Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mom's Las Vegas B-Day Fest, 28-30 July 2006

"There was this kid I grew up with - he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition we ran molasses into Canada - made a fortune - your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him - and trusted him. Later on he had an idea - to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI's on the way to the West Coast. That kid's name was Moe Green - and the city he invented was Las Vegas..."

Las Vegas. The above quote of course is from Lee Strasberg's character Hyman Roth in the classic film "The Godfather - Part II." I found out later that "Moe Green" is Godfather code for Bugsy Siegel, much like how "Johnny Fontane" is code for Sinatra (according to Puzo, he never intended for that connection to be inferred - but I think it's pretty obvious). Anyway, the Hyman Roth quote came to mind late Friday night, July 28th, as we passed through the mountains and could finally see the city lights in the distance.
Ironically, it rained for about the first four hours of the drive, but luckily it ended before the mountainous parts leading up to Hoover Dam. We exited the freeway at Las Vegas Blvd. Making our way towards the strip, we saw a number of the infamous wedding chapels, and then further along there were two "Elvi" walking along - one in a dark jumpsuit, the other in a powder blue jumpsuit. Viva Las Vegas.
And then, at about 11pm, we arrived at the "Strip" and checked into our hotel....

Ahh, the exquisite and lavish Bellagio Hotel - which is right across the street from Bally's, where we stayed. It's kind of a generic hotel, meaning it doesn't have a theme like MGM Grand, or Caesar's, or Venetian, or...

The Paris Hotel, which was right next door to Bally's. Bally's was pretty cool, though. One good thing is the kiosk in the lobby sells awesome strawberry tarts. And if you do the breakfast buffet, get the breakfast steak. It was while walking through the Paris on friday night that I first experienced what I will call "The Vegas Effect." We were walking through the Paris casino, then we passed into a mall area with shops and restaurants - all very Parisian, the cobblestones were even treated to give them that "just rained-on" look. Anyway, we were moseying along, seeing the sites, and then all of a sudden we were entering the Bally's casino. ??? I would later find out that The Strip, and the Hotels on the strip all have a certain labyrinthine quality.

This photo, as well as all of the previous ones, was taken friday night. I was pleased with how this shot across the water turned out. As for the Bellagio fountain, seeing it on tv or film does not do it justice. I was amazed at how high the water shoots. During the first "show" the soundtrack was Gene Kelly doing 'Singing in the Rain.' Appropriate. The spray from the fountain felt good with the breeze.

Saturday, after my first official "Vegas Buffet," (it was at Bally's Big Kitchen Buffet, which Jennifer dubbed "The Big Fat Food Kitchen") we went over to Mandalay Bay to see the Shark Reef exhibit, and just to look around in general. This giant reptile resides at the Mandalay Bay pool. I thought he looked cool, and just look at him now, immortalized in a blog.

This is one of three specimens of the rare Golden Crocodile at the Shark Reef exhibit. Dig that devious, croc-y grin. The other two were a little darker shade of gold.

Here are some fish in a tank.

Mom and I are standing by the stingray pool, waiting for them to make another go around.

This is the Big-Daddy stingray, or...the Big Mama stingray. It's a stingray. It's probably two feet across and maybe three or four feet from tip to tail.

Here are Jenn and I, hands-on with the stingray. They feel basically kind of slick and gelatinous. BTW, they also had a couple of small sharks in the tank, just a couple feet long. I think it's pretty cool that they encourage touching the stingrays. Incidentally, I heard that it's been much more of a hit than the original concept, "Bobbing for Stingrays."

This is a cylindrical tank containing many jellyfish - the effect is a living, breathing (do they breathe?) lava lamp.

Here is a close-up of one of the jellyfish - apparently mugging for the camera. While looking at this picture, see if you can spot a certain member of my family.

An eel.

"Floss much?" Now smile and say "chum."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mom's Vegas B-Day Fest ~ continued ~

This is the famous canal inside the Venetian. It is so beautifully designed - the gondoliers all have opera-grade singing voices, and they do sing. The singing, together with the design of the place combine for a wonderful ambiance. However, I suspect that the boats were mostly self propelled.

