Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Back Home

100_9503Home is wherever we park the motor home.  It stayed parked in Congress while we were in the Midwest for Christmas so now we are back home in……..Arizona.

We went to Christmas dinner at my Mom and Dad’s home.  She has been making a Christmas buffet dinner for a number of years for whomever of the extended family, friends, and neighbors can come.  This year there were about 25 people that came.  We were the ones who traveled the farthest but not by a huge margin as one of my Aunts was there from Florida.

From Detroit we drove in our little rental car to Columbus to see son Andy and daughter-in law-Natasha.  We were there for two nights and went out with them a couple of times even though they had to work both days.

It was then back to Detroit for one last night before we were up early on Sunday to pack up, return the rental car, and check in at the airport.  As a partial offset to our earlier travel delays, we actually left the gate a bit early, didn’t use any of the extra time built in the schedule and arrived more than half an hour early in Phoenix…….and they had a gate available for us.  The bags came off in reasonable time.  It was a quick trip to the parking lot.  The roads were fairly empty on the drive back, maybe because the Arizona Cardinals were playing football at the time.  It all allowed us to get back with enough daylight to re-establish camp before it became dark.

DSCN0473Early the next morning I was off the to Vet’s office where the kennels are to pick up our little girl.  It didn’t take her long before she was comfortable and settled into the new bowl she received as a gift from her “Aunt Nancy”, a friend of ours and cat lover in Michigan.  So far she is being rather mum about her adventures at “camp”.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Back In The Midwest

100_3166Last Thursday, we headed off to the airport in Phoenix to catch a plane to Detroit for a 10-day Christmas visit with family.  The past two years, we had driven back in the car from Florida (two-day trip each way) and from Texas (three-day trip each way) but this year it would have been a four-day trip one way so we decided to fly.  And then there was another decision – what to do with Alley cat.  We have a carrier which would fit underneath an airline seat and allow us to take her as a “carry on”.  We also considered having a cat sitter come to the motor home but in the final analysis, we chose to put her in a kennel, the first time she has ever been to a kennel.  Although it was tough for me to leave her there, Gary keeps telling me that she is at “camp” and having a great time.  I can imagine the stories now ……”one tine, at band camp………”.

We left the motor home hooked up to electric to keep the refrigerator running, but put all the water and sewer away, pulled in the slides and lowered the satellite dish.  Fortunately the forecast didn’t have any serious freezing predicted so we only did a partial winterization of the fresh water system and left a lit trouble light in the water bay just in case.

DSCN0450We arrived at the airport a full two hours ahead of our departure time only to find out that our flight had been delayed for two hours.  After an hour and a half of travel to the airport, a four hour airport wait, a four hour flight, an hour of baggage pickup and rental car acquisition, and half an hour to the hotel including check in, we finally were here.  But at least we didn’t have three more days of travel still ahead of us.  And Detroit had the unpleasant surprise for us of quite a bit of snow on the ground.

DSCN0453We already have completed some doctor and dentist visits, seen some friends, and had the first of at least three Christmas celebrations.  We went to my sister’s house Sunday for Christmas dinner and presents.  She made a fantastic meal with some dishes I will just have to try in the future.  The picture at the right is of me and my sisters.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Prescott, AZ

We haven’t been up to a whole lot lately.  One day while driving, Gary noticed a drip on the floor mat near his feet.  It was coming from in under the instrument panel.  He figured it was a leak in a heater hose or connection.  He took it to the dealer and they diagnosed it as a leak in the clutch master cylinder.  We didn’t even know that a clutch system has a master cylinder.  We had to have it replaced.

We also had some squeaks seemingly in the rear end of the car and figured that is was bushings.  Wrong again.  The dealer said the shocks were shot which wasn’t surprising as they likely had about 90,000 miles on them (driving and being towed) .  And if you are replacing the rear shocks, it is also time to replace the front struts and strut mounts as well.  And all that precipitates an alignment too.

Along with a few other minor adjustments, the bill came to over $1,000.  But it all had to be done.

