Monday, December 31, 2018

Year in Review 2018


This year was a huge year for me. In March, I ended my 30 year career at the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. I made it...I'm retired! And nothing has diminished the joy of that word - retired - since that happy day.

Of course, not having to go to work every day, face the Los Angeles commute, get up early, etc., means there are big changes in life. Not having to work in L.A. anymore means we really don't have to live here anymore, either, so we're gearing up for our own Escape From L.A.

That means travel will be light for awhile while we accomplish this relocation. Our only travel for the next few months will be house hunting and moving trips up to the northern half of our state.

Still, we did do some traveling this year so lets recap some of the highs and lows...


Best Pizza - Tim and I are pizza fanatics and love a good pie. We've had some great deep dish pizzas at Chicago Fire in the Sacramento area and Rance's in Long Beach, California. Our local favorites Joey's Red Devil and Casa Bianca continue to produce top-notch pizzas but the best we had this year was the star pizza at Mister01 Pizza in the Brickell neighborhood of Miami.

A splendid, thin crust pie with pointed handles of crust filled with ricotta making it a tasty and easy way to pick up the pizza.

As for hotels, there were none that were truly spectacular this year but the Homewood Suites we stayed at in St. Petersburg, Florida was a solid hotel. In fact, the Homewood Suites brand (part of Hilton) has been pretty reliable for us in general. The Doubletree Suites we stayed at in Rancho Cordova...just east of Sacramento...is another solid hotel where we scored a two story loft on one stay and a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, sprawling suite on another.


Air travel was light this year, with only two airlines flown. Those were Southwest and American Airlines. While Southwest continues to provide superior service, American is still slowly descending from its once lofty place on our list. I can still see glimpses of the old airline in there somewhere but it's a shame. It used to be our favorite way to fly.


Tim took his first cruise this year, a four day Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas from Miami. And...it was really kind of miserable. Another shame, we were really looking forward to that.

This was also the year that we completed our greatest travel quest...to see every stadium in Major League Baseball. We wrapped it up with visits to the Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Miami Marlins. Funny that we had no great expectations of the Rays stadium in St. Petersburg but that was an outstanding place to watch a game. Atlanta and Miami? Among the worst baseball experiences we've ever had.

Fall took us to three California destinations. Catalina Island, Santa Barbara, and another trip to the state's Motherlode region.

It's well known that we like the Gold Country enough to move there.

Santa Barbara had some highs...like the Boz Scaggs concert and dinner at Presto Pasta...and lows like a blocked wheelchair ramp at a restaurant we were looking forward to going to.


Catalina...where I proposed to my wife over 35 years ago and have not been to since...is relatively unchanged. It's a lot more expensive than it used to be but is still a quaint little slice of old-time California beach town.

And that's pretty much been our kind of light travel year. We'll pick this up again next year after we've moved. Thank you for your support of The World on Wheels.

Happy New Year!

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 28, 2018

CLASSIC TRIP: Las Vegas II, Nevada - 2002

We're going to wrap up the Las Vegas part of our salute to Nevada with this other trip to Sin City.  This is also new to the blog and was taken about six months after our previous trip.  Enjoy...


So we had a chance to stay at Mandalay Bay which has, by most accounts, Las Vegas' best pool.  We arrived during the last week in July and were looking forward to staying at one of the city's premiere resorts...

Around 1:00pm, we pull into the valet parking area at Mandalay Bay.  That in itself is quite a feat for first timers because it is very hard to find.  There is a line of about five cars and a sign saying "sorry, lot full".  A parking attendant comes along and asks us to roll down our window.  He says it will be about five minutes and we'll be able to pull in.

True to his word, about five minutes later he's back, guiding us in.  I tell him we have a ramp and to please put us somewhere I can deploy it.  He says ok and proceeds to put us 2 feet from the car next to us with no room for the ramp.  I then ignore him and pull forward to where I can open the ramp...I figure if he can ignore my request, I can ignore his.  No one makes any kind of deal about this and we proceed to get out of the van.

About ten minutes later, a bellman comes up and takes our luggage and we go to registration to check in. 

There is a HUGE crowd at the check in counters.  

Here is the first place I see where Mandalay Bay could improve itself.  There are around fifty check-in counters open.  Instead of having one line and whoever is next in line go to the next open window (like an airport or a bank), they insist that each counter have its own line.  Too bad if your counter person is very slow and you didn't get in the line with the fast person.

Check in goes very, very slow.  An hour and fifteen minutes later we finally get up to the counter, get our keys, and go up to our room.

