Monday, June 20, 2011


Last week we took our annual or semi-annual or quarterly trip to one of our favorite cities--Las Vegas. Actually we hadn't been there since last June. (see KENSUSKINREPORT, June, 2010). I first started visiting Las Vegas about 30 years ago when my folks retired there. Later, I bought a computer and discovered the Las Vegas common interest group on Prodigy where we met friends and exchanged ideas about unusual attractions and restaurants to see.

This time we persuaded our New York friends Mike & Dorothy to meet us there. We stayed at Bally's where our total bill for three nights was--free. Believe me, it was worth every penny. It was such a good deal that our friends stayed a fourth night.

Most people think Las Vegas is just about gambling, and we do some gambling (in moderation), but we like to soak up the other activities in town, and there are many things to do. If we really want to gamble, heck, there are plenty of opportunities at home, but we don't partake. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.


This is an outdoor museum started by Young Electric Sign Co. (YESCO) who constructed many of the famous neon signs of Las Vegas. The site is run by a 501(c)(3) charity to celebrate the history of these signs that made Las Vegas famous. YESCO owned many of the signs and leased them to the hotels and restaurants. Some of the hotels have been literally blown up, but before doing so, YESCO removed the signs to the Neon Boneyard. We photographed the Stardust, the Desert Inn, the Horseshoe and many of the lesser known signs.

You can't just stroll in to see this museum. You must make a reservation 3 weeks in advance and hope there are openings. They won't tell you where it is, and in fact it is locked up on a 2 acre parcel behind a high fence. I'd disclose it to you, but then I might have to kill you. Seriously, though, they give you a nearby address to go to and they they lead you to the museum for a guided tour. The tour guides are volunteers--mostly grad students. They have one tour per day--at 10 A.M.--when it's only about 100 degrees. It gets too hot after that.

We walked around the yard, soaking up the history of old Las Vegas. Many of the signs were lesser businesses like the Green Shack, an iconic fried chicken restaurant which opened in the 1930's to feed the construction workers building Hoover Dam. The restaurant closed at least 10 years ago, but Dianne and I ate there back in the '90's when the locals raved about the chicken. My impression at that time was that we had better chicken back home, at a place called KFC.


This is an interactive exhibit located at the newly renovated Tropicana Hotel which presents the real stories of the history of organized crime and law enforcement. It embraces the checkered history of Las Vegas and the characters who made it what it is today. It takes about 2 hours to complete the tour. At the start, you choose your virtual guide who then appears on the screen in the various rooms to explain the exhibits. The virtual guides are well known actors like James Caan. We chose actor Tony Sirico who plays Paulie Walnuts in the Sopranos. They took our mug shots, so we had to show our best poker faces. We then stood in a lineup where we were photographed.

The museum has exhibits devoted to Italian and Jewish gangsters like Ben Siegel (his enemies called him Bugsy) and kingpin Meyer Lansky who had built casinos in Havana, Cuba before the Castro Revolution. Also, there is a large exhibit about numbers guy Lefty Rosenthal who, with his buddy Tony "The Ant" Spilotro from Chicago, brought street crime to Las Vegas. Spilotro and his brother Michael angered the publicity shy higher-ups and met their demise in an Indiana cornfield. In the movie Casino, he was convincingly played by actor Joe Pesce who looks just like him. Spilotro's lawyer, Oscar Goodman is the popular mayor of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is unique in that most of the founding fathers of the city were organized crime figures. For example, Bugsy Siegel essentially created modern Las Vegas, building a classy "carpet joint" at a time when the other casinos had sawdust on the floors. For his contribution to the city's success, they should have a statue of him in the middle of the Strip, but they don't. The city fathers are ambivalent about Siegel. The only thing I could find honoring him is a small plaque in the pool area behind the Flamingo Hotel. It's not on the tourist maps and you have to look hard to find it. I can understand that they wouldn't want to honor someone who murdered as many as 15 people, but, hey, nobody's perfect.


