Getting Set To Go

I have burned the candle at both ends. We’ve hit the road a week ago last Friday. I am bushed. Please, let this not be the screaming baby flight from Vegas. I want to need to sleep.

My sister and brother-in-law arrived in Las Vegas yesterday. This is one of those lucky, versus planned, things. They were scheduled to be here for a convention. In fact, when I asked if they wanted to have lunch today, they were busy selling.

At least we had one meal together. Yesterday, my sister, brother-in-law, and three cousins hit the MGM coffee shop. We were seven, not a common number. We waited over and hour for a table, and that was with a line pass!

Last night, I thought it would be fun if we took our young cousin, Max, downtown. Staying on the Strip, downtown’s far away and never seen.

Fremont Street, the main drag downtown, is where all the gaudy signs were in the 40s, 50s and 60s. If you saw Elvis in Vegas, Fremont Street is where he was. It really can’t compete with the Strip anymore, so it has positioned itself a little more downscale and affordable.

Fremont Street is where you an get 99&#162 shrimp cocktails (Golden Gate Hotel – they’re still great) and where $5 blackjack players get rated for comps. The street itself has been closed to traffic, covered with a mesh canopy and loaded with little kiosks and stands.

The atmosphere is comparable to what I’d expect on New Years Eve in Times Square. There are people of every shape, size and color. Families gawk. Pierced, Mohawked wackos gawk. Retirees gawk. They’re all together, and though the area seems tawdry, I never felt unsafe.

Cousin Michael made note of the nearly invisible security. We’re guessing they’re hidden, just seconds away… but that’s a hopeful guess and nothing more.

Once an hour, all the outside casino lights dim and thousands of tiny lights on the overhead canopy turn on to project a multimedia show. It’s called the Fremont Street Experience.

A few years ago the show was brought up-to-date… which ruined it! A more appropriate, though still modern, show is currently featured.

We were back at our hotel before midnight (which here, on a Saturday night, is something like noon anywhere else).

Our room is sad now. Nearly everything is packed and ready to go. Southwest Airlines has already sent me a text message saying our flight should be running on-time. The weather here and in Connecticut should cooperate.

It’s not over until I call the bellman. That’s only minutes away.

We Loved Love

Yes, Las Vegas is gambling and food, but it’s also shows – often great shows. We saw one tonight with Cirque du Soleil’s Love at Mirage, just up the Strip.

Helaine and I went with my Cousin Michael, his wife Melissa and their son Max.

As with all Cirque du Soleil shows, this one is very physical. The most obvious point that sets it apart from the others is the music. It’s all Beatles songs, remixed (and in many cases, reconfigured) by George Martin. As far as I know, this is the first time the Beatles original recordings have been featured in a non-Beatles performance.

If there’s a story to Love that ties in with the music, I didn’t get it.

Love is performed in the same space that once held Seigfreid and Roy. The theater has been rebuilt, putting the stage… or more appropriately stages, in the center, with the audience surrounding them.

As soon as we sat down, I knew we had really great seats. But this is a theater with many, many great seats.

The lights dimmed and the performance began. Almost immediately, I realized there was so much going on at any one time, I’d have to pick and choose what I would follow and understand I’d miss a lot. And then, as I was mulling this entertainment bonanza over, the stage got ten times busier!

I have never seen a more spectacular opening for an on-stage performance. It is truly indescribable!

Helaine and I have seen all the Vegas Cirque shows but one (Zumanity). This was the best of the lot – a show we’d gladly see again.

Some of the shows are very gymnastic, this was more dance oriented. Yes, there were displays of strength and flexibility, but nothing over-the-top.

I especially enjoyed a portion of the show where two roller skating ramps and four excellent skaters appeared as if out of nowhere. As with so much of this show, sets and performers ‘appeared’ from above or below eye level. Stages and ropes were constantly moving up and down.

It was over much too soon.

