THANK YOU VERY MUCH

I'd Walk for Miles for Just One of Your Smiles

Tuesday

Another day, another ungodly hour to wake up, but I can't complain as it was my idea to book Hannah and Tim on the Grand Canyon trip. Well, you can't travel this far to this corner of the world and not. We all went down to the pick-up point to wave them off but as the coach pulled away we stood there with Rory waving only at our reflection smiling back at us from the darkened windows.

We returned to our room and took turns to entertain Rory. I showered first whilst Julie juggled, then it was my turn to choreograph playtime.

Whilst the voice of reason was in the bathroom Rory and I were bouncing on the bed like Olympic trampoliners, so much so that I needed another shower!

All that jumping about must have loosen his bowels as we had not one but two shitty nappies within a short space of time. Julie's intolerance to the smell of shit was still evident as she was sent scampering rapidly towards the toilet with her hand over her mouth on both occasions.

First on our list of things to do today was to head out down the strip towards the desert. We didn't intend too walk far, only as far as the iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.

I must admit that I was a little concerned as to how far away it was. I have a habit of misjudging distances! I had visions of actually standing at the point where Vegas stopped and the desert began, where the tumbleweeds blew and the roadrunner sang, but in reality it was only a short distance away from the end of the Mandalay resort.

The sign stood proudly in the middle of a six lane highway which could have been challenging to cross but luckily it wasn't at all busy at this time of the morning.

By the time we got there Rory had fallen back asleep. I took a photo of Julie beneath the sign then she took mine.

Then a professional photographer appeared, as if from nowhere, and asked if we wanted our photo taken. He had all the kit, the ultra-expensive looking camera, huge bag of gadgets etc. I was rather sceptical at first and expected his services to be charged out at a premium rate so I was rather rude and spurned his offer.

But then a stretched limo filled with rowdy all night revellers pulled up and he took their photo without any payment so I asked him, slightly sheepishly, if his offer still stood. He graciously obliged. "3-2-1 … say testicles"

He was definitely a pro. I guess he must have been waiting to meet someone for a photo shoot. We didn't hang around to find out whom.

Turning around we made our way back towards town. It was quite interesting to see how deceptively near Treasure Island looked. And how it looked to be on the wrong side of the strip?

Our next destination was going to be the Shark Reef at the Mandalay, which luckily wasn't actually far at all.

As we walked through the Mandalay resort we walked straight into a bottleneck. We were lost in a flood of Dental Delegates on their way to a conference featuring Richard Branson as their special guest speaker. (Well, I suppose he does have a million dollar smile.)

Julie was getting a little anxious on account she detests dentist. Not personally but she hates receiving treatment. To be fair, this particular fear is not unfounded after she suffered a spectacularly traumatic extraction. It was late one stormy winters eve in a small local surgery where Julie was dentally abused. I must confess to my part in it because I was pinning her down to the chair as the dentist literally had her knees on Julie's chest to get better leverage to pull out the offending molar. It was a brutal scene.

We almost drowing amidst teeth; those of colgate peddlers and wealthy tooth-smiths proud to display their most prized attribute. The perfect smile.

We finally escaped the melee and arrived outside the Shark Reef only to find it not ready for business until 10am. We were 15 minutes too early so we decided to start a queue only to realise there already was another (official) queue by the (official) entrance. The doors opened, and the queue poured in. Everyone swooped up the stairs but we were left behind muttering despondently as we had to find an elevator. We rejoined the queue, much further down the pecking order, but never mind.

 

Walking on through, anticipating the beginnings of an aquarium, we were startled like rabbits by the bright lamps of a photo-shoot. "Could you please stand on the marker"

We did as we were told, if a little confused, in front of a green screen, squinting towards the blinding light. "3-2-1. Thank you."

We were then handed an audio commentary device but we didn't need to use them as Rory was supplying his very own soundtrack!

He was absolutely fascinated by the little fish floating about the huge floor-to-ceiling tank and when they darted away, scattered by a huge fish coloured it seemed by the hand of psychedelia, he yelped out with surprised delight. He pointed and turned to us in amazement as if to say "Wow, did you see that!!!"

We continued to walk along the route, landscaped as a Mayan jungle, until we walked inside a dimly lit area with a brightly lit tank brimming with vibrant fluorescent fish.

