Friday, May 30, 2014

The Fremont Street Experience AM

"What are you taking a picture of?" A man asked me as I was hovered over a row of empty chairs.

"Fremont Street in the early morning.  It's a different world."

He scratched his scruffy chin and then glanced back at the shuttered kiosks.  "You're right.  It is, isn't it?"
It is seven a.m.  The crowds are gone.  The music, shut off.  I can actually hear the cooing of pigeons that are scrounging under tables for morsels of food.  My eyes see patches of blue sky through the unlit canopy.  The casino signs, ablaze with neon the night before, look old and tired without electrons coursing through them.

The street performers have been replaced with homeless men, begging for money.  I give each of them a dollar--not even enough for a cup of coffee, but a start.

"Hey, lady, good luck to you today," one of them shouts as I walk away.

What?  No God Bless?  Oh, right.  I'm in Vegas.
I realize what an oddball I am.  My Las Vegas is not a blackjack table or a slot machine.  It is not a $200 ticket stub.  It is not lounging by a pool or drinking pink-colored cocktails. My Las Vegas is the here and now in a city that is still asleep.  I relish the silence.  I have found magic in the most unlikely of places-- Fremont Street at seven in the morning.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Fremont Street Experience PM

It is 10 pm in downtown Las Vegas.  Cacophonous vibrations course through my veins the minute I step out of the casino.  The core of my heart is hit with a blast of sound waves.  My eyes are blinded by the kaleidoscopic blues, reds and yellows above, below and all around.  I am inside an hallucination that sends me into near panic.  People are shoving, laughing, drinking, dancing in an endless parade of debauchery, both innocent and sinister.
The Fremont Street Experience is a five-block pedestrian mall in downtown Las Vegas.  It is covered by a barrel vaulted canopy with a zip-line.  This is the poor people's strip.  Here, the entertainment is free and plentiful and goes on until the wee hours of the morning.  Musicians, scantily-clad dancers and street performers will beguile you with talent, hoping one of you is a scout in need of a good act.  Superman walks back and forth, eager and willing to be photographed for a $10 fee.

My hotel room at the Golden Nugget overlooks this pandemonium, and I must insert ear plugs to get to sleep.  Though fourteen stories up, the low throbbing bass of massive speakers, penetrates the walls.  I pop a Tylenol.  An hour later, I pop another.

Welcome to Las Vegas.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Mad Greek Cafe

Favorite Pit Stops

It never fails.  Whenever I tell friends I'm going to Las Vegas, they always ask, "Gonna stop for a Gyro?"

"Of course."  (It's the reason I don't mind the 5-hour drive to Vegas!)

The Mad Greek Cafe in Baker, California, is one of my favorite pit stops.  Open 24 hours, I try to time it for lunch, but I've had one of their strawberry shakes at ten in the morning and four in the afternoon.  The time of day just doesn't matter.   It's a welcome, fun, kitschy place to rest, eat great food and talk to people from all over the world.  It's always full and always fun.  With Greece being 6,348 miles away, it's just gonna have to do for now!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Bottle Tree Garden on Route 66

I think every travel junkie dreams of driving from Santa Monica to Chicago on the historic Route 66.  I know I've been dreaming about it for a long time, but the truth is, there are miles and miles of driving on boring interstates so I'm no longer sure I really want to do the whole thing.  However, there are still a few original old sections to this epic drive and one of them is in my very own state--a 30 mile stretch from Victorville to Barstow in central California.

Last weekend, en route to Las Vegas, we took this short detour and found this enchanting bottle tree garden along the way.

It's a great folk art installation, created by Elmer Long.  He began this project in 2000 and the trees continue to grow in this colorful forested fantasy world.  Elmer, who is sometimes around, was not on site last Saturday, but there were several other Route 66 travelers with cars and cameras all lined up in front of the chain link fence  We put $5.00 in the donation box and spent a happy half hour wondering around, marveling at this artist's imagination and energy.  Besides Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch, this stretch of road has some picturesque old abandoned gas stations and other buildings, giving it that ghostly vibe that keeps us travel junkies craving more.

 Okay, maybe I will drive the whole damn thing after all.