A Travellerspoint blog

JIM COLYER RETURNS TO LAS VEGAS

Jim Colyer does the showgirl thing

I returned to Las Vegas for 3 months, March 7 to June 8, 1993, with the intention of adding to the experience I had in 1979. I dug in at the Tropicana Club at the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard. I relied on the strip trolly for transportation up and down the Strip. I wanted to hang out. Bill Clinton was America's new president, and we were going through a 70s revival. It was an opportune moment for escaping my parents' basement, where I had held up for more than 7 years, and a chance to fend for myself, to procure my own food and to handle my own clothes. Basics. I flew into McCarran Airport from Minnesota, my first flight in 15 years. Las Vegas was the same in many ways, and in some ways it had changed. The Ali Baba Apartments were torn down to make room for the MGM theme park. The Granada Inn was for sale, and the Treasury was now the San Remo. The Dunes was coming down, and the old MGM Grand was now Bally's. Las Vegas, or the Meadows, is still the entertainment capital of the world. The Strip itself is a work of art . Unfortunately, the wind, heat, crowds, traffic and noise ensure that it is partially heaven, partially hell. You pump up the things you like, economize and get the best deals. I finally saw rain.

The castle Excalibur was the big attraction. It exploits a medieval motif, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table from the early middle ages, Robin Hood from the latter. I patronized restaurants in the Medieval Village on the second level. A belly dancer did her thing. The Excalibur, Luxor, Tropicana and the new MGM Grand are forming a second hot corner. Circus Circus owns the Excalibur and the Luxor. The trend is toward family orientation.

Downtown, the Golden Goose Casino is now a topless joint but the sign is still there, an historic fixture on the Glitter Gulch landscape. The sign faces both directions. Above it, revolves the goose figure on its nest of golden eggs. Cowboy Vegas Vic and cowgirl Sassy Sally patrol adjacent sides of the street. On down, Union Plaza sits next to the Greyhound Bus station.

Caesar's Palace is still hard to top. The Forum Shops at Caesar's price themselves into the luxury class. The 18 foot replica of Michelangelo's David (of David and Goliath) presides over Appian Way as the Italian Renasiiance imposes itself on the Roman Empire. I ventured into the pool area behind Caesar's for the first time, beautiful under a moonlit sky. Next door, the Mirage shows off its erupting volcano and its white tigers. I have to say the casinos are awful. Men at the tables, women on the machines. Expressionless. Zombies. One must refrain from drinking and gambling if he is to enjoy Las Vegas. I did. The Fashion Show Mall offers the best shopping on the Strip.

I realized it was the production shows which interested me, most specifically the leggy, statuesque dancers and showgirls. Bally's Jubilee! was the hot ticket. It was the biggest show on the Strip and had the best showgirls. I took Jubilee's backstage tour but was disappointed to have a male dancer as a guide instead of a sexy showgirl. Still, I gained insight. One thing which impressed me was the size of the stage. From the stage, the seating area appeared small. Jubilee! is a dinosaur, a glamorous throwback to musicals of yesterday. It is a composite of Vaudeville, Broadway and classic Hollywood. It boasts of its nightly sinking of the Titanic, but the thrill is seeing all those long, shapely legs assembled in one place at one time. 100 people make up the cast with 100 more behind the scenes. The show is so lavish it leaves you dazed. I got my revenge for the backstage tour when that same male dancer took a picture of me with one of the girls. Free photo sessions are between shows. Some of the girls are 6'2" and 6'3"

I saw Folies Bergere (Ber-share) at the Tropicana even though I did not plan to. Karen and I saw the show in 1979. This time, I took the backstage tour which was led by a former showgirl of 20 years. She may have been part of the show we saw 14 years before. It was interesting to get behind the scenes, especially into the dressing rooms to see and handle the costumes. Some of them are heavy, so the girls have to be pretty sturdy. I lingered a few moments to talk to the showgirl. I asked if there were a pension plan for those who stayed 20 years. She said no, but they were nice and had given her a job. Folies Bergere was the oldest show in Vegas, going back to 1959.