Rory's excitement was building and building as he continued to squeal and point towards the tropical fish. When we entered the underwater walkway he literally exploded with sheer joy when a small shark swam overhead.

With both hands pointing and a squeal that could have cracked the glass he couldn't believe what his wide open eyes were seeing.

"Woagh, am I inside a fish tank?!?" (I can't wait until he can actually talk !)

The next section had a touch pool where you could gently stroke flat fish. I lifted him from the buggy so that he could see the fish but he hasn't got the concept of 'gentle' yet. Luckily he didn't touch any of the fish as they would have been even flatter fish had he made contact!

In the same room there was an absolutely stunning installation which I nearly gasped out loud in admiration.

Rory wasn't bothered but Julie and I were mesmerised by these hauntingly beautiful jelly fish. The tank was lit perfectly in blue to give them a ghostly appearance.

"If we win the lottery we'll have one of these in our living room!" said Julie. I couldn't agree more. It was utterly compelling viewing. I stood there for as long as Rory would let me, watching their strangely elegant dance.

The final chamber was possibly the most dramatic as you walked into the bowels of a shipwreck with large sharks swimming all around you. Rory had worked himself into such a state that his squeals had now become dog-whistle inaudible. Stunned into silence he sat their, mouth opened, as Jaws drifted past inches away.

Instead of following convention and leaving with everyone else through the obligatory merchandise store we decided to retrace our steps back to the start and do it all over again!

We all enjoyed it just as much the second time around as we were treated to a repeat performance of Rory's fabulous delight.

We eventually left after having spent a very enjoyable hour at the Shark Reef. We couldn't escape the store and we once in we couldn't escape the need to buy something for Rory. He took a shine to a plastic shark which he decided to exact revenge by trying to chew its head off.

We collected our photograph which cost $15. We had a choice of three superimposed backgrounds, the classic underwater tunnel shot, a Vegas at night photo, or another ludricous back drop.

We chose the tunnel scene.

By the time we returned to the Excalibur it was fast approaching midday.

What I wanted to do next was to find a pub I had read about in the Time Out guide called the Crown & Anchor.

A "British pub" that showed all the "soccer" games from England, served Boddingtons beer, (the cream of Manchester), and also had Chip Butties with HP Brown Sauce on the menu!

I had a quick look at the map reference and despite realising that it was quite some distance away and that it was now 11:45am, just as the game was kicking off at Old Trafford, (Manchester United v Copenhagen), we still started our trek.

Within a minute or two we were walking past the ESPN zone at New York New York. At the time I didn't think anything of it but I bet they had some screens showing the game.

We continued to walk up the east side passing the Harley Davison bar full of hairy bikers. Despite a liking for Jack Daniels, loud rock music and growing my facial hair I felt that perhaps my tree hugging sensibilities would not fit in here.

Inside I imagined a raucous crowd gorging themselves at the meatfest Bar-B-Que grill.

"Excuse me, but do you do a vegetable pattie?" No, didn't think so.

We continued past Aladin where we overheard a discussion between we assumed a "resort (middle) manager" and a "construction foreman" where it when along the lines of "man, you know every day were not opening is costing us millions" … but don't quote me on that.

Next up we walked past Paris Las Vegas which looked great. Close up the Eiffel tower looked just like the real thing. Apparently it was been built to the same specification, the same original plans, just half scale. I'll have to get up to the top before we leave.

It was time to leave the strip when we reached Flamingo Road.

Yesterday Dan had mentioned that one of his favourite shows was at the Flamingo in the afternoons where a 30 stone Elvis impersonator entertains the punters. Perish the thought.

Heading eastwards, Flamingo Road stretched out in a straight line. "Well, it's on here somewhere" I said, stating the obvious. We had walked as far as Paradise Road without seeing anything resembling neither a Crown nor an Anchor so we stopped at a petrol station to ask for directions. I stayed outside with Rory who by now had fallen fast asleep.

"She said turn right, down two sets of lights and then take a left." But was Julie was pointing down Paradise Road which confused me.

"But it's down here, on Flamingo." I pointed "She must have been looking in that direction when she said 'turn right'."

"No, I'm sure she meant down that way"

"It can't be! It's on Flamingo Road."

"OK, maybe you're right. We'll walk down two sets of light then." Off we strolled, walking past of all things, a Nuclear Testing Museum ?!? We didn't go in, but it's meant to be a fascinating look at how in the 50's they regularly tested the A-bomb less than a 100 miles away in the Mojave desert.