Our roomy ninth floor room is very nice.  Two queen size beds and floor to window ceilings.  A 27" TV in a amoire, his and hers closets, and a big bathroom.  The bathroom has a tub and a separate shower.  There are two sinks, all the toiletries you could ever want (plus more), and the toilet is in its own separate little room with a phone.

OK, so we call up the bell desk to get our luggage.  Just a few minutes more and we'll be ready to hit the town....

Except that we have to wait another hour for our luggage!  So, pulling into the valet, checking in, and getting our luggage....grand total, two and a half hours.  Mind you, this is one of the more expensive hotels in Las Vegas.

After getting our luggage, we hop on the monorail and head over to the Tropicana.  We just have barely enough time to grab a very quick bite for lunch and then settle down to watch the Rick Thomas Magic Show.

Tropicana Security escorts us around the backstage area where we can get to the accessible table seats in the Tiffany Theater.  We get good seats at the middle aisle and it's a very good show.

The illusions range all the way from simple card tricks to making white tigers appear out of thin air.  Sigfreid and Roy are not the only white tiger handlers in Vegas.  In fact, Thomas makes a point of this fact that the white tiger is rare with only about 100 left in the world.  He has one...and Sigfried and Roy have the rest.

There is no drink minimum at this show and regular price is $16.95.  You can also win free or discounted tickets at the free pull slot machine in front of the casino.  This fantastic show is really a bargain and one of the few shows in town you can be comfortable taking kids to.

After the show, we head back to our room to rest and refresh before heading out to see the evening's sights.  That evening, we drive up to the Flamingo where we park and head out to the strip.

First, we have a decent dinner at the Flamingo's coffee shop and then cross the street to the Mirage where we take in their famous volcano show.  It's pretty spectacular but short.  It's not quite up to the spectacle that the fountains in front of the Bellagio are.

Next, we were going to head over to Treasure Island to see the pirate show.  The crowds were just too thick and we couldn't get to within a block of the place, so we cancelled that one.

Instead, we head back across the street to the Venetian where gondolas ply the canals.  Really, they just do circles around the pond out from and make laps of the one canal inside.  At $15 per person, it just didn't look worth it to us (for a great gondola ride at a great price - free - see our Dining in Scottsdale report).



Inside the Venetian, I have to give high marks to their shopping area.  It's beautiful....and this is coming from a typical guy who hates to shop and will go to great lengths to avoid a mall.  The ceiling looks exactly like a daytime sky.  The grand canal with its many bridges puts a very serene backdrop to the area, and the grand plaza with its many performers is an entertaining place to sip a cool and refreshing drink.

Back outside, there is a plaza between Bally's and the Imperial Palace with a Mardi Gras theme that offers free live entertainment in an outdoor theater.  It's kinda cramped but it's still a fun place to waste some time.

The crowds on the strip have done their job at wearing us down, so we head back to our hotel at the southern end of the strip.

The next morning we order up some room service for breakfast and make a pleasant discovery.  You see, last night we were walking by the coffee shop and notice a basic bacon & eggs breakfast was around twenty dollars.  We figured for that price, we might as well order room service.  So we order just a side order of eggs, a side order of bacon, and coffee for breakfast and found out that with room service, they throw in all the other stuff like fruit, toast, and hash browns anyway. 

Although it turned out to still be expensive compared to many places, it was quite a bit less than the coffee shop downstairs  and we had a spectacular view from our little table next to the big windows in our room.

Picture courtesy of Flickr
dcwriterdawn under CC BY-ND 3.0 license

Today, our plan is to spend the entire day at Mandalay Bay's gigantic pool area.  At eleven acres, it is quite a sight.  Access is strictly controlled to allow only hotel guests in.  Everyone, down to the littlest child, must posses a room key to get inside.  All are checked.

Inside, there is a huge sandy-beached wave pool with four foot waves suitable for body surfing.  There are two smaller, traditional pools, a few hot tubs, and a lazy river.

We find some lounge chairs adjacent to the lazy river.  

Tim has never been in a wave pool, so that's the first order of the day.  We can get his wheelchair almost up to the edge, but from then on I have to carry him in.  Since the pool is very shallow at the edge and very gradually deepens, it's quite a feat to get him to water deep enough to float in.

After bounding around the waves for about an hour, I manage to get him out and we make our way over to the lazy river.  A hut rents tubes for the river but at a cost...$20 per day.  You can trade back and forth between the tube or a floating lounge during the day at no extra cost (Only tubes are allowed in the lazy river but you can take the floating lounge into the regular pools. Neither one is allowed in the wave pool).  Life jackets are free.  You can also buy a tube ahead of time at Walgreens or a sporting goods store so you avoid the rental fee.

