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Vegas Extreme: How Real Men Do Sin City

  • Written by  Jeff Miller
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Slots are for suckers and shows are for girls. This is how real men do Sin City. Slots are for suckers and shows are for girls. This is how real men do Sin City.

I’m riding in a tiny two-seat Military-grade airplane over a barren desert valley outside of Las Vegas when I hear the most terrifying four words I can imagine:

“You’ve got the stick.”

I’ve never had any training as a pilot. The closest I’ve ever come to a cockpit is sitting in the first row of coach. But when I grab the control between my legs and veer right, the plane turns.

I feel a little sick.

In a few minutes, the plane and I will be uncontrollably plummeting towards the earth, while the smile on my face gets larger and larger even as my screams become louder and louder.

There’s no shortage of regrettable ways to lose money in Las Vegas: You can do it via a roulette spin, a lap dance or tipping the bouncer at Tao nightclub to bypass the line. You can ride a roller coaster through a faux reproduction of New York (cha-ching), see a faux replication of the Beatles (cha-cha-ching), or propose to your future ex-wife on a faux gondola trip down a faux Venetian canal, all the while hoping that diamond you bought her isn’t faux at all (cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha ching!).

It’s not until you’re inside the 20-ton machine that you realize what a monster this is. Tap the joystick and the entire thing gasps like it’s about to die.

Las Vegas’ magic, however, isn’t found in the typical tourists traps. There are memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences to be had in the real city that never sleeps, if you know where to look. For decades, entrepreneurs have been investing in seemingly ridiculous leisure businesses, all hoping to win the money you just won by offering an experience that you can go home and brag about to your friends.

That’s why, late last year, I headed to Vegas with my friend, TV and food writer Jason Kessler, to experience firsthand three of the most braggable, ultra-extreme things to do in Sin City.

Heavy Machinery

Driving behind the Vegas Strip the sun bounces off industrial projects and loading lanes, with cabbies who know the shortcuts — or pretend to — barreling past adult bookstores and mini-malls stacked with video poker parlors and totally nondescript office parks.

So if your cab were to get lost trying to locate Dig This, the “heavy-equipment playground” that looks more like an abandoned lot than a place to live out your childhood sandbox fantasies on a life-size scale, you could almost forgive the driver’s confusion.

Bulldozers? Yeah, they’ve got them. Those giant earthmoving excavators with the massive claws that look like they’ve been yanked out of an arcade game? Yeah, I’m gonna drive one of those.

It’s not until you’re inside the 20-ton machine that you realize what a monster this is. Tap the joystick and the entire thing gasps like it’s about to die. Move the controls too much and the whole vehicle feels like it’s going to topple over. So when I’m given permission to actually dig, I puss out a bit; the teeth of the claw hit the ground, and I pull up just a bit of dirt.

That’s no fun. I lean into it and the excavator leans with me. All of a sudden, it feels like it’s going to tip. My body freezes up.

Then the steel does what it’s supposed to do — it breaks through. I’m now holding pounds and pounds of dirt, like a real construction worker. At that moment it’s as if I actually get my hands dirty for a living, and I feel more like a man than I have in years. I drop the load and start making a pile. I do it again and make a bigger pile. Before I know it, that pile’s bigger than me.

There’s only one regret: it’s too slow. Let’s fix that.

Need For Speed

When I hit the track, I can feel the heat of the engine revving dangerously high as the too-small instructor with the thick Italian brogue screams, “Up, up, up, up!” Then the corner is coming and it’s, “Down, down, down! NO, BRAKE! BRAKE!”

The smell of gasoline is thick in the air at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which makes sense: The garage we’re in is home to some of the world’s most idolized sports cars. There are revved-up Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2 Spyders, pimped-out Audi R8 V10s and Bondsian Aston Martins, each motoring up on the inside of Exotics Racing’s hangar before being driven onto the twisty pro-circuit-ready track by amateur motorists looking to get fast and furious.

When Jason’s mellow-by-comparison Nissan GT-R pulls back in after he’s taken it for a ride-around, I’m anxious to hear his thoughts. He takes off his sweat-caked helmet, and it’s clear he’s anxious too: “Man. That was - harrowing,” he trails off.

