Rumblings, Ruminations, and Retrospectives

Musings from the mind of the Beast.

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Life In The Center of The Universe

Or, “Our Quick Excursion to Toronto”.

I used the phrase “Center of the Universe” to describe Toronto because that’s the way most of us in the West of this great country feel about Toronto; they get everything, the government caters to them, we’ve been assaulted with FAR too many Maple Leaf games on CBC… everything in this country seems to revolve around Toronto, or at least, that’s the way it feels sometimes.

Didn’t feel like that when we traveled there, though.

Stephanie and I went to Toronto for what turned out to be three really fun-filled days from the 15th to the 17th of July. Just a quick break, a reason to get out and do something.

Who am I kidding? We went because I’m a giant geek and I wanted to go to TransformersCon. We just added a couple extra days and did stuff that didn’t center around what *I* wanted to do. :)

We left super early on Thursday morning (the 15th); our plane took off at 5:45 AM, so that brought about the now-ingrained custom, well, now, tradition, of Stephanie and I rushing to do everything at the VERY last moment the night before we left, getting two hours of sleep, and then stumbling to the airport.

Thankfully, some brilliant human invented web check-in, so we checked in a day ahead of time, and showed up at the airport with boarding passes already in hand. All we had to do was check our bags and get abused by airport security before getting on the plane.

The flight was great – it’s awesome now that we’ve lost all this weight (crossed the 80 pound mark today!) and airplane seats are SO much more comfortable! After landing in Toronto around 8:45 AM, we headed over to pick up our rental car.

I’m wondering at this point if these guys ever get anything right.

We get to the rental desk inside the airport, and the guy can’t find our reservation (we booked through Air Miles). Finally, he finds it after a few minutes, and says our car is waiting. We take our papers over to the parkade where the cars are, and the car we were assigned was already given to someone else.

So now, while I’m waiting for another car, I have to endure an East Indian gentlemen (who I’m sure is otherwise a very nice man) screaming at the desk clerk because he was apparently given the wrong price, yet he was given all the paperwork and just didn’t understand. I think the guy wanted a SUV, and ended up leaving with his family in a Dodge Charger because of the mix up.

And did I mention the young woman, with her husband and baby, desperately trying to pick up their reservation, but didn’t have her drivers’ license with her? No ID, no rent-y, sister.

So, we were supposed to get the Charger, but the lovely East Indian man drove off with it.

Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound quite right.

I don’t mean anything by it, really.

So now I’m waiting for another car. We end up with a Ford Fusion.

I’m deathly allergic to Ford.

Something about them breaking down and leaving me stranded. We load our suitcases up into the trunk (which was quite spacious, I might add. You could store several bodies in there comfortably. Something to keep in mind next time work pisses me off) and get into the car, which was actually quite nice. None of my allergies were kicking in.

Where to? Let’s go to the hotel and check in.

So, off we go. We’re confident. Stephanie has a map and is doing a fantastic job at navigating. She’s bound and determined we’re not going to get lost. (Unlike last time I drove in Toronto, where I somehow ended up on the QEW and in Mississauga.) Stephanie plots a course and lays it in, and I take the helm and we’re off. Everything checks out. We pass all the correct streets. I don’t turn off onto any major freeways.

A few minutes later, something’s not right.

“We’re on the 401,” I say.

“How the hell did that happen?” asks Stephanie.

A giant feeling of deja vu kicks in, and 15 minutes later, we’re nowhere NEAR where we should be.

Our hotel was back beside the airport.

I get us turned around after being stuck in traffic for almost an hour (damned closed roads!), and find a familiar street. Stephanie plots us back to the hotel, and we get there around 11 AM.

Check-in is at 3 PM.

Dammit.

So, let’s go downtown and meet our co-workers for lunch. We hop back in the car, and Stephanie plots another course. We’re perfect this time, and make it downtown smoothly. But on the way and navigating we’re all “that street looks familiar” and “so does this one”.

Turns out that when we got “lost” (and I use quotes cause we weren’t really lost, we just took the scenic route), we were about two minutes from where we’re going now. We just drove in one gigantic circle.

Figures.

We finally get downtown and park at a subway station, and take the subway deep into downtown. My first ever subway ride. We meet Adeel and Steve from our Toronto office (Adeel used to work with me here in Winnipeg) and Steve takes us to the Friar and Firkin, an English pub. The food was tremendous (even though it was just pub fare), and talking with Adeel and Steve was a fun time. On the way back to the Toronto office to meet everyone, I got a great picture (forthcoming) of the CTV building with a truck sticking out the side of it a couple floors up.

Back to the office to some other co-workers, and then it was off to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I’d finally get to go here and spend more than 45 minutes there. On the way there, we got a free ice-cream sandwich from in front of Union Station.  We went through the whole building in a few hours, and saw everything from the net filled with 802 pucks (Gretzky’s goal record), to the double-sized Gretzky exhibit, to a ton of Red Wings stuff both new and old, international hockey exhibits, to a live game where I played goal and had virtual Messier and Gretzky shooting at me.

Stopped all five shots, by the way.

Then we went over and walked through the Montreal Canadiens dressing room, and checked out the stalls of all the greats like Lafleur, Roy, Geoffrion, Richard, and the like. I even sat down at Roy’s stall and put on his goalie pads. That was pretty cool.

And no HHOF trip would be complete without a trip upstairs to see the Stanley Cup. We’ve seen it before, but ya just gotta do it, you know? I took extreme close up pics of all the Edmonton Oilers’ engravings. Neat-o. Heck, even Steph liked it.

From there, it was off again on foot (in 32 degrees C) to the CN Tower. What else can you say about it? It’s tall. Really tall. We got the full pass, and went to the Look Out, the Glass Floor, and the Sky Pod. You can get all the heights from the web site, but I think the observation deck is like 1,100 ft up. What a view of the city. Amazing. One level down is the glass floor, which – you guessed it – is a glass floor. You can stand on it (or lay on it, or jump up and down on it) and see right to the ground. Now THAT’S a view you’re not going to forget. It’s a little intimidating to begin with, but you soon get used to it, and it offers quite the perspective. Then it was up another 300+ feet to the Sky Pod, and the view just gets better. I remember looking down next door into the SkyDome (or Rogers Center, currently) and seeing the crew prepping the building for the upcoming soccer exhibition, and the vehicles in there looked like ants. Tiny ants.

After checking out the CN Tower store, we decided just to walk around downtown. Picked up another ice cream sandwich (free, of course), and ended up at East Side Mario’s, one of Stephanie’s all-time favorite restaurants. The food was good, but the server was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so that took away from the experience a little bit, but it was still enjoyable. A little more walking around and then back to the hotel and lovely air conditioning with a chance to rest our feet, and sleep.

On the way into the hotel, I dropped my suitcase, and I jammed the pull-out handle you use when you’re rolling the thing around. This presents a problem for the flight home.

Friday brought about a slightly-later-start-than-we-wanted, but at least we got up in time for the free continental breakfast! Then it was off to Toronto Zoo. Stephanie had been there before, but I was going for the first time. Now, we’re getting used to the place and driving there was much easier.

We get to the Zoo around noon, and get to exploring. We jump on the ZooMobile, a giant multi-seat and multi-section golf cart, complete with tour guide that drives you around on a tour of the zoo. The zoo is broken up into pods, and each pod deals with animals from a different geographical region of the world. You can either stay on the ZooMobile for the entire tour, or you can get off at a particular pod, walk around that area, and then come back and catch a different ZooMobile that will take you to the next pod. Explore that pod, and then jump back on to head to the next one. It’s very efficient and allows you to see a lot of the zoo in a short amount of time.

The enclosures/exhibits are so much bigger than what we have here in Winnipeg. It’s like our zoo is a Lego model and theirs is the real deal. It’s incredible how big this place is. And they’ve got everything, from cats to sea creatures to insects to jungle animals.

Lions and tigers and bears! OH MY!

I’ve seen a lot of these animals at the Winnipeg Zoo as well as the Minneapolis Zoo, so I’ll touch on the highlights, but the first thing we saw was a giraffe. A GIRAFFE! What a way to start the day off!

I’ve seen giraffes on TV and in documentaries, of course, but it’s NOTHING like seeing one from less than 50 feet away. These things are MASSIVE! Gorgeous, gorgeous creatures. We saw rhinos, red pandas, macaques, cheetahs, Komodo dragons, I mean, sheesh, it’s a zoo, but there’s some cool stuff here. The gorillas were awesome.

We’ve seen the gorillas before, actually. We used to watch a show called Zoo Diaries on Animal Planet, and it featured animals from the Toronto and San Diego zoos, so we saw a bunch of these animals live that we originally saw on TV, and the gorillas were a mainstay of the TV program, so to see them up close and personal was very cool.

We toured the zoo for about 4 and a half hours before hitting up the gift shop and heading out.

Stephanie again does a great job at plotting a course to our next destination, a subway station near downtown where we’re going to meet up with Rebecca and Mark. Rebecca is an old friend of Stephanie’s, and we decide to take a walk through the Greek area and find a restaurant to eat at. The two are very fun to talk to and hang out with, and after a great dinner, we walk up and down the streets just exploring. We stop at a book store where we find Rebecca’s recent work published in a few magazines (she’s a writer – check out her site here). Rebecca is extremely talented and I enjoy her work.

Following dinner and walking, we hit up the Stone Cold Creamery for some FANTASTIC ice cream. Sorry Jason, I know it’s not on the approved list, but hell, I’m on vacation! All said, it was a very fun day, some time spent with good folks, and some good food.

We drive back to the hotel, but we kind of stay off the main drags; except for Bloor, the “fashion” area. Only on this street, can you find Winners across the street from Prada.

Tremendous.

We drive through an area dedicated to what seems like auto repair. There’s lots of small “areas” like this (well, not auto repair, but small sections devoted to a particular segment of society) on the way back to the hotel. It’s great to see that all these small businesses are open at midnight on a Friday night – the bay door to one garage was open, and we saw a team of guys underneath a car trying to get it fixed – when businesses here close at dinner time, unless they’re a restaurant/fast food/pizza place, bar, gas station, Walmart, or Shopper’s.

