Good-bye Vegas

I almost got my postings finished on the free wi-fi at McCarran Airport (Bellingham Airport has free wi-fi now, too), but didn’t quite finish before loading time. And then we got back into the real world. But finally I will finish that trip off.

The airport experience went pretty well – lots of people but efficient, polite staff made it go pretty quickly and we ended up with a full two hours before takeoff.

While we were still sitting at the gate, I looked up to see one of the hosts (stewards? What are they called this week?) holding up something and after she put it down I realized that it might have been my favorite gray fleece vest. I hunted around under the seat and the vest was indeed missing, but by this time I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. The next time someone came down the aisle we were already taxiing away from the gate, and she told me that they had put the vest off the plane (for security reasons, I’m sure.)

I was very disappointed. I really like that vest and I have worn it just about every day, all year long for most of the eleven years we’ve been in Bellingham. (It says something meaningful about the climate here that every day of the year there is some time during the day that a fleece vest is an appropriate garment.) It is getting a bit threadbare and could stand to be replaced, but I have never found a direct replacement – most are heavier, or longer, or decorated somehow.

But it was a small price to pay for being clear of Las Vegas!

So I settled down to some reading to take my mind off the rising temperature in the plane as we taxied and then sat. I guess the plane’s “climate control” expects to be operating in temperatures considerable lower than 100 degrees outside (or more, considering the full sun slamming into the black tarmac). The little vents in the overhead were silent.

After awhile, the captain announced that they had experienced some anomaly involving “a warm start” of one of the engines and needed to have a mechanic look at something. Then she announced that would have to go back to the gate and would hook up an auxiliary air conditioner.

And, Miracle of Miracles, they would give us each a FREE glass of water! (Turned out to be about 2 ounces, but it’s the thought that counts.)

As we taxied back to the gate it occurred to me that I might be able to get my beloved vest back, if they hadn’t already turned it over to the bomb squad. So as soon as the “fasten seat belts” light went off I charged up to the front and they retrieved it from the jetway.

As it turned out we only lost about a half hour altogether and were soon on our way back to the Northwest. I love happy endings.

Epilogue

With any luck at all that will be our last trip to Vegas. I have already cleared all references to Allegiant Airlines from browser, and now we just have to find an appropriate time and venue for the ritual immolation of the Las Vegas street map.

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The Wedding Day

Monday 11:30 AM

Here we sit at Gate D4 in McCarran International Airport. The plane doesn’t leave for two hours so I’ll have time to reprise The Wedding Day.

On my last I neglected to mention the best part of Saturday: after dinner Lana and Lew came up to our room and we enjoyed some private time with them and caught up on all the doings in Boca and their plans to make Aliyah to Israel. They are as determined and eager as ever to make that enormous journey, huge both in distance and spirit. We wish that they would make arrangements to move Israel a little closer to the US, but that probably won’t happen.

The Wedding

Down the Aisle

Down the Aisle

Our only transport assignment for the day was to schlep Wanda’s son Joe and Laura, his girl friend of 12 years, from the Temple to the airport after the ceremony and the wedding dinner at the Rampart Casino buffet. They would be flying in from LA in the morning and taking a cab directly to the Temple.

The wedding was a very small affair, just Lana & Lew’s immediate families and her Bar Mitzvah co-celebrant Ryan’s family. There would be room for everyone to gather on the bima and stand around the chuppah, the ceremonial canopy that represents the home that they are making together. The chuppah in this case was very simple – just a prayer shawl, or tallit attached at corners to four bamboo poles and held aloft by four guests.

Whole Famn Damily

The Whole Famn Damily

After we had gathered around the chuppah Lana & Lew proceeded grandly down the aisle while the rabbi sang a beautiful Hebrew love song. There is no “giving away” of the bride – they come to the bima together, like grown-ups.

The ceremony was short and sweet (in comparison to the full two hours plus for the Bat Mitzvah) with lovely music and sentiments and crowned by the ceremonial breaking of the wine glass, a symbol of remembrance for loved ones no longer present.

The low light level again compromised my photographic efforts, but there was time to take some posed shots afterward, and I end with a few of those.

