Observations Along the Road

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

Category Archive: 'travel'

Some Vegas and “Along The Road” Reviews

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue May 07, 2013 @ 10:28 pm PDT

userpic=las-vegasWe made it back home from Las Vegas a few hours ago, and so I thought I’d post some reviews of things Vegas or along the way. I would have posted some of these this morning, but the Internet at our hotel was out (in fact, it was out for the entire nearby area — at least at McDs and Dunkin):

  • Tahiti Village Resort. This is where we stayed — we had an interval from Interval International expiring, and so we exchange it from here. It was a very nice resort, with a lovely pool (with a sand area), a lazy river (which we didn’t try), and reasonably good service. The on-site restaurants had a so-so reputation, so we didn’t try them. It was located right next to LAS, which made it very convenient for strip access without being on the strip. Drawbacks: The elevators when we went to checkout were slow, and the Internet went out this morning (neither of which were really the resort’s fault).
  • Re-Pete Bar and Grill. Last night, not wanting to go back to the strip, yet not wanting to try the resort’s restaurant, we went down the street to Re-Petes. We were glad we did, for the food was excellent. I had their house chicken, which was two chicken breasts in a pan glaze with chopped sausage over lyonnaise potatoes with fresh vegetables. It was just perfect.
  • Wynn Buffet. Breakfast today was the buffet at The Wynn, which was head and shoulders over the mediocre buffet at the Riviera or at the Fremont. I just can’t describe all the lovely little delicacies that the Wynn had out, but I really felt I got my $20 worth with the variety. This wasn’t just bacon and eggs, folks.
  • Jerky Outlet. During this trip, we saw lots of Jerky places, from the Beef Jerky Store in downtown Vegas  to Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker. These places had lots of different jerkys, but most had soy sauce in them (which is not gluten-free). As we were leaving, we tried the Jerky Outlet just S of the Premium Outlets.  They had jerky without soy sauce, both in a soft (refrigerated) and non-soft variety. A bit pricy, so we didn’t try the exotic meats, but still worth going back to.  They have both a website and a facebook page.
  • Charlie Brown Farms. As we were driving back along Route 138, we ran across Charlie Brown Farms. This is a place that seems to go on and on with all sorts of stuff — kitsch, dolls, dried fruits, fudge, candies, BBQ, walking sticks, teas. A wide variety of stuff split over a number of buildings. Given that it isn’t that far from Palmdale, we may go back one day for a longer look.

 

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A Tale of Three Chocolates

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon May 06, 2013 @ 4:55 pm PDT

userpic=cookingIf you follow my blog at all, you know I like to do things in threes. So today, as we’re still in Las Vegas, I bring you the story of three chocolates:

  • Vosges Haut Chocolate. We hit this store on the way to the Elton John concert. They had lots of tasty samples, but alas they didn’t have any of their bacon+chocolate out to try. We did, however, pick up a blood orange caramel chocolate bar. Yummy.
  • Max Brenner. This was a chocolate store plus restaurant that we hit after the concert for dessert. We ended up getting “The Spectacular Melting Chocolate S’Mores Sundae, which consisted of milk chocolate ice cream, pure vanilla creme, milk chocolate fondue, chocolate chunks, marshmallow fluff, and whipped cream, garnished with toasted marshmallow fluff and served with a white chocolate ganache, with two chocolate-covered graham cracker cookies on the side.
  • Ethel M. The third chocolate in our story is Ethel M, which we visited this afternoon for the store and the factory tour. There we picked up a 16-pc box with goodies for all: dark and milk chocolate sea-salt caramels, dark and milk chocolate raspberry satin cremes, dark chocolate lemon satin cremes, orange liqueur dark chocolates, amaretto liqueur milk chocolates, Irish cream liqueur chocolates, milk chocolate truffles, dark chocolate truffles, and cinammon truffles…. plus some pecan brittle. Oh, and Ethel Mars looks a lot like Mary See. Coincidence?

P.S.: The peppermint oil did a wonderful job of calming down my sunburn.

P.P.S.: Today we hit the Riviera Buffet for lunch. The old girl (the hotel opened in 1955) is getting sad. The food was only average (although the price was low), the buffet was empty with no line, and you had to go in the back because the escalator was under repair. Further, the casino was very quiet. It is one of the few 1950s hotels with the original building still standing (i.e., the 9-story hotel wings — the only other are the two-story wings at the Tropicana). After lunch we went across the street to Circus Circus, and it was equally quite (although with more kids thanks to the Midway). In general, the North End of the Strip is currently dead. It is being dragged down by the empty lot that was the Frontier, the partial development that was the Stardust and was to be the Echelon and will be the Resort World Las Vegas, the unfinished hulk that was the Thunderbird (oops) Silverbird (oops) El Rancho (oops) was to be the Fontainbleau, the land from the El Rancho Vegas that has never been redeveloped yet, and the closed Sahara that is transforming into the SLS Vegas. Here’s hoping that the North Strip can come back as strong as the Mid- and South Strip.

