Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Sedona Part 1

So a couple of weeks back, Nat and I take a look at the computer and decide that the best way to deal with Vegas' blast-furnace summer is to get out of town. Fortunately, when you live in one of the hottest places in North America, lots of other places look appealing.

In our case, that place was Sedona, Arizona, a former artist's colony and now Phoenix vacation getaway. Chicago has Door County and the Michigan shore. New York has the Hamptons. Vegas has...well, Vegas has Mesquite, which is two gas stations and a hotel pretending to be a getaway, and we were up for some driving.

We found a resort offering a $99 weekend stay. Whole weekend, under $100. Normally, if you want to stay someplace at those kind of rates, you have to wear one of those bunny suits like they did in Outbreak and hope that you don't find any hair in the sink. But every impression we got of this place, the Los Abrigados Resort and Spa, indicated that they knew what they were doing. It was discounted because one, it was off-season, and two, all we had to do was attend a 90-minute presentation for timeshare opportunities.

Now, as a typical American consumer and resident of Las Vegas, I twitch when I hear the words "timeshare opportunities." What it means is that you're going to sit in a room featuring guys like Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross", and instead of buying something like a car or a home, you're going to be buying the chance to take a vacation in the same place for the rest of your natural lives. This is not a tangible product. No one will hand you keys. You get a deed, yes, but even as an owner, well...the whole concept seemed pretty nebulous to me. Not for nothing was my old hotel's timeshare program referred to as "vacation ownership." "Timeshare" is right there with "Amway" and "Scientology" as simple words that can turn out to be very expensive. They're also code words to friends that you've been snared in some kind of pyramid scheme and will try anything, anything to get out of the pit of snakes you've fallen into.

So we left Friday afternoon on the drive to Arizona looking forward to sleep. That's the great thing about vacationing as parents. We used to go on vacations and look forward to cycling, or food, or copious drinking, what have you-usually all in the same vacation. This trip, we wanted to sleep like coma victims. Combinations of sickness and late nights had led to a situation where we were willing to give 90 minutes of our time for a good night's sleep.

We've taken this drive before, back when we were using free nights at my company's hotel in Scottsdale. One of the things that I liked looking at were the saguaro cactus-those big ones that are about fifteen feet tall and which little kids draw with the tepee when they mean "desert." Apparently, though, they all exist south of Kingman, because I didn't see any along I-40.
I was surprised to see that much grass, that much green. Cattle grazing. A minimum of signs, much less than you would expect to see parallel to the former Route 66, and a lot of very empty highway, which of course means very fast driving. I wasn't; I was the passenger on the way out.

We hit US-17 once we got to Flagstaff and knew we were close. There's more pine trees than you can count, and the temperature dropped down to 70 degrees as the sun disappeared on the other side of them, but the sky remained bright. There's a junction for the next highway we needed to be at, and the directions that the hotel provided were in the opposite direction. We smartly elected the direction going towards town instead of the direction to "nowhere," as both towns would have required a turn in the opposite direction.

We got ourselves to town at about 7:30 and checked in. The first room had a gorgeous view, but the wall near the vanity sink was riddled with ants. While they did not appear to be of the fire variety, I didn't wish to find out. We were able to get a similarly garbed room on the opposite end of the complex-not bad for a busy weekend.

The room was kind of a mini-suite, with a pullout sofa and coffee table, and a balcony overlooking Oak Creek Canyon, which has those big red rocks covered with shrubbery. It was impressive. We elected to head out and walk around.

Sedona looks like the Wisconsin Dells but about 90% less kitschy and less stuff for kids. There's lots of art galleries and New Age-y things there, which I fervently disbelieve. I mean, when the Crystal Castle and the Center for the New Age are right next door to each other, and there's a "Metaphysical" listing on the map, what can you do?

That said, it wasn't over the top. I mean, they were selling the same sorta-Indian stuff you'd see in any store west of Missouri-Kachina dolls, pottery, dream catchers. Even real Indians know this is bullshit; the real Dream Catchers are the IGT slot machines, or as I saw them referred to elsewhere, "Custer's All-Night ATM." But it gives the hippies something to gawk at, the ones convinced they're part Cherokee or something.

