I tried to sleep in, really. I woke at 6 and forced myself to go back to sleep, but I was up again by 7am. I got coffee and went to my car, which, surprisingly, had not melted into a pool of metal and rubber after sitting in the heat all day. I got on the freeway and headed towards the Hoover Dam. Apparently, Boulder City has some kind of scam going with the state highway department, in which all the tourist traffic is routed right through the center of town.
I got to the dam at 8:45, and it was already 95 degrees. I had to wait in line outside the visitors’ center, which didn’t open until 9, thinking, this is not what i want to be doing. Finally, they let us in, passed us through a metal detector, and sold us tickets. I wanted to go right to the observation deck, but they made me go down and sit through the presentation first. I was cranky. All I wanted was to take some dam pictures and be on my way. I didn’t want to take the dam tour. I sat there, squirming, surrounded by tourist families, thinking, this is not what i want to be doing, either. I did learn a couple fun facts from the presentation, however: first of all, there’s no way a body could be buried in the dam, because of how they poured the concrete (although I choose to adhere to the theory that the mob can do anything it wants, and if it wants a body in the dam, it gets a body in the dam); second, Las Vegas gets none of its power from the Hoover Dam. So there. Some learnin’.
After they herded us cattle out of the presentation corral, I busted out of line and ran up the stairs to the observation deck. Some security guards peered at me suspiciously, but didn’t seem to have the ambition to taser me, so I got to take my photos in peace. After that, I made my way to the gift shop, the most important part of any stupid tourist attraction. I got my dam souvenirs* and was back on my way.
*I’m sorry, dam jokes make my mom laugh every single time I tell them, so I feel obligated.
Also, you may wonder at my bitterness over the Hoover Dam. I don’t know, I guess I’m not that much for public works. I didn’t like having to spend so much time and money to see something that’s basically a punchline.
I got in my car and drove across the dam into Arizona, because I wasn’t positive that I’d be driving through there on the way back, and I’d be mightily pissed if I missed a western state on my road trip. I was there long enough to make a u-turn and go back. I liked that there were clocks on either side of the dam telling us what time it was in the respective states, since Arizona has some sort of conscientious objection to daylight savings. Troublemakers.
I pointed Chico back towards Vegas and marveled at the double layer of haze over the city. There was the normal, white haziness from the heat, and below that, a thick layer of brown smog. Nice. I drove around to the north end of town and exited at Las Vegas Boulevard, so I could drive through downtown. It was all tattoo parlors, bail bonds, and wedding chapels (‘Your wedding broadcast live over the internet FREE!’). The crappy little motels had the best signs I’d ever seen, way better than anything the strip had to offer. I parked at the Stratosphere, and went in and bought a ticket for the tower. I wanted to see Las Vegas from above.
The view was impressive – not as hazy as the pictures seem – but it was painfully hot. I could only stand it for ten minutes, then went inside and down a level to the indoor observation deck. I sat and wrote for a while, then went back downstairs to the casino. The girl running the elevator told me how much it sucked to be a teenager in Las Vegas, because of the strictly-enforced 9pm curfew. She only had 2 months to go to 18, though. Then she could get to topless dancing or waitressing or prostituting or whatever it is that 18-year-old girls do for work in Vegas. I wouldn’t know, but I wished her the best anyway.
I walked from one end of the casino to the other twice. I stopped at the deli and asked about the veggie sandwich. It was cheese with whatever vegetables I wanted, as long as my selection was limited to lettuce, tomato, or onion. I couldn’t get a salad without meat because they were all pre-made. As I pondered the anemic-looking fruit salad, the woman behind the counter pointed out the veggie sandwich again and said, “Well, that’s how we do it when they want it vegetarian!” She seemed angry. I left and headed back to Roxy’s Diner, the 50s-style restaurant, because they at least had grilled cheese. I was so frustrated I wanted to cry (the combination of impatience and low blood sugar is such a bad state for me). I explained my issue to the server, and she said, “Awww, honey. Let me hook you up!” She went back to the kitchen and had them construct a very impressive grilled vegetable sandwich for me. And I loved her for it.
After lunch, I went back to my car and drove down the Strip. I saw a couple drops of water on my windshield and thought it was from a sprayer at a casino. Then I realized it was raining. 110 degrees in the middle of the desert, and it was raining. Also, it was the first time I’d really encountered any adverse weather on my entire trip. I’m lucky that way.
I found my destination about a mile from the strip on Tropicana, near the airport. As I got out of my car, I realized that the rain was doing nothing to affect the heat, it was just making it humid. The drops were drying as quickly as they hit the ground; I was surprised they weren’t hissing. The backs of my pants legs were soaked again, and I got instant chills the second I walked into the Liberace Museum.
The enthusiastic old lady in the black-sequined vest gave me a long speech about my tour options. I decided to forego the audio tour, even though it was a mere $3 extra to hear Liberace speak to me. You see, I’m the high-impact tourist. I try to see as much as possible in as little time. Tours slow me down, informational signs are a distraction. I could be halfway to Salt Lake City and Liberace would still be talking to me. So no audio tour.
The Liberace Museum was kind of great. No, really great. The first building housed his pianos and cars. The cars were incredible. Now, I was lucky enough to have experienced the platinum tour of Graceland, and I can say with absolute authority that The King’s cars had nothing on Liberace’s. They were all either covered à la mirror ball, or decked out in rhinestones. One was red, white, and blue. They were fabulous, and they must have had some kind of souped-up suspension to handle the weight of all that glitz.
[This space reserved for the photos I’d have taken if they’d have let me. You’ll just have to visit, I guess.]
