Archive for the Adventures Category

At 5:15 A.M. on Monday morning, a Kansas state trooper pulled me over. By that time I had already been on the road for two hours, doing five over the whole time.

“The reason I pulled you over,” he said, “was because you were swerving a bit back there. Everything okay in here?”

“Oh yes sir,” I responded, “just a little tired. I left Denver this morning around 3 A.M. and I’m heading back home to Oklahoma City.”

“Mmm,” he said. “What were you doing in Denver?”

“Well sir, I just got back from attending the Kong Off 3, the only nationally sanctioned Donkey Kong tournament in the country.”

After staring at one another for an uncomfortable amount of time, the trooper suggested I pull over at the next gas station, have a cup of coffee and take a break. I told him I would and continued on my way, with the trooper and Donkey Kong both in my rear view mirror.

Due to a hectic work schedule I ended up with a few weeks of “use or lose” vacation to burn at the end of the year. Around the same time I was poring over a calendar looking for days here and there to take off I discovered that the Kong Off 3 was only a couple of weeks away. Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t have taken a few days of vacation to drive 600+ miles to attend a Donkey Kong tournament, but with time to burn and friends to see in Denver, I loaded up the Family Truckster last Thursday morning and hit the road.

My first stop in Denver Thursday night was to meet Mike Maginnis of the No Quarter Podcast and attend a screening of The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time, a 2013 documentary about people who love and collect vintage arcade games. Mike had purchased a few extra tickets to ensure the screening would happen and was gracious enough to give one of those tickets to me. Turnout at the show was low, which was disappointing as I thought the film was good and did a good job of portraying the passion many of these collectors reinvest into the hobby.

After the film ended, Mike and I got to chat with director Jeff Von Ward for about twenty minutes, and both Mike and I ended up purchasing the special collector’s edition of the film which not only contains a copy of the film on blu-ray, but also two additional DVDs containing 139 minutes of bonus footage, a director’s commentary track, and lots of other extras. Definitely worth the $30. My only regret was that I did not bring a copy of Invading Spaces to give to Jeff. In the future, when attending arcade-related events, I’ll bring a spare copy or two just in case.

The entire Kong Off 3 lasted three days, lasting from Friday until Sunday. Friday, noonish, my very good friend Robb Shewrin and I headed to the 1UP in Denver, the arcade where the Kong Off 3 was taking place.

Stepping into the 1UP was like stepping back into time. To be sure the place is a bar, except where most bars have booths or tables to sit at, the 1UP has games. Lots and lots of games. The entire left hand side of the bar has 20 pinball tables. The back side of the bar has arcade games, and the entire right hand side of the bar has a lot of games — at least 30, maybe more. Although the 1UP normally has a variety of games to play, most of them had been removed and replaced by Donkey Kong machines. I am quite sure I had never seen 22 Donkey Kong machines in one place until last Friday. As I stood before them, as a guy who owned 30 machines at one time and not once had all of them running all at the same time, I thought about the work involved in assembling and restoring 22 Donkey Kong cabinets.

The wires you can see being run in this picture were for the televisions and cameras. Every machine had its own camera which fed into a flat screen television mounted high above so that spectators could watch the action from afar.

Thirty-two of the country’s best Donkey Kong players attended with hopes of winning the tournament and possibly even breaking a world record. Because of their appearances in 2007’s The Kong of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, and Walter Day are all easily recognizable. Despite the “good guy/bad guy” dichotomy that was portrayed in the film, both Billy Mitchell and Walter Day made a point of making their way through the crowd, shaking hands and talking to people. Both of them made a point of standing around and talking to us for a good five minutes.

Walter Day, Rob O’Hara, and Billy Mitchell.

If you haven’t seen The King of Kong then you might not know what a “kill screen” is. Because certain values in many classic games are stored in 8-bit registers, if you play them long and far enough, some of them will eventually crash. Donkey Kong’s kill screen bug appears on the 118th screen, which takes roughly 2 1/2 hours to reach. Thus, the essence of the competition becomes, who can score the most points before the game crashes.

Prior to the Kong Off 3, the 20th highest score achieved in Donkey Kong was 903,400. As you can see, ten of the 22 KO3 competitors beat that score.

