Wednesday, 6 August 2003

We awoke refreshed. Well, Denise and I did. David was the victim of a haunting, or so he claims.

See, it turns out that the Monte Vista is haunted. It's in a lot of books that profile haunted locations in the US, and the Travel Channel is evidently going to feature it on a series about haunted places to travel to. We stayed in room 304, and the epicenter of the hotel hauntings is in 305 and 306. Evidently, a couple of prostitutes were murdered in one of those rooms in the 1940s, and their spirits haunt the places of their deaths even today, waking up men in the middle of the night. The story is that men bolt upright, wide awake, and can't get back to sleep. Sometimes they see spirits in the room. The belief is that the prostitutes are soliciting new customers, even in death. If David was in fact awakened by these ghosts, I feel sorry for the ghosts. They were definitely wasting their time!

Of course, I don't believe in ghosts. But I do like a good story, so I appreciated our haunted hotel.

After we woke and cleaned up, we decided to head across the street to the Late for the Train coffee shop. We each got some sort of espresso drink. The woman behind the counter was an artist when it came to pouring the drinks. Mine had the image of a white fern in the brown foam, while David's was even more elaborate.


It was a fun thing to wake up to!

We loaded up the van and left Flagstaff, which we had all come to like quite a bit, and headed towards the Grand Canyon. On the way, we saw a couple of interesting sights. A whole section of forest had evidently been in a fire, and many of the trees were still burnt and destroyed.


Then we hit a stretch of area where there was nothing, just brush and mountains in the distance. This lasted many miles, and then, in the middle of the sparseness, was a small cabin. Why it was there, who would use it, and how it would be used are mysteries that still require an answer.


We finally hit the Grand Canyon. Denise and I had been there before back in 1998, I believe, but it's so cool that I was looking forward to seeing it again. David had never seen it, and he was really excited. We parked the car and walked towards the Canyon. David gasped when he saw it. "It's so big!", he kept saying, "I had no idea!" He's not kidding. When you first see the Grand Canyon, it's overwhelming in its immensity.


We walked around, looking at the scenery and filming everything. It was awe-inspiring, of course. With colors and formations like these, how could you not feel awe?


We made our way to the Vistor's Center, where we looked at cutaways illustrating the rock strata of the Canyon, and a large diorama model of the Canyon. There were lots of warnings for anyone thinking of hiking down into the Grand Canyon. These warnings made it very clear that you could die if you didn't take enough food and water, rest property, and use your head. My favorite warning had a great illustration next to it, one of my all-time favorites at a federally-funded national monument:


We left the Visitor's Center and hopped on a tram bus. After riding it a couple of miles, we got out at one of the many points along the rim of the Canyon. Our aim was to hike 1.4 miles along the rim. There isn't an official trail there, but so many others have gone over it that a sort of trail has developed. Unfortunately, we couldn't find it. We did find a pen of burros, which I petted, but we weren't getting any closer to finding the so-called trail. We did find the real trail that takes you down into the Canyon for the "vomit hike", but we really didn't want to do that. As we were looking down that trail, we saw a train of burros coming back up, laden with bags and supplies, heads down and slowly climbing clip-clop clip-clop clip-clop.


Finally, I found the trail. Pretty ironic, considering how outdoorsy I am (I'm not, for any of you who don't really know me). It was behind some brush. And off we went. David, of course, had dressed to go hiking:


Yup. Gap flip-flops (always perfect for climbing around loose rocks), white Thai linen pants, and a shirt made of Chinese silk. He was definitely the best-dressed hiker today at the Grand Canyon—hell, in Arizona!—but hiking was not as much fun for him as it would have been with better sandals or tennis shoes.

Even if David wasn't dressed in the most practical manner, he still felt a special kinship with his surroundings and so communed with the glorious expanse of nature in his own special way:


We walked a long ways. Granted, it was only 1.4 miles, but when you're constantly walking across rocks, skipping around brush, and pausing at the edges of sheer precipaces, it can take quite some time and prove surprisingly strenuous.

Along the way, I paused for a moment. If you look hard, you can see the wind mussing my hair. It was incredibly windy today. It felt good in the 80-something degree heat.


After a while, we looked back at our starting point. It was waaaaaaay off. You can just see the little white spot that the hand in this picture is pointing to; that's where we were let off by the bus.


Taking advantage of our surroundings, we of course posed for pictures.


