Consumer Warning: This half-assed NDFS report is neither official nor comprehensive. With thirty-odd(?) folks in attendance, it was neither possible nor desireable to do everything together all the time. I'm just giving a run-down on stuff *I* did, saw, or heard about. Others will no doubt fill in the many lacunae to give a more rounded idea of what happened...
I left LA around 10:00 a.m. Thursday morning (and S.Cal. past LA is one long, hot friggin' desert, let me tell you), and arrived in the City of Sin (Against Good Taste, that is) at around 2:30 p.m. After checking into the room (which Drew had already thoughtfully arranged), I was relaxing a bit when the phone rang for Drew (who was Not There). "Oh, well, this is Hawk. A bunch of us are hanging out in Bill and my's room, so come on up whenever." I moseyed up to the designated room, where I was introduced in short order to Hawk, Bill, Thor, CD Skogsberg, Kenneth Cavness, and probably a couple others I'm blanking on at the moment. Eventually, Novak, Jim Hill, Eric and Noell Milota, and the Dilicks wandered in, and introductions (Novak pointing at CD and thundering "Who are you?" being the best) and desultory chat ensued.
Around 5:00 or so, a herd of us wandered down to the hotel restaurant to feed our faces in preparation for beverage swillin^W^Wcocktails in one of the conference rooms. Said conference room (with a window along one wall overlooking the pool area) was actually a pretty decent place to hang out, drink, and chat, which, starting around 6:00(?) is what we proceeded to do. New arrivals continued to trickle in during the evening (Pam Korda, Kate Nepveu, Lara Beaton, the Loys, Nathan Lundblad, Dennis Higbee, Chad Orzel, etc. etc.) and the level of merriment rose steadily. Prominent absentees were roundly mocked and reviled (yes, this means you, Rich and Mike, among others), and a plastic Barney poster was produced and duly defiled.
The arrival of midnight signalled the closing of our own personal bar and conference room, so the not-yet-sated among us (a hefty percentage) traipsed downstairs to the casino floor to look for some "action." Several folks wanted to stretch their legs and maybe find a coffee shop, but group psychology being what it is, this expedition turned into a mass migration... I took the opportunity to stroll on my own up and down the pedestrians-only Fremont Street ("Have You Had the Fremont Street Experience?!!!" Why yes, I have, thankyouverymuch) outside the hotel, check out some of the other casinos (Binion's Horseshoe, etc.), and grab a quick snack in the all-night cafeteria, before packing it in at the (relatively) early hour of 1:30 a.m. (For the record, Drew was in later than me every night, but he was very considerate about not bouncing around the room or turning on the lights or making lots of noise, etc. Thanks, Drew..).
Up the next morning at around 10:30, and downstairs where another group of rasfwrj-ians was slowly accumulating. Some got in line for the restaurant; a group of us (me, Bill, Leigh Butler, Alaric, Ken, and I'm blanking on the last person--sorry) went to the California Pizza shop for an early lunch. I'm sorry to report that the pizza wasn't very good, but oh well.. Noonish, and a group was congregating out in the large pool courtyard. There was a big green canvas tent-pavilion with comfy lounge chairs, so a bunch of us dragged the chairs into a circle in the shade and chatted; sat in a pleasant, heat-induced stupor; and/or took a dip in the pool to cool off a bit.
In the early afternoon, folks wandered off on various errands-- food, gambling, naps, etc. Jim Hill and I dropped by the restaurant for a wee bite, and had an enjoyable discussion (to me at least, and if Jim was bored, he hid it well) about grad school, Los Alamos, and Nuclear Power stuff (the unclassified, non-technical parts, at least). John Dilick wandered past and joined us by the simple expedient of hopping over the rail separating our table from the main corridor. This engendered frowns on the part of the matronly maitresse d'hotel, once she figured out that our group had grown, but it was eventually smoothed over and John was allowed to order food. Then Annette showed up and wanted to order, too.
Then Kate wandered by in the hallway, and yielded to our entreaties to join the happy crew (then again, it's hard to ignore people shouting your name at you as you walk by). Finally, Novak also walked by and joined our group. Kate was sternly admonished by the Very Large Man in the Blue Security Blazer to not sit on the railing because Bad Things Could Happen, and the Hotel Might Be Liable.... Certain remarks were passed about Museums of Natural History, the fauna often found therein (specifically, pachyderms), and the impressive reproductive equipment attached to said fauna. We were able to watch the female of the Wild Keno in her natural habitat, and Jim came up with an astonishingly accurate reproduction of her mating call for our amusement and pleasure ("Keno! Keno!").
