Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Four days and three nights - what to do in Vegas

Somebody recently asked what to do in Vegas when coming for the first time (thanks me). A while back I listed a bunch of things to do around town if you were looking for something different, but have never suggested what to do on a short first visit.

First suggestion - DO NOT BRING THE KIDS. Circus Circus still may be theme oriented, the Excalibur has jousting and most casinos have a video game gallery to keep kids busy, but it is NOT Disneyland. Perhaps an adult Disneyland, but not a kids version. The MGM closed it's big amusement park, most places have scaled back kids' stuff, even the Pirates battle is now pirates fighting a ship full of scantily clad Sirens, and the Thunder from Down Under is at Excalibur.

Second - spend as much as you want. If you shop around for rooms you can get by for about $100 a day for two, depending on where you stay and what you eat (that's hotel and meals). For a good time it might be best to budget around $300 per day for a couple as a low figure, giving you money for a fairly nice hotel and some good eating. If you want the Wynn or Bellagio and great eats then perhaps $800 - $1000 per day per couple, plus gambling money might be better. Most Vegas shows now start at $60 per ticket, even for such stuff as a standup comic. Celine and Elton can be up to $300 per ticket, the Cirque shows can also get to $200 if you want to sit close.

Hotels vary their rates for the same room based on how full they are. Looking at the Luxor reservations calendar a pyramid room varies from $69 to $239 per night, (the same room) depending on when you are coming, weekends are always higher. TI has rooms from $79 to $279 based on the day. The Frontier is not as fancy, but it is on the Strip across from Wynn right next to the Fashion Show, and has rooms from $45 going up to $75 on the weekend.

If you are coming to Vegas for the first time then you really have to do some of the things that are associated with this town. I mean, if you don’t want to go to the casinos then why come here? There are lots of prettier places. I would suggest first that you stay at a hotel on the strip – that’s the place to be. You can save some bucks by going to one of the hotels on Paradise, but then you are a cab ride away and not as apt to wander. Almost all of the hotels are nice – some are downright gorgeous. So where you stay depends on how much you want to spend. For a first trip I’d suggest the Luxor – when reserving ask for a room in the pyramid. The views are nice from any side, but I liked the west side and watching the sunsets. (ask for the side when you check in). Get a room around the 9th or 10th floor. You are up high enough, and still have a nice look down into the inside from in front of the room. You get big windows that follow the angle of the pyramid, and you get to ride up those neat elevators that travel sideways. (no elevators in the middle, these start at the corners and follow the angle of the roof as you go up, feels really strange) The Luxor has absolutely the best look of any casino when you walk in the front door – looking up twenty floors inside the pyramid past those big statues. If you’ve got big bucks, the Bellagio is usually rated pretty highly. But it’s about four or five times the cost of the Luxor.

Arriving – when you fly in you really don’t need to rent a car. Everything is relatively close, and it’s cheaper to get a cab and be dropped off right out front. Don’t get ripped off by the cab driver – we read about them taking long trips all the time. In Nevada the driver has to drive the way you want him to, and because of all the problems they cannot take the long way (the ‘tunnel’) without asking you first. It might be phrased as ‘the quickest way is the freeway, ok?” Don’t fall for that line. When you take a cab from the airport say “NO TUNNEL”. The airport is right at the south end of the strip. If you are in a strip hotel then they can drive right out the front of the airport, travel up Paradise and hit any of the hotels rather quickly.

The alternate route is for the driver to take the tunnel under the runway, which heads south away from the strip. They then turn right on 215, loop around the airport, go north on 15 and take off on Flamingo or Sahara and back to the strip. This adds an extra $5 or $7 to the bill. And, depending on when you arrive, since these are the only two freeways in the area they are usually jammed with commuters, causing additional charges and delays. If you are at one of the downtown hotels then this route is the quickest, but if the driver wants to take you up 95 ‘because of the traffic’ then you will be paying an extra $20 or more because of the distance. Look out the north facing windows of the airport – you can see almost all of the big hotels from there. If the driver goes in a direction away from them then you are being ripped off. This isn’t unique to Vegas – cab drivers all over the world do it.

After you arrive – get out of the room! Come on, a hotel room is a hotel room. If you want to stay in the hotel then check in one near your home, and save the travel hassle. This is Vegas, go outside! It doesn’t matter what time of year you get here, the weather will be great! We only get three inches of rain a year, so odds are the sun will be shining. It is cool in winter, but it still will be up around 70f in the afternoon, nighttime lows can be in the thirties so bring a light jacket. You’ve heard about the summers – over a hundred from June through September. Nights are still warm – the temp drops 35f from afternoon to night, but that still means 80f or so.

