Saturday morning, I dropped Matt off at his conference at Allen College and went to go see some of central Iowa. It was very grey outside.
I saw the other side of Waterloo across the bridge, and there were definitely some pretty nice restaurants and bars over there. The downtown was interesting, but pretty run-down. It reminded me of a smaller version of Milwaukee. There were also a ton of houses on stilts that were either moving or recently moved, presumably because the rivers there flood nearly every year.
I kept driving around til I came across one of the liquor stores the bartender had mentioned the previous night, called Red Star. They had Templeton Rye! I got two bottles for just shy of $100, which meant we were going to have to do a good job of protecting them since they were going to Vegas and back.
From there, I drove over to see Waterloo’s sister city, Cedar Falls. My first stop was at the UNI Dome, because we wanted to get a picture of Bally at the home of the Panthers. However, I soon discovered that that’s where the million annoying children had gone: the state wrestling tournament was going on there. I took some crappy out-the-window photos of the dome, circled the campus, and moved on.
Downtown Cedar Falls was completely different than Waterloo. There were a bunch of really cute little shops along a pedestrian-friendly main street, and everything was recently restored. I wish Matt could’ve seen that instead of Waterloo!
Speaking of Matt, it was nearing time to go pick him up. I stopped at Barnes and Noble because they had everything I could ever want at that moment (coffee, a bathroom, and the newest Martha Stewart Weddings), then drove up to the college and parked to wait for him. I got a ways into my airplane knitting project because they were running a little late, but as I’d calculated the latest time we could leave Waterloo about 14 times in my head, I knew we were safe.
Before leaving town, we stopped at the famous Maid-Rite. Matt got a loose meat sandwich (seriously, that’s what it’s called!) and I got some cheese-curd-like things. The employees at Maid-Rite were probably the nicest people on earth, too.
We got on the road to Des Moines, which was a little over 2 hours away. Our flight was at close to 5pm, so we had plenty of time to stop and see the famous Traer Winding Stairs. Yep. (Sometimes you just have to go visit stuff like this, because when the hell are you going to get back to Traer, Iowa? I’d never heard of it until we drove through.)
We arrived in Des Moines, turned in our rental car, and went to get some food and beers at the Capitol City Brew Pub. It was ideally situated so that we could see the plane arriving from our seats at the bar. As expected, it was about the size of a bus. We got on and were soon back in Minneapolis. You know what’s weird? Flying into your hometown to go on a trip.
We arrived in Vegas shortly before 9, and went to go pick up our car. Since we were staying off-strip for a couple of nights, we calculated that it would be way cheaper to rent a car than take cabs to places like the Orleans Arena. And conveniently, parking everywhere in Vegas is free, plus you can leave your car overnight if necessary.
We were spending the first night at the Sahara; not only was it cheap, but we’d had a great time there before (i.e. $1 shots and pai gow). The first thing we encountered after exiting I-5 was a car on fire in the middle of the Strip. Welcome to Las Vegas!
Our room was outdated, but it was clean and comfortable, and that’s all I care about when all I’m doing is sleeping there. We dropped off our bags and headed off on foot toward the Peppermill, a few very long Vegas-blocks away. It’s just past the Riveria, across from Circus Circus.
We got food at the counter in the restaurant (it’s like Vegas Perkins, seriously), then went into the lounge. We had the exact same bartender as the previous time, and he was fantastic. They were also playing the exact same crappy music videos on the TV, plus ESPN. God, I love that bar.
After a couple drinks, we went across to check out Slots-A-Fun. I’d read about their $3 blackjack and $.50 craps games, but there wasn’t too much going on even though it was after midnight on a Saturday. We got some beers from a vendor out front and wandered through that casino and into Circus Circus. We were nowhere near drunk enough to have a Fear-and-Loathing-style freakout, but it’s always good to remind yourself of how bizarre Vegas can be.
We headed back toward our hotel, and got there around 1am. We were too sleepy to gamble, but we had to go see if they still had $1 shots. The bartender told us they’d been discontinued, which pretty much ends any good reason to visit the Sahara. But we did take advantage of some $1 beers instead.