Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Musings

For the past two weeks, I've been trying to politely work with my web-host provider but all of my niceness has gotten me nowhere. The support tickets I've submitted to move the transfer along have been ignored. They've got me over a barrel in that the 'who is' contact information is listed as them rather than me. I never noticed this until now and it may seem like a small detail but when transferring a domain it's vital that the information is that of the domain owner for the process to go through. They're the only ones who can correct it.

The web-host service is Myacen located in Perth, Australia and they're a reseller for a larger company called Enom located in the US. My frustration led me to contact Enom to see if there was any pressure they could bring to bear on Myacen to get them to work with me. It may be working. I'm not out of the woods yet but it appears the prairie grass is coming into view. Enom has the ability to make the necessary changes on their end if Myacen doesn't comply. There are waiting periods involved but at least I'm not dead in the water.

My website is down for now as are a bunch of links in my blog but hopefully, I'll have them all back within a few days.

I would've thought that 6 and half years of my loyal support and me bringing Myacen two other clients would be enough for them to allow me to leave on friendly terms. What a way to run a business.

Speaking of running a business; we Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers (you know...the ones who put their careers on the line each time we belly-up to a sector) have ratified a new contract which will go into effect next Thursday, October 1st. It won overwhelmingly with 97% of us voting in favor of ratification. We'll once again be receiving the pay raises that management has been denying us but not denying themselves. Also, we'll once again have a grievance process in place where rogue managers/supervisors won't be allowed to trample over good people undeterred. It's been an arduous journey to get to where we are. This fight we've been forced to wage has done nothing but create a workforce distrustful and disrespectful of management. Again I say, what a way to run a business. (We're not really a business but FAA management likes to say we are. Truth be told, we're a service organization and we have users, not customers.)

I forgot to mention a movie that Tammy and I watched a couple weeks ago called Taking Chance. It's based on true events about a Marine Private who was killed in Iraq and the officer who accompanies his body home. I have to admit that I was ignorant about all that goes into bringing a fallen soldier home and the reverence displayed along the way by those involved. Rent it, you won't be sorry you did.

I recently learned from a friend at work of another park where we can take our pups to walk them; thank you, Nick. It's Ritter Farm Park and it's just a few miles from home. I had no idea the park existed. It's not only bigger and nicer than where we've been taking them but it's also free. The only downside for the pups is that there are fewer other dogs to interact with along the way. The park has miles of trails just like the photo to the right. Tammy and I took them out for a 3-mile loop the other day. The other park we take them to is also nice but not nearly as scenic as Ritter or as hilly. The fact that it's half the distance from home sort of makes this a no-brainer for me when it's time to choose a park to take them to.

Charlie turns one year old this coming Tuesday. And to think, he was only supposed to stay for the weekend. He's a Gilmore now and he's pretty much got full run of the house 24/7. We've had no messes from him for nearly two weeks so I think we can officially certify him as housebroken. That was a much more difficult job than we were prepared for. We affectionately refer to him as our 'puppy mill' dog because he's a bit daffy at times. He's got this new thing he does where he quickly backs up when you chase him and he reminds me of a crayfish. Watch the video to see what I mean.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Earning My Stripes

This is a continuation of a series of posts I've been adding to about my early years, post-high school and entering the Navy. The first of those entries can be found here. The most recent is here.

Shipboard life in port in San Diego was probably as good a duty as I could've hoped for. I was the junior sailor in our division for my first several months on-board which meant that I was the go-to guy for whatever working-parties there may have been. A working-party is where each division sends one man (the junior guy) to help out with whatever grunt work needs to be done. It's typically an hour or two detail but sometimes it can be one which lasts for days.

One of the first times I was assigned to a detail, I was part of a painting crew. We spraypainted several compartments throughout the ship and I'm quite certain we took very few precautions to protect ourselves from paint fumes. They gave us surgical masks which were pretty much useless. It was miserable duty that took the better part of a week.

