One of the greatest things we saw last week on vacation was Niagara Falls. My Uncle Kenny (and several other people) recommended that we stay on the Canadian side of the falls, and I’m so glad we did. We stayed in the Hilton on the 49th floor, and the view was literally breathtaking.
There are, of course, two different falls. The Horseshoe Falls were to our right. Here was the view of Horseshoe Falls from our hotel room, which had floor-to-ceiling windows.
It was actually hard to see the entire falls as there was so much mist in the air. The American Falls, which were to our left, were much easier to see. Again, this was the view from our hotel room.
At night, they light up the falls with colored lights and set off fireworks above them.
I have seen an awful lot of this country and I have to say the Falls were one of the most impressive things I’ve seen. I’ve said before that the Grand Canyon didn’t hold my attention; perhaps it was too big to wrap my head around. At less than 200 feet high Niagara Falls are infinitely smaller than the Grand Canyon, but something about the motion combined with the roar of the water and the mist in the air made the Falls one of the favorite things I’ve seen.
The next morning, Susan, the kids and I walked down to the falls and rode the Maid of the Mist boat ride that takes you right down to the base of the falls. The view, roar, and experience was amazing. Cell phone pictures don’t do it justice.
Here are a couple of videos I recorded with my phone.
The blue plastic ponchos were free and highly recommended.
I start this post as I have started many posts by stating that my life is filled with many fun and random adventures. I love that bizarre and unique things happen to me; I treasure the experiences and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Monday morning I drove north from Greensboro, North Carolina to our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. I timed the roughly 300 mile trip so that I would arrive in time to pick up my friend Emily at the airport. After meeting Emily on the airport, we took a shuttle to the metro, and the metro to the part of town we are staying in (which happens to be near the Verizon Center).
Less than five minutes after exiting the metro, I was approached by a news crew wanting to “ask me a couple of questions.” They asked if we were interested. Emily said “no,” and kept on walking. I on the other hand agreed to be interviewed.
“So you’re a basketball fan, right?” the reporter asked. I guess the OKC Thunder hat and hoodie gave me away.
“Sure,” I responded.
“What do you think about Jason Collins coming out as the first gay professional athlete?”
After pausing for a moment I replied, “Well, it didn’t help him get to the playoffs.”
After a couple more questions, the reporter asked me what the risks I thought were for a player making such an announcement. I said something in regards to the possibility of losing endorsements and that it might make other players uncomfortable, or something like that. He also asked what I effect I thought it would have on other athletes and I said he was probably paving the way for others. Then he got my name, I said “GO THUNDER!” into the camera, and walked away, catching up with Emily who was waiting for me down the block.
“What channel was that for?” she asked.
Shoot. That would have been good information to have, I reckon.
Fast forward an hour; Emily and I were hanging out in the hotel’s lounge, sitting next to a wall-mounted television that was showing the local news. Right as I was taking a drink of water, the newscasters mentioned the story and cut to footage of Bill Clinton, who apparently called to congratulate Collins. Then they mentioned the reaction of other sports figures (mostly on Twitter).
Then the reporter said something to the effect of, “And here was the opinion outside the Verizon Center.” When I looked back at the television, I was on it! Using my phone, I snapped the following picture of myself in front of the television.
And, just because I’m a dork, here’s a picture of me in front of my iPad with the picture of me looking at the picture of me.
Hotels are lonely.
Anyway. The video clip has now been posted on this page. If anyone can figure out how to download the embedded Flash video (my Chrome extension appears to no longer work) from that page, I would owe you one.
After reading my recently posted Guns and Roses Concert Review, my friend Kevin mentioned L.A. Guns. I also met L.A. Guns once, back in the late 90s. Here’s that story.
While living in Spokane back in the late 90s, Susan and I began our own music-related magazine. In-Tune Magazine printed around 1,500 copies a month. We gave all the copies away, and paid for our printing costs by selling advertisements to local businesses. The magazine ran for four months, but in retrospect it seems like years. During that time I got to meet dozens of local bands, went to dozens of free shows, and received dozens of free cassettes and CDs. I also got to see and meet a few national acts during these shows. L.A. Guns was one of those bands.
L.A. Guns is really only known for two things. The first is that the band’s founding member, Tracii Guns, was one of the original members of Guns and Roses — which got its name after L.A. Guns combined with Axl Rose’s band, Hollywood Rose. The other thing the band is best known for is their hit single, “The Ballad of Jayne.”
