Loose in Las Vegas: 2008
Loose in Las Vegas: 2008
I had no intention of returning to Las Vegas in 2008. It’s not that I don’t thoroughly enjoy the city, it’s just that after having visited in the latter half of 2007 I would normally wait a little longer before planning another trip. However, when my friend Brandon“The Trivia Man” Tomasello called and said that he had an airline voucher he had to use before the end of the year and would like some company in Vegas, that was all it took to get me interested. I immediately called my friend Danny, who went with me the last time and is the expert on good deals on airfares, rental cars, and hotels. He had concerns about the weather in December but ultimately signed on for our expedition. I also mentioned the trip to my friend Byron, who had never been to Vegas before and had expressed interest in going in the past. He initially declined but then called the next morning to say he was in the process of buying a plane ticket for the trip! It took accelerated planning and resulted in a whirlwind visit but in mid December of this year, I once again found myself loose in Las Vegas!
We had planned for a four day trip, including travel days, so I knew I had a lot of things to do and a limited amount of time to do them. Luckily Danny and I got non-stop flights both ways leaving out of Orlando so that cut down on the flight time and helped stretch out the visit. Byron and Brandon were coming from Jacksonville so the majority of our first day was spent flying, checking into hotels, and finally all meeting up. I stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton again and was immediately struck by the obvious absence of the Star Trek Experience that had closed, after a ten year run, this past September. The entrance to where the area once was is now blocked off by a temporary wall with a sign in front apologizing for it being discontinued. According to one employee, even though the Experience was very popular, the deal the Hilton made to host it was not as lucrative as it should have been and, from a monetary perspective, they were glad to see it close. There is a possibility though that in the not to distant future it will return somewhere else on the strip. One reminder of the past is the new Star Trek slot machines. These one armed bandits based on the original series, complete with sound bites and video, are some of the most enjoyable slots I have ever played.
Even though our first day was hectic, I did manage to work in dinner with former actress and all around interesting person Tricia Anderson (see Retrorama #395 for more on her career) and her husband Graham. We returned to the Hilton’s resident Mexican restaurant, Hacienda Margarita, where I had interviewed her last year, with Byron and Brandon in tow. Over a very enjoyable and affordable dinner, we caught up on Blood of Dracula’s Castle(soon to be released on DVD by BCI) and the changes in Las Vegas in general (every time I visit some new area is being demolished and/or under construction). We also hatched some plans for the near future that will involve a return trip and a few hours of driving to revisit some old haunts.
I had already planned Saturday, day two, as my shopping and exploration day and invited Brandon and Byron to join me. I finally found the new location of one of the coolest movie poster stores on Earth, Cinema Collectors World, in the nearby town of Henderson and it was the number one stop on the list. This place used to be just around the corner from the Hilton near the strip but I was disappointed on my last visit to discover it gone. The new store seems a little roomier than the old one and the selection is still great. After talking to the owners for a few minutes and acquainting them with what I was looking for, they brought out pile after pile of vintage movie material for me to plunder through. Byron was having fun going through the budget posters and even found a couple for me in the process but Brandon finally got bored and decided to go back to the car for a nap! I could have literally spent all day in this place but I knew I had other stops to make. I loaded up my purchases, including three lobby cards for the old Creature Feature staple Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, and headed out after only about an hour.
Retracing our path back in the general direction of the hotel, we stopped at a very reasonable Chinese buffet for lunch and hit a few small collectibles stores. I also made my usual pilgrimage to Record City, a large repository of vintage vinyl. This is a fun place to browse but the sticker shock usually overwhelms me after ten or fifteen minutes and I have never made a purchase there. We wrapped up our shopping shenanigans at a casino supply store that Brandon wanted to visit. He was adamant about equipping his home with a full set of blackjack paraphernalia and Byron and I watched in awe as he did numerous price comparisons and even chip weight calculations. We finally managed to drag him out of the store after about forty minutes but he was still screaming that he would be back!
Even though we were fairly close to the hotel, I was in a hurry to get back since I had a dinner planned that evening with director Ted Mikels and his significant other, Shanti. The cult couple met Byron and me at the Hilton’s Benihana Japanese steakhouse for some excellent stir fry and drinks. Immediately upon being reunited, Ted and I exchanged dire news – he that icon Bettie Page had just passed away and I that mutual friend Ray Dennis Steckler was in the hospital there in Vegas. Ted immediately called another mutual friend of his and Ray’s, Herb “The Worm Eater” Robbins (look him up on IMDB) to get the up to date report on Ray. I spent a few minutes on the phone with Herb but the information did not lift our spirits. Even though we changed the subject and did our best to enjoy the meal, our thoughts of Ray stayed close at hand for the remainder of the evening.