DSCN0432The car needed a good test drive after all of that work, so we took a day trip to Prescott.  It is located up in a mountain valley at over a mile of elevation.  The drive up there is quite a twisting climb.  The road is restricted to vehicles of less than 40 total feet so most trucks can’t even take the road.  On the way, we took the Skull Valley route to avoid some of the mountain side driving.  Prescott has a long history as a cowboy town.  The landscape is very different than at our campground; Prescott is forested with pine trees instead of cacti and palm trees.

DSCN0433People from Phoenix and Tucson head to the mountains around Prescott in the summer to escape the oppressive heat of the lower elevations.  We spent most of our time in the courthouse square.  On one street across from the courthouse is Whiskey Row, an area with a long history of cowboy bars and brothels.  We took in two breweries in that area – Granite Mountain Brewing and Prescott Brewing.  Both were quite good.  It was dark when we left the second brewery and we discovered that the trunks of every single one of the many trees on the courthouse square are wrapped in Christmas lights – a very colorful sight.  We also stopped by an Indian casino in the town, but our Las Vegas luck didn’t carry over to Prescott.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Arizona Auto Graphics

2011-07-29_18-53-37_884When Gary purchased our Ford Focus Wagon to be our “toad”, he said he was going to spend a little money spiffing it up a bit.  First, he added the cargo carrier (a.k.a. the turd) for some more “cube”.  He replaced the steel wheels and wheel covers with some aluminum rims.  He found a set on Craigslist for the amazing price of $75 and then sold the steel wheels for $50.  The wheels didn’t come with the center hub covers.  The ones with the Ford oval were $20 a piece so he wasn’t about to pay more for center hub covers than for the wheels..  Instead he bought these black vinyl lug nut covers and for the centers he bought electrical breaker box knockout covers at a dollar each and painted them black.  Even with the tire remounting and balancing, it was probably one of the cheapest conversions to aluminum wheels ever.

Next, he wanted some character of the motor home’s paint scheme extended to the car.  He went to two different paint shops that drew up some designs but nothing they produced was at all a grabber.  And the price quotes were $1,000 or more.  So he investigated stick on vinyl graphics and found online an off-the-shelf package that was a reasonable match.  He paid a shop to apply them and we got our car’s “paint job” for less than $500.

Because of the cargo carrier and the graphics, we have hand washed the car ever since.  Moreover, we have the time on our hands whereby we can wash it and do a better job than an automatic car wash to boot.  Well, we got an oil change back in Rapid City, SD.  A part of this package was a free car wash.  We declined explaining that we didn’t want to run our car with its fiberglass cargo carrier and graphics through a car wash.  They countered that their car wash was a brushless system.  So, what the heck, at least it would knock off some dirt without damaging the carrier or the graphics.  Oops, we didn’t account for how strong those water jets were going to be and they wound up cutting our graphics in a couple places.  One small chunk was especially bad and was somewhat wrinkled in the process.

We just let the blemish go as we knew we were headed to Arizona where the graphics were made.  We contacted the owner of Arizona Auto Graphics in Surprise, AZ.  He told us to come by his business and we would see what could be done.  Welcome to the world of internet-based businesses.  His shop was the garage in his house in a very residential area.  There was a layout table, a computer station, a large bed printer and what appeared to be some sort of large size cutter on a bed.  There it was a successful nationwide business operated with a website, a home garage, and the skills of a graphic artist/draftsman.  There still is entrepreneurship in this country.

He patched a new piece into our existing graphics scheme and you never could tell it had been touched.  Gary confirmed that he can and will do one-off designs if anyone out there would like to capture even some small part of their motor home or trailer theme onto their toad or tow vehicle.  Or, as Gary is fond of saying, “doesn’t our car look fast even while sitting still”.  I humor him, even while thinking, it’s a Ford Focus Station Wagon with a turd on the top for God’s sake.  Yeah right, “it looks fast even while sitting still”.

