Las Vegas, Part Two: Oddities of The West

16 Nov

from August 25, 2008

Nevada is the farthest West I have ever been, taking the crown from Houston. As I flew towards McCarron Airport, it was mainly thoughts like “I’m out West! WEST!” that crowded my mind, but there were other things too.

Nevada is home to some serious Air Force bases. In fact, a large part of the air traffic in Las Vegas is military, and I saw a large number of military personnel in and around the airport. Groom Lake is where every aircraft since World War Two has been tested. Most of them were Top Secret, like the stealth fighter and stealth bomber. The Raptor, the plane due to replace the F-16, was developed there. Every X-plane came out of there, as did some of our very first astronauts. Not coincidentally, Nevada has a very high percentage of America’s UFO sightings. Much of this is due to the testing of planes like the stealth bomber, which even today, unclassified, is still reported as a UFO due to its very odd triangular design. It is speculated that the TR 3B, the new, still alleged, “silent triangular UFO” was developed there. Groom Lake is also near the infamous Area 51, home to much of our classified and still denied extra-terrestrial material. If you believe that sort of thing. Which I do. Reports of the last few years seem to indicate that much of the Area 51 operations have been moved to a new location. At any rate, I saw no strange planes, no odd lights in the sky, and no UFOs. But I was out West! WEST!

Pahrump, Nevada, is the home of the infamous Art Bell and his “Radio Ranch.” Art is the founder of the immensely popular Coast to Coast AM overnight radio show and has several AM, FM, and ham radio towers on his property. Here’s bit from Wiki about Art Bell and Area 51. Note the date:

At about 11 p.m. PST, Thursday, September 11th, 1997,he designated one phone line for Area 51 employees who wanted to discuss the secretive base. Several callers claimed to work at Area 51, but the bizarre highlight of the night came when a seemingly distraught and terrified man claimed to be a former Area 51 employee recently discharged for “medical” reasons. He cited malevolent extraterrestrials at Area 51 (“extra-dimensional beings” who are not “what they claim to be”) and an impending disaster that the government knew would take out “major population centers.” Midway through this call, Bell’s program went off the air for about 30 minutes. After talking to network engineers, the official explanation was that the network satellite had “lost earth lock” or forgotten where the earth was. Network officials were baffled, and the cause remains a mystery.

While all of this was forming the background of my thoughts, I was looking out the window, really bothering the old woman next to me, and wondering where Las Vegas was because we were getting kind of low and very close to those hills up ahead.

Then we were over the hills and there was Las Vegas spread out before me. It really did seem to be nestled in the foothills, at least at first, then it spread out far and wide. Low, though. Except for the Strip, Vegas is a very low town, with virtually no tall buildings. In the middle of nothing, it really is an oasis in the desert. An oasis designed to rip you off, but an oasis nonetheless.

The airport is very close to and directly behind the strip. We flew behind every major hotel and casino: Luxor, shaped like a pyramid; Caesar’s, which took up more space than any other two casinos combined; and New York New York, which looked not so much like New York as it did a moderately talented child’s idea of what New York looked like, despite never having been there. Plus it had a roller coaster that went around the Empire State Building.

We got off the plane, skipped baggage claim, and right there, in the middle of the airport, was a glass-enclosed room filled with slot machines. Who would play a slot machine in the airport? Aside from, like, a gazillion casinos just a stone’s throw away, those slots have to have the worst odds in the world. They must never pay off. Who would sit down to play one of those? Not me, but a lot of other people, all of whom seemed to have gotten off the same tour group. They wore jeans, denim shirts with some embroidery that I could never make out, and odd little straw cowboy hats. They were all over, I’d estimate, 120 years old and they all smoked.

But we needed to get out. My brother and I had traveled far and we made our way to the taxi stand and then we were off to the Rio. I spent the whole time looking out the window. Sure, I had a fantastic view of the Strip, but it was the hills I was entranced by. West! And all of the vast nothing stretching out past the hotels. I also spent too much time looking at the palm trees. Palm trees! In the desert! Yes, it was a very long flight and I was very tired and maybe a little punchy. But I was out West! The cab driver, who was not Middle Eastern and spoke excellent English, being a citizen of Nevada, born and raised, asked us some questions, made small talk, and said he knew we were in a hurry and that he’d take a short cut to the Rio. And as I found out later, he actually did just that.

The Rio is located just behind the Strip. It is an all-suite resort complex, with four swimming pools (one was “Brazilian,” which is a code word for “topless”), two theaters, a spa, more restaurants than you’d expect, and a bowling alley. Yes! After leaving the relatively unsophisticated NYC I was dying for an exotic bowling alley. Our suite was on the side of the tower (there are two) which faced both the Strip and the pools, giving us a great view. Seventeen floors up was a little high to see much detail in the Brazilian pool, but you’d be amazed what a high resolution digital camera and good editing software can do…… or so I hear.

Our suite had a huge sofa and a separate area for eating, plus a mini bar. I wanted to take a look. I was dying to see what a $5.50 bag of twizzlers looked like but, and here I caught a break, the door was stuck and I never did open it. I was just sure that in the middle of the night I’d get up and drink a $13 bottle of orange juice.

Well, after a quick shower and a change of clothes, we went down to the casino and ate in one of the dozens of steakhouses that seem to be located within ten feet of any slot machine, twenty from the tables. I think they used an algebraic algorithm to place them for the most strategic steakhouse density per gambler.

Bowling seemed very tempting, but we pulled ourselves away from the allure of the lanes and headed out to the Strip. Besides, I had forgotten to pack my bowling shoes.

The Rio, being close to the Strip but separated by a highway, offered free shuttles to spots on the Strip and back. We took a shuttle to Caesar’s. We had one goal: Find the M+Ms store.

My brother has a woman on staff who is an M+Ms fanatic. She collects all kinds of Blue (and only blue) M+M memorabilia and Las Vegas has one of the only three M+M World stores in the United States. She had put in a request and my brother, being a good boss, said sure. We decided to get it out of the way early.

So, there we were, on Day One in Las Vegas, trekking to the M+Ms store to buy a blue M+M.





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