Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Hick Chick Goes To Vegas

I’m not really sure where to begin with my five day trip to Las Vegas to see my first ever NASCAR race. I was very nervous in the week or so leading up to my departure, but I think it had more to do with traveling alone than anything else. In fact, at one point a couple of days before my flight was supposed to leave, I was ready to just call the whole thing off – cancel my flight, try and sell my race tickets, etc.

I am not a traveler. I’m a homebody. There is no place I’d rather be than in my house, other than possibly up in the mountains just a short drive from where I live. I had only been on a plane three times in my life prior to this, and all of those times were with family or friends that took care of everything for the most part. I didn’t know how to check in for my flight, what to do with my baggage, and the last time I flew was prior to 9/11 so obviously security is a little different now. So to make the trip to Las Vegas of all places completely on my own was a very big step.

Since I wanted to make sure I was at the track as soon as they would let me in on Friday morning, I flew into the city on Thursday. There are only two flights out of my local airport each day. And by local, I mean a desolate 50 mile drive away. In fact, at 4 in the morning I only met one vehicle in those 50 miles. But basically my options were to either get in Vegas by 9:15 in the morning or not until 7:45 at night. I figured getting there early would be best so I could get checked into my hotel and get my bearings.

For all of my worry and despite the fact that some bad weather had come through the night before, my plane rides to Las Vegas via Salt Lake City were completely uneventful and went very smooth. My luggage didn’t get lost or anything. I figured out how to catch a shuttle to my hotel and despite being there so early, they had a room that was available for early check in. I was all set.

Having looked over the list of driver appearances for the weekend, the first thing that I thought sounded interesting was Martin Truex Jr’s charity poker tournament that started at noon. By this time it was 10:30, so I wandered to the monorail station at my hotel, figured out how to buy a 3 day ticket and headed for the south end of the Strip. I wandered around MGM Grand and NY/NY for a bit before heading into the Monte Carlo where the tournament was being held.

After some meandering through the casino, I finally saw a big crowd gathered over in a corner and walked that direction. People were gathered three and four deep around six or so poker tables that were unoccupied at that time despite it being after noon already. I circled around and finally found a spot with a good view near a side entrance to the casino. Then I proceeded to wait.

I’m not good at waiting. I live in a town of less than 2000 people. I don’t have to wait in traffic, wait in lines, or wait on anything else. So I got tired of standing there and was staring out the doors behind me to try and decide which direction they would take me. All of a sudden, the vaguely familiar silhouette of a guy approached with sunglasses on and with a small entourage in tow. Yep, it was Martin. He walked in, looked around and said, “Wow. There are a lot of people here.”

Now bear in mind that I live a sheltered life and I’ve never really been that close to someone that I’ve seen on television before. Also bear in mind that Martin is another one of my favorite drivers, although still far distant behind AJ. Not to mention, and any male readers can skip this part, but he is quite handsome when he smiles. Which he proceeded to do as he walked within mere inches of me.

So that was my first star struck moment of the weekend, and actually my last as well. Martin walked back by a few minutes later, then he and the other drivers and the participants gathered around the tables. I circled around and got a few pictures and then got bored watching them and left. It wasn’t terribly interesting, although I did hear that Martin finished fourth or something in the tournament.

After that I proceeded to wander the south end of the Strip. With no one else that I had to keep pace with, I moved along at a fairly rapid clip shooting pictures that I thought my 9 year old daughter would enjoy. The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay was very cool, and just the interesting architecture of some of the casinos was fascinating.

I wandered around M&M’s World for awhile and was slightly surprised to see a huge line of people all sitting on the floor already waiting for Kyle Busch, who wasn’t scheduled to begin signing for another two and a half hours. It is his hometown though, and at the poker tournament Kurt got a big round of applause from the fans gathered there.

I won’t bore you with all the details of my wanderings. I mostly just did a quick walk through of each casino on the east side of Las Vegas Blvd as I made my way north. I caught a little bit of the fountain show at the Bellagio, although it wasn’t full dark yet and not as spectacular. Then I started noticing that people were beginning to line the streets. I wondered what was going on and then remembered that the NASCAR haulers were going to be parading up the Strip that evening.

