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NTC Ft. Irwin

As we cruise along the desert highway on a late afternoon, we pass a place of burning misery, known to make hardened Soldiers shudder in reminiscence. I see the exit sign for the Fort Irwin National Training Center and confirm that the doors of our truck are indeed locked. A wandering desert of confusion, thirst, hunger, and endlessly setting up the same tent in 15 different locations floods my memory. A scorpion lifts its tail, sensing a disturbance in the force. Like my knight in shining 1-ton pickup, Bee hits the go-pedal and we streak away toward the neon lights of Las Vegas.

Our destination is the MGM Grand, with a King bed and beautiful glass enclosed shower. We waited in an endless queue to check-in, which was only the first problem. Ah, foreshadowing. If I had a narrator, he would voiceover with, “Alas, the room they expected was not the room they were given.” I’m hearing Morgan Freeman, but go with your favorite narrator voice here. Little did we know that to reach our room we must solve three puzzles. Our first task was to locate the correct elevator in the correct tower. Not all elevators go to all floors and some elevators only go to a singe floor, while the other half will dump you back onto the casino floor like your character just lost a life. In each tower lobby, there were many poor souls trying to unravel the elevator mystery while they pleaded as though they had been searching for days. After finding the correct elevator, pushing buttons in the right combination, and providing the magic pass card, we ascended toward our room. The room conjured by our pass card had two Queen beds and a regular tub/shower insert. We had been bamboozled! I suspected a dark wizard, but the front desk claimed it was an upgrade because the room had a better view. Bee persuaded them to honor our original reservation through his own magic of bluntness and killer smile. Our next puzzle involved overcoming the endless hallway. Neither Willy Wonky nor the twins from The Shinning appeared before we found another elevator riddle and endless hallway. Our reward for traversing the mystery maze was a lovely room with everything we had reserved.

Our first night, we enjoyed a late dinner at China Tang. The food was delicious, and it was the first time I had experienced a teapot full of liquor all to myself. The Yu Gardens drink is an eastern spin on the Moscow Mule, but I did not expect it to be served in a chilled, dragon and flower painted teapot. Every time our attentive waiter passed our table, he refilled my dainty teacup. Bee noticed and composed a song in my honor.

“I’m a drunky teapot, strong and stout. I fell off the table, please help me out.”

Let the record show that I did not fall off the table at anytime during dinner, but that was a good rhyme and I will allow his artistic license for making me laugh. We did, however, see two drunky teapots laying on the floor of the casino, laughing to each other, and flashing their panties. Sweet endangered manatees, I’d never let my spout or handle touch the casino floor! I hope casino security brought hand sanitizer when scraping them off that hideous carpet.

The following day, we found a cozy restaurant along the canal in the Venetian, called Canonita. The food was excellent, and the view of the gondola performers was fun. Watching tourists in the boats was cause for head shaking. They record the entire experience. Who watches those videos later? Who makes other people watch those videos later? Sadists, that’s who. Snap a few photos and then enjoy the experience in real life. Soap box remarks complete.

I have always wanted to visit a Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Partly because it looked so interesting and mainly because a cheap guy, I dated years ago, refused due to the cost of admission. I had even offered to buy the tickets. FYI, the price has only gone up since then. It is now $30 per person, but you can’t take it with you so experience all you can. It was fun to see celebrities as their lifelike copies and enjoy how short all of them seem to be. At 5’9” I appeared to be an Amazon among the wax figures. The museum also had a section dedicated to The Hangover movie that allowed you to walk through several scenes and act them out as you went. When you walked near the hotel room bathroom, Mike Tyson’s tiger growled at you. These walk-through scenes added humor to the full experience.

Next stop, the Luxor. Keep walking! It’s a giant pyramid, you can’t miss it. Except when it is hidden behind the Excalibur Casino and you’re just trying to stay out of the moat and casino smoke. Worth the walk from the monorail system, the Luxor had standing exhibits for both the Titanic and Bodies.

I bought tickets to both while Bee hunted for Starbucks. The lines were brutal, but he prevailed. Having already downed my morning Spark, I was fully caffeinated and ready to go. We were stopped at the door. The long list of “Nos’ for the exhibits included drinks and photography. So, I took a photo of Bee power-chugging his coffee. Seemed fitting.

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We started with the Titanic exhibit. It was interactive and displayed a surprising number of recovered artifacts. Dishes were made to last back then. Progressing from the lower classes up to the first-class artifacts and recreations, you learn the history of the construction of the Titanic and acquire facts about many passengers. Often, the passenger stories noted when last minute changes caused them to book passage on the Titanic as opposed to another ship. The final part of the exhibit held The Big Piece. Aptly named, it is a section of Titanic’s starboard side hull successfully recovered in 1998. It weighs 15 tons and was raised from 2.4 miles off the ocean floor. Think of that the next time you sit down and realize the remote is too far to reach.

The Bodies exhibit was far more interesting than I had expected. Not for the squeamish, this featured real people who had donated their bodies in the name of science. It is divided up by systems of the body and used advance techniques to preserve the tissues indefinitely. Yeah science! Many of the donated bodies also had some type of tumor and/or disease to display as well, adding another layer of solemnity. If you were a smoker, it was a strong argument to quit. The one thing they did not go above and beyond to preserve was the male genitalia. It remains in exactly the shriveled state in which it perished. While looking at the amazing way the muscular system can move the body on the bicycle, do not look at his junk. You are an adult, and this is science! Just because it looks like a snail emerging from its quaint shell home, do not look! When examining the body positioned to hit the ball with the bat, don’t get distracted looking for the balls. You are an adult, and this is science! Move along, please.

This had been the perfect weekend to challenge a few friends on Fitbit to a step contest. No, there was no freestyle dancing with a young Changing Tatum. I did, however, crush my competition with 35,000 steps before 3pm. With my victory in the bag, I left a footsore Bee to sleep off what he was referring to as the Las Vegas Death March, while I sauntered down to the pool to float along the lazy river. This lazy river was the reason our friends prefer to stay at the MGM. Being the early month of May, the temperature was comfortable pool weather in Las Vegas. I didn’t realize that this was also considered the off-season and warranted the early closure of the lazy river, A.K.A. my floating victory lap. Never one to turn to alcohol in the face of disappointment, I headed to the Tiki bar for a sippy cup of mojitos. Lounging at the 18+ poolside, I was sporting my Army tan (tan hands, neck, and face below the eyebrows, with or without the helmet chinstrap lines). From my pool lounge chair, I spotted someone having a step challenge of their own. His dancing was happy, free, and solitary. He was rocking a pair of hamburger swim shorts. No one seemed to care, and I was starting to sweat rum from behind my knees. This was not the victory lap I wanted, but it was the one I deserved. I did get to keep the sippy cup.

Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club was conveniently located in our hotel. I had several drinks called Trailer Trash and didn’t realize it came with a collectable glass. I was now starting to look like a Las Vegas drinkware hoarder. When one comedian started talking about pyramid schemes and Pampered Chef parties, I drunkenly admitted to Bee that I had purchased a $99 bar set from a recent PC party hosted by Samurai. I thought Bee could learn to make me chocolate martinis and help Samurai earn the hostess gift in the process. While giggling madly, I thought it was too funny. In retrospect, Bee laughed far less than expected.

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During this weekend in Las Vegas, we experienced crowds, casinos, restaurants, shows, and plenty of laughter. It was the trip I had wanted with the right person. Keep your teapots off the floor and safe travels, my friends.

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