I’m back. Thanks for hanging in there while I took some time off. My last post to Woody’s Words and Wit was Memorial Day. I hope you had a great summer and got to see the season change into a beautiful autumn array of color.
I did some healing from hip surgery and a ruptured disc, and finally started to golf again in July. We also did some local travel. Nothing too, far or fancy, but some of it was quite exotic. Did you know that there is an elephant reserve in French Lick Indiana? Neither did I until our kids gave us a day there as a Christmas gift.
My wife was over the moon. She adores elephants. We were allowed up close and personal to the magnificent beasts. We fed them apples from our hands, petted and hugged them, and gave them bathes. It gave me a whole new meaning to cleaning behind the ears.
Speaking of that; did you know that Indian elephants ears are shaped like India and African elephants ears are shaped like Africa? Pretty cool the way that worked out.
We also interacted with giraffes, and bottle fed a baby kangaroo, joey, while hugging her in a sack. If you’re an animal lover like we are, give French Lick a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Yesterday was Veterans day and marked the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, “The Great War.” Thanks to all who are currently and have served in the armed forces of America. But, let’s not forget all the other patriots. There are many ways to be of service.
One of my favorite movies is an oldie starring James Cagney as the vaudeville star and American Playwright George M. Cohan, in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Cohan never served in the armed forces. He was to old during WWI. But, like many of us, he loved his country, and for composing the great American battle hymn of World War I, ‘Over There’ received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his lifetime achievement in 1936.
George M. Cohan
I’m not suggesting that we attempt to emulate Cohan, but how about all the public servants. I know, sometimes, we view some of them as not always being on the up and up, but most of them are. And, let’s not forget all those who volunteer as wheelchair jockeys at the V.A. medical centers or stand outside of the super markets and ask for a small donation for the honor of wearing a poppy for the day.
America is the greatest country on earth. Please stay involved and support all those who serve her.
If you read my last post my travel adventure left you in Pismo Beach, Ca. My wife and daughter were on there way to L.A. to board a cruise ship for a 17-day excursion, and I was on my way to Las Vegas to meet up with some old friends for several days. Please enjoy the next chapter.
All four of us met for breakfast at 8:30 in the hotel dining area. Dar and I had packed most of our stuff before going to bed, so we could get on the road as soon as possible. We each had four hour plus drives ahead of us. Ted and I were headed southeast to pick up our friend Shawn in a town called Pinion Hills located in the high Mojave Desert, then we would be meeting up with two more old buddies in Las Vegas, while Dar and Jess were off to La-la land to board their cruise ship.
Dar and I were both excited, but a bit conflicted. We would love to have continued on together, but it just didn’t work out, so we will be embarking on our own adventures this time. We have surely enjoyed ourselves so far during our sometimes-wacky travels.
After breakfast we said our goodbyes and bon voyages. I gave Dar and Jess a big hug and kiss and of course we wished each other safe travels. Dar told Ted and I to take care of each other and to act like adults as much as possible. We vowed that we would, of course.
Ted and I had two choices of routes. The southern route was about 30 minutes faster, but looked extremely boring, so we decided to hug the coast for a couple hours and head southeast when we hit Ventura. Ted had a very comfortable Lexus crossover. I offered to share the driving, but he wanted to keep the wheel, so I relaxed and enjoyed the views of the Pacific as we continued down the coast.
We stopped for lunch in Santa Barbara, about half way. I had been there before and thought that if I moved out west I’d like to live there. The city lies between the steeply rising Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific. Its climate has often been described as Mediterranean and has been promoted as the “American Riviera”.
There was a wharf that jutted out for a about a 1/4 mile, filled with shops and eateries. We drove to the end and ate at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, facing the water on a picnic table. I ordered a cup of bisque and grilled scallops on a Caesar salad and Ted had shrimp tacos with some seasoned fries. Even though we had a couple hours of driving ahead, we couldn’t resist washing it all down with a local brewski.
The rest of the drive took about 2 ½ hours. We headed away from the coast at Ventura and drove through Santa Clarita and part of the Simi valley before turning onto the Pearlblossom hwy. and finally arriving at Shawn’s place in Pinion Hills around 4:00.
Shawn welcomed us with open arms. He and his wife, Sherry, of 45 years moved out there from Northern Illinois 10 years ago. Sherry had a terrible car accident that left her wheelchair bound as a quadriplegic. They built a beautiful 3-bedroom, handicap friendly home with a huge covered patio out back overlooking the high Mojave. We rested for about a half-hour with some cool lemonade before heading out.
Shawn stowed his gear in Teds trunk and we were off. Ted finally relinquished the wheel, so Shawn and I shared the driving. The 3.5-hour drive took us northeast on hwy 15 right into the Vegas strip. We arrived at the Luxor Hotel at 7:00. It was still light out, but night or day doesn’t matter here, as the gazillion watts of neon leave everything shimmering.