We looked at food options, as we'd been on the road since noon. We wound up at Oaxaca, which had all of the decent Mexican restaurant visual points in place-premium tequila, Dos Equis and Carta Blanca on draft, and a waiting list. Granted, there were nothing but white people seated inside, but I figured that was Sedona. We were quickly seated.


There were bottles of ketchup and mustard on the table. Every table. No Cholula, no homemade scary-looking salsa bruja. Heinz ketchup and mustard. Oh dear. Name me ONE Mexican dish where you've said, "What this could use is a little ketchup." If you need either of those because you ordered a cheeseburger, the Heinz products are kept in the back, like a crazy relative with Tourette's.


They don't have carne asada on the menu. Usually this is a good safe order when you go to an unfamiliar Mexican place; flank steak usually has its own taste and if they spice it right, it can be terrific. It's a decent markup and a moneymaker for the restaurant; flank steak is about a $2 cut of meat. It's hard to overcook and usually comes with soft tortillas, which are also difficult to mess up. This place, however, had ribeye, which isn't much more expensive but struck me as an odd choice.

There was an extensive margarita listing, so I grabbed one that was blue. It wasn't bad. Nat ordered the "pollo fundido," which sounded all right, and I got a chicken chimichanga, a real aura-of-mystery dish when it comes to the sauce.

The food was hideous. Nat's had curry in it. Her dish was free because she refused to eat more than two bites of it. Mine was so unimaginably bland that the ketchup had apparently been used prominently in the sauce. I ate about half of it.

Never again, we said. We found out in the morning that the restaurant's owner was a registered dietitian. Great, we said, Mexican food from people trained to make hospital food. No wonder. We went back to the room and fell asleep.

One of the nifty prizes that they gave us here was $50 in ILX money. Great, I thought. Typically these things are like funbooks; profoundly worthless unless you plan meticulously. Here, though, the cafe right outside our door took them, same as cash. The caveats: They couldn't make change and couldn't be used for tips. They gave us a twenty and three tens. Breakfast was three muffins and two bottles of orange juice; that was $13, or $3 in actual cash.

We went to Tlaquepaque (pronounced Tuh-LAH-kuh-PAH-kuh), an artist's colony next door to the resort we were there to browse. It's been here a while; filled with trees, it looked more like the giant cement buildings we saw in New Orleans. Nat said it reminded her a lot of Portugal. There were glazed-tile street signs and cobblestone roads. There were lots of old hippies taking pictures of each other by the fountains.

They're here, too; they're behind the counters. The only way most of the salespeople could be any more laid-back, they'd be upside-down. We spent some time in a music-box shop and found out the owner's life story; ran a limousine business in LA for 12 years, then retired here and opened a shop. Sounded like fun. I didn't want to know what his rent was, or his vacation, or the difference in movements in Italian music boxes, but I found out. We got a nice discount.

We saw candles and incense and little twee purses. Lots of knick-knack crap, but some nice contemporary stuff; we found a piece that would fit one very specific area of our house exceptionally well. We saw terrific paintings and more Old West faux Indian crap than you can shake a stick at. I was not allowed to get a wooden box with a skeleton band inside of it, in a Mayan "Day of the Dead" theme. I was also not allowed to get a Roy Lichtenstein-like print that showed a grinning, blond-haired couple in a convertible being pointed by Jesus towards "Las Vegas", as the sign in the other direction said "Heaven"; I thought it would have been perfect for the house. The title of the print was "The Promised Land."

And then, with visions of peace and art and insanely overpriced scarves in our heads, we were off to the timeshare presentation.

That comes next.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Beautiful Downtown Las Vegas

On my way back from lunch I overheard the following conversation snippet between two disheveled types:

"You can't go to court smelling like beer. You got any gum?"


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

There's been enough to aggravate me about Olympics coverage this year that it will certainly cover me for the next two before the next Winter Games, which, come to think of it, I have no idea where they're taking place. (Runs to consult all-knowing reference.)

Turin. Torino, as it's known. I guess once they finally got that shroud thing out of the way, tourist trap B had to be put into place at once, huh? Anyway. I'll get annoyed about that when the moment comes.

My main gripe about Olympic coverage is that NBC's prime time lineup takes place when it's somewhere like 4 AM in Athens. Therefore, every one of these events could be shown in their entirety, on several different television stations. Instead, we get skips, breaks, excerpts, pieces, and usually nothing that doesn't relate to Americans.

