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Disclaimer:  Nope, there's nothing on this page about the
Great Northern.  Just a little old trip report from Lindsay
and Baolu.  Enjoy!

Las Vegas Trip 2006

"Sir? Is that plastic...?"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Viva Las Vegas, baby, yeah! Baolu and I are up at
the crack of dawn and ready to go. The taxi shows up
at 8:10am and we are off through I-405's heavy traffic
to the airport.

Because of the TSA's silly new ban on "liquids or gels larger
than three ounces", we are going to check our bag this trip.
It's an odd feeling walking unencumbered through the dingy
corridors of Sea-Tac airport with only my wallet and a
paperback book in tow.

Another silly rule is...you know that sealed bottle from the
grocery store? Why that's the dangerous chemical "di-hydrogen
oxide" and must not travel through the checkpoint. BUT...once
PAST the TSA fantasyland, it becomes pure, life-giving water,
certified by the gubmint and, coincidentally, available for
purchase at nearly any airport store.

We are at our gate in plenty of time and decide to walk the
concourse. We trundle along clear to the end of the A gates
with its huge, terribly expensive artwork, and all the way
back to D gates. There's even time for a quick ride on the
subway train out to the N gates. Anything to kill some time
and avoid sitting in those uncomfortable airport chairs.

Alaska boards our flight in plenty of time. Everyone is
aboard 15 minutes early and we watch the baggage men load
our luggage. Our departure time comes and goes. The plane
doesn't move. Finally the captain comes on the intercom
and announces we can't leave without our "departure form".

Huh?

As 15 minutes stretches into 30 minutes, the crowd begins
to get a bit restless. Alaska's computers are down and
despite repeated assurances, our plane doesn't move.
We are held hostage by a piece of paper.

After 45 minutes of sitting there, the captain explains
just how important that little piece of paper is to him,
"fuel level, weight, Federal regulations require,
blah blah blah...more dear than life itself, really.
People are scattered all over the aircraft now, in the
bathrooms, standing in the aisles talking, rummaging
through the overhead compartments, etc.

50 minutes behind schedule and the stewardess suddenly
announces in a very strained voice that we "have that
form" and everyone must return to their seats, immediately,
or face the consequences!!! There is a mad scramble as
everyone returns to their original upright and locked position.

"Excuse me, did you say stewardess? We're called
flight attendants now..."

So anyway, finally we're off to Vegas albeit about
an hour down. I must say, that is the most creative
way I've ever heard for delaying a plane. The Captain's Log.

As if to compensate us, in Las Vegas, the travel gods
not only have our suitcase be the 10th one off the plane,
but there is NO LINE at the taxi stand and we are heading
towards our hotel in 5 minutes flat. Much better.

http://www.harrahs.com/casinos/paris-las-vegas/hotel-casino/property-home.shtml

We are checked into the Paris hotel thusly and since
we're both getting peckish, we are off to the victuals
at Spago's Cafe over at Caesarís Palace -- a favorite of
ours.

http://www.wolfgangpuck.com/rest/fine/spago/las_vegas/index.php

One of the best parts of Las Vegas is the people watching.
On our way to the cafe, I hear an ear-splitting screech
from a little girl in a stroller. Her mom leans down and
informs her that "one more like that, and I'll take you
back to the room!". The little girl responds with a very
satisfied little smirk.

Spagos is wonderful. Apparently, it is a Wolfgang Puck-run
joint and the food is superb. I had the prawn cocktail
and meatloaf whilst Baolu had a Caesar salad and her fav
steamed clams and we split a bottle of wine. The meatloaf
was incredibly tasty. My mouth is watering just thinking
about it. How they take such a mundane dish and delight
the senses is nothing short of art.

The couple next to us notice my meatloaf and ask about it.
I give it two thumbs up and they both order it! I guess
I'm just this fount of information. I noticed they ate
every bite, too.

Also, in front of us, is today's floor show. A woman is
seated who takes out her cell phone and begins yakking
loudly to someone in French. She drinks the offered glass
of water and crumples up her napkin, but orders nothing.
Next, she asks to be moved to a different table nearby.
Shortly, she's on her phone again and a bunch of her buddies
show up. They all have a round of water. They babble some
more in French and then get up and leave! Hmmmm....real
classy water stop there, froggie ladies!

