Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Trip to Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport

Do you remember when air travel was fun? Me too. I miss those days.

Yesterday I picked up a friend at McCarran. I remember when going to the airport to pick up a pal was easy. Now it's a test of your patience and pre-planning skills. Specific rendezvous point established? Check. Flight information set to alert you via e-mail? Check. Fully charged cell phone? Check. Big bunch of change, dollar bills, and debit card to pay exorbitant parking fees? Check. All physical needs taken care of—food, water, bathroom—prior to leaving the house? Check. Psychic abilities dialed to high? Check.
I've added this last point because at McCarran, they apparently don't believe in adequate signage. Don't know where you're going? Too bad.

After I exited the 215 and passed through the airport tunnel, I had an option for left or right. Neither direction had "passenger pickup" on its sign. I chose left because that's the way it was the last time I was there, and I figured I had a 50-50 chance. Fortunately, I was correct, and when I finally saw "passenger pickup" on a sign, I drove like a cabbie to make sure I was in the right lane.

If you haven't been to McCarran in a while, you probably don't know that the Airport Officials (I'd guess it's the same people who make decisions about signage) decided that metered parking was not good enough, so it's a minimum of $2.00 to park there. But, of course, there's no sign to tell you this. Had I been forewarned, I guess I could have kept driving loops around the airport, but instead I found myself stuck in the mandatory entry, screw-you-if-you-want-to-turn-around lane with the "press my button" machine staring at my driver's side window. I accepted that I'd have to cough up $2.00—in my case, for a grand total of about 20 minutes. 
But, hey, there I was at the airport, with photo opportunities all around me…. except that since I was at the airport, I started to wonder if I was going to be detained and questioned for taking pictures of the parking garage. (Government-issued identification ready in handbag? Check.) 
While I don't find airports or air travel to be fun anymore, I have to say that McCarran is a photographic place. It's jumbled and assembled like Victor Frankenstein was the lead architect, but it's interesting. And interesting, especially in Las Vegas, goes a long way to make up for aggravating and expensive.
Photographs by Terrisa Meeks

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Good-bye, Sahara Las Vegas

If you live in Las Vegas, you've undoubtedly read that another Old Vegas hotel casino is getting mothballed. May 16, 2011, will be the Sahara's last day. "It's a rare and dying breed," observed my 12-year-old. He's a true Vegas native.

Feelings about the Sahara's closing are mixed. Some lament the demise of yet another classic Vegas joint, and others are glad to see it go. Take this comment from one of my pals on Facebook, for instance: "Why wait...Lets implode that rat-infested non-profit earning eyesore now and create some construction jobs....Just my thought..." No plans have been announced for implosion, by the way.

I never spent much time at the Sahara. My major memory of the Sahara is from the days of Wet 'N Wild, in those happy times when I would float around all day in their many heavily chlorinated water attractions, and I would look up at the Sahara's clock and temp display and think, "Can it really be 115°? It feels so nice and cool here." Then, of course, they demolished Wet 'N Wild. No more lazy river, no more pondering the time and temp at the top of the Sahara.

My other major Sahara memory? The Adult Entertainment Expo, back when everyone thought it was an actual part of CES because both conventions happen at the same time of year (and still do--but in those days, the Adult Expo was at the Sahara, easy walking distance from the Convention Center). This was long, long ago, back in the days of my prior career.... at the police department. After using our falsified passes to CES (which had nothing to do with my employer of the day, incidentally), we'd tromp on over to the Sahara to gawk at the porn stars. Ah, the memories.

I recently read an trenchant observation about the fate of budget-priced, Old Vegas hotel casinos. Before the Great Recession, they offered an affordable alternative to the fancy New Vegas resorts. Now, even the big, fresh, glossy places have cut their rates and offer deals. Will there be a place for the Old Vegas hotel casinos remaining—in particular, the Riviera—or will they all go the way of the showgirl?  
Photo courtesy of John Griffiths

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Vegas Places: Holy Moly, I Know That House!

