After the game at Coors Field, Doug, Barbi, Brook, and Sue hopped in the mini-van with me and started the drive West. They live in Aspen, CO so I spent the night at their house and prepared for the long drive to California. I picked up a friend of the family, Heidi Opheim, in Aspen and we made the ten hour trek out of the mountains and across the desert -- ending up in Las Vegas for two nights and a full day of rides and attractions.
When we got out of the car, we instantly wilted from the debilitating 105 degree heat that was gripping the area. We checked into the MGM Grand Hotel (the SportsFan Radio network set up the reservations for us), rested for a while, and grabbed a bite to eat while exploring our surroundings. We were both pretty tired so we called it an early night and made our plans for the next days activities.
After an early morning workout and some online work, I headed over to the SportsFan Radio Network studios (on Tropicana Ave) for a live interview with Mike Respondt -- the Sports Pig. After sitting around for about twenty minutes talking sports with the producers and on-air personalities who were gathered in the office, I took my spot in the studio and put on a pair of earphones. It was my first interview with earphones on and I was very excited -- getting the feeling like I was a "real radio personality".
The interview started off a little rocky, mostly because I kept nodding my head to answer his questions instead of speaking into the microphone. After the Sports Pig informed me (on the air) that nodding my head "doesn't cut it" on the radio, we had a lenghty conversation about the trip and the state of baseball as we both saw it. I felt I lost control of the interview in the middle as the Sports Pig started ranting about the Public Relations folks at each ballclub. He showed great displeasure, sighting personal experiences with some teams and explained to the listeners and how "they are just a bunch of white guys in shirts and ties who don't know what it means to relate to fans". I wanted to disagree, especially because some of the teams were very nice to me, but it was his show, and deep down inside I figured he was probably correct.
As the interview progressed, we talked about the cost of baseball and how younger fans can no longer afford to spend time at the ballpark because ticket prices are too high. We spent some time talking about the web page and how exciting it was that fans of all ages could log on and learn about baseball through me -- he believes that my web page is exactly what baseball needs to repair its tattered image by communicating the excitement and beauty of the game. The interview ended with us coming into agreement that work still needed to be done to repair the games relationship with the fans and an invitation for the Sports Pig to come along for part of the journey. As the music played leading into the break, the Sports Pig proclaimed "I would love to come, but I have a job -- some of us have to work" and we left it at that. It was the quickest 13 minutes I can remember.
Heidi had a list of attractions that she wanted to visit while we were in Las Vegas that centered around the "Big Shot" ride. High atop the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, the "Big Shot" is a terrifying ride which grabs its participants and thrusts them into the air (at a force close to 4 G's) and then bounces them back to earth. The catch is, earth is some 108 stories above the Las Vegas strip.
The wind was howling when we made our way out of the enclosed observation deck and into the line for the "Big Shot" (we learned when we were done that we were the last riders for a while as the ride was shut down due to high winds). I took my seat and attached my safety harnesses tightly around my chest and legs. Besides being terrified of heights, I wasn't too keen on the concept of lurching into the air uncontrollably and was doing my best not to cry as I anticipated our take off. I noticed that my safety harness had a tendency to move and focused all my energy on holding it close to my body (not realizing that it locked in place before we took off) and wasn't paying attention when the chair began its ascent. The force with which I was pulled upwards snapped my head sideways so quickly I couldn't do anything but grimmace (which was nicely captured on a photograph which I will try to get up on the page) and hope that I didn't die.
When the ride came to an end -- only thirty seconds after it began -- I stumbled out of my support harness and down the stairs to the observation deck. A photo attendent picked me out of the crowd, chuckling slightly, and pointed me towards the electronic images of the ride passengers saying "I got a really good one of you -- wait till you see". Indeed, my face was contorted, my head twisted to the side. I purchased the image and a commemorative t-shirt in hopes of showing my accomplishment to others without ever having to repeat it.
