Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Water in a dry land – the contrast may be stark but it’s for real in Vegas, baby!

Give me champagne on ice, and a spouse that is nice … or something like that! While not pulling directly from the Eagles and their Hotel California masterpiece, a song I still have trouble fully comprehending even though I just read that the song was “about the seductive and destructive nature of wealth in California in the Seventies. It's about the attractiveness of booze, drugs and free love, and how hard they can be to give up, even after you've realized how bad they can be”. After making California my home on more than one occasion, this interpretation kind of makes sense. At any rate, the real story coming out of Colorado is that it’s cold and if the snow continues through to the end of February, it will produce an all-time record snowfall for February in Denver.

Running outside to place a bottle of champagne on the table as the snow kept falling was a tad risky as there was a layer of ice just beneath the surface – the result of a mild thaw between snowstorms – something that was highlighted more than once in the evening news as highways from the mid-west all the way to the Atlantic coast and as far south as the Georgia / Florida state line turned into skating rinks and with big rigs and SUVs all featuring in some colossal wrecks. The final picture above really doesn’t do justice to what was happening all around me, with snow falling at such a rate that before heading inside I had to sweep excess snow of the television dish as the system struggled to triangulate on the satellites overhead.

However, when it’s all said and done, it is Colorado and the rest of the world associates Colorado winters with snow and skiing and the gridiron team losing, again. February is usually a mixed bag of climate conditions and it didn’t fail to deliver. With the last set of storm waves all but on the mountains, it was still in the high 60s with people in shorts and flip flops. Could we have dusted off the Corvette and take it for a spin out at High Plains Raceway (HPR)? Possibly; but for the moment, it’s still on the battery-tender awaiting Curt to pick it up to prep for the season, as plans to kick-off the prep scheduled for the last week of February had to be abandoned.

Returning to the thought of a spouse that is nice, it was February and so it was Las Vegas. Again. For the past couple of years business conferences and events have seen us visiting Las Vegas and on each occasion, Valentine’s Day was celebrated. On more than one occasion the selected hotel was Paris and its location on the strip made it very easy to get around and see the sights. On a couple of occasions too we were joined by our good friends, Brian and Jan Kenny, and even though the thought of returning to Las Vegas and celebrating Valentine’s Day was tempting, the Kennies have just moved into a new home in Simi Valley and the “honey-do” list was lengthy. Put it down to feeling guilty, I suspect, but there’s always next year.

This year and yes, for historical and geographical reasons, we stepped outside our comfort zone and tasted a variety of Vodka martinis. Of course, with Mastro’s nearby, there was the tried and trusted Appletini served atop a dry ice. But in St. Mark’s Square – only a block or two from Paris – a bar served “pear-fect martinis” and they proved to be delightful, but in the end, we returned to the Parasol bar at the Wynn for a “pear-o-sol martini” that had quickly become our favorite. What helped keep us coming back to the bar was its location for people-watching and the Friday night we arrived, everyone coming down the escalators was at the top of their game.

Our choice of hotels was the nearby Hilton Grand Vacations Suites that is also on “the strip”. When last there in January, we checked into a fabulous multi-room suite and were expecting much the same this time. However, it wasn’t to be, and the room we were given was not much larger than a glorified broom closet. Whether it was the crowd coming for Valentine’s Day or what, service wasn’t up to par, so much so that we cancelled our plans to stay there next month preferring to return to the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa, where we have never been disappointed with either the room or the service. The only upside to our stay in the suites was that outside the door was a lovely and quite rare Jaguar XK140 that I just had to walk by every chance I had – to think that someone would actually drive on of these vehicles on public roads, particularly in Las Vegas, simply made me shudder. And yet, it’s more or less part of what to expect to see these days in Las Vegas. The truly unexpected!

I have written about it before, but on the ocassion we first showed up at the Wynn hotel we headed to the Ferrari / Maserati “exhibition” and didn’t venture in, as the facility charged the “great unwashed” a sizeable fee just for the pleasure to enter. The Penske Wynn Ferrari Maserati is a combination dealership, complete with workshop facilities and museum. Spread across two floors there are examples of Ferraris and Maseratis on the main floor but venture downstairs and you will find a proverbial mini museum with examples of winning racers from Indy and Nascar on display. However, today, just as we did last year, we simply flaunt our Maserati key fob and waltz right in. Margo is never enthusiastic with this newly-afforded benefit from having a Maserati, but the opportunity to be photgraphed in front of a new Ferrari 458 Italia proved to be too good an opportuntiy to let pass by.

I dare to say that there isn’t any reader that doesn’t secretly long to have a Ferrari parked in their garage and I have to admit, I am on the same page. When it comes to performance cars, Ferrari leaves nothing to chance and the finished product is simply a piece of art so much so that I fully understand why, in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, his friend’s father parked his Ferrari in an all-glass booth adjacent to the living room and yes, overlooking the trees that grew in the ravine below the house. But enough said about that location! There’s never been any need to insert performance into the description of a Ferrari. A Ferrari performance car is simply a case of tautology and yet, for me, it is the grand touring models that really appeal to me. A V12 in the front of the car, a gated manual transmission, and a Ferrari red color scheme and you have me hooked and as much as I would love an F12 Berlinetta the affordable Ferrari (is this an oxymoron?)  for me today is the Ferrari 575M Maranello. Perhaps one day, but who knows, it may be Margo who makes the final decision.

