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Alex Horvath / The Californian

Bakersfield Californian contributing columnist Scott Cox.

Just got back from my buddy's wedding in Las Vegas, where I discovered that all is not lost if you happen to be exiled -- as we were -- from staying on the Strip.

When I called to book a room, all the hotels on the Strip were full for the Mayweather fight Saturday night. I'm one of those people who likes to get the best deal on rooms, but I also like to stay close to all the stuff I want to do while I'm in town. The people (computers? robots?) at offered us a killer deal at the Stratosphere, so we took it. It's pretty far from the Strip, so we were a little apprehensive.

Guess what? It was pretty great. The rooms were clean and spacious, the service was really good, and the restaurants were a lot better than we expected. The wait at the Top of the World was longer than we thought we could survive after the marathon drive, so they steered us to McCall's Heartland Grill, and it was fantastic. Really great food and drinks, and mercifully not overpriced.

We spent a fair amount of time up on the observation deck, which hotel guests get to enjoy for free. All others pay $18. There's a selection of four wacky/terrifying rides up there if you're not acrophobic. If you are, I suggest seeking your entertainment elsewhere.

So if you have a trip to Vegas in your future and you don't mind a five-minute drive to downtown, give the Stratosphere a look. And when you go, get out of town before noon if you don't want to spend seven hours on I-15.

And you don't.

Promising new singer

Between my radio job and my music magazine review gig, I get sent a lot of CDs. I mean stacks and stacks of them. Some days they show up at the station and other days they fill up my mailbox. I try to listen to them all, which is usually pretty easy if the albums are from bands that I'm familiar with. Trickier are the ones that are from newcomers, people who frequently haven't made names for themselves in the biz yet. But I play those too because I figure that somebody went to all the trouble to get them to me, so it's the least I can do.

Well a friend of mine recently sent a CD to me, professing to want nothing more than my unvarnished opinion, which is pretty daring, considering I'm not known as much of an opinion varnisher. The album is by a girl from Paso Robles, of all places, named Cheyenne McDonald. I was not too keen on another CD by another teen country wannabe, but I gave the thing a spin anyway.

As it turns out, she can sing! In a world where aspiring teenage girl singers are worth considerably less than a dime a dozen, this kid stands out. She's obviously got pipes, but -- more impressive -- she has just enough grit in that velvety voice to keep you listening. Still, she's not quite where she needs to be yet. She'll need to get out in the world and sing live. A lot. But this kid -- she's only 16 -- has a versatility that defies her age. And while she's out there playing and singing, she'll live a lot more life, which will add body and character to her songwriting. Learn more about her at

'Iran Man 3' in IMAX

Anyone who's as much of a comic book nerd as I am has already seen "Iron Man 3" by now. (Two sentence review: The character-driven movie is a lot more Tony Stark and a lot less Iron Man. Ben Kingsley, as the baddie, totally steals the show.)

But even if you've seen the movie, you haven't really seen it until you watch it in an IMAX theater in 3D, as we did on our recent Vegas trip. The sound and visuals jumped off the screen. It's a state-of-the-art production in every way.

These are Scott Cox's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.