The geriatric crew and I meandered through the museum, then exited and followed the Liberace Walk of Fame through the Liberace Strip Mall (gay bar, produce market, Asian grocery, and spaces for rent), to the other end of the Liberace Complex and the rest of the museum. I wasn’t sure why the place was divided in half, but maybe they just didn’t realize how much Liberace they had to show off. I went into the second museum without even having to show my Liberace Hand Stamp, which cleverly concealed my Mt. Rainier bruise. This part of the museum was a roomful of his famous outfits. Yet again, Liberace put Elvis to shame. They were so great. My favorite was the patriotic hotpants ensemble. Also, I saw the world’s largest, purest rhinestone, donated by Swarovski (it’s the store that glows blue at the Mall of America, FYI) especially for the Liberace Museum. It did them proud.
The Liberace Gift Shop didn’t disappoint, either. I bought myself an awesome book about 50s Vegas, and talked to the lady at the counter for almost 20 minutes about the museum and its similarities to Graceland. She hadn’t been, but she wished that the Elvis folks would be as philanthropic as the Liberace Trust, which donates some millions of dollars a year to charity. (Sorry, Heather, I know you love Fat Elvis, but Liberace had a fat stage, too. Give him a chance.)
I called Heather on my way back towards the strip and complained about my food situation. She looked up the address of a vegetarian restaurant that turned out to be a grocery, but that was fine. I was happy. I bought some snacks for the car and protein bars, and chatted with the guy behind the register about the crappy casino dining options. He agreed that it was bad, and asked where I was from. He said that the woman who owns the French Meadow Bakery in Minneapolis (one of my current favorite restaurants) stops in every time she’s in Vegas. Awesome.
I got back to my room at 2:30 and passed out on the bed. I was awakened at 3:30 by a phone call about a job. I looked at my AAA guides for Utah and Colorado, and couldn’t get excited about anything. I wrote in my journal: i think i’m done.
The storm was in full swing at that point, so I sat in the window in tshirt and underwear and watched, waiting for it to let up enough for me to go out again. The wind had picked up, and it was a full-fledged dust storm for about fifteen minutes. I watched dirt-and-trash tornadoes spiraling around the parking lot. It started raining hard. I saw a big metal garbage can (minus the contortionist, thankfully) blow over and slam against a beater car. My car was so far unscathed, but I was keeping an eye on it. I was happy that the humidity dust was getting washed off.
After it stopped raining, I got dressed and headed to Circus Circus. I went up and watched some of the performance. It was kind of a cool setup, and I liked that they put on the show for free, considering some of the crap that people paid to see in that town. I walked around the shops and checked the restaurants, as usual. The one place that looked promising was closed; I was mistaken in my assumption that everything in Vegas was open 24 hours a day. I walked back to the Stardust, and found a long line outside the one cafe I had chosen the night before. Sigh. I waited anyway, and it only took about 10 minutes. They got me in fast because I was willing to sit in the smoking section. I mean, the entire city is like one big smoking section. So why not?
The people behind me in line were from West Virginia. I knew this not because we were chatting, but because they were those kind of people. Questions/statements I overheard, many of them repeated multiple times:
– It’s 7 here, right? Or is that the time in West Virginia?
– Is this the place with the steak and lobster? I don’t want the steak and lobster.
– Is this place open?
– Is this the buffet?
– I don’t want steak and lobster. I would eat it, though.
– That girl is all lit up! Look at that! (Referring to the girl in the lobby selling flashing stuff with LED lights, à la vintage cigarette girl)
– That girl couldn’t go to school like that, though! They’d send her home for distracting other kids. (The ‘girl’ looks to be about 40. Yes, the flashing lights are distracting. Not to mention the mini-tux and fishnets.)
– If I have to eat that steak, it better be done.
I hated them.
The menu was huge. Sandwiches, entrees, a page of Chinese food, appetizers, all-day breakfast. About four viable options for me, none of them great. I decided on nachos and fruit. I rule.
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random notes from my travel journal:
casinos at 7am are only slightly less depressing than casinos that are empty at 11pm.
i have suspicions about the bureau of land management. is their only job to sneak onto indian reservations in the middle of the night and steal the land back bit by bit?
i know i’ve said it before, but being vegetarian in las vegas is a fucking nightmare. i was better off in montana.
i got sammich juice all over my face and hands. i am classy to the end.
this is the kind of place where the servers walk around singing 50s tunes. don’t make eye contact. also, it seems to be the seat of some casino rockabilly scene. jay would hate it here.
seeing this weather here is kind of great. i know it’s a pretty rare thing.
even ‘home’ is a disorienting concept at this point. it’ll be weird to not be alone all the time. i wonder if that will feel funny. more disorientation. cool.
i’m starting to suspect that meat is some kind of religion out here.
on the way home, i’ll stop and see some sights if i feel like it, but right now, i don’t feel like it. the grand canyon doesn’t seem like such a big deal at the moment. i’ve had an overdose of natural beauty. and too many crazy cities and crazier people. so awesome, but enough to last me for a while. i kind of want to get back to my routine. it’s funny when you start craving doing dishes and laundry, right?
i feel like i’m calling home too often just for human contact. like i told heather today, i have to remind myself that there are people somewhere who care about me. also, heather is the siegfried to my roy. ha.
i think these nachos have velveeta on them. for christ’s sake.
i hurt all over. the hips aren’t great. my feet are shot, i think. they have blisters and sore spots all over them. i’m surprised it took this long, actually. i’m going to blame the insane heat for that.
i hate when i get cheese on my notebook. how am i going to live without this thing? it’s comforting to me. plus it’s my dining companion. i’ll have the fruit salad, my journal will have the nachos. extra velveeta, please.
you can play keno at the tables here. why, god, why don’t i know how to play keno?
i have to stop hunching my shoulders. i need a massage. i really just want to be in bed with someone. anyone. ha.
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