Onwards we walked, and were by now venturing into East LA, or at least in our minds! Dan's words were ringing in my ears as he had told us yesterday about the spiralling reputation of Las Vegas' gang culture. He tried to put our minds at rest by saying "If you stay on the strip you'll be fine. It's patrolled by officers 24 hours a day but wander away from it and you're taking your safety into your own hands."

As we walked past a vets surgery offering free pet care we knew we were leaving behind the privileged world and entering a place less fortunate. Right on queue, this hard face woman came sauntering in our direction.

Her eyes seemed wild and pointing in opposite directions. Julie and I both took a deep breath as she came within mugging distance.

Then in a flash her gangsta swagger was betrayed, her clenched dark face suddenly split by an amazing stellar smile, as she sweetly said "Aw, man, he's adorable."

Rory had saved the day!

We had now walked through the two traffic lights and were quickly approaching the third with not a sniff of a Crown & Anchor. Before we bumped into another Huggy Bear Julie decided to ask for help and walked into the vets. She spoke to this guy in a suit who looked like the father from American Pie. He confirmed her worst fears. He knew exactly where the pub was and it wasn't on Flamingo Road.

I pulled out my Time Out guide, and to my utter humiliation I realised my worst fears. I was wrong. I was sooooooo wrong!! Like Christopher Columbus who thought he was in India, I may as well have been on a different continent.

We had walked for miles down the wrong fucking road! Aaarghh!!

I was so angry with myself I could have self-flagelated there and then! If there would have been a wooden plank to hand I would have gladly beaten myself around the head with it. What a flaming wombat!

Making me feel even worse was that the game by now was almost finished and my perfect moment of washing chip butties down my throat with gallons of Boddington beer, watching United in the company of my superstar grandson and my adoring wife, had instantly evaporated in the searing sun of the Nevada desert.

Compounding my shame was the fact that the Crown & Anchor was actually on Tropicana Avenue, which was the same flaming road that our hotel was on! Oh how the irony was lost on me. If only I had a GPS travel guide to Vegas!

Pissed off, dejected and angry, I turned around and started the long walk back to the strip. Julie followed, the both of us in silence. She could see that I had a major sulk brewing. There's a Welsh phrase for someone who's sulking. You say that they have "llyncu mul" which translates to having "swallowed a donkey". I think it captures perfectly the stubbornness of pride.

Thankfully, along the way I managed to spit out the donkey, only with a little help from a petrol station called "Grumpy's".

I looked at Julie who was desperately trying to hold back the laughter. As soon as she saw that I was smiling then the floodgates opened and we both couldn't stop. Grumpy and Grumpier!

The mood instantly lightened.

Turning down Paradise Road I was starting to suffer from heat exhaustion and was beginning to have halucinations. I could have swore that in the distance I could see a massive Sunburst Les Paul. I took it to be a a mirage, an oasis, a place of plenty, where the water flowed freely and the food was in abundance.

But before we fell into the Hard Rock Cafe we still had one more encounter with the natives to experience.

This hobo, pushing his whole world around in a shopping trolley was coming straight for us. He was wobbling from left to right, dragging a leg behind him, with one oversized eye bulging from its socket as he looked us up and down.

He then raised his arm to point at Rory saying, "That's our future, right there, that's our future".

"He sure is" I replied, quickening our pace, (with a smile), and shot past him. Off he walked, smelling of piss and babbling prophetically to himself.

Two and a half hours of marching across the hottest time of the day we eventually stepped inside and after being temporarily struck blind by the relative darkness, we heaved a huge sigh of relief and sat down just across from Madonna's conical bustier.

"Hi guys, can I get you something to drink" a waitress asked.

"Two Beers" we replied before she even pulled the pen from behind her ear.

"Wow, you guys must be real thirsty"

It was such a relief to take the weight of our weary feet and when the cold beers arrived they were the best received beers we'd ever had.

They hardly lasted two minutes before we were ready for a refill.

We also really enjoyed the food. My veggie sandwich was perfect, Rory had a tasty toastie, (which I mostly ate) and Julie's roast chicken was exactly what it said on the bag.

All around his high chair was the fall out of his eating/throwing of his food. He's got one hell of a strong right arm throw! The fries, crayons, spoons all went flying!

