Spaf's Journal: Gene Visits Las Vegas


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This year begins my involvement with the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. The AF SAB had a meeting at Nellis AF Base this week. So, I needed to fly to Las Vegas for the meeting.

Ah, Las Vegas. The words Las Vegas are Spanish slang for "The Vegans" -- the city is named after the aliens from outer space who periodically land out at Area 51, and who appear to have designed the city. You can spot them every once in a while -- they look like Elvis, and there are hundreds of them in the city.

Las Vegas is astonishing to see -- hotels shaped like old Greek palaces, like French landmarks, Pyramids (another secret alien symbol), pirate ships, fountains, and New York City. Who else but aliens would want to recreate one city inside another, and pick NYC as the choice? At night, the whole place glows with so much neon and light, it is like daytime. I am told that Las Vegas is the brightest, most visible place on the globe when seen from space -- which acts as a beacon to bring more aliens in.

Of course, the lights and the gambling also bring in large numbers of people. Huge crowds. Supposedly, Las Vegas is trying to change its image along the "family fun" dimension. It used to be the Corleone family, and now they are trying to promote the nuclear family (who will also glow in the dark and attract more extraterrestrials).

My flight out of Indianapolis was Monday night at 9pm. I was tired after a long day, but was hoping to have some luck (after all, I was headed for the gambling capital of the world). I drove to the airport, and then had a panicky few moments thinking I had forgotten my ticket. I turned on the car map light, dug around in my backpack, and (luckily) found it. Then I made a mad dash to catch the shuttle bus to the terminal. Whew -- caught it! Already my luck was good. Maybe more would happen this trip?

Have you ever wondered what happens to college football players if they aren't good enough to be drafted by the pros when they graduate? Well, I think some went to work at the airline I was using (not my usual choice, but with government travel orders, I don't get to use the "good" airlines). There were these two huge people at the airline gate -- they looked like left and right tackles from a football team. Both had gone to fat, in the way that many athletes do when they stop exercising. The looked almost like twins -- really big, having dark mustaches, and wearing shorts with white shirts. About the only difference was that the man with dark hair had glasses and hairy arms, and the blonde was a woman. They were both really friendly, but I doubt either could even fit in the aisle of the aircraft. No wonder they were ground crew! After surveying the distaff member of the pair, I realized I had better be very careful about wishing to "get lucky" -- I could be badly surprised. And hurt -- the woman must have weighed over 300 pounds. Ouch!

I did get lucky, in another way. They called me up to the desk, and Teeny and Tiny informed me that they had to bump me from my seat. I was not surprised -- traveling on government fares makes one a prime target for this, I expect. However, much to my surprise, I was bumped up into first class! It seems that they needed my former seat (near the door) for a gentleman in a wheelchair. So, I got to ride up in the front. I thus got a free headset (for a movie I didn't want to watch), free alcohol (which I normally don't drink while flying), and some leg room. That was the big winner in my book.

The plane ride was bumpy the whole way, and we got to Las Vegas about 1/2 hour late. Coupled with the time change, it was now 2 AM my time, and we had a 45 minute ride to the base (the Air Force provided a driver; while on SAB business I get courtesy rank of a 3-star general. I'm not used to being called "sir" so much). I ended up getting to my room at 3 AM (my time -- 1 AM local time). The message waiting light was lit on my phone. Who could have called me already? I dialed in and listened to my messages. They weren't for me (unfortunately). They were for whoever was in my room before me.

Message #1:
(sexy young female voice) Hi handsome. I miss you already. Give me a call when you get in and I'll breathe heavy into your ear. Bye. (all in a voice that could induce diabetes....and altered circulation. Whew!)
Message #2:
(somewhat older-sounding, sultry female voice) Hi, boss. I'm here, and I have the presentation. Call me when you get in, and we'll go over it. Then we can have a drink and you can go over me, if you know what I mean. Bye
Message #3:
(young female voice again) Sweetie -- I miss you so very, very much. I need to hear your voice. Please call me right away, I love you.
Message #4:
(older female voice) Thanks boss -- your presentation style is the best. Your briefing is also great. I hope I can wipe this smile off my face before the meeting tomorrow. Call me if you want another run-through. Bye.
Message #5:
(young female voice again) Oooh, baby. Call me! Right now! I'm here naked, and my body needs to hear from you. Please....! You can't believe what I am doing with the phone. I want to tell you about it. Call me. I love you. Call me. Please. Call.

I can't begin to describe the overtones and emotion she had layered on that last message. I have never gotten a phone call like that (except by accident), so after that last message, I was definitely ready to call -- I couldn't imagine leaving a message like that unrequited. Of course, neither caller left phone numbers, and despite deleting the messages, the darned message waiting light stayed on the whole time I was a Nellis, taunting me.

