Sin City – The Climax

Day 4

We drove down the Strip to see the long-awaited Venetian. This is the one casino I wanted to see most. And it was stunning. Italy-inspired facades …the ceilings were painted like sky and clouds (which is exactly what Caesar’s and Paris did too) and the “sidewalks” were glistening like wet stones.

I was looking forward to seeing the gondolas. The line was as long as Space Mountain in Disney and it was $30 per person. Gondola on a 3-foot deep pool, inside, the gondolier’s singing echoing off of the storefronts…. meh. Gondola in Venice? Hell yeah.

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Anyway, designer stores like Barney’s, Kate Spade, Hugo Boss, Tory Burch, Bottega Veneta, Pandora, Coach, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Michael Kors. I took a pic of these butt ugly MK sneakers that looked like wrestling shoes for V and she said, ooh, can you buy them for me?  Ha. Aint gonna happen. A new handbag featured in one of the window display boxes was actually designed for me and so we went in to have a closer look. $358. I’m in love. I NEED this handbag.

In summary – the Venetian was another stunning playground but no more special than the others and it wasn’t paying out either. We left The Venetian and drove to Fremont Street to meet the gang, who was already there.

Fremont Street is a strange and bustling not-to-be-missed sideshow which is like the B-side of the Vegas album. It’s a closed street under a roof that produces an overhead light show set to music that’s supposed to be really spectacular. I don’t know if I was all Vegased out or just slipping into the stoned side of a week’s worth of mindless drinking, but I was not impressed. It was cool, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t feeling all, this is the best light show ever!

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People were zip-lining overhead under the ceiling all night long, which looked cool but I wondered if anyone has ever thrown up while on it? The line was massive for that too and I had no interest in holding my bladder that long.

There were these black circles painted on the street in various places designated for street performers – like cast members stuck in a surreal limbo between a homemade freakshow and a bad audition – not beautiful or talented or freaky enough to work on the Strip. Many of them just stand there and hang out. Impersonators like Deadpool, Heisenberg, and Jack Sparrow. Scantily-clad girls offering to “whip” people – in plain view of hundreds of passersby for a small fee. I was literally feet away from some guy who got down on his hands and knees for this. Twice.

A dude in a cowboy hat with no shirt offering I-don’t-know-what. Two “military hunks” who picked people up on their shoulders for a picture. For a fee. Another guy, who was not standing in one of those circles, in nothing but a g-string with his pitifully small package (yes I did look and don’t judge because a train wreck is a train wreck) and a cowboy hat, smoking a cigarette. He was easily in his late 50s and I wondered if he just did this for his own kicks.

A topless girl in a nun’s habit with long droopy breasts and what looked like black electrical tape crisscrossed over each of her nipples. She attracted a lot of hilarious, shocked stares and giggling. Rob said she looked like Macaulay Culkin, which might have been funny except she was disturbingly serious and dejected looking. She carried a black leather whip in her hand, I’m guessing so she could whip people too. Moments into her stint, a much-older, angry looking Native American man on an electric scooter with a sleeping infant strapped to his chest wheeled circles around her, talking to her, and then he wheeled away into the crowd. Her expression never changed. When he returned two more times it became apparent they knew each other. I wondered who he was to her and if that baby was hers. The whole scene so disturbed me and I’m still not able to fully articulate what I was feeling.

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Oil application begins. Note the child in the background.

She was replaced at some point by a guy with an Ace Frehley wig and makeup on, who appeared out of nowhere with his duffle bag and proceeded to strip down to a thong and put on “the boots.” He rooted around inside his bag and pulled out a bottle of baby oil and slathered all over his chest and body, and then stood there dancing and staring people down. Two ladies came over and took their picture with him and all I could think of was that that oil was now all over their clothes. He caught me videoing him with my phone and I have him pointing at me and motioning to me with an uncomfortable stare. Big Mistake. Anyway… total earnings on my watch…. Ace: $10, Nun: $0.

