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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Surrealistic Sunday ~ The Field Trip, Chapter 1

"What do you feel like doing?" "I don't know, what do you feel like doing?" "Oh, I'm not sure. Let me bubble on it." It didn't take me long to land on it. "I'd like a field trip. It's been more than two years." "OK, that sounds like fun. Let's each take a camera." Good idea! I wasn't a blogger last time I made this trip.

I have a long association with Las Vegas, with some sizable gaps. I arrived here to live on the Bicentennial Day (July 4, 1976), remained 7 years, stayed away 18 years and have now been back for 7 years. I've worked at or been closely associated with real estate sales, escrow, construction, mortgage lending, land purchases, property management and now in a service industry catering to the general populace. I know the place pretty well. It is an unusual city in that it takes on new appearances seemingly overnight. When I returned in 2003, I was stunned that so many new buildings I knew from the 1970s were gone. But not entire city blocks of them. Piecemeal. So that one can't quite get comfortable. There's the old Alpine Inn, but I can't quite place the buildings on either side of it - they're new. Tall buildings mixed in among short, squat ones. There are tracts of land that have never been developed since the city's birth in 1905 - some of these vacant places completely encircled by development.

The route to our destination took us ten miles along a major east-west artery of the city. We weren't two miles from my place when we began to take in the most amazing sights. Neither of us uses this boulevard very frequently. The first stunner was that two favored restaurants situated next to one another had gone out of business. One was boarded up, the other had changed hands. A "WTF?" look was exchanged between us. Soon we noticed entire professional plazas that appear now to have only one or two businesses open where there used to be 50. My god. Several major chain grocery stores had gone down, now empty or housing the latest indoor swap meet - oh, they're thriving. I'm not sure I can count high enough to tell the number of huge car dealerships now out of business. Dear readers, yes, we do read the news and we do know there's a recession in full bloom. We know that from the neck up and from the effects that has had on our personal finances and lifestyles. The impact of the ghost town, however, was not intellectual. It was visceral. This is bad. And it's going to take a long time to revitalize. We, great communicators since 1968, were very quiet in the car.

We arrived at the intersection we'd aimed for. On one corner is the Sahara Hotel & Casino, directly across from the enormous lot that's never been built upon. Another corner is home to a vast one-story building, vacant and painted entirely black - walls, windows and awnings. Near our corner were some old familiar sights and some startling new ones. A block east sits one of the most venerated eating establishments in Las Vegas. The Golden Steer has remained in the same location since 1958, gradually annexing all the space in the commercial building it occupies. It looks exactly as it did when I dined there on my first wedding anniversary in 1978 when it was already 20 years old. But strolling eastward, there's something new. Where once squatted the tattiest wedding chapel of them all - the one with the pink plastic posies stabbed into the ground on approach to the place where one enters marital nirvana - soars all 41 stories of Allure. Finally, on the corner, hunkered at the heel of Allure, our destination.

"If it's in stock, we have it!" Yes, that's the way I've always heard it goes.

I can recall no change in the appearance or ambience of the Bonanza Gift & Souvenir Shops since I first spotted it in 1976. It is tacky, trashy, objectionable, wrong and funny in most every way. From its location to its merchandise, my field trip subject is wrong. And just as I enjoy venerable things and the beautiful desert, wonderful music and some intellectual writing, I like knowing about the wrong contained in the Bonanza. Yes, I do want to peruse the wares in the Bonanza's Naughty Town. I want to see the T-shirts that surely no tourist would buy. I want to pick up things that must have been invented or created by people crazier than I. I want to shock my companion and make him laugh out loud. I want him to point out the wacky stuff he sees before I do. Just about once every two years.

The fun begins in the parking lot. It's filled with people who have come from near and very, very far and it's loud. All that's missing is calliope music. As the photographer bent into the car to get his camera, he recoiled from a resounding roar and the sound of people scremaing. "No worries. It's the roller coaster on top of the Sahara." He regained his composure and set about getting the exterior shots. I had trouble concentrating on photos as I was drawn to watch the certifiables' circus. I saw a man in bad thrift store clothing riding a bad thrift store bicycle, circling and ringing a bell for all he was worth. He had an adequate jacket and he was the happiest man I have seen in a long time, kicking his feet off the pedals and shaking his legs in the air. He greeted everyone he encountered as he circled and I greeted him, "Happy new year, happy home dude." Of my companion, I asked, "Do you think he's a serious cyclist?"

