GratiTuesday: Our Adventures

On each of the four Tuesdays in December, I am highlighting what I have been most grateful for in 2017.

2017 has been an adventurous year for us and I am grateful for the many opportunities we had to get out and about. Some of the highlights (with links to previous posts) include:

Doing Rockabilly right!

Viva Las Vegas is an annual Rockabilly celebration that we have attended for the last few years. Some people go for the music, Some for the dancing, some for the fashion, and some for the vintage collections, including cars. Most go for a little bit of everything. I am grateful to the young people for keeping this genre alive… and making it their own.

In the spring, we spent five weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico. By staying in a single setting the entire time, we were able to better immerse ourselves in the culture (although, in many ways, we felt that we just scratched the surface). I am grateful for all the friendly, interesting people we met and the incredible sights we visited, and we look forward to returning to this remarkable city.

Quite different from the slow travel we experienced in Oaxaca, our travels to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska were jam-packed with activity. We enjoyed scheduled events, explored national parks, visited friends and family, and experienced the grandeur of glaciers. I am grateful for the freedom that retirement has given us so we can expand our time away to fit in everything we want to see and do.

And now we have just returned from our latest adventure in Northern California. We had a wonderful time exploring San Francisco, visiting family, hiking, and sampling delicious wines and champagnes in Napa Valley. I am grateful for the hospitality we enjoyed and grateful for our dear friends who took such good care of our home while we were gone.

It will be hard to top the adventures we had in 2017, but I am grateful for the opportunity to try.

Rockabilly Style Comes to Las Vegas

There aren’t many things that would prompt my husband and me to drive 320 miles – through boring scenery and across the desert – with the final destination being a town built on gambling, excessive partying, and staying out late (none of which we are fond of). But, the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend event, the largest rockabilly festival in the world, is well worth the trip.

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People from all over the world gather for this annual event. Some come to the Rockabilly Weekend for the cars, others come for the tattoos, many come to see and be seen, or for the vintage and kitschy merchandise, or maybe the tiki pool parties, pin-up, and burlesque, but almost all come for the music.

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The car show was great (Over 1,000, pre-1963 vehicles were on display), tattoos were both colorful and plentiful (and you could add even more ink at the event), the people-watching was stellar, you could buy just about anything from parasols to pomades, and rockabilly style ranged from sweet to sexy, but it was the music and dancing that enticed my husband and me to return to Las Vegas for this year’s event.

Although this was only our second year, Viva Las Vegas was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and they – and the attendees – really put on a show. Over 60 bands played on six stages over the 3-day weekend and when they weren’t playing, the DJs kept everyone entertained. Typically, the music started around 3:00 pm and ended well after midnight (or so the schedule said, we were long asleep by then).

 

We enjoy swing dancing and, for the most part, the music gave us a lot of opportunities to get out on the dance floor. When we weren’t dancing, we were watching others far more talented than us. Although some of the dancers were older, most were young(ish) and it was nice to see the classic dance styles being preserved. Jive, Jitterbug, Balboa, Lindy, Cha-Cha, West Coast Swing, and even some Texas Two-Step and Polka: whatever dance the music inspired.

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Besides the great music and dancing opportunities, we enjoyed watching the young men and women who love the rockabilly style and dressed to impress. Many of them wore classic 1940s clothes and had their hair styled to match (although the colors were often not those found in nature). Some dressed that way just for the weekend, but others had clearly committed themselves to that look.

Whether we go next year or not, we haven’t decided. We have decided, though, to sign up for Lindy classes. It was a dance style that looked like a lot of fun and we want to be ready when the music moves us to get up and out on the floor.

GratiTuesday: Unexpected delights

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I traveled to Las Vegas to attend the annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend event (more on that in another post). We don’t gamble and we don’t drink a lot (especially when we are dancing) so what Las Vegas is famous for doesn’t hold a great amount of appeal for us.

