To Space and beyond

As a kid I had grown up on Tintin comics and two of the adventures deal with Tintin going to the moon . Herge had done such a magnificent job of portraying the process of space exploration that I had fallen in love with space exploration and astronomy.

Today I was browsing through various pages in search for a solution to a thorny technical problem when I landed on a video from NASA (I have no idea how I end up on pages like these , usually the videos tend to something far worse but one could do far worse than ending up with NASA videos) . Today they commemorated the anniversary of the Challenger disaster . To me it bought back memories to that fateful day where I was immersed in my homework but the rumble of the rocket taking off on TV was too much to resist and I watched in awe struck wonder as the rocket slowly lifted off amidst billowing smoke and flames so reminiscent of the Herge drawings. I was mildly envious of the astronauts who were taking off on this joy ride . I was idly wondering how funny it would be if they would repeat the last scene with Professor Cuthbert and Haddock where Haddock is given up for dead and as somebody mentions whisky, he jumps up . And then suddenly to my horror and amazement, the Challenger exploded . I remember devouring every piece of news for days on end about the Challenger and its ill fated crew . I remember even reading about the Senate hearings . None of the names in the senate investigation committee was memorable to me at the time .

A few years later . I happened to encounter a brilliant book by a Nobel Prize winning physicist . The book was called “Surely you are joking , Mr Feynman” . I fell in love with the book and idolized the man . For somebody like me whose primary drive in life seems to be an insatiable thirst for knowledge , intelligence is a highly desired attribute and  he was the epitome of intelligence . I had devoured books on Einstein , Newton , Galois , Gauss and several other intellectual giants but none seemed to be so down to earth as Richard Feynman. He was the archetype of the renaissance man if such a thing is possible in today’s world . His mantra was always simplicity before everything else . It was during my reading that I found out that he was appointed by President Reagan to investigate the Challenger disaster and while scientists were merely debating using complicated equations and simulations, Feynman showed them and to the world through a simple ice water experiment  the reason for the failure . It is also amazing to me that he did that while he himself was dying of cancer and in constant pain . But the elegance of the experiment and being shown that by a remarkable genius like Feynman that I admired so deeply, did little to explain away the horror that I felt that day, 30 years ago.

About 13 years ago , I was watching again on TV the reentry of the Columbia space shuttle back into the atmosphere and I watched a series of events unfold which bought back to the forefront of my mind,the horror of the Challenger .

We tend to hear a lot of grave and terrible news about the deaths of thousands of people and it seems to leave me jaded and indifferent . I hate to think on the lines of Stalin who claimed cynically that one death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic . That sounds downright callous and awful . But somehow the deaths of astronauts affects me deeply and it is for the simple reason that they are risking their very lives for the sake of science , for the sake of humanity , for the sake of the greater good . When I hear the term, the greater good, I usually cringe but this time I cannot help but believe that this is what these brave men and women are doing. They undergo long periods of isolation away from their families and countless hardships and at times pay the ultimate price so that the process of furthering the cause of humanity continues, for you , for me , for every one of us.

A minute of silent respect to remember and commemorate these heroes .

The Challenger crew

The Columbia crew

 

 

Accents

On these cold mornings when I get into my shower , the metal bathtub threatens my feet with frostbite . If my toes could be be covered with chocolate , you would probably have your friendly neighborhood polar bear singing “What would you do for a Klondike …” . It is probably a practical joke designed by the builders that while I am still focused on rescuing my poor piggly wigglies ,  the scalding shower hits my face with a vengeance and in no time renders it “meat falling off the bone , tender” . Reminds me of a quote that my erstwhile relatives in Tennessee  used after a barbecue , “Fingerr lickin good” in their rich southern accent . Mind you my situation is not an invitation for anybody to bring out the barbecue sauce .

For reasons that are inexplicable to me  , I love listening to accents . My mother’s family was from the deep south in India so when they spoke English , they spoke English the way they spoke Tamil which is a musical language but it generally seems to compete for the Land speed record . I would scornfully remind my uncles that they could not introduce accents into English , they pointedly informed me that I need to speak English first before I could correct their accent .