The website for Arizona Auto Graphics is: http://azautographics.com/

Monday, December 9, 2013

Phoenix Brewers Invitational Festival

IMG_0452When we are visiting an area, we usually find a website that shows the area’s activities and special events for the time we will be staying.  In looking for stuff in the greater Phoenix area, we stumbled upon the Phoenix Brewers Invitational Festival.  We had found a few breweries in Las Vegas, but in general we haven’t visited too many of late.  So we thought we would take in a festival that would have beers from a number of craft breweries.  This festival advertised that nearly 60 breweries would be participating.  We envisioned that each brewery would have its own tent pulling samples of their entire range of brews.  Well, it wasn’t exactly that way.  A lot of Arizona breweries did have their own tents but for the rest they were represented by their Phoenix distributor who only had one tap per brewery.  Just the same, it was a very impressive array of breweries and brews.  For $25 you received a souvenir mug and 12 tokens that each secured a 4 ounce sample of beer.  Between us we didn’t get too many overlapping samples so we probably tasted about 20 different brews.  Our overall favorite was a gingerbread beer that had a clear but subtle taste and aroma of gingerbread.

IMG_0449People who are fans of highly hopped beers are referred to as “hop heads”.  And of course there were a number of hoppy brews at the festival.  In case you are wondering what a hop head looks like, we captured this picture for you. “Go ahead, make my day hoppy”.

It was a great outing.  It was our first foray into downtown Phoenix.  We did a little needed shopping and enjoyed a lot of great brews with a good crowd of fellow beer enthusiasts.

Friday, December 6, 2013

An Expensive Free Night Of Camping

100_9530In our starter motor home, we had single pane windows.  In our current rig, we have dual pane glass.  Dual pane has some advantages such as better keeping out the heat or cold and also reducing noise.  But there is also a disadvantage.  Eventually the seals that separate the two panes of glass will break down and the seals will have to be replaced.  We noticed that in one of our windows we had a “creeping seal”.  It was in the top of the window.  The seal should only be around very inside perimeter of the glass, but the seal in this area was starting to move down in the general direction of the center of the window.  Although not the greatest picture, if you look at the right edge of the of the window above the level of the work bench, you can see how the seal was “creeping” away from the edge.

When you see this happening, you must deal with it fairly quickly.  These failing seals will allow moisture to get between the glass and even though it may well dry up in the sun, acids and other nasty things in the moisture will eventually etch the glass and permanently cloud the glass or even make it difficult if not impossible to reseal the window.

100_9531We found an RV window shop in Phoenix and made an appointment.  We checked all the other windows and found a second one with a failing seal so we had them both done.  The first one was right behind the entry door.  Country Coach apparently never intended for this window to come out.  A valance that covers two windows and a wooden pillar both had to come out to be able to get to the interior screws that held in that window.  It took well over 2 hours for that window to come out.  Fortunately the other window was in the bathroom and that one came out readily.

100_9532After removal, they take the window into the shop and with a utility knife they cut each pane off the glued seal.  They clean up the glass, lay in a new perimeter seal and seal it up with a hot melt solution of some sort.  They clamp it, allow it to dry, and then trim off the excess “tar”.

We were about 90 minutes from glass shop so they only got started on us at about  10 AM.  They finished up about 4:30 PM making it too late for us to head back as we would have arrived in the dark and we don’t want to set up camp in the dark.  So they just hooked us up at their shop and we had a “free” night of camping, as long as you ignore the $650 it cost us to repair the seals in two windows.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Soup’s On

Even here in Arizona, the weather has been cool.  After the initial monsoon, it has been sunny with temps in the low 60s during the day and about 40 at night.  But we are also going to be hit with the cold snap that a good portion of the rest of the country is experiencing.  So, what is good on a cool/cold night – a nice hot and hearty soup.

Just as I have been cooking, Gary has had the urge as well and he is the soup maker of the family.  He made another batch of his chili that we entered in the chili cookoff back at the Escapade in Wyoming in early July.  But he also had a hankering to make a soup he never had made before – split pea.  Just for the record, I detest split pea soup, especially that thick pasty stuff that a lot of places serve.  So this batch of soup was one just for the pleasure of Gary.  And as long as he was making a soup just for himself, why not fortify it with another food product that he loves but I hate – SPAM.