Saturday brings the aforementioned TFCon, and if this place isn’t the last great bastion of geekery on this planet, I don’t know what is. We went to check out the dealer floor, with me looking to score some rare Transformer that’s been the object of my geeky desire since childhood. This dealer floor was HUGE, and it was crowded. We’ve been to ComicCons and stuff before, but at those the floor is divided up with geekery from all fandoms spread around; sports, comics, toys, movies, the works.

This place was ALL Transformers.

I think my brain exploded at least 7 and a half times.

After working the room and seeing what was out there, I picked up an original Predaking which is like #2 on my Holy Grail of Transfomers list, so I was a happy camper. I also got a print from Lil Formers artist Matt Moylan.  Stephanie picked up an awesome Superman t-shirt (the vendor sold shirts for EVERYTHING), and a tiny Optimus Prime pin, so it was win-win all around.

From there, it was off to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM),but not before we stopped to shop at My Pet Boutique to pick up some treats for the fuzzies, and then we stopped for some photo ops and street hot dog (which was fantastic!).

The ROM is cool. Enough said. There’s a really great exhibition on China’s Terracotta Warriors that will have you looking at them all day if you’ll let them. There’s all kinds of artifacts from 2,200 years ago, and the Warriors themselves are amazing. If you’re going to go, spend the extra $7 to see it. It’s awesome.

From there, we went to check out the DINOSAURS!! HOLY SHIT! These things are huge, amazing, awesome, huge, and crazy all rolled into one. Did mention they’re HUGE? Some of them are partial recreations, but there’s a lot of REAL dinosaur stuff from millions of years ago right here in North America. VERY cool, and an awesome exhibit.

We also checked out the bat cave, bird area, Saumrai exhibit, the Greek exhibit, and some other stuff, before we met up with Rebecca again, and this time it was off to Chinatown for food and exploring.

Chinatown is this: lots of Chinese signs, markets, import business, and restaurants. It’s actually much more, but it’s a LOT of these things. And it’s awesome. Only in Chinatown can you walk down the sidewalk and find a cooked goose with his head still attached looking down at you OUTSIDE.

We passed a place selling suitcases on the way to the restaurant. Note to self: check this out on the way back.

We go and eat at one of Rebecca and Mark’s favorite places, and the food – even though I stuck to chicken balls and fried rice – was excellent. A lot more fun conversations were had, and then we picked up and walked around a bit before I bought an orange and black suitcase for $25. Problem solved!

We jumped on a streetcar (also my first time!), which, unfortunately, Rebecca is deathly allergic to like me with Fords. But, she toughed it out like  a Champ, and we went back to the subway station to get back to our car to get back to the airport.

We JUST made it to the airport in time after returning our Fusion (which I now would probably buy if it were just a LITTLE bigger), only to find out our plane has been delayed for an hour and a half due to lightning storms in Montreal. While we’re waiting for the plane, a couple of teenage girls were entertaining us by running, skipping, jumping, and whatever else the wrong way down the moving walkway. Good times.

Thanks to the delay, we got back home around 1 AM-ish. It was another good flight home, although there was a little turbulence because of all the storms.

After about 20 hours of walking around various parts of Toronto and a real late flight, we slept in on Sunday. :)

As usual, I’ll get pics up when I can. I know you’re all still waiting for pics from Vegas, but I’m almost there. Just getting everything organized/cropped/presentable, and then I’ll post everything.

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Progress

So, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this thing. I’m going to try and remedy that, really, I am. I should be posting a lot more. Otherwise, why have the damned site?

Life’s been busy, as I’m sure it is for everyone at most times. Work’s been hectic, plus boot camp (the reason for this post!), helping out with dog agility, getting ready to go to Toronto this week (can anyone say TRANSFORMERSCON?!?!), and the myriad of other things that go on in our lives from day to day.

But, I won’t bore you with kvetching about the trials and tribulations about my life. I wanted to write to you today to let everyone know how things are going with boot camp and the whole weight loss thing.

We wrapped up the Biggest Loser competition back at the end of May, and while we didn’t win the competition, all four of us have seriously improved our lives. I think after the competition, we all kinda had a week or two of “wow, this thing is finally over!” and things were different. That’s not to say that we all of a sudden went from eating really well to eating McDonald’s every day, but things like eating 3 or 4 times a day instead of 5 or 6, drinking less water… it all adds up.

We’re still losing weight, but it’s not as fast as it was at the start. I guess that’s why it’s said that this is a lifestyle change, not a “diet”. You can’t to it in spurts – you have to keep at it every single day.

But regardless whether it’s coming off in droves, or it’s coming off in drips, the point is, it’s coming off, and that’s the most important thing.

Stephanie is doing amazing. She’s well over the 40 pound mark, closer to 50, I believe. Feeling, looking,  and just living so much better. I’m so proud of her.

Me? I just hit the 75 pound mark. My back is no longer sore. All those little things – going for a walk, mowing the grass, standing in line at a concert, or going shopping – now all pain free, and my quality of life is just so much better. I now don’t hesitate at doing those small things like I did before because of the pain. Things are just so much better.

Stephanie keeps saying it’s a small miracle, and really, it is.

If you guys want an endorsement of any kind, here it is. Thank you so much to Jason at Winnipeg Adventure Bootcamp. His meal plans and nutritional advice, plus his fun (yet tough) workouts have done so much to help us turn around. No gimmicks here folks. Just eating right and working hard, and Jason is top-notch when it comes to providing you that information and kick in the ass, as well as support when you need it. Highly recommended for anyone who needs it!

I’ll be back with TransformersCon report after the weekend!

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A Message to Team Fantini

Or as Steph calls it: Team Awesome, lol.

Time to begin the journey, folks. It’s gonna be rough. There’s going to be times where we might all just want to say “fuck it” and pack it in. It’s gonna be hard.

But we’re in good hands with Jason. The guy sounds like he really knows his shit. If we just follow what he tells us, and we work hard, it’s going to be awesome, indeed!

For those times where you DO just want to say “fuck it”, keep in mind the video below.

We can do it!

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Vegas: The Voyage Home

Or, Leaving Las Vegas. Or… nah, there’s no other Vegas-appropriate movie titles I can come up with.

Our last morning in Vegas, we arranged for a late check out, since we needed time to pack up and make sure that we weren’t going to be leaving anything thousands of miles away from home.

Translation: We had to find a way to fit everything Stephanie bought into the same suitcases we came with. :)

After heading downstairs, we check out, and find out the next available shuttle to the airport will be there in little over half an hour, so we head back in and dump a final few dollars into the slot machines, kiss them goodbye, and then head out to the front of the hotel to catch the shuttle to the airport.

The driver was awesome and told us all kinds of stuff about Vegas that we stow away in the back of our minds for when we come back (cause I’m sure we will!), and a few minutes later, we’re at MCCarran International Airport.

Now, you’d think that when you’re at the airport a couple hours ahead of your flight time, you’d have all kinds of time to chill out and relax, but really, those two hours are all just a blur. By the time we check in, get our luggage tagged and checked, take the monorail over to our terminal, stop for a bite to eat (it’s after 1PM by this time and we haven’t eaten yet), hit the head, and actually get to our gate, our flight is boarding in only 15 minutes!

We flew to Vegas on Air Canada, but coming home we were on United. And from Vegas to Denver, we were automatically booked in Economy Plus – you would not believe how much difference an extra six inches of leg room means! Bonus! As an extra bonus, Steph and I are the only two in our row, so no getting wedged between someone else, and we’ve got freedom to move around, look out the window, etc. It was a most excellent flight.

Then we got to Denver.

Didn’t see much of Denver – it was pretty dark at this time, so we didn’t get to see the mountains and all, but we saw the airport.

Boy, did we see the airport.

See, someone in their genius minds decided to make Denver the largest airport in the USA – you can put LaGuardia and O’Hare and LAX all in the space that Denver airport takes, and still have about half the room left over. That’s much ground this place covers.

Not too shabby, I guess. *Someone’s* gotta be the biggest there is.
And then there’s the terminal.

Most terminals I’ve been in have LEVELS. You know… floors? One on top of the other?

The Denver airport is one… long… strip.

ONE floor.

Even though we’ve checked our luggage, we’re still carrying our back packs as carry on. Mine, with my laptop, two digital cameras, video camera, books, and other goodies has got to weigh close to 40 pounds.

We check the terminal directory, and we’re headed for gate 82.

Guess where gate 82 is?

You got it.

Gates 81, 82, and 83 are all tucked away in the deepest, darkest recesses of the entire airport, in a little tiny corner WAAAAAAAAAY at the ENTIRE OPPOSITE end of the airport. You can’t even SEE from one end to the other, this place is so big.

This isn’t good. We’re tired. We’ve had a long 5 days.

So, we do all that we can do – we hike up our back packs, and start hoofing it, watching with faces green with envy as a senior couple gets a ride all the way down from the airport folks in a frigging golf cart.

Then, as if someone out there was listening to all of our bitching and moaning, we’re saved! MOVING WALKWAYS! That’s GOTTA be faster than us walking all the way there, so we gladly jump aboard and we’re whisked away (at a snail’s pace) down the walkway. We get to an intersection, walk a bit farther, and then there’s another gigantic moving walkway.

Wash, rinse, and repeat, and 5 moving walkways later, we’re within sight of our gate. And as we start to get to the final corner, we’re asked by a security guy – sitting in a golf cart – if we needed a ride anywhere.

“Where the fuck were you when we were all the way at the other end of the airport… 30 MINUTES ago?”

No, I didn’t say that. Really, I didn’t. Ok, I did. In my head.

“Actually, sir, our gate is right over there, but thanks for the offer. We could have used you half an hour ago, though!” Steph says with a chuckle.

“Oh man,” he says. “You guys walked all the way down here?”

“Yup.”

“That’s too bad. Make sure you ask for a ride next time you come through here.”

“Right. Next time. Thank you, sir.”

Next time.

Hmmph.