Now this big room was a-mazing. I just kind of stumbled into it as I was trying to find the rest of the group. There I was, suddenly entering an open Venetian plaza. I was told by a co-worker that it is patterned after St Mark's Square in Venice.

Here is a "human sculpture." In the previous picture, he is blocked from view by the bridge in the foreground. I did not instantly realize that it was a live person, but I did so quickly enough to avoid embarrasing myself by going up and touching the dude. Every so often he moves ever so slightly - I would imagine he would need to for circulation and to minimize any discomfort. People left tips in a pile at his feet. Many people came over to watch him, some sitting and some standing. Some would snap photos, others would pose with him - which wasn't a no-no, but whenever anyone would get up and walk away, I always imagined them to be thinking "I'm sitting here, watching a guy not move." We ended up getting ice-cream, and afterwards we looked around the shops a bit more before heading back to Bally's. After napping (I took one, anyway) we all got spruced up for the signature event of the weekend....

I started hearing talk that a Beatles themed Cirque show was in the works as early as last year. By the time Judy and Becky were starting to make firm plans for the trip I had heard lots more about it - mainly that the fellow in charge of producing all the great remixes of the Beatles songs to be used was none other than Sir George Martin himself. So I suggested it to them, and since Mom had always wanted to see a Cirque show, and since we all enjoy their music, they went for it. Showtime was at 7:30pm saturday evening.

Here are some of the young folks getting ready to scan tickets (no more tearing).
The guys were wearing "Sgt. Peppery" type military getups, and the girls had on what I assume were "Lovely Rita Meter-Maid" costumes.

Mom and I are standing in front of the mirror Beatles cutouts. The gift shop is to our left and it had lots of great memorabilia - t-shirts (though the ones from the show were $40 or so), postcards, lunchboxes, calendars, commemorative plates, etc. The cashiers and helpers were all wearing these Beatle-y colored blouses. One cool thing was that with each purchase they'd throw in two or three pin-on buttons with the show logo on them.

Our own "Fab-Four."

The show itself was absolutely fantastic, fab, gear, and whatever other superlatives you can come up with. We were completely gobsmacked. The show is so energetic and creative that it borders on sensory overload. Afterwards as we were waiting to exit we could do little more than look at eachother - shaking our heads and grinning. The above shot btw is of the same show logo as the previous shot, but straight on. It was taken post show, and a fun game to play when looking at it is to count the bald spots.

Here is the ceiling of the Caesar's Forum Shops. I wish we'd had a little more time to look around. It, like the Venetian, shows incredible attention to detail. If you go, check out the moving statues by the fountain.

Jenn and Mom at the Bellagio sunday brunch. We sampled many things there - there are just too many different choices to ever have lots of one. My personal favorites were the polenta, the tenderloin medallions, the pesto mashed-potatoes, and the mini-lemon meringue pie. I may have to do a day-trip just to go there and try some new stuff.

This is the Bellagio observatory. The current exhibit is US historical sites (Mt Rushmore, the Capitol Building, Golden-Gate Bridge, etc) in miniature. And I don't seem to have included any pictures of them. Maybe later.

The above shot is of the glass flowers which adorn the Bellagio lobby ceiling. If you watch Ocean's Eleven, Carl Reiner walks right under them when he checks in as Lyman Zerga. And the below shot is in the Bellagio observatory. HAPPY BIRD-DAY (as little Emma would say it) MOM!

Las Vegas. It really is quite an invention. Somebody thought of a way to create one of the world's top tourist attractions out of a really bleak and desolate piece of desert. A place that people would flock to in order to get rid of as much money as possible, as fast as possible. There are some fantastic things to see there, lavish hotels, good food. The people in charge really know their business. There is beauty there and it is real, but it's also there for a reason. It's all there to shout, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" Go a mere block off the strip in either direction and you'll see the other side of Vegas. I suppose that's unfair. After all, most towns have sides. But they rarely change so abruptly from one to the other. It was a fun trip though - no question.
I'd have to say that in my opinion, Las Vegas is best summed up by the following description of a breakfast item in our room service menu:

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Comic-Con 2006 - Part Deux

Although we only see Vader from behind in this picture, to me his tension and annoyance with the people around him is obvious. One can sense him fighting the urge to start Force-choking everyone.

