Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'travel'

Visiting Old Vegas

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu May 02, 2013 @ 9:42 pm PDT

userpic=las-vegasYesterday, I wrote about the new Las Vegas, and how I didn’t like it. Today was a day to revisit the old Las Vegas.

We started off at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets (North), where my wife wanted to do some shopping at Le Sportsac. Once that errand was dispatched and my pocketbook was lighter, it was off to downtown Las Vegas.

The first stop was lunch at the Paradise Buffet in the Fremont Hotel. We chose there because it was cheap, and we were looking for cheap eats that you can’t find on the strip. It was good, but I miss the days of casino coffee shops, the keno board working, and keno girls and cocktail waitresses in the cocktail bars. There was none of that; the keno displays were on but not running,and there were no crayons at the table. We walked around Fremont St. for a bit afterwards, and even found a few classic coin slots at the “D”. I lost all of 4 quarters.

After that, we walked over to Stewart Ave to visit the Mob Museum. This is a three story museum that studies the history of organized crime in America, and the role of organized crime in Las Vegas. Very detailed and excellent presentations. It does cover the early days of Vegas quite well, and even touches on what ended the mob era in Vegas — a man named Howard Hughes. The museum is relatively up to date, including information on Whitey Bulger. Note that this is different than The Mob Attraction at the Tropicanan, which is twice the price and glorifies the mob more.

stardustAfter the Mob Museum, it was off to the Neon Museum. This was extremely neat. It included a guided tour around the boneyard (and the tourguide was really good and put up with all my interruptions). I took loads of pictures, but I’m not uploading them all yet (but I am uploading one for the post). There were signs from most of the major hotels in Vegas, including early signs from the Sahara, Stardust, Royal Nevada, Golden Nugget, numerous small motels, Caesars, the Desert Inn, the Aladdin, Treasure Island, and much more. Well worth the money.

Now it was time for dinner, and we found a really good Venezuelian place near the Stratosphere. Some of the best BBQ chicken I’ve had. Yum.

Lastly, it was off to the Pinball Hall of Fame. This was less a museum and more a gigantic pinball arcade. Each pinball machine had a small card explaining its history, and most of them were working. Now this was a good excuse to spend some quarters! It took me back to the days of Music Odyssey in West LA, and going upstairs to play pinball in the 1970s. I played about $6 worth for old time sakes. I may go back.

From there, it was back to the hotel and writing this up. Tomorrow… nothing during the day, Zumanity in the evening, and then picking up Erin at the airport.

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Your Money Is No Good In Our Casino

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed May 01, 2013 @ 6:28 pm PDT

userpic=las-vegasIf you hadn’t figured it out by my last post, I’m on vacation in Las Vegas. Everytime I visit Las Vegas, I’m struck by how much the Vegas of today is not the Vegas of old. I have fond memories of visiting Las Vegas with my parents in the 1970s (I might have gone in the 1960s, but I don’t remember that), and staying in hotels like the Sahara and the Aladdin. That Vegas is long gone, baby.

Here’s example number one. I’m not a big gambler; hell, I’m not a gambler. Still, when I visit Las Vegas, I normally go through my coin jar and bring a bag of quarters to play with. Today, we went down to the MGM Grand and I thought I might play a little. Guess what? Not a single machine takes coins. They all take bills. Loads of penny slots…. with a $1 minimum. Hell, there are $100 slots. But no coin slots. Why? This saves the casinos money. No change girls required. No maintenance of machines and coin counting. No coin cups. I’m surprised that they haven’t yet designed machines that just take the credit cards, but perhaps they aren’t there solely because of the compulsive gamblers. Of course, the plus side of this is that my bag of quarters remains unspent.

Example number two. My, how the casinos have changed. In the old days, everything serviced the casino. The hotel floor ran through through the casino. There were perhaps one or two restaurants: a coffee shop and a fancy steakhouse (I certainly remember that at the Sahara). There was a simple pool with lounges. There were a few resort shops. Today? There are loads and loads of fancier and fancier restaurants. There are loads and loads of shops. There are nightclubs and dayclubs galore. You can even avoid the casino if you want. Every component of the hotel is its own profit center, and stands on its own. I, for one, don’t like it.

