Las Vegas — The Ultimate Distraction

Introduction

Greek StatuesStrange place to begin a writing blog I know, but this just happens to be where I went to day after I started this blog. I’m currently writing from my hotel bed at 6:55 in the morning, Vegas time. Can’t get off Newfoundland Standard Time, lol.

Anyway, this will be my second full day in Vegas. I’m here for a week with my sister Melane and my Dad, Hedley. Yesterday was awesome. Went out for a few hours with my good friend Ed Crane who is here on vacation, then went about the task of enjoying what Vegas had to offer.

I’m not missing writing as much as I thought I would. I’ve been on a pretty steady regime of two-thousand words a day for quite some time now, except when work interferes (which, admittedly, is often), and thought I would miss it more. Even brought a steno-pad and pens for such an eventuality. But I haven’t missed it yet.

I think part of the reason is I’d neglected to realize that I’d never really been on a vacation before, not since I was very young anyway. I don’t think I really knew what a vacation was until now. I mean, I lived in Calgary for a year… But that wasn’t a vacation I was living there. The same goes for my yearly trips to Toronto for the Polaris convention… Sure it’s a beautiful city and a great change in climate, but it’s not a vacation. I’m working, making connections and selling books.

Anyway, I doubt I could have picked a better spot for my first real vacation than Las Vegas. Simply a great place that caters to the id in us all. Having a blast, but do miss my partner, Ellen Curtis. Wish she was here, too… We could get some work done on the second Infinity book!

Okay, guess my head isn’t totally off work yet. 😉

The Bodies

While in Vegas we decided to treat ourselves to a few exhibits and shows. The first was The Bodies.

Characterized in such movies as Casino Royale, The Bodies is a world famous exhibit located at the Luxor hotel and casino, just a short walk down the strip from where my family and I are staying at the New York, New York. It features displays of real human bodies (hence the name of the exhibit) in various poses to illustrate how our muscles and circulatory systems work with one another.

The bodies are prevented from decay by a means of a rubberization process patented in the 1970s by anatomist Gunther von Hagens. The essence of the process is the replacement of water and fatty material in the cells of the body first by acetone and then by plastics, such as silicone rubber, polyester or epoxy resin. (source: Wikipedia… I’m not smart enough to remember all that).

The Bodies themselves, obviously, are exceptionally creepy. My sister Melane bought the tickets for the three of us. We’re a family that’s typically interested in learning a science, but I suspect she thought my status as a horror author would make me particularly interested. While the exhibit was enthralling, my horrific imagination did not help matters. It doesn’t take much to wonder how some of these men died.

One thing I found especially disturbing were the fetal development sections. All the different children never brought to term on display really tugged at my heart strings. I know it’s sappy and maybe a little strange, but I couldn’t help but think of all the lives and potential lost with each little life. It also made me wonder: who donates their stillborn baby to science? I mean, really.

Another frightening exhibit was the respiratory section on smoking. I know the whole “diseased lung” model is old hat, but some of the ways they have them presented are extreme. I smoked for a good four years and was damn close to three packs a day when I quit four years ago, but the state of those lungs got to me. There was a bin there where smokers could discard their cigarettes if the display moved them to, and it was half full. If I’d still smoked I would have dumped mine in. I also learned that the tar on your lungs never goes away, ever. Your body has no way of expelling it, no matter how long you’re quit. That’s horrifying to me. I found myself doing math based on their diagrams to calculate just how much tar was in my lungs. It was a lot.

I also learned that the heart is between your lungs. This might be old news for some, but it blew me away. It doesn’t take much to shatter my preconceptions of my anatomy. I think horror authors have a naturally science-fiction oriented view to their bodies, and I think this exhibit and the truth of it will reflect in my future works.

All in all, I thought the exhibit was great. Anyone who thinks Vegas is just for drinking and gambling is mistaken, there’s a lot here to feed the mind instead of poison the body. Great place, wish Ellen was here to see it.

Anyway, if you’re in Vegas, check out The Bodies. It’s frigging awesome.

The Titanic Exhibit

So, another great thing to do in Las Vegas? See the remains of the Titanic at the Titanic Exhibit in the Luxor Hotel & Casino.

The Titanic Exhibit had a special place for me. The ship sank just off the coast of Newfoundland, so it has some personal significance in my mind. I grew up during the Titanic craze created by the James Cameron movie, and I (along with this exhibit) are still riding that buzz.

