The Valley Vagabond: Viva Las Vegas via San Diego

How long have you known your best friend? I’ve known mine since the 6th grade and in 2013 she moved to San Diego. A life-long Washingtonian like me, she still visits the area often, but at least once a year I try to get down to her new neck of the woods.

Except it’s not woods. It’s desert and I basically hate it. I adore her and can’t wait to visit every year, but San Diego? Meh, not so much. Julie has adapted wonderfully to the climate and is now fully a sun person.  When I visit, she and her family cheerfully tolerate chubby, pale-faced me as I sweat and skulk in the shade while bitching about the heat. Last year we stayed local and did all the sights. This year we decided I would fly in to town and we would drive to Las Vegas. After all is there a better place than that for a native Washingtonian who hates heat?

As I entered my obsessive planning stage, I had to find a hotel to maintain my record of picking the perfect place. Part visit, part birthday gift for my friend, I wanted to make sure we upped our game after our stay at the Luxor the last time we visited. The hotel was fine, but it wasn’t luxury and we wanted an elevated experience.

Wow, luxury is expensive! The Bellagio, Venetian and Caesar’s Palace all sported price tags of well over a thousand dollars for a three-night stay. All a bit out of my budget when paired with air fare. My sister suggested Priceline.com. This is a company that presents you prices, service levels and general locations, but you are not told the name of the establishment until after you book. She had successfully used this website several times when she booked travel for herself. After consulting with my friend, we decided to go for it. I chose Las Vegas strip, five stars and held my breath….

I got Trump International Las Vegas.

Before going any further, I want to make something perfectly clear: In general, I am apolitical online. That doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion or leanings; it just means that I choose to not discuss it online. The political climate lately is a bit rough and I find it not useful to argue about it on Facebook. I dabble a bit in local and state environmental issues, but never when it comes to national party differences. In addition, when I choose to express outrage over policy or ideology, it usually isn’t in the form of boycott. I could go on about why that is but the number one reason is that I believe boycotting hurts those just trying to get by – and frequently not the intended target. So, from this point on, this article is only about my trip, not any person or political party.

Ducks head….

I flew into San Diego in the morning and after a short lunch visit with Julie’s husband and daughter, we set off on our five-hour drive across the desert. As the designated navigator, I had to figure out the tangle of freeways, state routes and highways between the two cities. I’m not sure if there are actually more there than here, but it sure felt like it. One of our first stops along the way was Yermo, California. Apparently, a thriving area in the 60’s, and the birthplace of Del Taco, 90% of local businesses closed when highway 15 opened and bypassed the area in 1968. We stopped for a pit stop and briefly considered Peggy Sue’s Diner for pie or finding the Alien Jerky advertised, but continued on our quest to make Vegas by nightfall.

Onward past Zzyzx Road, the site of a health spa in the 1940’s, we talked about work and her soon to be 16-year old daughter. The Mojave Desert is beautiful in a barren way with its high mountain pass and oddly shaped Joshua trees, but my road game of naming all the birds I see netted me zero. Terrible, Nevada and a huge solar farm signaled Vegas was near and our five-hour drive ended after six and half hours.

The Trump hotel is a tall, gold (of course) building at the North end of the strip. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the lobby was filled with crystals and the staff was welcoming and kind. We checked in and rode the vaguely spooky high-speed elevator to our room on the 39th floor. Tired, we had dinner in the hotel, met up with my cousins who happened to be in town after they zip-lined on Fremont Street and decided to hit the casinos the next day.

The next morning, we got up and took a shuttle to Caesars Palace to try our luck on slot machines. The last time I had been in Vegas I did well and never once had to make a trip to the cash machine. This time I brought twice as much and did terribly. We pretended to have all sorts of systems and favorite machines, but basically just lost. I lost faster than she did. We saw the Vanderpump Cocktail Garden, for those real Housewife fans, and had lunch in the “seen better days” Planet Hollywood restaurant before heading back to the hotel to drop off our food leftovers.

After a brief rest we walked to the Wynn. I was happy to hide in the air-conditioned casinos, but by this time poor Julie was a popsicle. She happily basked in the sun while I jumped from shadow to shadow avoiding the rays until a bachelor party from Bristol England asked to take a photo with us. They needed a photo with a blonde and a ginger for some reason, but doesn’t everyone? After three more casinos, more losses and the supremely unaffordable Palazzo Mall, we bought munchies and headed back to our hotel room.

Later that night we decided to check out the fashion mall and got in the elevator for the speedy ride down. You know how you go to the back, turn and stare at the mirrored doors? As I turned, I realized the MOST beautiful woman I have EVER seen was also in the elevator with a beaming older man. She was well over six feet tall in a skin tight dress and as we gazed in the door on our short trip down, I suddenly felt like a short sweaty troll. We would speculate on who the two were, but who knows? He sure seemed happy, as well he should.

Saturday brought more casinos. First the Luxor, next Mandalay Bay and lastly Excalibur simply because the tram went there. I don’t recommend the last one. King Arthur would hang his head in shame. A found ten-dollar ticket took us back to the Luxor where I lost the last of my money and from there, we Ubered back to our hotel.  

The last night led us guiltily back to the expensive dining room after a half hour spent in the room justifying the price tag. To offset our costs, we decided to split an entrée and were surprised to hear someone had taken care of our still hefty bill! That used to happen to us all the time at 25, but now? Who could it be? I scanned the room and noticed a man smiling as he walked over to our table. The man turned out to be a childhood friend of Julie’s husband, in town for a convention. Small world. Exhausted and broke we called it a night, got up the next morning for the long drive back to San Diego and I flew home seated next to a crying baby.

While I had fun, I think I might be done with Southern California and Las Vegas. I’ll see Julie next year, but perhaps in a different place. Maybe one with a bit more shade, a little less gambling and no controversial hotels. We’d like to hear from more valley travelers. Where have you been?

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