2010: Las Vegas

Vega$, Bay-beee!


It was time to turn for home. Since the best route back home was through Las Vegas, Mike asked if I'd like to stay there a couple of days and take in a show or two. Well, that would certainly be a change of scenery! Actually, I think the truth was that he was itching to visit a craps table. Using the internet, we located a nice-looking RV resort a few miles south of The Strip, called for a reservation, and the next morning we bid goodbye to Utah.

The RV "resort" turned out to be mostly a big fenced parking lot with strips of grass that you pay extra for. I'm not kidding; a spot with grass was an upgrade from the basic price. Hey, it's Vega$.

Friday night we went to The Mirage to see "Love", the Cirque du Soleil show based on the music of The Beatles. Ironically, this show replaced the long-running Siegfried and Roy spectacle, one of the first (and worst) shows Mike and I ever saw in Vegas. Before the show, we had dinner at the California Pizza Kitchen in the casino, where I was reminded of a big downside of being in Vegas -- no nonsmoking laws. By the time we finished eating, my nose was completely stuffy.

The show was fun -- in some ways a bit different from the usual Cirque du Soleil offerings, but including the obligatory head-scratching moments where you're not at all sure what they're trying to convey. I suppose I should have read the description on Wikipedia so I'd get more of the storyline, which is somewhat biographical of The Beatles. My favorite moment in the show was the four roller-bladers wearing identical outfits (including black plastic mop-top wigs) who did some incredible synchronized acrobatic movements using halfpipe ramps.

The sound for the show was amazing; each individual seat is actually wired with three speakers, a total of 6,341 speakers in the entire theater! The songs were all reorchestrated and often the voices didn't sound quite right to me, so I assumed that the music had all been re-recorded using impersonators; but the website for the show says that they used the original Abbey Road master tapes to create the show. The resulting quality was unbelievable and I briefly considered buying the soundtrack, but resisted.

The next day we had a plan for something exciting -- I'll get to that later -- but we needed to kill some time in the morning. Our first stop, mostly because it opened at 9 a.m., was the M&Ms store next to the MGM Grand. Some info online had led me to believe it might be interesting, but really it was just a four-story shopping mall of candy and chotchkes. Lavender M&Ms, anyone?

Or, if you're really flush from the tables, you can special-order a $3000 custom M&Ms jacket made with real Swarovski crystal rhinestones. Oh yeah, put THAT one on my Christmas list!

The next stop was the Luxor hotel, where we went to see Bodies, the Exhibition. This exhibit was recommended to me by a friend when it was at the San Jose Tech Museum a while ago, but we never made it over there. They don't allow any pictures, and anyway it's something you need to see for yourself. It was quite an experience to see illustrated all these names of deeply-buried body parts you've heard only on ER. The exhibit and the accompanying information were so fascinating that we spent nearly two hours inside, and that included blowing off most of the final exhibit room; we were tired of being on our feet and also about to miss our NEXT APPOINTMENT. (Cue drumroll and cymbal crash!)

Years ago, when we first visited Vegas, we considered indoor skydiving. I thought we might actually do that this time, but then I found SkyJump a controlled 855-foot "fall" from the top of The Stratosphere tower (shown at left, from the bottom up). When I described it to Mike, he giggled like a fool and said, "Let's do it! Do it!" That's where we were headed next.

So, see that tiny little blue square (picture at right) at the edge of the saucer? Yup, that's the bottom of the jump platform.

Getting around in Las Vegas isn't a simple proposition, especially in a big honkin' truck. The hotels all have big parking lots, but your car is likely to be a mile away from the lobby, and the traffic is murder once you get to it. After lingering a little too long at the Bodies exhibit, we were late for our appointment at 12:45. But it didn't really matter; you just get in line once you get there. While we waited, we watched others making their jumps on a monitor.

It was only a short wait (and a few hundred dollars) until we were being suited up and strapped into a harness. My handler was Justin; I didn't get the name of the young lady feeling up Mike. Maybe this part was the real thrill.

