Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hot Times in Las Vegas

August is the time for my annual trip to fabulous Las Vegas to visit my friends The Other Rick and Tracy. August in Las Vegas with old friends is both a blast and a blast furnace. One day it was 111°! But it's a dry heat, right?

After an uneventful day of travel, it was time for a lazy day lounging and loitering by the pool, finishing the book I was reading (A Gentleman of Moscow), and lots of yammering on a variety of topics (high school friends, The Donald, etc. etc.). When late afternoon rolled around, we changed into moderately good bib and tucker for a dinner at Vegas’ Italian American Club.

I’m not sure when the place was founded—forever ago would be my guess. It’s an outpost of what R & T call “Old Vegas”. That is, of the Vegas of the legendary Rat Pack and long gone casinos, The Dunes, The Thunderbird, and The Silver Slipper.  In other words, the Vegas that made Vegas Vegas.

Without its louche roots, Vegas would be a really big Branson, Missouri…in the desert…except with gambling, boob jobs, legal reefer, and The Atomic Testing Museum.

While the Italian American Club may still be a club, it’s open to non-members. Best of all, you don’t need to be Italian to enjoy it.

It’s an unremarkable building, on one of the many strip developments that aren’t The Strip. In fact, we drove by it a couple of times before finding the place. It’s just around the corner from a giant statue of a Shriner and a bunch of homeless folks. This, of course, describes more than a few Vegas street corners.

The front of the building was landscaped with trimmed bushes and some Greco-Roman sculpture with trimmed bushes. And fig leaves! Someone in Las Vegas was worried about genitalia on a plaster statue? Who would have thunk?

Inside, it wasn’t quite like the bar scene in Star Wars, but it was a time capsule from a long time ago. For a moment, I wondered if we were there during a Sam Giancana look-alike contest. Many of the women were, as my parents would have said, “all dolled up”.

We sat at the bar, where we could enjoy not only a restorative beverage, but also a jazz combo. The lounge singer, who’d dyed his hair with shoe polish, had the vocal range of Rex Harrison.  His sidemen, well....I'm not sure that their vocal mics were on.

After dinner we perused the brag wall. I especially liked the Vic Damone photo.

And I didn't miss the Frank Sinatra themed men's room. 

Or Mario Battali's autographed Crocs. If you're going to Vegas, think seriously about going to dinner there--both food and atmosphere are top notch.

The next day I rented a car for a trip to St. George, Utah. I’d never been to Utah, and it was only two hours from Vegas. I thought some time among the Latter-day Saints would be a nice counterpoint to gambling, boob jobs, legal reefer, and the Atomic Testing Museum.

As I left Las Vegas, I saw lots of billboard for plaintiff’s attorneys, marijuana dispensaries, and erectile dysfunction treatments. Even if you are a grudge-holding pot smoker who can’t get it up, you are loved.

There’s a whole lot of nothing between LV and St. George. Mindful (for once) of at least 25% of what I learned in driver ed, I took only a few photos through the windshield.

You can't take a decent photo as you drive down the Interstate. This was not covered in my driver ed class.

You get better results when you don't shoot through the windshield. 

By chance I stopped right by a small shrine to Chris the Guardian Angel Truck Driver. He was probably killed trying to take photos through his windshield.

After a miles and miles of nothing, I-15 went through the Virgin River Gorge, which is pretty darned spectacular. The road twisted and turned unlike any Interstate highway I've been on as it climbed through a narrow slit in the rocks. No way was  I going to try to take a photo through the windshield there. You'll just have to Google it.

After the gorge, St. George wasn’t far. I stopped at the St. George Visitors Center to have a local give me the lay of the land.

I waited for my face time behind a German family with a screaming tyke. The Germans were interesting in hiking. It was about 100°. (But a dry heat!) Hiking?!? Crazy! I told the woman at the counter that whatever they were doing...I didn’t want to.

She showed me a map of town and pointed out all the points of historic interest, far away from the screaming Teutonic toddler.

St. George was founded by Mormons in 1861 as a place to grow cotton. Some of the Mormon settlers were slaveholders from the Deep South and named the area Dixie. That’s why St. George is home to Dixie State University. Makes sense...sort of.

My first stop was the Mormon Tabernacle. I found free and convenient parking right by Thomas Judd's cutesy old sofa fountain.

According to Wiki, in the Latter-day Saints church, a tabernacle is a multipurpose religious building, used for church services and conferences, and as community centers. Although it looks like a church, it’s not a church—there are no Sunday services, Sunday school rooms, church offices, and so on.

Non-Mormons can enter a tabernacle, but access to Mormon temples is restricted to Mormons in good standing with the church.

The St. George Tabernacle is one of the oldest, and from the exterior looks like a congregational church that you’d find in a prosperous New England village.