Music: Zumanity (Cirque Du Soleil): “Entree”

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Doing a Stupid

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 05, 2013 @ 7:31 am PDT

userpic=las-vegasFriday I did a couple of stupids that I’m still paying for. Perhaps it comes with the territory — after all, I am in Las Vegas, a city known for adults doing stupid things. But usually those stupid things involve alcohol and end up with embarrassing pictures being posted on Facebook… and what I did is not in that category of stupid things.

So what did I do? Well, first I trimmed my toenails. Usually not a problem; we all do it. However, I had a sharp corner on my big toe, and in some way insulted and inflamed the cuticle. It is still mad at mad, and I’m treating it with Neosporin and Epsom Salts, and when I get home I’ll try some steroidal creme. Combine that with my usual blisters from walking too much and a cracked heel from sandals, and I have a foot that is none to happy.

The other stupid I did was going out by the pool. Without sunblock. Although I did time how long I was out there (2 hrs) and rotated regularly (max 30 minutes per side at a time), I still ended up with a hella-sunburn. It’s periodically painful. Not much I can do about it, except Aloe Vera gel and time.

At least other stuff I’m doing is fun. More on that in the next post…

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A Circus of Sex

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 03, 2013 @ 11:36 pm PDT

zumanityuserpic=las-vegasTonight we did the “Vegas Thing”, and went to see a show. Specifically, we saw Zumanity at New York New York, one of seven Cirque shows currently running in Vegas. How would I describe the show? Modern Dance, Athleticism, a touch of comedy, audience participation, combined with lots of sex. It was a beautiful show — I don’t know how typical it was of Cirque shows — and one that I enjoyed. But it wasn’t a show in the theatre sense — there was no plot or through line. I was about to write that it was like Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ (in other words, no plot, just dancing), but then I realized that although there wasn’t a through line, there was a point — to embrace your sensuality, to enjoy love and sex, and to experiment. So let’s look at each of the characteristics of Zumanity in turn.

First, the dance. Almost all of the numbers in Zumanity were dances of some form of another, or dances combined with gymnastics and aerobatics. All were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the waterbowl, where a number of female dancers, topless, used a large waterbowl to express movement and feeling (Ulziibayar Chimed, Bolormaa Zorigtkhuyag/FB, Estefania Laurino and Gyulnara Karaeva). Also great was the Roue Cyr, where a male actor (Jonas Woolverton) was in a large hoop, and would spin and rotate around.

Most of the numbers had remarkable athleticism. Numbers of particular note were the hand balancing number, where a male performer essentially did a pole dance holding himself perpendicular to the pole (Dima Shine (FB)). Also great was the hoops number, where a female actor (Julia Kolosova) was using hoops and aerobatics to do remarkable moves. My wife was very impressed with the tissues number, where remarkable arobatics were performed using just a hanging ribbon (Alan Jones Silva, Anna O’Keefe).

The comedy numbers were performed by a different set of actors from the main troupe. All were good, and most involved audience participation. The main perpetrators were Dick and Izzy (Shannan Calcutt (FB), Nicky Dewhurst (FB)) who were great with audience repartee, although Edie the Mistress of Sensuality (Christopher Kenney/FB, Edie/FB) did a pretty good job in the Orgy number. Our show was particularly funny because they brought up an elementary school teacher from Oregon, who was so out of her element that her reactions were priceless.

Now for the sex part. I should note that the sex is geared towards the Las Vegas audience. In other words, what might shock a midwesterner (“look, Gladys, bare breasts!”) would hardly phase an Angeleno. The cast does a great job of trying to get a rise out of the audience, and tries to be extremely playful and risque. That’s why it is over 18 only, folks! If any number truly captured sex, however, it was the straps number (Jill Crook (FB)), which went to the edge of voyeristic auto-asphyxiation. I should note that it was nice that the show did not give in to the tendency to have artificially enhanced actresses. It is important to embrace the natural beauty in all.