Let me clarify that last complaint. I'm not one of those people who runs around saying "Oh, whyyyy don't you cover any of the other countries? All you care about is Amerrrica, and how can we be proper citizens of the world if we root only for the big, bad, United States?" And the answer is, Kiss my ass. You're watching an American television station, and the reason that the Canadian television station can show the Cameroonian sport-fishing delegation is the Canadian sprinters got their asses handed to them in the preliminaries. If you want to be a citizen of the world, get a big-ass satellite dish. Americans want to watch Americans.

That said, I like watching cool sports. I'm all for water polo, even though the US isn't very good at it, or badminton, where they play like your backyard game would be if everyone were on meth. If I have to watch exclusively non-Americans to appreciate this, no problem. I can understand that there's not much of a badminton-on-meth presence here in the States, and how else will we get the slug-colored children off of the skateboards and onto their feet?

Anyway, one of the events that was predetermined that we NEEDED to see last night was the "Gymnastics Gala," which consisted of all the medal-winning gymnasts performing their routines to spotlights and music for no points, "just because." So that means that there's no competition whatsoever. Now you know what this means to Olympics organizers: 18,000 more asses in the seats to the usually popular gymnastics events (though at this Games, that translates to about 4,000) because, well, we set up all the stuff.

Number one. If this gymnastics stuff is so damn popular, why don't they show it instead of the macabre "Father of the Pride" if people are willing to watch it so much? Number two, there's enough actual competition going on that we shouldn't waste time on the flippy youths. They aren't even performing the same routines they won the medals with; I watched an elfin Romanian jump up on the pommel horse and clap his hands. He did no dismount. Then, we went back to the decathlon, where we got to see an American and a Kazakh throw a javelin apiece.
The commentators sit there mute, so that you can hear the music better. Never mind we only got to see bits and pieces of other events so that we could see this. We just couldn't pass up a chance to see those adorable little sprites again, couldn't we?

Umm, no.

I'll leave it to others to expand this argument, but most of the gymnasts I've seen were alternately sullen or pouty, with faces that, once the obligatory smile had been given to the judges, resemble those of someone being marched to the gas chamber. I blame this on the victory of the Eastern European sports system in gymnastics, which says that you essentially have to train from the time you're an infant and ignore debilitating injuries and get hollered at in several languages. People pretend to be offended by this for 3 years eleven months at a time.

In addition, if non-scoring events are deemed worth are time during the Olympics, why not add in such zero-scoring non-achievement hippie sports like juggling sticks, hacky sack, and staring at a Jimi Hendrix poster on acid?

Tsk, tsk, tsk. But you don't understand because you're a MAN. The profiles, the gymnastics, the weepy piano music, the inexplicable decade-long presence of John Tesh, these weren't for you, a man who'd watch televised lacrosse. They're for women who don't care who threw what ball through which orifice. You get ESPN the rest of the year. Can't women have the Olympics?

No. The Olympics are about sports. That's the whole point. The years that the Olympics were really, really interesting were the years in which Hitler or the Communists wanted to kick everybody's ass, and pumped their athletes full of drugs to do so. (Germans in the '36 Games were on stimulants.) Cities don't bid on World Checkers Tournaments. You ask Doug Collins about being rooked out of a medal in 1972 and he probably still gets so upset that he loses count of how many possessions it will take to erase a nine-point deficit (it's three to tie and four to win, and that's what it takes to make the tall dollars as a broadcast analyst these days, apparently) It's "our guys can beat your guys." And the means they choose to do it aren't via gunfire (though we're pretty skilled at that part as well) but through sport.

"Ohhh, but it's not about winning, but the spirit of competition."

Bullshit. That thing on the front page says medal count, not "true moments of sportsmanship" or "heartfelt expressions of true joy." I've done a triathlon and there were both, but it ain't the Olympics. (I also did a training run using EAS KickStart, which has 199mg of caffeine and an unusual flourescent green glow, and rationalized my taking it with the same sentence.)

Lifetime, Hallmark, and Oxygen are not showing any Olympics coverage. And if they want to amp up the Olympics coverage a little and create an event such as Drunken Beach Fencing, that's fine by me too.