Denise sat down before the bus arrived and had a swig of water and a last moment of communion with the vastness of the Grand Canyon. David and I talked about how much chocolate it would take to fill the Canyon, and then we wondered how many Denises it would take. We decided that the answer was "a lot".


Before we left, it was time for one last picture of one of the most spectacular spots on earth.


By the time we made it back to the car, we were famished. Denise's arm was starting to look tasty. After an hour of driving or so, we stopped at a Subway, ate, and then continued on our way to Las Vegas. Denise is going to be so proud of me! I brought the title to our house, and I've been practicing for weeks, so I think I'm ready to win big tonight at blackjack!

We made it into Nevada at 7:25 pm. We stopped and saw the Hoover Dam, and my god, it is a huuuuuuge dam. Unbelievably immense for a man-made structure. What is it with the West? Why is everything so BIG out here?

When you approach the Dam from the Arizona side, it doesn't look that big. I mean, it's wide, but it doesn't look hugumongous.


And actually, the river is quite beatiful behind the dam. This would actually be a nice spot to hang out and enjoy the tranquility.


We encouraged David to pose, and he willingly complied. He's so easy.


We got back in the car and drove over the top of the dam. It took a long time to cross it due to its length, but it wasn't until we got completely over it and turned a curve and then stopped that we got a complete sense of just how damn BIG the Hoover Dam is.


It's 7:45 p.m., and we're in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, it's dusk, so the city lights aren't as overwhelming as they would be if it was night. There are lights, but the sky is more interesting, with long clouds in yellow and pink against a still bright pale blue sky. But night is drawing onward quickly, and then the world will explode in neon.

To continue the "HUGE" theme, the hotels in Vegas are insanely enormous as well. Giant blocks of concrete and lights, they resemble beacons to alien visitors more than storage bins for human visitors. And I know this next statement is going to make me seem like the biggest rube, but I'm getting a bit overwhelmed by all the constant advertisements for gambling, which are everwhere. Ev-ery-where! OK, stop laughing at me. Remember, I've never been here before.

We tried to check in to the Tropicana, but it was full. So off we went to the Hotel San Remo, which had a room for us. After cleaning up and enjoying a beer, we decided to go eat. Denise and David each got a prime rib for $4.95, while I got a Greek salad, which of course was double the cost of their steak. The food was good, and we left for a tour of Vegas' casinos, courtesy of David.

We did a lot of walking. David was jumping up and down and giggling like a kid in a candy store. He looooooves Las Vegas. It's one of his favorite places on earth. Of course, the sidewalks were packed at midnight. People were everywhere, streaming back and forth. I immediately noticed that a lot of folks were carrying open bottles of beer. Evidently there is no open container law in Las Vegas. Duh. In an effort to comply with the lack of an open container law, we bought beers and walked around drinking them.


We hit a number of the ritzy hotels and casinos. The Bellagio, one of the newer ones, was beautiful and amazing. An absolutely gigantic fountain show set to music played outside every 15 minutes or so. This thing takes place in a pool of water that looks to be the size of 4 football fields. The fountains burst into the air a couple of hundred feet, and aim in a variety of directions, including straight up and at all angles. It really is impressive.

Inside the Bellagio, the first thing you see when you walk in is an enormous lobby, with what appears to be glass flowers in the style of Dale Chihuly (sp?) covering the ceiling. They're not as enormous and cool as Chihuly's usual work, but they were still cool as hell to see, and they immediately set a tone of opulence and ostentatious waste that the Bellagio works hard to cultivate.


The Venetian had a better interior, in my opinion. But maybe that's because I like Classical culture (although I would NOT wish to wager that the owners of the Venetian have made the reading of Virgil, Horace, and Ovid a regular pasttime … perhaps Catullus … hehe! … Classical nerd joke). There was a canal running through the building, and during the day you can rent a gondola with an oarsman to guide you down the canal. But the really wild thing was the ceiling. The Venetian has painted the ceiling to look like a daytime sky, with fluffy clouds floating on an azure background. Every ten minutes, the lights slowly dim and then brighten, imitating dusk to dawn. When it's at its brightest, however, it really, really seems like it is daytime. You can't tell you're walking indoors at all. This photo gives but a pale approximation of the real thing (sorry about the blurriness of this photo and other Vegas pix … I was kinda blurry myself).


Other areas of the Venetian have ceilings done in the style of Renaissance art a la Michaelangelo. The way that the Venetian just throws together anything and everything that the average Joe would associate with "Italy" kind of cracks me up. I can just hear the planning meetings now. "Canals? Check. Faux Roman wall paintings? Check. Statues of Roman statesmen? Check. Pale brick, also faux? Check. Ceilings like they got in the, oh heck, what's it called? Oh yeah, the Lysterine Chapel! Check."