I help Tim into his tube, jump into mine and proceed to float around for the next few hours while my wife alternates with laying in the sun and occasional forays into the river.  A cave with two waterfalls ensures that no part of you will stay dry in the lazy river.

Servers sporadically bring drinks to our lounges...very sporadically.  I also found out that giving them a big tip does nothing to speed up their rounds!  There's a couple of good restaurants here and we have lunch at the nearest one with hot dogs, burgers and salads.

The pool here is one of Vegas' great pools but I like the laid back party atmosphere of the Tropicana's pool better.  I don't know if it's the correct term I'm looking for, but the crowd around the Mandalay Pool seems a little more uptight.

After our day in the water and sun, we head downtown to what is supposed to be one of the city's finest steak houses, The Ranch at Binion's Horseshoe.

On arrival, we make our way through the smoky casino to the restaurant elevator.  Despite emphasizing we had a wheelchair upon making our reservation, no table is held for us.  We end up being the only diners that do not have a table right up next to the top floor windows.

We order and soup is brought.  I have to admit, the soup was delicious.  Next the steaks.  Supposedly dry-aged, USDA prime steaks from their own ranch, they were not near as tender or tasty as they should have been.  The Ranch, far from being the best, was a major disappointment for us.

We go back to the hotel, pack up, and the next morning - after another round of room service - check out and go home.

Lesson learned: More does not mean better.  As you can see in the main story above, the Tropicana at one third the price delivered twice as much fun and bang for the buck as the supposedly luxurious Mandalay Bay down the street.


Darryl
Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Ethnic Foods of the San Gabriel Valley: The 800 Pound Gorilla


Cuisines covered in previous posts: Mexican, Cajun, NepaleseLebanese, Thai, BasqueArgentinian, Cuban, VietnameseEnglish, Belgian, Spanish, JewishGreek, Greek Diner, Hawaiian, SalvadoranIranian, Armenian, AfghaniIndonesian, Korean, Cambodian, American, California Cuisine, Soul FoodJapanese, Filipino, BarbecueFrench, Italian, Polish, HungarianPizzaMongolian Barcbecue, Pakistani, Indian, Peruvian, Malaysian, Burmese

We've covered 40 different ethnic cuisines, depending on how you slice it. The San Gabriel Valley has proven itself an food diversity powerhouse will all these different cuisines...

...yet we've been holding off on one til the very end.


While most visitors rarely venture east of downtown, and only to Pasadena on New Year's Day...if that...the valley is world renown for one type of cuisine. Yes, it's finally time to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

You would be hard-pressed to find a larger population of Chinese people anywhere in the world outside of the San Gabriel Valley unless you're talking about China or Taiwan. It stands to reason that the biggest slice of the ethnic food pie in the SGV is covered by the various varieties of Chinese Food.

While most of America has Chinese restaurants in their towns, it's mostly of the Americanized "with six you get eggroll" kind of food. We have a few of those here, notably Wang's Palace in Monrovia which is a very nice representation of that old-school type of restaurant, but it's quickly being supplanted by something more original, authentic, daring, and...most of all...very tasty.

Not to knock the sweet 'n sour pork and chop suey of the older establishments but they just don't compare with what we can get now.


The variety is staggering. You have your Hong Kong style coffee shops; Taiwanese dumpling houses; the steamy Szechuan dinner houses...even Islamic Halal Chinese food and vegetarian places. Starting in Monterey Park through Alhambra, San Gabriel, Rosemead...reaching up into Arcadia with tendrils running along the Puente Hills to Rowland Heights and Diamond Bar, there are hundreds of places to get great (and not so great) Chinese food.

As much as we've tried, we still have a long, long way to go before we get to it all.

A good place to start is the famous Taiwan dumpling chain, Din Tai Fung. The location on Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia is America's first outpost of this Taipei-based chain.  With an extensive menu that is mostly ignored for the star of the show. You come here to get Xao Long Bao...steamed pork soup dumplings.


Very delicate, hot, juicy and tasty. Just how they get all that pork and broth goodness into those soft balls of thin dough is a mystery. Eating them is not.  I like to mix a little rice vinegar in a bowl with a good dose of chili oil...both of which sit on each table.  Poke a hole in the shell of the dumpling, put it into my mixture, roll it around for a few minutes so that the surface and the interior are throughouly mixed with the vinegar and oil.