I finally got over the phone saga and fell asleep after 1:30. I was awakened the next morning at 6 am by some large planes taking off about 500 yards away. The main Nellis runway was basically across the street from the on-base hotel where I was staying. Sigh.

I spent the day attending briefings. Twice during the day, I got too comfortable and fell asleep, thus leading to a severe stiff neck later in the day. It wasn't that the briefings were boring (well, a little), but less than 4 hours of sleep really didn't serve me too well. The nap attack wasn't easy, either -- we were sitting an an auditorium with uncomfortable seats. One time, I fell over and almost fell out of the chair. At least 2 other people in the audience had also dozed off. We were a tough crowd for the speaker.

That evening, the SAB staff had arranged a dinner outing for us. This involved going into Las Vegas for dinner and a show. We piled into a bus, and went off to the Stratosphere. This is a casino/club that is a huge tower, somewhar similar in shape to the Space Needle in Seattle. The scenery as we drove through the city was interesting, to say the least. The billboards for all the shows, clubs, and escort services were also quite interesting. I was particularly amused by two large billboards next to each other near our exit from the freeway: one for an 800 number for discount Viagra, and the other an 800 number for a DNA paternity testing service. Of course, this billboard was erected on the roof of one of Vegas's infamous wedding chapels. I can see a whole sordid saga being played out within a few hundred feet radius. You could write a TV soap opera on those three things alone!

The bus let us off at the side entrance, and we had to walk about a mile through slot machines and shops to reach the elevator on the second floor. Many bizarre images along the way. For instance, the second floor was shops and restaurants, including: a Nathan's hot dogs, a Spencer Gifts, a Baskin Robbins ice cream parlour, and a Victoria's Secret. This also could embody a tale or two for a soap opera.

However, it was made all the more interesting considering the people gambling downstairs. Unlike the images out of James Bond movies where everybody is good-looking and dressed up, there were hundreds of people, sitting glassy-eyed in front of slot machines and blackjack tables, gambling in T-shirts, dirty shorts, sandals, and John Deere baseball caps. And that was the height of fashion on the women! They were all chain smoking and drinking Bud. I had the distinct impression that they all were here on vacation from their double-wide homes back in Arkansas, and they were gambling their life savings (so far) to afford some badly-needed dental work (and maybe shoes). Their names were undoubtedly Lurleen and Billy-Joe Bob. Whenever I hear country-western type songs, I'll think of these folks. I was in several casinos during the trip, and these people were everywhere. The ones who didn't fit this image were the retirees with oxygen tanks strapped to their walkers, pulling the arms on the 25 cent slots as if it was powering their pacemakers. Gosh, it sure was glamorous! Other than some people obviously slumming from the AF base, I didn't see a single person I would consider in shape, young, and/or attractive.

Anyhow, we eventually took the elevator 104 floors up to a private dining room overlooking the city. It was still light out, so the view was magnificent. Dinner was also quite good. Maybe 1200 feet of altitude added to the allure, but the food was great. I had a roasted chicken that fell apart when touched with the fork, a great Caesar salad, and some interesting vegetable concoction. Dessert was a cheesecake creation with chocolate and strawberries. Yum.

After dinner, I took the stairs up 4 levels to the observation tower. The stairwell was decorated on the walls with bright enamel paintings of clowns and circus performers. I couldn't help but wonder if all the other 102 stories (1644 steps, I was told) were similarly decorated? The only way you might see them was during a disaster evacuation of the tower -- it would be sort of macabre to be required to talk past 100 floors of painted clowns while fleeing for your life. However, this would not be out of place in Vegas. Or in my life, come to think of it.

The view from the deck was amazing. The Stratosphere is by far the tallest structure in Vegas. It had an unobstructed view of the entire valley. Even more amazing was what was up two more floors -- on top of the hotel, out in the open, is a roller coaster wrapping three times around the outside of the tower. The roller coaster was scary enough, but the other ride called "The Big Shot"..... Imagine a 15-story metal tower sticking up from the top of the main tower. This metal tower is equipped with rails on the corners. Wrapped around the outside of the tower, and riding on the rails, is a square box. Bolted to the box and facing out, over the city, with nothing around or below them, were seats. Now, imagine being strapped into one of these seats, a few seconds pass to charge a hydraulic ram, and then the box (with seats and people attached) is fired up the tower 10 stories into the air at several g's of acceleration, only to enter free-fall and drop about 8 stories, then cycle a few times.