We aimed for one of the many doors, each featuring a uniformed armed guard. "Do you think they have a prohibition against cameras and photos?" I never had considered that! If they did, mine could easily be slipped into my purse or coat pocket. His requires a sizable case. We stepped up to the same door we always use (come on folks, we're orderly!). "No shirt, no shoes, no service." We had on shirts and shoes. "No smoking." We don't. "No public restrooms." We went before we left my place. As we crossed the threshold, my reaction was the same as always. My pulse picks up a little and I get ready to laugh. The big grin spreads from one side of my face to the other before I see any of the goods. We always follow the same route through the store - hey, we're hikers and campers, we follow maps.

We first encounter all the Elvis stuff, and there's a lot of it. I'm not an Elvis fan. My mother (who shares the king's birthday) and Ex were big fans. I'm fried on Elvis. We don't even stop in that football field-sized department. Glass shot glasses, ash trays, ceramic bells and vases celebrating fabulous Las Vegas? Nope. We don't slow down for that. Miles of racks of jewelry similar to that found in any 99-Cents Store? It doesn't even register on our radar. Finally, less than 10% of the way through the establishment ~ the T-shirt section. Now this bears some attention! There must be 1,000 T-shirts of every imaginable description. Some are lame, some go beyond naughty all the way to obscene. Some are simply hard to understand. What, someone is going to come visit Las Vegas and buy a T-shirt with a rebel flag or the ocean on it? OK, whatever. The cowboy and southwestern themed shirts make sense to me. A lively debate was held surrounding what a particular T-shirt depicted. It was gray with black line drawings. I thought it was a monkey's face. He thought it was a big, fat guy's chest and abdomen. Regardless, it was stupid and ugly. And we were ready to move on.

We stepped into the 100 Acre Woods that whets my appetite for this peculiar trash cruising. No, we weren't in Naughty Town yet, although I could see it just a few miles off. We had entered the area of "small stuff". Magnets, desk accessories, stationery, soaps, snacks, purses and things that defy description. Racks, bins, baskets and rows of these things. I need to handle them all. Lest the reader think my companion becomes bored or testy as I cruise, be assured: he's touching and checking things out, too, calling my attention to things as frequently as I say "Hey!" or "Look at this!" to him.

Some of my favorite hits this time:

Bacon stuff! (Here we go again with bacon!) Bacon placemats and bacon wallets - I know I'd enjoy pulling that out at Bath & Body Works just to watch the reaction of the cashier as I purchase Warm Vanilla Sugar bath products. Bacon bandaids and bacon mints. Mints? Are they minty or bacony? Look, while I don't eat it, I understand that people love it and enjoy it with eggs or in a BLT. But who decided it was funny? Who decided "We'll make bacon funny stuff and people will buy it"?

Toast bandaids. For those who don't care for bacon, I guess.

Safety measures for all the bacon and toast preparation workers, I imagine. Who'd buy these? Who'd put these on their refrigerator door? Oh, I can stand in the shop and laugh like a donkey, but I wouldn't buy this stuff. It's pricey. Shockingly pricey. And stupid. And funny. And wrong.

So, is the Bonanza the world's largest gift shop, as the sign proclaims? I don't know the answer. I'm not in charge of that. But it's large, no question. And we'll visit it again soon in Chapter 2 before I go away this weekend.

In my ears right now: In the continuing theme of "wrong", it doesn't get more wrong than this. It's so wrong it makes me ashamed I was alive in the 1970s. I challenge the reader to watch it all the way through. Better yet, watch it, make a list of how many wrong things you see and tell me the number. I'll send a prize! Not to be missed: Bowie's black bodice that moves independently and separately from his body when he shakes his narrow booty. It must have been made from cardboard!

Something that charmed me: The Electronic Yodelling Pickle. I worked hard to think of some meaning it might add to my life, for I certainly wanted one. It was loud and it was stupid and it was pretty wrong. Alas, I left it behind. I couldn't think of anything I'd actually do with it. There's a recession on and I'd just driven through a deserted city. Electronic Yodelling Pickle notwithstanding, one wants to be mindful of expenses.

Some photo credits: J. D. Morehouse


  1. I love this kind of shopping, flea markets, swap meets, garage sales. When you have no idea what you will find around the next corner. Mostly trash sometimes treasure.
    I think this was David's audition tape for the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  2. Laughing too much to make sensible comment at this time...will be back after some considered stupidity disposing!