To continue the Roman theme, we also stopped in Caesar's Palace. Denise tried her hand with the world's largest slot machine, a machine that was, yes, truly Caesar-size!


Of course, we walked past the Mirage as well, home of Siegfried and Roy and their tigers. As David said, "Well, you give two gay men with a thing for tigers several million dollars to play with, and this is what you get!" So what is one of the things you get? This monstrosity. Ay yi yi. I thought gay men had taste?!? Clearly, the "Vegas" has leeched out and corrupted the gay gene for taste!


We'd walked and drank, and saw a lot of the new strip. Our night was not over, however. David wanted us to see the old strip, the old Vegas. So we hopped in a cab and headed off for a ten minute ride back twenty years in time.

Old Vegas is completely different. It's not as slick, and it is far more garish. It seems somehow more … desperate.

Of course, I was glad to see the neon cowboy that I've seen in so many pictures. That was cool.


David was babbling incoherently about something he really wanted. I couldn't really catch what he was saying, as I was too busy staring around like a goober and taking pictures that would later turn out to be blurry and unusable. He was saying something like, "dee fry twinee! dee fry twinee!" I finally understand, to my horror, that he was saying "DEEP-FRIED TWINKEE", and that he fully intended not only to purchase one and eat it himself, but also to buy one each for Denise and I, and force us to eat that junk food of Satan if it meant tying us down and force-feeding it to us with a funnel and a wooden spoon.

The very thought of such a food, the knowledge that someone at one time had thought of taking a freaking twinkee, which revolts me now that I'm past the age of 6, and then dunked it in a bubbling vat of super-heated grease, which also revolts me, and then served it up to people to eat … well, that picture just … revolted me. I don't like highly processed foods. They disturb me. And Twinkees are about as highly processed as you can get. Those, plus deep-fat-frying? Bleeeeeccccccccchh.

Don't believe me? Here's the proof. Sorry about the poor quality of the picture, but I was retching while I took it.


We walked into the casino pushing this concoction. David strutted up the counter, and, with confidence and a serene willingness to pretend that words like "high cholesterol" don't really exist, ordered three fried twinkies.

I'm not religious in the slightest. Not at all. Don't believe a word of it. But I need to thank some deity, because one was surely watching out for me. "I'm sorry sir … we quit selling them five minutes ago."

David deflated. It was as though you'd punctured a David-sized balloon. His face fell, his shoulders sagged, his knees bent, and his mouth gaped. That wonderfully self-confident indulger of food designed to clog the arteries and stop the heart was replaced by a man who had seen his dearest dreams crushed into powder. And for that, I THANK YOU BUDDHA! Or Allah, or Jesus, or whoever. Thank you!

So instead, he bought us incredibly strong $.99 drinks. Wowee wow, those were s-t-r-o-n-g. Hoo boy! Yowsah! Gooooood drinkee. Much better than deep-freaking-fried twinkees.

By this time, I was getting tired. We'd had a long day, and Denise and David had both napped in the car. David, however, wanted to gamble. Bad. So we got in the taxi and headed back to the new strip, because David wanted to go to the MGM Grand, his favorite place to "make money". We went in, and David began feeding money into the slots.

Now, I need to be honest here. I don't really like gambling. I've only done it once, and it was for $5 worth of quarters. I just don't "get it" when it comes to gambling. I don't think badly of people who like to gample at all. If you like it, great. But I just don't get the point of giving large companies my money. It doesn't excite me to gamble; instead, I just think about the money I'm losing, and it seems a waste to me. I guess that's my Grandfather Edgar Scott talking through me. He would no sooner have gambled than he would have flown around his family room. So I was tired, and I really didn't want to gamble. And then David said I was a jinx! So I thought that it was a good cue to head back across the street to our hotel and turn in. Denise and David stayed, and Denise watched David gamble. He ended up winning a couple of hundred dollars.

It was a long day, with vast contrasts in location. From the Monte Vista to the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas. Instead of "vast", make that "radical".

I slept. David and Denise, once they made their entrance an hour or so later and finally settled down, slept as well. The lights from a thousand neon signs shone dimly through the Hotel San Remo's curtains, and Las Vegas, unlike the three travelers, did not sleep, but continued its ceaseless whirling and turning and buzzing outside through the night.

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