Friday, January 29, 2016

Old Tyme TV

Now of course this title could well refer to my current and bittersweet attention directed towards the weekly broadcasts of the last few episodes ever of Downton Abbey. 1920's English country manor living is indeed Old Tyme. But actually I've also been transfixed by a program which aired for its very long run of some 17 years or so (not including the revised version) well before I was of an age to have been a viewer.* What's My Line? was probably one of the most well-known and certainly well-liked TV shows of its era. Panel-style game shows were the fad then and this was the creme de la creme of them all.

Over the past few months, I've been catching many an episode, as often as I can. I'd guess every still extant kinescope-to-videotape-to-DVD-to-digital show can be found on YouTube, most on one uber-fan's channel, aptly titled "What's My Line?"

At first glance, a modern viewer would probably groan a bit over the horrible black-and-white low-res quality of the visuals of this show. These are restored to the best of the ability of current technology but the source material is a victim of the low grade, archaic television video recording abilities of the 1950s and 60s. I guess we should be happy to have anything at all...many programs of that era were either never saved on any media since they were shot and broadcast live or the low-quality media either deteriorated or were destroyed after the show was cancelled, etc.

The best thing about this show though is once you watch a few episodes, you really get a feel for the comradarie the panelists and moderator have for each other. It's like tuning in on a Manhattan upper-middle class cocktail party where old friends are have an intelligent parlor guessing game.

Here's a clip of one of the shows. Watch. Get hooked. And try not to be envious of the casually classy TV content mid-centurians had.

Monday, January 18, 2016

TRAVELOGUE: Las Vegas 2016 Trip: Day Five

Friday, January 15, 2016

By now I was quite sick of Subway sandwiches but I knew the other dining options in the hotel were needlessly more expensive so I again made a breakfast of a sub, this time a rather lackluster steak and cheese. For the second morning in a row the sandwich "artist" who made my meal was some bonehead guy who just rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. He was not only an incredible moron who needed explicit direction on how to do everything but he was trying too hard to "impress" me with his fancy condiment bottle tosses and what I'm sure he felt was wicked cool knife skills. And, of course, like everyone else here, he was chatty as all fuck. He also had what I can only describe as a Vegas speech affectation...every word he said just blended lazily into each other like a subtle slur or someone who doesn't know English just repeating vowel sounds without any idea of what they're saying. Everybody talked this way. Maybe they were all drunk? It was just irritating as fuck.

While I munched on my already cold grey meat sandwich and sipped my weak, probably instant coffee I got at the hotel's "fancy" restaurant Seigel's 1941, I tallied up my week's expenses - all tolled just under $700. Not bad for five days (since I'd forecast the remaining expenses into this figure) including parking for my car back at the Orlando airport. But would I do it again? I don't think so. I think I've experienced enough of Vegas so I probably won't ever come back.

After checking out, I decided to wait for the airport shuttle by playing ONE LAST TIME. I chose another video poker old school machine, this one was even a CRT. Unlike most in the house, this actually still dispensed coins too! I let it suck up my twenty and within a couple of minutes I was down half my stake. Figures. I was about to hit CASH OUT when I decided to let it ride one more time. I got two pairs, nervously held them, spun, and held my breath. I came up with the third number 10 card for a Tens over Kings full house. Whoo Hoo! The quarters came gushing out into the tin pan clanging and clinking and making a general commotion. I was a winner! I filled my bucket, took it to coin redemption and got back $21.50. I was ahead by a buck fifty. Good enough for me. I walked over to the exit and never looked back. I imagine the desolate dealers standing guard at their empty card tables nodded slowly in appreciation. "That's the way to do it, man. That's the way to do it."

I rode with a very chatty driver on the free shuttle to the airport. Another hotel guest on the ride revealed she'd won $1000 at the slots only to have the bulk of it stolen out of her purse while she let her guard down momentarily. This sad story REALLY summed up Vegas. Even winners become losers when it's all said and done. Sad to say, I really wouldn't put it out of the realm of possibility that the hotel themselves may have arranged for this theft to occur. Does a notorious mob run facility really turn over a new leaf entirely in the age of the modern Vegas?

I was ready to go home. I arrived at the airport around noon. I was scheduled to fly out at 11:55 pm, almost 12 hours later. Needless to say, the hours crawled slowly by. As the sun set on the Nevada desert landscape outside the large terminal windows I welcomed the night in with one last visit to one of the airport bars: Wolfgang Puck's. I plunked down over $50 for just four beers and one shot of Petron Silver.