As you enter the exhibit you’re given a card. On this card are some vital stats about you… Not the real you of course, that would be creepy. No, these are stats about a real person who was on board the Titanic the night she sank.

The exhibit is comprised of a comprehensive assortment if Titanic artifacts, quotes from the letters and diaries on board, and sets designed to make it feel as though you’re really inside the doomed vessel. One of the most awe-inspiring are the third class quarters, where you can really hear the engine turbines through the wall as they might have. The exhibitors have gone out of their way to make sure every sight, sound and smell is as accurate as possible. There’s even a gentleman dressed up as a caretaker walking through who does his part very well, frighteningly so in fact.

There’s a place where a large chunk of ice is there for you to touch. Being from Newfoundland, I found it strangely refreshing… A break from the Vegas heat.

The whole exhibit is capped off by showing The Big Piece, a name which refers to a 14 food long whole chunk of the aide of the ship. It’s only at the Luxor for ten years or so, and it’s great to say I saw it. It’s amazing to see the diagram of where the piece would have come from and see how small it is compared to the rest of the ship.

Everything about this trip has been incredible so far, and The Titanic Exhibit at the Luxor is no different… Makes you wonder why with so many great things they have Carrot Top in there. One of these things is not like the other. 😛

Peace out from Vegas.

David Copperfield

Sweet holy Moses.

Okay, so, went to see David Copperfield with Dad and Melane at the end of our first full day in Vegas. At this point in the day I’ve already seen a dozen human bodies and the remains of the Titanic, so I was already pretty high from that.

Nothing can prepare you for the things this man can do. Nothing. You see things like this on tv and you tell yourself that it’s camera trickery somehow… Or that it wouldn’t be as impressive in real life. The truth is, it’s more impressive.

The show started with three guys coming out and building a three walled box in front of you, with the gap facing you. The guys shine torches in it to show there’s nothing inside, close it, spin it around one time, then break it open… Motherfucker is inside WITH A RUNNING MOTORCYCLE. How.. How… WTF.

I’m not easily amazed. I find most of the things on the strip fairly crass, but this blew me out of the water. I cannot even explain to you. Words can’t do it justice. Only by seeing it can you understand how grand and unbelievable it is. I simply have no clue how it was done.

The rest of the act is made up of many tricks and acts, some large and some small. There’s also a few video clips that are played, such as a gag reel from his time on David Letterman, to a collection of his clips from movies, to a recording of his fateful escape over the spike of fire in the late eighties. The purpose of these small clips and tricks are clear: it gives him time to setup for the next act. Even so, I’m not a big fan of the small tricks. The tricks themselves are fine, but they attempt to make themselves bigger than they are through human interest. For example: one of his newer tricks is called “Butterfly” and features him turning a piece of paper into a butterfly and it flying around the auditorium. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself, but the show around it cheapens it. Instead of just being a piece of paper, it’s a poem written by a little Jewish girl during World War II. And at the end of the piece it’s revealed that she lived, all the while heartwarming music plays. There’s nothing wrong with all this, I just hate feeling like I’m being led. Maybe I’m just a cynic.

Big, multiple-part tricks include the selecting of three audience members at random via tossing frisbees into the crowd. Each of them picks two numbers and tells them something about themselves. He then pulls out a safe that has been hanging from the top of the stage since the beginning of the show, and reveals that he had in it a sheet of paper with not only the numbers, but the personal facts of each person as well! THEN he reveals that these were the same numbers his Dad always used to play before he died… The numbers from two old license plates. His father had dreamed of owning a 56 Bel Air. THEN he arranges all three people on the stage, throws a sheet over them, pulls it off… And THE BEL AIR IS BETWEEN THEM. Its that quick, and it’s incredible. Getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Another amazing stunt involved him walking into a giant fan and turning to steam… Yes, you read that right. Then he materializes, seconds later, in the auditorium! He was less than eight feet in front of me, it was incredible.

The show is amazing. He’s at MGM, go see him if you can. No matter how skeptical you are, you’ll be amazed.

I went to an Oxygen Bar?

I went to an Oxygen Bar?
I went to an Oxygen Bar?

