California Dreaming Part 3: Ghosts, Bagdad, Sin City.

Text read by Mary Peters

We left Los Angeles and headed east on Route 66. Our destination was Las Vegas which is about four hours away. But there were two sites our guide wanted us to see. We soon learned that distances were measured in time and not in miles. In a country as large as the United States, it puts everything into a better perspective. 

After driving for about two hours, we stopped in Calico. In its heyday, it was a silver mining town. Then, when the silver was gone, it became a ghost town. Now, it is a tourist attraction, complete with its own tourist train and restaurant. And of course, toilets. This was the first question to our guide, Robert, “Where are the bathrooms?” Then, there was a mass exodus from the bus to the toilets. 

Calico is a desert town. It is empty, there are no people now, except for the tourists. The whole region is dry and mountainous. It was hot, dry, and dusty. The place is like the towns you see in western films. There are probably snakes and scorpions everywhere, but only very few green areas to observe. There is no vegetation, no shade, no church. It was just a mining town created by the gold miners, and fifty years later, they left. Everything is made of wood. It was quicker to build houses this way. You cannot visit the mine itself, but there is a tour around the village on the tourist train. There are only two colours. The brown of the wood and the blue of the sky. There were not many tourists. Just our group, in the late morning. 

I did not see any cowboys walking down Main Street, holding their hands by their pistols. The main street reminded me of western films. It is a typical American tourist attraction. 

I was very thirsty, so I went to the saloon and drank a beer, a Budweiser. It was not on tap but served in cans. I sat outside on the veranda on a rocking chair. The door to the saloon was the typical western style door. I felt like a cowboy. It is easy to be transported into a western film. But there were no women wearing long dresses with petticoats, ankle boots, singing and dancing and no men playing cards in the corner, smoking cigarettes. There were no horses tethered outside. 

The place is sad. Again, when you have seen it, it’s enough. For me, it was just a typical American gold mining town. I had been there. It was too big a contrast to Los Angeles. Then, 4 hours later, you are in Las Vegas. There are three extremes: Los Angeles, Calico and then Las Vegas. But this is the United States. There are many, many contrasts. Time to continue our journey. 

We stopped at the Bagdad Café. It is on the I-40 near Newberry Springs. A little further down the road is the small town of Bagdad, Cal. It is part of the Route 66 legend and inspired the 1980s cult film Bagdad Café (known in Europe as Out of Rosenheim). It tells the story of a lonely German woman coming from near Munich and ending up in the most desolate motel on the planet and making it a brighter place. 

The café is located close to the original film set, and it really is in the middle of nowhere. You stop to have a beer and to eat a hamburger. It has become something of a tourist trap. The whole place is more touristy. In fact, there were more tourists here than back in Calico. The building is a stone building with wooden roof tiles. 

We stayed for about half an hour but did not drink anything. The interior is something else. I put a little sticker with my name and where I am from on the wall. Bernard from Seebach was here. This has become something of a tradition. You see flags from around the world. The café is a world attraction. It does not look inviting, but there is a charm about it. If you were to modernise it, it would not be the same. You can imagine all the people visiting this café. It is unique, a café with a story. We pushed on. 

Driving Los Angeles to Las Vegas non-stop takes about 4 hours. Vegas is the gambling city in the middle of the desert. Its reputation with casinos, shows, luxury hotels has given it the nickname Sin City. Nevada is a gambling state, and gambling is ubiquitous.  

After dinner, I went gambling. I lost $100 in a minute. That is expensive. The temptation is enormous, and the biggest winners are the casinos themselves. After dinner, I saw a woman at a machine. When I walked past before breakfast in the morning, she was still at the same place. It is interesting to observe the people playing at the blackjack tables. It is loud. The raison d’être of the casinos is to take your money. Some friends found it difficult to keep the discipline. My budget was $100. To have self-discipline is extremely important. You must have a budget and then stop. The temptation is enormous. You stand in front of these machines, and you hope. You hope that you win something. But it seldom happens. Everything is luxurious, cosy, and designed to attract and keep the people inside. 

We are in the desert, but there is water everywhere in Las Vegas. There are fountains and canals. The big hotels use a lot of water. It is pumped from Lake Powell, but it is beginning to run dry. 

Las Vegas is excess. You need a lot of money. The ceiling of the Caesar Palace is made from Murano glass. To visit a show can cost up to $500 per ticket. Las Vegas, life is at night. It sleeps during the day. It is okay for two days. It is pure kitsch. The level of service is high, the prices are correct. Las Vegas is a must-visit because it is so unique and loud. Again, it is a city of extremes. It is vulgar.