Next stop was the New York - New York, Hotel and Casino at the opposite end of the Las Vegas strip. The Casino was my favorite -- created as a replica of New York City -- complete with a Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building, Tug Boats and Brooklyn Bridge replica. It was so accurate inside as well that we joked about its authenticity -- figuring guests were randomly mugged during their stay. The highlight of the Hotel and Casino was the Super Roller Coaster -- set in an area full of games and other attractions meant to replicate Coney Island.
As you stand in line for the Super Roller Coaster you notice the whole area is like a subway station, decorated with token booths and grafiti on the walls. The cars that hurl you around the track are painted like taxis and the attendants come with an almost authentic New York Accent. Standing in line with Heidi, fear started to build in me as I remembered past roller coaster experiences (Splash Mountain comes to mind) in which I was tossed and turned to the point of tears -- vowing never to get back on a roller coaster, and I had to pretend as if I was fine. Lucky for me, one of the women sharing our car was just as nervous as I was. Regardless, I clutched the harnesses and listened as my heart rate increased steadily.
When the ride started I closed my eyes and tried to control my breathing. After a few moments, I figured nothing was happening and opened them again only to see a danger sign perched above an enormous drop that started the ride. My eyes remained open throughout most of the ride -- closing briefly during the loop and corkscrew portions of the massive and terrifying ride -- and I was even captured on a photograph sporting a smile while Heidi screamed and yelled in utter terror. I don't expect to get back on a roller coaster anytime soon -- I was definitely scared throughout this journey -- but I recommend this ride to anyone who comes to Vegas.
The final ride of the day was the highlight of my entire trip to Las Vegas. The Sky Screamer, affectionately called the "Swing of Death" by Heidi and myself, hoists its participants up more than 250 feet and then drops them only to have them free fall for more than a hundred feet and swing at speeds over 60 mph like a pendulum the rest of the way. The previous night, Heidi and I watched several participants scream their way through the ride and vowed that we would not partake. But, when I woke up on Thursday morning I was determined to prove to myself that I could complete the plunge and I convinced Heidi to join me.
We purchased out tickets and stood in line for nearly an hour -- all the while watching others plunge (and scream) and swing without problems. Joining us in line were two young ladies (17 and 16 respectively) who were riding for the first time, and eight guys from a high school basketball team (each of whom seemed more petrified than myself, Heidi, or either of the two young ladies). My nervousness grew as we got closer to the front of the line. I was calmed momentarily by the sight of a six year old child (maybe as tall as my belly button) being hoisted into the air and without fear pulling the ripcord to start the plunge. Heidi was visibly scared as she stood in silence watching the others.
We put on our safety harnesses -- suits that wrapped around most of our body and tied in several places on our backs -- and waddled towards the "runway". I was fitted with a portable microphone to record my comments as I plunged (having ordered a video taped version of my journey for my personal scrapbook) and stored my personal effects in a locker (only to have the key tied into my shoelace by an attendant). We were hitched to the pulley, raised well into the air (where the wind was blowing quite fiercely creating an airport like sound), and given the order to release the ripcord. I reached back, closed my eyes, pulled the ripcord, and began our descent.
I can't remember much of the first few seconds -- mostly a terrifying blur of the earth coming closer at high speeds. We flipped around and then the cord did its job, swinging us at a very high speed underneath the arching support structure and back over the "runway" area where we started. I spread my arms, trying to give the illusion of flying like Superman and yelped in enjoyment as we traveled effortlessly through the air. After four or five swings, we were rescued from our swing by the "flight crew" and released from our harnesses. It was the most exciting five minutes I can remember having. I can't wait to watch the video of my adventure.
After a much needed rest and a healthy lunch, Heidi and I gathered our strength and hit the strip for a night of exploration and excitement. My Aunt Barbi had arranged for tickets to Cirque du Soleil, a magical human circus adventure and we proceeded to the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino to claim our seats.