It wasn’t crowded. As in, I was the only tourist there. The docent, a retired medical equipment salesman, gave me lots of personal attention. He told me that St. George is a hot spot for affluent Mormon retirees. Who knew?

The interior of the tabernacle is a large two story space, with a balcony. There’s a lectern where the pulpit would be in a church. In fact, it looks pretty much like a Presbyterian church. 

Miles Romney, a great-great grandfather of Mitt Romney, was the architect of the building.

He was responsible for the curved staircase. Interestingly enough, he died as a result of a fall at the job site in 1877.

After my tour, I walked to a restaurant suggested by my docent. Walking was a stupid idea. City blocks in St. George are enormous and it was over 100 degrees (But a dry heat!). I was consoled by the thought that the bratty German tyke had to be hotter than I was.

When I finished lunch, it was time to go to the Brigham Young Winter Home. If they’d invented license plates during his lifetime, his would have been Snowbird #1.

Brigham Young purchased his place in 1872. Among the other things on his plate—perhaps designing the 1873 season of Mormon underwear—he was also supervising the construction of St. George’s Mormon Temple. He remodeled the house, doubling its size, creating the first McMansion in St. George.  

The tour started in a small outbuilding that served as the office. Brigham Young worked there as both head of the Mormon Church and the governor of the Utah Territory.

Another earnest Mormon retiree had already started giving the tour to two other old folks when I arrived. We exchanged brief greetings. The other folks on the tour were from Las Vegas. They smiled when I said I was from Pennsylvania. Perhaps I should have brought scrapple with me?

According to the website for the BYWH, Young’s office ”provided privacy for him to meet with selected Church leaders to reinstitute temple ordinances that had not been performed in a temple since the Saints left Nauvoo, Illinois.”  Presumably eavesdropping neighbors could hear Mormon bigwigs saying “Please Sir, may I have another?” before hearing the whack of the ‘Board of Deacons’ on some Bishop’s butt during this process.

After the brief spiel our docent took us over to the Big House where a different docent took over. 

Very few of the objects in the house belonged to Brigham Young.  There’s a piano in the parlor—one of his wives played the piano. And sang too. I’m pretty sure about that. Though she might have just hummed along. Don’t quote me. My eyes glazed over shortly after arrival. Perhaps I was having a vision! 

After the parlor—Brigham Young liked windows, I think the docent mentioned that—we moved on to the dining room and the kitchen, where the docent explained how ironing worked in the 19th century. 1. Heat up irons on stove. 2. Scorch whatever it was that you were ironing 3. Or not.
Sometimes even a blind hog gets an acorn.  4. Repeat as necessary.  5. Await the invention of the electric iron in 1882.

After the kitchen, we were led up the steep, historic staircase to the bedrooms. Brigham Young and his wife/wives had separate bedrooms.

BY (I felt as if we were old friends by this point) had an interesting marital history. He was a polygamist and according to Wiki had 55 wives, 54 of which he married after becoming a Mormon.  While the majority of the sealings were "for eternity", some were "for time only". I don’t know if this meant they could stay overnight, or if Brigham Young told them to skidaddle after enjoying their company since he “needed to get up early for work tomorrow”. Researchers believe that not all of the 55 marriages were conjugal. (Yeah, right!)

It’s not a bad thing that Tinder wasn’t invented during Brigham Young’s lifetime.

By his slew of wives, Brigham Young had 56 children. Do you think he had trouble with their names the way my mother did with her kids names? That would have been quite the moment of domestic bliss, when he tried to call Levi and instead had to go through Abraham, Mary, Martha, Dorcas, Joel and 51 other names before finally hitting on Levi.

I asked the docent if with 56 children, he repeated any names. She didn’t know.

Then I asked her if she’d ever read that Dr. Seuss story about Mrs. McCave, who had twenty-three sons and named them all Dave?  No, she wasn’t familiar with that though she said she liked Dr. Seuss.

I chuckled at the thought of Brigham Young naming one of his kids Oliver Boliver Butt as Dr. Seuss wished Mrs. McCave had done. Yes, even on a bad house tour, I amuse myself.

The last room on the tour was Brigham Young’s bedroom. With 55 kids, I’m surprised his death wasn’t due to…um….organ failure.

Not having had my fill of Mormon History, I drove over to the St. George Temple, which is the oldest Mormon Temple in use by the church.  For whatever reason, the Temple and Tabernacle aren’t near each other, don’t face each other, and pretty much seem as if they were plopped down in random spots.

It’s hard to miss the Temple. It’s a huge white thing.