If you are here for three nights, then select from these:
1. Go downtown. See what the older casinos are like, and look at what they have done to Freemont Street. Hang around for one of the light shows on the ceiling – they changed to smaller lights for a more hi-def image. (Freee . . . )
2. See one of the Cirque shows. My favorite is O at the Bellagio, but Mystere at TI is still doing great. If you see O, I recommend sitting in the top row – the theatre isn’t that big, and you get a great view underwater to see what’s going on. You can book tickets in advance on the internet for almost all Vegas shows. ($60 for Mystere, $99 for O per ticket)
3. For a bit of old Vegas, hit one of our two ‘feather’ shows – Jubilee at Ballys or the Folles Bergere at the Tropicana. The Tropicana still does ‘topless’ at the late night show, but hurry as the place has been sold and rumors are going around about a tear down and rebuild. Ballys has an afternoon matinee some days also. ($30-$50 per ticket)
4. A romantic dinner – some of the best restaurants in the world are now in Vegas. My favorite for atmosphere is Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay. With advance reservations or early seating try to get one of the smaller intimate ‘rooms’. About $100 per person for dinner and wine, but it is great. The Bellagio, MGM and Wynn all have wonderful food, but the setting is not as romantic. You can get seating at some of the Bellagio places on terraces overlooking the lake and fountains if you would rather have a view. Mix on top of Mandalay and the Eiffel Tower at Paris both have great strip views.
5. See one of the regular shows – book ahead and see Celine or Elton or Barry or one of the other headliners. (these will run $100-$300 per ticket)

For your daytimes, stay on the strip and visit all the big casinos. This alone can take you three or four days, depending on whether or not you gamble much. Walk a little and then sit and watch the crowd. These casinos are BIG, and each one can take an hour to wander through if you look for all the corners. The Wynn is especially challenging, the way it’s laid out. Find the back alleys at Mandalay Bay, look at the fancy restaurants and be sure to make it back to Shark Reef and look down at the swimmers in the wave pool. See the tigers and big fish tank at the Mirage.

Ride the double decker bus down the strip. Catch the Deuce at one of the corner stops, ride it south all the way to the SSTC (South Strip Transit Center). You might have to get off and pay again, but then ride it all the way north, and you’ll be first one on, to get that top deck front of the bus seat. You might do this first so that you can see all of the places you want to go to.

People watch. Get a coke at one of the lounges – I like the two inside of the Bellagio – you get to sit up a few steps, have a comfy chair, rest your feet, and take time with that drink. Every casino has a small lounge that looks out over the casino floor. Get a coke or cup of coffee – it’s worth the $3 for the views. And after all the walking you need a break, and some caffeine.

Catch the afternoon shows or lounge acts. The Sahara has the Casbah lounge, where for the price of a drink you can catch an act. Or the Stratosphere has some nice afternoon shows. For $10-$20 you get to see some of the older Vegas styles.

Have lunch at one of the buffets – lunch prices are usually half of what dinner prices are, and the food is just as good. Try one of the buffets – my favorite is at the Rio, but I’ve heard the MGM buffet is also great. Skip the one at the Bellagio – we tried it and were not impressed. My son likes the Orleans, because they have crawfish and he can eat four or five plates piled up. Vegas buffets are pretty impressive. Even a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" at Margaritaville is an experience.

Have lunch one day at the outdoor patio at Paris; make sure to get a seat outside, even if you have to wait. Even in the summer, there are misters to cool things off a little. No better place to munch on a sandwich and pomme frittes and watch people and traffic on the strip. And it’s right across the street from the Bellagio fountains. Make your espresso last.

Wander through the shopping malls. Caesar’s Forum Shops have been revamped, look at all the $$$$$. Walk slowly and wait for Cleopatra and company to wander through, watch the fountains talk, look at the fishtank. Walk through the Desert Passage at the Aladdin (changing over to the Planet Hollywood) and watch rain fall from the ceiling at the docks (it only rains inside in Vegas). Take your time at the Fashion Show Mall, and watch a fashion show. The shops at the Wynn aren't all together mall style, but you can buy a Ferrari or a $5,000 tiny purse.

Look down on Vegas. Hit Mix the Mandalay just after 5, take the glass elevator up to the 50th floor, have a drink on the outdoor patio and enjoy the view (see my pics below). If you wait until dark the prices go up as does the wait, but go right after they open and you’ll be the only ones there. Go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris. At the north end go up to the bar at the Stratosphere – if you hit the bar it’s just the price of a drink, if you go up to the observation deck you pay more for just the view (unless you want to try the rides up there). Try the top deck bar at Margarittaville. It's only up three floors, but you can still look down at the people crossing the street to get to Caesar's.

If you are a party person then go to one of the "Ultra Lounges" that are now popular. Dance the night away. Every big casino has one or two, they usually open at 10pm and keep going until you leave for breakfast. Jeans might be fine for daytime wandering the strip and the casinos, but plan on dressing pretty or they will not let you in. Even big name celebrities are turned away if the show up without the right clothes. We read about the turn aways every day in our local paper gossip column.