The weekend event is held at a hotel off The Strip so it’s easy for us to ignore the glitz and “glamor” (but, unfortunately not the cigarette smoke), and at least attempt to eat a fairly normal diet. We were happy to find a local supermarket to buy fruit, snacks, and other items we could keep in our room.

On our first visit to the market, while we were in the produce section, I was surprised and delighted to see Elvis checking out the apples. I’m not sure I would have recognized him had he not been wearing his white jumpsuit, but I’m sure that he was the real deal.

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I wish I could have gotten a better shot, but I was too shy to ask him to pose. Unfortunately, on subsequent visits, Elvis had left the building and was nowhere to be found.

Then, on our drive back to the hotel, I came across a curious scene on the center island of the street we were on.

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I’m not sure what the back story is, but a golden lion with red eyes, surrounded by 5 pink crocodiles (or, whatever they were) has to have one… don’t you think?

Some people are wowed by the noisy crowds and flashing slot machines, others by the glitzy shows and other extravaganzas Las Vegas has to offer. Us, not so much. But I am grateful for the unexpected, silly, puzzling, delightful little encounters we often find when we travel and find ourselves off the well-beaten path.

What happens in Las Vegas…

My husband and I recently spent six days in Las Vegas. Neither of us are gamblers or heavy drinkers so the ubiquitous slot machines, card tables, and bars weren’t the beneficiaries of any poor choices on our part. We were there to attend an event, but added a few extra days to look around since neither of us had been to Sin City for many years.

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We spent one day walking up and down the Strip, enjoying the kitschy fantasy hotels created to emulate great cities of the world, such as Paris, New York, and Venice. I have to admit the designers did a pretty good job capturing their essence… if Paris, New York, and Venice were filled with bright and noisy slot machines and cigarette smoke (OK, maybe they nailed that part).

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The next day we took a tour of the Neon Museum and Boneyard, which features discarded signs from old hotels and casinos. This two-acre outdoor museum is crammed full of vintage neon; some of signs still light up (they offer an after dark tour but it usually fills up quickly), but most are in various stages of decay and show the lovely patina of age. The hour-long walking tour was full of history and the photo ops were glorious.

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After our tour, we drove a few short blocks to the Mob Museum where we learned about the history of the Mafia, both in general and, more specifically, in Las Vegas. Although there are guided tours and audio tours available, we opted to take ourselves through the fascinating and well-organized museum. (Tours of both museums can be booked online, and there is a special price when you purchase the two together.)

As interesting as these museums were—and I do recommend them if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas—the main reason we were there was to attend Viva Las Vegas: a four-day extravaganza of music, cars, dancing, and a people-watcher’s paradise.

Viva Las Vegas is the largest Rockabilly festival in the world and attracts about 20,000 attendees from around the globe. The event features over 75 bands, North America’s biggest pre-1960s era car show, and hundreds of vendors selling vintage clothing and accessories. There are also fashion shows, tiki pool parties, and dancing, including demonstrations and contests.

Did I mention the people watching?

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Although my husband and I love to swing dance, I didn’t know very much about Rockabilly or the Rockabilly culture. Viva Las Vegas provided an extreme immersion course. Apparently, there is a whole subculture that embraces a style that combines 1940s/1950s dress with tattoos and hair colors not found in nature. I was fascinated by these Rockabilly aficionados and we’d often find a comfortable seat just to watch them stroll by. As members of the selfie and social media generation, most seemed completely comfortable in their (heavily tattooed) skin and were happy to pose for pictures.

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I couldn’t help but contrast myself at that age… trying so hard to fit in, but not stand out. If this was a “thing” when I was young, would I have gotten tattoos or dyed my hair a cartoon color? Probably not. I both admired them for their confidence, and worried for their future marketability in the job world. Hair color can be easily changed, tattoos… not so much.

We had such a great time that we already have our hotel reservations and tickets for next year. Although we won’t be getting tattooed in the interim, we do plan on picking up a few new dance steps and some vintage clothing before we return. It’s all part of the fun.