Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Finally, a Vegas recap

Well, it's been about ten days since we all got back from Las Vegas, but work has just now let me actually have a couple of minutes to write up how everything went.

We flew out to Phoenix the day before Thanksgiving, after we finished work for the day, with the expectation that getting through the airport would be absolute hell, being the world's busiest airport on the busiest travel day of the year. Shockingly, we parked with no trouble, took the shuttle to the airport, and made it through security in less than ten minutes.

The kids' first cross-country flight went pretty well, as they both fell asleep about halfway through the flight and slept for about an hour and a half. We touched down early, got the rental car with no problem, and checked into a hotel near where my folks lived with no problem. Shockingly easy trip - perhaps a good sign.

We woke Thursday morning and went to my father's place to pick him up. The kids had met him once before, last summer before chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Despite being declared free of lung cancer in December, he still looked extremely haggard and droopy compared to the last time we had seen him.

We stayed there for a little while, talking with his neighbors, before heading to my uncle's house for Thanksgiving dinner. While it seemed that my father was not appearing in great shape, my uncle (who is his identical twin) appeared to be in pretty good shape for a 72-year old. He was the first to move out west, about fifteen years ago, and bought a house which was, at the time, in a fairly undeveloped area nestled within the mountains. However, since moving out the city has sprawled, much like Atlanta, and it is now much more populated than before.

I also got to see my cousin Donald for the first time since I graduated from high school. Back then, he was dropping in and out of school while trying to be a full-time musician in a band. Now, he's got the wife, three kids, and house in the suburbs while teaching at a community college. His kids were there as well, so Alex and Sammie had some playmates for the day to get worn out. Everyone got to meet family that hadn't been seen in a very long time, or got to meet new family for the first time. No fights, no disasters, and twelve well-fed Franci made for a very good Thanksgiving.

On Friday morning, we checked out of our Phoenix hotel and went over to pick up my father before hitting the road for Vegas. Amazingly, we got on the road by 9:00 AM, which is almost unprecedented for us for any road trip, and got out of town to US 93 easy enough. US 93 runs from Phoenix, through the Joshua Tree National Forest, meets with Route 66, then keeps going to and over Hoover Dam before turning into I-215 just south of Las Vegas.

The drive was uneventful enough, and extraordinarily beautiful - we took many pictures, and uploaded almost 200 of them to Facebook. We stopped at In-N-Out burger to satisfy a long-overdue craving, and to introduce the kids to what they called the best burger they'd ever had. It did take us an hour and a half to get over the Hoover Dam, as apparently the rest of Arizona had also decided to cross that day. We rolled into Vegas around 3:30, coming north on the Strip so that I got to see the famous welcome sign in person for the first time, despite many previous trips.

To say that it was nigh impossible to lift the kids' jaws off the floor would be an understatement. As we drove into Las Vegas they kept pointing everything out - a pyramid, a sphinx, a rollercoaster, the statue of Liberty, and so on. I don't think the enormity of it all hit until we had walked through the Flamingo and out onto the Strip itself. With the Bellagio, Caesars, and the Mirage all across the street, and people everywhere, it was a lot to take in for such little guys - distractions everywhere, and a scene on every corner of some sort. Thankfully, at four in the afternoon, there wasn't many things that would have been unseemly for little eyes.

We walked up to the Mirage and went into the Secret Garden area, as we had talked about doing with Sammie on her birthday. The Secret Garden is where the Siegfried and Roy's white tigers live, along with lions, dolphins, and many other animals.

As you can see, the dolphins wanted to say hi to the new visitors.

After the Secret Garden, we stayed at the Mirage to go to BB King's Blues Grill for dinner. The kids love blues music, they love ribs and barbecue, so it was an easy call for dinner. Another fun time, and a good meal.

We left the Mirage, and walked outdoors just in time to catch the volcano show outside.

Alex's reaction was priceless.

We walked down the Strip a bit, to the Bellagio to show off the Chihuly glass ceiling and the Botanical Gardens, We also did a stroll through the shops, where Sammie almost drooled in front of the Tiffany's store when she saw the Cinderella design they had in the window. After watching the fountain show, we went back to the room where Kim and the kids fell asleep around midnight.

My father and I headed downstairs for a little while, as he'd been itching to go to the blackjack tables since getting there eight hours before. I actually had not been planning on doing ANY gambling this trip (please stop guffawing) but was not going to let him go downstairs on his own, either.

I took him over to one of the blackjack tables by the poker area, which also happened to be one of the pink tables near the front with girls dancing on a stage behind it. He didn't seem to mind it. Neither did I, as it meant I could keep an eye on him from the poker area.

I sat down at a $2/$4 limit table to donk around for a little while. It was typical no-fol-em-hold-em, with your typical LAG-gy tourists. Bottom pairs often were good. I sat for about 90 minutes and left up about $80. I went over to get my father to take him upstairs, because otherwise he'd sit there the whole damn night. Turned out to be good timing, as he was up about $60 himself, and I crawled into bed at a very-early-for-Vegas 3 AM.

The next morning, everyone woke refreshed, as it seemed much easier to breathe and more humid in Vegas than in Phoenix. We went to the buffet downstairs for a relaxing and stuffing breakfast while watching the flamingoes outside and opening the rest of Sammie's birthday presents. Afterwards, Kim got a massage and went to one blackjack table, and my father went to an adjoining blackjack table while I ran around with the kids and took care of checking out. Both of them finished ahead a little bit, and the kids enjoyed watching the flamingoes, swans, ducks, and koi while climbing up and around the entire Flamingo pool area and wildlife habitat.

We packed up and left Saturday to return to Phoenix - we were going to drop my father off, then head to the airport for a red-eye flight out before using Sunday to recover. We figured leaving around 1 would allow enough time to drive back with a couple hours to spare.

What we DIDN'T take into account was that Thanksgiving drivers are complete morons. A wreck a half-mile before the Dam backed up traffic about 15 miles, all the way into Boulder City. We received quick word that it would take a few hours to cross the dam - which would eat up of our reserve time and make it impossible to make our flight back home.

Thankfully, we were still in the vicinity of Boulder City and I still had a strong signal, and started trying to get through to fins an alternate way back to Phoenix. CrankyCon came through big time in being able to pull up an alternate route touching into California - yay for being home with kids. :)

We started heading down NV 95 into the Mojave desert, and headed right into a duststorm followed quickly by a RAINSTORM. IN THE DESERT. Apparently, it was the one day a year it rains in the desert.

We made up a lot of time heading down to several nameless desert towns and towards Needles, California. At the border, we cut east to Laughlin, NV and then Kingman, AZ in terrain that would have reminded you of the Road Warrior.

We made it back to my father's house, amazingly enough, shortly before 10 PM. We'd lost about two hours on the way back by going a different way, but that was a lot better than the four hours we had been looking at for crossing at the dam. We got to the airport about an hour and fifteen minutes before the flight was due to depart, but with the place almost empty we sailed through.

Our flight, after some mechanical trouble, left at 1 AM. The kids had slept for the second half of the drive back, to rest up for going through the airport. Once on the plane, Sammie passed out, while Alex fought it for a while but finally fell asleep once he saw I was going to sleep as well.

We touched down around 6:30, and made it to the car, which promptly DIED. The battery went dead while we were away - something we knew was coming but were hoping to stretch as long as possible. Apparently the 20-degree temperatures while we were away were enough to do the trick.

After a jump and fuel, we rolled home, and fell into bed at about 8:30 in the morning.

We slept until 4 PM.

Great times were had by all, and the rest of the household cannot wait to go back...

on the condition we fly straight into McCarran next time.