From my travel journal: Tuesday 5 April, 1.30 pm?

We’ve just crossed the state line into Arizona, and according to the signs we’ve also crossed into a new time zone, but I’m getting confused about time zones now, so I’m not sure which way we’ve changed. So it could actually be 12.30, or maybe 2.30. Who knows.

Anyway, so yesterday. I think I left the story as we were driving along the coast towards LA. Did I mention we also had the radio tuned to the “Hair Nation” channel, featuring all those great 80s big hair LA Metal bands. Totally ultimate moment of the day: driving through Malibu with Guns ‘n Roses playing loudly on the radio 🙂

We stopped in Malibu at a beachfront restaurant for breakfasts – pancakes and fresh fruit, sitting under an umbrella on the beach, looking through the palm trees to the Pacific. Best breakfast ever!

Back on the road again, which turned into a mega-scary 10-lane freeway. LA is huge! It seems to just go on forever, and cars and people everywhere, all seeming to know exactly where they’re going and being in a hurry to get there, while we’re desperately trying to follow the instructions of the GPS – we’re getting very used to the voice saying “turn around where possible”.

We stopped at the Santa Monica pier to stand under the sign marking the start of Route 66, and get another bumper sticker for the car (Skyring is amassing quite a collection). The pier was exactly as I imagined – fun fair, tacky souvenir shops, and bright sunshine. And new food experiences: freeze dried icecream!

Our next mission was to find a place to photograph the Hollywood sign from. GPS woman wasn’t much help, so we were wandering almost randomly when I noticed there were stars on the footpath, and we realised we were driving along the famous Vine Street. We parked just around the corner from Sunset and Vine (!!!) and walked along the line of stars, looking for names we recognised. I got seriously over-excited when I spotted there was one for the Apollo 11 crew!

Sunset and Vine

Still on the hunt for a view of the Hollywood sign (we’d seen it in the distance a few times, but very small and murky through the smog), we headed up a hill through increasingly narrow streets and increasingly expensive houses with high fences blocking any view, until I spotted a broken fence with the sign perfectly framed in the gap. We quickly took pictures of the assorted toys in front of the sign before someone decided we were acting suspiciously and called the police.

Skyring attempting not to look suspicious as he lurks in the bushes with Ringbear

Back on the freeway we were following a car with a lot of smoke coming from its exhaust. Suddenly there was a huge bang, and a large crack across our windscreen. I (sitting in the front passenger seat, right under where the window cracked) had just bent down to get something out of my bag, so had no idea what had happened. And Skyring said later that he thought for a minute we’d been shot at. But then the car in front pulled off to the side and it was obvious what had happened – their engine had blown up, and a bolt or something must have flown off it into our window. Bit of a heart pounding moment for us all!

Excitement over, it was a long slog through the hills to Nevada. The hills weren’t particularly steep, but they were long, so it wasn’t long before we started seeing elevation signs telling us we were at 4000 feet. The landscape reminded me a lot of Central Otago, but stretched out – the same brown hills covered in patchy low scrub, but instead of the narrow valleys of Central there’s huge wide plains between the hills. The occasional patches of Joshua trees were a good clue I wasn’t in Otago, too 🙂

The Nevada border was pretty obvious, because immediately the other side of it was the first casino. Huge neon signs visible for miles.

The California side of the border…

…and the Nevada side – no mistaking which side you’re on!

(It seems gambling isn’t the only thing Nevada is more liberal about)

Yet that was nothing compared to Las Vegas. Enormous hotels in every shape possible – a huge black glass pyramid, a fantasy castle, even a replica of the New York skyline in (sort of) miniature. And lights and neon everywhere. I gave up even attempting to photograph it properly – I just set my camera to a time exposure and stuck it out the car window to try and get a sense of the colours and movement of it all.

Dinner was in the Hilton’s buffet – a very impressive array of food, but like any buffet, of only average quality. I did get to try something new though – candied yams, which looked and tasted kind of like roast pumpkin coated in brown sugar – not totally unpleasant, but tasted more like it should be a desert than a side dish!

How the other half live: my room at the Hilton

After cruising the Strip a few times, and visiting the world’s largest (and I’d add tackiest) gift shop and a wedding chapel (so Barbie and Wolverine* could get married, of course), it was after midnight by the time we got back to the hotel. The younger members of the team headed to bed, but Skyring and I decided we couldn’t visit Vegas without gambling at least once. So we headed downstairs to the roulette tables. Unfortunately there was only one table open at that time, and the gamblers sitting at it looked very serious and like they wouldn’t appreciate a couple of dumb antipodeans trying to join in.

There were a few blackjack and what I think were craps tables (something with dice, anyway) open, but blackjack actually takes some skill, and neither of us had any idea how craps works, so we definitely weren’t brave enough to try them.

So after watching the roulette players for a while, growing more intimidated all the time, we agreed that sticking a dollar in a pokie machine would count as having gambled in Vegas. So that’s what we did. I rapidly lost my dollar, but Skyring managed to get 40c ahead at one point – big money! To cash out you had to get the machine to print a ticket which you took to the cashiers, and for some reason he thought bowling up to claim $1.40 would be too embarrassing, so he carried on playing
until he’d lost the lot. So that’s our exciting tale of high stakes gambling in Vegas 🙂

I reckon Las Vegas can be summed up pretty simply: casinos, strip clubs, tattoo parlours and quickie weddings: basically it’s the town of things you’ll really regret when you get home.

*It strikes me that I haven’t actually explained all the Wolverine references yet. DOS’s boss had a Hugh Jackman/Wolverine doll in her office, so DOS kidnapped it and brought it to America. She’s taking photos of him in all sorts of iconic locations and emailing them to her boss to document his travels. In Ventura she bought a Barbie doll to be his travelling companion, and then decided that of course they’d have to get married in Vegas.

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  1. Impressive sketches. You should include them more often.

    I don’t even look at the fake tree cell phone towers any more. They’ve planted one near me in a stand of maple trees, and the pseudo-pine towers twenty feet above the highest maple. It looks ridiculous – like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree on steroids.

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