I found a really good spot and stood around for awhile, but they were running late and I’ve already established that I’m not good at waiting. So I started meandering up the Strip again, keeping fairly close to the street so I could watch when they finally did come. Again I was surprised by the multitude of fans decked out in their favorite driver’s gear. NASCAR is not that big where I come from, and it is rare for me to even see someone with a driver’s t-shirt on, let alone covered head to toe like some of the fans were. It was nice, because I felt a kinship with these fellow NASCAR fanatics.

The hauler parade was fun to watch, but hard to get pictures of. I ended up deleting most of them because they were just a blur. Of course I cheered when the 43 hauler went by, and was pleasantly surprised when a woman just a few feet away screamed out, “Wooo! Go AJ!!!” I looked around to find the fellow Dinger fan, but couldn’t pinpoint who had yelled it.

After a 3 am start to my day Thursday, I headed back to the hotel early and crashed. My legs were sore and I already had blisters, but so far it had been a fun trip and I hadn’t even been to the track yet. The next morning I headed to the Speedway though, and I will get into more detail about my time at the track in a later post. Suffice it to say that I never wanted to leave. It’s too bad that I didn’t win a big jackpot while in Vegas so I could just follow the race circuit each weekend. I loved being around the cars.

Anyway, outside of my activities at the track, I spent my evenings doing more sightseeing. After that first long day of walking, I ended up having to tape up my toes because I already had blisters. But I set out from my hotel each evening after I got back from the Speedway and caught the monorail to whichever section of the Strip that I wanted to go to.

Not knowing what the weather was going to hold, and since it was my first and possibly only live race, I didn’t take any chances that there would be a rain out on Sunday. On the off chance that they would race on Monday, I made sure to book my stay through Tuesday. So I ended up having all of Monday to walk around Vegas as well and hit any of the places that I either hadn’t already been or that I was too afraid to go to at nighttime.

Which actually brings me to a point that I wanted to make. Traveling alone is fun in a lot of ways because I wasn’t answerable to what anyone else wanted to do. I could follow whatever whim I wanted and go wherever I pleased, whenever I pleased. But walking around a big city alone at night was rather terrifying. Maybe it is just because I’m such a small town girl, but there are some freaky people out there. And more than once I found myself in fairly deserted areas, especially going to and from the monorail. Perhaps taxi rides would have been better, but they would have strained my already limited budget.

Which brings me to another point. Las Vegas isn’t very much fun when you’re broke. Having had to scrimp and scrounge in order to even make the trip, I found myself on a very limited budget. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bemoaning my lot. I have a decent job and our business is managing to hold its own in these tough economic times, but there isn’t much to spare. My family lives a very simple life though, and we find our fun in the ample outdoor opportunities that abound in Wyoming , which for the most part are thankfully still free.

For Vegas though, not having money pretty much sucked. High dollar restaurants were out, which compared to the food prices I’m used to at home, was pretty much all of them. Drinking was out. Not only because I wasn’t going to pay the outrageous prices, but because I was a lone female so not real smart to get inebriated and leave myself vulnerable. And of course what does everyone else come to Vegas for that requires money? Gambling! Yep, it was out also. Although through the generosity of others and some play money from my mom, I did have enough left over to sit at the slots for a few hours on Monday.

So a tight budget simply left me with wandering around looking at the sights, which were admittedly fantastic. But the more I walked around and soaked everything up, the more I wished that my husband or one of my friends was with me. It isn’t near as much fun to see the amazing things that Vegas has to offer if you can’t even ooh and aah over them with someone at your side.

So yes, it might have been lame, but I was back in my room by 10:00 on most nights and used up a ton of minutes texting back and forth with my husband and sending tweets out to people who probably could have cared less. But I had to talk to someone about what I was seeing!

Needless to say, I was very ready to come home when my plane finally took off early Tuesday morning. I missed my family, I missed my dog, I missed my house, and I missed my quiet little country life. My time in Vegas was truly an experience of a lifetime, but I was so glad to get back to Wyoming. That 50 mile stretch of nothingness on the drive home never looked more beautiful in my eyes.

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