Pretend you’re Grissom on the early CSI and try to hit all the roller coasters. From New York New York on the south up to the Sahara. Sorry, they took the one off the top of the Stratosphere – the cars are now over on the roof at Dr. Hammargrin’s (again, pics below).

Catch the free shows – the Bellagio fountains are worth a daytime and nighttime view. See the Sirens at TI. The Rio has an overhead show in the casino. The Tropicana has a stage in the middle. You can see Anthony and Cleopatra and guards wandering through Caesar’s. Circus Circus still has high wire acts and clowns.

Get married (again?)! Almost every casino has a wedding chapel, but the fun ones are the little stand alone chapels near downtown. You don't need a license to just renew your vows, and you can even have Elvis officiate! (or have Elvis pick you up in the limo, or sing a song for you, or . . ) If it's the first time you'll need a license. Bad news - the city license bureau is not open 24 hours any more. They close from midnight to eight, so plan ahead. No more drunk at 4am let's get married and then get it annulled when you sober up and get back home things like Brittany.

At least gamble a little. You can take a roll of pennies and make them last for several hours at the penny slots – most casinos have them now. Don’t get fooled into playing the max – that raises a penny slot up to a two dollar slot. You aren’t going to win the big one anyway, just enjoy yourself. Find a dollar craps table, or a dollar blackjack table and play some. If you don’t know how then almost every casino has afternoon classes in how to play the games. Take a few hours and have a professional teach you how to play craps or blackjack, even if you don’t intend to drop thousands, or especially if you do.

Enough to keep you busy? If not, email me and I can help you come up with a specific itinerary. joeinvegasATjoetheprogrammerDOTcom

Monday, August 28, 2006

Waiting at the Burger Bar

While over at the Mandalay last week we stopped for something to eat. There is a little shopping strip in between the Mandalay and the Luxor, lined with some fancy shops and some eating establishments that are not as fancy as the ones over in the Mandalay itself. One place I like is the Burger Bar.

The young lady out front is the hostess – you can definitely see a little Hooters Girl influence in the management’s choice of attire. I wonder what they’d do for an outfit if a guy applied for the job.

There is sometimes a large crowd outside waiting to get in, but that day there wasn’t any line, just no empty tables. So we put in our name and hung around looking in shop windows. There is a fancy shoe store across from the restaurant, but it had a ‘back in five minutes’ sign on the door. While waiting somebody came by looking to get in – it took a second glance –

Looked like an interesting outfit. Being a guy I of course pondered if she had it on backwards. I had to wait for her to turn around to be sure:

But yep, bouquet and everything. No maids in funny colored dresses with her though. But this is a common dress style to see in Vegas. We’ve been in shopping malls, casinos and restaurants and found couples dressed in similar outfits all over. The Luxor and Mandalay Bay both have wedding chapels, but they came from behind us so probably Mandalay. Unless they have a limo reserved for one of the places downtown.

So D, next time you come out, why don’t the two of you bring along those outfits you wore? Might get you preferred seating someplace. The tables will still be happy to take your money, no matter what you wear.

Friday, August 25, 2006

E Friday with grapes

Reading some posts, I came across this quote – “Someone's gonna get punched in the mouth before the day is over, I can feel it, and it ain't gonna be me.” (you know who you are). I just love that concept. Much better to warn people ahead of time.

I’ve got more shots from the Mandalay, but just thought I’d quickly put up for VG something appropriate to E Friday.

Three associated pics. We planted some Thompson Seedless grapes out back last year. B wanted something to cover an empty section of block wall. That dull grey looks so plain. This year it’s doing quite well, and we had a nice amount of grapes come out. They weren’t very big, and the birds have been eating most of them, but B likes to take E outside I the morning when it’s cool (for Vegas that means under 100f), and she wanders around. She has learned to pick cherry tomatoes from the garden, and also to look for the grapes. She likes both.

So here she is looking for tomatoes.

And the aftermath of the grape hunt.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More Mix

I was driving home last night and realized that in yesterday’s post I failed to show you the neatest thing about Mix. So here we are again.

Let’s start with how we got there – we went to Dr. Lonnie Hammergren’s house. The good doctor is a neuro surgeon, and former lieutenant governor of Nevada. He is running again this year, and so is pushing himself at various events. E recently joined the ‘Red Hat Society’ and they were invited, with guests, to the doctor’s house on Sunday the 13th. I have always wanted to go there – we drove by when we were looking to move here and were impressed with what we could see over the wall in his back yard. He calls it the ‘Museum of Nevada History’ and has an open house every year around Halloween. He usually as 20,000 or so visitors that day, and I’ve never wanted to be part of a crowd like that. But this was a smaller group, so we went. Here’s what part of his back yard looks like:

You can see what drivers on the street behind might see over the wall. I really like the Statue of Liberty hand. The train engine on the right is from some mining railroad. The yellow roller coaster used to be on top of the Stratosphere. Dr. H hits every hotel and casino when it closes and buys things - big things, like roller coasters, signs, bars, and whatever else he finds interesting. He's got Liberace's last dressing room, his own planetarium (dome ceiling, projector and everything) and junk (sorry, high quality collectables) everywhere. I’ll pull out my photos of his place and post those soon.