Accents around Pune where I grew up , seemed to again follow the local lingo , it was much more lazier and people seemed to drawl and drag . I had a few fracas with class mates who did not seem to understand my well meaning attempts to correct their defective accent .In spite of valiant efforts at the pugilistic arts , I ended up with dust in my mouth and I learned quickly that accents are not to be corrected . I also started learning that people tend to speak the second , third and successive languages in the same tempo as the first unless they make a valiant effort to change or in the case of English watch enough shows to rectify whatever defects geography may have imposed.

In my late teens , I had an interesting conversation with my Gujarati neighbor who ran a spice shop. We bought some masala(spice mix) and I suppose he knew that I could speak English and perhaps he decided to practice it with me at the spur of the moment . So he says

“You want to rape it”

These were the days when my innocence had not been defiled with the cruder knowledge of life . I looked puzzled , my eyes writ large in partial surprise and partial curiosity.

So he repeats , “Rape it. Rape it” , but this time he gesticulates and makes a wrapping motion . Probably means Wrap it so I politely nod my head and not surprisingly he did wrap it in paper.

They still like to speak English with me especially these days since I have come from “Phoren”(foreign) , on my last visit , the lady of the house whom I call aunty says “Come son , have some snakes” . I am fairly adventurous but I had a hard time believing that aunty has started cooking snakes , this time aunty’s daughter who is in college comes by and clarifies “Dont worry uncle , she means snacks”

In my early twenties I moved to Singapore and was I in for a surprise , I believe it may have taken me a good week to acclimatize myself to their English and their peculiar affliction for adding “la” to every sentence . They also speak so as to compete for the land speed record so I had to undergo quite a bit of aural re-training before I could start understanding them without asking them to repeat time and again. Though as far as “la” goes,  I am yet to figure out if “la” means friend “Let us go to lunch, la”or if it is a question “Can anybody think of doing this , la?” . It seems to have the same versatility as my personal favorite 4 letter unprintable … . Well maybe not.  It took me almost 6 months after coming back from Singapore to drop the “la” .

Just like you have varying accents of English  in India , I found out that there are varying accents across the United States . I have never had trouble understanding English in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania but I was in for a rude shock when I went down south . My first interaction with one of my ex-brother in laws was as follows

“Where are yer from?”

“India”

“Where is dat?”

“in Asia”

After that he lost interest in my geographical origins and decided to focus on the food . It was Thanksgiving and though there was a very large handsome bird on the table , I was devouring the country ham . Country ham is cured with salt and hung out to dry. The taste reminded me of fish that was cured with salt and dried in the sun in the western parts of India .

He looked at me appreciatively and told me

“burst ham you put in yer mouth. granny-slappin’ good”

I nodded appreciatively , my mouth too full to give way to the emotions that were evoked deep inside of me . Though I did wonder if one is supposed to slap the granny to let her know how much we appreciated it.

He turns to be my ex-wife and says “he about as happy as a puppy with two peckers, keep eating like that and you will have to get em a new pair of britches”

Turns back to me and says

“Eatir earl that and yer will have er squealing liker a pig”

I probably had the same look that the first Congo native had when Dr Livingstone asked him if he spoke English.

So my ex wife graciously translated it for me and everybody in the room guffawed . I realized the sexual connotation much later. After that he spoke in rapid fire Tennessean for the next 30 minutes and it would be interspersed with “squealer liker a pig” at which point, I would guffaw or chuckle depending on what the audience around me did. Till date , I don’t have the faintest clue what he said. And over the years , I encountered him several times and still had no clue as to what he was saying but it would always be interjected with “squealer liker a pig”

Another brother in law had this advice for me “You speak like a yankee . We dont like that, them uppity folks. We dont want our young uns speaking like dem yankees.”

Perhaps it was this exposure that led me to have a soft corner for the southern accent . One of my favorite movies is “O brother, Where art thou?” . I could come up with half a dozen reasons off the bat why I like it so much including the Coen brothers ,  it is inspired by the Odyssey , it is a musical of sorts , that it has John Goodman (any collaboration of the Coen brothers and John Goodman is a must watch) , the delicious humor of Clooney and brilliant foils by John Turturro . But all of that in a delightful southern setting of the 30s was a movie that deserves to be devoured and devoured again.

