United States: Kiwis in Vegas

By Pamela Wade

Pamela Wade opts for some out-of-the-box, wild adventures.

Kiwi David Harris is part of the Thunder From Down Under troupe who keep numerous hen parties entertained.
Kiwi David Harris is part of the Thunder From Down Under troupe who keep numerous hen parties entertained.

Melissa has a handgun on her hip, so I'd never disagree with her, but I soon discover she's right to say that the Kiwi businesses in Las Vegas are distinctive:

"They're out of the box. They offer something fun and wild."

In a city famous for particularly extreme definitions of "fun and wild", Ed Mumm and the improbably named Genghis Cohen have established unique niches in a tourism industry that welcomes 43 million visitors a year.

Each of them offers a chance to dice with danger and a lifetime's bragging rights, and Dave Harris and Ryan Paki do something that, before I saw it, I thought I would keep a secret.

Machine Guns Vegas

Bringing guns to the US initially seems like a coals-to-Newcastle scenario; but in this bunker-like, dimly lit building I see weapons that get even Americans excited.

Glock, Uzi, Browning, Tommy gun, Sten gun, AK47 are well-known names; but SAW, M4 and MP5 are acronyms most familiar to gamers, who come here eager to fire for real the weapons they've used in countless hours of online battles.

That's where they differ from Genghis, who has lived in the US for 20 years.

"I don't really like guns," he says.

Genghis grew up in Orewa and joined the army, so for him they are tools, and he has strong views on gun control.

"I could talk about it for hours."

His weapon of choice is a bow and arrow but there's a steady demand from punters keen to indulge their inner gunslinger.

The business offers a range of menus to suit all tastes, from gaming to military and historical, plus the "Femme Fatale Experience", with the emphasis on fatale. There's even a kids' package, with a couple of submachine guns and a sniper's rifle.

For me it's the Sauer pistol first, black and sinister. It's unnerving to hold a real gun, loaded with real bullets, and point at the life-sized outline of a person, but I'm still pleased to get all of my 10 bullets through its chest.

A 410 shotgun is next, chosen for its low recoil, and I rip large holes through the heart of the green man plus one through his head for good measure. I'm a bit more haphazard with the spray of bullets from the M4 machine gun but all of the holes from the seriously military SAW - Squad Assault Weapon - are contained within the incongruously pink figure of my last target.

Jackie, who has been at my shoulder with advice and encouragement, nods with satisfaction.

"Right on the money," she says, and I glow with pride. If ever I need to defend myself with a pre-loaded weapon against a paper person less than 10m away, I now know that I have what it takes.

Dig This

For Ed Mumm, tools are toys.

His circuitous route from Otago to Las Vegas includes fence-building, rodeo-riding and falling in love, but the pivotal moment was having a go with a contractor's excavator during building work at his place in Colorado.

He had so much fun he knew he was on to a winner: jump forward past several years of legal and financial complications and you come to what has been voted the Number 1 attraction in Las Vegas, in a vacant lot next to the freeway.

All that's there is a couple of big yellow diggers, a pair of dozers and a scattering of road cones and old tyres on the dirt - but this is a magical place where time contracts and "you can live your sandbox days for real", as Ed says in the introductory video.

Walt, who's running the show today, makes fun of Ed's Kiwi accent - "ikscavator" he mimics - in a safety briefing that's humorous and reassuring.

Even so, strapping myself into the cab of a 17-tonne excavator is scary. There's so much power in my hands, so much that could go terribly wrong. But with Walt's calm drawl coming through the headset, I start to relax as he coaches me through the controls, spinning, tipping and driving this huge machine.

Once I've got left and right sorted, it's actually quite straightforward and, before long, I'm trundling forward to dig myself a hole, the jaws on the bucket biting into the dirt. Next there's a pyramid of massive tyres to move and reassemble, and then basketballs to pluck off cones and drop into another tyre.

It's delicate work and I'm so proud to do it well - better than the guy in the other digger.

"Women pick it up faster than men," Ed tells me later.

"They listen better and don't beat themselves up about mistakes."

But I've made none, and with my basketballs all in the tyre I'm looking round for the next task.

When Walt tells me that's it, the hour-plus is over, I can't believe it. It felt like 10 minutes.

Ten minutes of the best fun I've ever had.

Thunder from Down Under

Fun is what all the hen parties around me have come here for: they're deadly serious about it. I'm just regretting being put in the front row. It's my first-ever male revue, and I'm feeling anxious and exposed.

It's too late to escape: the house-lights dim, the spotlights flare and the music blares.

"Get ready for all 100 per cent red-blooded Aussies," the announcer roars.

Except, that's not quite right. Up there on stage, instantly recognisable by his strut, is Ryan Paki and later I chat to another cast member, actor David Harris from Wanganui.

"There's no competition," he says.

"When Kiwis and Aussies are overseas, we're like family. The guys are so down-to-earth and humble, they don't take things seriously. There's no vanity or sleaziness. The show's a good laugh."

He's right, it's hilarious. There's a lot of skin and muscles, naturally, and the shiny bare buttocks and pelvic-thrusting get the hen parties shrieking with joy. When it's time for audience interaction they're begging to be chosen; and the fake orgasm competition is fiercely fought. It's also highly active - the drinks waitress ducks routinely with her tray as performers leap from the stage on to tables - and I'm impressed by their, er, fitness.

"We have to work out," says David.

"It's physically demanding, 12 shows a week."

Certainly, no one's in any doubt that the dancer nicknamed Bubble Butt has put in the hard yards.

Aussie down-to-earth humour and naturalness rob the show of any offensiveness. When my glasses are removed and hooked into somebody's g-string, it's all in such good fun that I worry it might seem rude, after fishing them out, to wipe them off before putting them back on.

So I don't.

Further information: See DiscoverAmerica.com for more on visiting Las Vegas.

Pamela Wade was a guest of the operators.

- Herald on Sunday

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