Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Around town in August

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, but it’s been rather busy here in Las Vegas. We were woken up about 3:30 on Monday morning by all of the thunder outside (fortunately it was outside) and the sound of rain on the skylight. We’ve got a well insulated attic, but there is a skylight in our ‘master bath’, so when it rains all of the dripping noises come from there. We also put up a large patio out behind the house with a steel roof that sounds marvelous in the rain and hail, but you have to be outside to hear that.

In addition to the thunder we had our in-bed vibrator to inform us that something was going on. Yes, we sleep with our two dogs. Max is the vicious one, he is a ten pound terrier mix we got at the dog pound in San Diego eleven years ago. Buster is a little calmer, he’s the same size but is more of a Chihuahua mix that came home a day after Max from the same place. Our vet thought Max was a year old and Buster around four, so that means they are starting to get old. Max is tri color, mostly black with part white and a very little brown. Buster is all brown with a longer coat.

But Max is king of the house. He barks at everything, tries to bite every ankle that dares come in the door, and is really mean to Buster. Well, after all, Max was here first, if only by one day. But he’s a wimp when it comes to things he can’t control. He loves the concept of going for walks, but by the time we are two houses away he realizes that he doesn’t know what’s going on and he’s ready to go home. If we are out on the street and another dog barks at him he jumps a foot and tries to run. As far as thunder and the sound of rain on the roof, well, he turns into the best ten pound fuzzy vibrator you can find, hiding under the covers and looking for an armpit to hide his nose in. So for an hour on Monday morning it was no sleep because of scared-e-cat (er, dog).

I did wander out back to stand under the metal roof and enjoy the noise. I love thunderstorms, especially here because it’s still warm, standing out in the strong wind, listening to the rain and the sharp cracks and long rolls. But it was exciting in parts of Vegas.

Somebody about a mile away had a lightning strike on their roof. For some reason out here its standard house design to have our air conditioner/heater up on top of the roof. I guess the lack of snow and ice and rain means that the equipment can take just the heat. But that means there is a big block of metal up high, which does make it attractive to lightning. So somebody woke up to a flash of light and a big bang to find their roof and attic on fire. At least there was some water to cool it down a little while the fire trucks made there way over, in the local storm story.

About a half mile further up hill – Las Vegas is basically a valley, with interstate 15 running north/south down at the bottom and the Strip just a half mile off of that. If you head east or west from the Strip it’s a gentle rise up to the mountains on either side, each hilly strip about ten miles away from the bottom. We live about three miles west of the strip, it’s a high enough rise that there is a nice view of the casinos, or there would be if the houses across the street weren’t there. Back to half a mile further west, the heavy thunderstorms resulted in some flooding, as discussed in our local paper.

The concept of a ‘gated community’ is really popular out here. Where a developer buys ten or twenty acres, puts on a few hundred houses and plunks a big concrete block wall around it all, with one or two roads with automatic gates. Everyone gets a garage door opener that works on the gates, the more expensive places have guards to do the opening. Included in the deal is a homeowners association, which is basically a bunch of old grouchy people that wander around writing you tickets for breaking the association rules. We lived in a place with an association back in California, and I’ll never do it again. Some people like it, if done right all the homes then look similar, are usually kept up and clean and tidy. If the enforcers are too grouchy you get a fine for leaving your trash barrel out fifteen minutes past collection time, or parking your car with the bumper overhanging the curb, or letting your grass get too long or having a rose bush dry up and die. Heck, I would much rather put up with the house down the block being painted a hot pink, or the other guy with the car with a flat tire parked out back than have somebody always watching how I do things.

But on Monday morning one gated, walled area had a problem. That was when the storm dropped two inches of rain in fifteen minutes. The storm drains were not designed for that, and the surrounding walls just kept the water in, so several houses on the downhill side ended up with a few feet of water inside. Being uphill and living in the desert meant that no one had flood insurance – pay for flood insurance when you live in a desert? So homeowners insurance does not cover water damage like that, and the owners are now trying to find somebody to sue. The original developer, for putting up the walls (that made the owners want to buy there), the city for not keeping the storm drains clear, or the county for not requiring bigger storm drains, or God for dropping so much water from the sky?