 

We walked around some more, bought two frozen drinks for $38 – probably for the souvenir cup BOTH of my kids thought was a bong which invites a whole other list of questions for another post. I took photos until my phone died, and played some slots in these ancient casinos and actually won some money. I rubbed Buddha’s belly in the California Casino when we arrived, so maybe that accounts for my first win in 4 days?

Summary: Fremont Street is worth a visit, but again – not a place for children. And there were plenty of them, witnesses to the depravity that exists in a vacuum for most people. I felt dirty after being there.

Total walking distance on this day: 5.65 miles.

 

The Last Day

Copyright Taraka, 2019.

Hoover Dam. About a 50-minute drive through elevated desert and mountains. Acres of windmills in the hazy heat. More brown and dirt and dust and sand but for the few scrubby green plants that have defied the desert sun and dared to grow up without a lick of water.

We arrived at the security checkpoint where all windows must be down and a guard peers into your vehicle and asks if we have firearms. We drove through, parked on the Arizona side and then walked over to the Nevada side. It was another hundred-degree day of unforgiving sun and there were hundreds of people here. All nationalities. We each took a ton of photos and stared in awe at this monstrous manmade structure. We walked across the Pat Tillman bridge which seems miles above the dam.

We drove back “home” and changed out of our sweaty clothes, and then drove back down to Old City to visit the Neon Museum. This outdoor museum has curated old neon signs and has placed them throughout a “Neon Boneyard.”

There are signs from old businesses, casinos, motels… some dating back to the 1930s and 40s. They’re huge. Some are only parts of signs. One as recent as 2015. Many are famously recognized.

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The whole thing is outside in blazing sun – and they’re only open until 7 p.m. so you have to go during the day and it’s supposedly most busy around 5 or so. We got there around 4 and had the place to ourselves. They offer umbrellas you can borrow and there are employees stationed here and there to answer questions, although the one woman Todd spoke to acted as if he was bothering her and then disappeared. Everything is sort of leaning against a wall or propped up, stacked in staggered rows, and leaves you feeling like it’s haphazard – which is the intentional feeling they’ve created, of a neon scrap and recycle yard.

The museum shop you actually enter and exit the Boneyard through. The two folks in there were friendly and talkative, probably because they – unlike their counterparts outside – had the benefit of working in air conditioning. I could have bought a lot of stuff in there, but we settled on two t-shirts and a small aluminum sign for the bar we don’t have yet.

That was our last stop on the Vegas tour. We were absolutely DONE. For me, there’s only so much casino-ing a non-gambler can do. I was so over the scene, the heat, the refrigeration-grade a/c, the cigarette smoke, and people. Our flight departed at 5:30 a.m. the next morning so we spent the rest of the evening at the condo packing and relaxing.

Total walking distance: 4.47 miles.

 

Miscellaneous:

 

Neon Museum: Hours, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission: $22. Don’t miss! Side note: women’s t-shirts run super small – I’m thinking there was an error and these were actually children’s size t-shirts. I bought an XL (I’m normally a size M) and it’s still tight as a compression sock.

Fremont Street: Fremont Street, which dates back to 1905, was the first paved street in Las Vegas, in 1925, and received the city’s first traffic light in 1931. As I always do, I did some research on things to do and see. I made a list:

  • Viva Vision Light Show
  • Vegas Vic
  • Happy Buddha’s Belly (statue @ California Hotel and Casino.) Rub his belly for good luck. Coins left at the statue are donated to charity.
  • Binions – free photo with $1M
  • Golden Gate Casino – historic artifacts like gaming ledgers from the early 1900s and vintage chip racks.
  • Main Street Station – antiques all around the hotel plus there’s a huge slab of the Berlin Wall in the men’s restroom (ask to be escorted by security to see it). I REALLY wanted to do this but just ran out of steam.
  • The Shark tank at the Golden Nugget

 

Slotzilla Zipline – at Fremont Street. Fly seated seven stories high for $25 or “superhero style” eleven stories high for $49 ($45 before 5 p.m.)

Gondola at The Venetian – Regular pricing is $29 for a shared gondola, or $114 for a private gondola. The pricing varies based on dates and month, apparently. There’s also photo packages starting at $22. There are indoor and outdoor gondola rides.

