Thursday, 19 March 2009

Crass Vegas

Landing in Vegas late afternoon, we file past slot machines on the way to the baggage carousel and it becomes clear to me that this town is nuts. The signs on the escalators which tell you that shoes must be worn - how would you come to be on an escalator in an airport in bare feet? Maybe your luck is down and you've already lost your footwear to a one armed bandit. We approached the baggage reclaim area where I half expected shouts of "no more bets" as my suitcase spun around on a big wheel, eventually coming to rest, and then finding that an old lady from Florida had put everything on number 17 and, as a result, won my socks and underpants.

On the shuttle bus, Jus sits next to an old(ish) couple, who keep saying "whehyallfram" to her. She eventually manages to slow this down into "Where are you (all) from?" and is able to reply, "We are from England my good fellow, seat of the British Empire. As representatives of Her Majesty we are travelling around the globe to inspect The Colonies". At least in my head that's what she said (I think I've gone bonkers already). The old(ish) couple are dropped off at their hotel/casino - Hooters! (which, whatever the logo may suggest, is not just about owls).

I don't notice much about Hooters, in spite of my love of owls, because I'm sat up a the front next to the driver, listening to commercial radio. And it's been over 10 minutes since the last "non-commercial" bit (Celine Dion singing about icebergs or something). Since then they've been trying to persuade me that I need no longer be ashamed of my smile (ashamed is a bit strong, though I do look like a leering fool in photographs) since Dr Buck Loaded's painless treatment can straighten my teeth and give me the smile I want in only six months. I'm then told not to pay online prices for my pill requirements, the names of the particular pills being constantly repeated - lest I forget (the little blue ones which rhyme with 'Niagra'). This is like spam, except it's on the radio. And it just goes on and on. I become desperate for some more Celine or Shania - if it came to it, I'd even welcome the sound of Chris Moyles' voice!

After a few more stops we arrive at our hotel, Treasure Island, and join the 20 minute queue of fellow joy-seekers to check in - I know we love queuing in our country but this felt less like "Welcome to Las Vegas, the capital city of fun" and a lot more like "Cashier number three please".

On our way to the lift (sorry, ELEVATOR) we are given a glimpse of what Vegas has to offer - wall to wall slot machines, gambling tables, the smell of fags (Nevada is smoke free but it seems that casinos themselves are exempt) and waitresses in dresses which are, without exception, slightly shorter than the length that would suit the lady wearing them. Whether that lady is 18 or 62, the dress she is provided is just wrong enought to make her look unattractive (or maybe I just haven't adjusted to Vegas). After gathering our chins from the floor at the shock of it all we head to our room. Everything seems to be in order and we are relieved to find no slot machines hidden in the wardrobe or en-suite.

We leave our hotel in search of food and, just a little further along "The Strip", take an escalator up to a burger joint on the first floor of a casino. 10 minutes later, having immediately dismissed the burger joint for not being classy enough, we find that we are still in the casino, desparately searching for a way out. There is no "down" escalator and we can't find the stairs, or a door, or even a window to leap out of! We do escape eventually but we're still not quite sure how. After some further wandering around a Trafford Centre-esque shopping mall we eventually play it safe and eat at Planet Hollywood.

Having eaten, we head into Caeser's Palace in an attempt to find the real Vegas. We visit the Elton John Shoppe, complete with Elton John espresso cups and items from his signature range of upmarket accessories called "Bitch". Then we find the Cher shop where you can buy quality Cher merchandise including Cher dolls (remember, the price of Chers can go up as well as down).

Then we pass the Pussycat Dolls bar/casino complete with scantily dressed dealers and pole dancers. The air in here seems to be 40% cigarette smoke and 60% peach air-freshener that I presume is designed to mask the cigarette smoke - the air is so thick you can taste it, and it doesn't taste good.

Outside, people are wandering up and down the pavement enjoying margaritas in huge pink plastic vases, or chugging Budweiser from comedy plastic skull pint pots. As I remember it, in my country, if you open a can of Ginger Beer in the street then police helicopters will be tracking your movements within minutes. Meanwhile, a billboard attached to a trailer is being driven up and down the road. Splashed all over it is a huge picture of some "lovelies" with the caption "Girls direct to your door - phone 696 9696". Man, this place is classy!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

24 - If Jack Bauer Can Manage It...