Until my 2010 trip, I had never fired a gun in my life. This store, located a couple of miles off the Strip advertises heavily in the media and offers coupons in the tourist guides. We brought our friends who wanted to test the latest machine guns, and we had a good time. This place does a land-office business. We had to wait in line to get on the range. We purchased a Ladies' package for Dianne for $50 and a package for me for $55 plus ammunition. We get to choose our weapons from an array mounted on the wall. I chose a Glock 19 pistol and an AK-15 automatic.

Next you have to choose 2 posters to aim at. Last year, I chose the Osama poster, the most popular one. Since his demise, it's no longer available. So I chose a desert insurgent and two guys holding hostages. I was proud of myself in that I hit the bad guys but didn't hit the hostages. Many others in the store didn't aim as well and drilled the hostages.

Then, since we had recently toured the Mob Museum, Mike wanted to try the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun (Tommy Gun) which he said was very heavy and hard to control. After our shooting adventure, we roamed the gift shop which had many gadgets and accessories like silencers which I had thought were illegal. I guess if I wanted to outfit a private army, this would be the place to do so.


The Golden Nugget is the most garish hotel in downtown Las Vegas. Gordie Brown is not well known yet outside Vegas, but he probably will be. At $75 per ticket, this is a bargain for that town. We sat in the fourth row which was good because much of Brown's comedy is reflected in his facial expressions which are not obvious if you're seated far away. Brown had opened for Celine Dion on her world tour. He is an impressionist and comedian with a great deal of musical talent. He plays guitar and sings, making up words for well known songs. This show is not highly promoted, but was highly entertaining.

Before the show, we had a wonderful prime rib dinner at the Chart House in the Golden Nugget. Our backdrop was the enormous tropical fish tank behind our table.


We spent Saturday night on Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas taking in the carnival atmosphere. Every night is like New Years Eve here with rock bands and street performers. Thousands of people milled around on the street. All this energy captures the essence of Vegas.


For Friday and Saturday breakfast we went with our friends to Blueberry Hill, a chain of pancake houses. For about half the price of a breakfast at a Strip hotel, we had terrific breakfasts of pancakes, eggs, ham and potatoes. They have the best pancakes in town, and we would recommend them to anybody. We have been visiting Las Vegas for many years, and we had gotten this recommendation from our friends on Prodigy. We visit this restaurant on every trip.


Early Saturday morning, I placed some bets on the Belmont Stakes to be run later in the afternoon In the sports book, we could see that it was raining heavily in New York, producing a sloppy track. Anything can happen in that situation, and it did. We sat with our friends in the sportsbook at Bally's relaxing and watching the races. Unfortunately for us, we didn't have the winning combination in the big race, as the winning horse and the second place horse were longshots--horses we didn't think were fast enough to win. Most other people didn't think so either, but for the fortunate few who picked it by sheer luck. The Trifecta paid thousands of dollars for a one dollar bet. Well, maybe next year.


The WSOP was being held this weekend at the Rio Hotel, so we decided to visit. It is held in a cavernous 160,000 square foot convention center in the Rio, just off the Strip. You could fit a couple of Wal-Marts inside that room. The scope of this event is unbelievable. There are over 15,000 participants in all the events, many paying a $10,000 entry fee (some win their entry fees in the satellite tournaments). There are about 400 poker tables in this huge venue with 8-10 players at each. I walked around, getting the flavor of this event. For a guy who plays 25 and 50 cent stud poker with the senior citizens once a month, this was culture shock for me. I don't play Texas Hold-em, the prevailing game, although I watch it on TV occasionally.

I just finished reading a book about the life story of Doyle Brunson, the "Godfather of Poker" who is close to 80 years old but still participates. In his younger days, he was a college basketball star in Texas and a potential first round draft choice of the NBA, but his athletic career was derailed by an industrial accident that shattered his leg. When life gives you lemons, you must make lemonade. In Brunson's case, he took up poker and despite many ups and downs, he made a very nice living at it. He also wrote a couple best selling books about poker strategy. I didn't see him, but I'd like to meet him someday.

We came home to reality and in a few months, we'll be ready for another Las Vegas experience. We'll find some other unusual attractions to visit


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