Category Archives: Desert

High-Rolling in Vegas

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I’m going to address the issue of confusion soon, but it might have started here, staying in a pyramid with a back view of Excalibur, an enchanted Disney castle, padding bleary-eyed through a casino full of cowboys to get my morning coffee – from Starbucks of all places (desperate; not my fault).

People generally come to Vegas to get married for a month, or to go crazy in the high stakes poker rooms; I decided it would be a good place to get some washing done and sort out our baggage (no euphemism). Such a quantity of coats, bags and cases travelled in the lift to the top of the pyramid in the lift with Dave and the bellhop that people assumed Dave was famous, someone even going so far as to jab him in the chest and tell him they knew him, who was he? It was helped by the fact he was wearing dark glasses inside the Luxor Hotel Casino a place (like the ones connected to it by walkways) where sunlight – or even daylight – never permeates. The bellhop (who’d worked in Vegas for decades and could tell some crazy stories . . . and then didn’t) said Dave worked for Interpol which shut them up.

Aside from the many large elderly folk plugged into Megabucks and Return of the Sphinx slot machines and Dave, who’d stopped tucking his Western shirt into his jeans and was now “working a Bill Nighy look”, the whole place – the miles and miles of deeply-carpeted interconnected casinos – was packed with cowboys wearing crisp shirts, Wranglers and Stetsons. There were whip-cracking girls, child cowboys, cowboys roping bulls streamed live in the bars, All-You-Can-Eat-Ribs, a special Cowboy Menu (basically take the head and hooves off, B-B-Q the rest), VIP Cowboy areas, and boards advertising events like the Redneck Rodeo, Million Dollar Bucking Bull Championships, Free LoCash Cowboys Concert in the Gold Buckle Zone, and the chance to win a saddle. Turns out this wasn’t normal, but Vegas’s inaugural Vegas Cowboy FanFest. I’m very interested in cowboys. Yes, sir-eee. If I could have hung around a few days and lined up at the Cowboy All-Star Autograph Session with eight-time all-around world champion, Trevor Brazile of Decatur, Texas, I would have, yes.

Something else that caught my eye was Thunder Down Under, advertised by bare-chested men on a big billboard near our pyramid, but Dave said it would ‘be disappointing’. We did plan to see the Titanic exhibition, but in the end got distracted by working our way through the Luxor coupon book, mapping a route based on free cocktails and Dos Equis. One exhibition that is unmissable is staged every morning at the Valet Parking collection point where fresh-faced families, fragrant ladies of the night just coming off-shift, bleary-eyed losers and nauseated students wait in the shade for their cars.

I know a lot of people come here and lose money, (although I did I win BIG: $16.10 paid out with a sad smile by the cashier), but the accommodation at Luxor was really good value, particularly after maintenance started drilling through the bedroom wall and we were refunded and upgraded to a gigantic gilded suite.

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Mojave (The Town)

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For most, Las Vegas is the numero uno destination in the Mojave desert, but here’s a plug for Mojave, the town. Not much going on, that’s true, but every hour or so there’s a train that takes about ten minutes to rumble through the centre, it’s generally sunny (whether bitterly cold or not), and there’s always a warm welcome and big portions for folks from the entire staff at Mikes Roadhouse Cafe.

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Elusive Dreams & Schemes

Wind farm outside Palm Springs. Driving coast to coast – and back again – most of the things I’ve seen that will stay with me longest are fleeting moments on the freeways – from the sunset reflected on trucks, to pylons, to flat desert skies. Maybe you have to be there to appreciate it, not sure, but if you have 3 minutes, I think this unedited iPhone footage taken one evening heading out of Palm Springs to LA with radio on, is lovely in a slow way.

Fabulous Palm Springs Follies

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The Fabulous Palm Spring Follies ‘where everything old is new again’. I’d been fascinated by the staying power of these ‘leggy lovelies’ who tap and dance their way through nine shows a week at the age of 77-56 years old. How they could be bothered to kick off their slippers, switch off Heir Hunters or the US equivalent, fold up their cardigans and squeeze themselves in revealing spangly costumes, feathers and heels, and then dance, I did not know, so I went to meet them.

I don’t think any of them actually watch daytime TV or wear anything that isn’t totally glamorous – even to cook in. The video of my trip backstage will be coming soon; these are a few still from it. Suffice to say they are feisty old troopers, as are the wisecracking gentlemen, the oldest of whom is a twinkly 80.