We only have 24 hours in LA so, having landed and taken a bus to our B&B, we tried to see as much as we could on foot that evening. We went up Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard, saw the handprints of the movie stars at Grauman's theater and, more exciting from my point of view, the handprints of some legendary rock stars at the Guitar Center on Sunset, including Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Lennon although sadly, no Doonican.

At Grauman's whilst browsing the pavement searching for stars whose names we recognised (dunno who Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland or Sophia Loren are, but we did spot Matt Damon's!), I was distracted by sirens - no, not Angelina Jolie and her mates dressed up as mermaids and singing tempting songs - you know, sirens (nee naw nee naw, wooo wooo). Hollywood Boulevard became a river of fire engines and they were all pulling up in our vicinity.

Outside Grauman's there are all sorts of people dressed up as famous movie stars who encourage you to have photos taken with them, and expect a little something in exchange. So we have the bizzare sight of Marilyn Monroe and Catwoman being chatted up by firemen, as Spongebob Squarepants and Yoda pose for photos in front of a massive fire truck. I started to get confused - which ones were in costume and which ones were meant to be dressed like that.

Phew - lucky you showed up Superman, things were hotting up in there

It must have been a drill or a false alarm because no-one seemed to mind us taking photos and there didn't seem to be a great deal of urgency to put out a fire or evacuate California. One thing we both noticed - the LA Fire Dept doesn't half send out some clean and shiny vehicles - they must be have an entire Turtle Wax brigade. Maybe it's just the Tinseltown effect, maybe everything looks shiny here, but I'm sure I noticed Catwoman using one of the trucks to check her whiskers.

The following morning we were picked up by Ferdinand, from Hungary (I don't mean he'd driven all the way from Hungary to show us round LA, I mean he was Hungarian). Ferdinand drives lots of movie people, plastic surgeons and lawyers around the city in his huge black executive SUV. His task today was to show us as many of the sights as he could in the 5 hours we had available, before dropping us at LAX. He did a pretty good job - we saw Beverley Hills, Hollywood Hills, The Hollywood Sign, Bel Air, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, The Hollywood Bowl, The La Brea Tar Pits and much much more.

We stopped on Rodeo Drive for a quick look around the shops (Tiffany, Gucci, Dior - this is Posh 'n Becks territory). As we returned to the car we were surprised to find an eager star-spotter armed with two cameras, waiting to take our photos. She'd asked our waiting driver who his clients were but he'd politely refused to tell her, asking her to respect our privacy. I think she was a little disappointed when we ambled back and jumped into the car. We smiled and said 'hello' to her, but she was clearly struggling to recognise us and didn't appear to take any snaps. Clearly the incredible buzz around this blog hasn't reached the US yet.

Our driver waits for his megastar clients on Rodeo Drive

We also stopped and walked around Venice Beach - I was tempted to have a go on some of the weights in the "Muscle Beach" area there, but the gate was really heavy and I couldn't seem to push it open - it's probably just down to technique.

One place we really warmed to was the Farmers Market (on 3rd and Fairfax) which consisted of lots of little stalls where you could buy all sorts of stuff - breads, fruit, meat, confectionery. Elsewhere, it was striking how many small independent stores there were (clothing, groceries, you name it). In contrast, thinking about the templated chain-store high streets we have back home, it felt like LA (or at least this part of it) was less "American" than any town I can think of in England.

Overall, although we'd expected to hate it, we both agreed that our preconceptions were wrong - we loved LA and wished we'd allowed more than 24 hours to experience it.

Oh, I nearly forgot. As we were dropped off at the airport, Justine is convinced that Johnny Depp was standing right next to us outside the terminal doors. But she didn't think to mention it until we were cruising over the Nevada desert, half way through our flight to Vegas, so obviously I have no way of checking the validity of this story! Maybe she was mistaken - maybe it was just a travelling scissor salesman :)