 

The Happy Buddha, another performer at Fremont Street, and a random photo of the landscape around Henderson.

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A Brick, A Big Black Snake, and Some Hot Action – Adventure Camp Concludes

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North Bay, on the beach. Copyright TaraKA & the Tara Chronicles, 2016.

 

Morning

When we arrived back at camp on day 3, already there was a humid haze hanging over camp. This morning’s breakfast selection included pancakes, and cereal. Pancakes are unkind to the blood sugars, but I decided to dismiss my worries over V’s diet this week. I drank more coffee than necessary – in fact, I was drinking coffee like water at every meal – and tried to focus on the conversation around me, which had become very difficult to do.

I forgot to mention that on day 2 a group of young men from a Washington, DC high school arrived around lunchtime. Their lessons didn’t impinge upon us in any way over the following days; however, they shared mealtimes with us, and they were anything but quiet, controlled, or courteous. This became a source of controversy and discussion by the last day.

The first lesson of the day was named, ACTION, which implies exactly that. The girls’ Action was beach cleanup. Our counselor told them they could wear “water shoes” but I told Veruca that she didn’t need to go into the water for this task. After some brief instructions, the girls set out over the beach to collect garbage and debris, which they brought back to our counselor to categorize and record.

I took my post under Rogue’s Pier, in the shade. Hey, I’m over 40 and this heat wanted to kill me. It was already 92 degrees at 9 a.m. and the light breeze could only be appreciated in the shade. I released any guilt I might have had by justifying that I could be of no help to Veruca if she went low, if I passed out from heat exhaustion.

The girls wandered the beach collecting things that had washed up from the bay, and miscellaneous trash, for what felt like an hour. V got her sneakers soaked. When they took a break to change shoes in the cabin, I walked back to the car to retrieve her extra pair and damn near stepped on a black snake sunning itself on the driveway. It was one of those moments where I picked up to a jog and noticed something long and black in front of me and didn’t realize what it was until I was on top of it. Its shiny little black head with its beady little eyes looking up at me like, go ahead and step on me, bitch.

Afternoon

Lunchtime, again shared with DC Boys. I forget what we ate. It’s all a blur now and, quite possibly, blocked out. (Side note: I just asked V if she remembered what we ate and she said no, and that she didn’t want to remember.) I can’t believe I didn’t lose weight on this adventure, because I barely ate anything other than the salad that was served at every meal. And because – sweating. There was a napkin-eating contest on the stage. The volunteers had the corner of a paper napkin in their mouth, and had to pull the whole thing in without touching it. The first one to get the whole napkin in his mouth won. This got the attention of DC Boys, who were riveted by the action and hysterical. It was the first – and only – time it felt like we were all in the same cafeteria.

After lunch was Lesson 2: “Food D lesson.” Our group retired to the classroom inside the dining hall, where they learned about food waste and weighed the food from lunch to be composted/thrown away. There followed a nice humid hike through the woods in search of paw paw fruit, that fruit made famous by Baloo in the Jungle Book. My mind drifted to that refreshing shower I was going to sneak in between dropping Opac and driving back.

My fellow chaperone-mom recounted the fallout from news of the DC Boys sharing our camp. Apparently the girls in her side of our cabin (roughly, 8 girls on each side), when they called home last night, mentioned these boys. One of the parents demanded to speak to her and badgered her with questions about who they were, where they were, whether the girls’ cabin was locked at night, etc. She told the parent to call the administrative office, and apparently our assistant principal was now involved. I so love juicy gossip! I wish I knew how that phone call ended.

It made sense that only one school should be there at a time. But the insinuation that these boys were somehow dangerous to our kids pissed me off. The only criticism I had, was that they ate with us. I think it was very poor management to place our two very different dynamics in the dining hall at the same time. Because they were talking loudly and simultaneously with the counselor on stage who was leading our kids. And NO ONE did a damn thing about it. Not the North Bay counselors, and especially not the boys’ chaperones – who, for what it’s worth, looked like retired linebackers, walking around looking like somebody hit their momma. The whole situation just seemed so rude, and it had everybody talking about it. Actually, amend that: the only criticism I had was for the adults who didn’t manage the situation properly.