Pop it into my mouth, whole, for an explosion of juicy, spicy, and incredible flavor.  A serving of 10 dumplings...just enough for me...is around eight dollars.  Come early to avoid the crowd.

Arcadia is also the home of Andy Cherng, who opened a small chain called Panda Inn starting in Pasadena.  You might know of the take out version of the Panda Inn he also started that now has nation-wide outlets bringing their signature orange chicken to the masses, Panda Express.

For a more traditional feast, we'll head to the Golden Dragon...also in Arcadia...to get their incredible, crunchy Mandarin orange beef. It's flash cooked in a wok full of hot chilis and orange peels.  It is similar to orange chicken but much crunchier and with a deeper, savory taste.


One of our best Chinese delights is hot and sour soup.  This tasty broth with both a sour vinegar component mixed with hot chili is what we crave when we have a cold or sore throat. Nothing gets our sinuses clearer or soothes our throats faster. While many passable to very good renditions exist in the valley, it's the fiery broth of Happy Noodle in El Monte that fits the bill for us.

Some of the best Chinese cuisine exists with ingredients your mom told you to avoid. Intestines, feet, rotten eggs, stinky tofu...all can be great in the hands of a good cook.

These are the kinds of foods we make the trek over to Rowland Heights to eat at Remy's Noodle Palace, next to the Home Depot just south of the 60 freeway.


While I've tried a lot of those offal offerings, the best is the gelatinous bits of cow tendon floating in hot broth with soft noodles. Similar to the taste of ossu buco marrow, you will not think there's enough in the giant bowl they serve you.

My wife and I also like to get the half-foot long pot stickers they serve here on the side. Like most really good versions you have had only much, much bigger.

So there you have it. A celebration of diversity with over forty different ethnic cuisines in one, small valley. Next time you're in Southern California, you owe it to yourself to jump just a bit east of downtown L.A. (take the Gold Line if you don't want to drive) and try one of these deliciously different foods.

Chow!



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 24, 2018

CLASSIC TRIP: Las Vegas, Nevada - 2002


NOTE: See video of our helicopter flight at the end of this report, below...

Sunday dawned and after a delicious breakfast, we continued on to Vegas.  Since we were a bit early, a drive down the strip to see the casinos and hotels was in order for Tim.  Soon, the traffic proved to be unbearable so we headed over to the Tropicana, our home for the next couple of days.  Still early for check-in, we parked the car and headed across the street to the New York, New York casino.

NYNY is elaborately themed.  There is a 300 foot replica of the Brooklyn Bridge you can cross over to get to the entrance.  The skyscrapers of New York...the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building among others...are reproduced in half scale as is the Statue of Liberty out from.

The casino is themed to Central Park and in the back is a very nice streets of New York section with many places to eat.  A lot of attention to detail went in here down to the steam rising up through the manhole covers. 

We ended up at the Mango Hut, which is an homage to those great juice and hot dog places in New York such as Gray's Papaya.

While one hot dog will set you back four times as much as it would at Gray's, it's still a big beefy sausage and it was delicious.

At 1:00pm, we headed back across the street to check in at the Tropicana.  We had planned on seeing their Birdman show at 2:00 but an hour later I was just reaching the counter to check in. 

As we walked to our room in the rear tower, we passed the bird show.  It looked interesting but the location of it...a lounge that was basically a wide spot in the hall...was not too conducive to a show.

Our room was pretty nice.   A king size bed for my wife and I, and a full size sofa bed for Tim; lot's of room to maneuver; a great view of the pool area and the strip; and a large bathroom with a large bathtub.  I asked about the accessible rooms and the only difference was grab bars on the toilet and tub so we stuck with the normal room.  No roll-in showers here.

The Rick Thomas Magic show is also found at the Trop and we were looking forward to its family-friendly reasonably priced entertainment, but Mr. Thomas was on vacation for a few more days.  Add this to the list for things to do next time.

With the afternoon magic showed cancelled, we put on our swimwear and headed down to the pool.  The pool here at the Trop has got to be in the top three or four of all Vegas hotel pools.  It's huge, has waterfalls, an island, a water volleyball court, an indoor section, and...in the summer...swim up blackjack!
Looking Across the Tropicana's Pool Toward NYNY and the MGM Grand

There are also a couple of smaller pools nearby in this heavily landscaped area.  One for adults and one for kids.  Not to mention, a few spas here and there.