The Road To Las Vegas

I’m writing now from Las Vegas and the MGM Grand Hotel. I have found, over time, my blog entries slow down when I’m in Vegas. I’m not in the room as much and there’s not much to talk about when I’m mainly playing cards (though we will be seeing some shows and visiting places I’ll want to tell you about).

I’m currently up, but a McDonalds employee makes more per hour!

It was sad leaving Palm Springs. I know I can speak for Helaine when I saw, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The hotel was great. The city was great. The experience was everything we wanted and more. I even had a great time at the Rick Springfield concert.

We left Palm Springs around 9:00 AM and headed west in the slightly circuitous route necessary to get to Las Vegas. Traffic was moderate, but mostly moving at or above the speed limit.

We weaved through San Bernardino&#185, then to Victorville and Barstow. Now we were in the middle of nowhere and the speed ramped up to 80-85 mph, as the drivers took it on their own to improvise what the speed limit should be.

Most people from the east think of desert and think of the vast trackless sand of North Africa. Most of the US Desert Southwest isn’t like that at all. There is vegetation, mostly in the form of scrawny, low to the Earth brush.

We didn’t eat before leaving Palm Springs, which opened us up for a quick lunch at “Peggy Sue’s 50 s Diner” in Yermo. Yermo is a town of around 2,000, adjacent to Ft. Irwin.

The food was fine, but Peggy Sue’s needs a little updating and freshening. Much of the diner looks like it hasn’t be refurbished since the 50s!

We continued east on I-15 (it’s really a north-south road, so we were officially going north), stopping again in Baker. Our destination was Alien Fresh Jerky!

Here’s a place that’s successful because of its catchy positioning. After all, you can get jerky anywhere, but how many places have Alien Fresh Jerky?

Baker to Las Vegas is only a hundred miles or so – next door in terms of the desert. We were at the MGM and in our room by early afternoon.

By mid afternoon we had found my Cousin Melissa, gone to Wynn (up the Strip), had dinner and deposited me a the poker table.

If that’s not a full day, what is?

&#185 – San Bernardino is the county seat for San Bernardino County, which is larger in area than the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware combined. It is the largest county in the United States.

The Desert Riviera

“Take some snacks.” Those three words best summarize what this little hotel, the Desert Riviera,” is all about. They were spoken by Larry, the owner, as Helaine and I were about to leave for Joshua Tree. He was offering bags of pretzels, chips and cookies.

This is a definite departure for us. Helaine and I try to stay in well known national chains when we’re on the road. Not so this time. The Desert Riviera is an independent boutique hotel.

We looked at TripAdvisor, where the first Palm Springs listing was for this hotel. Not bad, since order is dependent on member rating.

The comments associated with the hotel fit within two categories: “I love this place” and “There are too many good reviews without any bad – it can’t be true. Beware!”

The reviews are true. This place is a gem. I can’t think of anything bad to say… OK, a few little things, but so tiny as to be inconsequential.

The Desert Riviera is a ten room hotel run by Larry, his wife Patty, and his sister Judy. As he tells it:

Our love affair with the hotel literally began just a few months ago, when Patty and I happened to stroll past and noticed a For Sale sign in front of a very tired but charming small old hotel. As they say… the rest is history. Little did we know, we were about to add another gem to the growing number of mid-century masterpieces brought back from the edge of oblivion.

Our room is modern with accents that scream 1950s. It’s dominated by a king sized bed. On the wall is a large flat panel TV. Off to the side are a bathroom with stall shower and stoveless kitchen. Our room… in fact each of the ten rooms borders the pool.

Every time I walk out of the room, I see what’s in this photo. It’s like I’m in a private residence or club. There’s the pool with stark desert mountains as the backdrop.

There are chaises – certainly more than there are guests. Around the clock, each chaise has a pool towel folded over its reclining head. The pool (currently an amazing 88&#176) is lit and open around the clock.

Adjacent to the pool is the fire pit I’ve written about before (and where I’m sitting now, writing) and a hot tub. There are also a few round tables with umbrellas to block the harsh desert sun.