Ted is in the marketing phase of his latest film, Demon Haunt, which was in production during my last visit. Early in 2009, he is scheduled to begin filming the eagerly awaited third installment in the Astro Zombiesseries, M3: Cloned. In this new film, DNA from one of the original synthetic slashers is used to create a new clone army and the expected murder and mayhem ensues. Over our dinner, Byron and I also got a crash course in film economics in the digital age that was very enlightening. After the meal, the four of us moved to the casino for a little gambling and Ted won $5.00 on the Star Trek machines he and I were playing. We tried for a monorail ride but the city had recently restricted the areas that locals can ride from at a discount so we bid Ted and Shanti farewell.
Byron and I then hooked up with Danny to take in the Fantasy show at the Luxor hotel. Billed as “the strips most seductive adult revue”, we were impressed by the dance routines but the comedian who served as the host (and isn’t shown or mentioned in any of the advertising material) got old in a hurry. Byron was disappointed that the Atrium Theater had stadium style seating rather than the night club layout typically associated with Vegas. In the end it was an entertaining evening but not something I would recommend or return to.
Our plan for Sunday was to stick close to the strip and tour some of the casinos like typical tourists. Brandon, Byron and I rode the monorail over to Harrah’s and crossed over to the Mirage for our first stop. I made a straight shot to the Beatles store to thoroughly peruse their inventory of all things fab! This was probably the only store we visited where everyone bought something but it’s not hard for even a casual Beatle fan to find something cool here. The helpful staff answered our questions, made recommendations, pointed us toward bargains and even put up with our attempts to buy their colorful uniforms from them! This was my second visit to Vegas since the Love show started and the second time it has been blacked out while I was there (all of the Circue Du Soleil shows were closed during this trip) but I swore I am going to get to see it next time.
Next door to the Beatles shop is the Revolution lounge, a Beatles themed bar where you can enjoy an adult beverage while listing to your favorite Fab Four tunes. We stopped in for a drink and I tried one of their specials, a Bungalow Bill. It was a tasty concoction of blueberries, vodka, and a few other assorted ingredients. Fortunately it did not make me feel like Captain Marvel had just zapped me right between the eyes but I did hear children singing. Following our refreshment break we wandered through the Mirage’s Secret Garden, where Ted Mikels called with some excellent news. He had talked to Ray Steckler and, even though he was not likely to be home from the hospital by Christmas, he was doing much better – get well soon Ray!
Heading back across the street to theParis, we met up with Danny and the four of us took in the champaign brunch that Brandon highly recommended. The food was good and we were sufficiently starving by the time we got to it. This was a leisurely meal of close to two hours as we took our time with the huge selection of culinary treats at our disposal and even tried the champaign just to be good tourists. We finally realized our only two options were to either get moving again or fall asleep at the table so we decided we could do with a little more Las Vegas scenery.
It was nearing dusk now and the casinos were turning on their impressive light displays. We used one of the overhead walkways to cross the street to Caesars Palace while a synchronized fountain show was going on to one side. Once inside the cavernous casino, we marveled at the architecture and décor. Byron wanted to visit the Playboy store in the mall so we headed in that general direction making stops along the way at all manner of distractions. I discovered a store called Extreme Collectibles that is Fanboy Heaven as long as you don’t actually want to purchase anything. They had impressive displays of props from the Superman films and television series, movie props, and even a soldier ape tunic from Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Everything was tastefully framed and ready for display but the prices were outside the normal human pocket book. Even the more common vintage collectibles they carried like Mego and Star Wars figures were priced at three to four times what they can be routinely picked up for online. I wandered through the store taking photos of the incredible merchandise but as I exited I noticed a sign specifically prohibiting this! My only guess is that they don’t want any permanent record of the prices!
The Forum Shops at Caesars have a lot to offer including a magic store, an art gallery for the work of Peter Max, and an FAO Schwarz (I thought they were all out of business). Outside the high end toy store was a person dressed in a huge costume of what I later found out was an Ugly Doll (the information I miss not having kids!) and I couldn’t resist grabbing a typical tourist photo. In the commons area of the mall are beautiful fountains, statues, and an aquarium decorated with what looks like the ruins of a sunken city. Byron finally found the Playboy store and bought a windbreaker style jacket with the familiar company logo. We headed out through the casino and never could locate a woman in a toga for Byron to get his picture taken with! At this point,Brandon departed for a late evening of low stakes gambling but Byron and I decided to call it a night.
Our final day was much like the first with packing and coordinating our departures from town.Brandon had some last minute shopping to do at the casino supply store (big surprise) and I accompanied him while Danny and Byron made a few last donations to the Hilton’s casino. We had been shadowed by the threat of bad weather since we arrived but had almost dodged it completely. Monday morning was unseasonably cold with freezing rain that you would never expect in the Nevada desert. We all made our flights on time and were happy to return to the high 60’s temperatures in Florida. Two days after we returned, Tricia Anderson E-mailed me to tell me about the freak snowstorm we had just missed. She said it was more snow than she had ever seen her 20+ years living there. Viva Las Vegas!