Lifeguards are on duty during pool hours.  You can rent a tube and just float around or get a lounge chair and soak up the rays.  A pool side bar will take care of your thirst.  If you have money to burn, three private pool cabanas are available.

Tim and I chose to float and swim around in our inner tubes while my wife spent most of her time working on the tan.

I had read on a Vegas web site that the San Remo had one of the best cheap prime rib specials in town.  Being very close to our room, we walked over for dinner.  I don't know if that web writer has been there lately, but it was really bad.  Bad food, bad service...but cheap...and to top it off, the security guards started hassling Tim because he lingered a little too close to the slot machines while I paid the dinner bill.  Not doing anything but waiting mind you, but given a hard time by an unnecessarily rude guard.  When I complained, he said he was just doing his job but I think you could ask someone to move a little nicer.

Across the street from the San Remo was a monorail station at the MGM Grand.  It's accessible but the elevators are not too easy to find but there are signs to mark the way.  This monorail (an old Disney World train) takes you a few blocks north to the back of Bally's hotel and casino. 

From there it is a very long walk through the casino out to the Strip.  Wheelchairs have the added bonus of taking several elevators to navigate up and down levels along the way.

Out on the Strip, we are deposited directly in front of the Bellagio hotel.  Here, we are able to watch the huge fountain show on the lake in front of the building.  It's really spectacular (someone said it's a quarter mile line of fountains) and best of all, free.

Our plans had included taking in the pirate battle at the Treasure Island and the Volcano at the Mirage, and seeing the shops at Paris and Caesar's Palace but my wife was worn out and had back pain from all the walking so we headed back to the monorail to return to the hotel.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Trop's coffee shop, Calypso's.  It was very good but a bit on the expensive side ($8.50 for what was essentially a Grand Slam without the bacon).  In comparison, back at Buffalo Bill's, a New York steak & eggs breakfast was only $2.95.  Delicious too!

After breaking our fast, we headed over to the MGM where there is a Coca-Cola store and M&M World (basically anything and everything you'd want to buy - plus more - adorned with Coke & M&M logos).  The 75 cent Cokes in the old-fashioned bottles hit the spot and my wife loaded up on some pretty cool Coke souvenirs.  We didn't buy a thing at the M&M store.

In Front of the Luxor...Notice the Monorail Track

Catty corner to the Trop is Excalibur where another accessible monorail whisked us down the road to Mandalay Bay.  My wife bought some shoes in the shop there and we then boarded another train to take us to the Luxor next door where we gaulked at the re-created Egyptian monuments.  Be aware that the monorail back to Excalibur is designed with making you walk through another large casino before you exit.

Back at the Trop, we spent the rest of the afternoon in that really lovely pool.  Ahhh, I get a warm feeling just thinking about it...and that's not just the 8-year old who just swam by!
Another View of the Great Pool at the Tropicana

Just before dinner, we head back to NYNY and buy tickets for the Manhattan Express roller coaster.  This is a steel coaster themed to New York taxicabs that takes you on a three minute excursion around the Statue of Liberty and the buildings.  There are two inversions...a tear-drop loop and a heart-line roll into a half-loop.  It's fun, expensive ($10), and very, very bumpy.  Be prepared to have a headache when it's over. 

The large amusement area where the coaster station is located is themed to Coney Island and it even smells the same! 

Dinner was at Il Fornaio inside NYNY.  We got a great table next to a pond and bridge (supposedly Central Park).  I guess this place is supposed to remind you of Tavern on the Green.  Doesn't really, but it's still a very nice place with very good food.  Not cheap though, but after the debacle of San Remo, a very nice sit down meal was just what the doctor ordered.

After the sun went down, we called on Maverick Helicopters to give us a lift.  We headed down to their office on the outskirts of McCarran Airport.  After plying us with a glass of champagne, we were ushered into one of their ASTAR helicopters.  Since Tim couldn't get in on his own, the pilot shut down the engines before helping us get him in the craft making it safer, easier, and less noisy than with them on.


Watch the Video!

Once aboard and with the engines up, we donned our headsets while our pilot, Darren, whisked us up and away.   We flew at a thousand feet and a hundred miles an hour up the strip, passing by the observation deck of the Stratosphere, over the Fremont Street Experience, and headed back to the south.  Darren flew us threw the ultra-bright spotlight emanating from the top of Luxor's pyramid and we hovered over the endless expanse of the Mandalay Bay's pool area (the very best hotel pool in Vegas) before landing back at Maverick's offices.