On my top ten list of things I never thought I would do in my life, going to an Oxygen Bar was high up. I’ve always thought of it as new-age crap for ridiculous people. I mean, I’m one of those people that can’t believe we pay for water. I mean, it’s WATER. It’s everywhere, people. I mean, technically we pay more per liter of water than we do per liter of gas. Or oil. Anyone who pays for water should not bitch about the price of oil.

Anyway, I eventually relented on water. I don’t buy it typically, but this week I’m in the desert, so I think I’m entitled. Just to be clear: buying water in Vegas, fine. Buying water in Newfoundland, what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-you?

Anyway, I’ve gotten off topic. While Melane and Dad were looking at something else in the Excalibur market, I got tired on my feet and sat down at the table next to it. There were lots of strange tubes and canisters, it looked like something out of an old Hammer Horror movie, but I didn’t pay it any mind.

Anyway, I’m sitting there and this nice young lady comes up to me and asks me if I’m interested, at which point I explain that I actually didn’t bring my money with me (which was true) and that I would move if she needed me to. She offered instead to show me something she let people play with while they were getting their oxygen.

It was two electrodes that she attached to my back, attached to a small electronic device that looked very much like one of those DigiPets from back in the day. She did this while asking if I had heart problems of any kind, which is always a question that creeps me out. But she was very nice so I let her continue. Before I knew it, surges were coming through my back so strong that my whole torso was twitching. The device was a electronic massager, and it took me a while to get used to it. But it’s actually a godsend. I never got above the third strength level, and there are 10. I imagine the tenth would be like a defibrillator. I did not try it. Three was quite enough.

After a few minutes she asked if I would do her a favor: her table wasn’t getting any business, and she (as well as I) have noticed that people won’t come up to a table that nobody is at. So, she asked me to use the Oxygen Bar for free to try and draw others in. I agreed.

They put tubes into your nose much like when you’re sick, bit it’s hooked up to different canisters that house liquids that produce different scents such of eucalyptus, lavender, and zen mint. You control each and each is supposed to have a different effect. You can even have more than one at a time. I must say I enjoyed the eucalyptus, it smelled the way Halls taste.

After a few minutes the girl came over with a scalp massager that was just divine. People close to me know I’ve had issues with my jaw due to problems with the muscles in my head for years, and this was incredibly relaxing. Then she started to massage in earnest, working into the muscles in my back with her elbows.

More people showed up, including a sweet blonde girl and her friend. Both were from Romania and only one spoke English, but she translated for the other and we had a good talk. It wasn’t until then I learned the whole thing: Oxygen Bar, massage, all of it was only $15.00. $15! That’s amazing. I was so relaxed at the end! Really, really great stuff.

I didn’t catch her name, but I want to thank the girl from the Vitality Oxygen Bar at the Excalibur for a very relaxing time. Now I can say I’ve been to an Oxygen Bar. I feel broadened.

The CSI Experience

One of the many crimes I was tasked with solving.
One of the many crimes I was tasked with solving.

Continuing our Vegas vacation, Dad Melane and I went to the CSI Experience at the MGM Grand.

The setup is by far the best of the experiences and exhibits so far. The Bodies and Titanic were great and informative, but there was a level of interaction that was missing from them. The aides at this experience were all dedicated to their roles, much like that one magical guy at the Titanic Exhibit. They act like CSIs about to train in the new recruits (ie: you).

From there you see a training video of Gil Grissim himself, William Peterson. All the original cast makes video appearances throughout this interactive game. While it’s a little odd to see him and Warrick in light of how the series tuned out, I’m glad they used the original cast. That was the team I started watching way back when, and it was a bit of nostalgia to see them again. Anyway, after Gil introduces you you head off to one of three mysteries to solve. After investigating an elaborate scene you’ve got to go through a reconstruction of the lab from the show and analyze all the evidence to solve the mystery. You have to document everything and submit your findings to Gil at the end.

It’s during the analyzing that the process kind of falls apart. While there was a lot of thought put into the looks and aesthetic of the lab rooms, there wasn’t enough thought put into the practical design of it. Sounds from one video display can be heard from all over the rooms, and with multiple videos going from multiple patrons at once it can be impossible to hear yours at times. And there is no replay option for some, it replays when it wants to. If MGM is listening: invest in soundproofing.