Example number three. In the old days, showrooms had headliners. Current stars of the day would play the showrooms, and you would have dinner and a show. Tickets were affordably priced, and you could get great seats for a little tipping. Today? There are sit-down (as in production) shows everyone (half of them Cirque). No plot — just tired-businessman-and-women shows (read “good looking gals and gents”) doing various forms of jukebox variety shows and dance. Your “headliners” are either on their way up or on their way down, not people at the top of their game. Comics aren’t headlining, they are in the comedy clubs. Show prices are through the roof, but most people get discounts. They do this either through half-price outlets on the strip, or the way we did it. How did we do it? Read on, McDuff.

Example number four. Timeshares. Vegas used to be a hotel town. Now it is timeshares everywhere. Of course, the timeshare market has tanked as the housing bubble crashed, so the timeshare pitch is different. How do we know. Simple: We got $17.50/person tickets to Zumanity (which are normally $55/person tickets) by sitting through a timeshare pitch for foreclosed timeshares. In some ways, it reminded me of the old days in college where we would bait the Moonies or the J4Js. This pitch was attempting to get you to purchase a timeshare by paying off the balance of the loan that a bank had acquired through foreclosure. Didn’t make a difference where the timeshare was, for you would exchange it using RCI Points. They kept trying to say that this would get you a vacation for the exchange fee, when the truth was that the vacation would cost you the exchange fee plus your annual HOA fees plus the annual RCI membership fee plus the amortized cost of the balance of the timeshare. As engineers we both saw this, but I’m sure most of the suckers don’t. We had no strong desire to acquire another timeshare — I already have two weeks at year at The Whaler in Kaanapali HI, and am using Interval International to exchange those weeks when we can’t make it. In any case, the timeshare folks are everywhere! We were walking from MGM Grand down towards Ballys, and we were acosted by numerous timeshare folks offering us discounted tickets if we would only listen to their pitches. Sorry, but one a day is enough. [ETA: While looking into the history of the place we are staying, I found some interesting numbers:  According to David Saxe, who operates the V Theatres in the Miracle Mile shops, when someone takes a tour or sits through a timeshare sales pitch, they receive a voucher which they then bring to the box office. The theatre operator then adds up the voucher and bills the timeshare operator (so, in our case, the timeshare operator paid $55 less $17.50 for our ticket). Saxe estimates time shares account for 20 percent of total show tickets bought in Las Vegas; for some small shows, it can be up to 50% of the business -- without a cash outlay for advertising.]

Tomorrow, I’m hoping to try to discover the old Vegas. I’m hoping to see the Mob Museum and the Neon Graveyard, and perhaps the original rooms that are left at the heart of the Riviera.

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Observations Along the Road (Vegas Edition)

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed May 01, 2013 @ 7:16 am PDT

userpic=las-vegasYesterday, we drove out to Las Vegas via the high desert route (138-18). A few observations from that trip:

  • Caltrans has done a very nice job with rebuilding CA 138. Smooth roadbed and much wider. The same, alas, cannot be said for CA 18, which is still the up-and-down roller-coaster washboard of yore.
  • Victorville is having some bad times. The former Holiday Inn at Route 18 and I-15 has gone independent, and I think the Apple Valley Inn changed its name. We ate at Richie’s Diner in Victorville (which was very good — I recalled they used to be in Perris but were replaced by Jennys)
  • Up in Baker, we stopped by Alien Fresh Jerky. They were selling invisible alien jerky for $1.50. Amazing what people will buy. There was also a Valero down the road with one of those claw games. As an illustration of the odds, they had rubber-banded $20 and $100 bills to some of the stuffed animals.
  • What is it with white or black trucks and aggressive driving? All along I-15 it was these oversized white or black pickup trucks that would zoom up behind you (whatever your speed), and ride your bumper until you got out of the way.
  • There are now so few billboards along the way. I have strong memories of all the casinos — but in particular Foxys and the Sahara — advertising all along I-15 once you left Barstow. Now there is nothing, save a few ads for M (a casino on the outskirts of Vegas) and the Orleans.
  • Last night we drove along the strip. Again, it is very depressing. On the North end, there are large holes-in-the-ground and empty spaces. No one has yet built where the El Rancho Vegas was, and there are large vacant swatches where the Stardust and Frontier were, and where the water park was. The Sahara is gone and being remodeled into the SLS. I hope the Northern end comes back. In the middle are all the mega-resorts, none with the character of the old places and all overbuilt. Nothing is left of old Vegas save the old hotel portion of the Riviera. I don’t think the newer hotels have the same character. At the southern end there is still the Tropicana, but it and the Mandalay Bay (former Hacienda site) are no longer the end of the strip.

