You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools

You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools

Sunday and the last day of the festival.

Swimming trunks and hawaiian shirt on and David, Sunny and myself are off to meet Trine at the pool. Cabana chairs were $250 for the day, and already booked out a year ago, so we perched on the edge of the pool and admired the scantily clad rockabilly ladies and a huge amount of tattoos of widely varying quality.

The sun was warm, and with my hawaiian shirt flapping open in the cool breeze, I walked around the pool of stylish people. A wild surf instrumental band played, the ladies lined up for the swimsuit competition, I took another sip from my margarita, and all was good in the world. I wonder what the weather was like in London.

Anyway, I’d been in Las Vegas for a few days now, and hadn’t gambled. So eschewing the swimsuit competition, I went to the poker rooms. The process was all new to me, and I must admit, I felt a little intimidated. Firstly, you have to provide ID, which they take away and eventually return with your casino card. Then you buy your chips and select which game you want to play. No limits Texas Hold ’em is what I’m used to, but decided to play cautiously, buy $20 worth of chips and play a limits game. I then put my name down on a waiting list until a seat at a table is available. Then when I sit down, I need to familiarise myself with the protocol and betting in a limits game, and I want to focus. The people I’m play against are friendly and chatty and want to talk to me about the VLV festival, where I’m from, where to go in Australia, and all sorts of chit chat. This is kind of nice, but I want to concentrate, and I’m not at all relaxed or confident with this game yet. I don’t think they were trying to put me off my game, they were just being friendly. They were also mostly locals who were spending their usual Sunday afternoon gambling. A few poor hands, then a good hand which I lost, and I’m feeling kinda tense. Eventually I relax into it, and start to hit my game. I won a big hand, was $10 up and David texts me to say they’re just around the corner. I cash out an go to meet them. Not exactly high-stakes gambling, and whilst the first part of gambling was new and unfamiliar to me, I feel “in the zone” now, and want to go back. Damn it’s addictive.

I missed the jive contest, but caught up with Trine, who won the damned thing! Well done Trine! Here is her winning dance.

The Delta Bombers and Gizzelle were the musical highlights of the day. Plenty more booze, and some more dancing, but it’s been a long day, and a long festival of drinking, so my urge to party is waning.

Tomorrow I leave Vegas for a short flight to LA, transfer, then back to London and work. Holiday is over, but at least I leave Vegas having a minor win at gambling, and having completed a great road trip, a memorable adventure and my first Viva Las Vegas.

Hasta la vista!

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Rock this town

Rock this town

After negotiating a maze of tunnels, bridges and a moat, I made it to The Tropicana hotel, meet David and Sunny and head in to the car park of The Orleans, the focus for this afternoon’s entertainment. There’s a huge hot-rod show on and some stunning, custom vehicles. The Americans sure know how to customise a car.

The Polecats are rocking the parking lot, and Dick Dale puts on a great show although a little shambolic and messy. But he’s pushing 79 and isn’t in the best health. His backing band are bang on the money, and for a three piece instrumental band, have a huge sound.

Then Brian Setzer takes the stage and rips the place apart! A true guitar hero, he tears through some classic rockabilly numbers, some Stray Cats and some Brian Setzer Orchestra favourites. The crowd are loving it, but most people seem to be watching it through a mobile phone screen. Even Trine who prefers older music and not the rockabilly revival is impressed. He ends his main set with a 10 minute instrumental version of Blue Moon of Kentucky which must hit some record of notes per minute, squeezing notes in where you didn’t think any would fit. Then adds several encores.

Sleepy La Beef, Billy Harlan then Big Sandy were good, but we needed something more energetic and found it with Rocky Burnette and Dusty Chance. Phat Cat Swinger followed with very cool LA swing.

But Setzer was definitely the highlight and boy did he ever “rock this town”!