It was over with all too quick, but was worth every penny and turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

Darryl
Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 21, 2018

CLASSIC TRIP: On the way to Las Vegas - 2002




There's a curious migration that takes place on a weekly basis in Southern California. Every Friday afternoon, the eastbound San Bernardino and Pomona freeways get extra crowded. On Sunday afternoons, it reverses as the westbound directions resemble the worst rush hour has to offer.

What's happening is thousands of Southern Californians are heading out hoping to party, gamble, and other wise get lucky in that modern day Sodom...Las Vegas.

Normally, this would be about a four hour drive across vast, empty stretches of desert. Our schedule unfortunate matches this weekly marathon to get out of town. Being Good Friday, we have the extra fun of not only weekend Vegas traffic; not even holiday weekend Vegas traffic; it's the dreaded Holiday Weekend Spring Break Vegas Traffic!

Thankfully, my understanding boss let me out two hours early in a futile effort to beat the traffic. Unfortunately, the weekend getaway had already started with gusto. Basically, we were in jammed traffic the entire way except for a stretch out of Barstow to about twenty miles before the state line. Six and a half hours after starting, we arrived at Primm, which is what they call the smattering of buildings and casinos clustered at the border.

First of all, let me give you some full disclosure. I'm not a big Vegas fan. I don't have anything against gambling or Nevada. In fact, I love going to Laughlin, Reno, Carson City, and Lake Tahoe. It's just that Vegas has always seemed more than a bit sleazy to me and I've never gotten the allure.

As a result, I have avoided this city like the plague and haven't been here since before Luxor opened up (10 years or so?).

My son, on the other hand, has always wanted to go here. Of course, he's not old enough for the casinos yet but still would like to see this city of lights, shows, and action. Alright, we're going to Arizona anyway and this would give us a hopefully inexpensive stop over along the way.

Back to my Friday dilemma. I would really like to leave on Saturday...I'm in no hurry to get going because I have the whole week off to travel. Unfortunately, I cannot find any decent hotel in Las Vegas that will let me check in on Saturday.

So, we have a bit of a compromise here. Tonight we will drive as far as the border, spend a couple of nights there, and continue on to Vegas on Sunday after the LA weekenders have headed home.

After that long, weary drive across the desert, the Primadonna Resorts bloom from the sand like a neon-colored oasis. This will be home for the next two nights, specifically Buffalo Bill's Hotel & Casino.



After a fifteen minute wait to check in, we're given the key cards to our room on the 3rd floor. It's supposed to be handicapped accessible...as envisioned by Torquemada.

There was no roll-in shower, only a bathtub with a few grab bars and a shower on a hose. The bars on the toilet were positioned in a way to block your access to the toilet paper. The door was a pocket door (those sliding doors that come out of the wall) that took a herculean effort to move.

With a lot of effort, we got Tim bathed and situated for the night. I can't help thinking (and later would confirm) that it would have been easier in a non-handicapped room.

In the morning, I awoke before anyone else and took my shower. I made a mistake in closing that pocket door...it would no longer open up. As I stood there, naked...no phone...everyone else asleep, I pondered my options. Not wanting to wake anyone up, I struggled to get the door open. No dice. I found my wife's makeup mirror, and reflected some light into the wall notch for the door.

Finally, with one last huge push against the door, I popped it off of its rollers and it came off completely. Complaining to the management, after being trapped for over an hour in there, got us a new room but no other consideration. The new room was not a handicapped accessible one but confirmed my suspicions that it was easier to use than the so-called accessible room.

Other than the problems mentioned above, the room was clean, had two queen beds, cable TV, and a view of the roller coaster and pool. The staff was for the most part very friendly and helpful and the food at the Wagonmaster coffee shop was superb.

After breakfast on Saturday, a trip via monorail over to neighboring Primm Valley Resort is in order. After a LONG walk through the casino (we are to find out LONG walks through casinos will be a common occurrence), we come upon the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car...a bullet-riddled Ford sedan where the crime duo were sent to they're maker at the hands of Texas Rangers. Also on display is the shirt Clyde was wearing when he died.

Now, here is a gruesome and maybe morbid coincidence. As we sat watching a video on Bonnie and Clyde in the mini-museum of their death, I couldn't help notice a rather obese security guard wandering around the children's arcade just behind the display. To the right is a restroom where my wife disappeared for a few minutes. Yes, this is the restroom where little Sherice Iverson was murdered by Jeremy Strohmeyer while her father was off gambling in the casino. The Primm Valley Resort was called the Primadonna Resort at the time...the name being changed to disassociate itself from that horrible day. I find it a bit ironic that a display that memorializes a sensational death...complete with bullet holes and blood stains...sits directly in from of the site of one of the more gruesome murders in recent memory. And, yes, my wife said it was more than a little creepy being in that bathroom...

