Las Vegas Revisisted: Barrett-Jackson, Don Rickles, and My Crotch is Irradiated
It was 8 o’clock at night before we left the southern edge of Los Angeles county with Las Vegas in our crosshair. Jeremy had been awake since 4:30 in the morning, and I had a full day of work under my belt. The deck was stacked against us after we ate a full meal of delicious Mexican food and blasted off toward the Great Emptiness of the Mojave Desert, valiantly fighting off Fatigue at every moment. At that hour, the eastward flow of homeward bound automobiles that radiates from Los Angeles had dissipated, and we realized that this would be the easiest Vegas trip we had ever taken. Previous trips had been hampered by seemingly ever-present traffic, inclement weather that threatened the closure of the Cajon Pass, time-consuming coordination with other cars in our caravan, and so on. We didn’t have to worry about anything other than the shadow of Fatigue to wear us down. With KCRW set firmly on the dial (and later, Deltron 3030’s eponymous debut album) we took off with the cruise control pegged at 80mph (stories of run-ins with overeager officers of the law prohibited me from pushing my GTI further). Our reason for traveling? The Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction held at the south tip of the Strip at Mandalay Bay, as well as the lure of cheap thrills promised by insistent Groupon emails. They were as good excuses as any to head to Vegas.
I learned several things on that nighttime journey that are not noticeable during the day. First, that Interstate 15 is very, very dark. The only illumination in the Great Emptiness comes in the form of white light via opposing traffic and red light immediately in front. There are no light poles past Victorville except in the road stop towns of Barstow and Baker, and the constant flow of lane markers was eerily reminiscent of the transition shots from David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Stars are also distinguishable, white points in the inky black of the firmament that LA’s light pollution typically suppresses. The bar of lights that signify the beginning of Nevada in Primm is the first indication that the destination is almost at hand. A couple years ago we traversed the area between Primm and Vegas as lightning ripped across the twilight sky, although it was clear for us now. Then, out of the Great Emptiness, we saw dark hills for the first time, because they were backlit by the intoxicating power of the Strip. Our terminal was the Monte Carlo, who offered us free rooms in reward for the generous contributions to their slot machines that we have afforded them in years past.
The next morning was Day 1 of the auction, and after a typical Vegas start at a breakfast/lunch buffet, we walked south to Mandalay Bay to pick up our press credentials. Walking around the auction showroom was pure automotive pornography, with the usual wave of 1930s hot rods, ’60s muscle cars, and ’90s Italian exotics. Throw in a smattering of malaise-era Cadillacs and custom 2005-2009 Mustangs, and baby, you got an auction going. After a few minutes testing out a Cadillac ATS and Camaro on the sedate road course, we migrated to the arena for the auction itself. Most of the vehicles we witnessed crossing the block were underpowered late’70s luxury cars, although we were able to check out the sale of one of several charity vehicles, a customized 2012 Mustang GT500 Super Snake that benefited the Wounded Warriors Family Support charity. The 750hp coupe was emblazoned with an American flag wrap and was fresh off a 48-state tour of the continental United States; it sold for $500,000.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around the Strip, stopping for sandwiches at New York, New York, and finishing at one of my favorite bars, The Pub at Monte Carlo, simply because of its ridiculous selection of beer. The next day was spent moving to the Mirage and visiting the Atomic Testing Museum (Jeremy waved a Geiger counter over my crotch, where it started to beep) as we waited for the rest of our party to arrive. Dinner called for a well-deserved visit to Max Brenner’s Chocolate by the Bald Man, whose cooks consistently churn out great food in the form of delicious mac and cheese, prosciutto and Gruyere waffle sandwiches, and waffle fries coated in chili and cocoa powder.
Saturday we utilized a Groupon deal for a few minutes of go-kart racing at Gene Woods Racing Experience. It was the first time I had been go-karting since I was maybe 12, and the six of us had a fantastic time racing despite the very hands-off staff and 3-minute safety video hosted with questionable legality by a Larry the Cable Guy imitator. The best part, besides being able to race alongside and against my friends, was that the stewards didn’t keep much track of remaining laps. Another group didn’t come in for a while, so we just stayed out. We discovered a decent burger place called I ♥ Burgers at the Palazzo hotel attached to the Venetian, and cheap drinks at the off-Strip Orleans Hotel loosened us up to see a comedy hero of mine, Don Rickles. Rickles is 87 but still funnier and sharper than anybody in the room and his Mr. Warmth persona shone through. It was sad so see him exit the stage, but we all knew we had witnessed a legend.
Before we left Sunday morning, we made a visit to one of our favorite breakfast places, Hash House a go go at The Quad (RIP Imperial Palace). It is the only thing worth visiting in the hotel other than the fantastic car collection, and the enormous portion of chicken and waffles didn’t disappoint. What was rather lame was the accident near Halloran Summit on the 15 South as we made our way back home. We were delayed 1 1/2 hours but the rest of the ride home was blissfully uneventful.
The vacation was a success, then. We saw hundreds of beautiful cars at the Barrett-Jackson auction, had a blast go-karting, and saw one of the greatest comedians of all time mercilessly mock his paying audience. It was one of the best Vegas trips I’ve ever been on, and subsequent visits have a lot to live up to.
Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority