Recently I visited La Jolla, California and was delighted to find that the 10th annual La Jolla Concours D’Elegance was being held the same weekend I was there. I didn’t go into the main competition area, but there were many classic cars on display in the scenic village of La Jolla. Sprinkled among the Ferarris, Corvettes, Shelby Cobras, and Rolls Royces were a selection of my favorite classic roadsters like the Porsche 356 and the MG.
This is the time of year when many people take road trips. Load up the car with the family, pack some games and snacks, and hit the open road. There are many great places to go in the US. If you have kids, is Las Vegas one of them?
I was asked this question recently by a friend. My first thought was that Las Vegas is Sin City, the adult playground. Why would anyone even think of taking the kids? On second thought, there are a few things worth seeing in Las Vegas even if you’re under the legal drinking and gambling age.
The Cirque du Soleil shows are definitely worth seeing when you’re in Vegas, no matter what your age. On my last trip I saw the show called KA. I thought it was amazing, engrossing, and thoroughly entertaining. The stunts done in that show are unbelievable. When I go back I will try to see one of the other Cirque du Soleil shows. These shows are quite expensive, but in my opinion are worth the experience.
There are a variety of magic shows held around the Strip every night, including one by the longstanding crowd favorites, Penn & Teller. I once saw Penn & Teller perform in a small off-Broadway theater in 1986. Before the show they were out front chatting with the guests as they walked in. They probably don’t do that anymore. Kids might actually enjoy magic shows more than cynical adults. They might not spend every minute of the show trying to determine how each trick was done (like I do). (Looking for a place to stay? Why not try ARIA Las Vegas?)
If you want to give an older kid a thrill, or perhaps see a younger child hurl his Cheerios from the top of a tall building, go to the Stratosphere Hotel. The highest thrill rides in the world have names like X-Scream and Insanity. Just the names are enough to make me queasy.
No visit to Vegas is complete without watching the fountain show in front of the Bellagio Hotel. The show is figured prominently in one of my favorite movies Oceans 11. Who doesn’t like fountains? But why are they so popular in the desert?
Finally, the Hoover Dam is a few miles outside of the city. An engineering marvel of the Great Depression, the dam created the largest reservoir in the US. One gruesome fact is that 112 people died building the dam. I’m not sure if any of them actually fell into the concrete mix and are still there or if that is just a myth.
My final advice was that Vegas might be worth a stop for a day or maybe two only if it is on the way to somewhere else (such as Los Angeles, Yosemite, or Phoenix). I wouldn’t have it as my final destination. Unless you want to see Prince Harry play pool. In that case, leave the kids at home.
I was looking to my left at the stretch party limo slowly cruising neck and neck with the yellow Lamborghini when the man bumped into me from the right. He didn’t say anything, he merely grunted and stared at me with a glazed look in his eyes.
He was dressed in raggedy old clothes, layer upon layer to retain warmth. It can actually get cold in the desert at night. I thought he must be one of our unfortunate citizens who live on the streets and scrounge for beer money by redeeming cans and bottles. He smelled like a vomit and gangrene cocktail. His hands were filthy and what was left of his wild brown hair stuck out in tufts on one side of his head. The other side was a bare wasteland of cuts, bruises, and old scars from fighting for the last drop from the wine jug.
It was his face that screamed for help. It was covered in blood. The blood had congealed somewhat around his nose and eyebrows, but otherwise was still fresh and dripped down his jaw to pool on the collar of his stained shirt.
What happened to this guy? Should I call 911?
Before I could do anything he grunted some more and shuffled ahead of me. I silently trailed him while I tried to think about my options. The sidewalk crowds were heavy and the man had to push his way through. Most people coming from the other way glanced at him, did a double take, and then avoided getting anywhere near him as they passed.
Then a group of rowdy young men, who had obviously been drinking heavily, crossed the guy’s path. They looked at the bum and then at each other and I thought there might be some trouble brewing. Maybe these tough looking dudes thought beating up a wino would be fun. Instead they broke into wide sloppy grins and started giving the guy “high fives.”