So anyway, we get to our gate, and we’re boarding in like 15 minutes. There’s hardly anyone at our gate. I take the opportunity to call my sister, as it’s her birthday today, but the phone is busy. Figures, as everyone else is probably trying to call her, too. So I keep trying for about 10 minutes, and finally I get through. No busy signal.

Voice mail, lol.

I leave her a message, and then it’s time to board the plane. We get out there, and I swear it felt like we were walking into a plastic toy. This is the smallest plane I’ve ever seen. We’re still flying United from Denver to Winnipeg, but this ain’t no 737 or Airbus. It’s a CRJ. I’ll give you a couple guesses as to what the “R” stands for.

CanadAir REGIONAL Jet.

Translation: Not designed to go very far.

Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard Hungry Scottish Translation: “Ohhh… it’s like a wee baby. *lip smack*lip smack*”

Awesome.

I immediately notice there’s only two seats per side instead of three, and the overhead bins look like they’re at least half the size of the ones on the Airbuses we flew in on. There’s 14 rows.

And 11 passengers.

The flight attendant tells us to “pick a row” and we make ourselves comfortable. We have to strap our backpacks into the seat next to us – cause they don’t fit in the miniature overhead toasters – but we settle in for the ride back to Winnipeg.

Like the Goodyear Tire commercial.

“Goin’ to Winnipeg!”

Flight Attendant Sidebar: Our flight attendant (from now known as FA) is a young guy, and he obviously enjoys his job. And he’s good at it, but more on that later. Think Tony DiNozo on NCIS.

We prepare to take off, and the FA goes through the safety spiel. Once we’re in the air, the Captain comes on the intercom and gives us the details of the flight. It was snowing a bit when we left, and we had to get a quick de-icing before taking off. The Captain explains that the weather isn’t great in Winnipeg, it’s snowing well, and we’ve been given an alternate landing point in Fargo, North Dakota.

Great. That’s all I need right now, is to get stuck in frigging FARGO.
The flight, though, was fairly good, despite all the obvious room for error and design for discomfort. I rather enjoyed it, especially when the FA would get into his antics.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, all *eleven* of you, I just thought I’d let you know that we’re up at about 32,000 feet, and we’re travelling at about 589 THOUSAND miles per hour.”

WTF?, methinks?

“Let me explain that to you,” he says.

Ok, awesome.

“Our aircraft is travelling at about 589 miles per hour. When you take into the consideration that the Earth rotates at a speed of about 1000 miles per hour, and the Earth hurtles through space at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour. If you put all that together into a nice little scientific formula I have here, and that gets us to 589 thousand miles per hour.”

So we got stuff like that pretty much interspersed throughout the whole flight from Denver to Winnipeg over the course of the next two and a half hours. Entertaining as hell.

But, we were happy to see the lights of Winnipeg when we arrived, and Steph’s mom and dad were there to pick us up once we’d gone through customs and declared everything (good thing we left most of the receipts in our luggage! I’m just kidding. Really.) and we went home.

It was awesome to see how mind exploding it was to our dogs when we got home, and their excitement was a great welcome back.

And that’s our trip. It was a blast, and I can’t wait to do it again.

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Welcome Back: Vegas: Day 4

What-a-do, everybody?

Welcome back to the blog, and Happy New Year to y’all. I hope everyone had an excellent holiday season, and we’re all healthy and happy. I know we’re all a few pounds heavier thanks to all the massive amounts of food! Mmmm… Aunt Elvie’s meatballs!!

So, where were we? Oh yeah… Vegas. Day 4 of 5. This was going to be our last full day in Vegas, so we had a lot planned. The weather continues to be awesome. Should have pulled out the shorts while I could!

Hmm. Maybe not a good idea. The sheer whiteness of my legs would have blinded half of Vegas. Never mind the Strip full of Neon.

We started the day inside the MGM Grand, where they have something called CSI Experience.

Here’s a little tip. If you’re a fan of CSI – any version – and you’re in Vegas, this is something you HAVE to check out.

Once we bought our tickets (I was a little confused; was this a show?), we were taken downstairs into the bowels of the place by a lovely (wink wink, nudge nudge) young lady dressed up in full CSI gear, and we’re made CSI Agents. Unfortunately, we didn’t get our own flak jackets, side arms, and awesome investigator kit full of goodies like you see on the show. I always wanted my own fingerprint paper, black light, and handcuffs.

Don’t you “Oooooooooh” me! Get your minds out of the gutter!

Anywho, we’re signed up and made Agents, and we get a choice of what crime scene we want to try and solve. We have a choice of three – one where a car has been driven into a house, one where a body has been found in a dumpster, and one where human remains are found in the desert.

Steph and I chose the one where the car has been found smashed through the front of the house, since there’s tons of blood, and we’ve always been interested in the way the show explains the mechanics of blood spatter, so we’re in.

Once we’ve chosen our case, we’re taken through to an empty room with a video screen in it, and we get to see a short video. We’re getting our own personal pep talk from our supervisor, none other than Gil Grissom himself! I guess this place was made a year or two ago, since the Grissom character is no longer on the show, which is a shame, since he was the most interesting.

But, I digress.

Once we get our welcome message, instructions/reminders, and heads up from Grissom, we’re taken into another room where our crime scene is. I thought it might be a video/still frame, or a display, or something, but they’ve ACTUALLY RECREATED the crime scene in full life sized detail. There’s A CAR smashed through a wall in someone’s living room! This is so cool!

Steph and I are being awesome agents, documenting everything we see, noting fingerprints, the way the car was wrecked, the scatter of the debris throughout the living room, family pictures giving information, footprints, and of course, all the blood you might find at a real accident where someone’s wrecked a car through the front wall of a house at a real high speed and been killed.

Once we’re done collecting/documenting evidence, we head off into the back, where they have several actual labs set up for each crime scene. I was channeling my inner Grissom, and we had fingerprints identified, footprints scanned, blood work done, toxicology panels done, dirt samples and hair samples evaluated, and each lab pieced together part of the story and led us down the path to finding the suspect and pinning the evidence to him. We didn’t get to physically *handle* evidence, but it was all built into their computer programs. Very well done.

When all the labs were completed and we thought we’d figured out what happened, we went to file our final report and submit who we thought did it. Steph and I were both correct, and once again Grissom came on and told us what a fabulous job we’d done. The whole story, complete with how the scene happened, was played for us after we solved it, and now we understood how it all came together. We fired in our email addresses, where we could have our very own CSI diplomas emailed to us!

Take THAT, over-educated and highly-paid crime scene investigators!

After a grueling morning solving crimes and proving our highly elevated brain power, we spent some time in the CSI store and picked up some memorabilia. From there, we went shopping at the CBS store – fitting, since CSI airs on CBS. I thought maybe I could pick up some Craig Ferguson merchandise, but alas, they all had their heads up their asses – no Ferguson stuff to be had! I was denied my replica snake mug! Steph managed to pick up her very own Survivor buff and a couple other things, and after a stop at the Harley Davidson store, we thought we’d take a break and grab a bite to eat as it was close to lunch time.

We found this sandwich shop near to the CSI area, and went in for a snack. The place was called “‘wich craft”, and let me tell ya, they’re working SOME kind of voodoo at that place, since it was packed, and they must have some powerful magic to accomplish that with two sodas, sandwiches, and soups costing close to $35. It’s like they have this magical aura that sucks people into opening their wallets and throwing everything down for their food, which wasn’t really even all that good.

Note to y’all visiting MGM Grand: AVOID ‘wich craft!

After being worked over by their spell, we left the sandwich shop and went back to the hotel to drop off our purchases, before heading to the Mirage to spend the rest of the day there, and we headed straight to Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden.

This place is so cool. You come through the gate, and there’s this grand walkway with bridges through the trees and over water – all very beautiful, and you come through at the end to the dolphin area.

There’s a large man-made pond, and we arrived just at the end of a “show”, where the dolphins would have been doing all the flips and jumps and tricks and all, so we just watched them swimming for a while, and being trained to do some actions by their handlers. Dolphins are mega-cute, so while we didn’t get a show, it was very cool just to watch them swim, play for their handlers, make sounds, and generally have a good time. It even looks like they smile when they’re getting fed or rewarded for a job well done.

For a quick moment, I felt like jumping out of my chair and recreating the scene from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective where he leaps into the pool and does his Star Trek impressions.

Not only would that have gotten me arrested, I would have been soaking wet.

From there, it was off down the path into the trees, and we came across an enclosure filled with alpacas. If you don’t know what an alpaca is, it’s basically like a smaller, furrier version of a camel. There were three or four of them lounging around in the sun, really not doing much but being kept company by a robin.

Moving on past the alpacas, it was time for what we came for.

The big cats.

The first enclosure had a black panther perched high in a resting area, but it’s face was in full view, and I got a tremendous shot of it. Thank you zoom lens!

One enclosure had Siegfried and Roy’s signature, the white tiger. The animal was huge, and gorgeous. It walked around, really not caring too much about the people crowded around to see it, but DAMN, it was a big cat. Again, there will be pictures coming later.

Moving on, we got about two feet away from a long, high, mesh fence, where both a female and male LION were in their enclosure. The female was pretty tired, so she didn’t do much at all other than lie there, but the boy… oh BOY… when he was walking the fence, he was literally three feet away from us. He was HUGE. Like XBOX. A big, flowing mane like Fabio, and a roar like you’ve never heard. This lion’s roar REVERBERATED through the small forest, and you could hear him way back at the dolphin pond just like he was standing right beside you. I’m sure we’ve all heard a lion roar on TV at one time, or we’ve seen any MGM film begin/end with the lion roaring, but there’s nothing.. AND THE ROCK MEANS… NOTHING… that compares to a gigantic male lion roar live and in the flesh – three feet away from you. You shake and shiver from your head right down to your toes and all parts in between. If that fence wasn’t there, I surely would have needed a new pair of pants. Wow. Simply amazing. Gorgeous, gorgeous animals.