The Dress Shot

The Dress Shot

Lana and Lew and Rabbi

Lana and Lew and Rabbi Cohen

The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple

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Hoover Dam

After the Bat Mitzvah we were released on our own recognizance and headed back to the room for a nice nap, only to find that the housekeeping staff had not found time in the intervening four hours to clean our room. So we decided to take a shot at the one new attraction in the area, from our stodgy point of view: the new bridge over the Colorado on the US-93 bypass at Hoover Dam. We had read that there is a place where you can park just before the bridge on the Nevada side and walk out onto the new bridge for a full view of the dam that had not been possible before – the old road went right across the dam itself and the surrounding hills are so rugged that there was no way to step back and get a grand view.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

The old road, which is visible on the left side of the picture, is very curvy and was often choked with traffic – the combination of gawking tourists and long haul trucks did not work out very well. The new highway cuts across just downstream from the dam on the most disappointing bridge I have ever been on: the traffic lanes are hemmed in on both sides by uninterrupted six foot high solid concrete walls. It is more like driving through a tunnel than crossing a bridge!

The only way to get a view is from the pedestrian walkway. The articles I read about it were very misleading – I skipped the turnoff to the dam that goes down the old road to tours of the dam and drove merrily down the new highway. After a quick turnaround in Arizona we drove back to the turnoff to the dam and, sure enough, about a mile down the road there is a new parking lot and a walkway that climbs, using ramps and stairs, back up to the new road and the walkway.

It was incredibly hot when we stepped out of the car – the car’s thermometer had not been very reliable but here it read 114 and I believed it, although I’m sure the blacktop parking lot had a lot to do with it. Wanda decided to stay and read the interpretive signs while I scampered up for a photo op. It is only a quarter mile at best if you take the ramps and considerably shorter if you use the short stairways that cut off most of the switchbacks on the ramp. The whole deal is nicely designed and wheelchair accessible (although a motorized chair would be best).

I’d say it is worth a stop if you are driving through to Arizona, but not if you have to go out of your way.

Back in Vegas,

The Big Vee

The Big Vee

We partook of the ubiquitous buffet at our casino/hotel. It was by far the most quiet and pleasant place in the entire complex, largely because, even at 7:00 on Saturday night, it was sparsely populated. This turned out to the due to the fact that, with the exception of the prime rib, the food was not very good. Ah, Vegas!

I finish with one more exemplar of this city’s ethos – the tacky shops have thousands of I love Las Vegas T-shirts in hundreds of styles, but this one that greeted us on every trip down the elevator has a unique charm that speaks the proverbial thousand words.

Afterword – Whose dam??

I used to object to calling it “Hoover” Dam since it was really a New Deal project to help recover from Hoover’s disastrous economic policies. (If you’ve forgotten what those policies were like, you don’t even need to open a history book. Just pick up a newspaper – the GOPs are at it again and the Dems don’t have the stones to stop them.) But while the dam project was originally called the Boulder Canyon Project, the dam itself was never actually given a name. When one of Hoover’s cabinet members referred to it in a speech as “Hoover Dam” it was the first time it was named in any remotely official way and it stuck. And of course, Hoover was involved in some major public projects as an engineer and did good work along those lines, I guess I can grudgingly succomb. But it irks.

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Bat Mitzvah Day, cont.

Sunday, 8:00 AM

As I was saying, before I was rudely interrupted by real life, the Shabbat service last night went well. The service is mostly sung, reminding me of the Roman Catholic high masses of my youth, and Lana led many of the segments. Another similarity with the old masses is that it is sung mostly in an unfamiliar language. You can follow along in a book (forgot to get the name – like a Catholic missal) as the rabbi calls out the page numbers. The text is written three ways on each pair of facing pages: in the original Hebrew script down the right side of the right-hand page, in Hebrew transliterated into the Roman alphabet on the left side of the that page and translated into English on the left-hand page (or maybe interspersed on the right-hand page).

Mishkan T'filat

Even with the shout-out on the page numbers, it can be hard to follow, since many prayers continue on for several pages and parts are often skipped and others are repeated with no indication in that text. And just for good measure, since the Hebrew script reads from right to left on the page, the pages are also reversed in the book. You can tell the goyim (gentiles) right away as we comically fumble around, turning the book this way and that and upside down and inside out.

I enjoy trying to follow the transliterated Hebrew, since I have a little experience with it from singing in choirs – and I just love languages for their own sake. But I think the best strategy for a goy who wants to share the experience is to just read as much of the English as you can. Many of the prayers are very beautiful and practical, and speak to universal human situations – I would even say that Judaism (the Reform branch, at least) is very humanistic, although that might get me into trouble.

