The bigger surprise was waiting for me further down Fremont, just across the street from the
El Cortez and it was called Downtown Container Park.….and the fire-breathing metallic
Praying Mantis in front. The set up was a drum circle near the base of the Mantis, rhythmically
pounding out a beat like all good circles do, with the Mantis playing along. This was quite
popular, especially with the kids, especially when the Mantis spews out huge balls of flames
from its antenna….and you can feel the flames belching out! Wow! I don’t think you’ll ever
going to see this on the Strip!
The sun was setting with a nice shade of blue, so taking pictures of this nightly ritual made
scince. Further down the block where a couple of refurbish old neon signs that were blasting
away as it was the old days. Since such sights make my heart glow, I took too many pictures
of them. Since I usually suck at nighttime pictures, I had to take a few extras just in case.
The Ambassador Motel sign boasted that “Llamas Stay For Free” right next to its Llama logo.
I would later find out that the slogan was added when the sign was refurbished.
After a few more attempts of night photography, it was back to the Fremont and the fest. By this time, they were having their “Bar Fight”
with local bars competing for bragging rights. As I passed the Foodie Truck area, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one scratching one
bald scalp as everyone, and I DO mean everyone, taking pictures of the menus with their iPhones and pestering many of the cooks
about their offerings. I felt sorry for the cooks and went off to the Coney Island Hot Dog stand at The D and had a couple of chili digs.
(Side note: even here I wasn’t safe from the foodie disease as these Coney dogs was based in Detroit, Michigan. Not in New York)
On the way back to my room, I checked out the souvenir stand at Olivia’s show; CD’s galore (some of which I already have, though no
Xanadu was found), key chains, and a small selection of t-shirt with her smiling face and teeth that us fans have been hypnotized for
decades….only with an expansive price tag. I also took a closer look at The Cromwell and, well….at least, this place had a more solid
theme of elegance running through it, compared to the “Q”, but much like the “Q” the previous incarnation outshined this version. I will
admit, that rooftop pool party area sounds like a nifty idea.
The next morning was pretty much all out, all day…the only full day of this trip, so I got up around 8 am for breakfast and head off to the
downtown area again.
I went back to The Container Park and it turned out to be a nice place to spend a half-a-day. This “park” was basically a circle of old
containers placed on top of each other and welded together to form a series of stores, café, restaurants and other offerings,
surrounding a performance stage and a playground.
It was a relaxing visit; the act was a singer playing a stand up base who not only did some standards, but actually did War’s Cisco Kid!
An extra buck his tip jar. I even ended up eating BBQ pulled pork at Big Ern’s BBQ (?). There were the usual screaming kids running
back and forth from the playground and everywhere else hurting each other, but the general mood of the area was pleasant and nice.
This place has been boasted as a centerpiece of a renewal Downtown plan and it not a bad start.
This part of downtown used to be quite a bit sketchy (complete with “Plasma
Donation Center”), but now things are getting cleaned up; old motels are being
closed up and wracked down leaving a barren lot with the occasional old neon sign
left behind. Some old remains that are left behind are used to house murals; the
Western Casino has a couple of large pieces and even an old gas station joint that
once boasted of having the best BBQ and car wash in town is all (left)…not exactly
cleaned up, but turned into an painted art piece.
Grant you, it’s not a fully realized job and not many businesses have gone up yet, but
it is interesting place to visit for an urban rat like myself and the whole thing is going
in a direction…where it’s going? Well, see what happens…..
Some of the old Vegas opened itself up by accident back in the older Glitter Glitch. A
side of the Pioneer Club was being refurbished to make way for a tattoo parlor and a
chunk of the Pioneer Club old facade was taken down to reveal a section that was
once known as The Buckley Building which dated back to 1922, years before the Club
set up shop there. I took a few pictures and couldn’t wait until I told and shared these
photos to a couple of Vegas themed FaceBook clubs, but later that night Vegas expert
Joel Rosales beat me to the punch with similar postings. Aw, hell. Oh, well
More wonderfully boring pictures were taken (including a New Orleans themed
apartment near Maryland Parkway I hadn’t seen before) (lower left) as I slowly made
my way back down to the Strip and my room.