Bare Essence at the Sands was comparable in longevity. Bare Essence was unemcumbered by European tradition and lived up to its billing as a "sexy, sizzling revue."

The Stardust had Enter the Night. It was emblematic of the darkness which pervaded my entire trip.

Melinda, First Lady of Magic, was a native Las Vegan. Using animals, she performd feats of illusion between spicy dance numbers. Her show was at the Lady Luck, downtown. All the shows give a sense of euphoria.

For Crazy Girls, the showroom at the Riviera provided an intimacy some of the others did not. I suppose my feeling of being hustled in and out derived from wanting to take some splendid calves and thighs home with me.

I made it to Arizona Charlie's for the Naughty Ladies review. It was good, old timey fun, high button shoes. For the finale, we paraded to "When The Saints Go Marching In."

Seduction and Viva Las Vegas were afternoon shows. Seduction was in Sahara's Casbar Lounge. It was back to the Sands for Viva Las Vegas.

The Elvis impersonator at Vegas World put on a complimentary show. He called himself E.P. King. I looked down on the city from the top of Vegas World.

Beatle tribute bands were at the Rio and the Four Queens. A promo ticket gave me access to Imperial Palace's antique cars.

I was scared of Death Valley in 1979. This time, I took the Silver Star Line tour. I rode shotgun in the van as we made stops at Dante's View and the Devil's Golf Course. The "golf course" is a dried lake where salt is from 3 to 5 feet deep. I tasted it. Death Valley sits on the Nevada-California line but is mostly in California.

Borax mined from Death Valley is a mineral used in soap. The 105 elements of chemistry make up the 3000 minerals of geology. Minerals form 3 kinds of rocks: igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary.

Fossils are found in sedimentary rocks, laid down by water.

I took a taxi ride on the Colorado River in Laughlin, 90 miles southeast of Vegas.

Returning to Louisville in order to rendevous with Michael, I came east on I-40, old Route 66: Kingman, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Memphis and Nashville.

I realized the strip is a short-lived thing, like the Mall in D.C. The only reason to see it again will be to show it to Michael as part of a western trip.
Contact: jim@jimcolyer.com
JIM COLYER

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JIM COLYER IN MINNESOTA

Jim and Michael Colyer climb Barn Bluff.

In March, 1993, I visited Michael in Red Wing, Minnesota, where he and Karen were living. Minnesota and Wisconsin became the 38th and 39th states I had been in. Of course, my purpose was to spend time with my son, not to grind out another paper. In Red Wing, we bowled, saw a movie and went down to the Mississippi River. I then flew down to Las Vegas.

I returned to Minnesota in August, 1994. Michael and I saw The New York Yankees play The Minnesota Twins at The Metrodome in Minneapolis. We moved from the third baseline to behind home plate around to center field. It was blue seats and green artificial turf. The Twins won. We saw Yankees Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Paul O'Neill and Jim Leyritz. I bought Michael a Yankees cap.

In Red Wing, we climbed Barn Bluff to looked down on the town. Red Wing was celebrating River City Days.

There is a Scandinavian, Viking influence out through here because it is where the Swedish emigrants ended up in the 1850s. The farms are immaculate.

Michael showed me his school, Jefferson Elementary.

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NATCHEZ TRACE

Jim and Michael Colyer in Tupelo, Mississippi

On my 39th birthday, Karen, Michael and I drove down Natchez Trace to Tupelo, Mississippi. In the 1800s, men walked up this trail after sailing flatboats down the Mississippi River. Along the Trace, we saw Indian Mounds and the burial site of Meriwether Lewis, the great trailblazer. Once in Tupelo, we visited Elvis Presley's birthplace. Natchez Trace is a project of the National Park Service and is remarkably free of commercialism. It makes for a pleasant drive.

The trip reminded me of other excursions we had made. The Land Between the Lakes is run by TVA. The road beween them is also called The Trace. The two lakes are Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. They are formed by the damming of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Both rivers dump into the Ohio.