Limo transportation is provided for free, both to the airport and into town. There are also a few bikes (including a bicycle built for two) in front of the office.

Either Larry or Judy is always here. They run the place as if it’s their reputation on the line. Of course, it is.

Yesterday, Helaine pointed out there are no telephones in the rooms. They’re really not necessary anymore, are they? I can’t think of any adult who doesn’t travel with a phone in his pocket. Anyway, the office is only a few steps away.

As if to make up for it, there’s a cordless phone in the vestibule leading into the office. It’s available to guests for making free calls around-the-world.

There is no way a chain hotel or even larger independent could be as accommodating as Larry and Judy are. With ten rooms, they really do know our names.

So, what’s the downside? The hotel is pretty close to a main road, so you do hear the traffic a little. It was worse when the motorcycles were in town, but I’m guessing that was universal within Palm Springs. I also found the water temperature in the shower fluctuated a lot (though the pressure is great and the towels are large and fluffy).

This was a very positive experience for us. I would definitely come back. It’s also encouragement to find this kind of place when we travel elsewhere… if this kind of place actually exists elsewhere!

Joshua Tree National Park

We had accomplished everything we set out to do in Palm Springs. And yet, we had one more full day. What to do?

I asked Larry in the hotel office. He’s done well suggesting two restaurants over the weekend. He did it again today, recommending Joshua Tree National Park.

We headed east on I-10. Once we passed Indio, the palm trees stopped and the desert became more scrubby and ugly. Joshua Tree was another 25 miles away.

I got off the freeway in Cottonwood, turned north and headed into the park.

Most national parks have a gate you go through… in essence a toll booth where the daily fee is collected ($15 per car). Not here. A friendly sign at the ranger station asked you to turn in and register.

The ranger asked me a few questions and then she proceeded to mark a map with sites appropriate for Helaine and me. Light hiking – OK. Scary heights – nope. Photo ops – please!

First stop was a stand of chollo cactus. These are particularly nasty plants, if you get near them. They pierce the skin easily and hurt like crazy. They’re called teddy bear cactus by some, “But don’t hug them,” the ranger had warned.

The chollo grow in a very compact stand. Where they grow, there are hundreds, but the area they inhabit ends sharply.

The rangers have created a path through the chollo. Lots of photo opportunities for me and an excellent chance to see this species up close for everyone. This was the prettiest part of the park.

Joshua Tree is nowhere near the prettiest park I’ve been in. I still wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity. It features broad valleys and meadows marked with the scrubby vegetation most of America’s deserts feature. The valleys are surrounded by mountains and often rocky outcroppings.

Of course there are also stands of Joshua Trees. From a distance, they resemble tree we might have in the northeast, but up close it’s instantly obvious they’re built for the desert. They grow 30-40 feet tall and can live a few hundred years.

Originally, I was going to drive in the southern park entrance, explore, then turn around and head home. The ranger suggested otherwise. We drove all the way through the park from south to north.

A few miles from the exit, I stopped to photograph some interesting rocks. It wasn’t until I really looked closely that I realized a man and woman were rappelling the rock face!

I moved close enough to hear him shout instructions down to her. Maybe she was his student? This was an interesting place for a classroom and scary enough for Helaine to look away.

If you’re one of the rappellers and somehow find your way here, drop me a line. I’d be thrilled to send you the higher quality original files I have.

We exited the park in the town of Joshua Tree, CA. Without the National Park Service to protect it, the land was speckled with buildings and other artifacts of 21st Century life. It was not pretty at all.

We turned west, headed into Yucca Valley and then down a long steeply descending road into the Morongo Valley. Before long we were back here in Palm Springs.

As a kid, national parks were totally foreign to me. Even if given the chance, I probably would have said no. It takes a certain personal seasoning (in other words, age) to go somewhere and just enjoy those things that make it different and distinct.

That’s what we did today.