After check-in we met at “Tacos and Tequila” restaurant. It had a huge bar, so we bellied up and ordered a pitcher of Marquita’s. Ted got a text from our two friends that we were meeting. The text was from Moose. It read, “Look left to the end of the bar dick head.” There sat Moose and Pat, flipping us the bird, just like the old days.
There faces were beaming as they joined us. Moose was imposing at 6’10” and 350+ pounds, and Pat was just the opposite at 5’7”. We hadn’t been together in many years and were more like brothers than old friends. Slightly grayer, rounder and slower, but swore that we hadn’t changed a bit.
We ordered another pitcher and a boat load of tacos, enchiladas and tostadas with refried beans and Spanish rice. It was great to be together again. The old stories and bad jokes began to fly as we filled our bellies and toasted to each other and the old times. It reminded me of our high school days when we hung out after school and on weekends. We had a lot of history to share, and it all came flowing out as when we were teens, trying to find our way, during the tumultuous 1960’s and ‘70’s.
We finished up at the bar and decided to try our luck. The huge casino inside the Luxor pyramid was calling our names. Moose and Pat headed for the craps table while Ted tried his luck at blackjack. I was a bit concerned when Shawn said he was just going to see what was going on outside on the strip. He probably hadn’t been away from Sherry for more than a day for quite a while and has always been, well, let’s just say, he was adventurous. But who am I to judge. We are all grown up now, right?
The plan was to meet at the breakfast buffet around 9 o’clock and make plans for the day. I wasn’t much of a gambler. On occasion, usually when on a trip, Dar and I might wander into a local Native American run casino and put down $20 or so on penny slots. It all seemed intimidating to me, so I decided to turn in early.
Of course, there is no way to the elevators without zig-zagging through the casino. It was quite exciting seeing and hearing all the different types of slots, video poker, and numerous games of chance I passed by. When I reached the far end, near the elevators, I spied an inconspicuous penny slot with simple bars, cherries and 7’s on the wheels. I knew this game. It looked comfortable to me. What the heck, the night is still young.
With penny slots you have the option of playing a penny for each pull, or if you wish to increase your odds you can play up to 10 cents with a multiplier of up to 9x. The way I was told to play was to pick a machine on the outside of the row. These pay off more often because the casino wants the patrons to hear all the bells and whistles. I also play the max bet most of the time, which on this machine was 90 cents.
I inserted a twenty into the slot and bet the max each time. I put twenty more in, then another ten. Lost $50 in twelve minutes. This had to be a record. How could this simple, unintimidating little old machine be so Goddamn stingy.
I tried one more ten. Bingo my first pull payed $7. I finally won something. I was a winner the next 3 out of 4, up $28. Then, once again the bottom fell out. I lost it all. Go to hell you blood sucking machine! I gave up. It was off to bed for Diamond Jim.
I didn’t sleep well, so I got up at about 7:00 and took my time getting ready. I got off the elevator around 8:30 and headed for the breakfast buffet. I stopped suddenly. There she was, sitting at the end of the aisle where I left her last night. My nemesis. I wondered if anyone had tried to have their way with her since our rendezvous last night. There was no way to tell. She just sat there, shyly beckoning me like the sinister sirens that betrayed Odysseus. What the hell, I had ½ hour before I was to meet the boys.
$20 more down the drain. Dammit, I hate you, you Jezebel. I never want to see you again you tricky little bitch. Wow get a hold of yourself Woody. It’s just a game. I composed myself and walked swiftly through the casino toward the buffet, with my eyes looking straight ahead. Who knew if she had others laying in wait for me.
Made it. Whew. I grabbed a table near the front of the line and sent a group text to my buddies. It just took a few minutes for Ted Pat and Moose to show up.
“Morning dudes, I said. Where’s Shawn?”
“Probably running late, let’s get some grub, I am starving”, said Moose.
The spread was amazing. There were your standard staples of course, like scrambled eggs, fruits, yogurt, breads and pastries, such as blueberry muffins and banana nut muffins. In addition, they had everything from chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy to a caramelized onion & spinach quiche. There were also Spanish omelets, potato pancakes, corned beef hash, and chorizo & eggs.
I think Moose had a couple helpings of everything piled on his two plates. The rest of us did okay too. I went for the chicken fried steak, corned beef hash, scrambled eggs and biscuits and gravy. Burp! We finished up, and still no Shawn. I checked my phone, and he still hadn’t answered, so I gave him a call on his cell. No answer.
“Hey guys, I still can’t raise Shawn. I’ve texted and called his cell, but he hasn’t answered.” I said.
“Why don’t we knock on his door, just to be sure he’s alive,” said Pat.
We headed for the north bank of elevators located on the other end of the casino. I was strong and committed as I walked right past my slot machine from hell without so much as a glance. We were about to call for the elevator when the door dinged open and Shawn came staggering out. He didn’t look too well.
“Shawn! Where the hell have you been? God, man, you look like crap,” I said.