The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep

The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep

What to do in Vegas during the day time? This is definitely a night-time city. But I thought I’d check out the old town and Fremont Street where all the old casinos are. They definitely has a better retro charm than the modern hotels, but I hear that they don’t have the space to host bands and dancing, hence why Viva Las Vegas is in The Orleans hotel. I wandered around a little, checked out some shops, but there wasn’t much of interest, so back to The Orleans to do some clothes shopping, where I snapped up a killer hawaiian shirt, some camel colour trousers, and a smart shirt. Caught up with David and Sunny and went bowling. They were playing rockabilly music through the PA, which we assumed were records, until the singer walked past us in his orange jacket and microphone. The guy was MCing the bowling lanes and signing karaoke. Very odd.

Home to change into evening wear and off to a recommended tiki bar called Frankie’s. It’s a single story block of concrete with no windows, and a car park and a huge neon sign on the side. Inside it was gloomy and dark with the main lights from the poker machines built into the bar. Cocktails were average and expensive, and there was no food. But the decor was very tiki with bamboo cladding on the walls, and tikis and fugus around the place.

Back to The Orleans and we queue to get into the Irish bar to see Danny B Harvey (of Headcat amongst others). We’ve seen massive queues outside this bar and are concerned about the capacity. After queuing (or standing in line as the Yanks call it) for quite a while, we get in, and it’s at about 75% capacity. Why we needed to queue is lost on me.

Danny B Harvey is looking every bit the middle aged rock-star and he has some young floozies hanging around him. Turns out one is his wife, niece of Jerry Lee Lewis and the singer for his band. She is incredibly good looking and has the rock ‘n roll credentials, but isn’t the best singer. Danny’s band is rockin’ though!

Ezra Lee from Australia rocked a mean honky tonk piano in one of the ballrooms. Definitely recommended https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzwfNDyDRY8

Little Mo and the Dynaflows were smoother than a teflon-coated shark suit. Doo Wop isn’t my favourite, but these guys were mesmerising with their close harmonies, sharp outfits and some killer tunes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yE8mK2Jkjys

Drinks were flowing and I ran into Shane and Elaine, and then Mike briefly, but it all became a bit of a blur…

Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas

I’d planned it so that I’d stay in Flagstaff on Tuesday night, on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Then ride down Route 66 to Kingman to the west side of the canyon Wed night, with close proximity to the Sky Wall on the west side, continuing on to Las Vegas on Thursday. But I decided that I didn’t want to do the Sky Walk, I wanted to do a helicopter flight instead. So looking up flights on the west side, the Sky Walk website recommended a place, so I put it into the Sat Nav and set off. Weirdly it was sending me eastwards back to Flagstaff, but I figured that was just a short eastward journey, before sending me to the canyon. Alas, this was not the case and after 2 hours riding, I’m back to Flagstaff and the southern rim. The helicopter flight was amazing, with loads of great photos and videos which don’t do it justice. Our pilot was Dusty, a veteran of 14 years from the army. He didn’t look old enough to have done anything for 14 years, but he had a steely, hardened look to him that was not to be messed with.

Some videos of the flight:

Taking off

First view

Landing

Anyway, I was now back in Flagstaff and had to ride the 2 hours back to Kingman, then up to the Hoover Dam and on to Vegas. So 4 hours behind schedule now, I skip Hoover Dam and head straight into Vegas. I cruise around for a while trying to find the main strip so I can shoot some video on my newly acquired Muvi camera. I’ve edited 44 mins of video, down to this.

I drop the Harley back at the hire shop, and I’m sad to say goodbye. That was an unforgettable trip and I’m disappointed that it’s ending. I get a taxi back to my hotel, the quaintly named Excalibur, which is a behemoth of a monstrosity of gambling, commercialism, and Ye olde world Renaissance Festival.

Freshen up then head to The Orleans, where Viva Las Vegas is being held. Since I’m staying on the same street, I try to walk there. This is apparently not done in this town and I end up stuck on the multi-lane highway. So I walk back to the hotel a get a taxi.

Meet up with David and Sunny, then Trine and we tear up the dance floor. Always great fun dancing with Trine! Meet up with Kate, Suzie from Australia and their mates. But I’m fading and after a disorientingly vague wander around The Orleans, I get a taxi back to The Excalibur for another disorientingly vague wander around this hotel before collapsing into bed.