Joshua Tree isn’t my favorite national park, but it was well worth our time this beautiful early fall afternoon.

Looking In The Desert

I’m back out by the fire pit, writing the blog in the almost chilly late evening air. Palm Springs has been very cool, at least by their standards.







MAXIMUM         82    258 PM 111    1996  95    -13       86

MINIMUM         65    550 AM  38    1932  64      1       55

AVERAGE         74                        79     -5       71


TODAY            0.00          0.00 2002   0.01  -0.01     0.00



MONTH TO DATE    0.00                      0.07  -0.07     0.00

SINCE JUL 1      0.12                      1.05  -0.93     0.40

SINCE JAN 1      0.19                      4.29  -4.10     1.71    

That’s 13&#176 below average and only .2″ rain since January 1!

Toward sunset tonight, there were a very few thin cirrus patches. It’s likely the official observation read: clear. In any event, they’re the first clouds we’ve seen.

Among the reasons for our trip, to see if we’d like to live here some day – maybe for retirement. Florida is very nice, but very humid and buggy. The desert is neither, but of course, blast oven hot for much of the summer.

A friend recommended a real estate agent and we spent the afternoon with her.

I was apprehensive at first. I can’t imagine Helaine was any more confident going in. But, it was a very good experience and I think we have a better understanding of what we can and can’t do. And, it looks like what we can do is what we’d like to do.

This valley seems to have nothing but rapid growth. There’s construction everywhere, both residential and business.

We got back to the hotel. By this time, having skipped breakfast, Helaine was starved. I asked Larry, who owns the place, where we should eat and he suggested Al Dente, downtown.

It was a five minute drive and there was parking out front. It is not like this in the season. October is still a slow time in Palm Springs.

We sat outside for dinner, right on North Palm Canyon Drive. There were still a few motorcyclists left from this weekend’s convention and they made a throaty gargling sound as they drove by.

Helaine had a pasta dish with fresh tomatoes. I ordered celery soup, thickened with potatoes and the stuffed chicken special. The soup was excellent and the chicken was very good and really moist. The service was attentive. What’s not to like?

This is a city built on tourism and people in the hospitality industry here understand that.

We’re really having a very nice time, but we’ll only be here until Tuesday morning before heading back to Las Vegas. This time we have to stop in Baker, CA to get some Alien Jerky!

At some point I’m going to have to tell you a little more about this hotel and the people who run it. It too is one of the pleasantly surprising pieces of our journey.

Not tonight. I’m turning off the fire (it’s gas) and going inside.

Saturday Night Concert

There are a few things we knew we’d be doing on this vacation before we left Connecticut. We came with tickets to see Rick Springfield in concert at the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella.

Google directions in hand, we set out across town, past the airport, Kirk Douglas and Bob Hope Roads, then east on the Interstate. We were heading toward Indio, though the highway continues to Phoenix and then all the way to Jacksonville, FL.

That reminds me – Here in Palm Springs they’ve got streets named after Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, and other show business luminaries. I’m not sure how that compares with New Haven’s Whitney, Goffe and Whalley, though my suspicion is, on this one New Haven wins.

We expected Spotlight 29 to be a little skeevy. Not so. I’m not saying this is Mirage or Mohegan Sun, but it was a passable ‘locals’ casino. I poked my nose into the poker room and saw three tables in use. You can gamble at 18 here, but these were grownups.

We went to the restaurant. My hamburger was pretty good and the meal uneventful… until I walked out to meet up with a friend of Helaine’s and forgot to pay the check!

I had it in my hand, as I walked across the casino floor. I guess I would have gotten away with it had I not looked down, let out a little shriek and run back to the restaurant.

Dinner was cheap – around $16. I wouldn’t normally mention that, except that’s what I won on a slot machine. Free meal. Thanks Spotlight 21.

We headed into the theater for the show. I was impressed. It was a nice room with a large stage. There was no curtain, so we watched the last minute on stage preps as we took our seat in the center of the first row.

