Airstream Gothic Brad Cornelius Parody Painting Flamingo Pink

This picture, created by Brad Cornelius and shared with us by our friend Patty Riehm, really captures the surrealism that is the Las Vegas RV culture. (And the flamingo is a reminder that we did most of our driving on Flamingo Road.)

The stereotypical RVer is a kindly retiree whiling away his or her golden years playing bingo and shuffle board, drinking Bud Light and Metamucil and swapping lies about their children and grandchildren. Soooo, in Las Vegas they’re pretty much doing the same things, but against a background of scantily dressed men and women, flashing neon signs and gambling hells while shooting fully automatic machine guns and drinking cocktails containing Brazilian buds that produce an extremely strong tingling or numbing sensation often leading to excessive saliva production. This is all accompanied by sirens instead of the coyotes we’ve heard in our other Southwestern RV parks.

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But we didn’t do most of those things, instead, we went to the National Atomic Testing Museum. Las Vegas is located just a few miles south of the Nevada Proving Ground. LV residents and tourists used to pack a picnic lunch and watch the above-ground atomic tests in the early 1950s, back when we had a less than perfect understanding of the dangers of radioactivity. The museum documents what went on there.

One of the pleasures I get out of going to museums these days is seeing how many objects on display are also in my home. At the Atomic Testing Museum I found my CDV-715 Radiation Detector (pictured above), my Civil Defense Pocket Radiation Detector Pen, my FEMA pamphlet on disaster preparedness, and my container of Civil Defense survival crackers packaged in 1963 (OK, the crackers WERE in my home until I gave them away in December). Yes, we’re still hauling around my CDV-715 Radiation Detector, my Civil Defense Pocket Radiation Detector Pen and several copies of a FEMA pamphlet on disaster preparedness (which I’m sneaking into RV park libraries as we travel around—old folks gotta be prepared too).

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Here’s Nan standing behind a (presumably—hopefully—inert) B-53 9 megaton thermonuclear bunker-buster.

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We met my first cousin once removed Renae Ruhnke for dinner at the Wicked Spoon buffet in the Cosmopolitan, then went to the fountain show at the Bellagio.  Renae was in town for a conference, a stroke of good fortune for us. As a historic aside, dinner at the Wicked Spoon was the first time I ever came face-to-face with more chocolate covered strawberries than I could eat.

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Nan, Leah, and I went to Hoover Dam (I keep calling it Boulder Dam, old habits die hard) while Darren immersed himself in NCAA March Madness on The Strip. Note the high water bathtub ring on the shore of Lake Mead.

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The bridge behind Nan and Leah was still under construction the last time we were here. It allows travelers on Highway 93 to avoid the bottleneck that used to occur when the highway went over the top of the dam. We drove over it on our way to Santa Fe a week later.  It’s the only place with a vantage point that allows you to see the entire dam and they allow people to walk across it. Next year we’ll walk the bridge and see what kind of dam pictures we can get.

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There was some pretty serious chillaxing at the RV.

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Darren and I got in some chess and cigars. We played three games. I lost three games. We also resolved the Great Doughnut Debate. I lost that one too. I take comfort in knowing that 50 years ago I was right; what we know today as the “cake doughnut” was simply the “doughnut” back in my youth. Now the “doughnut” is a yeast-raised doughnut. Time marches on; sometimes I don’t keep up.

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We had our apéritif—actually several apéritifs—at a quirky Downtown cocktail room called the Downtown Cocktail Room, a discreet little place that’s so discreet people have trouble figuring out where the door is. One of the entertainments is sitting at your table, sipping your exotic cocktail and watching through the one-way window as people fumble at the door trying to get in. Their dress code is: dress “as an individual, not a bum, a cheesy tourist or a want-to-be rockstar.”

My exotic cocktail was absinthe, once perceived to be a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug. It was banned in the US and most of Europe by the early 1900s. People took a breath and got over the hysteria in the 1990s when they figured out it’s no worse for you than any other alcoholic beverage and it’s once again widely available. Turns out the wine merchants were behind much of the negative PR.

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Dinner that night was at Hash House a Go Go, a restaurant chain that describes their fare as “twisted farm food.” This is the Big O’ Crispy Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, actually two meals. Two big meals. Seriously, don’t go here unless you’re prepared to leave with leftovers.

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Darren managed to obtain free tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show Zarkana, a residency show at the Aria Resort and Casino. Our seats were great, 4th row center! The show was standard Cirque du Soleil quality, which means spectacular costumes, fantastical music, and an extraordinary cast. To these qualities, Zarkana adds really magical set construction, much more elaborate than anything we’ve seen in the touring shows.

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Then, for our digestif, something new at the Cosmopolitan’s Chandelier 1.5, where we tried the Verbena. The Verbena isn’t on the menu; you have to be in the know to order the Verbena and thanks to NPR—that notorious promoter of alcohol consumption—Darren was in the know. The drink itself is typical Las Vegas cocktail frippery: tequila, Yuzu sour, ginger syrup, and lemon verbena leaves. The magic happens in the garnish; it’s topped with a Szechuan button. You take a sip of your drink to get a flavor baseline, chew up the nasty-tasting Acmella oleracea bud (the Szechuan button—tastes like raw parsley), wait a few seconds for the bud’s analgesic properties to take effect, then pound down the rest of your drink.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m over sixty and new sensations are getting rare. The effect of the button was a new sensation, so new it was almost impossible for Darren and me to describe to Nan and Leah. There was an almost electrical sensation in my mouth, or extreme salty tartness, or something! And the salivary glands were working overtime. The sensation lasted about fifteen minutes. We tried another round, this time Leah joined us. The roller coaster taste sensations were exactly as before.

Darren is now growing his own Szechuan buttons.

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We lingered so long over our Verbenas that Nan wasn’t able to get the “boozy milkshake” she’d wanted from Holsteins, another Cosmopolitan restaurant we’d dined at earlier.  So we went back the next day after the kids departed and she got her milkshake. I got Reuben egg rolls (deep fried sauerkraut, corned beef, and Russian dressing—great concept) and this flight of tasty miniature Chicago-style dogs. Nan was celebrating the Return of the Kindle. When we got home after Zarkana the night before she discovered she’d left her kindle somewhere, either at the show or at the bar. It was a depressing discovery; her kindle is configured to access her Amazon account via Whispernet, Amazon’s 3g cellular data service. She had to call Amazon to have her account put on hold. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Aria Resort’s Lost and Found department had her kindle and we were able to pick it up the next day.

We really enjoyed our time with the kids and hated to see them go. We really enjoyed our time in Las Vegas and hated to go. We’re thinking three months in Las Vegas next year. That should allow us time to explore most of the restaurants in Las Vegas’ Chinatown. Then in 2015 maybe we can come back again and start working through some of the Italian restaurants.

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