Around the corner from the big scary lions were the highlight of the Garden: two teeny white tiger cubs! Everyone there practically DIED of cuteness. They were sleeping when we got there (great photos!), but the handlers woke them up, and they started to play a bit. Think about it. Tiny, little, cute, itty bitty tigers. Playing like house cats. We got to ask the handlers questions about their time with them, how they’re raised, and got stories about their experiences. It was an awesome experience.

On the way out of the Secret Garden, there was one more tiger enclosure, with 5 – count ‘em – 5 tigers.

Discovery Channel Sidebar: In watching recent documentaries on tigers – cause we do that, as we’re obsessed with big cats – researchers were surprised to see that tigers remain functioning as a family unit throughout their lives. It was previously believed that tigers were a very autonomous animal, preferring to be alone, but this research clearly showed the male tigers returning to the pack after long trips patrolling and defending their territory, when they were thought to have abandoned the pack altogether.

Back to the story. So we get to this enclosure with 5 tigers – both white and Siberian tigers are in there – and they’re all sleeping in a giant pile, curled up like a mound of puppies. Yup, they sure look pretty lonely to me! How cute is that? Anywho, the flashbulbs start going off by the dozens. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Absolutely adorable.

It’s time to leave the Secret Garden, so we stop at the gift shop on the way out – well, Steph did, and I went back to watch the dolphins – and Steph picked up some goodies, as well as some pictures. On the way in, there’s a spot where you get photographed against a green screen, and then the folks at the Garden put that photo into a pre-made scene, so it looks like you’re standing in the rainforest amongst the tigers, or any number of other different scenes. We picked that up as well, and headed back inside the Mirage, where we were to meet our friend Karen, as well as Karen’s mom and dad, Hans and Jan, who were in Vegas the same time as we were.

Why was that, you may ask? Well, that’s for a completely separate blog entry, which may require a whole lot of wobbly pops before I get the cajones to write.

Anyways, we meet the Schweitzer clan and head over to B. B. King’s restaurant and club for some down home southern cooking. I took a few of photos inside the bar, and we ordered our drinks. I don’t remember what everyone had to eat, but it was all very delicious. I had some Cajun chicken pasta, but the other thing I remember was Jan ordering a rather large baked potato.

The waiter described it as the size of a small baby.

I must stop and tell you here, that this baked potato was the single largest baked potato I have ever seen. Huge. Covered in enough bacon, sour cream, green onion, and butter to create a mid-sized gooey fortress, this was the absolute Queen Mother, the flagship of all baked potatoes. When she saw this thing carried out by six large muscular men (ok, I made that part up) and placed in front of her, I swear Jan’s eyes jumped out of her head, and right THROUGH her glasses into the butter. Her jaw was somewhere at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Get the picture now? It WAS the size of a small baby!

Needless to say, Jan didn’t finish the baked potato from hell, but we all had a great time, exchanged Vegas stories, and especially talked about what was coming next, after dinner.

Terry. Fator.

We all had tickets to see the winner of the second season of America’s Got Talent, and if you haven’t seen this guy, go on to YouTube, find a DVD, scour the internet and your TV, because this guy is MONEY.

But before Terry, the Schweitzer’s and Stephanie went out front of the Mirage to catch the 7 PM performance of the Mirage volcano, a tourist attraction that’s a simulation of a volcano put to music. We’ve got video of it. I, meanwhile, was, um, occupied, so I didn’t go, but the video was great. Steph says it was fantastic, so take her word for it.

On to Terry Fator. If you haven’t seen him, picture this. He’s a guy that not only sings his own stuff, but he does drop dead impersonations of music legends such as Louis Armstrong, Sonny Bono, Aaron Neville, Justin Timberlake, Elvis Presley, Garth Brooks, The Pussycat Dolls, and a whole lot more. He’s called the Human Jukebox.

And he does it all… with his mouth SHUT.

Yup. He does it while performing ventriloquism. Words just don’t describe this guy’s ability. And does it all around a comedy act, to boot. So we head to the show, we have great seats, and settle in for what’s bound to be a night of unreal entertainment.

To open things up, Terry’s DJ fires the crowd up with music, and does a version of the evolution of dance, where he strings together all the different dance moves from the 40’s and 50’s right up until today. It’s a great act.

Then Terry himself comes on, and I mean, this guy’s humble as apple pie. He’s been on the road for 26 years before he got his big break, and he tells us all that if we’ve got cameras, use ‘em. Take all the pictures you want to. If you brought your video camera, please don’t record the ENTIRE show, but feel free to record some clips as souvenirs. NO ONE does that. NO. ONE.

Yeah, we got some clips. If you can’t wait to see them, you can always check out Terry’s official home page, where there are some clips:

http://www.terryfator.com/videos.html

Almost two hours later, we’ve been through the comedy and musical ringer, and like Jan’s jaw at dinner, ours were all on the floor in amazement – when they were busy laughing our asses off at how funny this guy is. Terry also did a sincere, honorable tribute to all those in the crowd that have been or are currently in the military, and following the show, he announced that he would be outside to have pictures taken and sign autographs, and wouldn’t leave until each and every one of us that wanted one, would get one.

So we waited about 30 minutes in line, got to meet Terry, get a picture taken, and got his new DVD and got it autographed.

Good times, good times.

What to do next? Well, B. B. King’s is – go figure – a BLUES bar, so we thought we’d all go back and have a drink there and listen to some tunes. The Schweitzers went ahead to get a seat as Steph and I were busy meeting Terry, and I got back to the bar ahead of Steph, as she went to pick up the actual picture we had taken, and I found Jan with her head buried in her hands at the table. I thought she was just hammered, but then I heard the band start playing their next song. It was an incredibly bad version of some song by Akon, and we couldn’t stand it. We lasted long enough in the bar to have a drink after we stood in line for over half an hour, but that was about it. Oh yeah, Steph had some cheesecake or something, but that band cleared us out of the bar faster than a giant fart.

Jan asked the management why there wasn’t any blues band, but it turns out the main band had issues/was sick/couldn’t make it, so these guys filled in.

BAD CHOICE.

So, it was kind of a sour end to an otherwise fantastic day in Vegas, but fun was had by all. Well, everyone except for my back, who at this time was calling me every name in the book, and some that hadn’t even been invented yet.

Oh well. Back to the hotel room to crash!

Next: Vegas: The Voyage Home

By

Vegas: Day 3

After a late night overload of gambling, thrill rides at 1000 feet in the air, and lots of great boobs, we’ve slept in a bit on Day 3. I had a horrible sleep, like the pillow was trying to constantly suffocate me (or was that just Steph trying to cash in on the insurance money?), so we took a while to get mobile.

When we did, it was off for morning (late morning) fuel, so we headed over to the Rainforest Cafe. Yeah, I know, it’s a national chain (take THAT, Brent!), but it’s somewhere Stephanie has always wanted to go, and we didn’t get a chance when we were last in Minneapolis.

We split a tiny pizza for an appetizer, and I can’t really remember what else we had, but the food doesn’t matter. You go to the RFC for the environment. Literally. You first enter the RFC through a 10,000 gallon overhead double archway aquarium with all kinds of little fishy-type things in it. The host (who calls himself a Tour Guide) walks you to your table. Once inside, the entire place is like a tropical area or jungle; the walls are covered with vines, trees and plants, and interspersed throughout are various animals – there’s a family of gorillas in one corner, elephants in another, a cheetah in different locations on the wall, and birds, parrots, and butterflies (OH MY!) up in the rafters (where there’s even MORE vegetation).

Our order is taken by our Wildlife Guide (they’re taking this environment thing quite literally, which is cool), and we start looking around at the aforementioned local flora and fauna. Every few minutes, one of the animals in the cafe will start doing something; the gorillas will make a ton of noise, the elephants will as well; the cheetahs roar and swish their tails around.

Every 30 minutes, the cafe puts on a mock thunderstorm, with the lights flashing, simulated lightning flashing throughout the cafe (hey, we ARE in a rainforest, after all) and all the animals in the place just FREAK OUT. The gorillas are all stomping around and “OHH OHH AHH AHH!”-ing, the elephants are screaming, the cheetahs are roaring and swishing their tails like they’re swatting at some imaginary foe, everything just going berserk. Hilarious!

We finish up and Stephanie does some shopping at the RFC merchandise store, and then it’s off outside to head around the corner to the M&Ms store.

Not the meat place. The CANDY.

But on the way, we’re basically accosted by these two guys from Planet Hollywood that want us to come and listen to this 90 minute presentation on the new building they’re… um… building, and sell us on staying there the next time we come to Vegas. We’ll get $100 in chips at PH for our time, and we realize pretty fast that there’s some kind of catch here. Are they going to try and sell us a condo or time share or something? I keep declining and wanting to leave, but the guy just won’t SHUT UP, and keeps trying to sweeten the deal. He’ll give us dinner in a couple places while we’re in town, and give us three free days at Planet Hollywood if we’ll come to the seminar. On TOP of the now $150 in chips he’s offering. Stephanie is now interested, but I’m having nothing to do with it. This is gonna be a con-job of the NTH degree, and I want nothing more than to get OUT of there. I finally just tell the guy “no, thanks” and turn to leave.

Back out onto the Strip, and around the corner, and there it is.

FOUR, GLORIOUS FLOORS of all things M&Ms. This building is MASSIVE! How else can I explain this? I really can’t.

28,000+ square feet of M&M memorabilia.

If you can think of a product and put a M&Ms spin on it, they’ve probably got it here. Clothing, accessories, jewelry, alarm clocks, shower radios, book ends, books, golf club covers, golf balls, mugs, little tiny kid’s stuff, older kid’s stuff, adult stuff, dolls (well, I’ll call ‘em action figures)… I mean, they have a FREAKING STOCK CAR up on the fourth floor, all decked out in a custom M&M paint job, along with NASCAR driving outfits, leather jackets, shirts, everything! It’s CRAZY!

So we spend a good couple hours in there, picking up a couple things for the niece and nephew. Steph got a couple things for herself, and I grabbed a yellow M&M golf club cover and a dog tag necklace. Before leaving, we even got a picture with Green M&M herself!

