Part of an old sign at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.
Part of an old sign at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I don’t gamble. These are probably three of the biggest reasons why I hadn’t been to Las Vegas before now. Growing up on the east coast was another contributing factor, I’m sure, as I never had a good enough reason to get on a plane, but now that I live in Los Angeles, Vegas is within easy driving distance for a quick weekend trip.

On some level, I have always been curious about Las Vegas and its seedy reputation. I equate it with my appreciation of Charles Bukowski. His lifestyle could not have been more different than my own and yet I find myself inexplicably drawn to his tales of debauchery. For me, it’s the same with Vegas. It’s an absolute train wreck of a town and yet for some reason, I just can’t look away.

My girlfriend travels to Vegas at least once a year for business and has developed a pretty strong hatred for the city. However, when I surprised her with tickets to Funny Or Die’s Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival for her birthday, she was excited to go.

The driving portion of the trip was actually a lot of fun for me. I had never visited a desert before and watching the landscape change before my eyes with each passing mile was an incredible experience. There were some extremely barren parts, of course, but also some very beautiful stretches, filled with thousands of Joshua trees and striated mountain ranges.

We stopped for lunch and gas in Barstow, California. It’s a depressing little desert town about halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Other than a couple of military bases and a few big chain stores, there isn’t much there, but I was surprised to learn that Barstow is actually a major transportation hub for two different freight railroads.

After a little searching, we found a mexican restaurant called Lola’s Kitchen and it was fantastic. The burritos were fresh, delicious and cheap. The service was warm and friendly and the dining area, kitchen and restrooms were all very clean. It’s a small, family run business and I will definitely stop in again if I’m ever passing through.

For the rest of the weekend, the food was hit or miss. After checking in at the Monte Carlo, we decided to head off the beaten path a bit and tried a local restaurant called M&M Soul Food Cafe. The service was good, but sadly, the food was very disappointing, despite the good Yelp! reviews. The next day, we made the mistake of eating lunch at the buffet in the casino, which was basically one step above cafeteria food. Our last dinner in Vegas was at D. Vino, which is one of the restaurants inside the Monte Carlo. It was simple Italian food, but it was actually very good.

Las Vegas itself was a mixed bag for me. It was cool to see all of the hotel architecture, especially the Bellagio and its famous fountain show, but the drunken tourists and noisy casinos that reek of cigarette smoke were just too much for me to handle. One or two hours walking up and down the strip was enough. Fremont Street and “old Vegas” were equally disappointing.

On Saturday afternoon, we braved the scorching heat and went to the Neon Museum, an outdoor collection of salvaged and refurbished neon signs from classic Las Vegas hotels, casinos and other local businesses. The museum is only 15 minutes north of the main part of the strip, not too far from Fremont Street. The tour lasts about an hour and is a lot of fun. Artists, designers and photographers will love this place. You can also take a tour at night when the signs are lit for a more dramatic experience.

Saturday night was the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival at Mandalay Bay. Dave Chappelle, Jim Jeffries, Kristen Schaal and all of the other comedians were great, but Flight Of The Conchords were absolutely amazing. We were so excited to see them play live and they did not disappoint. I did overhear some grumbling after the show from a few people who weren’t familiar with the band or their TV show. Those people obviously live under a rock and need to watch this video immediately.

Spinosaurus sculpture at Peggy Sue's 50s Diner and "Diner-saur Park."
Spinosaurus sculpture at Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner and “Diner-saur Park.”

We got up relatively early on Sunday morning and drove back to LA. This time, we decided to stop for lunch in Yermo, CA. You can’t miss Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner from the road, thanks to the large dinosaur sculptures in the adjacent “Diner-saur Park.” This photo op is an absolute must, but the food alone at Peggy Sue’s is worth stopping for. You can explore the park or check out their sizable gift shop while you wait to be seated. They also run a pizza place in the rear of the building if you’re not in the mood for a burger and fries.

Once food was consumed, pictures were taken and fuel was pumped, it was back on the road for the final leg of our journey. After three days in the desert, it was a relief to get back to breezy Los Angeles. I am not cut out for desert living and prefer being within an hour’s drive of the ocean. Even if I don’t see it every day, it’s comforting just to know it’s there.