Friday, February 15, 2013

Atomic Testing, Rings and Big Hotels (with Casinos)

There's an Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas.
Bizarre to think of such a sombre subject for a museum in Vegas, maybe, but true. Weird to think of Vegas having museums at all, except maybe for the defunct Elvis memorabilia museum. But Las Vegas and the desert around it has historically been a busy place for atomic testing.
The museum had a simulated bomb shelter which they'd set up with sound and air and movement to give an idea of what it would be like if an atomic bomb went off at a good distance away, and they had a film to go with it. It was sobering and rather scary, which made going through the rest of the museum more meaningful and real to the boys. There were museum bombs, films that could be run at varying speeds back and forth that showed the effects of test bombs, and a lot of other things that gave a feel for what a nuclear bomb can do.
Their generation has not grown up with the same fears of nuclear war that my generation were raised with, and I found myself appalled at the idea that our younger people wouldn't have the same instinct drilled into them that nuclear war must not happen. I think the museum helped; it educated them a bit and gave them some visceral things to think about.
We actually went to Las Vegas last weekend for a big nation-wide gymnastics meet which Casey and his teammates were competing in. The meet was the Winter Cup/Blackjack meet for mens gymnastics and a lot of college teams were there as well as the US Mens Olympic team, so we saw a lot of gymnastics.

It was good to get to see Olympic gymnasts in action, as well as the college teams. Stanford has a stand-out team, as does UC Berkeley. I guess they've managed to get funding for now, at least. Casey's section of the meet was very early on Sunday. He and his teammate and best bud Griffin competed together, making the whole experience a lot more fun and a little less stressful.
The stress levels were higher at this meet; it was an Olympic style meet with traditional warm-up before actual competition, with double sets of each apparatus and gymnasts competing at the same time on both sets. Chaotic, busy and very hard to keep track of what was happening. The floor especially was stressful, with competitors running two at a time parallel on the the floor instead of the usual one at a time. Casey had a handstand fail on his floor routine because his hands happened to fall in a crack in the floor padding, so there were some serious disadvantages to the set-up.
It was good for the boys to see other gymnasts at their level from all over the country and Canada as well, as there were some real differences in their routines and skill sets. Both boys did well, however, and Casey ended up coming in first for his level on rings, while Griffin came in fourth on rings.
Their coach was quite happy with how they did, since taking a good team to this particular big national level meet has been on his bucket list for a while. So they were all pretty happy with how it went.
After the meet, we had time to look around. Las Vegas is an odd place to take kids, since it's really not oriented towards kid entertainment. It's more kid friendly than it used to be, certainly; we stayed at Circus Circus, which is much more family oriented and has clearly delineated areas for adults vs. kids. Very handy, actually. We took in a Penn & Teller show, which we all liked a lot, and Riley got his picture taken with both Penn and Teller, though I can't show you those since they were taken on his iPod. :) He was very impressed with Teller. And they led to a discussion about Libertarians (which both Penn & Teller are) and how they're different from Republicans and politics in general and why you need to really listen and examine the facts and think for yourself before you decide on your position on issues.
It's nearly impossible to avoid adult themes in Las Vegas, which led to several other very interesting discussions about why there was so much stuff about sex and why the women in the huge video displays everywhere were so scantily clad, and why there were 'hobos' on street corners handing out 'prostitute trading cards' as the boys put it. And talks about the differences between showgirls and strippers and prostitutes happened as well. Turns out it's kind of hard for boys their age (or perhaps boys of any age) to tell the difference. A lot of the gender role stuff going on in Las Vegas really didn't fit with how they've been raised; we saw the free Treasure Island outdoor show, which used to be all pirates and was pretty cool, but has now been 'sexed up' to be Sirens vs. Pirates, and man, did the Sirens and all the pseudo-sexy stuff going on seem stupid to the boys. Why would women want to act like that, they asked. Why indeed.
There are a lot of huge hotel/casinos in Vegas, especially along the Strip, and the size and grandeur of them is really boggling. They're fancy outside and in, but all of them start looking the same inside, with their slot machines and blackjack tables, and they aren't very interesting if you're not into gambling, or simply too young to play. Casey was annoyed that he wasn't allowed to play, since to him they just looked like games, many of them video based. He probably could have done quite well at most of the games, with his aptitude for math and his great memory. We had to explain why gambling was illegal for underage kids, and that of course led to why it needed to be illegal, and that led into gambling addictions and losing money and all the rest. Welcome to being 12, guys.
We walked down the Strip at night, just to see all the lights and to try to let the boys ride the roller coaster at New York New York at night.
We ended up going into Caesar's Palace, which is immensely huge and confusing; we got lost trying to find our way out several times. I will admit that it made me just want to flee, it was so fancy, so ornate, so adult and so formal. Fortunately the boys were along to help keep things around us informal...
It just really wasn't my style at all, and I couldn't wait to escape. We ran across the street into Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, which felt so much more welcoming and friendly to all of us, and the food was good. Pirates on stilts made balloon hats for the boys and we sang along to the music and felt much more at home.
We never did make it to the roller coaster that night, though we did go the next night, right before we left Las Vegas. Which turned out to be exactly the sort of loopy silliness we needed to end the trip.


  1. Sounds like a great trip, with lots of learning going on. Glad they got to see some high-powered gymnasts, and the museum, and the magicians. If you get up in that area again for another meet, Hoover Dam above Las Vegas is another place with very odd vibe. Art Deco statues and astrolabe-type engravings in the pavement. I don't know if they're still giving tours of the turbine room like they used to.

  2. Congratulations to Casey (and Griffin, and their coach, and you!) on the meet.

    Las Vegas is something else, isn't it? :) Did you get to see the fountains at the Bellagio?

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