Back outside, we see the giant Coca-Cola bottle next to the M&M store, which used to house a Coke museum, but now all that’s in there is an elevator to take you to the top – it’s all part of the integrated mall. The thing is taller than the rest of the mall around it – take THAT, Pepsi!

Next door is the Hard Rock Cafe, which has a MASSIVE illuminated guitar sign on the outside of it.

We then realize we’ve killed the better part of a few hours, and we have to get to the Venetian to Emeril’s Delmonico Steak House, which, for me, is a giant object of personal excitement for me. We’ve always watched Emeril Lagasse on FoodTV, and have always wanted to try one of his restaurants, and we’re finally about to do it.

We get to the Venetian, and once inside, we’re immediately taken aback by the architecture and design of the lobby and main hallway that leads down to the casino. The place is done up like OLD SCHOOL Italy, complete with pictures on the domed ceilings and everything.

We’re a little early, so we stop and plunk a few bucks into the slots, but of course, it all disappears, and we head over to Emeril’s.

First off, the place is huge. And very white. It’s kind of plain in there – not a lot of art on the walls, or color, but still, the environment manages to be very inviting and comfortable. The acoustics in the place let you hear EVERYTHING – conversations across the room are heard plain as day, so somehow we try to be a little quiet, but it doesn’t matter.

We’re greeted and sat down, and our waiter introduces himself and lets us know that he – and two others – will be taking care of us tonight. Wow. Where some  restaurants have a full compliment of cutlery and dishes and glasses already out on the table for you, our table is empty, and only what is needed is brought to us – very efficient.

We give our order, and almost instantaneously after, our drinks, along with a tall glass of water are brought to the table, along with small dishes, butter, and a knife for the fresh-from-the-oven bun – delivered by TONG – as it’s placed on our plate.

I *have* to stop here and mention that the service at Emeril’s was absolutely world class. It was phenomenal – the absolute best I’ve ever had. Drank half of your water or pop? The young lady is there to fill it for you post-haste. The glass was never more than half empty. Finish your bun? Another, fresh, warm bun was almost immediately tonged onto your plate, followed by fresh butter. Amazing.

Then the REAL food starts coming out.

For an appetizer, we wanted to compare Emeril’s crab cake to Wolfgang’s crab cake, so we ordered the lump crab cake. Where Wolfgang’s was patty-styled, Emeril’s was hunks of crab meat, fresh, juicy, and tangy. Absolutely wonderful. Both were amazing, but in different ways. I think I’d give the (slight) edge to Emeril here. We polish off the crab cake, and wait for the entrees to arrive.

And… they come.

And they look AMAZING.

Stephanie had the rib eye steak with vegetables and an Idaho baked potato. I had the BBQ salmon, which came with tiny onion rings and chopped veggies. Steph asked for her steak well done, so when they brought it out, they asked her to check it (unheard of here), and it turns out it was a little under-cooked. Profuse apologies abound, and her steak is taken back, AND… my plate is taken to keep my food warm. Refills are immediately brought. Now THAT’s service. We kept our potatoes and started loading them up with bacon, green onions, and sour cream and butter, so it’s not like we were missing anything,

HUGE KUDOS for the Emeril’s team for caring to get it right.

Not 10 minutes later everything is back out to us, and folks, I’m just going to put this bluntly… if it were physically *possible* for taste buds to have orgasms, then Emeril’s would have been the wettest place this side of the mighty Mississippi.

Just close your eyes, let the food literally melt in your mouth, let out a few audible “mmmmmmmmmmms”, and “Oh my God’s”, proclaim how fantastic everything is, and enjoy.

That’s how good it was. You just can’t physically explain it.

With apologies to everyone I know that’s ever cooked for me, THIS was hands down the BEST meal I’ve ever had. That simple. There’s no other way to put it. It’s like sex on a plate.

So, we enjoy the hell out of everything, but leave some of our potatoes as we’re getting pretty full, but dammit, this is EMERIL’S, and we’re GOING to have dessert.

Stephanie chooses Emeril’s Banana Cream Pie, and I go for the Root Beer Float.

As expected, Steph’s dessert was the Best Damned Banana Cream Pie on the Planet, and my root beer float was actually made with a special root beer brewed in New Orleans. TREMENDOUS.

We finish up, thank the staff for an absolutely fantastic experience – and folks, cheaper than places back home like 529 – and take our leave.

If you ever come to Vegas, you’ve GOT to come here. It’s WORTH it.

Steph decides to take a walk around the shops of the Palazzo, which is way too high end and haute-couture for me, so I take a seat on a bench near Emeril’s and wait. Once Stephanie returns, we head back to the casino, and end up playing the greatest slot machine of them all.

The Price Is Right.

Complete with Plinko, The Mountain Climber, the Big Wheel, and Showcase Showdowns, this is a GREAT slots game. You can hit bonuses that let you play Plinko or the Mountain Climber game, try to win showcases, or spin the wheel for big credits. It’s awesome, and not boring like the other slots games we played. Even the game show music is true to the show and mesmerizing.

I had the distinction of watching my mountain climber dude yodel his ass right off the edge of the cliff on several occasions. I forget how long we played for, but it was FUN, and then it was time to head to the Bellagio to see the famous light and fountain shows.

Headed outside and into a cab, and we got a really cool cab driver. He gave us all kinds of info and tips about the places we were driving by, and was fun to talk to, unlike most cab drivers who wouldn’t say a word, or else were too occupied talking on the phone. And, as we were pulling into the Bellagio, he was kind enough to point out the best vantage point to watch the fountain show from. We thanked him, handed him a generous tip, and with camera and video recorder in hand, we headed over to the balcony by the lake to watch the show.

We just missed a show, so there was about 10 minutes before the next one would start. We took the time to look around and see the sights from the other side of the Strip. We saw Paris, with the scaled down Eiffel Tower, the new site of Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina, the Flamingo – complete with a GIANT visage of Donny and Marie Osmond down one side of it. It must have covered 80% of the side of the hotel.

Seeing all the lights was pretty cool, and then we pulled out the equipment to get ready to capture the show – Stephanie with the still camera, and me with the video camera. I was playing around with the video camera, and realized I could zoom in a HELL of a distance. So I pointed the camera at the Flamingo – which was several blocks away, and started zooming in all over the hotel room windows. I soon discovered I was almost able to watch…

Get your head out of gutter, folks.

I could see images moving on the *television*. Couldn’t quite tell what it was, but I thought that was pretty impressive.

So now, the show’s about to start, and it’s also quite impressive. A coordinated display of lights, music, and water eruptions over a 3.5 square kilometer lake. Very cool. Each performance is about five minutes long with a ten minute break in between, and we stayed for three or four shows.

Hard to describe other than what I said above, but I’ve got video to post once I get it all organized. Neat stuff.

I even managed to do a pretty phenomenal job of following one of the shows with the video camera, and I did it all with the video recorder on pause.

Yes, folks, sometimes I manage to amaze even myself.

That ends our night, and we hop a cab back to the MGM Grand, and in checking the camera, we’ve taken 337 pictures so far, and this is only day 3.

Now, it’s back to sleep, in hopes that the pillow (or Steph) isn’t going to try and kill me in my sleep.

By

Vegas: Day 2

So, how do we follow up the extra-spectacular eye-candy that was KA the night before?

You don’t, really.

TOMORROW IS A NEW DAY!

We open up Day 2 with brunch. Specifically, the MGM Grand buffet (on this blog, pronounced “boo-fay”, in honor of Phoebe on the “Friends” TV show). We’ve been told by everyone – “You have to check out the buffets!”, so here we are. And, let me tell you, Mister (or whatever title you prefer)… WHAT A SPREAD.

There’s like a dozen rows of glass stations, all filled with food. They had breakfast AND lunch, so we had EVERYTHING. Bacon, eggs, sausages, 4 different kinds of breakfast potatoes, fruit, quiches, pancakes, waffles, omelet stations, and more. For lunch, there was chicken tenders, sushi, salads, a full taco bar, a Chinese food station, a full Italian station (all kinds of pastas), and plenty more. Not to mention the desert bar, which had multiple kinds of cakes, crème-brulee, and ice cream with chocolate, strawberry, sprinkles, nuts, and my favorite, tiny M&M candies for toppers.

Everything was absolutely awesome. Well, except for the sushi. Steph ate it, but I refuse to eat sushi just on the principle of it. So, it sucked. It was a little expensive -  around $55 for the both of us – but it was very high-quality, and I’d do it again. Especially for the ice cream with the mini-M&M’s on top!

So, we finish up, loosen the belt a couple notches, and waddle our way over to the MGM Grand Lion Habitat. This is so cool. They have two adult, female lions in the habitat, which itself is an enclosed, somewhat large area, with toys for them to play with, a small area for water (a waterfall), and an upper area that they climb on – which doubles as an underneath viewing area for patrons; there’s a tunnel you can walk into that’s directly underneath where the lions climb and sleep, so you get a VERY close view of these giant cats. These lions are actually maintained by a gentleman that lives just outside Vegas. He maintains a lion sanctuary, and the lions inside the MGM habitat are actually swapped out every 6 or 7 hours, so they’re not spending all their time in captivity. Very cool. We snapped a whole bunch of pictures here, and then one of the best things of the whole trip happened next.

Not only are there two big lions to look at, there’s also a few month old cub! And not only is the cub there, but you CAN TAKE YOUR PICTURE WITH IT!

So Steph and I got in line, waited about 30 minutes, and then there we were, standing in a room behind this absolutely CUTE little lion cub – Steve Irwin would call her a “good lookin’ little Sheila!” She was on a table facing away from us (her name is Pebbles), and we got to pet her back while the handler got her psyched up with toys to look into the camera. We got a perfect shot, and an 8×10 to bring home with us.

Steve-o  would also have summed it up best: “WHOO-HOO!”

So, after getting our picture and purchasing a few things from the Lion Habitat store, we head over to kill a few minutes on the slot machines, before deciding we’ve been inside the hotel for too long. We head outside, and walk around the corner, where we’re in full view of the Strip. We get pictures of the MGM Grand statues outside, New York New York across the street, featuring the roller coaster on top of the hotel, the miniature Brooklyn bridge and the smaller-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty. We can also see Excalibur, the Hooters Hotel (should have stayed there!), and other places. It’s awesome outside, about +10 degrees.