  3. I lasted 52 seconds on the clip! Woah, had to pull hard on those reins of wrongness there! There are some things that are so bad they're good and then there are things which require a higher field of understanding than my tiny allotment of brain!

    When I read your post title I said to myeself "but it isn't Sunday"....

  4. ...and this is only Chapter One? I can't wait until the next installment.

    How have I missed this on my 7 drives to Palm Desert? I guess it can't be seen from the freeway. Your descriptions are hilarious.

    Wrongness of Video list:
    1. chirpy music AT AN UNBEARABLY SLOW TEMPO.
    2. Bowie's red hair-do.
    3. Marianne's nun-gone-wrong headdress.
    4. doing a Sonny & Cher song. Why? THEY shouldn't have even done it.
    5. the step-slide-together meandering of the "Back-Up Unneccessaries"
    6. Bowie's earrings
    7. Marianne's 'singing'...no, sustained moaning.
    8. the two black vultures molesting Bowie's chest.

    Do I win? Huh, huh? Do I?

  5. Kass, I think you're right about the black vultures, but I think they're so dead not even other vultures would entertain the thought of eating them!

  6. For some reason I have a high tolerance for tackiness of another era, and a low tolerance for tackiness of the present era. Maybe when it comes to tackiness of the present era, I'm more aware of my intelligence being insulted.

    If the above is indecipherable, let me just say I love the old-fashioned tackiness of that building the black-and-white picture.

  7. Who doesn't need a yodeling pickle??? Oh, and did the audience PAY to see that performance?? Wow. Thanks for the belly laugh!
    WV: prowle Yup, they prowle did.

  8. Sorry, favored readers. I took a couple of days off. Life is what happens when you're busy making plans.

  9. @ Tag ~ You should SEE me shop! It's a thing of great beauty. I want the good goods in life and I'm not going to pay full retail for anything that can be found on eBay of some other way to snark out the discount.

  10. @ The Badger ~ You'd look grand in Marianne's headgear! Do you think the Summerlin Sunbonnet Society Ladies would laugh at you as much as you've chortled about them?

  11. @ Kass ~ You win! For your prize, I'll give you a personal tour of the Bonanza. We'll take coffee in (I saw no prohibition against that) and spend the morning or afternoon.

    You wouldn't be able to see the Bonanza from the freeway. It's short and low. You can see the 41-story Allure from the freeway, however. It's quite alluring. ;~}

    Ironically, I'd been looking at a YouTube of sweet, lovely Marianne singing As Tears Go By in 1965 when this monstrosity popped up. It was only about 10-12 years later. That little heroin problem and all the cigarettes had already ruined her voice.

    "The step-slide-together meandering of the "Back-Up Unneccessaries" - hilarious!

  12. @ The Badger AND Kass ~ I think you're right. Even carrion eaters wouldn't go after those vultures. It's just WRONG.

  13. @ Kirk ~ No, I understood you perfectly. We catch on to having our intelligence insulted and we also simply get old and cranky (speaking for myself).

    I like the black and white photo, as well. Alas, I'm not that good at photography. I'm good at having a good time, however.

  14. @ Rachel ~ No, it wasn't posted on a Sunday, but it was experienced on a Sunday. Even when things are wrong, dead wrong, I want to know about them. I guess I'm one who looks when I drive past the train wreck, despite knowing it will be very bad.

  15. @ Doozyanner ~ You know I aim to please in the laughing department! Imagine having given up any money to watch David and Marianne moan and groan through that. I'm with Kass even Sonny & Cher probably shouldn't have done that song, but we can forgive them. They were really young and the times they were achangin'. These two are just dissipated.

  16. In answer to this question, "Do you think the Summerlin Sunbonnet Society Ladies would laugh at you as much as you've chortled about them?" What I think is they'd knock me off my bike and run off with it, fighting amongst themselves as to who gets to wear it first!

  17. @ The Badger ~ Well, don't let the cat out of the bag, because if those women learned of the hat over at Dan Crain's there could be rioting in the streets. What is it with crazy headgear? I could live a lifetime without sunbonnets, nun headwear OR badger hats. That badger hat puts my Davy Crockett coonskin cap to shame. Be very afraid and watch yourself on the bike when you're vulnerable.