Once again, Erin and I have finished one of our too-infrequent visits. This time, though, it wasn’t a case of me going to her or her coming to me. This time, we both dashed off to…
The great city of Las Vegas!
As you may already know, Erin’s father and much of his family live out in Las Vegas, so this was the second time she and I have gone out there to pay them a visit, as well as just plain spend a little time together. This is the thing about being a teacher — yes, you do get more time off than in most jobs, but there’s absolutely no flexibility. You can’t take a vacation whenever you want, you stick with the school schedules, meaning Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer and spring break. Fortunately, I live in Louisiana, which means you can add Mardi Gras to those periods of all-too brief freedom.
Erin and I both flew in on Sunday, Feb. 14, meaning we’d get to spend Valentine’s Day together. We tried to get flights that would arrive relatively close to one another, but neither of us had any idea how close it would be. As I got off the plane at McCarren International Airport, I got a text message from Erin saying she’d just landed as well. I told her I was at gate D53, and she started laughing… because her plane was taxiing in to gate D54.
Seriously, we couldn’t have planned it better.
The hotel our friend A.J. managed to get us a room at (he works for the chain) was just minutes from the Vegas strip, and more importantly, it had an airport shuttle so we could get there without paying for a taxi. Once we were settled in and rested for a while, we took that shuttle out to the strip and walked for a while. The first night was kind of low-key, and that was all to the good.
The next day, we met up with her father and his wife for lunch. As last time, they were good enough to lend us one of their cars for the trip, saving us the trouble and cost of a rental car. If you’re not noticing a theme here, we’re not above letting friends and family help us out on these little get-togethers. Thanks, guys!
We also caught The Wolfman with her dad — he and Erin are both horror movie fans — and had a good time. After we bid him farewell, we took the car down to Fremont Street.
I loved Fremont Street, friends. This is Old Vegas, places like the Plaza and the Golden Nugget, where Vegas began before the strip took over. A few years ago, they placed an enormous LCD screen ceiling over the entire street, where every hour on the hour, they have a different free show full of lights, video, and music.
We caught two of the shows while we where there — Don McClean’s “American Pie,” and a musical tribute to Queen, which Erin took a video of. (You can watch said video, by the way, right here at my Flickr album.) It was really amazing — when the show begins, all the lights on the casinos and shops lining the street shut off and the LCD screen illuminates the whole area. Everybody stops where they are and look up, but just for a second, because once the music kicks off both the children and the drunks alike (and there were many of both) started dancing in time.
I’ve got to tell you, in two trips to Vegas, Fremont Street has become one of my favorite places. Sure, there are a lot of great things on the strip, a lot of cool things to do, but there’s an almost mystical, old-school feel to Fremont Street that you just can’t get anywhere else. This was the place with everything from fake Mardi Gras to the classic Vegas smoking Cowboy to a place where you can get your picture taken with a million dollars.
They do not allow free samples, sadly.
Erin, when we do Vegas again, I definitely want to pay another visit to Fremont Street.
This was also the night we decided to make a pilgrimage out to the legendary “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, which is the first picture at the top of this blog. If you go to Vegas, it may be the kitschy tourist-y thing to do, but you really need to stop and take your picture there. They actually put a small parking lot in the median expressly for that purpose. What kind of human being would you be if you didn’t take advantage of it?
Tuesday was Mardi Gras back home in New Orleans, but we took advantage of that day to escape the madness, taking a drive up to nearby Mt. Charleston. Erin took me from the relative nearly 70-degree warmth of Vegas to…
…the remnants of the Snowpocalypse! At the top of the mountain, there were areas (like this one) relatively clear of snow. Although if we’d turned the camera about 45 degrees to the left, you’d have seen a man with a shovel digging out three feet of snow on an observation deck. Then we went to trails like this one…
Or this one…
…where the sheer volume of fallen snow was far more obvious. It was beautiful up there, and we got a ton of great pictures on the way up, at the top, and on the way down. Speaking of on the way down, we stopped at the west coast mecca of fast food, In-N-Out Burger, for a late lunch. I was stunned, though, to find this next door…
In VEGAS, baby!
If you’ve never been to Raising Cane’s, it’s a Louisiana-based restaurant chain that sells chicken fingers. And only chicken fingers. Okay, you can get ‘em on a bun if you must. But it’s just chicken fingers and the sauce of the gods as the main courses here. And the chain is booming. Still, I was stunned to find one in Vegas. Later in the trip, I was stunned to find two more.