Lot of movies that I tend to have enjoy focus on accents as the Departed with their Boston accents , Snatch with the different English as well as the Pikey accent by Brad Pitt , Fried Green tomatoes with their southern accents, Fargo with the Minnesota accent , the Usual Suspects and the majority of Martin Scorcese’s Gangstah movies which have New York accent. Matthew Mcconaughey is an awesome actor but for me his most memorable roles tend to be the ones where he plays a southerner like in the Dallas Buyer Club, Mud , True Detective, Fraility . Robert De Niro is an amazing actor but his best roles for me are where he reprises his native New York accent . Cape fear where he tries to play a southerner was not very impressive in spite of the fact that Cape Fear was a Martin Scorcese movie copied from the brilliantly scary original with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck . Perhaps one of the few actors who could pull off any possible accent was Peter Sellers as he shows in “Dr Strangelove” as well as in “Lolita” and in “The Party” when he parodies the Indian accent quite brilliantly . Another accent chameleon is Kevin Spacey . I have always found it comical that Sean Connery got an Oscar for playing an Irish cop with a thick Scottish accent in the Untouchables . An Irish co-worker informed me rather disdainfully that in parts of Belfast, that could mean the difference between life and death after I made a offhand comment that they are so close that it did not matter .

Then I was in New England , specifically in Boston  and it took me a little while to get used to the fact that they have reinvented the English alphabet to have only 25 letters . I have no idea what drove this need for economy but in their vocabulary,  the letter R does not exist . My instructor in Boston started talking about the parks in Boston when we asked about travelling around the city,  “We are poud of  ouh Pahks and since it is getting to be nice weatha , you should go have  fun but be cahful and pahk the cah close to the cammons so you can leave quickly . The rhed sahks have a game tonight ” .(We are proud of our parks and since it is going to be nice weather, you should go have fun but be careful and park the car close to the commons so you can leave early. The Red Sox have a game tonight)

I am exaggerating for effect but you get the idea .

 

This young man must have had the same idea as me and he is fairly talented and funny.

2015 : In Memoriam with Gratitude

All my fellow bloggers around me are blogging away about the year that was and so on and so forth and I am suddenly mildly envious , as mild as a skunk in heat. Bereft of eyes at the back of my head like Janus  as referenced by my fellow blogger Bun Karyodo and blessed with a memory that is suspiciously like Guy Pearce’s memory in Memento . (I wonder if I had met Christopher Nolan and inspired him but I don’t remember) . I realized that while I have a zillion things to be celebrate this year (don’t ask what those zillion things are , remember Guy Pearce’s memory) , the one that I am truly grateful for is the blogging buddies that I have managed to make this  year.

My good friend Tejaswini started her own blog , The Baba Yaga Project and inspired me to start along as well  , for which I will always be grateful . She is very creative and has a incredibly lengthy (and diverse) list of interests . My favorites tend to be the times when she marries mythology to the modern world which she seems to do effortlessly.

Years ago I used to read P.G.Wodehouse and occasionally when I get time, I still do . Another humorous author that I like is Damon Runyon . He is the author of the original story of “Guys and Dolls” , the brilliant broadway musical by  Abe Burrows and  Jo Swerling. Bun Karyodo carries on those proud traditions with aplomb and his own original wit . He is an incredible comic .  I cannot recommend him enough for anybody who wants to liven up their day with a good laugh

SirenLost has a lovely blog that she calls Love Letters Lost at Sea . She has a incredibly rich and poetic imagination that she exploits and utilizes to the hilt . Her poetry is simply exquisite and prolific

Another poetess is Ms Book Thief . Words fail me when I try to describe her poetry, rich in emotion and imagination , one simply has to partake of this rich feast that she shares with us.

I recently got acquainted with Tosha Michelle and have been reading her poetry as well . Her poetry is vivid and evocative and something that strikes me as easily translatable into songs. I suppose that is deliberate. She has a wide variety of interests including playing music and has also published books that are available to buy on Amazon.

