Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Leaving (for) Las Vegas, part 1

It's been five years since Tammy and I have taken a vacation. Not that we haven't had time off work; we just haven't gone anywhere. We figured that as long as Rachel has been able to get away on mission trips with her church groups we were fine with us staying put.

Our five year streak is over.

The three of us took a quick vacation to Las Vegas last week. I'd never been there. Our choices were New York City, Lake Superior's North Shore in northern Minnesota or Las Vegas. I let Tammy and Rachel choose.

We left Tuesday morning. I was celebrating my 52nd birthday as we flew out. Rachel turned 18 the day before. 18 gets you into casinos in Minnesota and that's where her friends took her for her birthday the night before but you've got to be 21 to gamble in Las Vegas. She said she didn't care much for slot machines but had fun playing Blackjack. She joined the ranks of the losers to the tune of $7.

We stayed at Mandalay Bay on the south end of the strip; a very nice place. When we got up to our room on the 20th floor it still hadn't been cleaned and it was late afternoon. Tammy called the front desk and they told us they'd move us right away to a room on the 60th floor and comp us a $50 meal voucher for our troubles. We couldn't complain.

We got settled into our room and Rachel noticed the Love Box and the Travel Box among some assorted snacks on top of the dresser. Guess which one she had to check out? More about that later.

I'd made plans to get together with a friend, Mike McGregor, from my Navy days who I hadn't seen in over 31 years. Tammy and Rachel had tickets to see The Lion King production playing at the hotel. I phoned Mike to let him know we'd arrived and we arranged for him to meet us for dinner at the House of Blues located downstairs on the main level.

How often to you get to see somebody you haven't seen in three decades? This is twice for me in the last six months. My memories of Mike haven't faded much over the years. He'd transferred to our ship in San Diego from an east coast assignment and replaced me as the junior guy. He had family in Mesa, Arizona and used to drive his van back home on his days off. I remember him telling me how he'd set the van on a straight course on the freeway then quickly get out of the driver's seat and run back to grab a beer from the cooler. I'm not sure if he had the luxury of cruise control back then.

Mike works as a construction foreman and has been living in Las Vegas since the early '90s. His free time is spent on his motorcycle. He's an incredibly nice guy and I wish we lived closer to each other.

Before finishing dinner Mike approached the singer/guitarist and asked him if he would sing happy birthday wishes for me. I tried to stop Mike but knew it was futile. The whole place joined in. I blush too easily.

We left Tammy and Rachel to go to their show while we made our way out to the strip where Mike gave me a quick tour. He said he seldom makes it into the city. We eventually worked our way over to his home in North Las Vegas and pulled into his driveway just as his lady-friend, Donna, was returning home on her Harley from school. The three of us would later go back into the city for the Fremont Street Experience. Fremont is where the strip began (I think) and has grown its way south over the years.

We walked up and down Fremont enjoying some of the cheapest beer around while taking in the sights and listening to the ever present music. It was nice spending time with Mike again.

They brought me back to Mandalay Bay and I told them that we had no plans in particular if they wanted to get together again before we left on Friday.

Tammy and Rachel loved the show.

Mike called us the next morning and offered to drive us to see Hoover Dam. I didn't want to put him out but he said he's been wanting to get back and see it as they've just completed work connecting an arch that will support a much needed road across the Colorado River and he wanted to see it. "Sure...if you don't mind...that would be great" I told him.

We headed down to McDonald's across the street, grabbed a late breakfast and waited for Mike. There were a few dozen protesters on the street corner voicing their disapproval of Obama's health care reform proposals. Before too long a couple Metro Police showed up on motorcycles but I don't think they had much to worry about. The people with signs didn't seem all that angry or disorderly, in fact, I've never seen happier protesters.

Mike picked us up and we drove 45 minutes east to Hoover Dam. He made a few stops along the way so we could get out and look around. It was hot with the temp over 100 degrees and I loved it. It felt nice compared to the cool summer we've been having in the Midwest.

Security waved us through the checkpoint leading to the dam and we drove on a bit further until we could park the car and get out. Impressive doesn't come anywhere near describing this engineering wonder. I'm always amazed at what people can do, especially men, when it comes to larger than life structures such as this. (there's a joke in there...did you spot it?) I did tell Tammy and Rachel, "Do you see that plaque under the arch?" "...it says, 'No women were used in the making of this arch'." It didn't go over so well.

The visitor center offered two tours, the tour of the dam or the tour of the power plant. We'd have to wait 90 minutes for the dam tour (I heard people using the word 'dam' a lot to try and be funny) so we opted for the power plant tour instead. It probably covered much of what I was interested in anyway and was well worth the $15.

I uploaded a set of photos from the dam to my Flickr account.

To be continued...


Spinning Hat said...

Based on Part 1, looks like you had a good time. The wife and I actually got married at Mandalay Bay, and it was top notch the entire time. The Honeymoon Suites weren't even on the 60th floor! Ahh.. Vegas...

Kevin said...

We too were very happy with the hotel and would stay there again. The rates were very reasonable but I'm not sure if that holds up when it comes to renting out space for a wedding. Yikes...that could get expensive.

I thought that being on the 60th floor would be a headache having to stop at a dozen floors in between but that's not how it works. The elevators we used only serviced the 60-63 floors and there always seemed to be one ready for us.

Spinning Hat said...

Actually, we spent less on the wedding and photography at Mandalay Bay than we would have been able to in the cities. We went with a middle of the road package, and it was very reasonable. We originally wanted to get married in Hawaii, but changed our minds and decided on Vegas. Very happy we did.

Kevin said...

I'd never have guessed it was that affordable. Nice move on your part.