And please, after all this Olympian excitement, what do we get next week? Why, the Republican National Convention! It's enough to make you want to take your toe off with a belt-sander.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

It's Thursday. You're bored.

Remember what August used to be like at this time of year? You knew that there was a finite amount of fun still to be had, and you had to make the most of it. Instead, today, you're sitting at work, being productive.

So don't go here. My best time so far is 20 seconds.

Or here. I got 22 meters. The trick is to move your mouse left and right. You'll get it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Entrante part 2

I started this blog after the untimely death of ex-coworker Michael Tata. At the time, it was inconclusive what had caused his death.

It's not any more.

It's unclear if there's going to be any further investigation on this. Another column referred to the drug he was taking was a thousand times more powerful than street heroin. They're calling it an accident; they're also not sure/won't comment if he had a prescription.

So what do we know at this point? Nothing. Some might say it's an accident, other might wonder what an apparently healthy 33-year-old man needs with medicine that's prescribed to terminal cancer patients.

A terrible shame...

The people want to know

A commentor in the last post wanted to know what exactly a "breadless turkey sandwich" was, as apparently that's what Oprah Winfrey was searching for at 26th and California yesterday.

Notwithstanding that food cooked in a correctional facility is more dangerous than anything, allow my carbohydrate expertise to be put to good use.

Oprah may have tried ordering a "wrap," which would be a turkey sandwich served on a tortilla, which has less carbs than bread. She may also have wanted the sandwich on lettuce, or maybe she wished to order it "Flying Dutchman Style." It's a way to avoid those eeeeevil carbohydrates.

Glad to help...

The downward spiral

"So I get up in the morning and my girl's taken all her shit out of the house, then I look and see that she took all the furniture, and then I try to turn on the stereo and the electricity's out, and then I leave the house and it's COLD out, see, and when I turn back to the building the landlady starts bitching about the rent, so I tell her that I've got some of it, and I'll have the rest later, so then I have to run the other way before she hits me with the broom, and I realize I'm hungry, and I've got to get a coat, so I'm headed to the mall, and I see this guy with a big smile on his face, and he goes, hey, got change for this fifty? and I go, naw, man, all I gots is forty, and he says, no problem, I need a twenty for the vending machine, and hands me the fifty, and I'm thinking, day's getting better, huh? and then I feel the bill and it's kind of funny, and I look at it and it's like, waxy, like he did it with crayons, and I'm damn sure SpongeBob ain't on the fifty. So I see him, and I go, "What the fuck, man?" and he starts running, and then I tackled him and beat his ass, and then I grabbed my piece and capped his fool head. I'm in the cop car and I realize that, shit, vending machines don't TAKE twenties, and now, after my ass has been in jail for six whole months, fuckin' OPRAH'S gonna give me the chair."

Friday, August 13, 2004

Happy trails

Julia Child died peacefully in her sleep at 91, three days shy of her 92nd birthday.

"I think these fake foods aren't worth eating," she said in 1992. "Either have
the real thing and a little of it or have something else. I like real hamburgers
and real meat, real butter. Eat everything. Have fun."

I want you to think of every pale-skinned, tofu twink, hemp-shirted hardcore vegan you've ever seen in your life, and then I want you to ask yourself if all of them combined has ever had as much fun as she did.

Then, think about when her show first came on, in 1963. Remember what American food consisted of? Meatloaf. Steak. Potatoes. The strongest spice in the kitchen was ketchup. A lot of people, including my parents, bought her books, watched the show, and learned and taught that there's a lot more to the world than McDonalds and Kraft singles. Could you imagine a Williams-Sonoma without Julia Child? Cooking classes for the hell of it? There wouldn't be celebrity chefs. She was the first.

Eat everything. Have fun. God bless.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Government efficiency crisis SOLVED

Your mail will now be delivered faster than FedEx, construction projects can be finished in a week, and no need to worry about lines at the DMV, because the tranquilizer darts are coming soon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Highly personal news day

So the big story when I turn on the television today is a fuel spill at the Clark County Detention Center, and I get to see several familiar faces walking around and frowning. Streets closed for blocks. They mention it was caused by a "power glitch." Even though I'm now based out of City Hall, my first reaction is, "This does not bode well for a good day."