So, if you are looking for a recipe for a Spicy Split Pea and SPAM soup, here you go:


One pound package of dried split peas (that I had to chase 2 stores to find)

32 ounces of vegetable stock (a.k.a. a quart)

32 ounces of water (a.k.a. 4 cups or 2 pints)

1 cup carrot diced (or whatever cut suits your fancy)

1 cut celery diced (see above)

1 medium to large onion diced (see above)

2 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp salt

2 bay leaves

1 12-oz can SPAM  diced (Gary used Tabasco SPAM which gave a spicy kick to the soup, but you can use any kind of SPAM that you would prefer, or to make it somewhat more palatable, you could use the traditional ham with or without a bone or hock)


Put peas in a stock pot and sort (there was some chaff in our bag so he had to sort the peas from the chaff).  Add vegetable stock and water and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 2 minutes, cover, and set aside for an hour.

Dice the carrots, celery, onion, and the God-awful SPAM.

About 45 minutes into the soak, heat a large skillet and melt about 3 tablespoons of butter (of course Gary used bacon grease instead just as he does for darn near anything he puts in a skillet).  Progressively add in the onions, carrots, celery, minced garlic and SPAM into the skillet and get to browning.

Add the skillet mix to the stock pot and season with the thyme, black pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, and bay leaves.

Bring to a boil and simmer for about two hours or until peas are the consistency you like.  We suppose you could get out your “motor boat” and puree the whole morass into a thick pulp if you wanted.

IMG_0448There you have it – split pea and SPAM soup.  Gary loved it.  He ate two bowls for lunch and another for dinner.  I tasted one spoonful while it was cooking and still am gagging.  Split is one thing.  And SPAM is quite another.  But, my God, split peas and SPAM together?

To the right is a picture of the finished product.  You really can’t see the peas for all the celery and SPAM floating on the top, but they are down in there somewhere (wouldn’t you think the peas would float and the SPAM would sink?)


Monday, December 2, 2013

Escapees North Ranch

The Escapees organization owns eight RV parks and there are eleven other parks that are member owned.  The North Ranch RV park that we are at in Congress, Arizona is the third Escapees Park we have visited.  The other two were Rainbow’s End in Livingston, Texas and Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale, Alabama.  Congress is about 90 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix.   This is a somewhat remote area.  Congress has a population of around 2,000 and the bigger town of Wickenburg about 10 miles away has a population of maybe 7,000.  Remoteness is one of the ways that Escapees holds down costs and campground fees.  Escapees parks are not resorts with water parks and golf courses, but they do have nice activity centers with plenty of activities.  We are up every weekday morning for the sessions with the DVD walking tapes


In all of the three Escapees parks we have stayed in, there are both campsites for transients like us as well as deeded lots that members have purchased.  This park has the greatest number of deeded lots at around 450.  Some people have only the very minimum of improvements on their lots and basically just use it as a campsite that they own for their RV when they are here.   From there, properties range from “park model” trailers, to manufactured homes, to frame constructed houses, that here mainly have stucco exteriors.  Some of the houses have stucco murals that are quite attractive.


There are a couple of common themes to all the properties here.  None of them have grass.  All the yards are some form of rock.  And the other common theme is that everyone landscapes with cacti.  There are cacti of all shapes and sizes all the way up to the giant Saguaros.  They have a recycle bin for aluminum cans the proceeds from which go to maintain the cacti on the common grounds.  And there are also the ever-present mountains off in the distance.



Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving With Escapees

100_9521One of the reasons we came to this RV park was to have a place to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.  As we indicated in a recent post, when we called to check availability they asked us to join the Thanksgiving potluck before we even had the chance to ask if they were having one.  We estimate about 150 of us gathered in the Activity Center.  We all contributed to buy the turkeys and everything else was potluck.  I was anxious to do a little cooking so I didn’t make just one dish – I made three.  I made a dressing that has spicy sausage, apples, and chestnuts in it.  My pumpkin pie was perfect if I say so myself.  And I also mixed up some sliced cucumbers in sour cream.