Well, just about awesome. Stephanie all of a sudden stops dead in her tracks, and punches me in the shoulder.

“Jarret! MY BAG!”

“What?”

“My bag! With our stuff from the Lion Habitat! It’s still in the casino!”

We left it at the damned slot machines.

Steph turns and BOLTS back for the door, and I follow her back. When I get to the casino, she’s long gone, but I go back to our slot machine, and of course, the bag is gone.

Well, kiss that $100 goodbye.

I hang back near the open area that leads to the doors, ensuring that Steph can find me on her way back, and then moments later, I see her ZOOMING across the casino floor in the opposite direction. Aaaaaaaand, she disappears.

So I wait for a little longer, maybe another 5 minutes, and then she comes roaring back towards me, skipping, if you will, and she’s holding her bag in the air like an Olympic torch bearer. Either a patron, or an employee, or Security found the bad and turned it in. Thank you whoever you are! Steph couldn’t be happier. Pebbles is safe and sound!

From there, we decide to hit the Stratosphere. So, we manage to almost walk around the entire MGM Grand (or at least that’s what my back told me) and we get to the monorail area, buy a 3 day pass, and jump on board. It’s quite a fun ride, heading from the MGM Grand and then back north, passing hotels like Bally’s, Wynn, the new Planet Hollywood, and the Hilton Las Vegas, before arriving across the street from the Sahara. We jump in a cab and head over to the Stratosphere, and DAMN that thing is huge. A big tower, over 1000 feet straight up. We go through the casino and walk around the place, seeing all the shops, and two of the most aggressive cell phone accessories salesmen I’ve ever met.

It’s too early to go up to the observation deck, so we decide to head to this show called American Superstars, a show with several musical celebrity impersonators. Or, tribute artists, as they prefer to be called. It starts in like 5 minutes, so, we hurry and purchase our tickets (close to the stage), and head into the venue, only to find people still setting up for the show. A lady informs us we’re rather early, and I check my watch, which is somehow displaying the second time zone, and we’re 90 minutes early.

Question #1: How did my watch flip over to the other time zone?

Question #2: Since when does a time zone contain half an hour anywhere else than in Newfoundland? Certainly not in the middle of the continent?

So while we’re busy trying to solve these mysteries, we decide we need a bite to eat, and head over to a nearby pretzel place. I have the world’s greasiest pretzel dog, and we head back to the show. This time, we’re seated, and I need to go to a sidebar here.

When we bought our tickets, we were looking at places close to the stage, and they had some nice looking booths there. Now, me and booths normally don’t get along. And really, it’s not the booth’s fault. It’s the fact that my ass is the size of nine normal human asses. So I ask the guy: “Are the booths BIG? I’m a big guy, so I need to be able to get in there.”

The guy sizes me up, and says no problem. So we buy the booth.

Now, we’re getting seated, and this lovely lady shows us to our booth, which I immediately ascertain can only fit three human asses, not nine, so I tell her this, and she moves us to a table right in front of the stage. Awesome.

Then, we see an ad on the big screen, where if you bought tickets to the show, you can add on admittance to the Stratosphere tower for only $5. That ALSO includes a boo-fay. Don’t need the boo-fay, but if we were to buy tickets to the tower separately, it would cost $15 each. Thanks for telling us at the ticket booth!

So Steph – who doesn’t mind paying for things, but absolutely HATES getting ripped off on anything, boogies her way out to the front, and comes back with new show tickets with the admission to the tower tagged on. You go, girl!

The show is about to start. First dude up is Elvis. Or, a dude playing Elvis. Or, as they prefer, a dude paying tribute to Elvis. Whatever the hell they call it, this guy is MONEY. He’s like Elvis reincarnated. He’s singing about Blue Suede Shoes, and how he’s a hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin’ love, and he’s shaking everything and sweating his ass off, and he’s NAILING this performance. Later on, he tells us that a couple years ago, he went to Graceland, and they had an Elvis impersonator competition, and out of over 300 Elvis’s (Elvii??)… he WON. Holy shit. But yeah, he’s THAT good, and we have a blast.

The next dude did a Tim McGraw impersonation, but his singing was mediocre, and he acted way too cocky to be like Tim McGraw. Up next, a Britney impersonator, and while I don’t really like her music, at least this woman was easy on the eyes – and the outfits certainly didn’t hurt her situation. She even said during her show, that we “don’t need to be a Britney fan to be MY fan!”, and I’m instantly convinced.

“Britney” finishes her set, and next, we’re introduced to Carrie Underwood, and this girl doesn’t really look like Carrie at all. She’s very pretty, and the headlights were on ultra high beams, if you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down, and she was a decent enough singer, but NOT Carrie Underwood. And she doesn’t even sing any of Carrie’s popular songs. Pass.

But next, we’re promised, the man, the myth, the legend, the King of Pop.. MICHAEL JACKSON! And HOLY CRAP does this guy ever LOOK like Michael! His voice is a little off, but let’s face it, only Michael could ever sound like Michael, so no problem there. This guy ROCKETS through all of MJ’s biggest hits, and moonwalks his ass across the stage just like MJ himself. He looks, dances, dresses, acts, talks, and I’m sure sneezes, eats, and shits just like Michael too. WOW.

Shane Parsons, if you’re reading this, you NEED to go see this show if you can!

*crotch grab* HEE-HEE!

From there, we’re off to the Stratosphere tower. The observation deck is 900 feet in the air. 108 floors up. The elevator goes up at a rate of three floors per second. That’s a 36 second trip.

I can’t get taken up *5* floors at my office in 36 seconds.

We arrive at the 108th floor. I tell you, you haven’t seen Vegas until you’ve seen it at night, and from almost 900 feet in the air. You can walk all the way around the tower, seeing an amazing night-time view of Las Vegas, all lit up. You can see the *whole* city, and seeing the whole thing lit up is VERY cool. Words can’t do it justice, so when I post the pictures, you’ll have to go check. We walk all the way around the tower, and once we’ve had our fill of the view, we head back to the elevator, where the same elevator dude that brought us up asks us if we want to go OUTSIDE.

Excuse me?

The 10*9*th floor is an OUTDOOR observation deck, about 1/3rd of the way around the tower. So we go. Sweet mercy. Seeing straight down at that height, with the wind blowing in your face, and all the lights… wow. What a view.

But not only is there an amazing view at 900 feet in the air.

They have RIDES.

“What kind of rides could they possibly have at 900 feet in the air?”, you might ask?

I will tell you. They have THREE.

  • The Big Shot: Think of the Drop of Doom at 900 feet in the air. In REVERSE. You strap in, and the ride shoots you straight UP 160 feet at 45 MPH, pushing over 4 G’s. That’s nuts. You’re over 1000 feet in the air with your brains in your feet and your stomach in your throat.
  • X-Scream: Basically, a giant teeter-totter that’s pitched over the side of the tower off the observation deck. You sit in this rail car, and PLUMMET down the track towards the city streets, before the thing HAMMERS on the brakes right at the end. WHOA.
  • Insanity: Ok. If the Big Shot is nuts, this ride is f’n crazy. You strap into a chair with a group of other people. There’s four mechanical arms to this thing, and you’re lifted out OVER the city at 900 feet in the air. Picture your hand, bent down at the wrist so your fingers are pointing towards the floor. The ends of your fingers are the chairs in which people sit. Then picture your hand opening up and extending, so that your fingers are straight out. You’re in that chair at 900 feet, looking STRAIGHT DOWN. THEN… the whole thing starts spinning around in circles at a high rate of speed. HOLY SHIT!

Ok. You back with me yet? I hope you haven’t puked all over the place or passed out in fear. You sure you’re ok? Alright. Let’s continue.

One of the things I wanted to do was play some cards. Not content to just want to pour dollar after dollar into the slots, I wanted to sit down and play some real games. So, we went downstairs in the Stratosphere casino, and grabbed $100. I immediately gave $50 to Steph for safekeeping (come on, it’s habit by now) and I sit down at $5 minimum table.

Ok. There’s one thing I have to explain here, which might contribute to my lack of decision-making ability that I will soon describe.

The dealers at Stratosphere are all extremely good-looking women.

Extremely good-looking women with tiny, tight jean shorts.

Extremely good-looking women with tiny, tight jean shorts and – how do I put this somewhat PC – great boobs.

Extremely good-looking women with tiny, tight jean shorts, great boobs, and shirts open to the waist.

ARE YOU GETTING THIS YET?

So I sit down with my $50 and start playing. I haven’t played real Blackjack for at least a couple years, so I’m rusty, and I let them know this. The girls were very nice, taking the time to give me the odds of winning certain hands, providing advice on what to do with certain cards, letting me know when to split or try and double up, all the good stuff.

Shortly, I’m up $70, sitting with $120. I should really get up and leave. But I can’t. There’s some kind of… super magnetic force that’s got me pinned to the table. I look up, and see what they are-I mean, what it is.

An hour later, my $120 is gone.

But it was FUN.

We cash out our remaining $50 and decide that it’s late, so we jump a cab back to the Sahara, and ride the monorail back to the MGM Grand. Another successful night!

Next: Vegas: Day 3

By

Vegas: Day 1

So, after a pair of $6 tickets to ride part of the Strip from the airport to our hotel, we arrive at the front door of the MGM Grand. On the outside, it’s really big. And really green. On the inside, it’s rather spectacular at first look.

The main lobby floor is covered in shiny white marble, streaked with black. On the left, is the MGM Grand & Company Store, where they look to take even more of your gambling money away with merchandise sales. On the right, the hotel’s business services area, check in area (which behind that is a GIGANTIC set of TV’s advertising upcoming events at the hotel), and the concierge service.

Directly in front of you, though, is the centerpiece of the hotel. A huge golden statue of Metro, the MGM Grand Lion, the namesake of the first “M” in MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Tall and regal, overlooking the lobby, he also looks like he could tear your head off in an instant.

