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Stateside with Rosalea Barker : Las Vegas

Stateside with Rosalea Barker: Las Vegas

by Rosalea Barker

What a difference one letter makes! While you guys down in NZ were weathering Snowmaggedon, yours truly was in NV weathering triple-digit heat, as they call it stateside when temps get above 38 degrees Celsius.

::Going to hell in a Hualapai handbasket::

Naturally, the first thing I did was get out of Las Vegas and travel to the Arizona desert. Rellies I’d met up with in Sin City had arranged what was billed as an all-day luxury coach tour to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon—a tour that promised breakfast, a cowboy-style lunch on a ranch, a helicopter ride to the bottom of the canyon, and a short boat ride on the Colorado River.

Now, to be honest, it’s not a good idea for someone who is not a natural-born bovine to put themselves in a situation where they are herded from one place to another. Add to that the fact that I got about two hours’ sleep because of the early-morning start, plus the heat, and the non-materialisation of food, and you have the makings of one testy traveller.

“Breakfast” turned out to be a tiny pastry and container of fruit juice the size you’d put in a kid’s school lunch box, distributed at the first herding point—the pick-up spot in Las Vegas. “Lunch” was a moveable feast whose movement was always in the “not yet” direction.

Now, I’ll give the Hualapai Tourism folks fair praise for the enterprising way in which they have turned the West Rim of the Grand Canyon into a tourist destination, giving tribal members access to jobs and income. I’ll even praise their logistics, which in less crowded times, I’m sure work flawlessly.

But here’s the first thing: the luxury coach doesn’t go to the rim of the Grand Canyon. It stops 21 dirt miles away, and that section of the trip is taken in old buses whose air-conditioning sucks the dust into the bus to the point where one asthmatic passenger spent the whole time with a cloth over her mouth. (Okay, realistic olde-time stagecoach-like traveling. Added bonus! At no extra cost!)

When we got to the terminal from where the helicopters leave, we were told we should first go on the shuttle to one of the lookout points and claim our lunch. Two minutes later, we were told that we’d be doing the helicopter thing first.

I was cross. I was hot. I was hungry. I was put out by the fact that the Gang of 15, as I called the loud, obnoxious Brits on the coach, were going to ALL be given a free helicopter/boat ride just because they said they thought they’d signed up for that back at the pick-up point in Vegas. They’d talked loudly the whole time the coach driver had been giving us detailed instructions about the logistics of getting all the things we’d paid for done in time to be back at the bus by 4pm, and—of course—we had to wait and wait for them to grace us with their presence at the end of the day so we could leave.

It also didn’t help that my cellphone thought it was on the Navajo Reservation part of Arizona, which has a time zone one hour ahead of the rest of the state. Until I figured that out, by comparing my time with that of the shuttle driver taking us to Eagle Point Lookout—where we did finally get a sandwich some time after 3pm—I was in a constant state of hurry-up.

We never got the cowboy lunch, because we didn’t have time to take the separate shuttle to the ranch. I never took the helicopter/boat ride because there’s a big sign in the terminal, under the TV monitor where you watch the safety film, saying that the terrain at the bottom of the canyon is difficult and dangerous. And I didn’t go on the glass-bottomed Skywalk which stretches a little way out over the rim because I got into an all-out shouting match with the petty official manning the entrance to it. Like I said, I was tired, I was hot, I was hungry, and I hate being herded. (Then again, maybe I AM a cow!)

Here’s a link to the tour website—sort the reviews Low to High to see if I’m the only one who has had a bad experience. And here’s a picture of the Hoover Dam, which straddles the border of Nevada and Arizona. Sorry no pictures of the Grand Canyon, because I left my camera on the luxury coach when we transferred to the dustmobile. It’s almost like the canyon didn’t want me there, don’t you think?

::Not-much-of-a-Lady Luck::

This was my second trip to Las Vegas, and I opted to stay at the funky old downtown hotel our tour group stayed at on my 2006 coach tour from San Francisco to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is part of the National Park system. Since I was last there, Las Vegas has invested in a great new bus system, so it was easy to get from my downtown hotel to where my rellies were staying just off The Strip. I even got to see a bit of Matamata:

Before I’d left work on Friday, a colleague had given me a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter so I could play the penny (etc.) slots. Fat chance! The machines don’t take coins, and even though you can choose to bet pennies, you have to bet them in multiples of 40 or 50. A cunning ploy, since the machines are rigged to pay out in multiples that don’t correspond to those amounts, encouraging you to put another dollar note in the machine. And, of course, since there’s no coins going in, there’s no satisfying rush of clinking sounds as your winnings tumble out:

Despite the fact that Nevada has a 12.9 percent rate of unemployment—the highest in the United States—my cab driver to the airport on Monday assured me it’s a great place to live. He used to live in the Bay Area, but found that housing, food, utilities were way cheaper in Las Vegas (away from The Strip, of course), and people who do have jobs there don’t pay any state income tax. Nor do businesses or corporations pay income tax to the state. Instead, the state gets its tax revenues from sales tax, estate tax, excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, and from the fees and taxes it charges for gaming and live entertainment.

::David Copperfield::

On Sunday night, we assisted the Nevada economy by going to see that old Master of Illusion, David Copperfield. Several aspects of the show puzzled me. To begin with, he played a 4-minute video of his 1980s heyday, which I thought was rather odd until I realized that probably half the audience hadn’t yet been born when he was struggling out of a straitjacket suspended by burning ropes hundreds of feet above a forest of burning spears.

There was also a lot of narrative introduction to some of his illusions. For example, the one that turned a piece of paper containing a poem written by a Jewish girl, whose family died in a Nazi concentration camp, into a monarch butterfly. And the home video-style introduction to another illusion that had to do with his grandfather’s blue Lincoln convertible. Now, that was an amazing illusion—making the car suddenly appear on stage balanced on two short pillars that two audience members were hugging.

The final illusion was even odder, simply because it was so… amateur. Why would the DC be helping a stage hand put some frames in place, just so his silhouette could be shown on one of them? It could have been any tall skinny guy’s silhouette. As for walking into the blades of the giant fan…like anyone thought he really did that. He just went through a trapdoor and would come up again somewhere in the auditorium.

BUT he reappeared right next to our table, and I’d give anything to see the look on my face when that happened! Not that I was surprised that he reappeared; just that he was so few feet away. The next night, I read a headline on a news wire that said “David Copperfield makes child appear”, and wondered if the Monday night show had been better. Until I read the story, which said he and his girlfriend have a 16-month-old daughter they hadn’t yet told the media about. Perhaps fatherhood is the reason for the self-reflective aspects of the show.

So there we have it—the last trip of summer. Lotsa fun, all in all, though I wasn’t adventurous enough to try my luck with this machine:



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