 

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Curiosity in Oakland

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 06, 2013 @ 6:57 am PDT

userpic=travelThis weekend we’re visiting our daughter at UC Berkeley. We’re staying in Oakland, right near the Oakland Coliseum, at the Quality Inn (Quality Inn page; TripAdvisor). Although the location is in Oakland, the positive reviews of the hotel (both at the TripAdvisor link and on the AAA page) combined with the price made this a good choice. Behind us is a Clarion hotel that is fenced off (and the first thing you see as you exit the 880 at Hegenberger). I asked our desk clerk about it, and she indicated  it had been closed for years. We speculated on why… asbestos? mold? something else?  Naturally, this (combined with a long-time interest in seemingly abandoned buildings) piqued my curiosity, so I decided to see what my Google-foo could find…

It appears the property (listed as being at either 500 Hegenberg Road or 8400 Edes Aveue) was originally built in 1962 as a low-rise two-story property with just under 200 rooms, and appears to have been a Holiday Inn. It is the oldest of the various group of hotels in this area (it is next to a Days Hotel, a Comfort Inn and Suites (built as a Fairfield), and Motel 6, and backs onto a La Quinta and a Quality Inn (which is where we are staying)). The date (1962) means that it was likely built around the time that Route 17 (now I-880) was improved to be a freeway. The Caltrans bridge log shows bridges in the area built in 1948 or 1950, and renovated in 1963; this would likely mean there was an original Route 17 expressway in the area that was remodeled into the freeway in the early 1960s. [1][2][3]

In 1986, a six-story tower with 100 rooms was added and the hotel was renovated. In 2002, the hotel was completely renovated again.

Sometime after April 2005, the property appears to have changed management hands and was renovated into a Clarion Hotel. Based on the reviews at the time (Tripadvisor, Expedia), the property was going downhill. Poor service, poor furnishings, etc. In November 2005, the property closed due to mismanagement (I couldn’t find any other reason stated). In March 2006, it went on the market. By April, it was off the market again. I have seen no web reports on the hotel post 2005, so I’m guessing if it was sold, it wasn’t reopened.

In 2007, it went on the market again. The price changed numerous times, and when off-market in 2009 (presumably because it was sold). Some conditional use permits were required; these were appealed by local unions as this was a non-union hotel. A press release indicates it was supposedly undergoing an extensive renovation costing approximately $2 million in renovation, including new custom design tile work throughout the lobby and public areas. Based on the numbers given, they started remodeling the tower in October 2009, and were then going to complete the low-rise buildings. A soft opening was scheduled, but appears to have never happened. The web page set up for the hotel indicates “unexpected” delays.  My guess, given the dates, is that there was money and financing troubles.

In any case, by December 2010, the hotel was back on the market  at a below-market price ([1], [2]) of $11.5 million. It was sold in November 2012. Based on what I could see from my room, it is currently being renovated completely. It looks like rooms in the 2-story wing have been completely emptied to the walls, so they are being refurnished and remodeled at the minimum. The six-story tower also appears to be undergoing a remodel, but I’ve been unable to observe that much due to the line-of-sight from my hotel.

[1] Property Listing: Clarion Hotel Oakland.
[2] Loopnet Listing: Oakland Airport Hotel.
[3] Caltrans District 4 Bridge Log; go to page 91.

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Up In The Air

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jan 28, 2013 @ 6:42 pm PDT

userpic=psa-smileToday was a travel day from Los Angeles to Annapolis Jct… and it was one of my worst travel days in a long time.

It started with airport security (what else). I normally take my iPod speakers out of my luggage for security, as they always ask what they are. Today, the guard saw me in line, on the bridge, where the cold wind was blowing, with my CPAP, laptop bag, and backpack… and told me I had too much luggage and needed to put the iPod speakers back in. Thus, of course, unbalanced me. I got them in only to reach the front of the line… where I had to take them out again. They also decided to look in my luggage… because of a metal belt buckle in the luggage.