Years ago , I had read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point where he talks about Mavens and connectors . We have all heard of 6 degrees of separation but when we dig further , we find that those connections tend to go through some of the same people . In network parlance these people would be the routers and switches  in human terms that connector is called a Maven. I believe my fellow blogger the Lonely Author is probably the greatest Maven on WordPress . I believe eventually everybody on WordPress will have two degrees of separation and that everybody is connected to everybody else via The Lonely Author . While he has a rich imagination and I truly enjoy his posts  ,he is also incredibly generous with his time as I have experienced several times. His Devil Girl posts are legion and while he claims that every man has his one devil girl, I am still waiting for mine so that I can have my own Devil Girl posts.

I recently discovered Miss Gentileschi and her wonderful works of art . I have always had a desire for working with my hands but the keyboard is about the only instrument that I have managed to master . It is incredible for me to watch her works of art come to life .

I have always loved travelling and I have been incredibly lucky to have the opportunities that I have had . But the list of places to see is long and the more I read  , the list tends to grow longer while time seems to be ticking away at the same rate . My fellow bloggers Marion,  panhirsch and Pernnille Oberg are avid travelers and I am lucky to live vicariously through their incredible pictures . Thanks to their generosity for sharing it with the rest of us .

Taxi Cab Confessions

Several years ago when I was in Boston  and my company had rented us a Towncar . The chauffeur who came to pick us up at the airport  said to us very graciously “Welcome to Bastah , Please get in the Kaah” . I was baffled and about to inform the very nice man that I am not into that kind of thing when he opened the door for us . I peeked in cautiously and then entered expecting the “Kaah” to spring up from behind one of the seat cushions . It was about a week later that I realized that he had meant “Get in the car!!! ”

Not too long ago , I got stuck at work working late and missed the shuttle and I was forced to get a cab to get back to my car . It was rather late at night and while I am usually fearless with regards to the issues that seem to beset attractive young women (Primarily because I do not fall into that particular collective) , I was a little nervous when I got into this particular cab . It reeked of alcohol , stale cigarette smoke and a ripe body odor that may have been too ripe 3 days ago . I wondered if he knew that we live in a  miraculous age that is rife with remarkable inventions such as soap , deodorant and air fresheners .The taxi driver started the conversation with

“Where are you going sir” in the very familiar California (supposedly accent less ) accent .

For reasons that are inexplicable even to me , familiar accents put me at ease . When I am in Bombay and I can hear the familiar Marathi accent in taxi driver’s  attempt to speak Hindi  , I breathe a lot easier but that has not stopped me from getting swindled every single time when I get into a taxi in Bombay but familiar accents do put me at ease.

After I told him where I was headed ,it was followed by some silence

“Are you from India?”

“yes, I am originally from India”

“Do you like Indian food”

I find that to be an interesting question  but I politely nod . He proceeded to tell me about all the Indian restaurants that he frequents in the Bay area . I proceed to tell him about the Pakistani restaurants . It has been my experience that most Americans seem to prefer the north Indian meat dishes which the Pakistani restaurants tend to excel in .This is followed by more silence

“Well I am from around there as well ”

“From India ?”

“No , I am from Afghanistan”

Fremont , CA has the world’s largest population of Afghans outside of Afghanistan so it is not much of a stretch.

“Did you come here after the Soviet invasion ?” I was showing off my knowledge of history.

“Yes , I have been here since 1980 , came here as a kid and went to school here” . I was a mite disappointed by the complete lack of acknowledgement of my knowledge of history of his country so I coldly and politely said “Thats nice” . This was followed by more silence and just as I was ready to dive into my iPhone and start checking my messages , I was interrupted again

“But after 9/11 I had a religious awakening and decided to go back to Afghanistan and decided to help rebuild my country”

At this point , I started wondering if I could jump out but jumping out at 65 miles per hour onto a highway where more cars are following at 65 miles an hour is almost always a bad idea unless you are dressed up as the Michelin man, then I toyed with the idea of calling 911 and in the manner of Matt Damon in “The Departed” , I started dialing the numbers inside my coat pocket but woe betide me , it dialed 511 which is the number to get transit information and in my fumbling attempts , I had managed to turn on the speaker phone and the loud voice on the other end demanded that I put in my bus # or stop ID. I looked in the rear view mirror and caught him looking at me curiously. I grinned sheepishly and pulled out my phone and cut it off . He continued with his story

“From 2002 through 2014 , I stayed in Afghanistan. That is where I met my wife . It was important for me to marry an Afghan woman . We have two sons . Are you married?”