And then I'm listening to NP-Ahhh, which sounds as such because the normal announcer is on vacation so instead we get an uppity Brit who can't pronounce her R's correctly (she also happens to be the station manager who ran off most of the original voice talent, it's from their news accounts that I get the uppity part) and the top story on the national news is that Las Vegas officials knew about the terrorist videotapes for two years and didn't say anything. They deny they didn't say anything because it would hurt the tourist industry.

National news. Oh dear.

Look. I haven't seen the videotape in question. I know that there were things said on there that were supposedly troublesome. I know that if something bad were going to happen, they would tell us (and by "us" I don't mean "every blinking inch of America," I unfortunately mean "me, in my professional capacity, and my immediate family") and they have told us to watch for stuff, but not anything specific.

If we start hammering every yokel with a video camera on the Strip, they won't come back. If they don't come back, that's a problem. If we scare the bejeebers out of people for no reason, like when we tell them, "Did you know the 9/11 muscle hijackers stopped here after every reconnaissance trip?" they start wondering why. So do we; we don't know. There were snipers on the rooftops on New Year's Eve. There were weird things that National Guard types told me about. Did anything happen? No. America had a swell time.

I can't offer any more specifics. I have a nice little history of getting hired for jobs that require some degree of confidentiality, and I intend to keep it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

One of the few things I know about

Perhaps you saw the AP story referencing the terrorists' tape found in Detroit, which is being bandied about our fair city this morning. The Mayor has denied any knowledge of it, as have various police officials, and said that when the tape was found, no one told them. Essentially, the line has been that we have done everything we can to notify everyone to keep residents and visitors safe.

As someone behind the smoked glass, I can tell you that's absolutely true. I can also look at the following quote and raise an eyebrow:

When FBI supervisory agent Paul George flew to Las Vegas to show the Detroit tape, "the FBI, casino representatives, Clark County Sheriff's Department and the JTTF (joint terrorism task force) declined to attend," Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett wrote."No one showed up except for two Metro officers," Corbett added.

"Indeed, the casinos informed Agent George that they did not want to show up because of concerns about liability."

Here's why I can raise that eyebrow. There is no "Clark County Sheriff's Department." Metro is a combination of Las Vegas City Police and the Clark County Sheriff and it's been that way for 31 years. If they sent "two Metro officers," those guys worked for the Sheriff, and I don't know from the article what bureau they were with, but they passed that stuff on.

And, knowing what I do about hotel security, the assertion that there would be a liability concern if they were educated about the process is insane.

Am I 100% confident that Las Vegas is safe from a terrorist attack? No. We're a transient city connected to other major cities by highway and a lot of empty desert. Am I confident that everything is being done to prevent an attack that can be done? Yes, I am. I know this from firsthand experience.

If I find out any more, I'll let you know...

Monday, August 09, 2004

Tidying up the files

Several issues have been raised over the past couple of days that are a little closer to resolution. To review:

Music choices for Jarren's video: We're looking at "I'm On My Way" by Rich Price, from the "Shrek 2" soundtrack, and "Where Are We Running?" by Lenny Kravitz. Odds are we'll be using both of them together, one after the other, for a video of about six minutes. Last year's John Mayer song was about four and a half minutes, but this year we've got a lot more video. I'll need to spend some time playing with sound levels, because while last year there wasn't a whole lot of need to use the video's audio track, this year he's actually talking somewhat.

Soon I'll be scanning in the still pictures, which took up the bulk of the time last year. I'll also need to get a raw-feed videotape together to send home.

Working out: We're redoing Phase One of the South Beach diet starting today, and I'm hoping to be in the water tonight to resume my swimming program. The Fall Brass Challenge is set for October 16, and I'll be running again, so I've got to get myself into shape for that, and what better time to start an outdoor workout program than August in Las Vegas? If I wear my sweats I could probably lose a good ten pounds in an evening! Or die! I think I'm still at -2, but that should change this week. You lose weight fast on the South Beach thing. You're also not allowed to even look at a piece of toast, a glass of orange juice, and a can of Coke could kill you.

Writing: I haven't touched the novel in a couple weeks, because there's been so much other stuff still going on.