All in all, a great attraction if you like CSI. I think Dad was a little bored of it toward the end though, the show never appealed

See? I'm a CSI. Like Heidi Paulin and stuff.
See? I’m a CSI. Like Heidi Paulin and stuff.

to him. Poor Dad. :S

By the way, here’s my diploma. I’m now a CSI, signed by Gil Grissom and everything. Take that Lawrence Fishbourne!

Imperial Car Show

Not everything in Vegas is over-hyped. I mean, A LOT of it is. For instance, it seems like there’s an add for the CSI Experience every five feet in the MGM Grand. However, some gems have to be simply found.

While walking down the strip with Dad and Melane, we stumbled upon a sign advertising the WORLD’S BIGGEST CAR SHOW at the Imperial Hotel. We decided to stop in.

Just to set this up, I’m not a car guy. I’m an arts type of person, and know little to nothing about cars. I drive a 2009 Chev Aveo, which I bought because my sister bought it a week before. Except mine is automatic, because I can’t drive standard. I know nothing of cars.

My Dad, however, is a big car guy. He loves old classic cars, and that’s what this was… The entire third floor of the Imperial Hotel is a massive car show divided into three different sections.

Even as someone not into cars, I was impressed. Usually I’m fairly bored at these things, but these cars are so beautiful and so well cared for I couldn’t help but get into it.

For Dad it was like a trip down memory lane. He got to see the cars his father used to own when he was young, which was a nostalgic treat for him… Although I think knowing how much said cars were worth now was a bit of a punch to the gut.

For me it was fun seeing all the rare cars. There were cars there that were one of only two made. There were cars there worth $20 million. There was also a very odd car there with two steering wheels that looked like the bat-mobile, but was somehow more futuristic. All in all, great show. Anyone looking for a simpler, slower side to Vegas should check it out.

Side note: it was also here that we started collecting to squat pennies that we began collecting for our little sister, Morgan. We had a bunch by the time we left, which added a great bit of collect-ability to the trip… What can I say? We’re nerds.

Great addition to the trip. :).

Harley Davidson Cafe

Another great find along the strip was the Harley Davidson Cafe. While nothing on the strip is obscure I’m sure, there are some things you don’t always hear about, like this cafe. It’s done up like the Hard Rock, but with this crazy contraption that spins motorcycles around the restaurant on a conveyer belt type… Thing. I’m very technical in my explanations.

Tiger Motorcycle?
Tiger Motorcycle?

Lots of classic and custom motorcycles, as well as a wedding chapel that seems like biker wedding heaven. Only in Vegas.

Motorcycle Carousel
Motorcycle Carousel

Great service, great everything. Definitely worth a stop-in.

Hoover Dam and More

Okay, so some things in Vegas take longer to do than others, especially if you happen to not rent a car while you’re there. While cars were cheap to rent, we kept putting it off and putting it off and discovered eventually that we really didn’t need one. But there were a few things for which a car may have helped with, such as our trip to the Hoover Dam.

The amazing Hoover Dam, home of Megatron.
The amazing Hoover Dam, home of Megatron.

We started out early in the morning and got on a bus tour. Takes just over an hour for the bus to get there, but it’s not a big deal… the tour guide (at least our tour guide) is funny enough and informative enough that the trip just flows by, provided you’re the type of person that likes learning new things, which I am.

Saw some great things along the way. Wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer awesomeness of the desert… it just goes on forever, and there are so many plants. I mean, A LOT of plants. More than Hollywood would have to believe. There’s a cactus or shrub every ten feet.

Anyway, the Dam and the tour of it is simply incredible. They take you all the way down to the power station located in the bottom where they make clean, environmentally safe energy for Los Angeles (though not Vegas, for some reason). The generator room is incredibly large, it’s the size of two football fields. When Dad asked, they also wouldn’t tell him how many people worked there… said it was “classified”… I suspect that’s because Megatron is still hidden somewhere underneath in our reality. 😉

After the dam the trip took us back to Vegas, but the trip wasn’t over!  We went to both the M&Ms Factory (who knew it was in Nevada? Free chocolate is the best chocolate) and the Cactus Garden. The Cactus Garden especially was incredible… the amount of heat those things give off is simply beyond the pale. Being there in the Vegas sun with those plants all around me, I didn’t want to leave. Was like being in an outdoor sauna.

