Monday 31 July 2017

Viva Las Vegas

    In 1971 I visited Las Vegas on a road trip with a friend. It was an oasis in a massive desert then, not nearly as flamboyant and ostentatious as it is today or even in 1992 when we first visited with our kids. Cruising into Las Vegas is always an experience that’s bound to leave some sort of an impression. We waited until dark then got into the van and took a drive down the famous Las Vegas Strip because, undeniably, this town is absolutely breathtaking at night. As the Elvis song proclaims, “Viva Las Vegas turnin’ day into nighttime, turnin’ night into daytime, if you see it once you’ll never be the same again.”          

      As amazing as the neon lights of the Strip were, the area on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas known as Glitter Gulch in 1992 was the vision that most people have of this sparkling city in the desert. Every building, hotel, casino, even a McDonald’s, for a five block stretch is glowing neon. Fremont has now been isolated and enclosed so never again will we see an incredible car chase like the one in the 1971 James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever”.

      Las Vegas in the daytime is less spectacular visually but the individual hotels and casinos have a history all their own and are worthy of some exploration. In late 1945, mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and his organized crime associates came to Las Vegas to purchase the El Cortez on Fremont Street. Shortly thereafter Siegel used profits from the sale of the El Cortez to finance a two thirds share in a new venture. The project was plagued with rising construction and design costs from the start and doomed to fail. Only after an expenditure of 6 million dollars (an absolute king’s ransom in those days) did the Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino flourish. Opened on December 26, 1946, it was billed as the world’s most luxurious hotel, the first luxury hotel on The Strip.

      My favourite spot on the Strip in 1992 was still the Sands Hotel. Once owned by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes in the mid-1960s, its most famous claim to fame was a three week period in 1960 when, during the filming of “Ocean's Eleven,” they organized an event in the Copa Room called the "Summit at the Sands", where for the first time Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford performed on stage together. They would forever be known after that as the Rat Pack. They were responsible for the definition of “cool” at the time and it is that kind of history that intrigues me the most.

for more information go to

Friday 21 July 2017

I Feel Like I'm In A Real Western Movie

    You cannot visit the true west and not take a horseback ride, so a 7AM sunrise found us at the Desert High Country Stables in Tucson eagerly awaiting our first ever trail ride with the boys. We could not have dreamt a better start as the sun rose and turned the desert sky from red to orange. There was just the four of us on this ride; that in itself was rather nice so with “A Horse With No Name” playing in my mind we headed out to explore the desert flora and fauna on horseback. It was a perfect start to another picture perfect desert day.
      Because we had to return to the stables before the heat became a danger to the horses and us, we had a full day ahead of us and chose to spend it at the Old Tucson Movie Studios just west of the city. I had always been a big movie fan and particularly interested in film techniques and behind-the-scenes information so this was going to be a big deal for me. Old Tucson Studios was originally built in 1938 as a replica of 1860s Tucson for the filming of the movie “Arizona.” In 1960 the Studios were opened to the public and they grew as various production companies left something from their set on site as each film was completed. 
      As the day wore on it got hotter and hotter and by the time the first stunt show ended in the early afternoon it was a real scorcher. Many people were uncomfortable but it hit Adam very hard and he alarmingly collapsed from heat exhaustion necessitating us to rush him to the infirmary. Staffed by medics in cavalry uniforms, Matt introduced himself to Adam as he took his blood pressure. After a drink of Mountain Dew, a cold compress on the back of his neck and a bit of rest Adam recovered and we were on our way.
      Gavin was a little jealous of all the attention given Adam but I think it was mainly the fact that Adam got a sweet drink and he didn’t. Being a little nervous we spent a bit of time just relaxing in the shade and enjoying the people walking by and the various activities that unfolded around us. Old Tucson Movie Studios had a cornucopia of authentic Western dirt roads, boardwalks, rain barrels and saloons with swinging doors so this little break gave Adam a chance to stabilize.
      It was more than an enjoyable visit, it was a chance to get a feel for the culture of the Old West in an authentic (looking) setting.

for more information go to

Monday 17 July 2017

Expect the Unexpected

    I don’t know if it was the clear New Mexican skies, the fresh mountain air or some strange concoction of both but there seemed to be an inordinate number of low flying birds around. There were not flocks of them just lots of single birds flying dangerously low to the ground and totally at random so much so that in the course of about 100 miles we hit at least three of them. We heard a dull thud somewhere at the front of the van then I looked in the rear view mirror as the unfortunate flight came to an end with the avian careening off the road behind. Young Adam was laughing as he thought it rather funny each time we hit one. At first I wondered what he thought was so funny then he innocently asked, “They’re okay aren’t they Dad?” That’s when I knew I was a parent as I had to smile through my outright lying lips and say, “Yeah, they’re fine.”