We went with some friends, and they wanted to hit Mix for the view. There is a special elevator in the back of Mandalay Bay to get up there, with a security desk and guard. The place opens at 5pm, so we had to wander around a while before going up. The sign said ‘appropriate dress’ and we were in jeans, but I guess that early it was OK. They run one of those special ‘ultra lounges’ up there after 9pm, so I am sure the dress code changes as it gets later.

It’s a glass elevator that goes up the fifty stories on the outside of The Hotel – the second tower at Mandalay Bay. That side of the building faces east, so as you go up you get a direct view of the end of the airport runways, with the strip running off to your left. Getting off the elevators you are faced with the Fire side of the place,

with the Ice restaurant straight ahead in the back. As you can see, most of the booths face the large windows looking north. Mandalay is the last big casino on the south end of the strip, so this view lets you look up at all the big places, with downtown in the distance and our mountains in the distance.

I showed the glass bubbles yesterday, but the dining room was challenging to see through the glass

Both the bar and restaurant have outside patios, so if you don’t like looking through the glass you can go sit outside and enjoy the view.

But the neat part is in the back – just to the left of the elevator as you come in (to the left of the bar photo). This is the side of the building that faces south.

This looks past the other Mandalay Tower and over the pool area, with the end of the airport runways. So you can watch the planes taking off in front of you.

What’s neat about this? Let me give you a hint – the whole tower is glass, so there are no solid outside walls, just the glass.

Yes, this is the view when sitting down in the rest rooms. You don’t have to sit facing a metal door; you enter small rooms from behind next to the toilet and sit facing the windows. Both the men’s and lady’s rooms have views like this. In addition the men can also stand facing the windows. I think it might be a little disorienting if you’ve been here drinking for a while and take a break. Imagine this view at night after a few drinks (expensive drinks). Oh, and the rest rooms follow the bar theme - everything is black; floor, ceiling, walls, and fixtures. I didn't notice if the TP was black too. I don't know what the lighting is like after dark, but you would end up sitting in a completely black room with floor to ceiling windows in front of you looking at the lights fifty stories below and the lighted airplanes taking off as well. Dramatic.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


We went out to visit Mandalay Bay last weekend, after some other activities (click on the virtual tours). I’d never been up to the top, and the friends we were with had been up to Mix, located on top of The Hotel, the new tower and high end rooms. It’s up on the 50th floor, and you take an outside glass elevator to get up there. Nice views from the south end of the strip.

Looking to the north, below is the Luxor, with the strip proceeding in the distance. You can see Excalibur next and New York beyond that.

Just to the left of the above view is the construction site for the new City Center project which extends over 66 acres from New York up to the Bellagio.

I drive down Frank Sinatra Drive, which is just to the left of the construction, every morning on the way to work. I get to see the back of the casinos, and watch the work going on.

There are two sections to Mix, a nightclub/bar and a restaurant. It’s supposed to be a pretty swinging place at night.

The bar is the ‘Fire’ section, all blacks and reds, and the restaurant is the ‘Ice’ section, all white and glass.

There is a glass sculpture, composed of lots of bubbles suspended on wires, near the entrance. They weren’t serving food yet, but we had a drink on the outside patio and took these pictures. Not cheap, but quite a view. Must also be pretty at night. The restaurant has outdoor seating as well, which must be one of the most dramatic and romantic settings, looking down on all the lights of Vegas.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Agave Mexican

We met some friends at one of our local Mexican restaurants - Agave - it’s on the west side of town in an area called Summerlin. I’ve written about it before, but thought I could waste your time talking about non-political stuff today. After listening to parts of that presidential press conference this morning I’m glad I just sat outside and had my coffee and calmed down. My representative to the world. O

Back to Agave –

It’s not really a true Mexican place, I guess it’s one of those Fusion places, an Americanized version with the original concepts. But it’s a nice place, food is good and reasonable priced, but with all the hard surfaces it is really noisy inside.

There is a nice large main room, with a bar in the middle under a soaring roof, with lighted stars filling the top. It looks pretty, I like all of the colors. They also have a nice patio:

It follows the common practice of having an open kitchen, so that you can see all of the furious activity involved with creating meals.

I usually order the tacos – they have five or six varieties: several flavors of chicken, pork, beef and even goat. (My wife likes the goat one).

And of course I always finish up with a decaf coffee and one of their desserts. I have a big sweet tooth, and just love desserts. Especially if it’s got chocolate in it.

But I did pass on a trip to the outlet mall, so that E could have her first carrousel ride.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I surrender

I figure the terrorists have already won. Yes, I know, it all depends on your definition of ‘won’. I don’t think a battleship will pull into New York harbor and our generals will go out to sign a document of unconditional surrender. For this group I think it means cause as much confusion and disruption as possible, and get the largest amount of people to look at their cause. This they seem to have accomplished.