Anyway, that’s Hoover Dam in a nutshell. Hope I’m not boring the heck out of everyone with tales from my trip… just trying to document everything as I can. Part of the hope here is that when I get back to Newfoundland and get back to writing again, there will be some consistency between my personal posts and my posts about writing, so that hopefully you’ll be able to actually see the way everyday routine can affect a writer’s (or at least this writer’s) process. We’ll see how this experiment works out.

And so much more…

Sigfried and Roy's Secret GardenSigfried and Roy’s Secret Garden at the Mirage is just beautiful. The Mirage in general is just an incredible piece of work, I hope they never implode it. The pool is picturesque as is the dolphin and tiger habitat. All the animals just seem move lively than in others zoos I’ve been too. They seem happier. Not sure if that’s actually the case, I’m nobodies Dr. Doolittle, but it definitely made for a pleasurable experience. And the heat there was just perfect. Coupled with fountains of free drinking water, I could have stayed there all day.

Another great animal-based attraction are the sharks at Mandilay Bay. It’s really setup well, with an entire zoo setup to highlight the predators of our seas. They even have a few Komodo Dragons there, which was the highlight for me. Big Dragon fan, been doing reading on them for years. Crazy to see one up close and personal for me, was an unexpected treat to say the least.

Finally, the Lions at the MGM. This is the only of the three that’s free, and they’re lots of fun. The lions again are playful and the habitat is right in the middle of the casino, so you can easily play poker or slots and be just a few feet from live lions. Of the three, my favorite is still the Mirage. It gets my vote almost for being outside alone… Nevada is a damn fine state for an outdoor attraction.

Speaking of MGM, my favorite of all the hotels. Reason: poker. I had a blast at the poker tournaments there, and came damn close to winning one game… And it wasn’t as strict as people say. People always say things like: “oh, you wouldn’t get away with that in Vegas…” Well, I’m here to tell you, they’re damn fine people to play poker with. Met a nice guy from Chicago named Paul I’d play with again any time… Shame I had to take his chips ;).

Cactus
Cactus

Another great hotel is Caesar’s Palace. You hear about this one a lot, and there’s a good reason: it’s incredible. They’re big on replicas in Vegas. My hotel was a scale replica of New York, another was a replica of Paris… The Palace goes to the extreme of replicating almost all the famous Greek statues. I studied Greek last semester under Dr. Brad Levett, and this stuff was just cool for me. I had fun identifying the statues of Ares and Athena while perusing the malls… There was a modern art gallery at the end, but when me and Dad went in all the lights went down… And the statues came to life. Out of a giant aquarium in the middle of the floor came a giant chair with an animatronic old man on it. He was trying to decide which of his children would rule Atlantis… Then two more animatronic gods joined in, one attacking the other with real fire that shot out less than three feet away! This little drama played out for ten minutes, until the father sank Atlantis into the sea. There were no ads. There was no admission. This is simply the length to which Vegas will go to entertain: talking robots reciting Greek tragedy. Epic.

Robots aren’t all at Caesars’! Oh no! Got to fulfill a lifetime dream and see Jerry Seinfeld live. The man is still hilarious, even after all this time. Had me rolling in the aisles, Dad and Melane too. Love it when he joked about his wife and kids, because that’s ‘new’ for fans of him… Stuff we didn’t hear him joke about on his show. Anyway, the man is a great, pure and simple. I can check that one off. It was on my birthday to boot.

Freemont street was a blast. I didn’t drink much while there, but I had a five dollar slush drink with 8 shots in it while on Freemont. Got distracted watching this epic guy paint landscapes in seconds using just spray paint, and ended up drinking it in about twenty minutes… Fun times.

Finally, on our last night there, we went to Beetles: Love. This was high on Melane’s list, she’s a huge Beetles fan… And it turns out I am, too. I’ve never been big on knowing which group sings what, I just knew I wasn’t a huge fan of the standard Beetles fare. But My Guitar Gently Weeps? That’s Beetles? I feel stupid not having known that, but there you go. The acrobatics were astounding, so was the music. Perfect show.

So that’s it, that was my time in Vegas. I’d go back any time, it’s an epic city that does not deserve the reputation of Sin City. Walking the Strip day or night there are jazz bands playing, honest writers selling poems and even novels for just tips, shows and every character you could imagine. Great city with great atmosphere that I’m sure I’ll be writing about before too long.

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