If asked to describe Vegas in one word, I would first ask why someone was asking, but then (after thinking) would have to answer, “surreal.” Vegas is literally the antithesis of reality. An adult Disney World rising out of the middle of the desert whose existence depends upon our collective desire to escape reality. It is a world built on artifice, psychology, and shiny surfaces. It is both beautiful and garish. I both love it and hate it.
One thing I know that I love, however, are my friends. So, when our dear friends Mazzy and Chiarita mentioned last fall that they would be going to Vegas for their first time in February, it was decided that Josh and I would meet them there. Now that we are living in Burbank, Vegas is only a four hour drive. Josh has no great love for road trips, as I do. He would much rather check-out on a flight and arrive with the least amount of effort. After running the logistics, however, it was found that flying and driving to Vegas would take roughly the same amount of time and that driving would be less expensive. As our friends had found a deal on rooms at The Luxor we also made reservations there. And it came to pass that last Thursday morning, Josh and I took off on only our second road trip together in eight years. I typed, “Luxor Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NE” into my iPhones Map program. As it boldly proclaimed, “Starting route to Lass Vegas En Vee,” I knew this trip was going to be fun.
I have been to Las Vegas four times in my life. Hilariously enough, two of those times have been with Coralie. Josh has been twice, but we’ve never been together. So, this was trip was pretty exciting for me. The first time I went to Vegas was during the tail-end of the epic, month-long road trip Coralie and I took across the country with my dad and his friend in 1998. I remember watching the burning lights of Vegas appear over the horizon through the windshield of our R.V, cutting through the night sky as we rolled into town late. This most recent time, with Josh, was equally as awesome because I got to do it during the day and see the wonder of the high desert. There were moments where the scenery looked like the surface of Mars- there was some truly spectacular scenery.
There was also a lot of desert. But, armed with many episodes of podcasts queued we be-bopped our way across it- stopping in Barstow for lunch. We pulled into the Luxor, checked-in, and met up with our friends who were staying in the room directly above ours. The room was perfectly nice, with a great view… but zero wifi. Yes. In the year 2014, there is a hotel on the Vegas strip that doesn’t have wifi. #firstworldproblems. For those of you who don’t know, The Luxor is a giant, black pyramid built with an (obviously) Egyptian slant. We stayed at the top of the pyramid and it was only mildly nausea-inducing. As the pyramid is slanted, their elevators also run slanted. In fact, the staff calls them, “inclinators.” Regardless, it is a disorienting feeling. After assessing the level of travel fatigue in the group, Mazzy (who has an unconventional work schedule) needed a little snooze after their air travel from Atlanta. Josh, Chiarita, and I took off to pick up some water and snacks for the room and stretch our legs after travel. I am still rocking my Up by Jawbone wrist pedometer and I was astonished to see how much walking we did this trip. I always forget just how much walking you do in Vegas. That first night, just walking over the various causeways and through casinos logged over 18,219 steps. We walked to the nearest CVS and down to the Bellagio where Chiarita got to see their famous fountain show– elaborately water-choreographed (ironically) to the Quaker Hymn of “Simple Gifts.” We walked back to the hotel, retrieved Mazzy, and headed to In-and-Out Burger at the request of our Southern friends who had yet to experience the regional fast food chain. After dinner we went back out on the strip to explore. Here is a great picture Chiarita took of Mazzy getting his fortune read by Zoltar in the New York, New York Casino. Notice me with the frozen hurricane beverage in hand. That proved to be a theme. Since we had all had a long day of traveling, we were back around midnight and easily abed.
Since Mazzy and Chiarita were on east coast time, they were up early and breakfasted before Josh and I had even raised an eyelid. Mazzy had gotten Chiarita tickets to see Celine Dion for Christmas and the concert was their primary reason for the trip. The concert was that night (Friday) so, we met around 11:30 and set about exploring more of the strip. We took a cab to the Bellagio, and started there. We, of course, showed them the Chiluly ceiling.
Something I thought was interesting was that a lot of the Casinos were highly decorated for Chinese New Year. It makes perfect sense. I mean, I get how the world works. I just thought it was interesting. It is the year of the horse… so you know where this is going… PONY TOWN.
We then headed for lunch at Caesar’s Palace at Gordon Ramsey’s Pub and Grill. Since Josh and I watch Hell’s Kitchen, it was kind of a cool deal. Although we were prepared for under-seasoned risotto, the meal was excellent. Since the Celine Dion show was at Caesar’s, we scoped out it’s location for later and then kept meandering down the strip. We wandered through the Venetian where Chiarita and I got some awesome hats (wish I had pictures of THAT!) and then cabbed it back to the Luxor to get ready to go out that night. Since Josh and I didn’t have tickets to see Celine, we decided to use one of our friends (the one and only Ken Hite– Sheila’s awesome husband) recommendations for dinner… which just happened to be AT Caesar’s Palace… so it worked out perfectly for us to meet up with Mazzy and Chiarita after the concert. Turns out, Sushi Roku has one of the most beautiful views of the strip and Josh and I had a delicious meal and a lovely time. Also, here is a picture of Josh during out pit-stop in Barstow.
After dinner, we met up with Mazzy and Chiarita (who said the concert was amazing) and went and had dessert at Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar. After dessert, we went out in search of Cleopatra’s Barge. Every time I have been to Vegas, I have passed the Cleopatra’s Barge in Caesar’s Palace… and every time I have wanted to go. Sadly, they had renovated, the Barge had been turned into a small cabaret. *le sigh.* No longer desiring to go, we headed back to the hotel. Total steps walked: 13,934.