“Divorced”

“Was your wife from India too”

“No, she was from Tennessee ”

“Well you should have married an Indian girl . Indian girls are very pretty.”

I was wondering if I needed to called the department of Homeland security and more importantly how do I do it unobtrusively .

“Hamid Karzai is a good friend of mine”

Even to somebody like me who is allergic to news , Hamid Karzai is a familiar name . I knew that Karzai was the first president of  Afghanistan after the coalition forces routed the Taliban.

“I am also a good friend of ….”

I could not catch the name so I queried

“Who is that?”

“He was recently elected president , he is still forming his cabinet. I decided to bring my wife and children to America , have them see the United States before we go back. ”

“I see ”

This conversation reminded me of a funny quote that my friend, Mike likes to use “the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs”. Mike spent the better part of his life working as the administrator for various cities , a stressful job with high impact . Mike is succinct but very insightful and sarcastic beyond belief .

But getting back to my interesting cab driver…

“I am sure that he will offer me a cabinet post before too long and when that happens , I am heading back”

“That’s awesome”

Now I am wondering if I should be calling the Department of Homeland security or the nearest psychiatric facility.

“This taxi job is just a temporary jaunt to keep me from getting bored  and meet interesting people”

I wanted to inform him that my life was not nearly as interesting as his life but I figured I better stop him couple of blocks away from my car and it must have been obvious enough that he looked surprised and offered to drive me to my car , I declined politely and tipped him handsomely . The tip was an insurance of sorts , in case he is truly linked to that cabinet post then he might remember me as the generous patron and then maybe I would be on easy street ; on the other hand if he was a loony like what I am inclined to believe, better to keep him in good spirits and what better way to ensure that . I am sure that he would spend that extra tip to buy good spirits like cheap vodka and rum which should put him in good spirits and hopefully completely forget me. I waited till he was out of sight before I proceeded towards my car , looking over my shoulder

Yesterday I managed to get myself into a situation where I needed a cab again . The cab was a tiny Toyota Prius and I got in and saw the cab driver , Yuri . A big burly man reminiscent of Grigor Clegane “The mountain” from the Game of Thrones TV show, he was probably big enough to eat me for a midnight snack and not even burp. He greeted me

“How are you, my friend” , in a overly cheerful hearty Russian accent

I was soaking wet and was being a sour puss so I remarked a mite glumly

“So so”

“Why you say so so ” , queried an incredulous Yuri

“Well look outside”

It was raining in drought stricken California and I should have been grateful but I was being an ungrateful sour puss.

Yuri turns to me while he is still driving , given his bulk and the volume of the Toyota Prius , it was a feat that deserved an entry in the Guinness world of Book records or some such thing. He looks me in the eye and then grabs his crotch . I looked aghast while he continued unperturbed

“When you wake up , you grab yourself like this and ask , does it work”

“Does what work” . I asked puzzled . What can I say , I am slow

He grabs his crotch again and says “This”

I laughed and answered  “Ok”

“Then you ask yourself if your legs work ”

“Ok”

“Then you ask yourself if you have a job”

“Ok”

“If this works (he grabs the crotch again) and your legs work and you have a job to go to ,then you are having a great day, my friend”

I had to laugh .

“So where are you from ? Russia”

“Ukraine , do you know where Ukraine is”

“Yes , I have been reading up on Mr Putin’s antics and it is annoying”

“You know why that happen”

“No” , I have a sneaking feeling what is coming. Me and my big mouth!!

“If we had a strong president, then Putin would not have the balls to do this . Putin is a rich man. Russia is corrupt , just like India. Everybody pay and when they pay, they pay Putin.America needs to stop this. Brother is killing brother there”

I avoid politics like the plague , well actually I avoid politics as much as I avoid religion so I ask him if he has been here long.

He is undaunted by my attempt to change the topic

“Do you know that Ukraine is older than most of Europe . The ancient Christian religions all come from Kiev and Yaarusalem.”

I guess that he is referring to the Eastern Orthodox church.

I attempt again . “Do you have any recommendations for good Russian restaurants around here?”