I phoned my dad to find out that United beat Copenhagen 3-0. Hooray! Instant better mood! We then browsed the Hard Rock shop buying a tiny T-shirt for Rory. We didn't buy my dad the customary badge because he's actually been here himself last year.

Stepping out of the Hard Rock Café I noticed the Bierkeller over the road and imagined returning here in another twenty years, on a beerfest with my grandson!

Walking down Harmon Street back towards the strip we could hardly put on foot in front of the other. Knackered. We had to stop at the Hawaiian market place to put our aching feet up. There was a stall here that sold T-shirts with iron on slogans. I particularly liked the one that said "If you think I'm cute you should see my Grandpa!"

We popped into the Coke store where they sold all things under the sun with a Coca-Cola icon splattered across them. One thing of interest was a new coke drink called Coke Blak. Next door was M&M world where you could buy all the things under the sun with a M&M icon splashed across them. We couldn't stay long in here. It smelt far too sickly of chocolate. We then walked into a sports store with a view to buy an authentic LA Lakers replica shirt but at $75 they were a little too expensive for something I'd probably only wear the once.

Next along the strip we came to the MGM. We decided to go in to take a look at the Lions.

It was fairly crowded but I managed to get Rory up against the glass where one of the lionesses was lying up against. He climbed up to touch the glass. He was really excited by all of this; once again squealing with delight.

Whilst here we bumped into two ladies who recognised Rory from the baggage reclaim on Saturday!

I was trying to hold Rory and get him in the frame with a lion behind him. One of the women asked if they could help and hold Rory for me. I thanked her but said "He's very damp. His nappy's leaked quite a bit!" She quickly retracted her offer!

We made a rapid return to our room to change his soppy nappy and then got ready for the basketball game tonight at the Thomas & Mack centre. The LA Lakers were playing a pre-season game. After queuing for quite some time in an orderly line of "Million Dollar Dentists" dressed in their tuxedos, we finally got into a taxi. Rory had by now fallen asleep. When it turned up I was relieved that it was a larger MVP. We folded the buggy in the back, and got in.

"Where you going?" the cab driver asked.

"The Thomas & Mack centre" I answered.

I then swore I heard him say "Oh, no" A little shocked I said "Did you say 'No'??" He ignored me so asked again, a little more forceful.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll take you there" he barked back. He then said "You know I'm not covered for kids. You're taking him at your own risk"

"You jumped up little tosspot!" I shouted (obviously quietly inside my head!) If we weren't already late I would have got out of the taxi and walked.

Anyway, he got us there safely and in time, although he still had a parting sting when he allegedly only had a $5 note as change from a $20 to pay our $9 fare. I was livid!! But I wasn't going to get into an argument. He may have been a little unstable.

Dan (the Oracle) said yesterday that crap cab drivers are a problem in Vegas and there's a scheme where you can report cab drivers that either rip you off or are abusive. Ours ticked all the boxes but unfortunately you have to be a resident.

We walked up to the T&M where we encountered super friendly staff. They couldn't do enough for us and of course Rory charmed them all.

I was a little apprehensive as I had not only booked my tickets over the internet but I had printed them off myself.

It felt strange handing over pieces of paper that I had made myself back home, but a bar code is a bar code and it validated once scanned so we were OK.

With all the getting in and out of the taxi Rory had now woken up, just in time to watch his first Basketball game.

The LA Lakers were playing the Sacremento Kings but it wasn't a proper NBA league game but just a pre-season friendly. As such I wasn't expecting to see an exciting game but nevertheless I was still disappointed by what I saw.

I'd never watched a full game on TV before let alone actually been to a game so I didn't know what to expect.

The game started and Rory was mesmerised from the beginning. He watched intently every move and every play, pointing as if to say "Did you see that!!" I was less impressed. When flowing, the game was quite skilful and exciting to watch but it was terribly stop/start with more penalties than anything, and time outs that didn't seem to make any tactical sense other than to get the Laker Girls out to shake their thing.

Something else I found extremely odd was the musical soundtrack supplied by what sounded like a Victorian organists from a Variety performance at the end of Blackpool pier. Which then segued into a feeble attempt in instructing the spectators to chant "De-fence, de-fence". Did we really need reminding to "get involved" with the match? Apparently so!

Joining in the spirit of things however Julie, Rory and I joined in waving our large pointing foam finger in rhythmical unison with the souless mantra. It just seemed so contrived and utterly pointless. Where's the wit or the passion?