Now it is early evening and we are simply stuffed with
good food and wine. From Caesarís Palace, we take a
cab over to the new Wynn resort hotel. Supposedly the
most posh hotel in Las Vegas, with its own on-site
golf course, the Wynn is not terribly impressive, IMHO.
Golf junkies might beg to differ, but I find the
Bellagio much brighter and more interesting to look at
inside.

From the Wynn, we cross Las Vegas Blvd. and visit the
Fashion Show Mall which is a huge conglomerate of shops
and practically every department store known to man. Its
three levels make a great people-watching place to walk.
We briefly look for a smoking jacket for me at Neiman Marcus
Avenue, but don't find one. A smoking jacket, you ask?
Oh, I'm always seeing Colonel Klink wearing one on our
Hoganís Heroes DVDs and it looks so COMFORTABLE.

By now it's approaching 10pm and we are both exhausted. A
quick taxi ride back to the Paris and we call it a night.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Happy Birthday to me! I ask you...What could be a better
birthday present than spending some time in Las Vegas with
my honey? This is the life.

First stop is breakfast at the 24 hour cafe just outside
the elevator banks at the casino level. Even at 8:30 am,
half of Iowa is in line already, including one fellow with
a "Hawkeyes" shirt on. When it comes their turn for a table,
Iowa turns his back on the waitress and starts pleasantly
chatting with his buddies, jabbering on and on. Uh...hey
Mister Oblivion...your table's ready...grab a clue! There's
others waiting. Take your self-absorbsion and go siddown!

Finally, it's our turn and the waitress asks us, "Smoking
or non-smoking?" Foolishly, I say non-smoking. They
seat us right next to the kitchen. I forgot that
non-smoker's are outcasts in Las Vegas. It's like
China or Canada -- practically everyone smokes in public.
Omelet for me and pancakes for Baolu. Eh...adequate. It
fills the belly.

This morning's sideshow is the six elderly Midwesterners
they seat right next to us. One obese woman squeezes
her fanny between our tables and I get a nice view of
her ample caboose. Once seated, more of them arrive and
Beulah says, "Hey! Sit here!" and proceeds to hit the
cushion next to her PAT-PAT-PAT-PAT-PAT. No one sits
next to her. She tries again. PAT-PAT-PAT-PAT-PAT.
I rise and fall with each smack on the vinyl. She's
just not getting her point across. In a careless moment,
someone looks her way. PAT-PAT-PAT-PAT-PAT comes the
furious tattoo. Eventually she gives up and slides
my direction to make way for everyone. That was fun.

Now it's time for our morning walk.

We take a taxi clear down to the end of the strip at the
Mandalay Bay. Lindsay likes trains and wants to ride the
cable-monorail tram from M.B. through the Luxor to the
Excalibur. I snag me a front row seat, but the damned
Lexan glass is cloudy. Oh well, it's a fun ride and
we spend a bit of time getting lost in the Excaliburís
byzantium casino.

Finally, we exit a side door and find our way on the
overhead walkway to the New York, New York and thence
over to MGM across the street. Inside the MGM, there
is a huge lion cage, but the beasts had evidently
learned long ago to avoid tourists' flashbulbs by nesting
far back behind the fake rocks. Everybody needs a bit
of privacy sometime.

At MGM, there is a little restaurant run by that Emeril
guy (BOOM!), but we look at the menu and are not too
impressed. Plus, Baolu told me that Emeril actually got
his start at the Commander's Palace restaurant which
is conveniently next door at the Aladdin. Sold. Dinner
at the C.P. tonight. Creole food....mmmmmmm.....

The Emeril restaurant is way in back and eventually we
make it to the Las Vegas Monorail. We come upon about
six ticket machines each with a befuddled elderly couple
from Iowa staring uncomprehendingly at the instructions.
None of them can figure out how to operate it.

Finally with a muttered curse, George and Martha wander
off from the nearest machine and I get to a terminal.
Push the button (two-person ride), slide the credit card
in/out, dispense the ducats and we're off.

It's a quick ride back to the Paris and soon we are in
"Le Boulevard" looking for some lunch. The masses are
out and about, but the line at the crepes place is not
bad. Ooo la la, the crepes are very tasty and it will
be enough to tide us over until dinner.

