her a bit, as she was in heels, so we slowly left the hall, headed up stairs, and she sat while I went into the souvenir line to get the DVD of the show. While that wasn’t available, I purchased the CD of the show, which would be fulfilled later on by sending in a card, and the program full of pictures. Girl was happy to see them, although she had been shuttled from the concert hall lounge into the gambling lobby as they were trying to clear the crowd after the show. We decided to gamble a bit more at the Palms to allow the taxi line to settle a bit, and then catch a cab back to our hotel. The machines were being finicky, and so we didn’t too much, although girl did have a couple of smaller wins that she cashed in before we left. The taxi line wasn’t too terrible, and I was even able to get some pictures with my cell phone camera. Ok, I did get some shots during the show, even though the security had said they’d confiscate any cameras they found. I tried to be subtle in taking shots, and I was able to send the nicer ones to girl for posting later.

We got a nice cabbie that jetted us off to MGM Grand, and was happy to hear about us being from Portland. He hadn’t been in our area before, so we answered many questions. He in turn shared some of his thoughts, having lived in Vegas for a while, and was a bit disappointed that some of the older institutions were being torn down in the desire to keep the town fresh and shiny. He gave us a good steak house recommendation, and we dropped another 20 dollars on an 11 dollar bill, so it was another big tip again. As we left the cab, the clock was hitting 1:30 AM, and so we headed up to the room for some down time. The spa tub never felt so good, and as we drifted off to sleep, it was the blueprint of a great day.

Sunday, August 23rd:

We had finally fallen asleep about 4 AM, and our destination for Sunday was the Luxor, and their spectacularly awesome Sunday brunch. I had set my alarm for 10 AM, but we slept through it a bit, although being up as late as we were, it was understandable. Around 11:30 AM, we started moving about, and moved with urgency, as we weren’t sure how late the buffet had breakfast food. Therefore, we dressed quickly, and left for food.

We arrived about noon, and found out the buffet was available until 3 PM, so we would have plenty of time to eat. The breakfast food here is great, and they come with all you can drink mimosas, and so it took the edge off from a night of dancing and drinking. Girl ordered one, and it never reached being half full before it was refilled again. I was never so happy to have acres of filling food to help get my energy level up, and we ate and drank quite a bit. As we were leaving the table, the server even offered to give girl her mimosa to go. I love this city!

We wandered back to our hotel slowly along the walkway, gambling a bit at the Luxor and not winning much, and then stopping by the Excalibur and gambling a bit as well. Nothing much from the winning, but I love the fact that all of the hotels are connected with a nice walkway. From the MGM Grand, you hit New York, New York to Excalibur to the Luxor to Mandalay Bay, all within walking distance. We made it back to our room in time for another day of pool lounging and sun. The weather had cooled off a bit, not hitting triple digits, but it was still really nice outside. We found good seats at the Talent Pool, and set about to relax and swim about. I was never so happy to just sit back, relax and soak up some rays. We lasted at the pool until the early evening, and wasn’t even hungry after our big morning meal, so we went to the room to shower and chill out.

After checking email and cleaning up the room a bit, we decided to wander back to the Luxor for some more food at their 24-hour café, and then gamble a bit more. We ended up getting some wonderful strawberry daiquiris in special cups we could keep, and so the food and drinking continued. I was still in the mood for breakfast, so I had an omelet while girl ordered a burger without bun. We only gambled a bit at some other machines, but the luck wasn’t with us that much until we ended back at Excalibur, as girl got some prize money from the Big Ben machine. Guess the fact that she loves England helped the cause, but Excalibur was certainly noisy.

They have a bar on the second floor, Octane, which was buzzing with a decent cover band, while Dick’s Last Resort was also having a band rock the house. However, the biggest buzz was around the table games with a go-go dancer grinding in the background. Apparently, this is the new thing in Vegas, as casinos are hiring dancers to fill the background while people gamble at the card or other gaming table. The woman wasn’t anything special, but I have to admit, it might be fun to play some Texas Hold Em with a hot chick nearby, although it might provide a distraction that your game or wallet might not recover from.

I’m glad that we decided to have Monday be our nice dinner and show night, because while we were out late, I’m not sure we would have had the energy to make it through a big dinner and show, and this was much more casual, which was nice. I was running about with my Oregon Live keeper’s kit on, and the temperature was very comfortable outside. As we walked back to MGM Grand, girl and I realized that we still had five more days and four more nights to enjoy the sights, and we’d already done so much in a short period of time. We had talked about going to the Fremont Experience, go further north on the Strip, go on roller coasters, see more shows, whatever we wanted, but it was nice to have a general plan, but nothing set in stone. At this point, we were more interested in pool time and relaxation, and we were getting plenty of that so far. I also know that girl and I had also spent some time really talking and spending quality time together, and I felt a lot more close to her. Not that closeness was an issue, but when you spend time with someone and you realize that even in these close quarters, you aren’t tired of being with them, you know you’ve found your soul mate, better half or whatever you want to call it. We settled into bed late again, but that’s what vacation is for.

Next Time – A Truly Great Dinner and Fun Show, Wandering Up the Strip, and Gluten Rears Its Ugly Head.

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