Loose in Las Vegas: 2013
After becoming a seemingly annual event for the past few years, I skipped a visit to Las Vegas in 2012 in favor of a more extended sojourn in California. This was partially due to not wanting to take two vacations on the far end of the country close together but also because I knew my 2013 visit to Sin City was already in the bag. In fact, this trip really began life in May of 2011 when I met the wonderful Dyanne Thorne and her husband Howard Mauer at the Cult Fiction Drive-In show right in my own backyard in Jacksonville, Florida. Over an excellent seafood dinner with 15-20 of my closest friends, Dyanne offered her services in her current profession as a wedding planner and minister to renew the vows for my wife Cindy and I. I really appreciated her generous offer but in the interests of not catching my wife off guard and the knowledge that our twentieth anniversary was less than two years away, I suggested we postpone the event until then and have it on her home turf, and my home away from home, Las Vegas in 2013. Somewhere between three and five seconds later, the gears in my mind were grinding and plans were already starting to form!
Way back in 1993, our original wedding was a very small church affair with just our immediate families and a few very close friends present. While I made a point of inviting many of the original attendees, I realized that the distance and expense of traveling to Vegas for the renewal was going to be a tough hurdle to get past. Fortunately, I do have a few pretty cool friends in Vegas too who I thought might be up for the event. Joining us from Florida were John Hickey, my long time friend and original best man, and Chris Nunley of The Royal Guardsmen and his wife Karen. At the last minute, Chris decided that since he and Karen were coming up on their tenth wedding anniversary, this would be the perfect opportunity to renew their vows as well. True professional that she is, Dyanne was able to work them in to our ceremony in a way that I personally think made the entire event even more special.
We decided to hold the renewal on our official wedding anniversary date of February 28, so we planned our Vegas visit from Wednesday, the 27th through Sunday, March 3. This gave us almost four full days in Vegas since our flight out was early Wednesday morning. Thanks to my friend Danny, we were able to stay at the beautiful Wyndham Grand Desert Resort which is just a few blocks off the Strip behind the MGM Grand Hotel. The Wyndham did double duty as both our base of operations and host for the event since I was able to secure a multipurpose room in the same building we were all staying in. The close proximity to the Strip put us within convenient distance of all the action but also kept us from being tied up in it all the time.
Cindy and I arrived in Vegas around 10:30AM local time on Wednesday. Needless to say, we had been up since very early in the morning Eastern Time and were more than ready to pick up our rental car and get checked in to the condo which was only a few miles from the airport. Chris and Karen were supposed to arrive in the late afternoon but weather conditions caused their plane to be rerouted before they ever left Florida and it seems that every hour or so something changed to push their flight back even further. After resting for a little while, Cindy and I went on a supply run and then we picked up my best man for the renewal, cult film director Ted Mikels, and Cindy’s maid of honor, actress Shanti, for dinner at the Cabo Mexican restaurant in the Boulder Station casino. The food was excellent and reasonably priced be we ate so many corn chips with the salsas from their bar and homemade guacamole that we could only manage a few bites of our entrees. The refrigerator at the condo was put to good use that night.
After dinner I dropped Cindy and our leftovers back at the Wyndham so she could get some sleep and I went with Ted to hang out at his place until Chris and Karen’s flight finally arrived a little after 10PM. Ted gave me a rare treat with a preview screening of the first 15-20 minutes of the new film Corpse Grinders 3 which he produced. This latest installment in the people laced cat food series was shot almost entirely in Spain by a crew, including director Manolito Motosierra, who are clearly big fans of Mr. Mikels. The “flavor” of the original Corpse Grinders shines through in this more comedic take and the accents of the characters makes the whole production seem that much more surreal. The portion of the film I viewed set the stage for the body snatching to begin anew when the Lotus Cat Food Company purchases a failing pet food plant inSpainwith the intention of taking their unique product global. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the film when it makes its US debut shortly. Ted Mikels fans should not be disappointed.
Following my sneak preview and some catching up, I bid Ted farewell and headed back to the airport to pick up my first guests who were arriving six hours later than expected. Thankfully Chris and Karen didn’t look too much worse for their experiences but they sure were glad to be done flying for a few days. We made a bee line back to the condo so that they could get checked in and we could all finally call it a night after this long day. By the time I finally did make it to bed I had been up close to 24 hours and didn’t have much energy left in me!