Cairo, Illinois is where the Ohio meets the Mississippi. Down around this area, we saw the archeological site of the so-called Mississippi Man. This burial ground is 1,000 years old.

Karen and I took in the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park, Stones River Battlefield in Murfreesboro and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River near Clarksville. Even Fort Campbell on the state line. We went to Mammoth Cave in 1980, to Jonesboro in 1981 and '82.

In 1982, we went to the World's Fair in Knoxville but left early in favor of the zoo.

The late 1970s and early 1980s was a time of travel for me. In retrospect, I seemed to roam the country at will seeing places I only dreamed of until my 30s. There were long trips west and short ones in and around Tennessee. I started alone. Then it was me and Karen. After Michael was born, things changed. We had a baby to raise. Nor did it make sense to return to places we had seen at lower prices. To this day, Karen says we had good times.

Contact: jim@jimcolyer.com
JIM COLYER

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BIG BONE LICK & TEXAS

Jim Colyer does the fossil thing.

Charlotte and I went to Big Bone Lick State Park near Florence, Kentucky. The site was once a salt lick, and fossils of many Pleistocene mammals such as mammoths and mastodons have been found. The park sits near the Ohio River, the southern most boundery of glaciation during the Ice Age.

Coming back 42, I again viewed the Ohio from Butler State Park in Carrollton. This was the third time I had been there in 10 years. The second time was with Karen.

Charlotte and I made a trip to My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown to see the Stephen Foster Story.

January, 1986 - Texas

Chester and I made a Grand Tour of Texas during the state's Sesquicentennial. We unloaded the truck near Graceland in Memphis. It was cold. It was night, and Graceland was lit up.

The Space Shuttle Challenger was the major news story. Following the Red River Valley, we first heard of the Shuttle explosion in Burkburnette. I was sitting in the truck. As soon as it came on the radio, I sensed something was wrong.

It was on to Fort Worth, down I-35 to Waco, Austin and San Antonio. We took I-10 over to Houston, a very tall town. In Houston, there was great sympathy for the Shuttle crew.

Summer, 1985 - On truck with Chester

We circled Chicago and came within 5 miles of Wisconsin. We crossed Michigan to Detroit.

A second trip took us through Harrisburg and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, then across lower state New York, my 6th time in that state.

I was going through a divorce in what I later referred to as the "summer of hell." I was out gallivanting across the country when I should have been taking care of my son. But I had lost control. It would be awhile before I regained it and when I did, things would be different.
Contact: jim@jimcolyer.com
JIM COLYER

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JIM COLYER IN STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

Jim Colyer takes Stockholm by a storm.

I flew to Stockholm, May 12, 1994. I got Swedish crowns at JFK in New York, one dollar buying between 7 and 8 crowns. We flew over Iceland and Norway to arrive at Arlanda airport the following morning. The time difference was 6 hours. I noticed on the map how Sweden is shaped like California.

A city bus took me from Arlanda to the heart of town. Late in the day, I found a room in a private home for 120 crowns a night. My address was: c/o Alice Macksey, Sibyllegatan 7, 11451 Stockholm, Sweden. Gatan means street. I was lucky to find this place.

I brought $5000, $4000 of which were in traveller's checks. There was an American Express Travel Service on the other side of King's Theater where Hamngatan began.

I came light: passport, traveller's checks and plane tickets in my coat pocket. Everything else was in one shoulder bag. Necessities could be gotten there. But Stockholm is expensive. It was important to control my money, getting the best deals.

The main thing was to enjoy the trip. Coming in with a sketch helped. I needed an idea of why I was there and what I meant to do. When you think of going to Europe, you want to feel like you have some purpose and are in control. You don't want to be swallowed up by history and culture. ABBA was my reason for being there. The original plan was to wait for Benny & Bjorn's Kristina! musical, but I decided to go on.