“No good Russian restaurants in America, good Russian restaurants can only be found in Russia . In Russia people go to restaurants to eat , drink , dance and be merry . In America , you eat in restaurant and go home . No Fun!!” , he is very emphatic

Then he softens “Go to Samovar, that is good restaurant. But it is in San Francisco”

Before I can ask him as to what I should get at Samovar , he looks at me and sizes me up .

“You come from south India. Like Bangalore”

I am not from Bangalore but that was close enough , especially considering that he was from Ukraine. I know nothing of Ukraine except Kiev and Chernobyl so needless to say I was dumbfounded , most Indians would never be able to pin point that I am originally from the south just based on my looks.

I nodded , we had reached my destination . I thanked him and got out and he looks at me in the eye again and says “Remember” and grabs his crotch.

Viva Las Vegas

Untitled My first encounter with Las Vegas was the classic Mafia novel  “The Godfather” when I was 15 . I fell in love with the book , the characters and the places that were depicted in the book ,wandering through the villages of Sicily ,the streets of Brooklyn and Long Island and lastly but certainly not least Las Vegas . Las Vegas is probably the only place on earth which revels in its appetite for sin so much so that its nick name is Sin City and is proudly displayed everywhere . I have never taken  a census but I imagine it has more casinos , restaurants and options for entertainments than anywhere else that I have seen or read about. This last trip to Vegas was several firsts for me , first time that I had come to Vegas on a work trip , it was also the first time that I came to Vegas being single . What on earth would a married couple want to do in Vegas ? in Sin city?  Well interestingly Vegas has tons of entertainment options for normal married couples who are not gamblers . Every celebrity chef has a restaurant in Las Vegas , we saw restaurants owned by Bobby Flay , Wolfgang Puck  , Emeril , Giada De Laurentiis, Gordon Ramsay , Thomas Keller’s Bouchon … there are only 3 other locations for the Bouchon, one across from Central Park in New York, one in Beverly Hills and one in Napa but luckily for tourists in Las Vegas there was one in the basement at the Venetian . The macaroons at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon are literally to die for . On Paradise Rd is a Japanese restaurant called Musasashi Japanese Steakhouse presumably named after the author of the “Book of 5 rings” . The food is Hibachi style or Teppanyaki depending on your choice . But the draw for me was that he actually serves Japanese Kobe . It is hideously expensive but it is the most delicious piece of meat that I have ever tasted.

And every casino has multiple shows , rich in variety; stand up comedies, Cirque , Magic , you name it . The Cirque du soleil probably had a different show at each casino , some I was astounded to see were still playing since my last trip in 2011. David Copperfield is a regular at the MGM and every time that I have tried to see it, the tickets are sold out , and if you have a strong stomach then the duo of Penn and Teller is a must watch .Jerry Seinfeld is a regular at Caesar’s palace .

I walked down the strip , slowly admiring the buildings . The strip has a unspeakable hold on me Untitled

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The Casinos have themes that they stay faithful to throughout the casino. The Luxor is filled with Egyptian memorabilia , New York New York has miniatures of the Chrysler building , 30 Rock and so on . Paris has the Eiffel tower . Bellagio has italian artifacts . The Venetian has a mini canal inside and sculptures of Machiavelli and other notables from Venice  .

These are the world famous musical fountains at the Bellagio

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Also at the Bellagio is this magnificent ceiling sculpture of over 2,000 hand-blown flowers by glass artist Dale Chihuly 

At the end of the strip is the Stratosphere which probably has the scariest roller coasters in the world . Scary because they are mounted on top of the building and the rides consists of going off the side of the building and coming to a sudden stop 30+ feet from the edge of the building looking 300m straight down

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The top shot shown above is the tallest thrill ride in the world

This is the view of old Vegas from the top of the Stratosphere

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The stories that I have always heard is that at the casinos , drinks are cheap and so is the food . I don’t gamble so I have never experienced it but I have checked out the buffet sections at every casino and they are extremely reasonably priced and yet the selection is mind boggling and will cater to every possible taste and needs.

Las Vegas is one of the last places in the US where smoking is allowed indoors . So walking into a casino , one is hit with the smell of cheap air fresheners that the casinos  use to get rid of the stench of stale cigarette smoke . It always looks like night time inside a casino , they are carefully engineered to keep all daylight out , presumably to help people drink more alcohol so that they can make judgement impaired decisions , the pretty cocktail waitresses with skimpy dresses exaggerate the above mentioned effect.

