Dave's Las Vegas Trip February 1999

by Dave Schultheis

This time I drove instead of flying to Las Vegas. Since I hadn't made the trip on four wheels since 1992, I thought it was about time to do that again. I've been saving audio tapes of CAR TALK with "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers" (Tom and Ray Magliazzi on National Public Radio), so I was able to pass the time laughing all the way.

I got up when I woke up and hit the road at 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday. The chariot for this trip was a 1994 Lincoln Town Car, packed and ready to go the night before. The windows were frosty but the climate control and defroster took care of them in short order.

Setting trip odometer "B" to zero, I was able to keep track of the cumulative mileage from my driveway. I headed south on Highway 85 and then south on Highway 101 to Gilroy. I turned east on Highway 152 and went out through the Pacheco Pass.

I stopped for fuel at a Unocal Station near Highway 33, on the outskirts of Gustine, about 70 miles from home. The drive south on Interstate 5 is usually fairly unremarkable, and this trip was no exception. Except for the cattle smell near Kettleman City, there's not much out there but miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.

Taking the Buttonwillow turnoff at Highway 58, I continued east to Bakersfield and beyond, then transitioned to eastbound Interstate 15. There's a nice rest stop three miles west of Boron, about 332 miles into the trip. It was a good place to stretch my legs.

I stopped for fuel in Barstow at 376 miles and then continued east, crossing the Nevada line at 2:35 p.m., 490 miles into the trip. I stopped for a few minutes at Buffalo Bill's at Primm, NV, then proceeded the final few miles into the Vegas Valley.

Instead of going all the way into town by freeway, I took Exit 33 over to Las Vegas Boulevard and explored a little of the south end of The Strip and the south-east metropolitan area, partially to check the new portion of Interstate 215 near the airport.

At 554 miles and 9 1/2 hours, I pulled into a parking spot at the Palace Station at 4:15 p.m. By some sheer coincidence, they checked me into a (complimentary!) room exactly where I had parked the car.

After stowing my bag and hanging up my clothes, I headed down to the Promotions Center to pick up my "fun book" (why is it that "fun books" aren't that much fun?). They also gave me a slip to take to the cashier for $10 cash. That was fun. Perhaps it was my smile...

A short while later was seated in the Iron Horse Cafe where I was served by a hoarse waiter. Not a horse waiter, a waiter who had lost his voice. Dinner was fine until it was time for dessert. The one time that I decided to splurge and have cheesecake, it took him 15 minutes to come back and tell me that they were "out." How disappointing. I put the meal on my hotel tab.

After dinner I decided to take a cab over to Treasure Island to see the pirate battle at Buccaneer Bay. The next one was scheduled for 7 p.m. It started promptly at 7:03 p.m. and lasted 10 minutes. I had a much better vantage point than the last time I had seen the show, so I was able to enjoy it much more this time. I was quite comfortable in short sleeves in the nice Las Vegas weather, and I could feel the heat from the "bombs bursting in air" on my arms.

I took the tram over to The Mirage and wandered past the lobby, with it's huge aquarium and brightly-colored fish, to the White Tiger Habitat. One tiger was wandering around from pillar to pool and generally looking bored.

I cabbed it back to Palace Station and did a little gambling. I had a little bit of luck on the $2 machine, put my money away and went back to my room. I smelled smoky, so I took a shower and watched a little television before going to bed.

On Wednesday morning I was up early and back to the casino at 6:30 a.m. They treated me to breakfast at "The Feast" (buffet - opens at 7 a.m.) and it was very good.

I checked out the Desert Inn Super Arterial, a sort of cross-town expressway that goes over I-15 and under The Strip, presumably so that local residents can get where they're going without having so many stop lights.

From downtown, Fremont Street goes east and then southeast and becomes Boulder Highway, which heads southeast to the cities of Henderson and Boulder. (For those familiar with the South SF Bay area, it's a little like driving on El Camino Real through various communities.)

The Clark County Heritage Museum is at 1830 S. Boulder Highway in Henderson. Although small in acreage (25), it has a gift shop with walking tour, a half-mile trail through the desert to three century-old structures, an old train depot, a walk-through caboose, a display-only 1918 Baldwin locomotive and six old buildings that had been relocated from Las Vegas and other communities to the museum property. I particularly enjoyed the signs on some of the stuff at "kid" level saying "Hands on history, please touch." However, we were not alllowed to touch anything in the desert.

Four of the buildings were actual homes and were fascinating to see. I really enjoyed the Beckley House which had been moved from downtown to the museum and restored to the way it looked in the 50s. I saw things in the kitchen that I recall seeing in our kitchen in the 50s!

After stopping at Camping World and Smith's Food and Drug (like Safeway) on the way back to the metropolitan Las Vegas area, I stopped at Sam's Town Hotel & Gambling Hall, "where the locals bring their friends." I didn't realize when I parked in a four-story concrete building that it was a "parking barn," in keeping with the western theme, until I saw the sign.