Look, two dozen people are arrested in England and our whole country is thrown in turmoil. How many thousands of man hours (sorry, people hours) are being spent standing in airport security lines? How many flights, here and in England, have been delayed or cancelled? How many people have given up on flying? How many National Guard troops are now patrolling airports? How many new security procedures will be put in place? How many replacement tubes of toothpaste will have to be purchased? How many freekin’ hours of news on this horrendous plot will be aired? How many newspaper and magazine articles and blog posts will be written about this topic? When I finally get to carry on my nail clippers, but then have to give up my toothpaste I figure I’ve had enough. See, even I’m giving in.

Just heard on the news that some judge declared W’s free form wiretaps to be illegal and unconstitutional. Yea! More rocks on the pile. But both sides agreed that the taps could continue while the ruling is appealed. Guess that gives time to get one more justice on the Supreme Court. And the paper said that at recent judicial conferences panel members were not even allowed to discuss the Supreme Court case that decided the last election. Can’t even talk about it, as if it never happened. Guess the winners always get to write the history books, so you end up only hearing what they want you to hear.

Enough of this junk already. I don’t like being political, but at times I can’t ignore it. Let’s give Deana some pics, since she likes to see new things. I can’t compare my photos to hers, but here they are anyway.

We moved the bird feeder from back under the peach tree out to the low water area of the yard. Pigeons were just eating up all of the grass back there picking at seeds that dropped. Over here there is no grass, let them pick at the rocks.

I cut off the bottom of the feeder so that the pigeons can’t sit on it – they would empty the thing within ten minutes. The finches at least take a day and a half to go through the pound or so of seeds. The little birds seem to like this location better. They sit in the tree and on the wires around the feeder – at times we can have forty or fifty little birds in the tree or around the feeder just chirping away.

And for Virginia Gal, I know it’s not Friday, but I don’t think I’ll be posting tomorrow so here’s some virtual E Friday pics.

She is really generous when eating. Loves mac and cheese, actually she likes anything cheese. She just shoves that stuff down. She is willing to share, even with the dogs down on the floor under her. But with them she only shares when she’s full and just does it for the entertainment value, mostly looking at Grammy to see her reaction.

She has lots of toys – I have absolutely no idea where they all came from. She likes a little stuffed monkey, and carries it around.

Sharing her swing with it.

And she also likes Grandpa’s socks.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Security suggestions

An open letter to the people in charge of transportation and homeland security.

I think you guys are a bunch of reactive idiots, and the traveling public is just as bad for accepting the junk you put us through. I do not feel any safer when flying, and due to your most recent restrictions I doubt if I will be flying very much at all. I know that I’ll have to take planes to go overseas, but will not be taking many cross country vacations and will be driving to our west coast destinations.

From what I’ve read about the 9-11 hijackers, they evidently went through all the airport security and checks with no problems. I don’t remember seeing anything specific on how their weapons got on the planes (anybody?) but did read suppositions that the cleaning crews of the planes might have left some things onboard. Was anything else published about this? So all of your long lines and taking off of shoes and wiping bags and refusing water bottles and makeup (come on, get real) do not appear to have any affect other than increasing the lines and making stupid people feel safer and really pissing off some of us that feel all of this stuff is useless. But I feel so much better about finally getting to carry on my nail clippers, but I worry that now somebody will figure out how to hijack a plane using their nail clippers. Such a potential weapon.

Will we be moving to the British level – no Ipods for listening to on trips, no DVD players or electronic games to keep kids (and adults) entertained, no food to make up for what the airlines don’t serve (drinks already banned), no books to read (you might hide something, and the pages burn)? You can bring on the sleeping pills to knock you out since there will be nothing else to do.

I am not appeased by having armed National Guard troops wandering through the airports. As far as I know there have been no shootings or physical altercations in an airport with potential hijackers that would be enhanced by having military troops present. I know they are doing well in Iraq, but most of these guys are my neighbors and I do not feel comfortable with those guys having weapons with real bullets. Think Barney Fife here. (OK, I know most are competent individuals, but hey, don’t you have any worries?) Yes, I have been in airports and overheard people saying that they feel so much safer with the Guard troops armed and in uniform. Come on.