Food recommendations: Those of you in the Las Vegas area seeking some terrific quick Mexican food can begin and end your search at Zaba's, which just opened a new location here in Silverado Ranch. Not only are their fish tacos better than Rubio's, but their burritos are eons better than Chipotle, and not nearly as salty. Plus, with all this diet hullabaloo coming up, Zaba's is very no-carb friendly. You'll note that I said "quick Mexican," I still haven't found a Lalo's equivalent for carne asada or a good sit-down Mexican meal, and haven't tried Viva Michoacan, which I head is the way to go.

Food recommendations for Chicago? There's an excellent new Italian restaurant in Forest Park, La Piazza, which I got to try during my recent sojourn back. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

So let me get this straight...

Intelligence that is three years old is bad if we didn't tell people sooner. Intelligence that we DID tell people about sooner is bad because it panics people. They don't give us enough intelligence and that they do give out is too specific and makes people panic. They shouldn't have killed any terrorists because that will make the undead ones angry and we should just let them be because then they'll ignore us. It's Israel's fault that they don't give more to the Palestinians and the Palestinians would stop blowing themselves up to kill Israelis if we gave them more. The Arabs all will hate us if we kill them and they'll hate us more if they see that we abandon them.

Egyptians hate us and we give them $2 billion a year.

The gallon of sarin that they found in a roadside bomb is not proof that there were WMD in Iraq. No other countries would have helped Saddam hide them and the whole idea that he had them was all a harmless practical joke, for which Saddam was glad to lose power and have thousands of his countrymen killed. All of those people in Jordan during the First Gulf War who chanted "Use the chemicals, Saddam" were just kidding, as were all of the Palestinians who danced on 9/11, and all of the people burning flags everywhere else. The people in America who held up signs saying "we Support Our Troops When They Shoot Their Officers" were just kidding, too.

Crazed Islamists wanting to blow up shopping malls isn't the problem, but some meatball politician who can't pronounce "nuclear" is the real enemy, and he just ginned up all of this other stuff to make money for his oil buddies, which is interesting because he didn't make a dime when he was an oilman himself. It makes more sense to search my one-year-old son at the airport than every single person who can pronounce Allah Akbar.

The meatball politician is a wire-puller extraordinaire but too dumb to tie his own shoes. He won't listen to anybody but is enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy, and his opponent apparently thinks that the reason we don't have allies in France and Germany is we didn't have the ability to ask them in German and French.

Just checking.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Nearly clairvoyant!

In the last post I said that the set list for the concert was 12-15 songs. It was 15 songs, and they were:

  • Bennie And The Jets(Stagecraft: Letters modeled after casino signage dropped down from the ceiling, spelling out "Elton". Elton John's piano is on a red star with white neon acrylic underlay.)
  • Philadelphia Freedom(They broke out the video screen and used video effects last seen on "The Electric Company", early pictures of Elton John in nutted-out 70's regalia. Also, lots of neon-graveyard effects on both sides of the stage.)

  • Believe(Video screened movie of male dancer in black-and-white pirouetting around black-and-white hotel lobby. Giant inflatable roses on the stage.)
  • Daniel(Essentially a farewell-teenager-sent-to-Vietnam montage on the big video screen.)
  • Rocket Man(Aforementioned video.)
  • I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues(Black and white photo montages of alternately happy and sad people.)
  • Tiny Dancer(Giant heart medallion drops down near piano.)
  • Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me(Video of male and female dancer alternately arguing and seducing each other.)
  • I Want Love(More neon graveyard stuff. I don't remember if they used the video wall for this.)
  • Candle In The Wind(Marilyn Monroe montage on video wall. He played the original version of this, and left the stage briefly.)
  • Pinball Wizard(Here's where it got pretty crazy. He came back in a different pair of shoes, and the neon on stage went insane. 2-foot balloons are dropped from the ceiling. There was a hilarious video featuring pinball machines, but more specifically, slot machines, casinos, lap dancers at Treasures, crowds on the Strip, and a stone-faced blackjack dealer with huge mall hair whose expression never changes as people fly past. If aliens arrived and needed a quick explanation of Las Vegas, I would have gotten them front-row seats to this thing, told them to watch the movie, look at the performer, look at the people surrounding you, and that's all you need to know.)
  • The Bitch Is Back(Giant inflatable legs clad in fishnet stockings inflate stage left. A bubble machine starts up. The video is Pamela Anderson in stripper attire, gyrating around a pole. On stage by the end of this number: giant inflatable lipstick, cherries and bananas arranged suggestively, the giant inflatable breast above stage right.)
  • I'm Still Standing(Another 70's montage video that was difficult to see because there was still a good deal of inflatable objects on the stage.)
  • Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)Ushers move down into the front rows in the orchestra pit. As soon as he starts playing, he gestures for people to come up. My first thought is, "Plants or fan club types." This is not stuff that a headlining performer does. But then I remember that we had to go through metal detectors at the front gate, and this would apparently be why.
  • Your SongGiant L-V-E letters inflated on stage. Stage workers put up a fight with "O" and drag it off stage, but the heart neon thing is perfectly placed. I'm not sure if that was supposed to happen or not, it seems too coincidental to NOT be faked. Coming down on the top of it is a standing figure in a chrome, feathered outfit, bowler hat. The crowd goes nuts. John walks out stage right, looks up, and says, "Who's that guy?" The flashback Elton is hoisted into the rafters.