I like this statue/caricature of Princess Leia. I think it's got that feisty Leia attiude down pretty well. People couldn't resist touching her buns.

Here we see the Dark Knight mingling, playing the suave and gracious host. You know, I wonder if Bruce Wayne ever got mixed up and walked into a board meeting having forgotten to change out of his Batman gear?


This is Link, hero of the popular Nintendo game series "Legend of Zelda."

Here we have the lovely Mr. Lou Ferrigno, and Mr. Ferrigno's biceps. And also his pecs.

This is the also lovely Rosario Dawson. She stepped in at the last minute for director Kevin Smith, who missed his panel discussion due to being stuck in traffic. I had always had a preconception about her that she was kind of a pretty hardcore partier and kind of cliche "celebrity looking down on everyone." I don't know why I thought that way - I've seen very little of her work. BUT, as so often happens - I could not've been more wrong. She seemed really friendly and down to earth and actually is quite charming in person. Plus it was pretty cool of her to spend extra time there with the folks who'd been waiting to see Kevin Smith. Rosario! She's cool.

Comic-Con 2006

Hello people.

On July 22, 2006 I took a day trip to San Diego. My purpose for going was to attend an event called Comic-Con. It's origins were primarily as a comic-book convention, but has now expanded to be a sort of comic book, movie, video game, sci-fi potpourri.
I last attended in 2004. Whatever one's level of interest in sci-fi or comics may be, it cannot be denied that there are few better events for people-watching. In 2004, I saw many Jedi, stormtroopers, Sith Lords, Boba Fetts, Hobbits, Hogwarts students, Bat-Men, Klingons, several Princess Leias (a number of them in the metal-bikini thing) and even a couple of Ghostbusters. I even saw and chatted with a person who had undergone extensive surgery and tatooing to transform himself into what is known as a "manimal." His animal obsession? A leopard. His face was entirely tattooed with leopard-print, he had fang implants, implants on his face to allow for screw-in whiskers, he had let his fingernails grow to a couple of inches long each, and had even had his upper lip incised and drawn upward to add to the feline appearance.
The various movie/tv show previews are fun to go to. In 2004 I saw Keanu Reeves and Djimon Honsou (promoting Constantine), Cillian Murphy (promoting Batman Begins - he was Scarecrow), and Eliza Dushku (promoting a now-cancelled tv show called Tru Calling). The celebs all sit on a dais for a panel-type discussion. A moderator leads them through a series of topics, and then they set up a mike for attendees to line up and ask a question or two each.
One can also get some interesting autographs from "B," "C," and even "D" list celebs. Names like Marc Singer, Sam Jones, Walter Koenig, Elivira - Mistress of the Dark, The Lone Gunmen from X-Files, Richard Hatch, and the actress who played Cissy on Family Affair. In 2004 I was still a bit timid - the only autograph I got was from the actor who played Mr. Wilhelm (George's boss during his stint with the Yankees). He was a funny guy and very personable. They are all very engaging with the autograph and photo seekers, chatting amiably with them as they scribble and pose.
This year the signers included Marc Singer in a return engagement, Sam Jones and Melody Anderson (Flash Gordon and Dale Arden), Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Stan Lee, the blond Lone Gunman, and none other than the two "brothers" from Airplane! who only spoke Jive. "Golly!"

These are pics, respectively, of Mr Gerard Butler, aka The "POTO," and Mr David Wenham (Faramir from LOTR). These two photos are actually of images from one of the many jumbo screens in the room, since I was sitting pretty far back and wasn't able to take a steady enough zoom shot from where I was. Gerard, or "Gerry" as the other panelists called him, was there with David promoting a film called 300, about the Spartan army. The statue in front of David is a Faramir statue given to him by a fan.

This is a giant, slowly rotating Boba Fett torso which topped off one of the cooler STAR WARS booths. There was also a caricature-ish statue of Princess Leia which I'll include in Comic-Con 2006 - Part Deux. Boba looks pretty awesome, huh? If you ever have to save your own life by correctly answering the question: "What type of body armor does Boba Fett wear?" calmly look them in the eye and say "Mandalorian."

What is funnier than a stormtrooper waiting in line for an autograph?
Not much, in my estimation.