Oh… yeah… one more story. I was there as Helaine purchased the tickets online, though it’s still tough to believe. They went on sale one morning at 10:00:00AM and Helaine bought our two at 10:00:05 AM.

They were truly the best seats in the house. I was surprised they hadn’t been held for the casino’s use.

Rick Springfield took the stage around 8:15. This was my fourth time seeing him, though not all the others were complete shows. Helaine has run out of the necessary fingers and toes to count her attendance.

As you might expect, the audience was heavily female and mostly old enough to remember his first trip through General Hospital. Lots of them were hard core fans who attend his concerts on a regular basis.

What most people don’t realize is, Rick Springfield is a real rocker. Honest. Sure, my wife would want me to say that, but it’s still true. There’s really no way you’d know without seeing him perform.

The guitar work is much more energetic and rough edged than you’d expect and I don’t remember any ballads. This is not a pop show from a pop artist.

Before General Hospital, Rick Springfield was a musician. He had a minor hit that I played on the radio: “Speak to the Sky.” That was long before GH and Jessie’s Girl.

As the band opened, playing “Who Killed Rock and Roll,” the audience came alive. As it turns out, the regulars are a bonus to those who are casually coming to see that “Jessie’s Girl guy.” They’re already sold on the fact they’re going to have a good time – so that’s what they do. In an audience, a good time is contagious.

The concert continued and I snapped pictures. It’s a Fox Family tradition, passed from mother to daughter and now father. Being in the first row helped, but there were other interesting picture taking opportunities as he went deep into the audience.

Both Stefanie and Helaine have taken some great photos at Springfield concerts. I wanted my turn. Though I know more about the camera, their advantage is being able to predict his moves.

I have some good shots, but I know when I’ve met my match.

Helaine had a great time and so did I. Part of my enjoyment was turning around and just watching the crowd. To me, that was part of the show. Some of these women were quite emotionally involved with what was going on on stage.

We’re back at the hotel now. Helaine’s gone to bed. I’m near the pool with my feet up on the brick ledge of the gas fire pit. I see tall, thin palm trees in every direction. They tower over the mostly one story buildings in this older neighborhood.

It’s a little chilly tonight, but my feet are warm.

A Morning Out

It’s three hours earlier here. We went to bed long before our normal time. That set us up to get out early.

Before heading to the car, I took this photo.

Quick question: What’s wrong with this picture?

Answer: Nothing.

Judy, here at the Desert Riviera, recommended “Manhattan in the Desert” for breakfast. It’s a short drive down Palm Canyon Dr.

As with most structures in Palm Springs the outside of MITD is a subdued Earth tone. That works, because the Sun is so bright in the dry air of the desert. Anything not subdued would just scream out and spoil the good karma.

Helaine had half a stack of blueberry pancakes. I had a full stack and proved, once and for all, I eat at twice the speed she does! I’m not proud of that. It’s just a fact.

We headed up South Palm Canyon onto the Agua Caliente Reservation and Indian Canyons. The canyons are a wilderness area with a series of trails. As we’ve seen in Las Vegas, there are often places reasonably untouched by humans, very close at hand.

Helaine remains adverse to twisting roads through mountainous areas. We headed up the twisting road through a mountainous area and into the parking lot. Awesome view. It seemed like the entire Coachella Valley was visible.

We took two relatively easy trails down into the canyons. It’s been a while since it rained, but there was a tiny trickle of running water in what I assume is a natural spring.

Palm trees sprouted near the feeble flow. If the dictionary is to be believed, this is an oasis. Cool.

We walked around, marveled at the scenery and headed home. There was one last stop before leaving. At one point, the canyon road narrows to one lane as it passes through a split rock. Honestly, as I first approached, I didn’t think the car would squeeze through!

The desert is beautiful. It really is.

I See Palm Trees

I am writing tonight, sitting in front of our hotel room, in Palm Springs, CA. The swimming pool is ten feet ahead. On the other side of the pool a group of people are sitting, chatting, around a small gas powered fire pit.