We also hit Tangerine, the latest bar-of-the-moment at Treasure Island, excuse me, the TI. For me the TI is always going to be the blue calculator that drew me parabolas when I was 14, but the Treasure Island folks are doing their damndest to make you forget that this was Mirage Resorts' "family-friendly" outlet.

I don't know why I bother to go to these places, and neither does Natalie, but she said that some students of hers were working there and said it was impressive. So for a little while, we'd play along. We don't get out as much as we used to think we did and have a tendency to grab as much fun as we can as fast as we can.

The whole entrance is covered in white linen, not unlike a biohazard tent, and lit with orange lights. We walked through the rope lines, which weren't full, and I promptly forked over a $20 cover charge. We walked in and the second thing that I noticed was that the bar was sunken, so it looked to be staffed by midgets. The other thing that I noticed is it gave you no place to sit down. We headed out to the back, where there were places to sit down. There were bar stools all along the lagoon where the pirate ships fight. The show started about 10 minutes after we stood there. All of the bar stools were taken, but there were some sumptuous leather couches that had little "reserved" signs by them.

No seating available, so we stood and watched the show. They changed it in February to "The Sirens of TI." Here's what this means: One of the crews is now made up of women in PG-13 outfits. There's singing and semi-seductive dancing. You will stand in line longer and there are more fireworks. That's it.

The area cleared out afterwards, including a couple of barstools! Joy! We sit down and look at the throngs of people clearing out across the lagoon. An employee comes up and says, "We need to move these chairs out." They have just removed the last non-reserved seating from the establishment. We look around the place; big room, deejay, small stage where the performers might be. Cigars for sale. Finally, we've had enough; we've been here for only a half-hour. As we're leaving, I ask a bouncer, four inches taller than me: what's it take to get a reserved table?

"Bottle service," the bouncer replies.

I roll my eyes. He goes on: "$150 for a bottle of wine, all the way up to $750 for Courvosier. Skyy Vodka's $350. It usually works best for a group of four to six people." Yeah, and it works really, really good for a club that charges $37.50 for a glass of wine that's not even that hot. And if Skyy's going for $350, that's about $348 too much.

Nat and I ran the math. So there's women in lingerie dancing on the bar. Okay. But for $150, I can waltz right into Sapphire, pay the same cover charge, be assured of a place to sit, and the women in lingerie are dancing a lot closer than the bar. And I didn't happen to ask what a bottle of Bombay Sapphire would cost at Tangerine, but if Courvosier's $750 and Skyy's $350, I'd anticipate around $400-for $400 at Sapphire I'd be carried out in a smoke-and-baby-powder coma. And it would be DAWN.

Perhaps I'm too old and married to appreciate the Vegas club "scene," but I've now been to ghostbar, Tangerine, and Club Rio, and didn't like any of them. I paid $75 for VIP at Texas Station's Armadillo Lounge and had all-you-can-drink, and THAT was fun. I'll go see Darby O'Gill and the Little People at GVR and that's a $3 cover (!) and that's always fun. And to be told that you couldn't dance at ghostbar-in short, you had waited in line to stand around, drink, and admire the view, invited unflattering comparisons to places like Images at the John Hancock Center in Chicago. At least there were chairs to accompany the view there.