The rest of the afternoon played out mostly indoors. It was just too hot. The girls didn’t want to be outside anymore, so they hung out in the cabin. I left to pick Opac up and take him home from practice again, leaving V with the very capable people at camp.

By some miracle, I made it back in time for dinner. They were resurfacing the main road all week and traffic in Northeast was miles long. Dinner was pizza and buffalo chicken, with salad. Best meal yet. This last dinner included shout-outs – each of the kids was invited to write down a shout-out and place in the box on stage, to be read during dinner. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear any of it (see above).

As a continuation of the earlier food lesson, where they also set the tables for dinner, the girls were on cleanup duty in the dining hall. They finished in record time and were allowed to go to the gym until North Bay Live started. The gym is the only building without air conditioning, but no one seemed to care on this last night. We hung out there until called to line up outside the theater for the show.

Evening, and North Bay Live!

The kids were all pumped for the last episode of Toobie. Toobie turned out to be a good friend who stopped his friend from punching someone out and getting arrested and ruining his life. Everybody cheered. There was a lot of talk from the counselors, reminding kids why bullying hurts everyone, and how important it is to be a good friend, to accept others for who they are, and to be true to yourself. Most important message of the night: We all have a purpose.

The hosts, Nicole and Dave, mentioned a little ritual they do at the conclusion of every camp session – it had something to do with touching a brick and I can’t for the life of me recall the significance of it. Probably something about North Bay and the kids’ own attitudes forming the foundation for their future. Yeah, that’s it.

They called all of the chaperones down to the stage, and they honored us for our time and generosity by having the kids applaud us. And then… they invited the kids to come down, one row at a time, and touch that brick. I was watching the girls’ side, naturally, and many of them hugged Nicole too, and several of these girls were bawling their eyes out. And suddenly, tears were forming in my eyes and goddammit I was finally finally living my dream of being on stage, staring out into a darkened theater, except this wasn’t Shakespeare, it was a middle school adventure camp and I was in danger of making a complete fool out of myself.

Time to reel myself in. I snapped a pic of Veruca as she hugged Nicole, and then gave up trying to high five the girls as they passed us since they were clearly too emotional for high-fiving….so, being strategically placed center stage, I turned toward the boys and offered my palm and they were totally down with it! I felt much better and managed to wipe the wetness under my eyes with my left hand.

The three of us drove home in silence. (My friend’s son, one of V’s friends, did not wish to be an overnighter either, so he traveled with us all week.) I imagined the deep messages from North Bay Live were sinking in, but in reality I think they were just exhausted. And me, I think I’m going to remember the experience longer than they will.

**Disclaimer: I don’t use the upgraded service; therefore, you will see ads at the bottom of my posts (ads I don’t see because I’m not you). As it has come to my attention that certain ads may not align with my world views – I am compelled to add the following statement until further notice.

I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.

 

 

 

 

 

Head Lice, Harnesses, and Wetlands – Adventure Camp, Day 2

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The “advanced” ropes course. Copyright TaraKA & The Tara Chronicles, 2016.

Okay, not really. Nobody got head lice. And, before I get sued for slander, nobody got head lice at North Bay.

We arrived back at camp around 8 a.m. just as everyone was lining up for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs with cheese, sausages, and home-fried potatoes. I sat with many of the same women as the day before, and sipped my coffee as the conversation turned to last night’s dinner. V and I left before dinner last night because I had to pick Opac up from football practice by 6, so we missed out on the “tacos.”

They were served a bowl of meat that resembled ground beef, but the texture was more like turkey. Or was it chicken? They didn’t know. There was a great deal of speculation over it, now that there was enough distance between the meal itself and the present time.

Somehow the conversation segued into a discussion about the helmets used for the ropes course and zip lines, and the mom leading the food debate regaled us with head lice tales that curdled my coffee. Someone wondered aloud if they sprayed the helmets before each kid used them. All it takes is one kid, and one nit….  And then another mom told an equally sordid tale of her head lice ordeal, and I began to feel waves of anxiety washing over me like hot and cold water. I’m positive my efforts to keep my eyes from popping were in vain, and I’m sure my reaction helped fuel the conversation.