I suppose if there’s a third thing, it’s that I don’t think any two L.A. Guns albums have the same lineup. Seriously, skim through the band’s Wikipedia page. Almost every member got either got fired or quit between every album. For several years, Tracii Guns wasn’t even in the band, and then for several years after that, there were two completely separate bands using the name L.A. Guns at the same time.
In late 1996 a local band (the name escapes me) invited Susan and I to come to their concert. We were about to say no when the band informed us that they were opening for L.A. Guns. We quickly changed our tune. We showed up around 5pm for a show that was scheduled to start at 9pm or 10pm.
It had been a few years since I had heard any news regarding L.A. Guns. Shortly after The Ballad of Jayne was released, the band’s drummer was fired. A few years later everybody else quit, and Tracii Guns hired the old drummer back along with ex-Boneyard members Chris Van Dahl (vocals) and Johnny Crypt (bass).
For what it’s worth, I got to meet and hang out with both Chris Van Dahl and Johnny Crypt for a couple of hours before the show. I sat at a table with the two of them and we talked about music for a long time. Johnny and I also talked about computers for a long time. At that time he had just set up the L.A. Guns website and the two of us talked quite a bit about HTML coding. We even e-mailed each other a few times after the show.
When I asked about Tracii Guns I was told that he stayed on the tour bus until the show started. That’s exactly what happened. An hour or two before the show began the band did a sound check, which we got to watch. Three of the band members, along with a roadie standing in for Tracii, blasted through a few of the band’s current songs. Later that night when it was time for the band to perform, we literally saw Tracii Guns step off the tour bus, walk up on stage, pick up his guitar and start playing. When the show was over, he did the opposite and went directly from the stage to back to the bus.
Chris Van Dahl and Johnny Crypt performed on the 1996 L.A. Guns album American Hardcore. Shortly after that album was released, Van Dahl was replaced. Crypt performed on a second L.A. Guns album, Shrinking Violet in 1999, before being replaced. I met two members of L.A. Guns that nobody knows and nobody remembers.
But I remember them. They were a couple of cool dudes who gave a no-name, self-employed writer the time of day for a couple of hours. That’s pretty metal, in my book.
The true purpose and culmination of our trip to Las Vegas last weekend was to see Guns and Roses perform live at the Hard Rock Cafe. Guns and Roses recently did a 14 show residency in Vegas, and our tickets were for the last night of the run (November 24, 2012). (It has been pointed out to me that I got a week’s worth of material out of less than 48 hours in Vegas. Viva la Blog!)
Ever single person I have mentioned the trip so far to has said, “which original members are still in the band?” so I will tell you: it’s Axl Rose. To me and everyone else who grew up listening to hard rock in the 80s, Guns and Roses was and always will be Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff, and Adler — the original line up that appeared on the band’s debut album, Appetite for Destruction. Those were the guys that made up Guns and Roses in 1987. By the time 1991′s Use Your Illusions I and II were release, Adler had already been replaced by Matt Sorum and Dizzy Reed had been added to the lineup. Aside from a disc full of cover tunes released in 1993, the band’s next official release was Chinese Democracy in 2008, 21 years after Appetite first hit store shelves. By then, not only had Slash, Izzy, Duff and Sorum all quit the band, but several other musicians had come and gone, including Buckethead, Robin Finck, Paul Tobias, Bryan Mantia, and Josh Freese.
So, yes. The Guns and Roses I saw perform live in Vegas in 2012 was, other than Axl Rose, a completely different than the Guns of Roses from 1987, twenty-five years ago. You can take it or leave it. We took it.
The package deal we purchased included third row tickets to the show and VIP “Meet and Greet” passes that allowed us to meet the band* before the show began. (“The band” was defined as “various members of Guns and Roses”.)
We arrived at the venue right on time. In the entrance of the Hard Rock Casino was a display of Axl Rose’s personal items, including most of his iconic leather jackets he’s worn on stage and in music videos, and even one of his cars. That’s my friend Tim, standing in front of it.
After picking up our tickets at the will call booth, we picked up our VIP passes and proceeded to the VIP waiting room. The room had a cash bar and enough seating for 2/3 of the people. We stood. The people in room consisted of: rockin’ dudes, hot chicks, chicks that were hot in the 80s, and people who liked the band back in the 80s. Oh, and us. We saw a lot of spandex and a lot of skin and a lot of people who shouldn’t be dressing like that.
While waiting the four of us began discussing who we thought would be at the meet and greet. All the pictures from the meet and greet are posted online, and there are no pictures of Axl Rose there. That either meant that Axl doesn’t come to the meet and greet, or Axl doesn’t get his picture taken at the meet and greet. If we had to choose one, we were hoping for the latter. My friend Tim is a huge GN’R fan, and pretty much the reason his wife set up this entire weekend was so that Tim would have a chance of meeting Axl Rose.