What problems did I have with the show? Well, other than the audience (which had no idea how to dress for a show, but that’s Vegas!), I only had two. First, there were two large actresses in the cast (Licemar and Luciene Medeiros) — large, buxom, and beautiful. They were used only for comedy numbers, and the one quasi-sexy comedy number that they had, they did in body-suits.  If the show truly wants to reach today’s American audience, then show that these large actresses can be sexy. Show that large women (and large men) can be beautiful, act, and be athletic. Don’t give in to the stereotype that large is only the butt of a joke.

My second complaint has to do with the program they handed out. It had one page for each different Cirque show. What it didn’t do was tell me about the cast and the crew. You can get that information only if you pay for a full size program. Even the Las Vegas Sun review didn’t list all the actors. It isn’t even on the website. The cast members I’ve listed here were developed by looking through numerous websites. This show had talented actors, talented musicians, and a talented technical team. Tell me about them — their experience and their talent and training. This not only informs the audience, but is important for your actors and their careers. Don’t shortchange them; they are too good.

[ETA] After doing some research, I was able to uncover the actors listed above. Other actors in the show (at least the ones I could find) included: Ekaterina Bazarova/FB (“hand-to-hand”), Ed Bohlen (“midnight bath”), Felix Cane (“dance on TV”), Vanessa Convery (“midnight bath”), Gabriel Corbin (“two men”), Wassa Coulibaly (“wassa”), Arslan Gusengadzhiev (“dislocation”), William Hulett/FB (“rose boy”), LJ Jellison (“two men”), Candi Kirtz (dancer), Marcela de la Vega Luna (“wind”), Renee Pugh (dancer), Paris Red (singer),  Agnes Roux (dancer), Valeriy Simonenko (FB) (“hand-to-hand”), and Corinne Zarzou (FB) (singer).

[ETA] Zumanity was written and directed by Dominic Champagne and René Richard Cyr. Costumes were by Thierry Mugler. Set design was by Stéphane Roy. Music by Simon Carpentier. Choreography was by Debra Brown and Marguerite Derricks. Lighting design by Luc Lafortune. Sound design by Jonathan Deans. Clown act creator: Cahal McCrystal. Projection designer: Natacha Merritt. Makeup designer: Nathalie Gagné. Acrobatic equipment and rigging designer: Jacque Paquin. Prop designer: Normand Blais. Artistic guide: Guy Laliberté.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:   Tomorrow night brings a different sort of Vegas show — Elton John in concert at Caesers Palace. May also brings “Falling for Make Believe” at The Colony Theatre and “To Kill a Mockingbird” at REP East. Lastly, continuing the look ahead, June will bring (tenative) “The Scottsboro Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre, “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert” at the Pantages, and (tentative) Sweet Charity at DOMA. July is currently more open, with “9 to 5 – The Musical” at REP East in the middle of the month, and “Legally Blonde – The Musical” at Cabrillo at the end of the month. August is currently completely open due to vacation planning and the potential Nottingham Faire. I’m also keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

Music: Zumanity (Cirque Du Soleil): “Wind”

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Vegas Doesn’t Win Over A Fire in Malibu

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 03, 2013 @ 4:18 pm PDT

userpic=campAlthough we’ve been in Las Vegas today, it’s been a down day after all the museums yesterday. More importantly, since last night, my thoughts have been elsewhere — they’ve been at camp. You see, the Wilshire Blvd Temple Camps are just N of the county line off PCH. Specifically, they are at PCH and Yerba Buena Road, which is where the fire was heading last night. So I’ve been monitoring the Camp’s Facebook page and the twitter feed about the fire to find out what was happening at camp. It’s gotten close; the campers there were evacuated last night, and there was real risk had the fire continued S from Deer Creek Road. It was certainly burning further E near Boney Ridge and Circle X. Right now, it looks to have continued N into Hidden Valley. As for camp, according to the Jewish Journal:

The flames did not reach the 200-acre property shared by Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp in Little Sycamore Canyon, situated between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The blaze reached land adjacent to the property, on the other side of a ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains, according to Howard Kaplan, executive director of WBT, which owns and operates the camps.

No camp property was damaged, and the flames nearby were put out by Ventura County Fire Department firefighters, Kaplan said.

“Right now we’re fine, but we’re on standby because we have to be,” Kaplan told the Journal on Friday afternoon.

As long as this fire is burning, the camps are in danger, so keep thinking those good thoughts, folks.

So what did we do today? Relaxed. I monitored the fire situation and sat out by the pool. Tonight is a show at New York New York, and then picking up our daughter at the airport. Tomorrow…. Elton John!

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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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