100_9522We had some nice conversation over Thanksgiving dinner and all came away stuffed to the gills.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  Tomorrow they will have a potluck supper to help all of us rid ourselves of all these leftovers.  But I still have a hankering to cook so I thought I would make jalapeno pie.  Gary got some of the leftover turkey – enough that he will be able to make his leftover turkey soup one of these days.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Rain, Rain, Go Away………

We arrived here on Thursday.  There was a little bit of rain in the final stretches of the drive.  Fortunately, we were able to set up without it raining.  But shortly after we were set up, the rains came…..and it rained, and it rained, and it rained.   This is Arizona, the land of sunshine.  It rained Thursday night.  It rained more all day and night Friday.  It rained on Saturday.  And on Sunday it was mostly cloudy with periodic rain.  We had the entire month’s worth of rain in our first four days here.  All totaled, there was about 2 inches of rain here in the desert where we are camped.  We were feeling a bit like hermits holed up in the motor home.  Gary got in plenty of football watching.  I played a lot on my new computer.

We were able to get out for the Sunday night ice cream social, a regular event at Escapees RV parks.  And finally today, the sun was out – not a cloud in the sky.  We went over to the clubhouse in the morning for the power walking video.  Thereafter, we washed the motor home and the car.  We had not been in a park since Salt Lake City that would allow us to wash them.  It was around three hours of a lot of scrubbing and wiping for both of us.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Is this going to be a rant about the US Congress?  We haven’t written any rants, or social commentaries as we call them, in quite awhile.  It would be easy to do this week when the Senate majority party voted by just a simple majority to limit the ability of the minority to use the fillibuster and thereby require a 60 vote super majority for Presidental appointments including judges.  The charge to change the rules was led by Harry Reid who just a few short years ago when he was Minority Leader said such a move would be “Unamerican”.   Then Senator Obama who at that time said, “You know, the Founders designed this system, as frustrating it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward.” now welcomed the change as President Obama.  Shouldn’t a rule change to take away the 60 vote super majority and its 200 years of history require at least a 60 vote majority itself?

Well, this post wasn’t intended to be a rant even though we slipped one in there.  This post is about our travels from Kingman to CONGRESS, ARIZONA.  On Thursday, we packed up and rolled out of Kingman.  We stopped at a Speedco for an oil change which delayed us for 3 and 1/2 hours mainly because of a long wait to get into a bay.  Speedco wasn’t too speedy this stop.  Fortunately we only had a bit over a hundred miles to go after we got out of there. 

100_9485Most of our trip was on Arizona Highway 93, the main artery between Phoenix and Las Vegas.  The road was generally undulating with wide sweeping curves as it passed through the mountains of Arizona.  We started seeing Saguaro catit.  And we also passed through an area with a large concentration of Joshua Trees.



Congress, about an hour northwest of Phoenix, is the home of an Escapees (the full timing club we belong to) RV Park – North Ranch.  We will be here through at least Thanksgiving and likely until after New Year’s unless it becomes too cold in which case we will head further south in Arizona.  We were at an Escapees park last Thanksgiving in Texas and when we called North Ranch to make sure they had space, they asked us if we wanted to sign up for their Thanksgiving potluck before we could even ask about it.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Laughlin/Bullhead City

100_9471While in Kingman, we camped in an area known as Golden Valley, an unincorporated town northeast over a mountain range from city of Kingman.  We camped in a Passport American Park – Tradewinds -- that caters largely to frugal snowbirders; they have a monthly rate of $200 plus electric.  The grounds were all packed crushed stone with old farm equipment for decoration.

Another attraction of this park is that it is less than 20 miles to the Colorado River and the casinos of Laughlin, Nevada and its companion city of Bullhead City, Arizona.  But within that 20 mile stretch there is a elevation drop of  over 3,000 feet down to the river.  It still amazes us the cuts this river has made over the eons of time.