Back to the room to brush our teeth, then off to the
"North Tour Lobby" of the Paris to board our "Pink
Jeep Tour" of Hoover Dam. Shortly after 1pm, our
transportation arrives. It is neither pink, nor
a Jeep (a Ford Expedition, actually), but it's
comfortable and we slide into the two remaining
seats in back. There is a magnet on each door
announcing "Pink Jeep Tours", again with no
pink visible on the logo. I guess actually painting
it pink would be too obvious.

http://www.pinkjeep.com/

It's approaching 90 degrees as we roll up I-215/I-515 on
our way to Hoover Dam, but the floor a/c is working
and we have a big bottle of water to keep us hydrated
(we drank a LOT of water on this trip). Our fellow
tourists are a 50-ish couple from England and a
40-ish blonde woman from Georgia. Once we leave
the hotel, the English guy is talking non-stop to
the Georgia gal in a loud voice about how fascinating
things are in Manchester, where he's from.

In sharp contrast, our driver has a very soft voice
and sort of mumbles so what he's saying is anyone's
guess. You can't hear him over the Manchester United
bloke anyway. The Manc is really interested in this rather
long-in-the-tooth woman from the Peach State, quite
ignoring his wife sitting up front next to the driver.
As always, it's the sideshows that makes Vegas glitter.

While passing through Boulder City, near the dam, I spotted
two Union Pacific steam locomotives, a couple of what looked
like ex-US Army diesel switchers, several passenger cars
and (surprise, surprise!) the UP #844. No, not the famous
4-8-4 steam locomotive. It was the EMD GP30 numbered 844
which caused the steam engine to be renumbered 8444 for
many years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Pacific_844
http://www.nevadasouthern.com/844.html

The irony. This stretch of rail, as far as I know, is
isolated because up on Railroad Pass between Boulder City
and Henderson, the line is cut by the highway (no crossing).

Hoover Dam is huge...so large in fact, I was unable to
get the whole thing in one picture. It's a very symmetrical
horseshoe-shaped concrete monstrosity with lots of nice
art-deco touches. We took the "Dam Tour" where they crammed
us like sardines into these elevators which took us deep
inside to see the electric turbines. The US 93 highway between
Las Vegas and Kingman, Arizona passes right over the top of the dam.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_Dam

They are in the process of building a tremendous four lane
freeway just south of the dam that will span Black Canyon
on this incredible arched bridge. So far, they've just
got the initial towers built on both edges. They need
this bypass as the traffic at the dam is very heavy.

http://www.hooverdambypass.org/

Anyway, that was the Dam tour. It was fun. Next, we
clamber into the Expedition for the ride home. The Manc
is strangely subdued. In fact, he doesn't say a word on
the way home. Maybe his Mrs. had a little chat with him.
Or maybe he was dehydrated. I didn't see him drink any
water the whole time and it was HOT out there.

So I'm sitting there, minding my own business when the
Georgia woman whirls around and starts peppering ME with
questions. Where are we from? Where do we work? What is
our income? Any disgusting habits? Hmmmm....I'm wondering
where this is going, when Ms. Georgia announces she's newly
single and thinking of relocating to the Pacific Northwest.
Oh, jolly good.

It seems she saw something on television that the most-educated
people in the country live in the Seattle area as well as
the RICHEST people per capita in the country and maybe she
should relocate there and catch herself a husband and did she
mention that she was single?

So for the next 30 minutes, Baolu and I proceed to tell her
about the traffic, the rain, the lack of good, Southern cooking,
and the fact that it is cloudy 300 days a year....a bit of
a culture clash to say the least....but if she can stand all
that, well then sure, welcome aboard, as they say.

Coming back over Railroad Pass and into Henderson, we hit this
world-class traffic jam. Four lanes all stopped. Our driver
is on his phone and announces there's an accident ahead. Then
he maneuvers the big Expedition onto the shoulder and exits
the freeway. He gets us on to side streets and we take back
roads all the way back to the Strip. Not bad. In fact he had
us back about 5 minutes early. It is about 5:00pm, so we have
him drop us off at the Aladdin, hand him a ten spot for good
driving, and head straight to dinner.