Standing below this and watching people fired up into the air, with almost nothing between them and a 1200 ft drop made me dizzy. I had to grab the railing where I was standing with both hands. Ironic that I am on the AF SAB and I am scared of heights..... What scared me even more was that there was nothing between me and the bottom of those seats, and I can just imagine what I would do if I was in one of them as it got fired into the air! So, before the next launch, I scurried inside and took the elevator down to the ground level for the show.

The show that had been arranged for us was suitable for all audiences. Thus, it was boring. No comedians with cutting edge humor. No wild animals. No avant-garde music. Instead, we were ushered into the back of a room with about 600 people (other visitors from Nellis, retirees who were resting their bursitis from the slot machines, disguised alien visitors, and Lurleen and Billy Bob). The lights dimmed. The music came up. Some showgirls in feathers and sequins ran through the audience and onto the stage whereupon the show started -- with a bad Elvis impersonator. Really. He did about 6 numbers from across each of Elvis's "ages," probably in an effort to prove that he was poor with of all of them.

Next came a mediocre Madonna imitator, a horrible Michael Jackson imitator (he could dance great, but he couldn't sing), a Gloria Estefan wannabe, and a Charlie Daniels lookalike. The best parts about the show were the Charlie Daniels clone -- he could play the fiddle really, really well -- and the dancers. They were reasonably good dancers, largely naked (Hmm, did there ever used to be a verb "to nake"? BTW, according to Lewis Grizzard, "nude" is artistic, "naked" is unclothed, and "nekkid" is naked and up to something), and had wonderful legs ... which was good or the dancing and the lack of costume wouldn't have worked so well.

I found my mind wandering. First I thought of the movie Showgirls. I started giggling and people looked at me oddly (except the aliens, who simply nodded in agreement). Then, I daydreamed that I was a high-school guidance counselor in the area. Today I am seeing students about their career plans. First is Tiffany.

"Hello, Tiffany."

"Hello, Mr., Jenkins." (I'm using an assumed name. Heck, it's my dream, so I will if I want to.)

"Well, Tiffany. Have you thought about what you want as a career?'

"Yes, Mr. Jenkins. I want to go on stage as a Gloria Estefan imitator."

"But Tiffany -- you don't look Latino!"

"That's okay, I can get a bad dark wig and a tan."

"But you don't sound like Gloria!"

"S'okay -- we'll crank up the volume when I sing and no one can tell."

"But Tiffany, I've heard you sing -- you can't!"

"I'll just crank up the volume some more. Trust me, it will work. So, what classes should I take?"

"Well, repeat music a few times, be sure to take Spanish I and II, and lose the nose ring. Your parents will be so proud. Next!"

In comes Ted.

"Yo, Mr. Jenkins! I want to be an Elvis imitator."

"Good heavens, why Ted?"

"Because I bet that will get me chicks like Elvis had. That Priscilla was hot!"

"Uh, Ted, I suspect that stardom and money had more to do with it than acting like Elvis. Besides, other than being a bit chubby, you don't look anything like Elvis!"

"No problem-o -- watch me sneer. And look at this."

"Ted -- are you all right? Have you gotten your genitalia tangled in your shorts?"

"No Mr. Jenkins! I'm gyrating my hips like Elvis used to!"

"Please -- stop that, Ted! You're making my back hurt and you just knocked my fern off the desk. Sigh. Okay, drop shop and gym class, take music, and get some blue suede shoes. Next!"

"Oh, hello there Bambi. Please tell me you have some reasonable career plans."

"Oh yes, Mr. Jenkins. I've thought long and hard about it, and I have a dream. I love to dance, so I've decided to go to Vegas, wear nothing but a thong, 10 sequins and some feathers, and be a backup dancer to a lame Madonna imitator."

"Ohmygosh. Why, Bambi?"

"Well, basically, everyone tells me what great legs I have, I love to dance, and my Barbi doll tells me that math is too hard. So what else is there?"

"I'm too tired to argue. Take an extra gym class, work on your tan during recess, and drop the AP classes. And by the way -- they're right about your legs. So why don't you come over here and sit in nice Mr. Jenkin's lap and I'll show you what you need to do to get a job in show business. " (Now you know why I use assumed names in my daydreams.)

Anyhow, the show was painful, but did have some redeeming points. Most of the audience was so liquored up they didn't notice. And, luckily it was over before too much time had passed and we went back to base and our rooms. I collapsed and went right to sleep.

I awoke to more planes taking off at 6 am. They interrupted a dream about Bambi and her friends. Ahem. I stumbled out of bed and tried to make coffee, The packet with the coffee filter wouldn't open so I strained and strained. Suddenly, it gave way and I ripped it in half. That included ripping the coffee filter, sending a cloud of coffee grounds up into the air and all over the desk, the rug, into my shoes, and everywhere but where I needed it most -- directly into my bloodstream.