There was more water just a block east of the strip. A large section of the west side of the valley drains down into a large wash, which winds its way eventually to the Las Vegas wash and into the lake. Unfortunately buildings and streets sometimes infringe, and the wide wash is channeled down into smaller concrete lined sections. The water is confined to some large tunnels under the strip and surrounding casinos, but it emerges just behind Harrah’s at Koval Lane, the first street east of Las Vegas Boulevard. By great planning the pipes that go under Koval are much smaller than the tunnel under LV Boulevard, so the water makes it under the Strip just fine, but then emerges and is directed into some small pipes. This works fine unless a big thunderstorm runs up the west side, as it did Monday morning. The result is water four feet deep on Koval. I know, nothing compared to Michigan and the Midwest last week, but for us it’s adventure. Dumb people that try to drive through it getting stuck with water up to their dashboards, screams of terror and stupidity. A few hours later it’s all dry, with nothing to show for the flood except for muddy cars and trash pushed up against a fence.

But that is the road we take to get into our parking garage, I come from the north and had no problem, but the road was closed just to the south of us, and so half the people in our building ended up circling down to the Strip and sitting in traffic for two hours to come into work late. The end result: well, our official US weather site is at the airport, which received .58" of rain. Which brings our total for the year (since last January 1) to a little over 1.5 inches (under 4 cm). Well, it is the freekin' desert (but still a little low, we should have about twice that by now).

Tuesday after a low sleep Monday morning led to desires for early bed time. Well, you know us old farts with all the kids moved out, we can sleep again when we want to. But there were stories of a full lunar eclipse coming, and since they are not very common B and I thought we’d get up to see it. The paper said it was scheduled to start at 1:30 am, so B set her alarm for that. We got up, looked at the gorgeous full moon directly overhead for a while and didn’t see anything happening so we rescheduled for forty minutes later and went back to sleep. That alarm went off, back out to look, and less that a quarter of the moon was covered. Back to bed. Up again at 3:30 and we finally had a fully covered moon in the sky. I do realize that it takes the moon 28 days to orbit the earth, and so the apparent speed at which it moves is not very great, but I did not realize that it would take two hours from the start until the eclipse would be full. Anyway, multiple awakenings aside, we got to see a full lunar eclipse in our own back yard. But when my alarm went off at 5:30 I really was not prepared for a second night with such a lapse in quiet time.

Here is how it looked to our local paper:

Other stories around town deal with the local pool scene. As you probably have heard, Las Vegas has quite a few late night venues for people. For just a few swipes of your credit card you too can drink three hundred dollar bottles of vodka with semi famous Hollywood celebrities. Most of the fashionable places open at 10pm, with the fun really starting around 2, and the noise quieting down around sunrise. But for those of you that want to party you can now also do so in the daytime. The Palms pool has become the hot place to be (besides the 106 degree temperature), standing around in your trunks talking to hot bodies with not much material covering them paying outrageous prices for watered down drinks. The Tao pool at the Venetian is equally the spot to be, as is Caesar’s pool and the Hard Rock pool. Last weekend the Palms held their version of Playboy’s Midsummer Dreams party, where the fewer clothes you wore the quicker you got in (for the ladies at least). Well, the new Palms tower does have the Playboy suite, and is a home away from home for Hef’s Girls Next Door trio.

Land prices are continuing to rise, if not for houses, which here too are having a hard time selling right now, but for casino property. The Harley Davidson Café, a rather run down place on the southern end of the Strip, across from the new City Centre construction, was recently sold, at a price that ends up being $37,000,000 per acre. No word on when that will be coming down so a big place can go up. The New Frontier recently sold for only $35 million per acre. That hotel/casino is closed and awaiting destruction before rising again as a western Plaza Hotel. Makes me wish I had bought that desert property which used to be out in the middle of nowhere.

Credits: I usually only put up my own photos, but these are courtesy (and copyright of) of our local Las Vegas Review Journal.

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