Before we left, proper protocol was explained to us. No purses in the pictures. No drinks around the band (last week someone spilled one on a band member). No autographs. Walk up to the band, say hi, get your picture, and leave. Got it.
After a short wait we were ushered upstairs into a line. While waiting there, Susan and Dawn started making small talk with a security guard who, it turns out, had been stationed in Oklahoma for a period of time. Dawn put him through the wringer, asking him questions about Axl Rose. Was he down there in the meet and greet room? No. Does he come to the meet and greets? No. Where was he right now? “I have no idea.” Does he ever wander around the casino? “I have worked all 14 shows and the only time I have ever seen him is on stage.” Well, crap.
The line moved slowly. After fifteen or twenty minutes passed we were ushered into a room. At the far end of the room were three band members, none of whom were Axl Rose.
From left to right: Dizzy Reed (keyboards), my wife Susan, me, our friend Dawn, DJ Ashba (guitar), Bumblefoot (guitar), and our friend Tim.
During the few moments we had, I told Bumblefoot that I’d been listening to his solo album (“Abnormal”), and I told DJ Ashba that I loved the first Sixx:AM album and Motley Crue’s Saints of Los Angeles, both of which he co-wrote with the Crue’s Nikki Sixx. Both guys seemed very appreciative. Every one there was polite and friendly. I didn’t have much to say to Dizzy Reed, who seemed either shy or tired. Sorry, Dizzy.
(By the way, about Bumblefoot’s shirt. It didn’t say “UP”. It said “the F-word” “UP”. I photoshopped out the f-word so that we could share this picture with friends and family. Also, another trivia fact: I am the tallest person in this picture.)
After the meet and greet was over we made our way to our seats, which as I mentioned was on the third row. While we were waiting for the show to begin, Darryl from Pawn Stars Storage Wars made his way down and sat directly in front of us. Because we were bored, I took half a dozen pictures of the back of his head.
Soon the show began. I have grabbed a few videos off of Youtube that I didn’t film, but were filmed at the same series of concerts, to give you an idea of what it was like.
On stage we had Axl, three guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, two keyboard players, four exotic dancers, and two pole dancers. The stage was wide, with ramps and platforms on both sides that allowed band members to come stand out and over the crowd.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, Axl introduced original guitarist Izzy Stradlin, who joined the band for half a dozen or more songs throughout the night. Izzy seemed under utilized throughout the show — then again, that that point he was the fourth guitarist on stage. Dude’s still classy.
I really didn’t want to be one of *those* people who recorded the entire show on my phone, but I couldn’t help myself during the finale of the show, Paradise City. It’s not as good as some of the other footage out there on Youtube, but it’s one I recorded with my phone. It’s funny that the iPhone makes things look so much further away. We were much closer than this video makes it appear.
I saw Guns and Roses live in Oklahoma City back in 1992 literally during their heyday, and I saw the latest incarnation of the band last weekend in Vegas. Of course I enjoyed seeing the original lineup back in the early 90s, but sonically, I wonder if Axl doesn’t sound better now than he did then. Either way, for a fifty-year-old dude who sang for 3 1/2 hours, the guy’s still got it. People can say what they will about the current lineup, or how it’s not the *real* Guns and Roses (“Hired Guns and Poseurs”), but if you’re waiting for the original members to reconcile, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time. In the meanwhile, this is what we’ve got and I have to say, it was a pretty great experience.
01. Chinese Democracy
02. Welcome To The Jungle
03. It’s So Easy
04. Mr. Brownstone
06. Rocket Queen
07. Richard Fortus Guitar Solo (Blacklight Jesus of Transylvania)
08. Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
09. This I Love
11. Motivation (Tommy Stinson song)
12. Dizzy Reed Piano Solo (No Quarter by Led Zeppelin)
13. Catcher in the Rye
14. Street of Dreams
15. You Could Be Mine
16. 14 Years (with Izzy Stradlin)
17. DJ Ashba Guitar Solo (Ballad of Death)
18. Sweet Child O’ Mine
19. Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 (Pink Floyd cover) (with Axl on piano)
20. November Rain
21. Objectify (Bumblefoot on lead vocals)
22. Don’t Cry
23. Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC cover) (Happy Birthday to Axl’s sister Amy)
24. Civil War
25. Used to Love Her (with Izzy Stradlin)
26. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover) (with Izzy Stradlin)
28. Nightrain (with Izzy Stradlin)
29. Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young cover)
30. The Seeker (The Who cover)
31. Jam (Waiting on a Friend by The Rolling Stones)
33. Jam (with Beta Lebeis on bass guitar)
34. Paradise City (with Izzy Stradlin)
We were a bit disappointed that our visit to the Neon Boneyard didn’t work out, but our spirits were quickly lifted once we arrived at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory.