2013-11-19_21-39-37_272We made two trips down to the river.  The first was at night.  It was very dark that night even with the lights of the casinos of Laughlin down the road.  With a continuous down grade of 6% for about 12 miles it was a little scary in the desert darkness on a road we had never traveled.  We stopped at the brewpub of the Colorado Belle Casino.  There brews were not all that good.  They had more than a bit of diacetyl in them.  This is the taste of butterscotch in beer that is given off by the yeast early in the fermentation process.  But it you give the yeast a chance, it will clean up after itself and reabsorb this off taste.  Unfortunately some small breweries rush the process and pull the beer off of the yeast before the reabsorption occurs and the butterscotch taste is left in the beer.

I cashed in a free play from our casino coupon book and turned it into a whopping $5.  Our poker pro played a tournament but didn’t have any luck.

On our second trip to the river, we didn’t go to any casinos.  We were hungry and went to a Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner and wound up staying and playing a few hours of Buzztime Trivia.  It is a trivia game that is fed by satelllite to a number of of bars and restaurants across the US and Canada.  At the end of each game your receive statistics for your establishment as well as across all locations and for all players.  We had one game where we had the second highest score on the network.

Oh, and one last note.  We were able to buy regular unleaded in the Kingman area for $2.98 a gallon.  If memory serves us correctly -- and that would be a huge assumption -- this is the first time we have paid less than $3 a gallon in the over two years that we have been fulltiming.  Now, if only the days would return when diesel prices were lower than than gasoline………………

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kingman, Arizona

100_9425Our next destination after Las Vegas was Kingman, Arizona.  After sitting for a bit over six weeks, it was with a slight bit of apprehension that we fired up the rig.  It turned right over as always, the slides pulled in, and the chassis aired up exactly as it was supposed to and always has for us.  We rolled south out of Las Vegas and across the new Hoover Dam bridge we had visited during our Vegas stay.  It was as uneventful in the motor home as it was as the car.  We pulled into the left lane of the two on our side of the bridge as the road signs indicated.  We could just barely see over the outer walls of the bridge.  There weren’t any winds blowing through the canyon that day.  There was nothing to it.  And we caught the shot below right of the ribbons of road on the other side of the bridge in this barren rocky landscape.


100_9437At our first rest stop after crossing the bridge, we caught some great views of the Colorado River south of Hoover Dam passing through the rocky terrain it had cut a channel through.

We were going to Kingman for some personal business.  About 35 years ago, Gary bought some investment property in that area.  It had been a number of years since we were last down that way so we wanted to go visit the “ranch” and check out land values in the area.  Our parcel was once part of a large cattle ranch.  The roads back to it get progressively rougher so we rented a 4X4 pickup truck to get back there.  The last mile is just a jeep trail not really wide enough for a rented truck so we parked and walked back in the rest of the way.  Land prices peaked there a few years back and then declined along with the housing bust.  They have recovered a bit so we will be getting it on the market within the next year.  Anyone need a half-mile square of Arizona property that has a spring, trees, and some amazing views?


Kingman was a good place to decompress a bit from Vegas.  Kingman is a growing town and the valley is surrounded by various ranges of mountains.  It was a significant stop on Route 66 and is in the heart of the longest remaining continuous stretch of that storied highway.  We were taking in bit of the highway in the older section of the town when we just happened to see a building that had Black Bridge Brewery written on its window.  We stopped and found a new brewery that was only about two months old and wasn’t yet even in the the listing of Brewing News.  We gave the owner/brewer a copy of the magazine article about our travels and brewery visits.  He is a now former homebrewer who is living the dream of opening his own brewery business.  He was using equipment he had improvised instead of commercial brewing equipment.  He was putting out great brew and seemed to be attracting a crowd each of the three times we wound up visiting his establishment.