      As we entered Arizona we were all feeling a bit hungry so decided to munch on some muffins that Karen had made a few days ago. It was unbearably hot in the van as we had no air conditioning and we had no water or anything else to drink and let me tell you, there is nothing like a bone dry muffin on an empty road in the desert heat. As we all struggled to swallow a mouthful of muffin that might as well have been a mouthful of sawdust I was the first one to “voice” what everyone was thinking. Turning my head to the open window on my left I took a deep breath and spit a huge spray of muffin dust out into the arid air. Laughing uproariously, the boys did the same sacrificing our great snack.

      Caution must be taken as you walk amongst the cacti for cactus needles attack relentlessly and many come equipped with a barb on the end which makes their extraction painful at best. No amount of tough denim or even thick-soled boots can escape their wrath so tread lightly my friend, as if you were walking on eggs.

      As we continued on we wound along the road passing between massive hills of cacti on either side of us and I could not help but think I was living in an old western movie. We stopped at the roadside to explore and in a barbed wire enclosed area were amazed to find that it was more than the desert cactus we had to worry about. Here, for some unexplained reason, a sign indicated caution because an unexploded mine field lay ahead. I knew we were close to the Mexican border but this was a tad extreme don’t you think?

for more information go to

Monday 10 July 2017

Go West Young Man

    When it comes to road trips, the longer the better; that’s my preference but I will concede it may not be everyone’s – you’re certainly not going to get kids attuned to that philosophy. It was October 1992 and although we had nearly three weeks allotted to this vacation we had a gargantuan distance to cover as we would be driving to Las Vegas, through the American southwest and back. If we were going to cover a lot of ground we had to get a tremendously early start so we discovered hey, there really is a 3 o’clock in the morning. Of course it was dark then, which helped because the kids were able to sleep until daylight and we were in the United States by then. We had usually headed in a southerly direction on previous trips so this was dramatically different and at about 6PM we passed the Gateway to the West, the St. Louis arch!  That was about 1000 miles from our home in Gilford and a monstrous drive for one day so we stopped just outside St. Louis.

      Although we had been to Colorado in 1990 this was our real introduction to the Wild West, the one that Gavin and Adam were familiar with thanks to Hollywood folklore. The next day after what could politely be referred to as a tediously boring drive devoid of anything remotely interesting, we reached Dodge City, Kansas, where we would begin our true quest for the West.

      Best known as the setting for the long running television series “Gunsmoke”, Dodge City lies in the southwestern quadrant of Kansas and is a testament to the Wild West. It has maintained part of its primitive downtown area as a tourist attraction. One street, a rustic wooden walkway, preserves the old west with saloons and stores surrounded by a wooden picket fence highlighted by an old steam locomotive and a wonderful old windmill. Looking through the fence was like looking through a window in time.

      As we drove away from Dodge City early the next morning we realized that it was the radio not the television that provided the best entertainment in these parts. Scattered amongst the numerous reports on the hog futures and corn prices of the day was the local news of barn dances and prison breaks. Prison breaks were hardly ever in the news at home, see, we just don’t get out enough - we need to travel more.

for more information go to

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Lake Placid in the Fall

    Upper New York State is beautiful in autumn as the sunshine turns on nature’s neon with a vibrant display of fall colour. We had been there three times before; once on our honeymoon in 1977, once with friends in 1983 and once with the boys in 1985.

      We selected a small motel on Mirror Lake, often mistaken for Lake Placid, to stay for a couple of days. There was nothing unusual about the motel but it was right on the lake and as guests we had full access to their canoes and paddleboats. This was going to result in hours of fun for us, immersed in the resplendent chromaticity.

      I was no stranger to canoeing having taken many trips in the past, but it was a new experience for Gavin and Adam. They loved the water and were thrilled to be able to paddle, although it was a bit of a stretch for Adam to reach the water from high above it sitting in the bow with me in the stern. Mirror Lake is aptly named. Its surface was like glass and the clear blue sky and brilliant autumn colours were reflected endlessly on the water. The icing on the cake was the silence broken only by our paddles slicing into the calm waters and the occasional exclamation of delight from the boys.                                              

      It is true that all good things must come to an end and when it happened to our vacations it left in its wake something very close to depression. I grovelled in it for a while then had to force myself back to reality and the knowledge that there would be other vacations and they would probably be even better as Gavin and Adam grew up and were able to do more things with us. So waffling between depression and elation (there’s a psychological disorder there isn’t there?) we left Lake Placid with a scenic drive along Highway 3. We descended out of the mountains and followed the winding road through picturesque forests and Norman Rockwell-type villages. It was about a three hour drive but it was so pretty we wished it had been longer.

      In a last ditch effort to make our time together as long and as meaningful as possible we stopped at the roadside for a picnic lunch. There were no sand dunes so the boys had to be content with climbing the rocks and jumping to the soft grass below - how fitting that this vacation should end with the boys doing what they learned to love in Cape Cod.

for more information go to