But what is happening with performance cars today? That is, the cars we all like to drive and that many of us have strived hard to buy? Having had a twin-turbo V6, a supercharged V8 and a naturally aspirated V10 in the garage (all at the same time), it was the v10 that brought the biggest smile to our faces and as of today, you will only find naturally aspirated V8s in residence. While the industry is busily talking up the value of forced induction there are still numerous concessions being made; the tradeoffs in order to meet emissions while retaining some semblance of performance may sound good when coming from the marketing types, but in the end, the added heat, the lag time and the added maintenance expense that comes with the additional moving parts, isn’t really what enthusiasts want. Keep it simple, keep it fast but most of all, keep it fun! It’s a dry land indeed when everything comes with add-ons that are unnecessarily complicated.

Looking at the cars in the Penske museum didn’t detract from the line-up of used Ferraris that ran the full-length of the facility. A mix of Ferrari 458s, 430s and even 360s all that Margo could think of was that there had been some tapped-out gamblers at the Wynn’s card tables who desperately needed additional funds and simply traded their cars for “markers”. And then, lost! For a short time when Margo lived in Saratoga, northern California, a used car lot came into being almost overnight on the Big Basin highway. On display were exotic cars (I distinctly recall that there was a very rare Ferrari F40 on show as well as an even rarer, Lamborghini LM002 SUV) at deeply discounted prices. The lot, so it turned out, was offloading the gains from recent divorces, where actually dumping the ex-spouses’ car was more important than any material gain. Sure enough, after less than a year, the facility closed down but while it was up and running it was the best art gallery in Saratoga. 

The conference I was participating in at Las Vegas was held in nearby Caesar’s Palace. While I have recently joined a fitness center and have, for the moment, a personal trainer, it was almost unnecessary to stop by the hotel’s gym as the distance walked between the carpark at Caesar’s Palace to where the event was being held took a good fifteen to twenty minutes depending upon the congestion surrounding the Starbucks counter. I have not previously attended events in this hotel’s conference and event facilities but they are almost of the size of Mandalay Bay and that really did surprise me. What was even more surprising is that there continues to be no let-up in the convention space on offer as each new building is providing even more capacity – the spirit of the old Las Vegas is pretty much dead these days as the strip caters to every industry, market and association. If the whole kit and caboodle ended up in the hands of Disney, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

The Las Vegas sprawl is now every bit as impressive as the high-rises being erected along the strip. I can recall former times when the drive to Hoover Dam was a trek across the desert with Boulder City – Henderson simply the remnants from the time dam construction workers occupied the place. Now, the desert between Las Vegas and Hoover Dam is almost a continuous line of homes so much so, traffic has become pretty horrendous. Fortunately, at this time of year, the tour buses making the trip to the dam and to the nearby Lake Mead presented few obstacles and for the first time, Margo and I walked the entirety of the newly-completed freeway bridge that bypassed the actual crossing of the Hoover Dam wall.

The fact that February was becoming the snowiest month on record for Denver provided little respite to the folks overlooking beautiful Lake Mead. The volume of water in the dam appears to have shrunk by half and nearby communities have become very concerned. Driving to the marina saw our Jeep transition over the former boat ramp that angled down steeply so as boaters could enter the lake but now the lake is about half a mile away. When the spring thaw arrives, Margo and I have witnessed the water flowing down the Colorado and Green rivers and it’s significant. The fact that the annual runoff is having little impact on the water level at Lake Mead suggests that there is more water being taken from the lake than is replenishing the giant reservoir.

What goes unmissed is the contradiction of it all – Las Vegas is a desert location and yet, with the dam, water is an integral feature of much of the architecture on the strip. The hotel Bellagio has a water feature the likes of which few other locations on the planet can match and then, there is the giant aquarium at Mandalay Bay not to mention the Venetian Canals and the lakes of Treasure Island. Nearby there’s the residential development alongside Lake Las Vegas – an anachronism of long-gone souls who wanted to recreate Florence in the middle of the desert, complete with PGA-grade golf courses adjacent to the Ponte Vecchio! To many it’s completely insane and yet, as much a part of America as the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn bridge and even Chicago’s House of Blues – oh that’s right, replicas of each can be found in Las Vegas.

Stepping out to place a bottle of champagne on a table covered in snow may be just as insane as Las Vegas and yet, depicting champagne on ice has as much in common with the insanity that is Las Vegas. Nevada and Colorado enjoy a symbiotic relationship that is lost on very few - without the Rockies, there would be no rivers flowing to Las Vegas and without the annual runoff, life would be very different for Las Vegas. And for Colorado, if there wasn’t easy access to a warm city during winter, life along the front ranges might prove even harsher. Looking out through the windows as snow continues to descend, we are anxious to see the first signs of spring and yet, the folks depending on the water from Lake Mead must be praying that the snow keeps falling till the 4th of July!   

Curt will be coming to the house shortly and the Corvette will be driven onto his trailer to be taken to his Wyoming workshop. Fluids will be topped-up even as engine oils are replaced. Brake pads will be checked and in general, the car given the all-clear to track once again. The program for the spring-through-fall sessions is nowhere near finalized, but there will be ample opportunities for track time. The RV too needs to be “summer-ized” after spending months on battery-tenders but the sense that it’s all about to change is evident with every task we do. This time last year I wrote the post The highway’s a calling! and I can’t think of a better ending for this post. Yes we are travelers and yes, the journey is the destination but in reality, just as the Eagles sang, how hard it is to give up even as we know how bad it may be. Then again, for Margo and me, it sure beats any alternative we have considered to date. Here’s to more champagne and ice with my spouse who is nice!