As he stumbles off, presumably in search of water and Xanax, I can feel my heart tighten, and not just because I overdid it on pork belly during dinner at the Cosmopolitan last night. I’m about to get into a Ferrari that is worth more than any make-believe life-insurance policy I may hold and rev-out onto the straightaway, where the professional driver in the passenger seat will be yelling like a Lamaze teacher to “Push! Push! Push!”

It’s actually more like this: After trying not to throw out my back while getting in the door, I’m strapped into the driver seat, which is equipped with shifting paddles to the right and left of the steering wheel. The instructor with a thick accent gives me directions on how to use them. But the truth is that I’m not really listening. This is still just a car, after all, and I’ve been driving for 16 years. I got this.

Not so much. When I hit the track, I can feel the heat of the engine revving dangerously high as the too-small instructor with the thick Italian brogue screams, “Up, up, up, up!” Then the corner is coming and it’s, “Down, down, down! NO, BRAKE! BRAKE!”

We’re back at the straightaway and now it’s pedal to the metal, and I feel like my arm is going to break because my bicep muscles have been ripped to shreds turning this goddamn wheel.

Mercifully, the ride ends before I dislocate a shoulder. I get out of the car as the exhilaration fades along with the adrenaline rush. I know what I want to do now. I want to get high.

Top Gun

So now, I’m plummeting to earth. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Over lunch at the Japanese restaurant Wazuzu, I’d mistakenly described our afternoon to Jason as playing laser tag in airplanes. But when we got to Sky Combat Ace’s hangar, located at a small private airport in nearby Henderson, it started to become clear we were, once again, in for more than we’d bargained for.

“Do you want to do a hammerhead?” he asks. “That’s when I go up until the propeller nearly gives out. Then we freefall back to earth until it kicks back in.”

Jason’s sweat glistened visibly, and my skin was tingling. The leather-backed seats in the waiting room were thoroughly sunken into, with man-sized impressions left in their backs. I knew we’d each be riding in a two-person plane, passengers in front, an Air Force-trained pilot in back. But during the orientation video, something else became clear. Except for take-off and landing, we’d actually be the ones flying the planes.

We climbed into the military-grade Extra 330LC aircraft, Jason and I silently daring each other to be the first to back out. I stuffed myself into the cockpit, the belt barely fitting around my fat-ass frame as the rolls of my stomach pushed the seatbelt out. The in-ear communication system ticked on and I heard the pilot behind me over the noise of my pounding heart.

“Hey. You nervous?” he asked.

“Yeah. Excited. Nervous.”

“Well, some people are born for one thing,” he reassured me, “I’m born for flying planes.” I relaxed a bit. The propellers started chugging.

As we leave the ground, a turbulence bump, magnified my the tininess of the plane, drops my stomach just a bit until it finds its rightful place. I look over and give Jason the thumbs-up. He looks like he’d rather be at the dentist.

We break away from the other plane and I hear the fateful line: “You’ve got the stick.”

I weave right. The plane weaves right. I’m flying a goddamn plane!

“All right,” I say over the intercom, “Let’s take these guys out.”

“Um … I think it’s too late,” my instructor replies. “Jason couldn’t hold his stomach.”

Jason had wazuzu-ed his Wazuzu? I breathe a small sigh of relief.

“Since we’re up here, we may as well do some aeronautics. Do you want to do a loop?”

Do I? I do!

The nose of the plane starts pitching up and over, and all of a sudden I’m upside-down, the G-forces pushing me against the seatbelt, the ground below diving up, and then we’re upright. Wow!

“How do you feel?”

“Great!”

“Do you want to do a hammerhead?” he asks. “That’s when I go up until the propeller nearly gives out. Then we freefall back to earth until it kicks back in.”

I swallow and say yes. We start moving up.

And now, I’m tumbling back to earth in what feels like slow motion. From upside-down, Las Vegas has never looked better.

Click here to check out some videos of these amazing adventures!

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2012



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Last modified on Thursday, 28 June 2012 15:55

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