“Oh, hi guys. I was just coming down for breakfast. I’m starving, Sorry I didn’t have time to clean up, I just got in ten minutes ago.” Said Shawn.
“Wow, are you okay, dude? In from where?” I said.
“Let me get some grub and I’ll tell you guys all about old Uncle Shawn’s adventure.” He said with a wink.
We went all he way back to the buffet were Shawn spilled the beans over breakfast and coffee. When Shawn walked outside last night, he was standing by the hotel entrance, just checking things out, when a bus pulled up with a sign that read, “Come party in Old Las Vegas”. It was loaded with people of all ages. He said there were young men and ladies, mid-aged couples and one old dude who looked like he’d seen it all. So, he decided to climb aboard.
The bus headed a couple miles north to the original Vegas strip. They each got served drinks on the bus as it stopped at a couple more hotels to pick-up more patrons. For $100 the guide promised the experience of a lifetime, so Shawn forked over a “C” note and went with the flow.
The first stop was “The Golden Nugget”. All rail drinks were paid for, so Shawn started right in with a rum and coke. Three young couples from Chicago were celebrating their wedding anniversaries and insisted that Shawn should party with them. He did.
To make a long story short, they drank, gambled, and partied there way through the night. They went from The Golden Nugget to The Fremont and ended up at Binions, where Shawn got into a poker game. He got so involved that he lost track of time and missed his bus ride home, but he said it was worth it because he won over $600 playing Texas Hold ‘em which easily covered the cab ride back.
“Holy crap, man. Nice going for an old fart,” I said.
“Yeah, it was fun, but I am really paying for it now. I don’t know what you guys have planned for today, but my head is killing me, and I need some rest really bad.”
The four of us had discussed driving out to Hoover Dam and checking out lake Mead. Then getting tickets for the 8 o’clock “Blue Man Group” show and probably some gambling afterwards.
“I’ll tell ya what said Shawn. I’ve been to the Dam before, so why don’t you guys have a nice day without me and I’ll meet you back here for dinner and the show.”
We had a plan. We hopped into Teds Lexus and headed southwest. Hoover dam was only a 45-minute drive. It may seem a little hokey that four old guys would go on the Dam tour, but you can only gamble so much and, even though we were golfers, the 100+ degree heat was just too much.
We were all pleasantly surprised. I’ve seen documentaries and of course learned about the dam in school, but it is truly an overwhelming site. Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
We were taken down in an elevator with a very knowledgeable older gentleman to look at the turbines. The tour was short but informative. Once out we moved onto the other brown looking building (not sure what it’s called) to take a static tour within this building. Then we stood outside, on top of the dam itself and looked over the side at the locks which hold back and control the flow of the Colorado river, and then to the other side that has created Lake Mead.
After the tour we drove to one of the marinas on the lake. There was a small bar and restaurant, so we had some lunch and some beers. The bar tender was friendly and was part owner of the marina. I asked him about fishing on the lake and boat rentals. He was extremely enthusiastic, and before we knew it, we had reserved a pontoon boat with fishing gear for tomorrow.
We spent the rest of the day hanging around the hotel pool. We rented a covered cabana, so we wouldn’t fry in the hot sun. Shawn texted me and joined us around 4:00. He looked well rested and ready for the rest of the day and evening.
For dinner we met at the buffet once again. We weren’t into a fancy over-priced restaurant. The dinner entrees were as amazing as the breakfast menu. You could choose from Asian, Italian, Latin or American fare. I decided on pork ribs, steamed clams, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn on the cob, and fried chicken. Weird combination, but what the hell, it all goes to the same place.
The Blue Man Group is a 3-man show that had been playing in the Luxor for several years. We scored some great seats in the second row. If you’ve never seen these guys perform, you really should. It’s hard to explain. There are no vocals. The troupe communicates with the audience and each other through hand and head gestures.
They create unique sounds from a variety of PVC pipe combinations, pound on kettle drums covered with paint to make it fly in the air and even through marshmallows across the stage into each other’s mouths until no more can fit.
For the finale they ran to the top of the auditorium and handed each patron in the top row a role of toilet paper. Row by row it was handed down and unrolled, until the entire audience was covered. I know it sounds weird, but we really got a kick out of it.
After the show we headed over to the MGM Grand Hotel for a libation or two. We found a table in “The Lobby Bar”. It was very upscale and had a 3-piece blues band. We ordered some pizza and hot-wings and sat through the bands set for about an hour or so. I was tuckered out, so I headed back to the Luxor, while my compadres decided to try their luck in the MGM’s casino.
It’s only about a ten-minute walk back to the Luxor. The hotels are so large that most of them are connected by pedestrian bridges. There is actually a tram that goes between the Mandalay Bay and the Luxor. Everything is quite well thought out.
I arrived back around mid-night and headed straight for my room. But of course, I had to give Jezebel the slot machine a try first. I started with ten dollars and had doubled my money in the blink of an eye. I was proud of myself as I cashed in and went to bed a winner.