Just beyond that spot is a factory outlet mall where we spent the rest of the morning shopping. My wife, gotta love her, but whenever we go shopping, she takes hours and usually walks away empty handed. And, that is how it goes today although I end up with a new wallet and Tim picks up a pair of swim trunks (because we forgot to pack some for him). She does get an order of sushi to go so it's not a total loss for her.

Back over to Buffalo Bill's. Tim and I head over to Desparado, the big steel roller coaster that winds its way around the hotel. Of course, with our luck it is out of commission. The ticket seller has no ideal when it will reopen. There is also a log ride here, but the ticket seller doesn't want to sell us tickets right now because the line is over two hours long (kind of a silly reason but we don't want to wait two hours either).

We take a little nap in the room, have dinner at the Wagonmaster, and head up to Vegas...a half hour drive away.


Tonight, as a first little taste, we take in the Fremont Street Experience...a four-block long canopy of lights that displays shows over its entire length hourly. The show is quite spectacular, a lot of fun, and free. Unfortunately the "experience" includes the surrounding blocks that seem quite liberally populated by drug users, sellers, and street walkers. After the show, we headed back to the relatively quiet confines of Primm for one more night.

Arriving back at Buffalo Bill's, Tim and I head back over to the ride area and purchase some tickets for the log ride. They have a very nice area for handicapped loading here and the ride attendants even helped with the lifting to get Tim in (I don't know if they're supposed to do this or not...most amusement parks will not allow their employees to do this).

The ride is relatively tame for a log ride. Loading in the casino, the lift takes you outside around some faux desert rocks and over two small drops before winding back through a "canyon" built through the casino. The fun part is that they give you a laser gun and you shoot at targets along the way. Some targets shoot back if hit (with water guns).

Getting out at the end, I ask the attendant if he knew when Desparado would open up again. "About 2 to 4 weeks" was the reply. Oh well, save it for another trip.

Stay tuned for part 2 and our nighttime flight over the strip (with video!).

Darryl
Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Fountains of Los Angeles


UPDATED - See Updated Content, following the Will Fountain below...

A couple of years ago, we were in a Midwest city that is renowned for its fountains. It's supposed to rival Rome with the number of fountains.  Well, we were hard pressed to find any. Maybe one fountain working and a few more that weren't.

"We seem to have more in our desert city of L.A.," I thought to myself.



Well, it's time to put my money where my mouth is. I'm going to start a catalog of all the fountains that I can find downtown in this hot city. Come back from time to time as we'll be updating this list with new additions.

ARTHUR J. WILL MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN - I'll start with my favorite fountain in downtown. It's a grand fountain that crowns the appropriately named Grand Park.  The Arthur Will Memorial Fountain (pictured at the top of this post).

Named after a 1950's era county administrative officer and built in 1966, the fountain recently got a big, expensive makeover as part of the building of Grand Park.


If you're adventurous, you can also kick off your shoes and wade around in this water play area next to the adjacent starbucks that was added to the fountain in that makeover.

UPDATE - FEBRUARY, 2014


Ranging a bit farther south than my usual walks, I came across a new park...Grand Hope Park...that featured a large water feature. This waterfall is part of that and can be seen near the park's entrance on Grand Avenue, just north of Olympic Boulevard and directly across from the Federal Reserve Bank.


Going the opposite direction, on the other side of the Hollywood Freeway  at Sunset and Figueroa is a fairly bland strip mall but it does feature this nice looking fountain on the corner.


In between the above two fountains, you'll find a trio of condo buildings just south of Hope and 1st Street with a large plaza in between. That's where you'll find this round fountain.


On the east side of Figueroa Street, between Wilshire Boulevard and 7th Street, they're building an 1,100 foot hotel. Across the street, at the corner of Wilshire and Fig, you'll find this spare, twin tower fountain.

UPDATE - OCTOBER 11, 2013


Many local people around here can tell you about going to Chinatown when they were kids and throwing pennies into this "wishing well" fountain.  It's still there, not quite as colorful as I remember.


There's also this other version across the street in the older part of Chinatown.


At the corner of 5th and Flower, this bright fountain graces the courtyard of the City National Bank plaza, formerly ARCO Plaza.


On top of Bunker Hill, between the Bank of America tower and the YMCA, there's a large park area with this huge sunken pond with four waterfalls flowing into it.