Besides a resturant on a turntable in an atrium and typical gambling stuff, Sam's contains a huge Western Emporium. I could have bought pants, shirts, boots, bandannas, coffee mugs and other trinkets, but ended up buying a playing-card-themed tie for my neighbor Baxter.

On the way back to the "parking barn" I stopped at McDonald's (still inside Sam's Town) for some victuals. It was here that I encounted the "fry-napper." The clerk preparing my food had bagged my French fries and put them under the heat lamp while she wrapped my sandwich. One of the managers came along and took the fries to fill a later customer's order, so that when my clerk got back to get them, they were gone. She had words with the manager and they had to cook more fries. She apologized for the wait and then put a hot-apple pie into my bag for the inconvenience. I didn't notice the pie until I got back to the car or I would have thanked her more than I had.

I made another visit to Las Vegas Harley-Davidson's main store on Sahara Avenue and drooled at the bikes on display for a few minutes. Then it was west on Tropicana Avenue to the Liberace Museum. One admission gets you into three different buildings: one with cars, pianos and photographs; one with books, delicate crystal collectibles and photographs; one with his capes, jewelry and photographs. The third building also has recreations of two of his offices and his Palm Springs bedroom, complete with a portait of Czar Nicholas and lots of personal items; a room dedicated to Liberace's brother George Liberace; and of course, the obligatory gift shop. Though I was never a Liberace groupie, one has to admire the showmanship and the body of work that he created. On display is the yellow velour jacket he wore at an early piano concert that was the beginning of his outlandish, flamboyant wardrobe.

Back on The Strip, I stopped at The Mirage to see the animals again. Since the Secret Garden of Seigfried & Roy is closed on Wednesdays, it's only $5 to visit the Dolphin Habitat. (I'll have to go again to see the Secret Garden: $10, includes Dolphin Habitat.) It's not so much a "show" or "performance" as a below-the-water-level look at dolphins at play. We were lucky enough to be there at feeding time, so we got to see some "behaviors." I also stayed for the behind-the-scene tour and got to see the filter equipment, ozone generators, fish sick bay, computer-controlled record keeping and lots of other neat stuff that one doesn't normally get to see.

After a brief visit to Bellagio to see the Conservatory, but not the Art Gallery ($10 admission), I returned to my hotel. I gambled a little and had some pizza, then gambled a little and had some ice cream (single scoop!) and was back in my room for a shower and some television.

On Thursday morning I was, as usual, awake early, had the car packed and was standing in line at "The Feast" at 6:58 a.m. As usual, it was very good, particularly since it was "on them." I paid my huge ($8) hotel bill, checked out and hit the road at 8:02 a.m. with 620 miles on odometer "B."

The computer said I had 120 miles 'til empty but I filled the tank before leaving town, just to be sure. Forty minutes later I stopped at Whiskey Pete's to get that last little bit of gambling fever out of my system. I enjoyed a "world famous" hot dog ($1) and was on the road again.

Shortly before 11 a.m. I stopped at the Mad Greek in Baker, CA, for a "fresh strawberry shake," and continued west on Interstate 15. It was 1:35 p.m., 905 miles when I got to Bakersfield and took the Buck Owens Boulevard turnoff (formerly Pierce Rd.) from Highway 99 to the Crystal Palace. Unfortunately there was a law enforcement function going on so the museum was closed. The gift shop was approximately 20 linear feet of stuff for sale and they didn't have a public lavatory. I had to make due at the Burger King across the street. How disappointing. Not that B.K. was disappointing, I didn't have anything to eat, but I wanted to see the Buck Owens Museum. Oh, well.

Then it was back on Highway 58 as it rocks and rolls through Greenacres and Rosedale toward the Buttonwillow turnoff and then back onto northbound Interstate 5 at 2:00 p.m. after a fuel stop.

The northbound run on I-5 was unremarkable. I passed Highway 152 and continued to Santa Nella so that I could stop at Pea Soup Andersen's Coffee Shop and have some pea soup and a sandwich. (They now have four restaurants, all in California: Buellton, Carlsbad, Santa Nella and Selma.) From there I got on Highway 33 at 5 p.m. and cut back over to Highway 152 and made it into Gilroy at 5:41 p.m., 1124 miles. As I pulled into the parking lot at the Outlets, the Lincoln turned over 70,000 miles.

After a short stop at the Bose Factory Outlet, I continued home, arriving in the driveway at 6:26 p.m. with 1152 miles on the car.

It was a wonderful trip and I really enjoyed catching up with "CAR TALK" but I think maybe I'll fly next time.

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Created on March 6, 1999. Last updated at 22:00 PST on March 6, 1999.
David W. Schultheis, San Josť, Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, California, USA