When I got to the gate, there were announcements that the flight was over sold, could people check their baggage, etc. As I was already worrying about carrying on my CPAP, laptop bag, and backpack (although that’s legal — the CPAP does not count as an item), I opted to check the backpack (meaning another 45 minutes of waiting on the Dulles end). Good thing I did — by the time I got on (boarding group 5), there was no overhead space left. There was barely room for the CPAP.

Never fly a 737 cross country. It was like the old stake bed trucks at camp, where you never worried about them overturning because no one would fall out! I had about 2 inches between my knees and the back of the seat. Making it worse, the guy in front of me farted so much I thought I was smelling his ass. Yuk! (and yes, he leaned back his seat as well). Further, being a 737, the restroom line took the entire plane, and the aisles were so narrow no one could pass. Is it any surprise I arrived at Dulles with a migraine. Dinner helped some, as did “Wait Wait” on the drive to Annapolis Jct.

I truly miss the old days of flying. Where you never worried about checking luggage. Where you often had empty seats next to you, and actually room between you and the seat in front of you. Where there were actual semblances of meals, and the plane wasn’t so crowded that you could not get up to go to the bathroom. Flying these days is no fun.

One last observation: Waiting for my flight, I was looking at the stanchions with the new United logo. I wondered: When an airline changes logo, what happens to all the old logo stuff? Is it just trashed, filling landfills? How wasteful!

 

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One Mouse, One World

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 08, 2012 @ 7:38 pm PDT

“One Mouse, One World”. Sounds like a slogan for world domination by a particular corporation, doesn’t it. Sometimes it feels that way when you are in certain parts of Orlando Florida. It is also the slogan of one of that organization’s theme parks, Epcot, which we visited today.

First of all, why Epcot? The answer is simple. Most of the rest of the other Orlando parks can be found somewhere in the Anaheim parks. So it didn’t make sense to spend boku-bucks to go to them. Epcot, on the other hand, is mostly unique (except for Soaring, Captain Eo, and Nemo’s Adventures).

Epcot is a odd mix of multiple parks. The first park, when you go into it, is the “park of the future“. This is the park of the big Epcot globe, the voyage into space, and the hydroponic gardens. This is also the park that (mostly) felt dated — it felt like the Tomorrowland of the 1970s, down to the architecture and layout. It had that rounded-curve sense of the old People-Mover structure. We did ride a few rides in this area — in particular, Spaceship Earth, Mission:Space (Green) and Living with the Land. Spaceship Earth seemed a bit dated — all the audio-animatronics looked like characters from Pirates, although I did appreciate the 9-track tapes. Living with the Land, on the other hand, was neat — especially the portion where they went through the actual Epcot gardens and science areas. Mission:Space was good, but short and predictable (almost like “Star Tours”)… and you can tell where the “Orange” version would have added stuff. We didn’t get to see everything here we wanted to see — there evidently is an Energy movie with Ellen DeGeneris, but it was 45 minutes long, and we wanted to see other stuff. The line for Test Track was just too long, and the FastPast was too late. I also note that quite a few attractions allowed you to email stuff to yourself, such as the picture from this post.

The second part of Epcot is the World Showcase. This was mostly shopping, as opposed to rides (although we did see one Circlevision movie with Martin Short). The lands are Canada, UK, France, Morocco, Japan, America, Italy, Germany, “Africa” (Outpost), China, Norway,and Mexico. Each land has lots and lots of themed shopping (although at points I felt the shopping was a little culturally insensitive and stereotypical). Some of it is great (I particularly liked Canada, UK, Paris, Japan, and Germany), some of it wasn’t. Each land also has lots and lots of local food, much of it relatively expensive. Few rides, but fun to walk through and shop. There was also good music — in particular, a really good rock Celtic-Canadian band (including bagpipes) called Off-Kilter.

The third part of Epcot is a graft — Disney attempted to “graft” characters and marketing into the park. Thus you see Nemo in the Sea section, the Three Cabillaros in the Mexican lands, and various Disney face characters in the appropriate lands (i.e., Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco, Belle in France, Snow White and Rapunzel in Germany (but no Heimlich), Mulan in China, etc.). You also see Duffy the Disney Bear everywhere, and Pin Trading and Vinylmation everywhere, and Disney marketing everywhere. You can find everything Disney in Epcot … except any books describing the original purpose of Epcot and its history and development. Evidently, remembering the history is something solely reserved for Anaheim; Orlando is for entertainment, resorts, and separating the tourists from their money. But I didn’t say that in my outloud voice, did I?