Torah portion

Lana reading her Torah portion

While I spent a lot of time trying to hack the Hebrew, I did read a few of the English translations and one of them really struck me as being outstandingly sensible and realistic -qualities that most people seem to check at the door when they enter a place of worship. My very crude paraphrase: Don’t pray for things that humanity has no experience with and no chance of attaining. World Peace? Give me a break! Better you should just pray that more people would get angry and frustrated by war and poverty. It may be too much to hope they’ll actually DO anything, but angry is a good first step.

Snack Time

Snack Time

We enjoyed a nice spread of healthy foods after the service. Another humanistic touch is that, instead of having a separate social hall and kitchen complex as you’ll find in most churches, they have tables set up in the rear of the main room, right behind the rows of chairs. So you eat and yammer and gossip right in front of the Holy Ark- right where God can see you!

[BTW the quality of the pictures in the temple is rather poor, since the light level is low and flash is not appreciated during a service.]

Back in the Real World

That was a bad choice of words – it is very silly indeed to try to apply the word “real” to anything about Las Vegas. But after driving our charges back to the Bellagio we hopped onto I-15 for the two miles back to the Stratosphere (to avoid the Friday night traffic on The Strip) drove right into a linear parking lot. There had been an accident about 3 miles up the road and there were no exits before our destination, so we had to just sit there and crawl. It took about a half an hour to go those 2 miles.

Aside

I’m getting rather far behind on my blog posting, so that my titles no longer make any sense. And my spouse is getting itchy to get to The Wedding, already. No time for proofreading.

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Bat Mitzvah Day

8:00 AM

Another bright sunny day in Las Vegas! Yesterday was milder than Thursday – the mercury barely made it past 105, and it may only reach 103 today.

The Bat Mitzvah is this morning at 10. We will once again pick up Lew’s mother Roni and her companion Gloria from the Bellagio Hotel and drive them to the temple, as we did last night for the Shabbat service. Roni has suffered a stroke and her mobility is quite limited, so she uses a wheelchair. She also has a difficult time speaking, which may be the bigger loss for those around her because you can tell from the twinkle in her eye that there are some great stories in there trying to get out. Gloria is from Jamaica and has a predictably lovely lilt to her voice. She drives and they have a rental car, but she doesn’t like to drive at night and she has not been here long enough to be comfortable driving at all in an automotive maelstrom like Las Vegas.

The Shabbat service last night went well. The service is mostly sung, reminding me of the Roman Catholic high masses of my youth, and Lana led many of the segments. Another similarity with old masses is that it was sung mostly in Hebrew.

I’ve hit a wi-fi dry spell and this post may not make it onto the Web for awhile.

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Vegas – Day 2

Friday 9:00 AM

At 7:00 this morning I skipped the exercise room and went for a walk down The Strip. The temperature was in the mid 80s and there were a few others out walking, running or walking their dog. I tried to take some pictures that would distill the essence of the Las Vegas Experience.

Sahara demise

Sahara demise

The sorriest place in town has to be the venerable old Sahara casino. They are selling off the furnishings this week in preparation for demolition. With its palm trees and Islamic arches it is actually kind of elegant by local standards.

Ammusement Park

Ammusement park in the sky

The scariest place in town would be the amusement park on the top of the Stratosphere Tower, 850 feet above the street. Some of the rides shoot you right out over the edge and there is a parachute jump, too. My vertigo kicks in just thinking about it.

And, of course, there is sleaze everywhere. The discount coupon packet we received at registration included a topless review AND a bottomless one. The Riviera casino welcomes you with a life-sized septet of shapely bronze bums. And the wedding chapels!

Classy

Classy!!

More class

8:00 AM

For breakfast we tried out Roxy’s Diner on the casino level of the hotel. A nice enough meal but when the check came I was a bit surprised that it included $6 for two cups of coffee. For that kind of money I’d expect a Venti Macchiato, or some such, not a plain old cuppa decaf. They never miss a chance.

11:30 AM

We are at Temple Sinai in the western part of the city, near Summerlin Mall and on the way to Red Rock Canyon. Lana is rehearsing for her Bat Mitzvah tomorrow morning. She will share the bima (a raised platform corresponding to the sanctuary of a Christian church) with Ryan, another adult convert to Judaism. Her years of musical and vocal training (including a BA in Vocal Performance) will be put to good use as she and Ryan will sing some of the rites and hymns.