We headed back to Caesars, where we'd parked, and passed an oxygen bar in the corridor. We had always been intrigued by these places; I've seen them at several of the hotels. We decided, what the hell. "If you've been drinking oxygen intensifies the buzz and you won't have as bad of a hangover," the chipper young woman told us, and we were certainly ripe candidates for that. Then again, I don't get hangovers unless there's cheap wine or extreme intoxication involved, and if you're asking "how extreme?" it's somewhere past six or seven pints of G&T. She unwrapped sets of nose clips for us and off we went.

I chose Sublime, because it had limes in it, and spent most of my time fiddling with the knobs. The oxygen bar is right near the exit, and the dopey and curious were looking at us strangely. I pointed out loudly that you're not really having fun until there's tubes stuck up your nose, and eight of the people looking at us left. I tipped the sales staff to alleviate any discontent about chasing away the curious. Those weren't customers. They were morons. The additional oxygen didn't have much effect on anything, as far as I could tell.

And that was the end of our evening. We were offered scalp massages and various homeopathic gewgaws, we politely declined.

Guess we're not Strip people.

So where the hell have you been?

Oh, I've been around. Here's a recap of the recent events...

1. Writing was nonexistent last week as we had various cataclysms befall the office environment, and I'm hoping today for a cataclysm-free day.

2. Part of the cataclysm was the result of work performed at the end of Thursday maintenance, which had begun at 2 AM. The maintenance went great, but at 6 AM, the standard server reboot resulted in a blank screen.

3. I'm compiling in my head the first phases of Jarren's Year Two video and trying to figure out a good song. Many people applauded last year's effort, which used John Mayer's "Bigger Than My Body" for its audio track. I am stuck for a song that fits the following criteria:

  • Has to be released in Calendar Year 2004.
  • Has to be cheery and upbeat, having no lyrical references to death, overt sex, or anything that would seem wildly inappropriate to accompany still pictures and video of a little kid.
  • A good bass line for me to cue the pictures to would be nice.

4. Saw the Elton John show at Caesars Palace this weekend. In terms of sheer concert spectacle, this was beyond ridiculous. When the last song before the encore concludes with confetti shooting out of an inflatable breast that's twenty feet tall, you're a shade over the top, huh? The set list as I can remember it had about 12 songs on it, maybe 15, and the wife felt this was a shade light considering the $175 ticket price.

I was marveling at certain ironies in the production. For those of you that don't know, the Colosseum at Caesars Palace is home base for Celine Dion, the hollering Canadian songstress who got herself a permanent gig here so that she could raise her kids ensconced in Lake Las Vegas. One of the features of the venue is a video screen, roughly the size of a Jumbotron and with incredible clarity. It's apparently a huge part of Celine's show. Well, Elton John's incorporated it, too. A lot of the video ties in well to the songs, most memorably when a 40-foot high Pamela Anderson is cavorting on a stripper pole during "The Bitch Is Back". But during "Rocket Man" he chose to show the video from "That Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." You may have seen it a year or so ago; Justin Timberlake looks like late-70's Elton John, walking through corridors backstage before he gets to the stage door, lip-syncing the song. Elton John does not appear in the video. Paul Reubens plays his agent/assistant. There is the usual assorted cast of freaks that you would expect at a late 70's event; there's a Liza Minnelli look-alike, satin jackets, running shorts. The only thing that wasn't visible in the video was a pile of cocaine the size of a basketball. Well, Justin merely walked during this version, probably so he could get accustomed to the giant jewel-encrusted sunglasses.

We had seats in the front row of the first mezzanine on the far right side, so I had a good view of the audience, and more of them appeared to be paying attention to the giant television, watching some dumb pop star pretend to be Elton John, then the actual Elton John, who had the Red Piano at stage left. I think at this phase in his career, that's how he wants it. Music and spectacle, and he doesn't have to run around in the Donald Duck costume anymore.

Overall, I was impressed. I mentioned to Natalie at the end, "All we have to see now is Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, and we will have seen all of the great rock piano players of all time." Forgotten from that list was Ray Charles, who would have been a good show, but left us sooner than I could see him. And Little Richard, who we saw for free, played a four-hour show, and he's about 20 years older than Elton. That was one of the most impressive shows I'd ever seen, and it was well past the time when he was a hot ticket.

More later, and it won't take over a week this time. Honest.