Here’s a shot of current world record holder Hank Chien, a plastic surgeon from New York who scored a whopping 1,138,600 points on the game back in November of 2012. There are about 5 people on the planet who can break 1.1 million on Donkey Kong. Last weekend, I was in a room with most of them.

Robb and I did not stay at the 1UP the entire weekend. In fact, we spent a bit of time at the 2UP and a bit of time in Lyons, Colorado at a couple of different arcades. I’ll write about those tomorrow. It is a little exciting to get to see some of the world’s greatest game players “doing their thing,” but the excitement wears off fairly quickly when you realize you are standing around in a bar watching people play Donkey Kong.

As the tournament began to wind down, I stood in the middle of tired gamers, listening to their tales of battle. One fellow talked about how a game of quirky fireballs ended his run early. Another complained that he should have brought his own control panel, although another player was quick to point out that it wouldn’t have helped him.

Sunday evening the contest ended. Jeff Willms, the reigning Kong Off champion, successfully defended his title with a score of 1,096,200, taking first place a second year in a row. Hank Chien, the current world record holder, finished third with 1,056,900. King of Kong subject Steve Wiebe finished fifth with 1,048,800, followed by current MAME world record holder Dean Saglio, with 1,033,000. Billy Mitchell finished in 22nd place.

Thanks to Robb and Mike for putting up with me throughout the weekend. I’ll write some more about some of the other arcades I visited in Denver tomorrow.

Saturday, my drive home from Tempe, Arizona led me via I-40 through Albuquerque, New Mexico, filming location of the hit television show Breaking Bad. My GPS told me that by leaving Tempe at 6 AM, I would arrive home at 11 PM as long as I did not stop for fuel or food. (It’s a fifteen hour drive, plus an additional two hours in time zone changes.) Even though I knew it would be a long day in the car, I decided to spend 30 minutes driving around Albuquerque and visiting a few of the more recognizable locations from Breaking Bad.

The last time I did something like this was when I visited and documented a dozen or so filming locations from Weird Al’s cult classic UHF. Back then, I used the commentary track from the DVD to obtain the addresses used in the movie and physically found them using a laptop-based USB GPS and a copy of Microsoft MapPoint. That was back in 2003. Ten years later in 20123, to visit Breaking Bad filming locations I used my phone to search Google for “Breaking Bad Filming Locations” and punched a few of them into my car’s GPS. Things sure have gotten simpler. Anyway, on with the pictures.

The Dog House
1216 Central Ave SW
Albuquerque, NM

The Dog House has been featured several times in Breaking Bad. In the show, there are rarely cars parked out front. In reality, the Dog House was doing a bustling business when I arrived on Saturday. Because the parking lot was full of cars and car hops were busy running from car to car taking and delivering orders, I did not want to tie up the lone remaining parking spot since I was not ordering food. Instead, I snapped this single photo and drove on to the next location.

A1 Car Wash / Octopus Car Wash
9516 Snowheights Circle
Albuquerque, NM

In Breaking Bad, Walter White originally worked at the A1 Car Wash. Later in the show, Walt bought the car wash, which his wife Skyler ran (and used for laundering money). Other than covering up the “Octopus Car Wash” on the front of the building, the car wash pretty much appears in real life like it does in the show. With my DSLR camera I was able to get a shot almost exactly how it appears in Breaking Bad. My “selfie” photo turned out much worse. I am not very good at taking selfies, I’m afraid.

Saul Goodman’s Office / Hooligans Tavern
9800 Montgomery Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM

When you find yourself in over your head in legal matters, what should you do? “Better Call Saul!” Saul Goodman’s legal office is in reality Hooligans Tavern, located in the core of a strip mall. Similar to “Spatula City” in Weird Al’s UHF, without the signage (or the inflatable Statue of Liberty perched on the roof) it looks much like any other strip mall. There wasn’t much to do here except take a picture and keep driving.