On the bima

Lana, Lew and Rabbi Cohen on the bima

On Sunday she and Lew will reprise their wedding with official Jewish sanction. This temple is aligned with the Reform movement of Judaism, which is pretty laid-back as Judaism goes, but even they would not accept as fully valid Lana and Lew’s earlier wedding, a civil ceremony at the Duck Pond in Pahrump. Once they are offically married in Jewish eyes, the way will be clear for their imminent emigration to Nahariya in Israel.

12:30 PM

Finally I can give something in Las Vegas an unqualified recommendation! We ate lunch at Shawarma Vegas, an unimposing little storefront in one of the strip mall that line every major street, but a splendid little slice of the Israel in the Nevada desert. It is a “glatt kosher” restaurant, meaning “really, really kosher”, and they have shawarma, falafel, homous, baba ghanouj and all your middle eastern favorites. They bring a selection of Mediterranean delicacies to each table in addition to your entrée and each thing is better than the one before. Some rather spicy, some mild, something for everyone and everything for some. Just wonderful. It’s at the corner of Sahara and Fort Apache in the western part of the city.

3:00 PM

I went up to the top of the tower and watched a lunatic, I mean a tourist, jump off the top of the building tethered to a steel cable on a drum. The other “rides” are a scary as they sounded, too.

And finally, an item from a hotel gift shop for the woman who has everything…

…and will make it all available for a reasonable price.

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A Mitzvah in Vegas

Welcome to Traveland

The trip to vegas got off to a typical start when Wanda dropped and shattered a glass in the sink as we were going out the door; about five minutes from the house I realized that I had forgotten something and had to drive back for it. We were a bit behind schedule at that point, but still in good shape.

At the airport I dropped Wanda off at the door and went to park the car and drove past every single parking space in the lot before giving up and driving to the exit, where I learned that they had closed the lot since I drove in. I suggested as politely as possible (i.e., not at all) that they might want to consider a policy of closng the lot while there are still one or two vacant spaces.

Once inside the airport things went much bettter. Only a handful of people ahead of us at the baggage check-in line no line at all at the security check. A plane has just come in from Vegas and by the time they pick all the poker chips out of the seats it will be time for us to board.

3:45 pm

Allegiant gives new meaning to the phrase “the cheap seats”. The seat pitch is so narrow that you can barely scratch your nose without scraping your knuckles on the seat ahead. And they don’t recline – at all! Of course there is no free anything – not even water. I haven’t had to use the restroom yet so I don’t know how much that costs.

Of course, I’m not paying for anything I’m not using, so it’s not all bad. But it is sooooo Nevada!

The flight has been smooth and pleasant. From my aisle seat I could just catch a quick glimpse of the summit of Mount Rainier and until just a little while ago I could see the snow-capped Sierras to the west. We are pretty low now, surrounded by the splendid desolation of the Nevada desert and mountains. We are coming down the Pahrump Valley level with the summit of Mount Charleston (12,000′). Gotta shut down now.

9:20 pm

Man, is it hot! When we stepped out of the airport it felt just like stepping into the sauna at the Y yesterday. The temperature gauge in our rental car (Chevy Cruze) is all over the place, reading from 94 to 131 but the Weather Underground says that it has now cooled to a spring-like 98 after reaching a high of 111 earlier.

Our hosts at the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino have been very pleasant and helpful but the establishment as a whole is right down Allegiant’s alley. There is an upcharge for everything. I knew in advance that internet access would cost $12 per day – what I didn’t know is that that is “per device” and only works in your own room. So no taking the laptop down to the breakfast buffet to check on the day’s news.

But, again, the room is large, clean and nice, the A/C works and it is pretty cheap. (On weeknights you can get a room for about $30, double that on weekends.) And we’re only paying for what we use. If you can stand walking through the clatter and clamor and glitter (and smoke) of the casino on the main floor (and they arrange it so you have to walk through the casino to get anywhere) it’s not a bad place. For Vegas.

We went to dinner at the Krazy Buffet, about 5 miles west of The Strip on Sahara Boulevard. It is an all-you-can-eat Asian buffet with a broad selection of healthy and tasty foods without a whole lot of breading and sweet sauces – lots of fresh seafood. We were about starved by the time we’d gotten through the car rental, almost an hour driving 7 miles up The Strip, the hotel check-in and unpacking so we opted for a familiar place with lots of food – Lana brought us there on our last trip. Of course, we probably ate too much but that’s the way it goes at a buffet.

Tomorrow the scheduled activities begin with a rehearsal at the Temple at 11AM – I guess I should probably say something about the reason we are here, but I am going to pack it in for now. (The previous posts on this blog should give some hints.)

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