Thursday, August 14, 2008

Road Trip: Summer 2008, in a nutshell... (Part 1)

Ten days on the West coast brought more smiles and memories burned into my soul than I can count. With the better part of a week in Vegas, a long an exciting drive out to Avila Beach, CA, and then another long and super-exciting drive up Highway 1 to San Francisco, it was really a 3-part holiday - each of which would've been outstanding on its own.

I don't have the full story tonight, just the first leg of it -- a quick recap of some of the highlights, with more detailed stuff to follow when I've got all the photos compiled (done) and uploaded (in process).

We started out with a flight (on United, which was pretty decent) to Las Vegas - my first ever, in fact. What I found in Vegas was astonishing: A super-sized playground in the desert for America to come and dispense with its inhibitions and hard-earned cash. I can understand why the place is so controversial. That 113F heat really is the Devil breathing down your neck, or at least I can see why some see it that way. I just took it in stride, and realized it's stashed out in the desert for a reason.

[Note: Credit where it's due -- While I still find "Airport Security" to be one of the most laughable oxymorons in the English language, the TSA seems to be getting at least a little better at getting people through the line, and NOT pissing me off too much. I had no trouble carrying my Zippo lighter in my pocket, plus my backup Zippo in my carry-on, plus three more Bic-style butane lighters I always have in the same bag that I never clean out. My Leatherman Wave in my checked bag was just fine. I'm also quite certain that my checked bag was not opened by any screeners - everything was perfectly in position, and the tamper-evident floss I'd left inconspicuously threaded on the zipper was intact. So, still not a fan of the TSA and all the "we're looking out for YOUR security" nonsense, but at least they're less of a hassle than the last few times.]

Starting out at the airport, I hopped into a '08 Chrysler Sebring Convertible and headed directly for the Strip. The car itself, for a rental, had some of the usual wear & tear I'd expect: At 28,700 miles, the driver's door speaker was blown (which left only 7 good ones), the 2.4L "Dual VVT World Engine" was sluggish below 4000 RPM, the automatic gearbox... well, it was a typical 4-speed OD box - as exciting as waiting in line at the Post Office. The front-end suspension needed some maintenance, as I later found the driver's front side would howl under light cornering. The brakes would squeal a bit when hot. And, under the circumstances, the car was absolutely perfect. When you're doing a week and a half out in the Devil's Playground, nothing beats a drop-top with some extra room. I had open-air motoring, a half-decent suspension setup for the highway, and overall 28 MPG on the drive from LV to CA.

Fry's in Las Vegas is truly Geek Heaven. I needed a simple dual-1/8" plug so I could use my iPod in the car, and found lots more than I was looking for. K&mdash also found more than she was looking for, though I will most likely defer to her modesty and not post any videos on Youtube of her playing on her new Wii Fit. [grins] Besides, she also found Mario Kart there, and I wanna' play!

We had some fun at the casinos (Bellagio, New York, New York, Paris), lost a little bit of cash on the tables, but made up some of it on the slots. I never understood the draw of slot machines beyond the appeal of a Skinner Box for humans, but turning $1 into $15 in a minute isn't a bad thing in my book. It does, to be certain, beat losing.

Knocking back free drinks on the casino floor is something I could get used to, and am glad I won't.

To kill an afternoon, we drove down to Hoover Dam, where the temperature was just slightly higher than the oven in my house on Thanksgiving. K&mdash, normally as good with the elements as I, was nearing heat stroke on the bridge over the dam. I parked her in the Visitors Center, got her some water, and ran up the hill to fetch the car. On the way home, we saw what was clearly a huge thunder storm. It never got close enough to us to put any rain on my car, but looked quite ominous.

We saw a few other kinds of shows, too: The first was Zumanity, which is Cirque du Soleil's hotter, hornier, more naked side. I want that fishbowl in my house, too. Cirque is always a dazzling group, but Zumanity really takes the brilliance of all the acrobatics and rope-work and kicks it up several stunning notches. A midget flew right over my head - twice!

We also took in Blue Man Group, which I'd expected to find entertaining... and was still quite blown away. Nothing I'd seen of these guys in various media could've prepared me for the live show - and their backup band was quite good, as well. The description of "how systems become interactive" is worth the price of admission on its own. After the show (which is beyond description, so I won't even try), we had a surprise encounter with one of the Blue Men. I believe this was Ninja Blue Man, because he was quite good at stealthing up behind me, staring over our shoulders as we gazed a the artwork on the wall, and then smudging K&mdash's cheek with a dot of blue before disappearing back to the dressing room. Cooooooooool.

Beyond the casinos and the shows and the Bellagio (yes, we stayed at the OMGWTFthisissodamnnice Bellagio), we took a gondola ride at the Venetian, ate at so many wonderful restaurants I lost count of them all, and... got room service on our last night in town, before taking in what was absolutely the most intense show of all.

[Description of last night in Vegas redacted]

Well, shit.. I guess what happens there, really DOES stay there.

The next morning, we got up, got showered and dressed, loaded up the convertible, and hit the road for the California coast...

Stay tuned.

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