“Way to go dude!” said one of the young men. “That’s awesome!” said another. “You’re the best zombie on the Strip tonight!” said a third.
The guy smiled, grunted, and shuffled along.
This scenario was repeated many times as I walked behind the guy from the MGM Grand all the way to the Venetian.
Just another Saturday night in Las Vegas. Where the Walking Dead go to party.
Do not forget to make sure you have a valid ESTA before your trip to the US!
“Uncle, where is Route 66? Can we go see it?”
I started to think. Route 66, Route 66… that sounds familiar. There must have been a movie or a TV show about it way back before I was born. From the back corners of my brain’s database I recalled a vague phrase about getting your kicks on Route 66. Yet I had to have an answer for my niece Dorota, who was visiting from Poland (she was our tour guide at the Polska Polka Party and in Krakow).
“I don’t know Dorota. I’m not sure where it is. I think it goes through northern Arizona. Perhaps on the drive to the Grand Canyon we’ll find it.”
“I work with a man at the bakery who is obsessed with Route 66,” she said. “He reads about it all the time. He collects things about Route 66 that he displays in the office. I want to go there and bring him something from Route 66.”
Not to be outdone in the knowledge of Americana by a Polish bakery manager, I knew I had some research to do.
Route 66 is known as the Main Street of America. It runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. Established in 1926, it served as the main highway for the people who migrated west to California, especially those fleeing the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It was also a main vacation route for millions. Route 66 was popularized by a hit song and a TV show in the 1960s.
The highway ran through many small towns across the west. The travelers along the route provided economic vitality to these small towns. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the towns were bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System. Nobody had any reason to drive the route through the towns when the interstate was so much faster. As a result, the towns of Route 66 faded away or were stuck in a time warp.
As I analyzed the map, I saw that Route 66 goes through the small town of Williams, Arizona. Great! We’re going to stay overnight in Williams. We’ll have a look around and see what we can obtain for the European Route 66 fanatic.
When we got to Williams, we checked into our motel on the edge of town. The motel was a little run down. The TV in the lobby was tuned to the old western movie channel. There were giant piles of snow still in the parking lot from the late winter snowstorm that hit a few days ago. The desk clerk was asleep at the counter. She was an old woman who looked like she had been there since the 1940s. It was that kind of town.
I rang the bell on the desk a few more times than was necessary.
“Can you check us in and give us a restaurant recommendation? We’re starved.” I asked.
“No need to get uppity!” she said. “I’m right here and I can hear you. The best place to go is the diner down the street on the right hand side. You can’t miss it.”
“Thanks. Can you also tell us where Route 66 is?” I asked.
“You’re on it,” she said, and promptly put her head back down on the counter and instantly fell asleep.
We drove down Main Street. There were a few stores still in business, a gas station, and several decrepit motels serving the Grand Canyon tourists. There was even the World Famous Sultana Bar! I’d never heard of it, but then I am not very knowledgeable about cocktails.
It looked like any number of old west towns on a Friday night. There was nothing to see and nothing to do. Nobody was kicking anything.
And then on right was the diner, just like the old woman said. Cruisers! It was lit up in bright red neon and it had a 1956 Chevy sticking out of the roof of the restaurant like Godzilla had thrown it there once upon a time. The décor was fantastic. There were old gas pumps, advertising signs, posters, and car parts. It was 1950s Americana, only it was too perfect, like a movie set designer had scoured the country for just the right things to set the mood. I expected Fonzie to pop his head around the corner at any time and say “heyyyyyyyyyyyy!”
It would have been cool if the waiter matched the décor. Instead he wore board shorts, skater shoes and his arms were covered with tattoos. Apparently he didn’t get the memo about the ’50s diner theme.
The food was mediocre, the service was slow, and they didn’t even play ’50s rock and roll over the sound system. Lady Gaga in a ’50s diner doesn’t cut it. However, they had the mother of all Route 66 souvenir shops in the adjoining store.