Back home, there’s a dense fog advisory. Here, the stars are blazing.

Wow, it’s nice. But first, our trip.

You don’t get to Palm Springs by dark without leaving Connecticut before dawn. Helaine’s alarm was set for 2:00 AM. We pulled out of the driveway around 4:30 AM.

We’ve planned stays in both Palm Springs and Las Vegas, so we flew to Vegas first, rented a car and drove the nearly 300 miles to the Springs.

The fight itself was uneventful. Much of the Eastern United States was partly cloudy with a distinct haze that dulled the view from 36,000 feet. It was as if the Midwest had been rendered slightly out-of-focus.

Before takeoff, and a few more times during the flight, the pilot told us it as very windy in Las Vegas… and it was.

We made a very steep descent into McCarren Airport, probably to avoid the turbulence until the last minute or two. As I looked out the window, the right wing vibrated up and down like a guitar string after it had been plucked.

By the time we were rolling on the runway, the passengers had broken into a round of applause. I’ve always wondered if they can hear that in the cockpit?

The Las Vegas airport has a brand new rental car facility, a little farther from the terminal than were the cars were before, but containing all the rental agencies under one roof. Helaine found a great deal on the car, and since I had a “Dollar Express” card (though I hardly ever rent cars), we headed downstairs and were in our red Dodge Charger with Nevada plates in about ten minutes.

It’s strange to arrive in Las Vegas and immediately turn south, away from the Strip, but we did. I-15, the highway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, was loaded with cars as we left the city behind and were soon in what’s surely some of the ugliest territory in the united States.

The speed limit on I-15 is 70 mph, but I assumed I’d be doing 85-90 mph. Not with this traffic. I settled back in the pack and held on tight as the strong winds pushed the Charger back and forth in my lane (and sometimes out of it).

Our plan was to stop in Baker, CA, right at the edge of the Mojave Desert and not far from Death Valley, at The Made Greek Cafe. It’s a place LA-LV commuters have always known about, now made famous after a piece on Food Network.

The Mad Greek is about as tacky as you can get, but my souvlaki was pretty good and the strawberry shake was to die for.

There’s not much in Baker, other than the Greek’s. The main drag runs parallel to I-15. Down the block is the World’s Tallest Thermometer!

Back in the sixties, a radio preacher named Curtis Springer put Baker on the map. His headquarters were at Zzyzx Springs, but his mailing address was Box B, Baker, California.

From Baker, we headed through the desert to Barstow and then Victorville, where there’s both a Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans Drive!

We slowed down entering the Cajon Pass, a steeply descending and curving stretch of highway that gives truckers fits and made Helaine a little uneasy too.

On the radio, we’d heard about a small plane crashing in the center median of I-15 and sure enough, like some trophy deer head, the tail section (along with the last few digits of the plane’s registration number) sat on the edge of the breakdown lane, slowing traffic as everyone took a look.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We got a bottle of water in Loma Linda as we continued on I-215. By San Bernadino, the flora had changed. It began to look like Southern California with tall palms spotted across the landscape. The ugly desert had turned into the pretty desert.

We took the ramp onto I-10, saw the beginning of the huge windmill farm that straddles the opening of the Coachella Valley, exited onto California 111 and pulled into Palm Springs by late afternoon.

I’ll write more about this hotel, the Desert Riviera, in a few days. Least it to say, for Helaine and me, this is quite a departure. The hotel is a very small property – only ten rooms built around a swimming pool.

It is run by a husband and wife and their sister. It has been lovingly restored to 50s retro chic.

The only downside right now is a problem shared by all the hotels in the Springs. There’s a motorcycle convention in town! I believe it’s a “I used to be wild, but now I ride on weekends because I’m a grownup,” group and not Hells Angels and Mongols.

On the other hand, every few minutes a throaty and noisy Harley rumbles it’s way down Palm Canyon. I’m tired enough to know I’ll sleep through it.