I headed up to the room to shower and relax a bit before the Official NDFS Dinner. Dinner was in the same conference room as cocktails the night before, the room now being laid out in tables seating (IIRC) eight people. As people filtered into the room, the places filled up and everyone began chatting and patronizing the bar. Many South Park quotes were flung with abandon, and snippets of South Park songs sung ("Blame Canada," just to piss Lara off). Poor Drew wore a very nice white, collarless shirt, and was promptly savaged for looking like a waiter (Chad: "Oh, garcon, over here!"). The last straw was Nathan's comment ("Could you bring me a couple of beers, please?"), and Drew fled to change shirts. Dinner was pretty good, I thought, and conversation at the table was amusing. Bill kept us apprised of his current blackjack standing (he was up and down so much over the weekend that I forget where exactly he was at that point--never did hear how he finally ended up overall, either), and Chad related more amusing tales of Life in Japan as a Really Big Gaijin. The idea of Nathan taking off his clothes for money somehow got started, and Nathan played the tease for the rest of the evening.
After dinner, there was more sitting around drinking, socializing, etc. Hawk and her evil minions (you know who you are) somehow talked someone (Chris Mullins?) into letting them shanghai his cell phone to call people-not-present. Cassandra finally arrived after dinner, to the relief of everyone wondering where the heck she had been.. Witty comments were made or attempted, and naturally (considering the crowd) most of them were sick and twisted ("I mean that in a *good* way"). Sadly, I only got several of the really good ones second hand (i.e. "you haven't lived until you've had a stump job from a multiple amputee").
Anyway, midnight once again rolled around, and the crowd once again trooped off in search of that mythical beast known as "action." I believe some of us might have headed off to the Strip, a couple miles away, but most dispersed to the plentitude of gambling opportunities on our very own Fremont Street (and the Fremont Street Experience was in full bloody swing at that point, let me tell you. Bands playing, crowds congregating, clueless tourists gallivanting...). Chad and Nathan staked out a blackjack table in the Binion Horseshoe and got down to the serious business of losing money. Kate and I wandered about and provided an intermittent spectator gallery cum cheering section for the boys. Chad showed great restraint--honed, no doubt, by years of living with clueless housemates--when a babbling yutz who looked and sounded like the very stereotype of a drunken frat boy sat down next to him and proceeded to treat him to a liberal helping of goofy bonhomie and incoherent blackjack advice. Finally, having squeezed most of the available fun out of the evening, we called it a night and packed it in around 2:00 a.m. (I think).
Saturday, it was up around 9:30; since the line for the breakfast buffet seemed a bit daunting in length, and I didn't immediately see any of the group loitering about, I picked up a paper and wandered over to the McDonald's in the casino down the street to have a danish and read my morning paper in (relative) peace. Back in the hotel, I ran into a group of Our People standing in the hallway. Chad asked if I was still interested in a Hoover Dam excursion (an idea that had been mentioned the day before); I replied that indeed I was. Lara was kind enough to attach herself to our party, and without much further ado, Chad, Kate, Lara, and I mounted my Mighty Chariot (stop laughing, you three. You too, Brian. It got you where you were going, didn't it?) and, armed only with Kate's map of the Vegas area and an indomitable sense of adventure (or something like that), set off for one of the eight man-made wonders of the U.S. (or however that list goes).
It was a beautiful day, and could only have been more beautiful had it not been well over 100 degrees (F) ("But it's a *dry* heat" is small consolation when one is slowly melting...). We parked the car and wandered over to the (air-conditioned) concession building, then walked along the road over the dam itself. We then went and took the tour (led by the chipper guide who had his amusing tour-guide patter down cold). The elevator took us all the way down to the generator station at the bottom of the dam; we went outside to look up at that big honkin' monster of concrete (3 million-odd cubic yards of concrete, IIRC), then into the tunnel where the 30 ft. diameter steel pipe carrying the river flow passed on its way to outlet below the dam. Quite an interesting tour, actually. The juxtaposition of the deep blue water of Lake Meade with the sere reddish-brown earth tones of the surrounding landscape--much the same as at Lake Powell, in fact--is really beautiful. The dam itself is impressive, although I never did get over the feeling that those power-line towers that stick out of the top of the cliffs below the dam on either side at a near-45 degree angle are just *wrong*. (yes, I'm sure that engineering-wise, they're perfectly sound. Still...). On the whole, it was an enjoyable day trip.
Arriving back at the hotel around 4:00, we jumped in a pool for a bit to cool off, and I had a nice chat with Deb ("that's Mrs. Loy to you, son"). Word was out that Drew had arranged a rendez-vous for the group at the Cheesecake Factory in Caesar's Palace for 7:30 that evening, so we wandered off to our rooms to rest a bit (bloody heat is enervating, dammit!) and get ready.
We drove down the Strip to Caesar's at the appointed hour (God bless the Strip casinos for their free public parking), and after perambulating through that truly amazing representative of American High Kitsch, we eventually happened upon the Cheesecake Factory. A number of our confreres were already present, and more arrived shortly after, 'til we probably had a good 25 or so there (Drew's the logistics man; I'm hazy on the numbers). Unfortunately, it seems Saturday night is a bit of a busy time for the Strip ("Shocked! Shocked! I say"), and a lot of those low-life wannabe high-rollers and shopping grubs were also looking to stuff their plebian faces (in a putative monument to patrician Rome, no less. This, kids, is known as Irony). The upshot is that we were told by the restaurant that it would be a half-hour-to-hour wait.