“Hey Dorota! They have everything you could possibly want to buy for your co-worker that has Route 66 on it.”
Shirts, hats, mugs, shot glasses, cards, posters, signs, ashtrays, you name it, they had it. The store was packed full of Route 66 memorabilia. Unfortunately, everything was made in China and was probably manufactured in the past few months. I imagined a factory town somewhere in the Chinese interior with many large factories churning out all of this stuff. I think the Chinese workers have no idea what Route 66 is, nor do they care.
After scouring the store she eventually bought a Route 66 placemat for the Polish bakery manager to add to his collection. The placemat showed the route across the American West. Williams, Arizona was not on it.
I learned that there are not many kicks left to be had on old Route 66. It’s all gone now. The only thing left are faux 50s diners and tacky gift shops. But at least we found out where Elvis has been hiding all these years.
The sign intrigued me. “See your aura! Only $19.95!”
I had wandered into a small outdoor shopping mall in the town of Sedona, Arizona. In between the chocolate store and the Western art gallery was a souvenir shop. The shop was brightly lit and had several crystals hanging in the window, sending the rainbow pattern dancing in the ether.
I was outside looking in. I wanted to know more about my aura and see it too, if possible. Did I have an aura? Nobody has told me about seeing my aura before. Do I have a nice looking aura? Does it look like a halo? Or devil’s horns if I’ve done something bad that day? Does it go through your clothes or does it get stopped? I imagined that if you’re at the beach in your swimsuit then your aura must be shining at full strength. What if you’re snowmobiling and you’re wearing long underwear, a snowmobile suit, and a helmet?
The door banged shut as I entered and rang a little bell near the counter. An attractive woman emerged from behind a curtain. She was in her late 30s, with deeply bronzed Arizona tan, spiky hair, and mysterious tattoos running up one arm. She had a Kokopelli medallion around her neck. A small crystal pyramid was on the counter, next to a newspaper turned to the horoscope section.
“Good afternoon! Welcome to the New Age Nirvana gift shop,” she said cheerfully. “How can I help you?”
I thought briefly about seeing if she could take care of my impending income tax bill with Uncle Sam, or mentioning that her karma had run over my dogma, but thought better of it.
“I saw your sign in the front window about seeing my aura. I’ve never seen mine before. I’m curious.”
“Everyone has an aura displayed to those around them,” she replied. “Your aura affects those around you, especially your soul mate. However, the aura is present only in the fifth dimension. Some people who are completely in tune with the forces of Mother Earth can see it in others. Most people need special equipment to detect it.”
“Can you see auras without the special equipment? Can you see my aura now?” I asked.
“Not right now. I can see auras only when I am practicing a certain secret yoga position and smoking peyote.”
She led me to the back of the store into a small, very dark room. She had me stand with my back to the wall and then she disappeared. A few seconds later I heard her voice behind me, coming through an opening in the wall near my head.
“I am now going to show you your aura,” she whispered. “Please look straight ahead.”
Colorful shapes appeared out of the darkness. All of the colors of the rainbow were flowing outward from a humanoid shape a few feet in front of me. As I moved my head and arms, the rainbow colors moved with me. It was magical.
“I can tell that you have a good aura,” she said. “You must be a good person.”
I’d had enough. I quickly crossed the small room and groped along the wall. I flipped the light switch to find that the room contained a large flat screen TV mounted on the wall opposite from where I had been standing. There was a webcam mounted above the TV. A cable ran from the TV along the floor and disappeared into a hole in the wall to the room behind this one.
The woman burst into the room.
“What are you doing!” she cried. “You’re destroying your aura!”
“I’m an investigative reporter on a joint assignment from Penn & Teller’s TV show, the Skeptics Society, and the Onion,” I lied. “You’re busted! Your special equipment is nothing but a webcam, a TV, and a computer with a gesture recognition program.”
She scowled and kicked me out of her store. I couldn’t even buy a local map with directions to the best vortex.