Overall, what did we think of the park? It was fun, although not the constant attraction type of fun of Disneyland and DCA. I don’t think it was worth the standard Orlando gate, given that it was mostly shopping. But it is hard to say what any Disney park is worth. I am glad I saw it.

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A Tale of Two Museums

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 27, 2012 @ 2:45 pm PDT

This vacation we’ve really been trying to vacate. Sitting out by the pool. A little shopping. An occasional meal out. Reading. Relaxing. Futzing on the computers. Doing jigsaw puzzles. Playing the occasional game. In other words: doing what one normally does in Palm Springs when it is 108° out!

However, we did take some time to see two museums.

Palm Springs Art MuseumThe first was the Palm Springs Art Museum. The museum was free Thursday evening before the street fair, so we wandered over to see what it was like. In short: very very nice. I normally don’t like art museums — I’m not into static pictures. PSAM had a lot of nice modern art. One piece that still sticks in my mind is a sculpture of an old couple on a bench that was so realistic you were expecting them to breath. I also enjoyed a lot of their contemporary works, and we really enjoyed their exhibit of contemporary modern glass. Some other scultures that stick in my mind (they aren’t on the website) was a large fiberglass structure of a manga-style dog; a very realistic nude reclining woman sculture, a glass box that created a virtual hole, a bronze sculture of four garbage bags that were extremely realistic. Another interesting bronze was on the website: a horse that appeared to be made out of driftwood, but was really made from bronze casts of driftwood.

Palm Springs Air Museum of FlyingToday, we went to see a very different museum: the Palm Springs Air Museum of Flying. This was really a misnamed museum: it wasn’t a museum of flying — it was a museum of World War II and World War II aircraft (in fact, if you look at the images of the planes, you’ll see it was once called the WWII Air Museum, but they probably had a conflict with the one in Camarillo). There was loads of history at this museum, but the real focus was the war. There were two wings: one that focused on the Navy (i.e., the Pacific war), and one that focused on the Army (i.e., the European war). They had a large roster of planes — most of them capable of operation — including a B-47, a C-17, B-25, P-47, and many more. They also had lots of war material and related cultural ephemera. What was missing here was information on flying. How did the use of aircraft in war develop? A few of the carriers were shown carrying biplanes — what were they used for? How did the material used for aircraft change? How did development of military aircraft influence later commercial aircraft? What about use of aircraft in other wars, ranging from early WWI usage through the Korean, Vietnam, and subsequent conflicts. This is what was missing. In some ways, it was like the experience at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, where the focus was much more D-Day as opposed to the broader war.

Music: Rockin’ the Uke (Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer): A Flea and a Fly In a Flue

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Travel Notes

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Aug 22, 2012 @ 8:23 pm PDT

Yes, we’re on vacation. A few travel notes:

  • For the drive out, I decided to drive all of Route 210. Everytime I do this, I’m really disappointed with District 8′s signage. Lots of green-out on the signage, and lots of non-standard state shields.
  • On the way out, we had lunch at a classic Cal-Mex restaurant in San Bernardino, Lucy’s Mexican Restaurant on Sierra. Really good Carne Asasa and enchiladas, with great service.
  • Coming into Palm Springs, we stopped at the Palm Springs Visitor Center. This is the former Tramway Gas Station, in the Modern style, and has been wonderfully restored.
  • Last night’s dinner was at Shermans Deli, which was a pretty-good Kosher-style deli. They’ve been around since 1953.
  • Tonight’s dinner was at Elmer’s Restaurant, which is a classic Palm Springs coffee shop. Really good dinner, not that expensive, hot, and fresh.
  • Driving there, we went by the Caliente Tropics. I remember this hotel from the 1960s when it was simply the Tropics, and my family used to stay there.
  • Near where we are staying are the remains of the Orchid Tree Inn. It caught our eye because it is obviously a historic property that has seen better days. Investigating, I learned that it was abandoned and put on the market (and can be purchased for just under 7.5 million). Here’s a detailed presentation on the property. Fascinating. I love history like this.

 

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