According to Wikipedia, “Ethel M is owned by Mars Incorporated and was named after the mother of Forrest Mars, Sr. Forrest E. Mars, Sr. created Ethel M Chocolates in 1978, which opened in 1980, as a project to cure the boredom he experienced after retiring. According to researcher J.G. Brenner, “Forrest established the venture in Nevada because it is one of the few states that allowed the sale of liqueur-filled cordials.” So that explains why there’s a chocolate factory in the middle of the Nevada desert.
Upon entering the facility, visitors begin a self-guided tour. There are two or three rooms that all look a lot like this. Seriously, all I know about making chocolate came from watching Willy Wonka 800 times. The original, not that crappy Johnny Depp remake. Anyway, Ethel M does not employ Oompa Loompas and the first five minutes of the tour looked like this:
Not only were there no Oompa Loompas, but there weren’t any people or chocolate either. Then you enter the next room and WHOA MOMMA IT LOOKS LIKE CHOCOLATE HEAVEN.
Right up front there’s a girl with a tray of chocolates, offering you free samples. Well, I don’t mind if I dooooooooooo. So after a few of those it was off to the glass counter, where you can mix and match tasty chocolate morsels. I ended up with half a dozen mini chocolate “kegs” with different liqueurs inside — Irish creme, whiskey, bourbon, and a few others. Susan picked out a few others to round the batch up to an even dozen. Then we picked up a few chocolate bars for the kids.
The Ethel M factory is also known for its large cactus garden. I can’t even pretend that it was interesting. A sign notes that there are 300 different kinds of cacti in their collection — all of which belong to the “green and prickly” family, I noted. The entire garden was adorned with “over half a million” Christmas lights, which I’m sure is much more impressive to see at night.
There’s an episode of Storage Wars where Barry, one of the show’s regulars, buys a sign and takes it to the Neon Boneyard in Vegas to get it appraised. The sign turned out to be worthless, but the Boneyard itself looked amazing. It showed up on our radar, so we decided to stop by and check out this awesome collection of vintage and historic Las Vegas signs.
Upon entering the Neon Boneyard, we learned two things — one, the tour is $18 per person, and two, the tour sells out weeks in advance. (Every link on the entire Internet says that the tour costs $15. I swear on all that is holy that we were told $18. Maybe it’s $15 if you make reservations?) Then when Susan asked if she could use the bathroom they told us no. They also told us that there was a possibility of getting us in on a tour in three hours.
Based on what I have seen online, the Neon Boneyard is a really cool place to visit. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us. Instead, I snapped this picture by sticking my phone through the shielded gate and snapping random pictures.
The tour is highly rated and if we had known there would be such a wait, we would have made reservations. But we didn’t, so instead we saved $80 and ended up going on the Rick’s Restoration tour (which was free) and the Ethel M Chocolate tour (which was free). Maybe next time, Neon Boneyard!
If you’ve seen the reality show Pawn Stars more than once or twice, you’ve seen the handiwork of Rick Dale. Rick, the owner of Rick’s Restorations, is the guy that turns the Pawn Stars’ junk into beautiful pieces of work. In fact, Rick and his crew are so good at what they do that his restoration business was spun off into its own television show, American Restoration.
Rick’s Restorations is open to the public. Inside the building is a lobby full of restored items on display (and for sale) and a gift shop. There’s also a free behind the scenes tour that takes about 10 minutes to walk through. No photography is allowed during the tour.
Here’s a picture of the lobby. Those gas pump globes on the wall were $375 each. The blue Pepsi machine on the left hand side was $7,500. In the middle of the room stood several restored gas pumps and Coke machines, most of which have been featured on the show as well.
The Rick’s Restorations Tour takes you into the working area of Rick and his crew. Unfortunately we went on Saturday, so Rick and his crew were elsewhere, off enjoying their weekend. The tour takes you essentially into a single hallway with five or six large windows, each of which looks into a different room. There’s a machine shop, there’s a work room, there’s a disassembly room, there’s a … I don’t know man, there were four or five rooms and they all had workbenches and tools in them.