We rode up into the Hualapai Mountains where a number of people of Kingman live partially to escape the summer heat of the valley.  We envision our property looking like this one of these days.  We caught a shop of some strange-looking wildlife up in those mountains as well.  Beware!


Friday, November 15, 2013

Las Vegas Retrospective

100_9208Yes, we have moved on from Las Vegas; we packed up and left Monday morning.  We have been finishing up our Vegas blogs.  This will be our last one – a look back on our stay in Vegas.

We had always wanted to experience an extended stay in Las Vegas.  When we made our first trip as full-timers from Michigan to become Texans, Gary had thought for a bit about making a detour from Texas to Vegas on our way to the Atlantic.  But that notion was quickly discarded with a quick check of the mileage that would have been involved.

We stuck with our north/south travel loop plans until near the end of 2 and 1/2 loops we finally got our shot at Vegas.  We wound up spending 45 nights – the second longest stay of any of our camping to date.  The weather was fabulous.  It was about 10 degrees above average throughout most of our stay.  Daily highs ranged from the low 70 to low 80s with sun every day.

100_9202-003We found that if you plan and work at it a bit the city really can still be done on the cheap.  The RV Park, although largely a parking lot, was among the very cheapest we had ever used.  The city bus system worked great for us and it was nice just largely to park the car for an extended period of time.  We drove the fewest miles that we had in a long time.  The American Casino Guide coupon book paid for itself many times over.

IMG_0340We didn’t spend any money on big headliner entertainment, but we may regret that we didn’t get to the Terry Fator show which was the one show we really had a hankering to see.  But we did go to a comedy club show free from our coupon book that had us laughing out loud throughout.  And we enjoyed all the free shows on Fremont Street including the Lt. Dan Band and some lounge shows as well.  And, oh, did we mention that I ran into Donny and Marie?

IMG_0277Food and drink were very good and cheap in the downtown area and having our own brewpub at Main Street Station was fantastic.  We splurged three times on the spectacular buffet at Bellagio, but saved a ton by “pulling a Mark” on each visit.  We would definitely stay in the downtown again.



1026131543-002It certainly didn’t hurt that our luck was quite good as well.  Gary came to town as a newly self-proclaimed poker pro.  After a very slow start, he made a very impressive recovery.  He didn’t cash in any of his first six tournaments but in the subsequent 20 tournaments he played, he cashed seven times including four wins.  He found smaller stakes tournaments at the Plaza hotel and was able to have success.  He spent about a thousand dollars on entry fees and won about eleven hundred from prize pools.  His biggest win was at the Stratosphere where he and four others “chopped” the prize pool for $375 each out of a starting field of over 70 players.  I am not sure how we would survive on  $100 of “professional” income over a 45-day period, but I am impressed just the same that he could go to Vegas and leave a winner at poker.  He also won small amounts at other table games including blackjack and had some small losses on the machines.  And he won the autographed football in the Monday Night Football drawing as well.

My gambling was highlighted by my $850 win with four of a kind at Let It Ride.  I plowed a couple hundred of that back trying for another big strike that didn’t come.  Otherwise, I mainly played the machines which were reasonably good to me as well but overall likely represented a bit of a loss.  And then there was my win of the TV in the MNF drawing.

100_5778-001We didn’t spend all of our time in the casino areas.  We got out and saw various areas of the city.  We took in some garage sales and got some really great buys.  We bought and sold stuff off of Craigslist including buying a “new” bike for Gary and a “new” slim digital camera.  We sold my iPad as I purchased a new laptop because I wanted a real keyboard rather than a virtual one.  And for years to come while watching TV shows, we will be saying, “we were there”.  Halloween in Vegas is another thing we will remember about our stay for a long time too.

