Las Vegas Nevada
We'd decided to fly to Las Vegas rather than drive. It would give me a break from driving before hiring a car for the trip to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. So after the flight we got a cab from the airport to our Hotel, the casino Circus Circus.
As we passed the shiny gold Mandalay Bay hotel we could clearly see the black oblongs where two windows had been blown out on the 32nd floor. We speculated with the our cab driver that this had occurred when police had thrown a stun grenade into the room. Obviously the shooter would have made small holes. The rest of the trip was spent with our driver telling us how much Las Vegas had gone to the dogs and how much Uber was to blame.
Circus Circus is a bit like a western suburbs leagues club on steroids, or perhaps burgers. There's an in-house McDonalds adjacent to the free Circus acts that are the Casino's point of difference. Lots of overweight patrons bring their kids here because of it. In other words it's not too posh. Location doesn't make much difference to the outcome, so why do people gamble here? And why would anyone bring a kid through the machine floor of a Casino where they can observe people gambling? What about an opium den?
Casinos further up like Wynn and Bellagio have thick carpets subdued lighting and hot and cold running cocktail waitresses. Yet the odds are exactly the same. If you're into gambling why not do it somewhere nice?
At the other end of the spectrum, for those who are uncomfortable with elegance or just want to get drunk and noisy with their mates, there are considerably less salubrious establishments, without the 'family' atmosphere. At least these are more honest about the odds, loudly promising, on PA systems to the street, to give gamblers $20 back on the first $100 they lose. And apparently that's a come-on.
But I guess a hundred dollars is neither here-nor-there at places like Bellagio - a mere drop in the bucket.
For example at Circus Circus the maximum I could get out of my credit card at an ATM was $200. But at an ATM in Bellagio $1000 was a bagatelle. Obviously we didn't want it to place a bet, we were both getting low on cash. I've no idea what the upper limit was. Probably as much as you have on your card?
As we were arriving very early we'd booked an extra night and not having slept in it we were offered an upgrade to a room that was more spacious and better equipped with a generous on-suite. The view over the casino roof below was a bit less than average but that's because Circus Circus is surrounded by apparently abandoned building sites complete with rusting construction cranes. As our cab driver had told us: Vegas has seen better days. Further up the strip you wouldn't know this. The Palazzo, Venetian and Caesar's Palace still attract milling crowds, although Planet Hollywood, where we went to a show, seemed a bit down.
On our first day we got out of Circus Circus as fast as possible, walking past the empty building sites to this more interesting part of the Strip. I was initially a bit put out. Disreputable looking people of both sexes were handing out cards to men passing by but not to me. What was wrong with me? From those men had dropped on the ground I could see the cards featured naked girls. "Is it being with you or am I too old?" I asked Wendy. Anyway later in the day they got more aggressive and several 'fell' into my hand. At which point Wendy grabbed my little collection and handed it back to a surprised vendor. But not before I'd discovered that I was being offered unspecified delights with any of these young women for the same price - $69. But the girls on the cards were but one of the many delights on offer. Large billboards on the back of trucks cruise up and down the Strip advertising escorts and unambiguously non-therapeutic massage services to those who would like to explore alternatives.
The show was a highlight. We had second row seats and the performers were very good. It was a musical history of Las Vegas recalling the good old days of the Mob and the Rat Pack and the Folies Bergere. Sinatra; Martin; Sammy Davis; and many others were good but the Folies could not be replicated. Despite the pictures of naked girls on cards scattered all over the street outside, the show complied with today's squeaky-clean requirements - no nudity at all - quelle dommage. But the show had a connected story, plenty of well-known songs and two handfuls (if that's the collective noun for chorus girls) of high energy dancing girls to make up for it. Chicago it wasn't, nor was it The Book of Mormon but it was enjoyable nevertheless.
Afterwards we had a pleasant stroll back along the Strip; ignoring the card vendors; past the sophisticated joints, with gondolas and sculptural pulsating fountains; to the noisy, flashy, bogan beloved, chaotic Circus Circus with its flashing lights; bumbling, bumping wanderers; screaming kids; and sullen, obsessed button pushers; before rising to our nice quiet spacious room above. Each time we likened the experience to ascending from Dante's Inferno unto heaven.
Further down the strip it gets worse. I was particularly struck by the sign on the local gun club where the 'I' in Strip is a semi-automatic weapon - not the expected sports rifle. It seemed prescient of what was to take place down the road just before we arrived.
On the bright side it doesn't seem to have a 'bump stock'. This was the device used by the Vegas shooter to make his self-loading weapons into machine guns. Yet thanks to the media, I and most half-handy men in the US now know how they work. One could easily knock one of these simple devices up in their back shed. "How clever," I thought.
The next day we hired our mini-van and collected our friends Brian and Kat from their hotel to go for breakfast - not McMuffins. After breakfast we were off to the Grand Canyon.
By the fastest route ( US93 and I40) it's a four hour drive (275 miles) from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon Village in Arizona. Around lunch time we'd reached Seligman AZ, the interchange with historic Route 66, the first highway constructed all the way from Chicago to LA in 1926.
In the 1930's it became the main route to California for those fleeing the Dust Bowl disaster, as made poignant in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and became known as 'The Mother Road'.
In Australia it was made famous by an early black & white television series called, unsurprisingly, 'Route 66'. It was perhaps the progenitor of the 'Road Movie' genre, inspired by Jack Kerouac's On the Road. It stared Martin Milner and George Maharis as two aimless young men travelling Route 66 in a Chevy Corvette, getting into scrapes and fleeting relationships along the way. It also gave rise to a hit song: 'Get Your Kicks on Route 66' that, if you are of a certain age, is now playing in your head.
After World War 2, General Eisenhower who had been Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, became President and having been inspired by Germany's Autobahn system proposed an Interstate Highway System across the US. Work commenced in 1956 and is ongoing today. As a result sections of Route 66 were being bypassed and replaced at the very time the TV show was airing. Thus the historic route is still in the hearts of Americans, and not a few Australians as well, and its iconic marker still appears wherever it once was.
We'd already run across Route 66 markers several times. We saw it first in Chicago and again in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Route 66 also ran through Las Vegas and the end is at Santa Monica in LA. But in each case a modern road has long ago replaced the original. At Seligman you can see the original. If not the actual bitumen, no doubt resurfaced, the actual dirt alongside, in addition to some rustic buildings that once thrived by its passing. It seemed like a good place to stop. So we pulled into one of these, the 'Roadkill Cafe & O K Saloon', billed as a: 'rustic place with plenty local color & taxidermy, offering charbroiled burgers & other American grub'. It didn't disappoint.
Roadkill Cafe & O K Saloon on Route 66 - 'a rustic place with local colour & taxidermy'