Trip Report
  Mind Pilot goes to Vegas

From the top of the world: the Stratosphere in Las Vegas.

The interesting stuff started at San Diego’s Lindberg Field. In line for the security check a man—who may have been
somewhat inebriated—refused to move ahead in the line. He briefly argued with a TSA official, explaining to her that
he would only move “from here to there, so what’s the point?” The TSA woman then offered him head of the line privileges.
I’m thinking “Hey. If all I have to do to beat the checkpoint line is be an asshole, I’m all in on that”. Curiously he declined the offer.

Once aboard the aircraft, my fears of sharing a row with Mr. Won’t-move-up-in-line were dispelled; he was comfortably
seated in first class. But then another drunk decided to make comments to the Asian flight attendant about her stature,
interrupting her private exit row orientation in the process. Calling her a “short stewardess for a short flight” bought this
thoughtless jerk-off an escort back into the terminal and the rest of us a twenty minute delayed departure.

On the ground, I wouldn’t touch a pretzel with George Bush’s mouth, but at 30,000 feet they are the best damn food
in the world—the high point of the flight—a little handful of pretzels.

Turning to the final approach in Vegas, I’m looking out the window trying to see the runway. Where the hell is the runway?
I’m a pilot; I know what a runway looks like. Why can’t I find it? Then it hits me: How do you find the runway in Las Vegas?
Look for the dark patch!

The Stratosphere is now my favorite Las Vegas hotel & casino. Unlike places like Luxor or Excalibur which tend
to be somewhat overbearing with their theme, the “Strat” is much more laid back. They manage to convey a definite
“you’re on vacation; kick back and enjoy it” atmosphere.

The Strat is at the north end of the Strip putting it about midway between downtown and the Mandalay Bay cluster of mega-hotels.
Its claim to fame of course is the 1,149 foot tower with inside and outside observation decks, thrill rides, a rotating restaurant and thrill rides.
The 24-story hotel with a huge sundeck, pool and Jacuzzi on the 8th floor is adjacent to the tower. Did I mention the tower has thrill rides?

The casino is open and airy; you don’t feel like you are standing in hole like you do in some of the aforementioned establishments.
The casino offers pretty much the same as any other casino in terms of games. I’m not much of a gambler; I make my several hundred
dollar donation to the local economy at the roulette table and I’m done.

The fun continued at check-in. We got the bad news first; the room we had reserved was not available. Then the good news;
we were given--at no extra charge--an enormous suite on the top floor. Then the bad news; it was only for one night, so we
would have to move the next afternoon. Darn. As we entered the room, my girlfriend exclaimed “the bathroom is bigger than
my house!” There was marble everywhere, two TVs, a couch, and a spa big enough for three people. (Yes, that thought crossed
my nasty little mind too.) Our second room was quite average, but given we got three nights and roundtrip airfare for $205 per person,
I wasn’t about to complain. The first night we spent living like Bush Pioneers.

Realizing we were coming up on Spring Break, we spent most of the first day lounging by the pool and enjoying the view of
succulent barely-covered young bodies. And we entertained ourselves making comments about the not-so-succulent bodies
which should’ve been more covered. One old guy literally came within inches of stepping into the pool as he walked by an
artificially-augmented young lady whose attributes threatened to overload his pacemaker.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum at the Venetian was our first Vegas “experience” (everything in Vegas is an “experience”).
Bring your camera because it is interactive which means you can have your picture taken with many celebrities ranging from
John Kennedy to John Wayne. (The exhibit includes Tiger Woods, which taught me never to be without a Bartcop sticker!)
You can pose with the celebs pretty much however you want so my girlfriend and I…well just look at the pictures.

We bought an all-day pass to the tower and spent several hours in the observation area. The glass panels jut outward so there
is almost the sensation of a glass floor as you walk to the edge and look down. It makes your knees a little weak at first. Las Vegas
is such a visual overload, it takes a lot of time to drink it all in.

At the top there is a roller coaster that wraps around the tower. The ride itself is pretty tame and way too short but you never
forget you're almost a quarter mile up in the air. We screwed up our courage and rode the Big Shot This thing rockets you 160
feet from the 921 feet level to 1081 feet with about 4Gs of acceleration. Then in an instant you free-fall back down.
Totally awesomely awesome!!! We could hardly walk afterwards.

One ride left: The X-Scream. It's a car holding 8 people in rows of 2 on a seesaw type of contraption perched on the edge of the tower.
As the seesaw tilts the car runs out to the end, hangs off the edge and then just when you think it’s stopped and you are OK, it jerks
forward a couple more feet. It points down over the edge and you hurtle down the ramp and hang, suspended over the edge with nothing
under you. You dangle there, next to the windows of the observation deck where people scream at you and take pictures. Then you tilt
backwards and go back. You do this about four times before they let you go.

It took me a while to build up the courage for that one. (I finally got an answer to my question: “I made it through Vietnam; what have
I got left to be afraid of?”) We walked around the strip a while then decided we were ready to give it a shot. While waiting in line,
the wind started kicking up and you could feel the tower sway. We were the very first in line for the next group when they shut down
all of the rides due to high winds. It was both a disappointment and a relief.

Later in the evening, we got all gussied up and went to very expensive dinner at the rotating restaurant called The Top of the World.
What a spectacular view! The food was heavenly, the service superb and you simply couldn’t beat the atmosphere. If you go, plan on
spending upwards of a hundred bucks per person and make your reservations at least a couple days in advance if you want to get a specific time.

After dinner we headed downtown to Fremont Street, yet another Las Vegas “experience” What used to be one of the most crowded
intersections in town is now a pedestrian mall with a Jumbotron canopy that covers about 3 blocks. About every hour the casino lights
go down and videos play with matching music. Everyone comes out of the casinos and has a mini festival for about 15 minutes; then they
all go back in again. We gambled for a while then decided our money would be better spent at the Glitter Gulch topless club. Now, that
was an “experience”! My girlfriend was pleasantly surprised to see several couples there. The dancers were all very friendly and
"approachable" which is something quite unlike my home town where the rules regarding strip clubs are very strict. After that, well,
what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right?

If you are in Las Vegas for any reason, the Star Trek Experience at the Hilton is a must-see. Even if you've been before, the Borg Invasion 4D
just opened last week. It is AWESOME! Now you have both the Klingon Encounter and the Borg Invasion. I won’t go into any details because
that would spoil the fun. Suffice it to say these two attractions are THE most excellent simulator-type rides I have ever, ummm, “experienced”.

There is a restaurant called Quark's where Klingons, Borg, Romulans and other characters freely wander about. They serve Romulan ale,
Saurian brandy and these bubbling sphere drinks the size of a bowling ball called a “Core Breech”. The menu lists themed names for the
bill of fare and drinks like the James Tea Kirk (long Island iced tea), or the Photon Torpedo (sandwich) There are giant models of the
Enterprise and the Voyager hanging from the ceiling, and a museum of memorabilia from both the movies and TV series. Several shops
sell everything from shotglasses and mousepads to actual collector items--like tricorders and phasers--from the original show. You can
even get a Klingon full battle dress uniform custom-made for a mere $12,000. I would have ordered one, but I like to play roulette.

It was three days packed with fun and adventure. The ride home was completely unremarkable, just the way a flight should be.


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