Ultimate desert road trip

How one couple did Vegas, Death Valley, and Palm Springs in a week ― and made it swing, baby

Gondola ride at the Venetian
Photo: Lisa Romerein

Late afternoon. A weekday. I am floating in a saltwater pool at Palm Springs' Orbit In with a sake cocktail in hand. Palm trees stretch to a blue curaçao sky. The rocky San Jacintos rise beyond, bronze in the day's last light. My gal, Red, idly reads in a white chaise longue. Tonight, a great dinner out. Tomorrow, we'll stop by Dino's house, then maybe Frank's.

At one time, we were just like everyone else. But that was before I told Red, Come fly with me, baby―let's get away from it all. Before we set out on our fast, crazy Las Vegas-Death Valley-Palm Springs road trip. Before we decided to live as large and gorgeous and audacious as the ever-swinging Nevada-California desert.

That was before we experienced the Snap.

Let me explain. You can't think about aroad trip to Las Vegas and Palm Springs and the desert between without thinking Rat Pack, Ocean's 11, '50s and early '60s Hollywood. This was the playground of the stars. And those great, great songs ... My friend Mark, a San Francisco crooner, says this about the perfect swinging tune: "It all starts with the Snap―yes, the Sinatra-cool finger snap, but more than that, it's the pull of the swing rhythm, which is at the heart of American jazz. There's a technical explanation, but it's easier to think of it as the thing that makes your insides feel like they're being twanged.

"Snap, baby."

Let's keep this party polite
Never get out of my sight
Stick with me, baby
I'm the fella
You came in with
Luck be a lady tonight*

*from "Luck Be a Lady Tonight," by Frank Loesser

We rumble out of McCarran International Airport in our rented muscle car and hit the Las Vegas Strip. We're spending some cash on this once-in-a-lifetime trip and have chosen the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino as our refuge. As we head down its drive, the buzz of Vegas dies away, and we buy into the resort's over-the-top, even theatrical, salute to the Old World romance of Venice. Well, more or less. Red shakes her head at the gondolas making their way through the resort's canals: "They're so cheesy!" (I vow to get her on one before we leave town.)



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