Well, he IS a lion.

Nice kitty.

So we proceed to go check in, and we meet Ann, a young woman who’s clearly at the end of her rope, but she manages to pull it together for us, and even cracks a smile and a laugh as she assigns us a room on the 23rd floor, overlooking the Strip. Awesome. We finish check in, and wave goodbye to Metro for fear he’d eat us, and head for the elevators to our room.

The moment you pass Metro and the hotel lobby, you’re walking IMMEDIATELY into the casino. We’ll also find that this is a common theme amongst all the hotels we’ll visit. Brilliant, really. Make everyone pass through the casino to get *anywhere* in the hotel. Might make a few extra hundred bucks that way. But the slot machines don’t get us THIS time, and we head off to the elevators to head to our room.

Express elevator! WOOHOO!

We get to our room, and it’s pretty nice. The bathroom is almost the size of our bedroom at home, king sized bed, television, high-speed internet ($14.95 per day!!) and a fantastic view overlooking the strip. We can see the Stratosphere, Bellagio, Planet Hollywood, New York New York, among other places (great photo ops!), and we just kick back for a few minutes and rest after all the travel. Unpack a few things, get somewhat organized, and take a breath.

Downstairs we go, and we step back out into the casino. This part of the casino is just the basic stuff; low end slots, small minimum blackjack, roulette, that kind of thing. The REAL action is down the hall, where the Poker Room, areas with high end tables, and a whole special WING dedicated to the high-rollers.

Staying away from there!

We look around, and see the KA Theater, home to Cirque du Soleil’s production of – you guessed it – “KA”. We booked tickets to the show tonight, so we head over to pick up our tickets, which must be picked up at least two hours before show time. The whole side of the wing is devoted to KA – merchandise store, ticket area, and of course, the absolutely ginormous theater.

By the time we’ve checked in, rested, gotten organized, and walked around a bit, it’s 5 Vegas time, but our stomachs are still on Winnipeg time, so we decide to find somewhere to eat. Right in front of us is Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill, so we figure it’s perfect. Eat, then straight behind us is the KA theater. Not far to go. Plus, we’ve seen Wolfgang on TV lots, on Craig Ferguson, Dave Letterman, and Ellen, and we’ve always wanted to try his food. Win all around!

Wolfgang Puck’s is a wide open area. Well, it’s gated off to physically separate it from the casino, but the layout is wide open. It’s very nice for a bar and grill type place, and we’re seated, and start looking over the menu. THEY’VE GOT CRAB CAKES! We’ve always wanted to try crab cakes, so we order those up as an appetizer, Stephanie orders a gourmet burger, and I get some kind of gourmet pepperoni pizza.

Ok. I know what you’re thinking. You’re in Vegas. You’re at Wolfgang freaking Puck’s and you ordered a burger and pizza? Well, first off, this place serves bar food, so it’s about par for the course, and let me tell you something else… if you ever ATE this burger and pizza… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Drinks and crab cakes come out, and one thing I didn’t realize is that the crab cakes come out on a little bed of guacamole.

I HATE guacamole.

Great. This is gonna SUCK.

But, I try it anyway.

I almost fell out of my ever-loving chair. It was THAT good. These particular crab cakes were in patty form, seasoned, and on the guacamole, and all of a sudden, I didn’t even care about guacamole.

So Steph and I DEMOLISH the crab cakes, and have some drinks, waiting for our entrees, and finally, this gigantic burger with thin cut and obviously seasoned fries comes out, along with my pepperoni and cheese pizza, and folks, you might think this was JUST a burger, or JUST a pizza, but if you believe that, then I’ve got quality real estate in Siberia for sale with a fantastic view, AND your taste buds have been SORELY lacking.

Not only lacking, but now they’re REALLY jealous.

Hands down, the absolute BEST I’ve ever had, and if you think I almost fell out of my chair after eating the crab cakes, then this time my jaw went through the table in between bites.

Amazing. Along with great service, and we were duly impressed. Not that expensive, either.

But if we thought we were impressed after that, then our minds were about to be BLOWN.

It was time to go to KA.

Now, if you know me at all, you might think that my early perception of Cirque du Soleil might not be all that favorable. I’ve come around a lot lately, with shows like So You Think You Can Dance, but I thought CDS was going to be a bunch of artsy folks floating around the stage for a couple hours. That, I can take in small doses, but contemporary type dance has never been my bag, baby.

Was I about to get rocked.

I don’t know how big this theater is. Square feet wise, it’s monstrous. On the MGM Grand map, they say that Studio 54 is 20,000 square feet, but if you look at the size of Studio 54, and then look at the size of KA, you’d think you could easily fit 10-15 Studio 54’s into the space of the KA theater. It’s HUGE.

You walk into the theater, and you’d think the place is like an Ewok village. Even the ushers are dressed as part of the show. Remember the little fuzzy guys from Return of the Jedi? Well, THIS village is filled with tribal folk.

Huge, muscular, tribal folk. That go to war.

You look around the theater, and the main stage area in front of you isn’t really a stage yet. It’s a giant pit. It’s a giant pit that shoots out fire at irregular intervals. And it’s HOT, especially when you’re only a few rows back like we were. All around you on the sides of the theater are these tree-like things that lead up to enclosed platforms, and these platforms exist on multiple levels. The theater is surrounded by them. Before the show even starts, the tribal folk come onto these platforms, and start yelling at each other in some tribal-speak we don’t understand. They break out in laughter. They seem to insult each other. They pound on drums. Then, these groups of two guys are hooked up on some kind of pulley system, and they’re leaping STORIES through the air from platform level to platform level, supporting and pulling each other on this pulley system. Crazy.

Some facts about KA, before I forget:

  • 80 artists from around the world perform the show twice per day, 5 days per week and about 50 weeks per year
  • Over 100 crew members are working for the show in 8 or more technical and artist support departments
  • The music is played live, by human-beings, every time, only about 2 minutes of pre-recorded audio is used throughout the whole performance
  • The total number of cast and crew for the show is about 266 people
  • The production cost for KA were higher than the combined cost of all Broadway productions that were released in the same year as KA
  • The custom build venue for the show inside the MGM has 1,951 seats
  • Every seat is equipped with its own loud speakers for optimal sound experience
  • The main stage of KA is called a "Gantry" made of 2 decks, one that can slide forward and backward and the other one which can be rotated and moved 360 degrees
  • The main deck is 25×50 feet (8×16 meters) in diameter, weighs 300,000 lbs, which is more than a fully booked, loaded and gassed-up average-size jet airliner
  • Fully erected to its maximum height, artists perform their act 100 ft in the air!

Keep all that in mind!

So the story of KA is that everyone travels through life with the Egyptian concept of the ‘ka’ – their spiritual double, and this double leads them from one life through to the next. There are the Imperial twins that are about to embark on their own journey with their own ka’s. Along the way, the twins confront characters and events representing the opposing forces of good and evil. Before their world comes under attack and collapses around them, the twins receive a magical talisman for protection. As the plot unfolds, danger lies in wait for them at every turn and along the way, surviving ocean storms, meeting fantastic creatures and conquering evil opponents, and are finally reunited at the end of the show.

Along the way, the performers do amazing things, and so does the set. The main style of dance is capoeira, an ancient tribal style of dance developed by Brazilian slaves who were planning to rebel, but hid their fighting training inside the dance so as not to be discovered getting ready for rebellion.

Enough babbling. I can’t really do this performance justice in words. The costumes, set design (and engineering), props, makeup… EVERYTHING is just astounding. It’s amazing.

At the start of the show, a couple people come out and do a little demonstration, prepping us for what’s about to happen. They see a guy in the crowd with his cell phone on, so they come and grab him – and his phone – and TOSS the phone into the gigantic fire pit. The guys isn’t so happy, so they toss HIM into the big fire pit!

The guy was obviously a plant, but it was great nonetheless.

Out rotates this the gantry I posted about above.

The stage is first a giant rowboat, as the twins and their group embark on their journey, but then the WHOLE THING rotates and is replaced by another stage, where folks on this main stage get into this whole group number, where this one amazing guy is flipping and flying all over the place, while everyone else is twirling and throwing batons, and not only that, but they are KICKING the batons through the air back and forth in PERFECT synchronization. Just nuts. Archers are shooting LIVE arrows across the stage from the aforementioned platforms, and one woman is shot in the ASS. Another guy takes one in the chest, there’s fire everywhere, everyone mourns, and the story of the war begins.

I’m not going to tell you the whole thing, cause I’d be typing here for HOURS, and you don’t have that much time to read everything, but this is WICKED. There’s all kinds of group numbers. The stage is rotated out and replaced by a duplicate that’s turned into a BEACH, where folks are dressed as crabs and starfish and they interact with the characters. The whole platform ROTATES FORWARD ON IT’S END, and all of a sudden, it’s 100 feet from top to bottom, and at the end of the scene, all the sand pours off the deck, and at the top of the deck, one group of warriors is rotating on top of the deck as well. A second group of warriors try to climb 100 ft up from the bottom, but they’re met by posts that come poking out of the deck, that are like mock arrows being shot from the platform, knocking them off into the pit below! One valiant warrior manages to get all the way to the top, avoiding the big poles, but he’s finally knocked off, and he DROPS 100 ft PLUS into the pit below!

A HUGE dragon flies across the stage, with this woman hanging on for dear life, but she’s finally dropped into the pit from WAY above the stage!

There’s a great individual number where these two folks, one man, one woman, come out and do this high-flying number where the guy is swinging on a rope, and he’s doing all kinds of movements on the rope, and the woman joins him, and together, they’re doing all kinds of flippy stuff, amazing lifts, and crazy swinging drops and stunts that boggle me.

Transition into this scene where this angry looking dude is absolutely SHREDDING on a double guitar, setting the scene for this EPIC piece where there’s this huge set of double wheels rotating through the air. Picture five gigantic hamster wheels, but they’re orbiting around a central point. There’s two guys trapped in different wheels, but they escape, and pull off some of most death-defying stuff I’ve seen in a long time, running along on the OUTSIDE of the wheels while they’re orbiting, and leaping (ok, DROPPING) from one wheel to the next, and rotating through again. Simply amazing.