I’ve never been so relieved to have a meal come to an end, though I thoroughly enjoyed my new companions. Our group then set off for our first activity of the day: the ropes course. Where the kids would don harnesses, and … helmets. As the girls lined up to put on their gear, the knot in my stomach grew tighter and tighter until I couldn’t differentiate whether it was caused by the breakfast conversation or my fears for Veruca’s safety. (A couple of weeks ago a woman fell to her death at a zip-lining place in nearby Delaware, and it was still very fresh in my mind.)

North Bay’s philosophy is to leave the challenge choices up to the kids, so there’s never any pressure. Three of the girls sat out, and then a fourth stepped out of the line and joined them. Veruca had a few moments of uncertainty, and I said nothing. I was very careful to allow her to make the choice, and she decided to go for it. My heart in my throat, I videoed her navigation right up to the end. Afterward, she wrote in her North Bay journal that she was “terrified.”

Our counselors then led us through a wooded trail to a circular clearing with benches all around for a team-building lesson. The lessons were aimed at learning each other’s names, and working together to complete tasks – like lining up in order of birthdays, in complete silence, without anyone saying a single word. They finished up by having to clear a swinging jump rope, first alone, and then in groups of three – all without being touched by the rope.

Lunch followed and there was another edition of what’s in the foil that turned out to be a hamburger. I ate the salad and some fruit, and avoided the dayglo-orange jello surprise with chunks of fruit in it. The kids at a nearby table were holding up slices of it and examining it like a science project.

Lesson 2, “Wetlands,” took us to a large outdoor deck set high above the wetlands below, and overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. It was stunning. I zoned out on the view while the counselors conducted the lesson, and tried not to focus on the 90-degree temperatures. At the conclusion, we trekked to the outdoor Wetlands lab, where the girls pulled on their water shoes/rain boots/etc. and trudged into the water to collect samples. The other chaperone and I huddled on an outdoor step in the shade, and eventually we were joined by K who was low and trending low (CGM said her blood sugars were continuing to go down) and again she turned to me for advice on what to do. She sat with me for a while and snarfed down Smarties and guzzled water.

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The Wetlands lab. Copyright TaraKA & the Tara Chronicles, 2016.

It was oppressively hot. I gave up trying to wipe the sweat off the back of my neck and pulled my hair up into a not-so-attractive tiny pony tail. We returned to the cabin to change shoes, and then headed to Horseshoe Point to the art classroom. The instructor there led us out to the beach to choose a piece of driftwood and shells/any other materials the girls would like to use for their project.

This was followed by the zip line activity, and this time Veruca said no way. At this point I left to pick up Opac, and left V at camp with her group. I returned just after dinner started, and checked up on her meal choices and insulin bolus. I don’t remember what was served. I didn’t eat, since I had treated Opac to McDonald’s and I kinda-sorta ate something there too. Our group was assigned to spend time at Horseshoe Point after dinner, which made V happy since she got to eat Cotton Candy ice cream again. We killed time in there until North Bay Live! started.

Each day of camp concludes with a show – North Bay Live! – with music and performances and a 3-part TV show called Toobie about young people making wrong choices, the consequences of those choices, and how they might make different choices. The kids absolutely loved this freaking show – we missed the first episode because we left before dinner – and the simple mention of it sent them into raucous cheering. The noise inside the theater was deafening, but at least we had air conditioning. And there was a rat.

Not a real rat, but a grown man in a giant rat costume who came to talk smack with the two hosts of the show, and it all boiled down to not bullying people and accepting one another for who they are, differences and all. It was great. The kids were hysterical, and the only thing that would’ve made it better for me would’ve been an extra-large margarita. And a pillow.

 

**Disclaimer: I don’t use the upgraded service; therefore, you will see ads at the bottom of my posts (ads I don’t see because I’m not you). As it has come to my attention that certain ads may not align with my world views – I am compelled to add the following statement until further notice.

I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP. NOT YESTERDAY, NOT TODAY, NOT – EVER.