Thursday morning we were all doing surprisingly well given the extremes of the day before. After we got pulled together, we wandered a few blocks down from the condo and had breakfast at the Hard Rock Café. I had been in the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas before but never in the restaurant that occupies one corner of its parking lot. The food was an interesting mix of both traditional and non-traditional breakfast items in portions for all appetites. Afterwards we browsed the café and appreciated all the pieces of rock and roll history on display including one wall full of items related to The Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine, which immediately caught my eye. We also couldn’t resist poking our heads in across the street at the KISS indoor glow in the dark mini golf and museum! We seriously considered going back there later in our travels to play a round of golf but time did not permit it.
By the time we finished our breakfast and a few little excursions, it was time to pick up John at the airport. He was coming in a day later due to work considerations when he originally made his travel plans and his flight arrived on time. Somehow John managed to slip past Chris and I as we waited for him at the entrance to the baggage area and he found Cindy and Karen at the car just a few moments before we caught up with him. Even though he had anticipated needing a nap before the ceremony that evening, John managed to keep up with us as we did a little shopping and checked out the Vegas scenery before returning to the condo around 4PM.
Everything fell into place like clockwork for the renewal service. My group arrived at the room which the Wyndham staff had set up to our specifications and all of our guests were already present. In addition to Ted and Shanti and Dyanne and Howard, we were also joined by Tricia (Blood of Dracula’s Castle) Anderson and her husband Graham. Our only MIA guest was actress Beverly (Spider Baby) Washburn who had last minute work conflicts and had to cancel.
The ceremony itself was a joint effort between Dyanne and Howard. While Dyanne’s portion leaned more towards the traditional side with a summary of the time Cindy and I have shared together over the last twenty years, Howard added a liberal dose of humor that all of us chuckling. To my way of thinking, it was a perfect blend of the formal and informal and a wonderful atmosphere of friends from all over coming together to celebrate a special occasion. As we arrived at the actual vow restatement, Chris and Karen joined us at the podium and we each took turns exchanging flowers and oaths with our respective spouses. I couldn’t have asked for anything more special and even though my wedding day is something I will always cherish, the renewal was a lot more fun.
Our reception that night was at the Orleans casino on the other side of the Strip. My group took a brief detour to change clothes and then we met the rest of our party just in time to be seated. The one great thing about doing any kind of an event in Las Vegas is that you are never at a loss for places to eat. I had been to the buffet here previously with Ted, so I knew there was something for everyone at reasonable prices. When he suggested this venue for the reception, I readily agreed and it turned out to be a perfect choice. We spent about two hours visiting up with everyone and then slowly made our way home with our stomachs stuffed and ready for bed!
Friday was the first of our true excursion days and I was ready to hit the ground running. We kicked it off at one of my favorite breakfast locals in all of Sin City, the Paradise Café in the Las Vegas Hotel (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton). After we fueled up for the day, I headed straight to my “must do” stop of Cinema Collectors in nearby Henderson, Nevada. I never miss a chance to visit with movie poster collector extraordinaire Buddy Barnett and he never disappoints me with his incredible selection of vintage materials. I have to confess I was getting a little nervous on this visit after flipping through the floor stock but then Buddy pulled out three huge piles of posters and lobby cards from the back and I started digging like crazy. I managed to whittle this down to about half a stack before the negotiations began and just like always we both walked away happy. While I purchased a number of neat pieces for my collection this time, I would have to say the stand out was a one sheet poster for the Boris Karloff film The Haunted Strangler. This was a 1962 reissue (just four year’s after its 1958 release) but any poster emblazoned with Karloff’s image is worth having and not easy to come by.
Heading back to Vegas proper, we paid a visit to the ZIA media store and perused the incredible selection of CDs and DVDs before stopping at a favorite spot for Chris and me, the pinball museum. Since our last visit there in 2010, the place seems to have grown in popularity. It was much busier on this Friday afternoon than we had seen it before and almost all of the games seemed to be working this time. I was a little disappointed that their seemed to be more newer machines present now and a few of my old favorites were nowhere to be found but I did manage to drop a few quarters on an awesome vintage Fireball game. This early 70’s pin from Bally is the only model I have ever run across that features a magnetic spinning circle in the lower portion of the play field. Just when you think you are about to get a chance to hit the ball with your flipper, it gets caught on the circle and tossed all over the board. We had a great time reliving some of our misspent youths and I highly recommend the pinball museum to anyone visiting Vegas. As Cindy pointed out, you get a lot more entertainment value putting coins in the slots here.