The Aladdin is in the process of being remade into a Planet
Hollywood Casino. The place is a mess. Temporary drywall
and duct tape and screeching circular saws are everywhere. Normally
we stay at the Aladdin, but I'm glad we didn't this time.

Because everything is changed around, it is hard to find the
Desert Passage mall. We wander around a bit and find it
behind a temporary corridor. Signage is practically
non-existent. Finally we locate tonight's dinner feast,
the Commander's Palace. New Orleans-style Creole cooking.
mmmmmMMMMM!

http://www.commanderspalace.com/las_vegas/index.php

We are a little early, so Baolu toddles over to a slot
machine, borrows a dollar from me and proceeds to get
her credits up to $2.60! I tell her she should immediately
cash out and have the receipt framed, but she goes ahead
and runs it back down to zero. Easy come, easy go. The
Korst family are definitely NOT high rollers.

When C.P. opens, we walk back and are seated in the
main dining room. This is my big birthday dinner so a
nice bottle of Walla Walla wine starts it off. Our
waiter comes over and I do a double take. He looks
almost exactly like this guy:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001728/

(Clark Griswold's blackjack dealer/nemesis in Vegas Vacation)

He's a real character (our waiter, not Mr. Shawn) and
talks up the house specials enthusiastically. He
gets even more friendly when we tell him this is our
second visit to C.P.

As the waiter goes off to get our wine, the fellow over
at the next table (a 50-ish tweedy academic sort) pipes
up to Baolu, "I just wanted to say that you have a
very pretty voice". HUH? We look over at him in
disbelief.

This disquiets him and he hastily mutters, "Well, I
hope that doesn't offend you..." Baolu says that
no, she's fine with that but we're both thinking,
"Eewwwwww!". I noticed that he waited for his frumpy
wife to be conveniently absent in the john whilst
he was hitting on Baolu. We shake our heads and
return to our wine.

In a burst of copycat-ism, Baolu and I order the same
thing -- turtle soup for appetizer and the savory
seafood stew for main course. Both are the house
specialties and both are simply awesome. So much flavor
in every spoonful. A culinary organism...if you get
my drift.

Now on to dessert. Baolu had the beignets and I had
the pecan chocolate whatchamacallit. I was going to
have the Bananas Foster which normally is ignited right
at your table. However, the waiter said that due to
the local fire code, that is verboten....and if I
wanted the fire show, I'd have to watch in the
kitchen. Weird. The pecan chocolate cake was outstanding,
so I didn't miss the pyrotechnics too much.

Boy am I stuffed. Two notches off the belt. Roll
me out the door, Shink. This calls for a walk.

As we saunter down the aisle towards Las Vegas Blvd.,
two little old Asian ladies flash past us,
one of whom manages to give me a good dig in the
ribs with her elbow. Before, I can say anything,
a third l.o.a.l. comes brushing past us on the other
side. What's going on? I look up and we are at the
entrance to a buffet line and they are maneuvering
to get AHEAD of us, afraid we'd beat them to the
food!

A quick trip back to the room to brush teeth and
take a 10-100. Then back downstairs for me to pick
up my souvie of Paris -- a Margarita served in a
huge, plastic Eiffel Tower with two foot straw!
As I'm walking away from the sidewalk bar, a
fellow runs up to me and says, "Sir? Is that plastic
or glass...?"

I was going to mess with him and say it was glass
or crystal, but I was in a good mood so I told him
plastic. C'mon, this is Vegas. EVERYTHING is plastic.
That's its charm.

As we walked from Paris through Ballys and out to
the strip, I discovered I was the center of attention
with my Eiffel Tower drink. As Margaritas go, it was
passable, but after about a dozen sips, I dumped the
rest in a garbage can, keeping the container for a
memento. No sense getting sick over an alcoholic
Slushie.

The next stop was the "Fremont Experience" in downtown
L.V., so after ditching the plastic/glass Eiffel Tower
in our room, we took a cab to the Golden Nugget.

http://www.vegasexperience.com/

The downtown area has this huge, overhead light show
which extends to two city blocks on a pedestrian mall.
This is the last vestige of "old" Las Vegas and I must
say, the neon is much more impressive on this section.