Even airport window blinds become interesting after a long day of waiting.

As I was listening to the airport sound system muzak, I heard what sounded like the B-52s singing about Las Vegas, I never heard this before but it sounded like one of their early works, most of which I was very familiar with. I looked it up on my phone and indeed there was a song called "Queen of Las Vegas" that they wrote in '83, the year after I fell out of love with them. Well go figure. What a perfect way to rock out for this travelogue:

TRAVELOGUE: Las Vegas 2016 Trip: Day Four

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I woke up a little early at 5:30 am and since the hotel's Subway concession was open 24 hours, I made my way to it for my breakfast. Actually, almost everything in Vegas is 24 hours so this was no unique thing, but I liked Subway and it was a known value. Got a turkey and bacon sub for now and another BMT for later. While munching on my turkey sandwich breakfast, I tried to post to this blog on my Kindle and, well, you can see my failure as I wrote about it a few posts back.

I had a little more pep in my step this morning. Maybe it was my bright blue Lakewood fleece I was sporting? Maybe it was the fact I was actually consuming less calories than if I were back home? Maybe it's Maybelline? Who knows but it was very much welcome since I figured I'd have a bit of walking to do today. I was headed for Hoover Dam.

The pre-arranged, pre-paid tour shuttle van showed up early as I waited for it outside the front entrance to the hotel. The driver greeted me and we were quickly underway with him talking up a storm non-stop. I was the first guest for the trip and we spent the next hour or so picking up the rest of our Gilligan's Island bunch: The chatty sisters from Michigan at Harrah's, the quiet old couple from Ohio at Holiday Inn Desert Club and the Hispanic dad, mom and teen daughter family from Nebraska at Treasure Island.

I'd booked this tour by way of Travelzoo so it cost only $45 but it was well worth even the full $60 price. Our guide, Bud, was informative (albeit not always 100% accurate) and his mellow Bob Ross-like voice made his non-stop diatribe infinitely more endurable.  I got some decent video of the dam (as close to the edge as I dared...pussy me) with the new bypass bridge (which I climbed up to the pedestrian walkway of, walked out on and somehow failed to capture video of that endeavor) and an overview of Lake Mead.

After an hour and a half at the dam site we all got back on our dam bus and our dam driver Bud took us to a mountaintop site overlooking the damned lake that the dam dammed. Damn!

Back in Vegas, I saw my fellow passengers safely back to their homes away from home, Bud drove me to my digs downtown, I slipped him a $15 tip and quickly scurried past the cadre of dealers who, tonight, were actually dealing to customers rather than checking me out. I had my previously procured BMT waiting for me in my bedside table drawer all room temperature gooey-like. Damn I was pooped.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

TRAVELOGUE: Las Vegas 2016 Trip: Day Three

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I woke around 9 am somewhat hungover as I'd not just bought a six-pack the night before but since the 7-11 had a great price of $9.99 for a 12-pack of PBR, I went with that and drank them all. Luckily I had half of my BMT sub and some Frito-Lay Munchies snacks (also picked up the night before at 7-11) to sooth the stomach gurgles and a small handful of ibuprofen to settle the head and body aches. (I brought about 30 ibuprofen tablets with me to Vegas and I pretty much used 'em all by week's end.)

After watching a forgettable movie on the grainy old 21" CRT TV, I felt ready to go out and about around 11 am. I descended the stairway like Norma Desmond primping for my close-up with the eyes of my "adoring fans" aka the stalwart sentinels called blackjack dealers standing by their empty tables peering into my soul, beckoning it to join them in their dreary, desolate eternal Hell. Thankfully my soul stayed right where it was and I made my way intact to the nearby bus stop to head on down, finally, to The Strip.

The bus is called The Deuce. Why the Deuce? Well, beyond the obvious playing card reference it beats me. Maybe because it only went two ways...up and down The Strip? It was a double-decker affair (Oh snap! That's why it's The Deuce!) and I'd ridden it the last time I was in Vegas so it came as no surprise that it was one of the most economical and efficient ways to get up and down on The Strip. I had no particular destination in mind but since I was going to be attending the Penn & Teller show later at the Rio which is off The Strip a tad, not far from Caesar's Palace, I opted to get off at the close-by Mirage.