I’ve got an idea on how to enhance the security feeling of the flying experience – why not ban all luggage, checked and carry on. And instead of just making people take off their shoes why not have everybody just strip and go through security naked. Then the metal detectors will not have false positive readings (unless people have too many fillings in their teeth or metal plates in their heads) and you will not have to put carry ons through the scanners. After people pass through checkpoints you can either make them fly naked and issue towels to sit on or give out those cheap paper jumpsuits. I guess you will also need paper diapers for the babies that were stripped (of course every traveler will get naked) and some cleaning supplies for the kids that don’t wait for the new diapers. If people require canes or crutches or wheelchairs just don’t let them fly. Instead of security personnel pawing through bags they could shift to (most are already wearing latex gloves) cavity searches. Of course everyone would be subject to those as well, not many hiding places would be left. And the thought of that might make more people apply for the job. (think Jessica Simpson and Brad Pitt being searched, not those (us) old hairy guys)

I was riding with somebody last week, and he had on the radio a talk show that I don’t usually listen to. The ‘radio personality’ was yelling at people that were complaining about the carry on restrictions. He obviously felt it more important to give up our rights in the name of safety than to defend individuals. If that is the majority opinion, then perhaps it might be time to move on to some of the concepts that Nazi Germany introduced back in the 30’s and 40’s: armed military on street corners and walking the streets, stopping everybody and demanding identification papers. “May I see your papers please – papers?” Hey – this would also start catching those illegal aliens too.

We already have checkpoints on some freeways – most trucks have to stop for inspection. Driving to California there is an agricultural checkpoint (which has been closed my past few trips) and when driving east over Hoover Dam inspectors stop cars. Right now they only look at a few, but in the name of safety perhaps they could just look at every car. Give them drug sniffing dogs and they might also catch other criminals as well. Better computer software and face recognition programs would let them get known criminals, and even stop kidnappings. Putting inspection stations on every freeway ever few miles would boost employment by opening many job opportunities and make us all safer, as well as cutting down on speeders since all driving will be stop and go. If you space these things right the entrance line for one checkpoint might start right past the previous one, not giving people time to speed up. Of course it would delay things, but hey, if people don’t mind standing in line for three hours to get through airport security why should they mind an additional three hour delay on the way to and from work for a vehicle inspection if it makes us all safer? And we could raise money – you could also make these toll stops, and have people throw a buck or two into a basket before being searched. And if they are made to use credit cards then we could also catch identity thieves and do full credit checks too.

We could also expand our use of the National Guard and have them wander the streets performing random house checks. They could just break down any door (don’t want to give people a chance to hide things by knocking) and search houses randomly. After all, we don’t know who might be building bombs in their basement. And it might catch those druggies that grow pot or have meth labs as well. We could expand things learned at Abu Grabe prison as well – when searching houses they could randomly torture people and see if they can find any other dangerous situations.

And in the paper today, the White House will use this recent threat as justification to permit them to do all that wire tapping and recording and phone analysis and capture of bank records and torture in Guantanamo (oh, sorry, it's not torture if we get to define the word) and even get congress to say it's OK to ignore the Geneva Convention, throwing aside over fifty years of support. So what will our reaction be if some country starts arresting our soldiers and putting them on trial, because the Geneva Covention no longer applies? Another invasion?

So, should I send these suggestions directly to Mr. Chaney? Might be some things he has already thought of and be just waiting to implement.

Please feel free to talk among yourselves below.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Strip and E Friday

Wow, still at work. It’s been a busy week, oh my. Hope I don’t get too many calls over the weekend. But, back to our Strip trip.

When we hit the Strip last we parked at the Desert Passage garage and wandered up to the Flamingo. On the way we passed Paris

Which is very nice to hang around in the summer; there is a big fountain out front that you can get close to and a street side restaurant on a low balcony that is lined with misters, so if you pass by closely you can get a nice cooling spray falling down. There is usually a crowd right there enjoying the brief respite.

When up on the third floor open bar at Margaritaville we looked across the street at Caesar’s Palace. It looks rather interesting from this angle

Especially after the rebuild of the Forum shops and the new tower.

Most of the new casinos have a rather complicated appearance, and are rather nice.

I drive to work down Frank Sinatra Drive, which is along side I-15 and runs behind the big strip casinos that are on the West side of the Strip. Right now the MGM Corp. is working on their new City Center project - $7,000,000,0000+ of work adding basically a whole city; with major casinos, hotels, condos and shopping areas.

The first part of construction was an employee parking garage for Bellagio employees. They used to park on a big flat lot where the construction is centered. The garage has room for over 7,000 cars and opened last week. It’s seven stories tall, and the top looks like it can take more levels if required. They are still working on it, now putting up some steelwork that will probably hold big signs or something on the side facing I-15.

Since the employees started parking in the garage construction has shifted to the big empty lot. I don’t know how many acres it will cover – it is a huge area. So far a concrete batch plant has been built on one side (think of all the concrete this will take, guess it’s easier to mix on site) and digging to lower the area has started. There are hundreds of pieces of excavating equipment, and most of the area looks like it’s been lowered about ten feet so far. I don’t know how low they will be going. Most casinos have very large basement areas, where they put the kitchens and laundry facilities, and have corridors going all over so employees don’t have to walk through the public areas to get to different sections.