Friends of jumpers were allowed outside to watch them land on the bullseye; a young lady was pumping up the spectators on a microphone, occasionally asking a jumper for a comment. It didn't take her long to figure out I was a live one, so she kept coming back to talk to me. Mike pretended he didn't know me.

After being harnessed and cinched and trussed like turkeys, our group of four was taken to a private elevator for the ride up to the platform. We breezed past security and the metal detectors; I guess they figured the odds were pretty low that you could sneak in a bomb or a gun or even a nail clipper after that kind of pat-down. Up in the observation deck, there was more waiting in line; two jumpers remained from the previous group so we watched them take their turns. It was pretty boring; you can't really see the jumper after he leaves the jump platform.

I was chomping at the bit, so I went first in our group. First I was let into the machine room containing the gigantic winch that lets you "fall". In there, Jesus checked my harness, didn't like anything about it, and completely re-cinched all the belts. Justin isn't getting a tip, lemme tellya. I waved to the spectators watching through the glass, including a group who was obviously from India. "Is that your family?" said Jesus the smartass. "Sure, can't you see the resemblance?" I replied. Don't try to out-smartass a professional, bub, especially when my veins are full of adrenalin.

So finally Jesus opens the glass doors and drags me -- er, leads me out onto the platform. Sheesh, it's windy up here! He made a big deal of hanging off the edge of the platform trying to reach the cable. When asked why he didn't just use the hook lying near his feet, he said, "What fun would THAT be?" I think Mike was right in his assertion that leaning waaaay out and pretending to struggle is all part of the (fake) drama.

Finally all the fussing is over, I'm all hooked up and certified (or certifiable), and it's time.

Now, I've already stated that I love to be in a high place looking down, and I've even jumped out of an airplane in my youth, and intellectually I knew that I was hooked to a ginormous cable and quite safe and I wasn't going to get hurt. But I must admit that the old lizard brain was having a bit of a problem with the idea that I was actually going to step off that edge into empty space. They have an embarrassment impetus, though -- they get on the microphone and say, "Carolyn is jumping in three-two-one-GO!" So you kinda hafta GO.

The evidence that I did indeed GO can be found in this video. The whole thing was over in seconds, but it was really really fun. Apparently I had the presence of mind to turn and wave at the camera. As I landed squarely on the target, the peanut gallery at the bottom was cheering and I was waving and hopping up and down and generally torturing the poor guy who was trying to get me unhooked.

When I was free from the cable, I raced back inside to get out of my suit and harness, and grab my camera before Mike made his jump. My little Kodak isn't really built for faraway action shots, but I managed to get some fuzzy proof that it really happened.

After collecting our belongings and my DVD of the big event, we discovered a McDonald's right next door to the SkyJump shop and stopped in for a quick bite. Mike was outraged when they insisted on charging him $1 for a cup of tap water. Welcome to Vega$, bay-bee. So I took my Coke cup, got us both some ice water to wash down our Snack Wraps, and then filled up with Coke on the way out. HA! Take THAT, Vega$!

We were pretty tired after our big day and went back to the RV for a little rest before our evening at the Venetian, where Wayne Brady was appearing in an improv show. The show turned out to be just a scaled-down version of Whose Line Is It Anyway, the British show that was imported to American TV by Drew Carey a few years ago. In this Vegas show, Wayne works with a partner named Jonathan Mangum, who's also the announcer for Wayne on Let's Make A Deal. They had a two-man band of keyboard and drums, who seemed genuinely cracked up by a lot of what happened onstage. I was impressed with the quick wit -- particularly Jonathan's -- but the performance dragged in places and lacked the energy of the TV show. I think having only two participants limits the types of improv you can do. Nonetheless, it was a fun show and a perfect way to finish off our stay in Vegas.

The next morning, we pulled out early to make the ten-hour, 525-mile drive home. Vega$ got one last ounce of flesh; Mike stopped to fill the tires at an air compressor in the RV park. It cost $1. For air. I guess the cup of water was a bargain, at least you could see it and feel it.

Yippee!  We're home!

Peanut was one happy non-camper when we pried him out from under the truck seat and carried him into HIS house. He perked up immediately and started strutting around displaying his happytail. Easy for him; he didn't have to clean the trailer.