100_9385We said way back at the beginning of our stay that we would be evaluating Vegas as a possible home for us whenever it is that we leave the road.  So how did it measure up on that score?  On the positive side, it is amazing how much is always going on in this city.  There is so much to do at all times.  If one is careful, it can be a cheap place to live.  We like some of the neighborhoods we saw in the periphery of the city.  It is also a place where family and friends would be likely to visit.  On the other hand, it is a very exploitative place in every sense of the word.  All these billion dollar casinos weren’t built on winners.  Especially off the downtown area, the homeless and other examples of despair are ever present.  It seemed that in our Craigslist dealings whether buying or selling everyone we were dealing with was always trying to beat us.  We can hold our own in negotiations, but it seems rather ruthless here at all times.  We didn’t get a feel that there is a great sense of community in Las Vegas.  There is not a lot to rally around as a city. It seems a rather impersonal place.  The summer heat could be oppressive, but we have plans to have a smaller RV to escape to cooler climates in summers in the future.  And one big thing Vegas lacks is an ocean or a gulf.  We really enjoy the beach and the sea and there is not much sea in Vegas.  It is probably a place that we will visit rather than live in.

Click on the following link to see our pictures from Las Vegas:  https://picasaweb.google.com/116107386675555024952/LasVegas

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Taste of Detroit in Las Vegas

100_9398We found a local delicacy in Las Vegas – a Detroit food delicacy – the coney dog.  There is a hotel/casino in downtown Las Vegas that has a lot of connection to Detroit – The D.  The D was previously known as Fitzgerald's which was owned by a Detroiter named Don Barden.  Don was a Detroit entrepreneur who got in on the ground floor of cable television.  At one time the cable system in our Detroit suburb was Barden Cablevision.  He then won the cable franchise to wire the entire city of Detroit.  Don then got the casino bug and was awarded one of the franchises to build casinos in Gary, Indiana.  When Detroit was authorized to award three casino franchises for the city, Don was the highest profile bidder in the process, but wasn’t awarded one of the franchises.  Later Don came up with a very highly publicized plan to build a  billion dollar Detroit casino and theme park in partnership with Michael Jackson, if only if a fourth Detroit casino license would be issued.  That proposal that was rejected despite its huge hype.  In 2001 he bought Fitzgerald’s and became the first black casino owner in Las Vegas.

Two brothers and Detroit area industrialists bought Fitzgerald’s from Don Barden’s estate.  They remodeled it and renamed it The D.  The “D” is believed to stand for some combination of downtown, Detroit, and the nickname of one of the owners.

220px-Lafayette_And_American_Coney_IslandsNow, back to the coney dogs.  They are not a Coney Island, New York creation.  They are a creation of Greek immigrants to Michigan.  This version of the hot dog is one that employs a hot dog or mild sausage in a natural casing for a bit of a crunch when you bite into it.  It is topped with a slightly spicy beanless chili and then further topped with chopped raw sweet onions and mustard and served in a steamed warm bun.  It has been a local delicacy of Detroit since the early 1900s when a Greek immigrant started selling them on the city streets of Detroit.  He then opened a restaurant, American Coney Island.  He helped his brother immigrate into the US and his brother then opened a Coney Island right next door, Lafayette Coney Island, which used a different hot dog and chili.  Ever since there has been the ongoing battle among Detroiters as to which coney dog is the best.  And it has been the subject of many a TV food show as well.  It is to Detroit what the cheese steak wars of Gino’s and Pat’s are to Philadelphia.

Well, the Detroit-area owners of The D in Las Vegas wanted a true taste of Detroit in their casino.  They invited American Coney Island to open in their casino.  The restaurant opens right on to Fremont street our the front of The D.  You don’t have to pass into the casino to enter the restaurant.  Of course there is an entryway from the restaurant into the casino.  The Las Vegas store now sells more conies a day than the original in Detroit.  Shown below is the storefront in Las Vegas and our order of two coney dogs and a side of chili fries – a wonderful taste of Detroit in Las Vegas.


Now I am more than a bit of an aficionado of coney dogs.  My first job at the age of 15 was as a server in a coney island restaurant.  So which coney is the best – American or Lafayette?  NEITHER, it has to be Senate Coney Island the place where I worked.  They have the best no-bean chili for a coney dog I have ever eaten.  And they have multiple locations about the Detroit area.