I needed caffeine badly so I walked over to my old haunt where I'd stayed almost four years earlier. Of course it's been totally remodeled since then and underwent two name changes. This was the present day Linq, of course, formerly the Quad and before that the Imperial Palace. The little shopping/eatery area was reminiscent of swanky places like the Grove in LA and had, thankfully, a Starbucks. Well, actually, what shopping/eatery place anywhere doesn't have a Starbucks? I sipped my hot coffee on this overcast and chilly early afternoon just people watching. Here the crowd was decidedly more upscale compared to Downtown. Much more upscale. There was even a cute Cupcake ATM outside a trendy cupcake shop. And for people braver than me when it comes to heights, the "High Roller" Ferris wheel...tallest in the world! (Our version in Orlando is the 5th tallest)

After wandering the walkways and casinos of the nearby venues I decided to eat a late lunch at Carlos and Charlie's in the Flamingo. 2-for-1 margaritas and the best Tacos Carnitas I've ever had made for a pleasant delight. But after my meal, I didn't keep the buzz going with more booze since it was actually making me more tired and achey. I shuffled at a snails pace to the free shuttle waiting area for a ride to the Rio and there broke down and tried my hand at some gambling of my own.

I put a $20 bill in a fancy, new-fangled flat screen LCD animated slot machine with all kinds of graphics, music and flashing lights. The buttons offered so many confusing choices including multiple lines and multiple denominations. I thought this was a penny slot? I had no idea what I was doing. I figured I'd play max lines and max bet multipliers with each spin assuming I'd get the best payoff. Within three minutes I was down to zero credits. No bonuses. No free spins. No razzle dazzle. Just the evil glowing machine saying "Give me yo' money, bitch!"

I walked away vowing to waste no more of my precious money when I spied some old school video poker machines in the corner. I figured this time I'd just play the minimum bet to let my money last longer. But after I inserted my $5 bill into it, I then noticed it was a $1 machine. So now I had only 5 shots. And, of course, I got 5 quick losses. No pretty graphics. No fanfare. Just a silent money sucking machine designed to kill the human spirit and stomp on it like a dirty bug. "Fuck this shit" I thought, as I actually flipped the stoic, innocent-acting machine off and stormed away. If I'd glanced back I'm pretty sure I'd have caught it laughing at me.

The show was good. I'd expected more for the (discounted) $60 I paid but a few of the acts were actually stunning making you scratch your head in the classic "How the fuck did they do that?" way. As always, Teller is completely silent but that's just as well because Penn wouldn't shut up! And a great amount of his verbal diarrhea was pertaining to his libertarian beliefs rather than the magic tricks so it was a little awkward. And I agree with his politics and views on religion! I can only imagine how it played with audience members who weren't in his camp, so to speak.

After the show, I caught the shuttle back to The Strip, hopped on The Deuce back to downtown and got my nightcap beer and grub on Fremont Street from a gift shop that sold 2 for $5 Foster oil cans and a hole-in-the-wall concession that offered over-priced, yet hot and filling Chicago-style chili dogs.

TRAVELOGUE: Las Vegas 2016 Trip: Day Two

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The fluffy king-sized bed was very comfy but the noise from the room next door and the effect of the six pack had me fitfully trying to sleep and getting only about 4-5 hours in. I gave up around 5 am and just stayed up. I made some of the free in-room coffee with the tiny coffee maker provided and it wasn't that bad. I wished I'd kept some of last night's foot long sub 'cause I was incredibly hungry. I decided to make my way to the Golden Nugget for a breakfast buffet. I got there early so there wasn't a line and for $14 had quite a lot of tasty options. It hit the spot.

I walked around the Fremont Street Experience but it was even more dull during daylight. Still the same low-end crowd each with their ever-present cigarettes. They always have money for cigarettes and slot machines, don't they?

Back at the hotel room within an hour I decided I was too tired still to do anything. Plus it was cold and the people around here reminded me of how sad life could be. Le sigh. I hung the "do not disturb" sign on my doorknob, went back to bed and slept, literally, for the rest of the day. I woke up briefly around 6 pm, decided I wasn't hungry and kept on sleeping. Poof. There went a whole vacation day wasted. I was finally peckish around 10 pm so I got dressed, made my way back to the 7-11 for more beer, again bought a foot-long BMT at the in-hotel Subway and scurried past the doleful, perhaps judging stares of the ever-present table game dealers and back to my four walls aka my social anxiety isolation chamber.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