When you’ve lived in Las Vegas all your life, you get accustomed to seeing the city on TV, in magazines, or online. But it’s one thing to see the Strip on television or in print, and another to see a home that you remember almost as well as the one in which you grew up--or a house that's just a few blocks from where you once lived.

If you watch "Pawn Stars," you’re familiar with Rick Dale of Rick’s Restorations. Back in the days when the northwest side of town was still horse country, I lived just a few blocks from his home/business. I drove by his place every day. In those days, he would leave a few vintage Coke machines outside to advertise his services.

At that time, our neighborhood was far on the outskirts of town. When I gave people directions, I would tell them, “Keep driving until you think you’re lost. Then keep going.” Today, of course, the area has a mess of homes, a mega-church, and a freeway. And Rick’s place is still out there.

The first time my husband and I saw Rick on a Pawn Stars episode, it took us just a few seconds to recognize the house. It was kind of strange, but fun, like knowing a secret no one else does—although I’m sure everyone in that neighborhood knows who he is now.

But I got my biggest, "Holy moly, I know that house!" in the pages of Las Vegas Weekly.

The magazine's February 24 issue featured an article about a house ("Mid-Century Manor" by Sarah Feldberg) with loads of pictures--which at first I didn't recognize. Then I read the article's first sentence, which said that the house had been owned by both Jackie Gaughan and Doyle Brunson... and I took another look at those pictures. Holy moly, indeed.

Back in the 1970s, when I knew the Brunsons (I was friends with their daughters during our middle school and high school years), the house looked a lot different. But I recognized the spiral staircase, the distinctive front door, and the lava wall. I spent a lot of time in that house. Looking at the magazine's pictures felt like a twisted time warp, or maybe a short journey to a parallel universe.

My own old childhood home isn't likely to show up in any media, unless it's on an episode of "Cops." I drove by the place about a month ago; time has not been kind to it. The houses in that old downtown neighborhood are a patchwork of the restored, the neglected, and the downright scary. The cars parked on the front lawn of my old place definitely put it in the last category.

Here's what the house I grew up in looked like, back in its prime. The first picture below was taken sometime in the 1960s (crazily enough, those awnings are still on the house). The second picture was taken in the backyard in the early 70s, at about the time I knew the Brunson family. That's me and our dachshunds in front of my family's beloved fig tree. The dogs and tree are gone, but the girl is still kicking.

Picture of vintage Las Vegas postcard courtesy of Mark Holloway

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

In Line at the Las Vegas Mob Experience

Last week the Tropicana unveiled the Las Vegas Mob Experience, the Strip's newest "interactive experience." Imagine a museum crossed with interactive theater, and that's roughly what the Mob Experience is like.

The Mob Experience wisely opened in preview form with limited hours last week. They were still smoothing out a lot of glitches when I was there on Thursday--several displays weren't working. Disappointingly, I saw not a single hologram. Other than the actors/guides who led us through the first bit of the Experience, the interactivity was non-existent. I hope that the fully working LVME offers more to visitors because I didn't see anything that would induce me to return, especially not at almost $40.00 per ticket.

Truthfully, I had more fun waiting in line than walking through the Experience.

My son and I were standing in the very long line when an older gentleman got in line behind us. He smiled and said to my son, "I used to work for the Mob."

"So did his grandfather," I said.

And here's the truth of it: if you lived in Las Vegas back in the days when the Mob ran things, it was kind of hard not to work for the Mob, in one form or another.

We were soon trading Old Vegas memories with "The Grim Reaper," as his badge read (my son was "Creepy" -- presumably, when things are working properly, these badges do more than give you a funky name). Reaper's wife, Cathy, had been a cocktail waitress at the Flamingo, but from what we figured out, it was probably before my dad worked there.