I struggled through the shower as everyone on the base apparently flushed in unison, driving the water temperature through extremes that rudely awoke whatever portion of my body happened to be under the trickle of the shower at that time. The place I was staying was on base, in the "Warrior Inn." We can take comfort in the knowledge that our air warriors have tough skin -- they can't get enough water to wash off the soap, and they tolerate extremes of hot and cold that the rest of us shudder (or jump and swear and wave around) to think about.

More briefings. Another inadvertent nap. Some touring about the base, and I get an opportunity to sit in the cockpit of an F-15 and an A-10 . The A-10 is officially known as the "Thunderbolt" but affectionately known as the "Warthog" so it seemed appropriate for me to be in one (the F-15 is a "screaming eagle" and I'm not going for a joke on that one). The A-10 is primarily used in close ground support to take out tanks and other sundry annoyances that inconvenience ground troops. It is basically a plane built around a 30 mm Avenger canon firing depleted uranium slugs at a rate of 65 per second at extremely high speed. Each slug weighs something like 1.6 pounds, and travels at almost three times the speed of sound. The slugs pass through inches of steel armor as if they weren't there. Me, I was simply thinking about how handy this would be to have the next time I travel to Chicago and run into inconsiderate drivers. Or, to have at some faculty meetings.... Heh, heh, heh -- The Spafmeister: Warthog from Hell. Could almost make a movie title out of that, don't ya think?

After the meeting ended, a group of us decided to go into Vegas for dinner. We traveled to another casino (I can't remember the name) and had a pretty good dinner. A huge salad bar, steaks, lobster, and dessert for less than $24 a head. Plus, the waitress called us all "Hun" (as in "Honey" rather than "Attila." I think.)

One of our party had a medical problem that was aggravated by the spice in his food, so he had to spend some time in the bathroom. To while away the wait, I started feeding bills into the slot machine near the rest rooms. I decided when my $8 was gone, I'd quit.

For the next 40 minutes, I kept winning. I'd lose about $3 then win back $5. Finally, we decided it was time to go, so I tried to cash out. It emptied the machine and we had to wait for a technician to come and refill it with more half-dollars (I had won enough to get the credits up to $32). Then, it froze up and he had to come back and reset it. It's nice to know my superpowers worked even here (I have the little known abilities to cause malfunctions in computers, alienate women, and extinguish streetlights as I pass under them).

Of course, my compatriots decided they all had to try the same machine, so they sat down, one at a time. And each proceeded to lose about $10 in short order. I lost about $5 at another machine while waiting, then won a few quarters at a video poker machine before they hauled me away. I stood in line to cash in my coins. I was behind Billy-Earl with more tattoos than teeth, and some woman with her bucket of quarters duct-taped to her walker. I ended up ahead about $1.25 for the night, if you included the cost of dinner above and beyond my per diem.

We then drove the length of the Strip, marveling at the level of tackiness and neon. The amount of power and water wasted here is staggering. What an insult to the environment. We returned to the inn, and I immediately fell asleep again.

This morning I awoke to the usual plane take-offs. Bambi had left my dreams during the night, complaining about all the jet engine noise.

I packed, and after one last briefing, got my ride to the airport. I have been writing this account on the plane home. The first leg of the flight was delayed an hour on the ground in Las Vegas (without adequate A/C), and the connection in Phoenix was delayed another hour. So, I will get home around 11pm tonight. I'll be glad to get back to where the temperature is below 100, there are no jets taking off outside my bedroom window, and there are no slot machines.

Update. I got to my car and discovered that the battery was dead. I had left the map light on for 3 days, and that was more than my battery could take. So, I had to get the car jump-started before I could leave. Yet more delay.

I called Kathy, with memories of the misdirected voice mail fresh in my mind.

Hello, Kathy, I'm back in Indiana.

I'll alert the media.

I'm coming right home. Any chance you'll surprise me?

Sure, if you consider that it's a surprise that it's your turn to load the dishwasher.

No, not that. I meant something romantic.

Romance, ha! We've been married for 15 years. I'm going to bed and I have to get up early, so don't wake me. How's that for romance?

Not very good. Can't you tell me that the sound of my voice makes you want to do something with the phone?

Sure -- I'm hanging it up. Drive safely, and don't wake me up.

Well, the thrill is clearly gone. Perhaps Elvis has a song about that? I can only hope that the lack of jet noise at home will encourage Bambi to return to my dreams and keep me company. After all, I've been working on my Elvis sneer, and there's $1.25 burning a hole in my pocket. Who could resist that? My imaginary friends aren't the only ones with dreams -- I've got them too (although I'm worried they're actually false memories implanted by the aliens).

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