Get your kicks on Route 66

Get your kicks on Route 66

Woke up on Route 66 in Flagstaff AZ. Tonight’s stop is Kingman, which is about 140 miles away, which means I should take my time getting there. The only thing I really want to do is visit the Route 66 museum and gift shop.

As I’m kitting up, I turn on the TV and it’s showing the local news. There an in-depth, 10 minute segment on a new pastrami place in town which is apparently far better than any of the national parks. I’m starting to wonder if my choice of stops today is poorly advised. I’m also starting to wonder how the hell you can drag out such an innocuous story into a feature including interviews with the owner, chef and patrons.

Anyway, I eschew pastrami and head south to Sedona National Park. It’s a long, slow, windy road down into the canyon, and I’m in low gears the entire way. I’m reminded of the descent through the Swiss Alps into northern Italy that I did a few years ago. Similar riding, but this scenery is something else. This touristy town of Sedona is obviously very popular with bikers. I spend a few hours wandering around Sedona and plan my next steps. The quickest way to Kingman from here is to go back the way I came. But that’s no good. So I push on to the next town called Jerome, which involves a long, slow, windy road up the next mountain. Again, I seem to have hit an elevation of 6000 feet again. Jerome is a quaint town, with a lot of bikers, but I don’t stop. I push on to Prescott.

Prescott is a big town. I stop for gas and a “sandwich”, which seems to be American English for “hamburger with fries and a coke”. I then walk next door into a saloon with swinging doors, Cowboys in Stetsons, poker players and buxom wenches. Sure it’s a tourist set-up, but I obviously chose the wrong place for lunch.

On to Kingman, and the clock and fuel gauge are against me. I pull into the hotel and barely stop before I leg it to the Route 66 museum, the only thing I really wanted to do today. As I run into the museum, the curator is closing up. He’s a nice chap and gives me a Route 66 passport and stamp, shows me places to go and take a photo of me on the Harley at the Route 66 shield. But I’d deliberately avoided buying Route 66 merchandise on the way, as I wanted to buy it at the museum. No such luck.

Back to the hotel for a dip in the Route 66 swimming pool, then several bourbons at the bar, as I plan tomorrow’s onslaught to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.

Wanna be Americano

Wanna be Americano

Today’s musical choice was tough. I want something that represents my mood, but also has a connection with my environment. The shortlist was

  • Break On Through – The Doors
  • Roadhouse Blues – The Doors
  • Back in the Saddle – Aerosmith
  • Wanted Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi
  • Get Rhythm – Johnny Cash
  • Wanted Man – Johnny Cash
  • Fuel – Metallica
  • By The Time I Get To Phoenix – Glen Campbell

But none had quite the connection with Page or Flagstaff Arizona. So since I’m seeing Brian Setzer (although not the orchestra) in Las Vegas shortly, I’ve chosen his version of Americano.

Well what a day! For no set plans it was eventful. First thing was to check out the Navajo site of Antelope Canyon. It’s a narrow passageway through the rocks that has been eroded by wind and rain. Absolutely stunning! I took loads of photos so will have to pick only the best to upload to Facebook. I befriended an Israeli couple who were slowly heading to LA to visit their daughter.

Back to Page to kit up and head to the meteor crater outside Winslow. Riding this bike is a real pleasure now and instantly meditative. But the teeth on the zip to the jacket are completely knackered. So I stop for gas, a bad coffee, a hamburger that’s sat in the warming oven too long, and some duct tape.

Arriving at the meteor crater, I rip off the duct tape, which takes the top layer of leather jacket with it. Arse! But the crater is extraordinary. There’s a real other worldly feel to this place. Maybe my view has been influenced by the spaced-out hippies I’ve befriended who seem convinced that since I’m riding a HOG, I have weed to sell to them. Although NASA did use it as a training ground for astronauts in the 60s and 70s as it was considered to emulate the surface of the moon. The scale of the crater is difficult to comprehend and even harder to articulate.