Cue up the deck rotated from top to bottom, so we have a 100ft vertical platform, and two groups of warriors locked in battle, performing some of the best wire harness work this side of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. These folks are FLYING up and down the platform, using weapons, martial arts, and other crazy stuff in this battle. Finally, good triumphs over evil, and the twins are reunited to continue on their journey.

As I said, there’s so much awesome in this, that I can’t ever hope to describe it. I will instead point you to this video to have a look on your own:

 

Here I was, thinking it was going to suck, and I was treated to one of the most awesome things I have ever seen in my life. Thanks Steph, for insisting we go see this.

By the end of the show, it’s about 9 Vegas time, 11 Winnipeg time, so we’ve been up for 19 hours, been through a lot of travel, a big meal, and a great show, and done it all on only two hours of sleep after a 20 hour day before that. So we go back to the hotel room and crash for the day.

I’d say that Vegas: Day 1 was a rousing success.

Next: Vegas: Day 2!

By

Las Vegas: The Report

I should have done this sooner, but this will be the first of several entries chronicling our trip to Las Vegas from Nov 30th to Dec 2nd, for all to relive our trip with us. I’ll be posting photos separate from this blog, as there’s just too many. We took almost 400 pictures! I’ll post an update here when the photos get uploaded.

Pre-Trip:

Graciously, Stephanie’s mom and dad offered (were volunteered?) to take care of our dogs Cola and Kira, and our cats Kitty, Jazz, and Zoey while we were gone, so leading up to the trip, we were furiously tidying up the house, get paperwork for the trip in order, preparing everything needed for the animals, and oh yeah packing.

Right. Before I forget: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to Morris and Marge for everything they did for us over these 5 days. We couldn’t have done it without you two.

The flight was set to leave at 7:10 AM from Winnipeg, and we were up until about 2:00 AM the morning of the flight finalizing things. We wanted to be at the airport about two hours ahead of schedule, so Steph’s mom and dad were to show up at our house at 5 AM to take us to the airport (only 15 minutes away), so we planned on rolling out of bed at 4 AM, maybe 4:15, and be ready for 5. Well, they showed up at 4:30 AM! So, we hustle our asses, say goodbye to the animals, and we’re off to the airport.

This is the part where I should fill you in on something. Originally, we were set to go from Winnipeg to Calgary, then on to Vegas. We were going to arrive in Vegas at around 10:30 AM Vegas time. But about six weeks before the flight, Air Canada (through Expedia, where we booked everything) calls us and says “Hey there, we had to change your flight.”

Me: Really?

Them: Yup. The time between flights in Calgary is 51 minutes. We must allow you at least 57 minutes, so we can’t guarantee your connection.

Me: Well, that sucks. What’s the new schedule?

Them: The best thing we could do for you to get to Vegas at the earliest possible time is to send you from Winnipeg to Toronto, a 2.5 hour flight, and then a two hour, ten minute layover, before a 5 hour flight from Toronto to Vegas. You’ll be in Las Vegas around 3:30 PM local time.

Me: Toronto?

Them: Yes.

Me: You realize this is in the absolute opposite direction from where we’re headed?

Them: Yes, we do.

Me: So a six MINUTE issue is going to add another 6 HOURS to my schedule?

Them: Unfortunately, yes.

Me; Ok, book it.

Wow. Thank you, Air Canada.

So, paraphrasing the dude in the Goodyear Tire commercial… “Goin’ to Toronto!”

The Flight

Flight leaves at 7:05 AM. Almost two and a half hours later, which I barely remember from passing in and out of sleep the entire flight – I must have watched two episodes of “The I.T. Crowd” at least three times – we land at 8:30 AM Toronto time.

We use the next two hours to find our way around the cavernous Toronto airport, complete with Maple Leaf Lounge (vomit), to find our baggage, weasel our way through Customs – where I had to take off my belt and my SHOES – thank you, shoe bomber, grab some lunch, purchase a guitar magazine for me to read that somehow cost over eleven bucks – wait. That was actually funny. Picture Stephanie not hearing the price of the magazine, handing the cashier a $10, and then him asking for more money.

Stephanie: More? I gave you a ten.

Him: The magazine is $11.76.

Stephanie: (out LOUD) WHAT?!?! $11.76? For a MAGAZINE?!? OH MY GOD! That’s RIDICULOUS!

And then the coup de grace: she looks at the cashier, smiles, and says “Of course, it’s not YOUR fault. You just work here. But MAN!”

Color me RED.

From there, off to our departure gate. My ridiculously over-priced magazine (interviewing Tommy Iommi and EDWARD FREAKING VAN HALEN, no less!) stays in my backpack, and after some bathroom breaks, we wait for our connecting Air Canada flight to Vegas.

The Flight, Part Deux

We finally board the plane, and after take-off at 10:30 (11:30 Winnipeg), again, in between bouts of sleep, the flight lasts around five hours.

5 hours.

5 hours of slight – nay, extreme – discomfort the entire trip – there’s barely any leg room for anyone. Good luck to anyone over four-and-a-half feet tall. Steph is five-two and she had problems. And then there was the HEAT.

The sweltering, sweaty, all-crushing HEAT. How can it get that freaking HOT on an airplane? I realize we’re 35,000 feet in the air, but the cabin is pressurized! Isn’t there any bloody climate control? Steph shows me the air nozzles above our seat. I knew they were there, but she tries to help me get it going. Really, it was no use.

This thing was like bringing a six-shooter into a shoot-out with an entire mob of gang members carrying fully automatic rifles.

With extra large ammunition magazines.

And with laser sighting.

We were just overpowered.

Thank you, Air Canada.

So combine the two hours of sleep we had, plus the six-plus hours we’ve already spent in an airport or on a plane, add the debilitating heat, and you’ve got a recipe for instant sleep.

‘Night, folks.

I wake up part way through the flight, and I’m glad I woke up when I did, as we had some fantastic views. As we got closer to Nevada, we could see the mountains, and then a gigantic gouge tearing a mark across the earth that could only be the Grand Canyon. Amazing. Then it was the Hoover Dam. Seeing it from fairly high up doesn’t do it justice – it looked like it was only three relative inches tall, but even at that range, it looked HUGE, and you could see it holding back the Colorado, and we were in awe of it’s power. Truly a sight to see.

The Landing

From there, shortly after, we began our descent into Las Vegas, and we landed on schedule, around 3:30 Las Vegas time (5:30 Winnipeg), even though it felt like once the pilot hit the brakes, the ass end of the plane was going to swing around and we were see how many donuts we were going to do before coming to a stop.

But, we landed alright, and once again went on a journey to find our luggage. Once that was accomplished, we headed straight outside into the Nevada sunshine (+12!), and caught a shuttle to our hotel, the MGM Grand.

We’ve arrived!

Next: Las Vegas: Day 1

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Holy Ginormous Gathering of Geekery, Batman!

…or, Jarret’s ComicCon 2009 report.

ComicCon (formally known as the Central Canada Comic Con, or C4, clicky) has grown leaps and bounds the last few years, exploding out of the confines of the tiny Victoria Inn and onto the vast expanses of the Convention Center’s entire second floor.

Much like last year’s ComicCon (clicky) the place was chock-a-block full of games, toys, demonstrations, artists, cars, and being that it was also Halloween, that meant scores of superheroes, video game characters, and villains – or at least everyday Joe’s dressed up as those types of individuals – walking through the Convention Centre in all their geeky glory.

And here I am… having totally forgotten to wear my Christopher Reeve Foundation Superman dog tag. I’m such a superstar.

ComicCon is FULL of everything a geek could want. There’s action figures, sports memorabilia, books, comics, swords, clothes, the industry’s artists manning the floor signing autographs and doing sketches, television and movie stars doing the same thing (well, none of them did any sketches that I know of), famous movie props, live demonstrations, board and video game tournaments and demos, and more.

Basically, being there is like having died and gone to Geek Heaven.

So let’s start off with the costumes.

Note: All pics link to bigger versions.

First up, we had a great Doctor Octopus from Spiderman lore, and a second picture of Doc with a young lady dressed up as Storm:

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There was also a tremendous Scarecrow, from the Batman series:

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And keeping with the Batman theme, there were plenty of The Dark Knight, and various other characters from the show (with Spiderman thrown in a fight sequence for good measure):

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The best costume of the show was this young man carrying his own head around (sorry for the blurriness), and an honorable mention goes to Pac-Man:

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Two of the major attractions of ComicCon this year were for the vehicles. We had the pleasure of seeing the Batmobile from the original television series, and a restored Echto-1 from the Ghostbusters film series.

Echto-1:

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The Batmobile:

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Also, there was a gentlemen there with custom art on this motorcycle… oh my… this was some of the absolute best stuff I’ve ever seen.

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And what would ComicCon be without the celebrities? Every year, C4 brings in many stars from the world of television, movies, pro-wrestling, as well artists from the Geekdom.

This year, we had the pleasure of meeting Alex Milne, who, if you’re a Transformers nerd like I am, this guy worked on several Transformers comic lines, and did the movie adaptation of the 2007 movie.

I bought a couple of his prints, and he also did a custom colored headshot sketch of G1 Optimus Prime. My very own! It’s AMAZING!

Here’s a shot of Alex signing my prints:

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And here’s a shot of the Optimus Prime he did for me!

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This year, celebrities included Peter Mayhew, the man in the Chewbacca costume in the Star Wars movies:

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We also got a shot of Julie Newmar, who was Catwoman on the original Batman:

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And here’s a shot of Steph and I with the Mayor of Quahog, the original Batman HISSELF: ADAM WEST!

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An additional to all the glitz and glamour, C4 is also a gigantic retail space for vendors of all kinds, selling their geeky wares. I try to score a special Transformer this year, and boy did I ever score this year: A Takara Masterpiece Megatron!

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Another huge success this year, and I can’t wait to see what they do next year!