We then move on to Fremont St in the old downtown

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Fremont St is the old downtown in Vegas before they decided to create the “strip” . This is where Bugsy Siegel came in and helped create a city in the desert . The old downtown looks rundown in places or perhaps that is an effect that they try hard to maintain . Accentuate the disparity between the old and the new . But Fremont St does have some really cool attractions such as the world’s largest video screen and open air bars and bands playing out in the open , various entertainers performing strange acts on the streets.

Vegas is one of the few cities that has Machine Gun ranges and the variety of guns is mind boggling . They also had some amazing handguns most notably the Desert Eagle which apparently is familiar to gamers . I saw a reference to it in one of my favorite movies “Snatch”, it is amazingly loud for a hand gun and packs a punch. One can even fire the M249 (The Saw) here .With the exception of the Uzi , all the other guns were American , Russian and German. The range that I tried out was called the Gun Garage and they had awesome Groupon deals.

On this last trip , I stayed at the Luxor which has the permanent exhibition of Bodies and Titanic . Bodies was a magnificent experience . It has real cadavers that are sliced and displayed in several different views . The human circulatory system was a delight to see , they had actually used chemicals to harden the arteries , veins and capillaries in a cadaver and then chemically removed the muscles and skins . Viewing the whole body as a web of intricate interconnected parts was an eye opener and I could not help but think that something like this in school might have sparked a greater interest in Biology but that might just be an elaborate excuse for my laziness. Some of the exhibits does require some caution especially the fetuses in various stages of development and they have clearly marked the path so that if one was to be offended then they could skip it. If Bodies happens to be in your neck of the woods , then I highly recommend that you do pay a visit.

The Titanic was interesting as well , I gained a new appreciation for the research that James Cameron would have done researching the Titanic to come up with the details that he did in the movie .  I was sorely disappointed when I came to the main deck and could not find Rose and Jack!!!

The folks in Vegas have a sense of humor , I was eating lunch at a small Mexican restaurant on Paradise Ave and I caught sight of this mural and had to take a snap

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The food was exceptionally delicious and I did feel some religion coming onto me after the meal

Long time ago, I read the Geek Atlas which is 128 places for a geek to visit , one of those is the Atomic testing museum in Las Vegas . Nevada was the testing site for thermonuclear weapons and the museums lists pictures , some interesting memorabilia . It is a must visit for every geek.

Not too far from Vegas is Lake Havasu city which houses the famous London Bridge from the beloved nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down”

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The story goes that a Real Estate developer imported the London Bridge that was going to be demolished . Every brick was labelled and the bridge restored in Lake Havasu city. The road system was designed by the designer who designed Disneyland . Take it from me that it is not nearly as much fun as Disneyland

This is the entrance to the London Bridge

London Bridge 001

And the surface

London Bridge 007

 

Also close to Vegas is the famous Hoover Dam on the Colorado river

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and the enormous man made Mead Lake
Lake Mead 006 Lake Mead 007

One can also see the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge that allows people to bypass the Hoover dam .

Pat Tillman Bridge 006
We all have the rubber necking desire to stare out at the Hoover dam but nobody wants to stop , the net effect is that everybody is slowed down . The government wisely decided to put up the bridge that US-93 now runs on. It is proudly displayed on the bridge that the pitons that were used to drive the foundation of the bridge utilized the same technologies that were utilized while building the Hoover dam in the 30s. A testament to physics that has stood the test of time.

The western rim of the Grand Canyon is a close drive . You can see the skywalk in the picture , it is called the skywalk because the floor is glass  and we can see straight down a mile or so. The glass is tempered to hold the weight of 10 elephants and since Elephants are not allowed on the skywalk , it are safe for us to venture out . They do not allow cameras on the skywalk , not for safety reasons but so that they can charge $40 for a picture but it is well worth it .

Skywalk 014

One can also see the Colorado from the rim

Skywalk 059

So next time you suggest Las Vegas to somebody and they retort with a scornful “Lost Wages!!! Never” , you can remind them of the zillion other things that are available for the rest of us.