We went back to the strip that night, parking at the MGM Grand and walking a ways down to catch a second movie, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Then, it was time for a walk down the strip. We started at a couple of my favorite places…
M&M’s World is exactly what you think: a four-story store devoted entirely to M&M’s candy, toys, clothing, and other merchandise. It’s a fun place, with lots of cool things to see. But they’re pretty devious — they actually pump the smell of chocolate into the store to further entice you to buy some. Erin found proof:
That’s the vent on top of the Vitamin Water cooler.
Our next stop was next door at the similarly-themed Coca-Cola store. We wandered around looking at souvenirs, clothes, and knick-knacks, eventually making our way to the second-floor snack bar, where an intriguing offer caught our eye.
“TASTES OF THE WORLD!” the sign read. “16 International Flavors! Only $7!”
Seven dollars to taste 16 different flavors of Coke products from around the world? Sure, I’m down for that.
As we sipped, we jotted down our thoughts on each of the 16 flavors. They are as follows…
1. Inca Cola from Peru: I thought this one tasted kind of like a pina colada. Erin’s take: a pineapple popsicle. I could see that.
2. Sunfill Mint from India. I think this mint-flavored ginger ale was one of Erin’s favorites. I liked it, but it was too strong for me to drink a whole glass. As something to cleanse the palette between flavors, though, it works well — something that came in handy later…
3. Nestea Peach from France. This one was a bit of a disappointment. It tasted fine, but… well… it’s no different than the peach flavored Nestea you can get here in the states. Or, as Erin so daintily put it, “France my ass.”
4. Sunfill Blackcurrent from Mauritius. This one one of my favorites. Erin thought it smelled like Dr. Pepper, but the taste was more like the black cherry cola Coke produced a few years ago — not quite the same as simple Cherry Coke, but good.
5. Delaware Punch from Honduras? This was one of my biggest disappointments on the tray. It’s Delaware Punch. Everyday, run-of-the-mill, there’s a case of it visible from where I am typing this blog Delaware Punch, just like in the U.S. Curse you, Richards!
6. Vegitabeta from Japan. The name of this soda seems to imply it would have a vegetable flavor, but we both agreed it tasted more like a sort of flat orange Hi-C than anything else.
7. Smart Watermelon from China. A simple watermelon-flavored soda, but really good. I could drink a 20 of this stuff.
8. Kinley Lemon from England. As Erin put it succinctly, it was like a carbonated lemonade.
9. Lift Apple from Mexico. Kind of a watered-down apple juice flavor.
10. Fanta Kolita from Costa Rica. I really loved this flavor, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was. Erin thought it was a combination of “bubble gum” and “antiseptic.” But she liked it too.
11. Krest Gingerale from Israel. Not really impressed by this one. It tasted just like American ginger ale, but weak.
12. Simba Guarana from Paraguay. I thought this one tasted kind of like root beer, Erin thought Red Bull.
13. Bibo Pine Nut from South Africa had a really strong flavor, like tropical fruit bubble gum. Erin thought it tasted like a coconut tanning oil — the smell, that is, not like she actually had tanning oil in her mouth.
14. Smart Apple from China. This second apple beverage was more like a Granny Smith than a Red Delicious, but weak. Erin added, “It’d be good with Sour Apple Pucker, though.”
15. Beverly from Italy. Oh, Beverly. Oh, oh Beverly. I wish you were last, because the final beverage on the list will seem inadequate in comparison. In fact, words are inadequate. Let the power of photographs explain to you the thoughts Erin and I had about… Beverly.
Erin: It tastes like every horrible medicine your parents ever gave you as a kid. God, get it out of my mouth! Where’s the mint?
Blake: I don’t know who Beverly is, but she appears to have some form of debilitating disease.
This is where the remaining Sunfill Mint soda came in handy.
16. Mezzo Mix from Germany. Kind of underwhelming after Beverly, we tasted Mezzo Mix anyway, and felt a “meh.” To me, it tasted like everyday Coca-Cola mixed with something else, but I wasn’t sure what. Erin thought it tasted like Pepsi.
Still, we had a lot of fun at the Coca-Cola store, and if you happen to go there, I strongly recommend you try the tastes of the world yourself.
Please send all photos of yourself trying “Beverly” to BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.
We continued down the strip after the Coca-Cola experience, stopping at different shops, Casinos, and restaurants, including a stop for Erin’s first Ghiardelli ice cream sundae in four Vegas visits. She seemed pleased. Four hours after we began our trek down the strip, we decided to call it quits and walk back to the car parked at the MGM Grand. It took us an hour without stopping to make it there.