Cirque du Soleil is an unbelievable visual and musical experience, combining gymnastics and acrobatics with comedy and artistry. The costumes are colorful and elaborate with lots of curls, flares and abnormal headpieces and the music (all perfomred live) combines instrumentals with vocal interludes. Since the company started in Montreal, the performers speak in French and the music is sung (when words not sounds are used) in French as well.
Before the show started, one of the performers ran around the crowd interacting with folks (primarily taking popcorn from unsuspecting visitors and sharing it with the children in the audience) and getting the crowd prepared for the evening. A large gentlemen dressed as a baby (the equivalent of a clown to this company) started the show by performing with a ball and selecting a woman from the audience using only hand motions and the word "mama". After that, and for the next hour of the dhow, acrobats, dancers, and gymnasts swung from the celings, pounded on drums, ran through the crowd, and used oversized props and geometric symbols to demonstrate their incredible abilities. The show ended with the baby "clown" returning to choose another guest from the crowd -- this time dressing the man as a baby, giving him a water gun, and giving him targets throughout the audience to spray (needless to say he didn't hit the targets, just the audience).
The show is very difficult to describe as it combines so much energy and action. I am emberassed to admit that I dozed off for more than twenty minutes in the middle and missed some of the best parts of the show (or so I was told). I did notice that one of the performers injured himself on a dismount into a safety net near the end of the show, but, despite being visibly hobbled by his injury, he finished his routine. It looked pretty painful, and I don't think most of the audience noticed, but I was impressed by his ability to go on an his dedication to the show that got him through it. The crowd gave the show a well deserved standing ovation as an enormous model of a snail rolled out onto the stage for the finale. The snail remained as the crowd filed out -- back to the Casino to finish their evening gambling.
After the show ended, Heidi and I decided to walk back to the MGM Grand (a little over a mile down the strip) so we could check out all the other resorts on the way. First stop was the Mirage (Treasure Island is part of the Mirage). The whole area, inside and out, was very imporessive. The Treasure Island entrance is one of the most incredible on the strip with a fully working lagoon and island setting. Every hour and half after 4pm they even perform a pirate adventure show complete with explosions and sword fights. And the Mirage had one of the nicest gambling areas (oxymoron?) in all of Las Vegas.
Lots of lights and flashes drew us to the next hotel -- Ceasar's Palace. Caesar's is by far the most distinguished and expensive of the casinos on the strip. Designed as if it were set in the time of Julius Caesar, the entrance to the Casino is a rolling grassy area with fountains and statues, pillars and columns. The ceilings are painted with clouds and sky, the attendants are dressed in toga's, and there is a central square (which was under construction when we visited) that includes talking statues of Caesar and others that give guests directions and announce shows. The shops are up-scale as well including Gucci, Saks 5th Avenue, and more. . .
Other casino's on the strip have volcanoe's or expansive fountain settings. The most impressive in shere magnitude is the Luxor -- a replica of the Sphinx welomes guests who then stay in an enormous pyramid shaped hotel. Some of the more boring include Circus Circus (which is obviously older than rest and in need of a remodel if it wants to compete) and the Hilton Casino which has some flashy lights but nothing else. Three new casino's are under construction (including one with a Paresian theme) and the strip continues to be updated -- even the ones that already exist keep adding stuff.
Finally we reached the MGM Grand -- by far the largest and most interesting hotel and casino in Las Vegas. In addition to being the largest Hotel in the world (with more than 5,005 rooms), the MGM includes a full theme park (with the Sky Screamer as its main attraction), an official All Star Cafe, and an enormous shopping area. And, it was announced this morning that an enormous lion (the logo of MGM) will be installed shortly at the new entrance of the hotel -- in total weighing more than 100,000 pounds. Wow.
Here I am making a brilliant point about Major League Baseball during my interview with the Sports Pig on the SportsFan Radio Network.
Here's the Sports Pig making a point during our interview.