It was time! I had to get back to my room to get all showered and “dressed up” for The Olivia Show at 7:30 pm. During my research for
the show, I was told that as part of the VIP/M&G package that would have to pay $50 for a photo and I had only one item for her to sign.
Thus I brought a copy of the Japanese Xanadu Movie Program for her John Hancock, which I carefully stuffed in an manila envelope.
I made my way to the Flamingo, but not before walking into a street curb performance of what looked like a musical performance of
Reno 911. The sun was setting and the Strip performers where slowly making their way on the pavement for tonight’s show. Watch
your step or you’ll end up as a Rocky Horror virgin in public….for quarters, if you’re lucky.
The lizard part of my brain was concerned about the little things like what would I say to Olivia and such. What I should have been
keeping tabs on was Flamingo’s organizational skills as I ended up in two wrong lines. Grant you, this was my first VIP concert
experience, so chunk of that is my fault.
Once I got in with the right line and got inside the Donny & Marie Theatre, I was escorted to my seat, which was across the table from
the stage. Right up there. I was also handed a small VIP package which included a badge (with rules printed on the other side) and a
simple and beautiful B&W photo of ONJ for, I quickly assumed, her to sign.
It was also at this time that many rules were addressed to all of us: no photos, no hands and arms on the stage and no shorts as part
of the dress code. Well, I instantly saw that Flamingo’s no photos policy was working…sorta…as I saw an ocean wave of iPhones lit
up and go off. I should have seen this coming as I saw concert photos show up on ONJ FaceBook clubs. I saw many shorts (with one
swimming trunk) outside of the VIP area and, at this point, I’m not going to bother visualizing a ballsy Texan rest his feet on the stage
with Olivia doing that ‘I’m Tired’ scene from Blazing Saddles.
Our little table group suddenly had a show and tell session; showing off the items we wanted Olivia to sign; I had by movie program,
one had an old shirt and another had the Grease Soundtrack record cover she had since 14. All this talk made me second guess the
movie program and opted out the easy way with the provided B&W photo as the ink might smear and traveling a good 300 and spend a
few hundred buck for a smeared autograph didn’t feel so freakin’ good.
It dawned on me that I was in the ONJ veterans table as we soon started to talk of our previous encounters, my own unfortunate spat
included….and then the lights dimmed.
What followed was a brisk 90 minute musical travelogue of Olivia’s career and life.
Her three Xanadu hits (Magic, Xanadu and Suddenly) were one of the first numbers played with a large video screen playing visual
extracts in the back, mixing with some material from her early country days with some personal tunes.
Through it all, she looked and sounded great. She showed some humanity and humor. Leading up to this show, there was some talk
about Brittany Spears own show and the amount of lip-syncing that was involved…which, according to a local papers and the internet,
was quite a lot. Olivia might not have a strong voice, but her level of emotions and intimacy still works perfectly for her and top of that,
her age had deepened her voice adding some maturity and just enough power to actually sing along to the guitar solo during a rather
hard rock arrangement of Physical. All at the age of 65!
Her deeper voice really helped out with the covers like Send In The Clowns and Julie London’s Cry Me A River. The latter being a
personal favorite! The only time she complained about her vocals was Vegas’ dry heat and took one of many sips of water. If she going
all out to bust her cops for us, I wouldn’t hold anything against her!
…and then time came to get yer Grease on, and who the hell can blame her! The movie/record package that revived her career and
remains a popular favorite with a lot of people….and yes there was a mandatory sing along with the song, ‘Summer Nights’, which I
didn’t do. I love Olivia but I avoid the karaoke bar at any size, at all cost. I once put a Little Tokyo bar to sleep with an unlikely song you’ll
ever hear in such a hyper place, Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues. I sounded like Tom Waits with strip throat. I haven’t repeated that mistake
At the end, her traditional last number, ‘I Honestly Love You’, brought the show to a close and everybody on their feet. It was a breezy 90
minutes, no lip-syncing and it was all good.