A number of us, alarmed at our flagging blood-sugar levels, thought that waiting any longer might precipitate a crisis, and struck out to look for a quicker alternative. Novak, Pam, Hawk 'n Bill, and a few others headed down to the Italian restaurant, while Chad, Kate, Brian, and I reflected on group solidarity and allowed as how a quick snack might see us through until we could be seated. Fortified by a stop at a pastry stand (and with wits much exercised by gratuitous comments involving the giant Trojan Horse in front of FAO Schwartz), we returned to the group that was holding down the fort at the base of the Atlantis diorama. "The Atlantis diorama," you say? Yes, and every hour on the hour, we were treated to an animatronic extravaganza wherein the King of Atlantis, unable to choose an heir between his feuding son and daughter, decides instead to destroy the place. Lots of fire and a cool dragon-bat throne that comes to life at the end of the piece were about the only redeeming features of what was in reality a five minute live commercial for the Imax theater feature "Atlantis," showing Right Next Door for only $9.00. Presumably, pictures with the college kids dressed up as Poseidon and his queen and shilling at the theater entrance were free, although I didn't bother to ask.
At any rate, we waited, and waited; then, for variety, we waited some more. The restaurant at one point told us that they were clearing tables and waiting on a couple of people to get finished so they could seat us. Around that time, Novak's group wandered back to mock us with their well-fed faces. When the restaurant responded to our suggestion that we could sit down in stages according to whatever was available with the information that no places were actually ready yet, some of us said, "we're outta here." (It turns out that the rest of the group got seated right after we left, apparently). Chad, Kate, Lara, Brian, and I walked down to the same Italian restaurant that the other group had been to, and were seated right away. In the event, it turned out to be quite a pleasant dinner; good company, and the atmosphere "outdoors" was fun (the overhead dome was painted to resemble blue sky--only slightly ruined by a red helium balloon stuck near the apex--and during the course of the meal we went through "dusk," "sundown," and a new "sunrise." Cool, huh?).
Kate had expressed a desire to ride the rollercoaster, so after dinner, we decided to go do that. It was a little after 11:00, and supposedly the coaster at New York, New York closed at midnight, so we headed out the door of Caesar's Palace. I asked if we were walking; "oh yeah, it's not that far away" was the reply. Thus began the Great Race to catch the Last Rollercoaster Out of New York (actually, I think our rollercoaster car ended up being the penultimate one, but close enough). Weaving our way through hordes of tourists, wilfully breaking the law by scampering across intersections against the light... We will, however, pass over in respectful silence the tale of Lara being hit on by "the love child of Lou Ferrigno and Fabio" (her description, and a pretty apt one, I would say). I guess the overall moral of the story is that really, really big buildings skew one's distance perception just a bit...At any rate, we burst through the doors of NY, NY around 11:40 or so, wound our way back to the coaster entrance, and made it into the line about 5 minutes before they closed the line. I'm not a fine connoisseur of rollercoasters, but this one was a lot of fun, and a good adrenaline jolt besides (Kate: "What *was* that noise back there? Was that you, Trent?" Me: "I *told* you I was going to scream like a banshee." Kate: "I'm not sure what that was, but I don't think it was screaming...").
We rode the tram from the Monte Carlo to the Bellagio (nice, up-scale), then walked next door to Caesar's and from thence back to the hotel. I think a number of the group probably stayed down at the Strip for a lot longer (I understand several didn't get in until around six the next morning), but Chad, Kate, & Lara played a wee bit of blackjack, and then we all headed off to bed around 2:30-ish.
Sunday morning, I slept in until around 10:30, then got packed, bags out to the car, read the morning paper, wandered around a bit saying goodbye to everyone I could bump into, including Mark and Deb, who were in the midst of enjoying the pool to the fullest... I didn't get to say "Sayonara" to everyone, unfortunately, but I'm glad so many were there to make it a jolly occasion, and I hope a good time was had by all. I dropped Chad off at the airport around 1:30, and then lit off across the desert (and traffic sucked most of the way back to LA, but that plays no part in our tale)..
I had a really fun time, and it was great to see a lot of folks from the NG. I've poked a lot of fun at Vegas, but really it's a fun town and in spite of the often tacky effects, the Strip does present a great spectacle, and one that's a lot of fun to explore. And hey, it *is* great mockery fodder...
A special thanks to Drew and those who helped him for getting the logistics together and then stressing over his list and the various arrangements. He did yeoman's work to make this thing come off a success, and I'm grateful for his efforts..
Thus ends my lengthy NDFS report. Let's do this whole thing again sometime, huh?