That’s a productive night.
Wednesday was more of a low-key day. Erin indulged my comic geekiness and went with me on a tour of three Vegas-area comic book shops, which we talked about that evening when we got back to the hotel and recorded Sunday’s episode of the 2 in 1 Showcase podcast together. Next to one of the shops, Maximum Comics, we made a second really cool find…
The Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop was a small bit of Heaven on earth. The shop stocked literally hundreds of different, unusual brands and flavors of soda and candy from all over America, plus a few assorted collectibles and souvenirs. Erin and I each picked out three bottles of soda to take with us and try later. One of my choices was a chocolate soda that I really enjoyed. The label said it was an “authentic New York Egg Cream.” I’ve often heard of these “egg creams,” but I’ve never actually tasted one, so I can’t say how authentic the soda was. It was good, though.
If you’re waiting for my analysis of the three comic shops… wait just a bit longer. I know not everyone who reads this particularly cares. So I’ll keep my reviews of those for Wednesday’s regularly-scheduled Everything But Imaginary column over at Comixtreme.com. Suffice it to say, we had a lot of fun seeking them out. We also found a cool little used bookstore. After wandering it for a few minutes, I got a feeling of deja vu and realized we’d gone to the same shop on our last trip to Vegas. But the great thing about a used bookstore is that it’s never the same store twice. I picked up two novels to put in my classroom (several of my students, I’m proud to say, have become fans of Orson Scott Card thanks to my intervention) and we moved on.
We did a little more shopping and stopped for dinner at Red Lobster — not the most “Las Vegas” of locations, I admit, but it did have a major advantage over many of the other restaurants available in Vegas… Erin had a gift certificate. We had a nice dinner and went back to the room to record the podcast. We’d intended to go out again after that, but by then it was already approaching midnight and, like a couple of old people, we were getting kind of tired, so we called it an early night. I got the podcast ready and Erin played with my Amazon Kindle, reading Stephen King’s novella Ur and deciding that she wants one of the devices too.
Thursday we got up early to head out to a little breakfast place we found on our previous visit to Vegas. The Egg and I is part of a small chain of restaurants (including two “Eggworks”) that makes some of the best breakfast foods you’ve ever tasted.
I love IHOP as much as the next guy. Considerably more tha many “next guy”s I could mention. But man, this place is just fantastic. Go there, get something loaded with cheese, eggs, and breakfast meat. You will thank me later.
Thursday is one of the few days we had a definite plan before heading out — dinner that afternoon with Erin’s family. We had about four hours to kill before then, so we decided to hit a couple of off-strip casinos. The Rio was a lot of fun. The place is done up in a sort of faux Mardi Gras theme, and the interior really does its best to imitate New Orleans architecture. It’s not my favorite casino interior — that honor goes to New York, New York — but it’s a close second. We also went to the Palms, which we found kind of unimpressive. It was rather small and didn’t offer much outside of the gambling itself, and we were looking for other things to do at that point. It’s a legendary Vegas casino, to be sure, but it doesn’t seem to be working very hard on maintaining its reputation.
After a while of wandering, we met up with her father and his wife Donna, Uncle Dee and Aunt Karen, Uncle Derek and Aunt Marsha and their son Josh for a dinner at the Macaroni Grill. I’d met all of them on my previous Vegas visit, but it was nice to talk to them again — especially since, this time, they all seemed to want to talk about the Saints. A favorite topic of mine these days, to be sure.
As we were leaving the next day, we gave Erin’s dad his car back and again took the hotel shuttle out to the strip for one last night. It wasn’t anything special, really. We walked around to some places we hadn’t gone yet, and managed to catch the classic Bellagio fountain show. I took a video of this one, if you’re interested.
Then back to the hotel to rest up for the long trips home.
After two visits to Vegas, Erin and I have both really gotten to enjoy going. There’s a lot of stuff to do out there besides simply the casinos and the strip, and most of the things there are to do have a lot of repeatability. We can easily imagine making this a semi-annual trip.
In the meantime, it’ll probably be summer before we can get together again. Spring Break doesn’t look like it’ll happen this year, and that’s a shame. But it’ll be okay. No matter how long it is, whenever I see Erin again, it’s like no time has passed at all.
I’ve only put a fraction of our pictures here in the blog. If you want to see them all, you’re welcome to visit my Flickr album!