In the course of our travels we had spotted an a little out of the way restaurant advertising all you can eat sushi and we couldn’t pass up the challenge. The Yama Sushi Japanese restaurant is a hidden treasure in a little strip mall off of Flamingo Road. The rather nondescript exterior of the building doesn’t do justice to the atmosphere inside and the food was outstanding. Everything was prepared fresh and we sampled all types of appetizers, sushi rolls, and sashimi. Our only minor complaint, as John so succinctly put it, was that the order sheet was more difficult to fill out than an income tax return! Apparently they use the same menu for lunch and dinner although certain items are not available for lunch and this not indicated on the sheet. This made things a little confusing when ordering but this wouldn’t stop me from coming back on my next Vegas visit.
When I was preparing for this trip and researching our entertainment options, I was a little disappointed at the lack of anything that really jumped at me as far as shows were concerned. I think this was partially due to timing but also because I have seen most of the major shows in Vegas already. As I was scanning down the list, I suddenly stumbled on something so seemingly incongruent that I couldn’t believe my eyes – Evil Dead: The Musical! Yes, you read that correctly and, considering the fact that the Canadian based show has been around in one form or another since 2003, I was a little shocked I had not heard of it before. As soon as the realization settled in, I knew this was my “must see” show for this trip.
Friday night we all headed for the Strip. Chris and Karen had decided to take in the KA Cirque du Soleil show at the MGM Grand but John, Cindy and I were headed for Evil Dead at the Planet Hollywood casino’s V Theater. When buying tickets for this production, which started in June of 2012, I noticed that the front section was labeled the “splatter zone”. Even though I like good seats, something told me this might not be the wisest place to sit and after seeing patrons who selected this area being given t-shirts with targets on them as we waited in line, I was glad I opted for the next section back!
As the title implies, Evil Dead: The Musical emphasizes the humor of this cult film franchise over the gore but there is still a healthy dose of the red stuff being splashed about and I wouldn’t recommend it for the squeamish. The plot is derived mainly from the first two Evil Dead films and characters from both movies are combined in this story. The musical numbers are in the vein of Rocky Horror Picture Show or Little Shop of Horrors but not nearly as catchy. The ads bill this show as “4D” and between the blood being pumped off the stage, the self referential gags in the script, and actors periodically addressing the audience directly, it certainly delivers on that. We all decided that this show was a lot of fun but the hard core Evil Dead fan would get more out of it than the more casual observer. As a word of warning, the “splatter zone” more than lives up to it’s name and not recommended for anyone who doesn’t have easy access to a shower afterwards.
For our final day in Sin City, we started out with a pancake breakfast home cooked in our condo by the tag team of Cindy and Chris. Then we headed out for something I had never experienced in Vegas before, a flea market. Located to the north of the city, Broad Acres is billed as the largest flea market in Las Vegas and I don’t doubt it. We spent a good two hours just following our whims and wandering around from booth to booth. There was more new merchandise than I would have preferred and the used and older items were mostly unremarkable. I did, however, find not one but two versions of Mexican wrestler Mil Mascaras’ mask to add to the ones of Santo and the Blue Demon I picked up in California last year. I now have a proper representation of the Lucha Libre trinity!
For lunch on Saturday we met up with Ted and Shanti and Graham and Tricia at the Eastside Cannery to try out Snaps, their version of the Victory Café at the main Cannery, where we got the awesome grilled cheese sandwiches back in 2010 when The Royal Guardsmen played there. Also finally catching up with us was the lovely Beverly Washburn, probably best remembered as Lisbeth Searcy in the Disney classic Old Yeller (I still site Disney for replacing her with Marta Kristen in the sequel Savage Sam but then maybe that is part of why it isn’t the classic the first film was). Ms. Washburn went on to a long and prosperous career in films and mainly television roles where she appeared on everything from Leave It to Beaver to the original Star Trek. We relaxed and visited with everyone over a very nice meal although Chris said the grilled cheese wasn’t as good as what we had previously. In addition to gettingBeverlyto sign a DVD and lobby card from her cult horror film Spider Baby for me, I gave Ted an extra lobby card I picked up from Buddy for his film Astro-Zombies.
We still had a little souvenir shopping to do after lunch so we spent the afternoon visiting a couple of more stores before we headed back to the condo. Chris and Karen had an extremely early morning flight to catch and had already checked out of their condo earlier that day. We hung out for a few hours and then John and I escorted them to the airport before turning in to get a little sleep before our own early, but not quite as grueling, departures. The trip home on Sunday was uneventful but it gave me time to realize just how much we managed to pack into a less than four day visit. Foremost among this though was our vow renewal which our special friends made into an event that can never be duplicated and which we will never forget.