Over on Figueroa, this waterfall wall sits on the back wall of the Original Pantry restaurant.

UPDATE - JULY 27, 2013


CITY HALL - I was originally going to update this as defunct, but in the last couple of weeks, city workers have brought it back to life. The Flint fountain sits on the south lawn of the Los Angeles City Hall.


Made of marble, it's had a few hard knocks as protestors and celebrators that frequently congregate here (most recently, the Occupy LA movement) have visited much damage on this pretty water feature.

Happily, it is now flowing again and in pristine condition.


UNION STATION - Downtown L.A.'s transit hub is full of fountains.  The one above is in the south patio where tables are set up. You can grab bite to eat at the adjacent cafeteria or one of the many food shops in the station and sit next to the colorful fountain.

There's also a nice koi pond a few feet away.


This large waterfall fountain is in the back of the station.


This unique water feature sits at the extreme northeast corner of the property at the corner of Chavez and Vignes Streets.


CENTRAL LIBRARY - Another great collection of water works, this is the largest. It's on the west side of the building facing Flower Street on the corner of 5th Street.


5th STREET STEPS - On the west side of the Library Tower (the nation's tallest office building west of the Mississippi), these steps provide a workout to climb up to the top of Bunker Hill. The little waterfall bisecting them has led to it being called "L.A.'s Spanish Steps."


WATERCOURT - At the top of Angel's Flight and Bunker Hill, the watercourt is all about H2O. There are many fountains here, large and small, including this shower-like waterfall in the quiet north court.


OLVERA STREET - Over at the city's birthplace is this 80-something year old fountain.


OLD PLAZA CHURCH - At the two century old church across from Olvera Street, this grotto waterfall makes for a meditative place to light a candle and say a prayer.




LAPD HEADQUARTERS - This understated waterfall marks the start of the terraced entranced gardens at the Police Headquarters on 1st Street, across from City Hall.


FEDERAL PLAZA - This fountain...and the attending artwork...has the distinction of being declared obscene by a federal judge. His ruling was overturned and the installation is still here for all to enjoy. Behind the Federal Building at 300 N. Los Angeles Street.


FORT MOORE (Defunct) - This fountain really made a statement. An 80 foot waterfall cascading over the hill to memorialize Mormon troops that built their garrison on top. Unfortunately, the city turned off the pump in the 1970's during a drought and it's been off ever since.

There is a plan to restore it but nothing has happened here, except for the occasional drug deal, for years.


WELLER COURT - This unnamed fountain in Weller Court, behind the Doubletree Hotel in Little Tokyo, sits in front of a monument to Astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who died in the Challenger explosion.


L.A. MALL - The mall has two fountains, one in each food court. This fountain sits in the south court...


...while this one pumps away in the north court. The mall sits underground and can be accessed from the plaza surrounding City Hall East, across the street from the main City Hall.


HALL OF RECORDS - One of the coolest fountains sits on Temple Street in front of the old Hall of Records building. It is very hard to capture in photos, but that is a relief map of all the water sources for the region. Each channel has a trickle of water running through it, eventually making its way to Southern California at the bottom before splashing into the large, reflecting pond resevoir.


OCHO GRILL - this small fountain sits in front of the restaurant on top of Bunker Hill on Grand Avenue.


MOCA - A pyramid of cascading water sits behind the plane wreck sculpture on the patio of the Museum of Contemporary Art.


This reflecting pool leads up to it.


THE MUSIC CENTER - Another very grand fountain is the dancing waters of the Music Center fountain.


There's no fence or barriers around it, feel free to play inside, get wet, and cool off.


DISNEY HALL - One of downtown's most stunning fountains is this Delft rose sitting behind the Disney Concert Hall. It's also very hidden. To find it, go to the extreme south or west edge of the property, climb two flights of stairs (there's an elevator at the west staircase for wheelchair users), and walk around to the garden behind the hall.


The water flows through the channels created by the rose's petals.


CITY HALL EAST (Defunct)-  In the plaza between City Hall East and City Hall South lies this star shaped fountain that, in happier days, would shoot out a very cooling mist. It has been turned off for over a year now.



Here is what it looked like when it was operable.


JAPANESE VILLAGE PLAZA - This meditative trickle fountain lies in the heart of Little Tokyo's most popular shopping mall.


SPRING STREET PARK - Downtown's newest park, between 4th and 5th Streets, has a section that looks like someone ran into the fence and left it bent. Actually, it's the park's fountain.



Darryl
Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.