TRAVELOGUE: Las Vegas 2016 Trip: Day One

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Is waterboarding this bad? Maybe I'd like that more than this?" Of course, I'm referring here to the modern atrocity called "no-frills flying." Even the petite old lady to my left was complaining about the crammed conditions of the seating. For someone my size, it was, well, torture. And add to it the hot, recirculated air making me regret wearing winter-ish clothing and leaving me gasping with every stale, microbe-laden breath. Other sucky things: pitifully tiny seat trays, no LCD screens (not that they weren't working, they just weren't there at all) and you had to pay for everything, even soft drinks and water...oh, and they asked for tips on top of that. But, the plane was modern (A320, one of my favs) the staff were nice and it was quick, we got in 25 minutes early. Oh, and did I mention it was cheap? $118 roundtrip non-stop.

I opted to repeat the lazy yet expensive behavior pattern from the LA trip and grabbed a cab to the hotel rather than cheaper options like the city bus or the car rental I'd reserved. $50 and a driver who just wouldn't shut up. This "chatty stranger" theme endured throughout the vacation for some reason, starting with the lady sitting next to me on the plane to some oldster bugging me while waiting at the gate for the return flight home. I must look like someone who gives a fuck. How wrong everyone is.

The intense wave of ciggy smoke enveloped me as soon as I walked through the hotel casino main entrance. Chatty front desk clerk told me all about sleeping on the roof of his house growing up in India. My room was at the top of a flight of stairs accessed from the middle of the casino floor. Bored table game dealers stared at me each time I walked up or down them. They're lonely 'cause the gamblers here stick like glue to the slots. Each of them illuminated by the deathly glow of their machines. It looked like they were zombie slaves forfeiting their life force to their plinking, bleeping, flashing mechanical masters.

The chit-chatty comps desk lady gave me coupons for free beer and free spins. I never did get around to cash in the free beer tickets and when I finally did try to use my free spins promised, the card didn't have them on it. Figures. This sums up Vegas in my mind actually. Nothing in this town comes free. And promises are just empty words with no real meaning.

I stayed at the famous old landmark El Cortez Hotel and Casino near the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas. I booked the lowest rate room, a Vintage Room which for all intents and purposes was the equivalent of a Motel 6 room, but with the added "thrill" of the sounds of the casino floor at the base of the stairway just outside my door, the noisy drunken partiers in the adjoining room and a curious windowed "porch" area which didn't look like it was supposed to be a part of the room's features. It had no furnishings, just a pile of dirty maintenance items in one corner topped by a 6-pack of empty beer bottles. The bed was quite comfy though. I didn't bother checking the mattress for signs of bed bugs, wasn't sure what I'd find. The mouse droppings behind the sink base in the bathroom were disturbing enough, thanks.

Now don't get me wrong...this place wasn't as bad as the Motel Capri in New Orleans. It was more on a par with the Motel 6 room in Fredricksburg, VA or the City Center Hotel in Los Angeles. But, having been once owned by Bugsy Seigel, I couldn't help thinking how many people were "whacked" in my room years ago. Luckily, I don't believe in ghosts.

I was quite exhausted from my torturous flight and though only 9:30 pm in Vegas I was still on Eastern time so it felt like 12:30 am (and I was on a daytime schedule for this week) but I still found enough energy to make my way past the myriad of miserably cold-looking bums and likewise miserably cold-looking tourists to the Fremont Street Experience. Wow. Um, if it was still the early 90s when this was put up. Even the early 00s refurb with then-new LED lighting can't hold up to modern LED displays. Dingy, dim and low-res, I was quite unimpressed by this overhead canopy of "dazzling brilliance." Run-of-the-mill LED billboards advertising family dentistry and neighborhood restaurants back home are 20 times brighter, sharper and more vibrant.

This 80s country rock cover band was good though. And loud. Definitely loud. But after about a half hour, I'd had enough. The crowd was decidedly blue collar and either ghetto or trailer trash. I made my way in the frigid desert night air to a nearby 7-11, grabbed a six of Bud, got a foot-long BMT from the Subway inside my hotel, walked up the creaking staircase past the sad staring glances of the lonesome blackjack dealers and called it a night.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Waste Of Time And Money

Great. Now I seem to be able to type only on the HTML page on my Kindle. I'll give a more detailed travelogue when I get home this weekend. Suffice it to say that this vacation has been a horrific cluster tuck. Kindle refuses to let me type the f-word.I'll continue this Saturday when I have access to a real computer. This is just one more tucking issue in this tucking tuck hoed week. Tuck this!!!!