The implausible concept is the brainchild of former TV producer, Riff Markowitz and Mary Jardin. Casting an all dancing, all singing vaudeville-style show with performers of an age most associated with hip replacements and afternoon naps was met with cynicism. “Who wants to pay to see old ladies’ legs?” asked one reporter. Imagine. But, it turns out a lot of people do – mainly, it has to be said, old men (and other old ladies). It’s all proved hugely popular and is now celebrating its 22nd year and ‘nearly 3 million patrons’.

Aside from the gripping nature of the routines, a ticket to the show gives you to see some equally fabulous 50s advertising (cigarettes that soothe throats anyone?) and a chance to look around the historic Plaza Theatre which hosted Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Elvis and Lucille Ball back in the day, and was even the site of the 1939 premiere of Camille starring Greta Garbo). The success of the Follies has kept the building standing, along with, one suspects, some of the performers.

So, video to follow, but if you happen to be in the area in the meantime, check out a show: The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies 

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Palm Springs House-Hunting

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Palm Springs is desert modernism and desert modernism is the finest of all 2oth century architecture. In my opinion. The little city, lined with palms and backed by rocky mountains has more: pools, heat, bars with gardens and patios festooned with fairy lights, a history as the numero uno Hollywood playground, shows with leggy lovelies, interior design stores, restored vintage cars, dogs wearing kerchiefs and a big gay population, but the star attraction is the architecture.

Not only are the commercial buildings – the bank, the post office, the visitor centre / center  – eye-poppingly lovely, but there are dozens of houses dotted around the boulder-strewn hills, designed by such inspirational modernist greats as Richard Neutra, John Lautner, E. Stewart Williams, William F. Cody. And a few more worth oggling, conveniently located on the flat grid of central blocks, like the Frank Sinatra Residence.

A photo of the Kaufmann House is on the cover of a book that I’ve been looking at off and on for a decade. It was one of Richard Neutra’s final USA houses, designed in 1946. (easy to find at 470 W Vista Chino Rd). I may be getting confused here, but I think Barry Manilow was once an owner which means I’ll have to recalibrate my thinking about the naff crooner. Another one fairly easy to spot is the also-very-famous Edris House by E. Stewart Williams. Both houses are privately owned which means viewing on a self-drive tour means lurking reverentially at some distance, feeling shifty.

Good luck spotting the Steve McQueen, William Holding and Bob Hope Residences which are on the tour map, but also on a private road with various clear off signs and one saying You are being photographed – a pretty effective deterrent when you don’t like your picture being taken. But you can get a glimpse of the Bob Hope Lautner property from the parking lot just before you turn back to Palm Springs central in despair for a margarita.

I’m in Vegas just finishing off a quick video of a self-guided architecture tour which I’ll upload as soon as possible, but, without wanting to spoil the conclusion, book a place on a guided tour unless your navigational skills are excellent and your nature very calm and patient. Fact is that much of what makes the private houses so attractive to the people that own them, aside from clean, sleek lines, is that the public face is often nothing much more than a low wall; all the inside-outside, walls of glass and design features are revealed on the inside. If you have the cash you can rent a retro retreat, or stay in a mid-century modernist hotel. (I stayed at the Royal Sun Inn which isn’t one of the Special Ones, but is cheap, friendly and has a pool.)

Pick up a map of mid-century modern landmarks or book a tour at the Palm Springs Official Visitor Center, which was once the Tramway Gas Station designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers. I’m going back for Modernism Week that starts February 14 1913.

Details can be found at Visit Palm Springs and Modernism Week

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On the Road (to Palm Springs)


And with Jack Benny on the radio, too (via Radio Classics).  Also RoadDog Truckers. We’ve just missed an on-air altercation. The host  is saying “When I said call the police if you’re trailer’s missing, I din’t mean to be disrespectful . . .”. And then Comedy Radio, and Clinton Jackson doing his striking outside the fast food outlet Denny’s routine: “We want cold nasty food. When do we want it? NOOOOWW”.

We pass Quartzsite, and the turning for Gold Nugget road, and I think about stopping and becoming a rockhound.  Mainly what I think about is lettuce. I really want some lettuce. haven’t seen any for days. There are mountains in the distance now – Apache reservations. We pull in for fuel at an Apache Reservation gas station. It’s a pretty bleak place, a sprawl of low houses bisected by the freeway, a few youths lethargically shooting hoops in a muddy lot, dogs trotting by briskly, and a massive casino down the road. “You’re a long way from home” a man says to me as he fills his car, meaning Texas, which is on the plates. Someone else, stepping down from a Christian outreach van asks me if I know who Geronimo was. It’s all very political. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. I go for “a leader?” “He was mean. Real mean” he says over the traffic. “His spirit still lives on round here. Most people have lost it, but there’s a few that have it still” and I can’t tell whether he thinks that’s a good thing or not.

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