The most visible part of the work to me as a commuter are all of the trucks carrying the dirt away. When I drive down in the morning – usually around 6:30am or so – they are hard at work. I usually get stopped by the stop sign people that halt traffic so trucks can come out of the work area. Fortunately the trucks just travel in pairs, so I’m not waiting for a few dozen to come out. These are big side dumps, with long double trailers. They drive south, just ahead of me over to Russell Road, dropping rocks and leaving clouds of dust in their wake. Oh well, as fast as the work seems to be going it should not be too much longer before the digging is done. It is interesting to go by every day and see how the work is progressing.

In another area of town there is another cell phone tower being built. I’ve put in photos before of towers made to look like palm trees.

But this one is being disguised as a pine tree.


And for VG, here’s a little of E Friday.

Last trip to Toys R Us (a big supermarket for kids) we picked up some things she could manipulate, rather than just walk around with. There were several wooden puzzles designed for little fingers.

She likes taking the pieces out and putting them back in.

And here’s a companion to the last posting – I really like the outfit and mostly the smile.

She is always smiling. With our bright Vegas sun she always has a hat on when going outside.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sci Fi Tuesday and Margarittaville

Do you remember a ‘Flock of Seagulls’? Weren’t they the group famous for the hair? Oo – found some pics

They are back performing tomorrow at the Hard Rock Hotel’s outdoor poolside venue. That type of arrangement seems to be getting popular for casinos – where the band is up on a stage surrounded by the pool, and the audience stands in the water or sits around the edges. Besides the Hard Rock I know of similar shows at the Palms and Mandalay Bay (pictures of that one down a ways). I guess it’s nice on a hot evening to stand in a pool of cool water and dance to the band. All of the places encourage the girls to wear bikinis, thereby attracting more beer drinking guys. And as our DJs suggest, if you are a beer drinker there are advantages to standing in the pool. (you figure that one out) (Euuuu . . . )

Just read that the Rolling Stones are coming back here on there next tour - tickets from $125 to $450. Maybe they're already sold out.

I saw a new show on the Sci Fi channel this week – Dead Like Me. It’s a little strange, and I don’t fully understand the concept. Evidently when some people die they are selected to hang around on earth and help the souls of other people that die pass on. I don’t know if this week had the first episode, but if it did it was really poor at explaining the back story. – oh, the web site has episode explanations, so it looks like I missed three. Here is what the Sci Fi web site says:

Georgia "George" Lass (Ellen Muth) is an 18-year-old college dropout who has no job skills and seems unable to take an interest in anything, including her own life. She projects an air of cynicism that infuriates her mother, baffles her father, and intimidates her younger sister.

When her mother, Joy (Cynthia Stevenson), insists that George get a job, she applies to a temp agency that sends her out as a file clerk. Her lunch break — and her life — are cut short when a toilet seat from the Mir space station drives her into the pavement.

George does not realize that she is dead until Rube (Mandy Patinkin), the kindly leader of a team of "grim reapers," points out her remains. Rube takes George under his wing and introduces her to the other members of his undead group: Mason (Callum Blue), Roxy (Jasmine Guy) and Daisy (Laura Harris). In addition, Rube explains to George that in order for her soul to move on to its next level, she has a quota of souls she must help remove from those on Earth who are about to die.

The members of Rube's team of reapers are all, like George, people who died with unresolved issues. They still have lessons to learn that — for one reason or another — they failed to learn in life. They move about the Pacific Northwest in the full light of day. They walk the city streets and eat at all-night diners, just like anyone else. They have to find their own places to live, cook, eat and do their laundry. They look just like everyone else, but as "un-dead" grim reapers they appear physically different to the living than they did when they were alive.

Dead Like Me revolves around George¹s adventures as she comes into contact with an eclectic group of people who are about to meet their maker, and as she learns to interact with her fellow reapers, with Rube, and with her new/old boss, Dolores Herbig. She also looks in on her grieving family and must cope with how things continue to change without her. All of these interactions lead her to ask: What if death is not the end? What if it is not even an escape, but an opportunity to accept responsibility? … What if death is a wake-up call?

It was a little hard to get into, but after most of the first episode (they show two one hour episodes on Tuesday evening) I finally started to enjoy it. The main actress (Ellen Muth) is either a little strange herself or does a very good job at acting the part. I would highly recommend it. B wandered through and could not stand watching, so I guess it definitely is not for everyone, it’s the type of show where you have to like the characters rather than the action. No magnificent special effects, no spaceships or dragons, it probably will not get renewed, but I hope it does. The website shows two seasons worth of shows, so at least I get to watch it for a little while.

And now for something completely different: another one of my anti-government rants.

Our local paper yesterday had an interesting editorial on our current defense budget. It stated that the defense budget has grown 40% since 2001, and is higher than it has ever been. I know people use the fact that our military declined after world war one, and we had a challenge in gearing up for WW2, but we did end up winning (didn’t we?). The current budget consumes quite a lot of money, and does not include what is being spent in Iraq – that comes from special appropriations. We are building nuclear attack submarines, destroyers, and several new attack and fighter aircraft. I don’t see the threat. As discussed, the cost of one of the multiple destroyers under construction would pay for vaccines for the entire population, feed the homeless and cover a lot of other social expenses.