Stockholm is difficult, being broken up into islands. Streets twist and turn. Maps and street signs are of no use if you do not speak Swedish. You feel your way along. The archipelago reaches 40 miles into the Baltic Sea. The white sightseeing boats can be seen at the harbor. Out on the streets, the blonde hair of the Swedes is more golden than blonde. It shines. You realize humanity itself is shaped by environment. Svenska flickor are sturdy and robust, bicyclers. The Swedes are friendly and will meet you halfway.

I mingled, picked up Swedish and talked about ABBA. I ate Swedish food. Sill herring. The smorgasbord is traditionally around Christmas. Food is expensive, and MacDonalds are common.

My first morning, the sun was rising at 3AM. The long daylight is soft but darkness is as precious in summer as daylight is in winter. Days and nights get stretched out.

In the Old Town (Gamla Stan), I met a girl named Marie Halldin. The following week, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. She was 24. I was 48. She would have gone with me again. I let it slide. I did not need to get hung up on a Swedish girl despite my fantasies.

Gamla Stan is block after block of narrow street and sidewalks. The buildings go back to the 1200s. The Royal Palace sits on the edge of Gamla Stan. It is a square, brown building with many windows.

On Saturday around noon, the changing of the guard began at the Army Museum below my window. I marched beside two columns in their dark berets to the sounds of brass and drums. We paraded down Hamngatan and past the Sverige Riksdag (Parliament Building). The ceremony took place in the palace courtyard.

Next door to the Royal Palace is the Stockholm Cathedral where kings and queens are crowned.

The Royal Family consists of Carl Gustav, Silvia and their three children. They actually live at Drottningholm Palace, and I went there on a boat from City Hall. The water, I noticed, had a steely, metallic quality.

City Hall is where te Nobel Prizes are given out. This brick building with its distinctive tower sits peacefully beside the water. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo.

Scandinavia dominated Europe in the Middle Ages, and much of Sweden's history centers around the Viking period. I laid off museums and art galleries. Stockholm itself is a museum.

I did meander through Skansen, an open-air museum. It was free because the king and queen were there. There were buildings from The Emigrants period.

I searched record shops and book stores for ABBA material. Even with the ABBA revival, the John Tobler book was the only thing in print. I talked to Swedish author Carl Magnus Palm by phone. He interviewed Benny and Bjorn, Frida and Michael Tretow for his book. It is a chronological overview of the recording sessions.

In the old days, Polar Music was at Hamngatan 11. Benny and Bjorn now have their own company called Mono Music. The address is: Mono Music, Sodrabrobanken 41-A, Skeppsholmen 111-49.

I went to Mono Music and met Gorel Hanser, the lady who handles ABBA's business. It was wierd. It was pouring down rain. I was fighting my umbrella and trying to get in the building. I met Gorel head on coming through the door. She was in a hurry. I asked for five minutes. She said she did not have 5 minutes. I started talking. I told her I had come from the United States and had written a book called "ABBA and Their Music." I got her interest. We went inside and sat down. We talked about ABBA. Gorel was on her way to work on the box set which was due out. I showed her my song, "Save The Planet," inspired by Frida. Gorel was the most angelic, ethereal person I ever talked to. She was a spirit. She said the Kristina! musical would open in Malmo in October, 1995.

Docked off the island of Skeppholmen is the old ship, Af Chapman. It is a youth hostel. I walked to the prow and stood where Mike Chapman (Agnetha's producer) stood at the start of Agnetha's "The Heat is On" video.

Agnetha lives on Ekero. She values her privacy, and I let her be. Ekero is actually not in the archapelago. It is in Lake Malaren west of the city. It is a large area consisting of a number of islands.

I contemplated a train ride to Jonkoping but called it off. Jonkoping is Agnetha's hometown. It is in the province of Smaland where the Swedish emigrants originated. I was told that the stereotypical Swedes are found there.

There was a free show at Norrmalmstorg on Hamngatan. Tommy Korberg performed and sang "Anthem." Korberg was the Russian in the Chess musical. He lived in my building.

Stockholm newspapers are Dagens Nyheter, Expressen and Afton Bladet. The big department store is NK.