Saturday, Josh and I got our acts together, and we set out early with Mazzy and Chiarita for breakfast and to take the tour of the Neon Museum. Josh and I had recently watched Anthony Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations where he goes to Las Vegas. One of the places he stopped was The Peppermill. We had heard good things and went their first. It was a 40 minute wait so we wound up at the McDonald’s across the street… which wound up being fortunate as the McDonald’s was next door to a half-price ticket shop. Both Mazzy and I have been wanting to see The Beatles Love show at The Mirage for YEARS and up until Saturday, the tickets had been prohibitively expensive. And since none of us were willing to sit through a timeshare presentation for a discount, I had almost given up on us going. Miracles happen, and we were able to score great tickets for the 9:30 show that night at a good price! Since we had driven, we had the car which gave us a lot of mobility in getting around town. It also allowed us to easily go to the Neon Museum which is 6 miles off-strip. If you get the chance, GO TO THIS MUSEUM. We all agreed it was one of our favorite parts of the trip. Which is not surprising as it was highly recommended by several different friends. Apparently, around the late 80’s people started realizing the cultural and historical significance of the massive signage that had adorned some of the cities most famous casinos. So, in 1996, the Neon Museum was founded on a 2-acre lot outside of the strip. They work to preserve and restore important specimens and tours are given hourly. Forgive me… I went a little picture heavy here… It was just too cool.
*Notice the “in love” script in the above picture? Apparently, you can get married there! The script was salvaged from the Moulin Rouge sign.
Here, Chiarita show’s us her best cactus impression and Mazzy stands with the skull from the old Treasure Island Casino sign.
Since we had the car, it was easy for us to make our next stop at Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. If you are a fan of “Pawn Stars” or watch The History Channel, this might mean something to you. If not… then bare with me. Here, we had our “celebrity” sighting of Mark Hall-Patton who is one of the historical experts on the show. Oh, also, did I mention that I met Justin Timberlake the day before?*
*Only one of these celebrities is real. Can you guess which?
After Gold & Silver Pawn, my back was acting up again, so we dropped Mazzy and Chiarita off at Fremont Street (which was somewhere Josh and I had both been before) and cruised back to the hotel to rest up for dinner and The Beatles show. As I mentioned earlier, Josh and I follow celebrity chefs, so when Josh told me that he had gotten us reservations at Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak restaurant, I was super excited. Tom Colicchio is a judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and his Heritage Steak restaurant is one of Zagat’s 25 Most Important Restaurants of 2013. Since The Beatles show was at The Mirage Hotel & Casino, and Heritage Steak was at The Mirage, it just seemed like fate. I, of course, have no pictures… but I will tell you that I had the ash-roasted bone marrow with lobster, apple slaw, and lovage for my first course. And a lemon panna cotta for desert. After dinner, there was some gambling. Josh broke even– though Chiarita was the big winner of the trip with a $250 jackpot the day before. After watching Josh play blackjack, we made our way into The Beatles Love show around 9:20.
Like so many, The Beatles are/have been a significant part of my life. And, as such, I am a little picky when it comes to adaptations of their work. I have had the soundtrack to this show for years and it is certainly vetted, but I was curious to finally see the show that this soundtrack accompanied. Let’s just say… it was very… French. There were so many amazing elements, and as a tech design? Stunning. My only qualms were some of the use of scrim… but that is just me being a theater degree nerd. I will tell you this… when the music started, and I heard this music which I intimately knew, played that loud and that large, I had such a visceral reaction. Tears were just streaming down my face– this music that I loved was everywhere around me. There are just times when you are so moved and overwhelmed that your body has no other response but tears. Great costumes. Very whimsical. Sometimes there was a little too much Cirque in my Soleil… but, again… all subjective. What I DID find funny is that Josh (“who is not that in to music”-his words) ALSO really liked the show… but BECAUSE of the whimsy. He LOVED the Cirque de Soleil vibe. He is a self-proclaimed “hater of whimsy” so this was funny to me. Regardless, I was so glad to have seen the show… if for no other reason than that if I hadn’t I would have regretted it. If you haven’t heard the soundtrack, make a point to do so. In fact, I’ve put it in our FTTDWYW: The Store! As Mazzy and Chiarita flew out early the next morning, we headed back to the hotel… with Josh making a brief detour for more blackjack back at the hotel. Steps taken: 10,936.
We got up early and dropped Mazzy and Chiarita off at the airport. Missing them already as we drove away. Since we were already up, we decided to pack up, check-out and get breakfast on our way out of town. Hoping that maybe it would be less crowded, we swung back into The Peppermill and had a 10 minute wait for a table. It did not disappoint. Picture, if you will, a sea of purple, velvet banquets, with red piping. And floating on top of that sea? cherry blossom trees. While short-skirted waitresses scurried around us, Josh and I ate some of the best country fried steak ever. That means something as we are sadly both connoisseurs. Also, one last picture of Liberace’s car.
Josh and I drove out of town and returned home exhausted. We didn’t move for the rest of the day. Steps taken: 4,132.
Vegas, for me, isn’t about the gambling or hangover-esque antics… so, in truth, there is much of the town that is lost on me. For me, the town is all about the spectacle and the experience– the memories made and the adventures had with family and friends. Every time I return to Vegas, the ghosts of trips past visit me while in the midst of making new memories.
“Oh. There’s the Graceland Chapel where Coralie got married!”
“Hey! See that building? That used to be the Imperial Palace! That’s where we stayed in 98!”
“… and then… dad opened the door to the adjoining room… and there was a SECOND ROOM at The Bellagio for just Russell and I! Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.”
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What about you? What are YOUR thoughts about Vegas? Do you watch Pawn Stars? Do you really think I met Justin Timberlake? Have you heard of Tom Colicchio? As always, let us know!