According to Wiki, there are “three ordinance rooms and 18 sealing rooms, and a total floor area of 110,000 square feet .The building used to have four ordinance rooms, but they were refashioned into “three rooms, at the time the endowment ceremony was changed from a live presentation to one presented on film.”

I am not going to comment on endowment ceremonies even if they are on film, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray or the part of the internet reserved for porn.

As I said, the place is enormous and it’s painted blinding tone of white. You need to wear sunglasses if you look at the building, it’s that bright. The place is immaculately maintained. There wasn’t a weed or a speck of dirt or a drab bit of faded paint anywhere. Cars don’t come out of the factory looking this new.

Since I’m not a member of the church in good standing (with the special underwear and all that), I wasn’t permitted to go into the Temple. However, I was permitted to go into the Temple’s visitor center, staffed, by you guessed it, Mormon retirees.

The visitors center was actually two buildings. The first building is about the building of the Temple. It has a small model of the town of St. George in the 19th Century and some 19th century artifacts related to the construction of the Temple. Next door was a larger building, evangelizing in bricks and mortar about the Mormon faith.

The latter building was staffed by cute twentysomethings (with a fortysomething supervisor). I wondered if they church had finally run out of retirees.

It was decorated in the expensive funeral home style, the same style as the temple in Philadelphia.  I skipped the opportunity to watch a bunch of videos, presumably from that part of the internet not reserved for porn, about the LDS church and so on. The Muzak playing What a Friend We Have in Jesus was as close as I was going to get to a religious experience.

I used the men’s room. For all their industry, Mormons aren’t so good at putting a new roll of TP on the holder.

After my fill of Mormon hot spots (it was 111° according to the gas station thermometer) I was really in the mood for coffee. I stopped at a local coffee shop—mostly just to see if a town filled with Mormons HAD a coffee shop—for a cup before heading back to Vegas.

That evening, Tracy and I went to see Mystere, the oldest Cirque du Soleiel show playing in Las Vegas. If you’ve never been to a Cirque show, go.

It’s an evening of acrobats, clowns, trapeze artists, and presumably not a single Mormon retiree. There’s a soundtrack of rock music, and cast members wear costumes designed by someone who consumed LOTS of LSD.

Most of the performers had the bodies of underwear models. Reflecting on my trip to St. George, I thanked the Lord for the invention of Spandex.

On my last day in town I wanted to see Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum, as seen on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures!

OK, I have no idea who Zak Bagans is, or what Ghost Adventures! is, but I have heard of the Travel Channel.

The website promised the chance to...

...see original collectibles from haunted sites….

“original collectibles”…as opposed to Limited Edition Collectibles from the Franklin Mint?

…and hear the bone-chilling stories of the paranormal activity that surrounds them….

It was 111° in St. George. My bones could use a little chilling.

This isn’t your average haunted house in Las Vegas;

…there is such a thing?

…museum-goers can even peek inside the VW death van in which Dr. Jack Kevorkian ended the suffering of terminally ill patients as well as get a close-up look at the “Propofol chair” from Michael Jackson’s death room...


Who doesn’t want to see Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s van? Or Michael Jackson’s “Propofol chair”? (Manufactured by La-Z Some Young Boy.)

But dang it. This non-average haunted house was closed on Tuesdays.

Oh well, there's always next year!

So back to Philadelphia airport.

My flight was cancelled.

There were no rental cars.

There were no hotels within 12 miles and $200 of the airport.

As I was waiting in line for an American Airlines employee to hit me in the head with a croquet mallet, the American Airlines app on my phone told me that I could fly out the next morning at 8:38. Yay! At least my carry-on wasn’t lost.

I went to a bar where you had to order via an iPad. I had a what my father used to call a Budweiser sandwich.

I moved away from the loud 24 Hour TRU-TV featuring CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta going to Italy, not shaving, and eating slow food. I tried to sleep on the floor. I tried to sleep on the settees. I tried to sleep with my head on a table. I tried to sleep using my backpack as a pillow. 

I adjusted my compression socks.

The security announcements continued through the night. The loudspeaker repeatedly told us if a stranger asks you to take their ticking Acme brand suitcase with you, it might jeopardize your status as a member of boarding group 57.

At about 5:00 am I walked around and noticed a guy sitting in one of those coin operated massage chairs. With visions of Magic Fingers (only $.25!) dancing in my head, I thought a three minute spin was worth a $1.

It was the longest three minutes I’ve ever lived through. The chair gripped your legs so that you could not get a way and then treated you to the electronic version of a PennDOT worker running you over with a dump truck.  People have been known to escape into Turkish prisons to get away from these chairs.

At 6:00 am the food court reopened. I resisted the call of a Budweiser omelet and had a bagel sandwich.

My new flight left on time. If it hadn't, I would have walked home. Even if I had to take a screaming German toddler with me.

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