Every now and again I get an overwhelming urge to visit Las Vegas. It’s the sort of destination you have to be in the mood for. Over the years I’ve seen some amazing acts there including sitting practically on-stage beneath an erupting volcano, and less than an arm’s length from one of Siegfried and Roy’s famed white tigers. From the glitz of the strip itself to the big name performers and extravagant shows, it provides a lot of cluck for your buck.
Years ago you had to pack a dress to visit, but these days like most places, if you’re wearing shoes and a shirt you’re in. Still there is no place quite like it. Sometimes it’s fun to throw caution to the wind and hop on board the fantasy train for a few days if you have a little money to burn and an itch to burn it.
My first visit was in my teens with my mother. Not so exciting at that age. Other than being allowed to walk through the casinos on your way out of the hotels, the gaming rooms were off limits to those less than legal age and the thrill rides, now part of the Vegas scene, still lingered in the minds of their creators. Vegas, after all, is a playground for adults not pimply faced youngsters with no money to leave on the tables. Mother accepted an invitation to share a weekend at the Hacienda, part of a prize package won by a female friend with a daughter, Binkie by name, close to my age. Binkie’s unusual nickname, I believe, came from the fact she carried her baby blanket in her purse until she married in her early twenties. Not pertinent to story really, but an interesting note for her psychiatrist’s note pad nonetheless.
Binkie was one of those gawky young girls whose height arrived before she’d had a chance to gracefully grow into it. To complete the picture, when she smiled she displayed a full set of metal trim and wore unflattering skin colored glasses to correct an astigmatism. Teased in those early years, in the end braces removed and contacts replacing glasses, she would enjoy her day in the sun. A strikingly lovely butterfly emerged from the cocoon who went on to be a noted attorney as well as marry one. But this was then.
So, we were in Las Vegas with our mothers. As if this wasn’t punishment enough, there was nothing to do but tan. Looking like over crisped raisins, desperation drove us to the brochures available at the concierge desk, Inside one, displaying pictures of riders making their way along a dusty trail on the cover, was information regarding stables outside of the city renting horses by the hour. Back home I rode at a friend’s regularly. Not ready to be a stunt double for an upcoming western, I could handle myself fairly well in the saddle and had some experience with how to steer the beast once seated on one. Binkie’s experience was limited to a rocking horse her grandmother had given her on her third birthday, but was game to give it a try and I promised to show her the ropes (no pun intended).
Our mothers, most likely as delighted to get shed of us for a few hours as we were of them, drove us to the stables early that afternoon. Ensuring there were horses available, we synchronized our watches for a pick up in three hours when our bums would most likely be chapped. It wasn’t particularly warm by Las Vegas standards, and high clouds intermittently cast long shadows across the desert floor. Asked by the stable hand what our riding expertise was, I answered “experienced” while Binkie played it safe with “none”. Looking back, most likely I should have followed her lead.
Two horses were led from the stables, one black and the other a pinto. A stable hand secured Binkie’s foot in the stirrup and hoisted her aboard the latter. The black, cleverly named Blackie, was to be mine. I was okay with the choice, but Blackie didn’t appear as enthusiastic, shying and huffing every time I tried to seat myself. They say animals can sense you have no idea what you’re doing or smell your fear. Probably I was sending clear signals through my sweat glands in both directions. Not wanting to lose face by requesting a less spirited ride, I was finally literally placed on the high-strung Blackie and handed the reins. Oh-oh.
Stable horses are often complacent. Used to being stuck with inept riders with no consistency behind the wheel, if you will, their mouths get “hard”, or resistant to the bit. This is caused, so I understand, by inexperience or poor riding habits over using hands to guide the animal rather than steering with legs and derriere. You would find me somewhere in that explanation. Usually stable horses show the most interest when you turn their heads back towards the stables. Encouraging them to make any great effort along the trail often requires some work on the riders part.
Binkie sucked on her lower lip looking as if she might cry. Bravado taking the place of good sense I told her to “buck up, it is only a horse, for God’s sake”. Heading out into the desert I looked over my shoulder frequently keeping an eye on the dwindling stables. Why, I don’t know. In the endless expanse of flat terrain the building stood out like a boil on a skinny behind. At first we walked the horses. Our instructions were “if you sweat a horse, you will walk it until it cools off”. Got it. There is no way kids hear anything close to what an adult is saying. Shortly we broke into an ungainly trot, the worst of the gaits, that had poor Binkie bouncing up and down in the saddle like popcorn in a hot pan.
An hour or so out, wind came up out of nowhere and the sky darkened. Grumblings of an approaching storm could be heard off in the distance. Blackie, snorting and shaking his head didn’t seem happy to receive the news. Lightning flashed near the mountains to our left. Assessing the situation, Blackie must have decided if we weren’t smart enough to get out of the storm, he was going to make the decision for us. Rearing, but not dumping me as I believe was his intent, he succeeded in wrenching the reins from my hand. Reins dangling on the ground, there was little for me to do but to hold on. For a horse totally reluctant to break a sweat on the way out, Blackie tore past the terrified Binkie at the speed of light. Hands clenching his mane, my feet fanning in the stirrups rider and horse retraced the ground it had taken us over an hour to cover on the way out in what seemed like less than five minutes. Sensing a meal and some warm hay, Blackie turned right at the gate towards the stables coming to an abrupt halt before we reached the stalls. Slung like a jai-alai ball, I flew over his brow landing soundly in the dirt on my already saddle worn backside. Stable hands rushed to me, dusting me off and checking for breakage. Binkie arrived some time later none the worse for wear.
Miraculously I walked away unscathed, except for my pride, which was sorely bruised. Our mothers gathered us at the appointed time with no comments made about my disheveled appearance other than it looked like we had a good time. I wasn’t talking. If I’d told my mother the truth, she wouldn’t have allowed me out of her sight again until I was thirty.
Anyhow, my silliness for today. Need to book a flight one of these days for a revisit.
This was a nice change from regular noodles, crunchy with lots of cheese. The tomato sauce is addictive. I make a big pot and use it for a variety of dishes.
Noodle Nests with Meaty Tomato Sauce
8 oz. fettucine, cooked and chilled
3 eggs, well beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
In large mixing bowl combine chilled fettucine, eggs, garlic Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Heat oil in large skillet until shimmering. Add fettucine/egg mixture and carefully shove to edge of pan to form a pancake. Cook until crisp and golden and flip over to other side (about 5 mins. per side). Remove from pan and drain on paper towel lined pan. Quarter and serve with tomato sauce.
Meaty Tomato Sauce
1/2 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
12 oz. tomato paste
2 6 1/2 oz. cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Cook sausage, beef, onion, and garlic until well browned in large pot or Dutch oven until browned. Drain fat. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Mix in sugar and add bay leaves, basil, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.