While we were waiting for the light show to start, we
walked up and down the blazing midway. At one end was,
what appeared to be a Country/Western band (they all had
guitars and all had cowboy hats). The front man kept
yelling incomprehensible gibberish into the mike,
loudly milking the crowd for applause, but not actually
playing any music. All he did was shout. He seemed
almost frantic. Maybe he just heard from Dean Witter.

We watched the American Freedom show at 10pm which only
lasted about 10 minutes, but was very patriotic. I would
have enjoyed more F-18 flybys, but you can't have everything.
So back to our hotel for more outdoor fun. As the evening
grew later, the crowds outside got bigger and more
characters came out of the woodwork. The Mexicans were
back, in groups of five, snapping their little cards of
girly shows at passersby -- available at nearby clip joints.

Vegas has finally ended their brief, ill-advised flirtation
with attracting families. This town is NOT the place to bring
your kids, that's for sure. Try explaining the naked bums
on huge billboards to your 7 year old.

We trundle along, watching the Bellagio's fountain
display and I catch sight of a 14 year old blond
girl looking admiringly a local stray boy (much too
old for her) who said, "Oh you like my tattoo?, here,
take a look at THIS..." and flexed his arm for her.
She squealed with delight.

With all the neon, Las Vegas looks so much better
at night. Almost a hypnotic experience with all the
flashing lights. Just a lot of fun, even if you
don't gamble. After midnight, we called it a day.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sleeping in today. In fact, we get such a late start that
when we hit the buffet at 9:30am the line is a city block
long. Not good. Instead, we hit the boulangerie (bakery)
for a breakfast croissant and juice which hit the spot.
The Paris was HOPPING -- very very crowded everywhere you
went. We did the self-checkout and grabbed a taxi for
the airport...but our adventures were JUST beginning.

We walk up to the self-service kiosks at the Alaska
check-in counter. Each of us check in, but we find our
seats are not what we reserved...in fact we are not
sitting together. What's going on? We get in line to ask.
After about 15 minutes we reach the agent and hand
over our tickets.

"Oh no, sir. This is the Ajax Charter service. (There
is an ALASKA sign directly over his head) You want that
line over THERE!"

Fine. Whatever. We schlep our bag over to the authentic
Alaska line. After 5 minutes, a rather obese Alaska agent
with a charming scowl, hoists herself over the baggage
scales with several grunts and in a loud voice announces,
"ANYONE ON ALASKA FLIGHT 665, I NEED YOU TO STEP OVER INTO
THIS LINE!!!!!". Miss Grunty forms us up in a separate
line with just one agent. There are about 30 people in
this new line and we are about 5th from the front.

Satisfied she has separated the riff-raff from the rest
of the paying customers, Miss Grunty again hoists herself
over the baggage scale with much difficulty and disappears
into the back room.

We stand here, wondering what's going on, and watch the
other 5 Alaska agents swiftly take care of everyone else.
Baolu catches a piece of the conversation our one agent
is having with a customer. Apparently our flight home
has mechanical difficulties, is very late, and there will
be "an equipment change". Uh-oh.

15 minutes later, we reach the counter. This agent is at
least very helpful. He explains that since our flight is
so late, he will book us on another flight -- still later
than expected, but better than waiting around. However, we will
have 3 hours, 30 minutes to kill at the airport. Still,
he gets us two seats together at the front of the airplane,
so it wasn't all bad.

Relieved of our suitcase, we slowly walk out to the TSA
showdown. There is quite a line at the screening, but it
seems to be moving, at least. The sideshow this time is
a rather hefty TSA agent bellowing over and over, "THIS
IS YOUR LAST WARNING! HAVE ALL YOUR TOILETRIES IN A QUART
SIZE ZIP LOCK BAG OR YOU WILL HOLD UP THE LAHN! (line)"

"HIGHLY-TRAINED TSA AGENTS WILL SPEED YOU THOUGH THIS
CHECKPOINT, BUT YOU MUST HAVE YOUR LOTIONS IN A
ZIPLOCK BAG OR YOU WILL HOLD UP THE LAHN!!!"

I got a chuckle when Baolu muttered under her breath,
"highly-trained, my ass....". Despite the dire threats,
the screening went very quickly and not having a suitcase
to lug around made things a lot easier.

