It was Cher who enticed me to make the trip to Vegas. I’d been a fan since the “I Got You Babe” days, and had it on my list to see her in concert now that she is out of retirement for the umpteenth time. When her concert was announced at Brooklyn Barclays Center early this year, with additional concerts planned in Vegas for the end of summer, I opted for the latter. I trekked across the country to visit one of my favorite cities, and pay roughly what a concert ticket in New York would have cost, give or take. I weighed the decision: hundreds of dollars for Cher in Brooklyn, or hundreds of dollars for Cher in Vegas, plus a nice little vacay. It took me all of two minutes to decide. The ticket for Cher in Vegas cost just a percentage of the New York shows, with a much better view.
I went solo which is perfectly fine for me, and highly recommended, for those who haven’t ever tried it. You may find that you enjoy coming and going as you please, choosing a fast food salad in lieu of a fancy sit down meal. Getting quiet on a trip provides introspective, chunks of time to be “in your head,” which is sometimes how the best ideas get born. It also allows one to be entirely spontaneous which is how this particular trip worked out.
The question still remained: With five days in Vegas, Cher taking up only one evening, what would I do on those other days? My first “go to” is always the internet where I googled “best excursions from Las Vegas.” From there, I got 50 or so ideas which I whittled down to about five based on cost, distance, or type of activity. I decided that two adventures, one per day and only those that were half days allowing me to sleep in, meander around Vegas, and enjoy the pool and the slots.
The first excursion was the old west bar restaurant, Pioneer Saloon, in Goodsprings, Nevada. It had it all, a checkered past, a touch of the Old West, and Hollywood glamour; it’s reportedly haunted, and offers a night sky viewing event that made the $149 price worthwhile. The ticket included a meal, one drink, and an informative astronomy lesson on a beautiful clear dark desert night. Upon arrival, bartender Paul showed me around the historic Good Springs Cafe and Pioneer Saloon. Both built in 1913, these establishments fed the miners in the area and also provided a betting man with a good card game. Unfortunately, one card game went bad around 1915, and an alleged cheater was shot. From then on, the ghostly hauntings began to emerge.
The story doesn’t end there. While enjoying a spectacular burger, fries and a mango beer, I reviewed the history of the place and specifically, the Hollywood tragedy of 1942 when Clark Gable, then known as the King in Hollywood, spent three days in this saloon drinking, waiting to hear if his wife, popular bombshell actress Carole Lombard, survived a plane crash in the nearby Nevada mountains. Gable spent three days at the saloon, on a stool that remains in his memory, waiting for recovery reports. Throughout the restaurant, visitors can read the newspaper accounts of the accident, and learn more about one of Hollywood’s most famous love stories.
And then, down came the sun, and up came just a sliver of moon which kept the desert night dark. Lou, the astronomer/hobbyist began to assemble a massive refracting telescope, the kind with mirrors that bring the planets down to earth. Lou fixated the eyepiece on the surface of the moon, Jupiter and Saturn, and as the night turned black, on star clusters, nebulas, while the occasional orbiting satellite flew by. With just our naked eyes, the Milky Way overhead seemed to float like a ribbon.
My second adventure brought me out to the desert, this time in the daytime for a wild ATV (all-terrain vehicle) ride along the sand dunes of the Mojave Desert. It was the perfect adventure to enjoy the desert views from the comfort of a Mad Max-looking vehicle and a kind of Mad Max driver, Brandon. This was a two-hour roller coaster ride up and down hills, scraping the sides of sandy trails, all at a nice giddyap speed. Rather than drive, I opted to have my own driver versus going behind the wheel since after all, I drive enough back home on scary Long Island roads, I wanted to see the sights. As I snuggled up my helmet, and Brandon got behind the wheel, I told him that I was from Brooklyn, so floor it.
The ATV maneuvered over the most difficult of rocky roads, in the slippery sand, straight up and straight down hills with amazing speed and grace. I could look around and see the majestic grey mountains in the distance. It was like being on a runaway roller coaster that seemed to never tire. This was $99 well spent!
And then, Cher at the MGM Park Theatre. A half hour late, but she’s Cher. Complaining about a sore throat, she was a big scratchy. Hit after hit, and outfit after outfit, she kept the energy up. At one time exclaimed her age, 73, and asked, “What is your granny doing tonight!” She shared a few stories of her life, being chosen to appear in the Witches of Eastwick, that Elvis was a big influence on her (hence her “Walking in Memphis” hit), and the backstory to her famous David Letterman appearance where she called him a not so nice word. (Look it up.)
The most memorable moment came about half way into the 90 minute show. The one everyone waited for. She introduced it first by saying she wasn’t so sure about doing something like this, but it had gone well in past shows. Then, the jingle jangle opening of “Babe” began, and up came a video of Sonny for the duet, “I Got You Babe.” It was sweet, she made a good choice, and it felt right. At 73, Cher owned the stage, she could do no wrong, and her husky, albeit sore throat, held its power.
So, you wonder, do I think the trip was better than a one-nighter in Brooklyn? Heck yes.
All photos: MJ Hanley-Goff