Supposedly our military is gearing up for the ‘new’ type of fighting, police actions like we have in Iraq and Israel has in Lebanon. But unfortunately they are doing this in addition to following the old style, with submarines to launch nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union and sink the bad guy’s ships and big ships to sink the other guy’s submarines and fighter planes to shoot down the bad guys planes. But Iraq has no submarines or ships or planes. Why?


Wow, Tuesday already – get to watch the next two episodes, followed by Eureka!. Glad that the Sci Fi channel is producing interesting new shows, the ones on the networks all seem to be either lame sitcoms or some type of contest between out of work actors or singers or chefs or something.

I’ve been busy at work – yes, more than usual. Last Thursday night one of the computers went down, two of it’s hard drives just burned up. It’s the computer that holds all of the collection data; the collection system is the one I am mostly involved with. Ended up sending all the collection agents home on Friday, didn’t come back on line until the Saturday shift. I’ve been getting calls every night from the night operator when problems come up. Sunday morning it was calls at 1, 3:10, 5:05, 5:20, and 8. Followed Monday morning by about the same set of calls, preceded by one at 11:30, which killed the little run of sleep I was getting. Plus heavy work during the day to recover lost data – of course the machine died at 9:26pm, right after the callers all went home but before any of the backups started. Which means that most of what work was done on Thursday is lost, except for bits and pieces that get moved into other systems. So I’ve been pulling those bits back, along with still finding files that were not restored, and processes that need new security settings because of the change in computers. Oh well, that’s what I get paid for.

Two weeks ag we went down to the strip one evening. Hit the Belagio (pics somewhere below) and had burgers at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. This place is located in the Flamingo, near the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Boulevard. (which came first, the street or the casino? Don’t know). The Barbary Coast is right on the corner – that’s a little place that several of the big casino companies are trying to buy out, just to get the strip frontage.

The Flamingo is one of the few ‘old’ casinos that still has it’s big old neon.

They tried to carry the tropical theme into the casino floor as well, with artificial palm trees and workers in Hawaiian shirts.

Guess that’s why Margaritaville kind of fits in. It’s from the other direction, but still tropical. It is a multi-level conglomeration of bars and seating areas. Even on a Tuesday night (ah, that’s why I missed the first episodes) the place was packed. We registered, picked up the now common hockey puck pager devise and hit the bar on the top level.

There were lots of fans and misters, so even though it was over 100f it still was relatively comfortable. And you could look over the railing down on the Strip and see all the stupid pedestrians crossing over to the Coliseum across the street, dodging cars. Much better to take the time and walk to the corner and use the many overhead bridges. I had ginger ale (designated driver) but B said the special Margaritta was pretty good. I could tell, she ended up being really talkative during the meal, a sure sign that the drink was also strong.

After about a half hour the puck started to sing and blink, indicating that our name was up. We worked our way down three flights to the hostess and were eventually seated on the balcony overlooking the main floor. The inside is made up in a tropical fashion, with palm trees, galvanized steel roofs, an erupting volcano and a seaplane overhead. Three guys on stilts walked around and made balloon hats. Going there for your 21st birthday seemed popular (or at least saying it was your birthday was), as one of the guys went over and made a big ‘21’ balloon hat and everybody sang happy birthday. But with all that metal and space it was REALLY NOISY. It is probably a great place to go for burgers and beer (or margaritas) with a crowd and party, but not the place for a quiet meal.

But the Cheeseburgers in Paradise were pretty good, if skinny. We had seen the restaurant down at St. Bart’s in the Caribbean where he wrote the song when we went along on our daughter’s honeymoon, but that’s a different story. (I think I told it before somewhere).

After eating we hit the conservatory at the Belagio and headed home.

Oh, sorry, missed my E Friday. Here you go VG.

Oh, go watch Sci Fi tonight and let me know what you think (those of you on cable)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


And thanks to Deana who I think likes me (not sure on that one):

1. One book that changed my life- Sidhartha by Herman Hess. When I read it a long time ago it helped me calm down and review things.
2. One book that I have read more than once: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (I like dwarves)
3. One book I would want on a deserted island: How to Catch Fish and 500 Ways to Prepare Suchi, by whoever is a good suchi preparerer and fish catcherer (especially because I hate the stuff)
4. One book that made me laugh: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (I was in the Navy, and it sure sounds the same)
5. One book that made me cry: Cider House Rules by John Irving
6. One book I wish I'd written: Harry Potter (for the money of course)
7. One book I wish had never been written: The Koran - too many people use it the wrong way. And the Bible, again, too many people use it for justification.
8. One book I am currently reading: The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living by Martin Clark
9. One book I have been meaning to read: Alaska by James Mitchner (B talks about it) And the next Harry Potter book