As with Pawn Stars, there are entire message areas and websites dedicate to how fake reality shows such as American Restoration are. Reality shows most definitely contain set ups, scripts and actors, there’s no denying that — there’s also no denying that Rick and his crew are a bunch of talented guys who do some really, really nice restorations. If you’re a fan of Pawn Stars, American Restoration, or simply appreciate restored classics, definitely check out Rick’s Restorations while in Vegas.
Last year when the fam and I were Vegas, Mason and I visited the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, aka the home of the his television show “Pawn Stars,” while Susan and Morgan stayed out in the car. This was my second time to visit the pawn shop, and the first time for Susan, Tim, and Dawn.
The Gold and Silver Pawn Shop is much smaller than it appears on television. After entering the store you will be funneled into the store’s current, which feeds down the right hand side to the back of the store and then back up the other side until you reach the exit. Depending on the amount of people inside the store it can actually be difficult to stop and look at things.
On the right hand side, the front half of the store consists of three or four large display shelves. Everything is either under glass or out of reach. Some things have labels marked “AS SEEN ON TV.” There are swords and watches and a few other things that you’re not very likely to buy while on vacation in Vegas.
Once you get past those display shelves you hit the gift shop area, which is filled top to bottom, front to back, floor to ceiling of Pawn Stars t-shirts, Pawn Stars shot glasses, Pawn Stars Bobble Heads, Pawn Star Posters … you name it. Just past that area is a small room with some of the store’s larger items. Last time I was there, I saw a cannon. This time, there was a jukebox. Once you hit that area it’s time to turn around and work your way back toward the front. You’ll hit more merchandise again — more t-shirts, more bobble heads, more everything. There’s a cashier in the back in case you want to pay right there, but even if you did, you would still have to follow the flow of the crowd to get out.
Near the front of the store is a small alcove which is where people actually pawn things. There’s a big sign above the desk that says “no photographs in this direction.” The people we saw over there didn’t look like the people you see on television. They looked broken and hungry.
Like my last visit, nobody from the television show was actually at the store.
If you are in Las Vegas and are dying to get a Chumlee bobble head, the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop is your place. I suppose it’s worth stopping at if for no other reason than to see what the miracle of television cameras can do for a location. I doubt I’ll ever go back.
Saturday before the show, Susan, myself, Tim and Dawn met for a pre-show dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. If you’ve not been to one, the Hard Rock Cafe is a chain of restaurants that combines lots of rock and roll memorabilia with good (but slightly overpriced) food. I’ve been to Hard Rock Cafes in Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas, and spent a few days in the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago as well. They’re all kind of different, and they’re all kind of the same.
Here’s me in front of KISS (well, their outfits). The Las Vegas location features lots of playbills, posters and guitars belonging to bands of varying degrees of fame. The guitars hung up high belonged to Eric Clapton and Van Halen. The lower ones at table level belonged to Smashing Pumpkins, Slaughter, and Jakob Dylan.
I didn’t visit the gift shop this time around because they don’t carry t-shirts in my size. They do carry hats. I have three Hard Rock Cafe hats, one from each restaurant I’ve visited, and none of them fit quite right. I didn’t buy a fourth one.
Right before we left for the concert, Susan pulled out the “rockin’ bandannas” she brought with her and made me put one on for this picture. I wore it for 30 seconds, just long enough to take this picture. Fortunately I haven’t seen it since.
Located in the Imperial Palace just off the Las Vegas strip is the Hash House A Go Go. According to the website there are seven locations nationwide, five of which are in Las Vegas. (The other two are in San Diego and Chicago.) The four of us (myself and Susan and our friends Tim and Dawn) showed up for breakfast/brunch (breakfast according to Las Vegas local time, brunch according to our internal clocks).
For breakfast Susan ordered a coffee with cream and sugar. I ordered a 20oz Watermelon Margarita. It was 8am. Welcome to Vegas.
You know you’re at the right place when the menu mentions “Man vs. Food,” “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and “Unique Eats.” Susan ordered a $12 plate of pancakes. I won’t lie, I thought $12 sounded high for pancakes. Then the pancakes arrived.
I believe that’s whipped cream, along with the eggs, bacon, butter and syrup on her pancakes. I ordered off the smaller menu and ordered the breakfast quesadillas, which were also about twelve bucks. I wish this picture showed the scale better, because it was gigantic.
The bill was higher than you would guess thanks to a couple of mixed drinks — yes, for breakfast — but everything we tasted there was fantastic. I’ve read complaints online that the service can be slow, and I can see that during high traffic periods as each dish is cooked to order. We personally had a great experience, and to anyone who enjoys big breakfasts that will keep you full until dinner, I would highly recommend a visit.