Walter White’s House
3828 Piermont Drive
Albuquerque, NM

On the television show, the White family lives at 308 Negra Arroyo. The house actually used for shooting exterior shots is located at 3828 Piermont Drive. The house is owned by Fran and Louie Padilla, who have lived in the house since 1973. (You can see a five minute interview with Fran here. Fran is known to come out and greet visitors, which she did while I was standing on front of her mailbox. I felt somewhat awkward standing around taking pictures of someone’s home so I didn’t stick around too long. I don’t know how many people have visited the Padilla’s home but while I was there no less than 10 other cars stopped to take pictures. I had to wait at least five minutes to get a picture of the house without anyone standing in the driveway.

Los Pollos Hermanos / Twisters
4257 Isleta Blvd SW
Albuquerque, NM

My final stop was at Los Pollos Hermanos, aka Twisters in real life. Much of the show took place at Gus’ chicken restaurant. In reality, Twisters is a “fast casual dining experience specializing in New Mexican foods as well as American favorites.”

In the show, a large “Los Pollos Hermanos” logo appears on the wall of the restaurant. The logo is still there, and based on the amount of time I was there, is a popular backdrop for visitors taking photographs.

Literally hundreds of Breaking Bad filming locations have been identified and documented, and there are also local tours that will drive you around and show them to you. I’d like to go back, maybe in the spring, and do a bit more sightseeing.

(Note: Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook read about some of this in real time. Here is the full adventure!)

It started yesterday morning with the following declaration from Susan: “We are not going to spend Labor Day in this house watching television! Get up! We are going on an adventure! We are leaving at 9 AM!” (This was around 8:15 AM.)

My thoughts arrived in the following order: “Where are we going?” “Is the iPad fully charged?” “Isn’t everything closed on Labor Day?” (Spoilers: “Northwest, Yes, and Mostly.”) I grabbed my backpack and tossed in my DSLR camera, my iPad, two phone chargers, a couple of protein bars, and a bottle of water. Wherever we ended up, I figured I could both survive and entertain myself for at least a day.

As we hopped into the car we were told the first official point of business would be breakfast. So far, so good. Susan announced we were going to Tower Cafe, home of Old-Fashioned Cinnamon Rolls in Okarche, Oklahoma for breakfast. Even better!

“What are the odds this place is open Monday morning on Labor Day?” I asked. Boos and hisses were what I received. What kind of father would suggest such a thing? What a doubter! What a hater of cinnamon rolls!

Thirty minutes later we found ourselves having breakfast at the Sunrise Cafe in Kingfisher. I had the chili and cheese omelette with a side of “I told you so.” (I’m still not sure which one was responsible for my heartburn.)

As we pulled out on to the open road I rolled down my window and hung my arm out of the car. Almost immediately a giant bug hit me in the shoulder and literally exploded, sending bug guts and juice all over my shirt and face. We thought wiping the yellow goo off of my red shirt with a napkin would be the end of it, but a few minutes later the bug (or at least half of him) resurfaced, climbing up Susan’s leg. (She was driving.) Susan’s squeezing fist put a final end to the bug’s misery.

We continued northwest, driving through Hennessey, Oklahoma and stopping for gas. The kids had never seen one of these dinosaurs at a gas station before so we stopped to take a picture. Morgan tried climbing all over it and almost break the tail off, which I can only assume is why they went extinct. At the gas station we bought drinks, used the bathroom, and threw the dead bug into the trash.

As we approached Enid we happened across an antique/thrift/junk store on the side of the road. We decided to stop by. As we walked in the owner informed us that they weren’t really open on Labor Day (cough) but that since we were from out of town they would let us rummage around. I’m glad they did because there were so many cool things inside. The first of which was this still.

Susan asked them if it worked and they said… “maybe?”

Near the front of the store Susan spotted this box of Atari cartridges.

The lady said they were $5 each, but would take $3 each if I bought more than 3. I haven’t bought any Atari games in a long time and I don’t have my list online so I wasn’t sure what I have and don’t have anymore, but I spotted several “rare-ish” games that I decided to pick up. I got three Activision blue label carts and several other less common carts (lots of 4’s, according to Atari Age’s rarity guide).

Also, I bought this. I hate having to buy things and pretend like they are for my kids, but what can you do. Morgan looks sad in this picture because I just told her this paperclip is going straight to my desk tomorrow.