Three hours to go. Well, nothing else to do except park
ourselves somewhere, have a drink and some lunch. The only
full-service place on our concourse was the "Prickly Pear
Cafe" which was packed. It was sort of grab-your-own-table,
so we waited until someone got up to leave and then pounced.

Spicy bloody mary for me and vodka martini for Baolu. My
pulled pork sandwich was quite good and B's Caesar Salad
was enormous. We lingered, wasting a good two hours.
Reluctantly, we headed for our gate. We sit NEAR our gate,
close enough to hear the boarding announcement, but far
enough away to watch planes come and go. We pull out our
books and read.

"PAGING SHERMAN AND JUANITA HODGES!!!! PLEASE REPORT TO
GATE D32 FOR YOUR SEAT ASSIGNMENT!!!!!" came the shrill
announcement from a female gate agent about 10 gates away.
Then, normal announcements about various flights arriving
and departing in nice, calm voices. Back to our books.

I look up and see our plane just pulling up to the gate.
The jet way is rolled up and folks start walking off. It
takes about 15 minutes for the plane to unload and then
there is a pause as the cabin is prepared for our boarding.

Now comes our turn. As there is no announcement from the
gate agent, people begin to line up spontaneously. Our
gate agent, an older man, seems troubled by this and he
fumbles for the paging phone.

"PAGING SHERMAN AND JUANITA HODGES!!!! PLEASE REPORT TO
GATE D32 FOR YOUR SEAT ASSIGNMENT!!!!!" comes the throaty
cry and our agent looks up in astonishment. Clearly
shaken, he dials some numbers and gets the intercom:

(faintly) "wewillnowboardfirstclasspassengersonly" is
the approximate gist of what he said. The three first
class passengers get on board. 15 minutes go by. Our
agent looks up, seems puzzled as to why we are all
still standing here and reaches for the intercom.

(mumbling) "wewillnowboardfirstclasspassengersonly" he
says meekly. No one moves. 5 minutes go by.

"PAGING SHERMAN AND JUANITA HODGES!!!! PLEASE REPORT TO
GATE D32 FOR YOUR SEAT ASSIGNMENT!!!!!" shrieks the
intercom.

The other gate agent nudges our reticent fellow and he
announces quietly: "wewillnowboardrows15andhigher". This
has the desired effect. He just welcomed aboard the
entire plane at once. The crowd surges forward.

Too late, he realizes his mistake. In desperation, he
reaches for the mike, but is cut off by...

"PAGING SHERMAN AND JUANITA HODGES!!!! PLEASE REPORT TO
GATE D32 FOR YOUR SEAT ASSIGNMENT!!!!!"

Apparently Sherman and Juanita made their flight because
that's the last we hear of them. Our silent agent now
announces "wewillnowboardrows20andhigher", but it is too
late as everyone has just headed for the jet way. Baolu
and I finally board too, ignoring the announcements.
The plane is ready to go on time and we lumber out to
the taxiway.

Our mellow Captain comes on the intercom. "Ladies and
Gentleman, our flight time today will be two hours and
three minutes to Seattle which is really and truly amazing
and I am going to repeat this fact to you several times
especially when you are just about to drop off to sleep
once we're airborne, so sit back and enjoy your flight."

We are about 3rd in line, but we are taking an extraordinary
long time to take off until Captain Mellow comes back on
the mike.

"Yeeeah, L & G, we're about #3 to take off here and, uh, it
should take....oh, I don't know, about five, six, seven,
eight, nine minutes or so, but once we GET in the air, it
will only take two hours and 3 minutes to reach Seattle.
Don't forget that. Write it down. Thank you."

Finally, as we make the turn onto the runway, Captain
Mellow seems in no hurry to get up to takeoff speed.
In fact we sort of coast down the runway as he slowwwwly
pulls back the throttles and we gently rise into
the air. He used the entire runway and that was by far
the lowest angle of takeoff I've ever experienced.

Except for the frequent loud announcements by our
stewardess, we have an uneventful flight back home.
It is a reasonably quick taxi ride home and now here
I am typing up my notes.

We had fun! And I hope all of you enjoyed our trip
report. Plane hype!

THE END