Reaper, Cathy, Creepy, and I passed the time in line trading stories about the days when the people who actually knew mobsters didn't talk about them. I managed to remember most of the places my dad had worked, found out that I was the same age as Cathy's children, and traded the stories every long-time Las Vegan has, the "I remember when" stories--"I remember when Rainbow was a dirt road" is one of my favorites.

"What was your favorite restaurant that's gone now?" Reaper asked me.

"Chateau Vegas," I said. I loved their food, but I especially loved their harpist.

"That was a Mob hangout," said Reaper. Coulda been, but when I was a kid all I cared about was their veal scaloppini and that harpist.

It wasn't until I became an adult that I had any real idea about the people my dad knew. Looking back, I realize now that being the food and beverage manager at the Aladdin in the 1970s says a whole lot about the people he knew. When I was kid, it was more important to me that his job meant we got to eat at the Aladdin's Sabre Room, the gourmet restaurant that sat at the bottom of a long flight of stairs. No harpist, but great veal. That was also before I learned about where veal comes from.

Was Las Vegas better when the Mob ran things? That's such a standard piece of Vegas wisdom that it's mentioned briefly in an LVME display. I think the small towns and innocence of youth always seem better in hindsight, no matter where you grew up, with or without mobsters.


Photo courtesy of chewstroke

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Vegas on the Cheap: Cheap & Free Stuff To Do

Most everyone is watching their budget these days, and one of the first things that most of us eliminate is anything related to entertainment. If you live in Las Vegas, however, you can find plenty of things to do that cost little or nothing. The next time you're hanging out at home, feeling oh-so-bored, try a few of these tips to get out without busting your budget:

* First, check the gas prices at one of the cheap gas sites online, or use your points from frequent shopper's cards (Smith's Grocery, Rebel) to snag some fuel discounts.

* Eat before you leave, unless you're packing a picnic lunch. This will help you resist the yummy food smells emanating from the restaurants that display menus without prices. Remember that old saying, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."

* Learn about some Las Vegas history at the Old Mormon Fort, the Clark County Museum, or the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum. Admission at any of these is $2.00 or less.

* Check out downtown. Both the Fremont Street Experience and the Neon Museum are free. (Admission to the Neon Boneyard is not free, and requires an advance reservation for a tour.) First Friday, which is coming up this week, is also free.

* Get a schedule of events from the Clark County Library District. They regularly host speakers and workshops for free. Clark County and the City of Las Vegas also host many events that are free or low-cost.

* Take in the free spectacles on the Strip, like the Mirage's volcano, the MGM Lion exhibit, and the TI Sirens and Pirates show. Wander around the shopping-tainment places like the Venetian's Grand Shoppes, Caesar's Forum, or Miracle Mile--it costs nothing to watch the talking statues, the singing gondoliers, or the indoor rain storm.

* Ask about locals' discounts at Strip attractions. Places like the Shark Reef, the Bodies Exhibit, and CSI Experience are still on the pricey side, but more affordable if you flash your Nevada ID. This week, admission to the Mob Experience at the Tropicana is free; after Friday, it's almost $30.

* Experience the great outdoors. Even places that charge fees to get in charge by the car load, not the person. You can also find no-fee areas near many areas; at Red Rock, there's no charge at Calico Basin, the overlook, and First Creek.

* Use your Internet skills. Sign up with online discounters like Groupon and you'll get e-mails with deals. "Friend" your favorite places on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, and you'll learn about special promotions that you might miss otherwise. Check out what your other budget-minded buddies are saying and posting. Today I caught a FB post from a pal about Livingsocial, another site that offers discounts.

* Pick up a copy of Las Vegas Weekly, CityLife, or Seven--they're all free and carry listings of Vegas events and attractions. Keep an eye on the ads and you'll likely spot some coupons.

While my NileGuide Las Vegas page is aimed at tourists, I have lists of things to do that any local can use.


Photo of dollar courtesy of photosteve101 at
Photos of Clark County Museum and Calico Basin by Terrisa Meeks