It is very Nordic. On May 22, sunshine could be seen for 21 hours, from 2AM to 11PM. It felt like it was always daylight. You get used to it. Kiruna inside the Arctic Circle is the best place to see the Midnight Sun.

Whatever success I had in Stockholm I owed to Alice Macksey, her sons Dennis and Paul, and her friend Jan. Alice told me where to go and what to do. She translated for me. We watched TV together. Without her, I would have been lost.

Alice, Jan and I ate on The Patricia, a boat once owned by Alice's ex-husband. We danced to ABBA's Dancing Queen at a disco.

My last night, I attended Alice's birthday party on the roof. From the roof, I could see that the sky stayed light all night.

I was amazed at how well the Swedes speak English. They watch American movies with Swedish subtitles. They know American music and politics.

I returned June 29 by the same route. 47 days later. It took 8 1/2 hours to travel 4000 miles, Stockholm to New York. JFK Airport is on Long Island in Queens.

I did what I set out to do. I had an experience with the Swedes.

LONDON, ENGLAND

While in Stockholm, I made two trips out of the country. The first was to London. I went with Swedes and returned with Swedes, 3 days and nights through Spies travel agency. Our airline was Premair. The airport in London was Stanstead. A bus took us to the hotel. I got British currency at the foreign exchange (Forex). British pounds are written "L," an L with a line through it.

Driving to the hotel on the left (wrong) side of the road, we passed St. Paul's Cathedral. The hotel was virtually on top of the two centers of activity, Piccadilly Circus (circle) and Trafalgar Square.

I began with Trafalgar Square. Nelson's column juts high into the air, surrounded by 4 crouching lions. Red double-decker buses and black cabs. People and pidgeons. Big Ben could be seen in the distance, but I decided to avoid Britian's center of government.

Behind Trafalgar Square is the National Gallery. History unfolded. Titian and Tintoretto. Renoir. The French are your painters.

I knew what to see in the British Museum, antiquities. The Elgin marbles from the Greek Parthenon! These are the fragments reproduced in Nashville. The Rosetta Stone! The Rosetta Stone is that chunk of basalt used by the Frenchman Champollion to decipher hieroglyphics.

I sought exhibits dealing with the Viking era, 750-1050.

The only thing left was the Tower of London. I got there before it opened and walked around the perimeter. The best view was from the Tower Bridge over the Thames. "Shakespeare stood by this river," I mused.

The Tower was built by William the Conqueror following the Norman invasion of 1066. The Normans or Norsemen or Northmen were descended from Vikings.

I rode a double-decker bus back to Piccadilly Circus.

HELSINKI, FINLAND

My second trip was to Helsinki, Finland. Jan alerted me to the economy of this trip.

I sailed on the Viking Line. We sailed through the Swedish Archipelago and crossed the Baltic Sea to Helsinki. The trip was short, one day and two nights.

The ship Mariella was like a floating hotel, decks for floors, cabins for rooms. I stood on top as we left Stockhom.

I was the last person to come down from the top of the ship. We were in the archipelago and our speed was up. It was windy. Alice had warned me about passengers falling off the ship and drowning. Suddenly, I was confused and disoriented. I could not find the stairs leading to the decks below. Out of nowhere, I heard Agnetha's voice. It was ABBA singing "The Day Before You Came." It was not my imagination. The sound was coming from the ship's speakers. Hearing Agnetha composed me. I found the stairs and got to safety below. I felt my guardian angel had come to me in my moment of need.

The Archipelago is strange, 24,000 islands reaching 40 miles into the Baltic. They come in all sizes. Some are tiny. Some have houses on them. Others are covered with woods.

In Helsinki, I went inside the Lutheran Cathedral. There is a statue of Martin Luther there. I walked down Alexandersgatan and Mannerheim Street. One senses a Russian influence.

The currency is the Finnish Mark. No passport is needed to travel in Scandinavia.

Back at the terminal, I thought of what I had seen. Three world capitals: Stockholm, London and Helsinki.

I had opened an international side.
Contact: jim@jimcolyer.com
JIM COLYER

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