After all the shopping and a terrible Pizza Hut experience, we finally arrived at Susan’s planned destination: The Great Salt Plains. As we pulled in I explained to the kids that people from all over the world come here to set land speed records. Then Susan informed me that that was at the Great Salt Flats, in Utah. At that point I shut up.

The Great Salt Plains are a giant salt deposit, left behind from a prehistoric lake that once covered Oklahoma. (Wikipedia) According to the article, “The refuge is the only spot in the world where crystal enthusiasts can dig for hourglass selenite, a rare and fragile form of selenite, which is a form of gypsum.” Not only can you dig for crystals there, that’s pretty much the only thing to do other than look at miles of salt.

Susan had packed buckets, hand shovels, and an umbrella. With that, the kids began to dig.

Although your mind tells you you’re looking at snow, it’s salt. The 90 degree heat was made slightly more tolerable by the slight breeze, but unless you bring it with you, there’s no shade. The combination of salt and dirt is surprisingly easy to dig through. Dig down about two feet and you hit water, which I assume comes from the nearby lake. The designated digging area looks like a field of gophers took over, with dozens of holes left behind from previous diggers. I don’t know how the holes get filled back in.

The designated digging space was large enough that nobody was in our space. In fact, this was the closest person to us.

And so the kids dug and dug, and we all sweated. Nobody found a single crystal. Finally Morgan asked the girl in blue if she had found any crystals and she said they were easy to find — all you had to do was walk out another 50 feet where people hadn’t been digging and they were lying in the sand. The only reason to dig, it turns out, is to find the really big ones. The small ones are literally scattered across the salt a couple dozen yards from where we were digging. A few minutes later, the kids each had a dozen crystals in their pockets.

The unique coloring comes from the fact that the crystals often form around dirt, which gets locked inside. Also, I don’t know why but the areas where the crystals were were guarded by giant biting flies. I have never been bitten by a fly so hard before that it drew blood, so that’s another experience I can chalk up to this adventure.

After an hour or so of digging, we headed back to the car, brushed off our clothes and our shoes, and headed back home. We only stopped once, at a gas station station where the kids could wash their hands. While inside, I took a picture of this two-dimensional and highly patriotic fellow.

The Great Salt Plains was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Anyone wanting to film a movie set on the moon could do a lot worse than to make a trek out to this national park. The combination of white salt with vast open spaces gives the place an otherworldly feeling that really has to be experienced in person.

Unbeknownst to me, last night Susan made reservations at the Arcadian Inn, a local Bed and Breakfast roughly 15 minutes away from our home. It is always amazing to me how many wonderful things can be found by simply venturing out a few miles away from home.

Here are a few pictures I took over the past 24 hours. If you follow me on Facebook you may have already seen a few of these. Sorry.

The first few pictures are of the inside of our room.

That’s the bed and a bunch of pictures of old dead ladies. I had always wondered what it would be like to have a dozen dead people looking down on me while I am sleeping in bed. Now I know.

Here’s a shot of the television, sink, restroom, and shower:

And, turned slightly, you can see Susan reading by the front door.

The little table had a personalized message for us when we entered the room:

We actually found our name written all over the place. It was a nice and personal touch.

Speaking of personal touches, this morning the staff delivered breakfast to our room. Here’s our patio table and chairs. We had fruit, quiche, waffles, coffee and juice.

The entire house (which was built in 1908) was connected by wooden paths.

The front of the house had a large wrap-around deck with several rocking chairs to sit in. We took our coffee over there and enjoyed the beautiful weather before it got too hot.

The Arcadian Inn specialized in making people feel like royalty… literally. We will definitely go back and stay again.

I spent some time last night updating the list of states I’ve visited. There are 7 left that I haven’t stepped foot in, and a few more that I’ve only driven through.

Updates include Missouri, Illinois, Indianapolis, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Toronto (Ontario), and New Hampshire. New entries include Vermont and Maine. All of the updates to the list include pictures.

While in Illinois, we got to stop and have Chicago with some of our family. Grandma O is always glad when we stop by!

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
05. Estranged
06. Rocket Queen
07. Richard Fortus Guitar Solo (Blacklight Jesus of Transylvania)
08. Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
09. This I Love
10. Better
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)
27. Jam
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)
32. Patience
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.