I speak from the experience of terrace songs that grace the Theatre of Dreams, the home of the world's best football team, Manchester United. Such classic Ode's as "Build a bonfire, build a bonfire; put the scousers on the top, put the City in the middle and then burn the fucking lot" or the old time favourite "My old man, he was a City fan, but I said bollocks you're a cunt." capture the essence of fanatical support!

American sports supporters certainly lack fanaticism which isn't a bad thing. The ambivalence does produce a relaxed family friendly environment and there's no problems with hooliganism. But if you take away the passion then you take away the whole point of competition.

During the first break Rory turned his attention to those around us. Even initiating a game of peek-a-boo with a Neanderthal New Yorker behind us! He was built like a brick shit house with knuckles like a boxer, but there he was going "Hey little man where ya gone, hey, there ya are .. peek-a-boo!"

Halfway through the second period Rory started to flake and just wanted to curl up and sleep. We had paid for three seats so we had plenty of space to spread out.

When the first half came to an end we listened to the mayor of Las Vegas, an appropriately charismatic showman, who took centre stage and made a promise that he will make it his mission to bring NBA basketball to Vegas.

Judging by the lack of enthusiasm from the crowd he may consider it not enough of a vote winner to bother!

Soon after, as Rory was now fast asleep, and as we didn't want to leave it to the end and get caught in the crowd, we decided to leave.

Fearing a repeat performance from swindling cab drivers we were initially very sceptical when we were approached someone who asked if we were looking for a ride. My mum had always warned me off accepting rides from strangers, especially if the promise of puppies were involved. He did however come across as very genuine and we took up his offer.

We had his 16 seater airport shuttle bus all to ourselves as he drove us back to the Excalibur. He talked a lot about his family, his wife, his son, and he couldn't believe that we were grandparents. Well, he restored my faith in mankind. He was a really nice guy.

It was now 9pm and Hannah & Tim had been back since 7:30pm. They had really enjoyed seeing the Grand Canyon despite it being cold enough to snow! Unfortunately the rest of the trip wasn't so enjoyable. As they recounted their day, we found out why they were back so early. Their driver, called Bill, hardly stopped on the way back! No trading store, no entertainment at Degadillo's Seligman, not even regular comfort breaks. In fact, when Tim asked for a toilet stop the driver refused. Only when he insisted that Hannah really needed to pee did he reluctantly pull up some where. What made it even more of a crap trip was that they weren't able to sit together, all the seats had been taken when they were picked up this morning. We were disappointed for them especially as it contrasted drastically to our experience.

We handed over a sleeping Rory, and awkwardly skirted the issue when Hannah asked if we had reconsidered their wish to get married. We ran away to eat. We hadn't had much all day. We returned to NY NY and decided to give their Italian a try. Il Fornaio was stylish and immediately top trumped what Excalibur had to offer on every count. The menu was far more interesting and the quality of the food vastly superior. We sat "outside" in an area that felt like a pavement café and for $90 we felt that it was money well spent.

We returned to our base camp and sat at the bar with a few beers to watch this evening's entertainment. Unlike what you'd expect from a lounge act they were very very good. The keyboard player had an amazing voice, great depth and emotion which really did justice to a cool version of a Rolling Stones song. Mid-song he stepped away from the ivories and swung a saxophone around his neck. He was superb. Sadly that was the only song he took the lead. For the next few songs he disappeared into the backing track as a skinny white girl stepped forward and sang skinny white girl songs. "Spectacularly average" as Simon Cowell would say.

The entertainment was however not over. I could see this old guy to the left of us getting a little animated, just a little. He looked quite ill. He seemed in his late seventies, pasty pale skin, thinning grey hair, a white shirt and a grey tank top. As another annoying song began, we were on the verge of leaving when he stood up and slowly made his way to the front of the stage. Looking frail and almost unable to hold him self up straight we all worried for his health but in a flash he began to dance. Sliding to the left, and jerking, then sliding to the left; we then started to worry about his sanity. I got to hand it to him though, he was very entertaining, very reminiscent of Christopher Walken in Fat Boy Slim's video for 'Weapon Of Choice'.

When he finished he received the biggest round of applause of the evening!

We left on this high, and went to bed.

Wednesday >>> ©Copyright Colin Owen 2006

©Copyright 2000-2012 Colin Owen