Just to be clear, the broken dreams are not ours, but the entire time we’ve been here, I’ve been mildly haunted by the feeling that everything we’re enjoying: the great food, exotic drinks, spectacular shows, wide streets with well-synchronized stoplights, and the free parking are subsidized at least in part by people gambling away their mortgage payments or rent money.  Everywhere you go in Las Vegas, slot machines are being fueled by legions of dead-eyed people slapping the buttons like lab rats hitting the food pellet switch.  I don’t know the percentage of the desperate compared to those just having a good time, “Experts outside the gambling industry estimate that people with gambling addictions account for about 5% of all players–but 25% of casino and state lottery profits.”  I do know that almost everyone I know who gambles assures me that they win more than they lose, which suggests that casino owners make their millions selling popcorn at the concession stand.  There are people who make their living gambling—participating in it, not running the casinos.  But gambling is a lot like digging for gold; most of the money is made by those selling the shovels, not doing the digging.

But enough of my self-righteous moralizing.  Time for a cigar.

The place we’re staying, Las Vegas RV Resort, is lovely, great pool, nice sites, quiet, and secure.  The first day we were here, Friday, we scoped out a pizza place recommended by the Las Vegas weekly “things to do” magazine as one of the 20 must-visit restaurants in Las Vegas, Metro Pizza.  The pizza was great: the Modesto—garlic, Roma tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, sausage, and fresh basil—brought back memories of some of the first pizza I ever had back when I was a small-town Iowa boy and my taste buds were unsullied by age and smoking.

We actually bought swimsuits, our first this century.    Swimming, which for us  just means bobbing around in the pool, was remarkably pleasant.  I’m not sure why we stopped doing this or why we’re doing it now; possibly the fact that most people here are older than us kept us from being self-conscious in swimsuits.

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Our first real outing was to the Valley of Fire, a Nevada State Park about 45 minutes north-east of Las Vegas.  The park is notable for the red sandstone formations from which it derives its name.

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There are numerous petroglyphs in the park as well.  This set of images shows an atlatl, hence the name Atlatl Rock.  The World Atlatl Association holds an annual event in the park.

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Nan searches for petrified trees in Valley of Fire.

Tuesday evening we picked Leah and Darren up at the airport, dropped them off at their hotel on the strip so they could check in, and then met them at the Peppermill for a late dinner.

Wednesday we went with the kids to Du-pars, a Downtown classic.  I’ve had to learn that “Downtown” means the original casino corridor on Freemont Street whereas “the Strip” means Las Vegas Blvd where the big new casinos are, like Wynn, Paris, Belagio, etc.

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From Du-pars (memorable buttermilk hotcakes) we walked to the Neon Museum, a bone yard of classic Rat Pack-era Las Vegas signage.  Many of the signs are being restored by the museum.

Then we hit the Jerky Store where a variety of dried substances are to be had.  I wandered into a cigar factory and got talked into a $20 “Cuban” cigar.  The guy threw in a $10 factory cigar for $5.  Leah asked me if I thought it was a real Cuban.  I have to say, the bands were absolutely authentic and it was a decent $10 cigar which is what I think a real Cuban is worth after you remove the mystique.  Was it a real Cuban?  Maybe.

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The biggest event for me that day was dinner at Monta, an authentic Japanese noodle shop.  I’ve been dying to try authentic Japanese ramen soup ever since I watched Tampopo, a film about a quest for the best ramen soup recipe (and my favorite foodie movie).

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I’ve never been able to find ramen noodles in any Japanese restaurants, they’ve only had soba or udon, neither of which are like the ramen we see on the grocery stores.  I guess the restaurants think they need to provide their customers with something more sophisticated then ramen.  Fie on them I say!

End of Part I.  Nan and John will return in Las Vegas Part II: Land of Machine Guns, Atomic Testing and Szechuan Buttons

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