Checking out the gift shop, I suddenly realise that I’m on Route 66. I didn’t expect to hit it until Flagstaff, my next stop. But on the road again, I see signs for Winona and the lyrics come back to me… “Flagstaff Arizona, don’t forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino…” So I take a hard right and exit the highway, if for nothing else than to see a sign announcing my arrival on the historic Route 66. Well, Winona is totally forgettable. Couple of homesteads, and I must have missed the general store. But eventually I see an innocuous sign, and stop awkwardly on the poorly maintained bitumen to take a poor quality photo.

Soon enough I pull into my road-side motel. Road being Route 66, which sounds adventurous and romantic and the motel which seems basic, functional and noisy. Tomorrow’s plans are vague. I think I’ll visit Sedona national park, and I need to make it to Kingman which is a mere 140 miles away. But that has a Route 66 museum, which I assume is just a cheap gift shop. And the day after is Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. I better start planning!

But instead, I walk up the block to a Mexican restaurant. After a feast of JalapeƱo infused margaritas, pineapple-habanero* salsa, slow cooked carnitas, reposado, mescal shots, and I’m back to my roadside motel on Route 66. I have an overly romanticised view of life that never matches reality, but it’s nice when it approximates my fantasies.

* I’ll never forget the habanero eating competition I had with Paul Rodwell and Margarita Haruspex. Paul has the tiniest bite and quit, I had a slightly larger bite (I had to beat Paul) and quit, and Margarita thought we were wimps and put us to shame by eating the whole thing, and was instantly in serious pain. Well, Paul and I had no sympathy. Were you trying to be a smart arse Margarita? Well, you get what you deserve! Then she started to suffer breathing problems and collapsed into the sofa (incidentally the same blue and green sofa in my current flat). Ah, this is serious. So suddenly I’m pouring her milk and making a cold compress, Paul has run to the shop to get yoghurt. We slowly nurse her back to sanity. She definitely won the competition, but at what cost?

Through the desert on a horse with no name

Through the desert on a horse with no name

Death Valley (Nevada) to Zion (Utah) to Page (Arizona) today. Longest ride of the trip.

Beef jerky and instant coffee for breakfast, and I want to take it slow to start off as weather is cold and I want the engine and tyres to get up to temperature. But before I know it I’m at 95, do figure I push for the ton and then ease off.

I pass a place called Dennis Hof’s Area 51 Alien Center, Gas, Brothel, Diner, open 24/7. I’ve got to admit that I’m more than a little intrigued. But no time to stop.

The most dramatic thing for the ride was that the teeth are falling out of the zip to my motorbike jacket. I can’t do it up now and this will be a big concern for wind and rain. Contemplating duct tape in the short term and a repair visit to Lewis Leather when I’m back in London.

I’ve really settled into the ride now. I’m comfortable with the bike and calculating when I need to fill up. So my mind is at ease. I let it wander. At times I sing to myself, other times I think of romantic adventures, sometimes my mind is blank as I appreciate the scenery and fall into a meditative state at 100 miles an hour. Just me, my jacket and this helmet against the elements and wind. And if I were to come off, it’s just me against the tarmac. But despite this ever present danger, I feel at peace.

The rest of the morning’s ride is uneventful. I pass from Nevada into Arizona, then into Utah. As I near Zion, the scenery gets more dramatic and picturesque. I stopped at Zion National Park and caught the shuttle bus tour. Didn’t have time to do much trekking, but the scenery is stunning!

Here’s some footage I shot.

Beef jerky and water for lunch. I’m feeling somewhat like an explorer with limited rations of basic food. Except for that bear claw I had a the first fuel stop, and that corn dog I had at the second.

From Zion, I ride through to Page and check into my very pleasant hotel. Directly opposite is a Texan BBQ joint with smoke houses and giant kettle BBQs out the front. As I arrive the country band starts playing and some locals are line dancing. Refuelled myself on Ribs, brisket, beer, bourbon, potato salad and some Johnny Cash and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Met a chap from Vancouver and had a few more beers with him, then home to end this day of pure Americana!