I got along with everyone in my division except for one other Radarman, Pete Alford. Pete was a 3rd class petty officer who had maybe 12-18 months more time in the Navy than I did. Pete was black and I was the privileged white kid, or so I felt he looked at me that way. He was quite proud of his crow and his perceived power over me. Maybe it was just a hazing Pete was subjecting me to. If it was, he was the only one participating. It would take time but I'd eventually gain his respect—or maybe he simply got bored messing with me.

It was Pete's negligee he'd bought for his wife that I wore as part of the beauty contest crossing the equator.

I located Pete years later in Plano, TX and gave him a call to see how his life was going. He told me how he'd recently worked for Senator Alan Cranston and that he was studying for his law degree. That was the last time we spoke, some 25 years ago. Pete—if you're out there, drop me a line—it's all good.

I used to get my paycheck and turn around and send most of it home in the form of a money order to be deposited into my savings account. I suppose I figured that if I had easy access to the account I'd be too tempted to use it. I had no bills; no car payment, insurance, fuel or rent to pay. Even my meals were covered as long as I ate on the ship. The only expenses I had were my bike, doing laundry out in the city, fast food, and an occasional cassette of some new music. Without question, those were the most carefree days of my life and I understood that and enjoyed the contentment of knowing it.

I had my head on straight and I was embracing my healthier focus toward life. I remember riding my bike off the base one morning past one of the bars just outside the gate, the Westerner. There was a sailor half laying on the sidewalk and leaning up against the brick wall looking like he'd just woken up from having been passed out. I thought to myself, what a waste. I was thankful it wasn't me. I was thankful for my bike and for the day ahead of me, not knowing where my ride would take me. I was thankful for the 2nd or 3rd or however many extra chances I'd been given.

Living in such close quarters as we did, you'd like to think that you could trust those you shared space with. I think for the most part we could but not fully. I came back to the ship one afternoon after having been out in the city purchasing a $140 money order to send home. I laid down on my rack for half an hour and when I woke up I noticed that my pants with my wallet in the back pocket had been moved from where I'd left them. I checked the pocket for my wallet but it was gone. I searched everywhere thinking it had to have fallen out, not accepting that one of my shipmates had taken it. I never found it.

In addition to the $140 money order, there was also $60 in cash that was taken. It was a lot of money 30 years ago, at least to me. I had my hunch about who took it based on who was hanging around that afternoon but there was no way to prove it. The guy I still suspect took it was one of my better friends which made the whole experience tough to understand.

Before I could write a letter or call home to tell my parents what happened, I got a letter from my mom. She wrote about a dream she'd had where a guy on my ship had stolen my wallet. His last name was Cohen and he was in the process of trying to get a transfer off the ship. The letter floored me because across from my rack was Steve Cohan's bunk. All week long Steve had been talking about trying to get a transfer off the ship to submarine duty. To this day I still can't believe it was Steve who stole from me. I'm certain who it was but my mother's letter has always cast a shadow of doubt on that certainty. I still have the letter my mother wrote me detailing the dream she had but for the life of me, I can't find it. I figured that two hours of looking tonight was long enough. It'll show up someday and I'll then scan it to post here.

I was able to recover the amount of the money order but the $60, my license and photos from my wallet would be the price of a lesson learned.

I came onto the ship a few months earlier as a wide-eyed, trusting kid who mostly saw the best in people. I'd learn a lot over the next few years.

To be continued...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Setting a New Course With Two Wheels

This is a continuation of a series of posts written about my time spent in the Navy in the mid to late 1970s. The most recent of those writings can be found here while the initial entry in this series is here.

We got back from our WestPac (Western Pacific) cruise in the Fall of 1976. It had been a busy year for me, especially considering that one year earlier, joining the Navy was not on my radar while working dead-end jobs was. For the most part, we'd spend the next 21 months in port in San Diego and in that time I'd fall in love with my home away from home; not the ship but the city.

I didn't own a car or even a bike so I walked most everywhere and would catch buses along the way. I did my share of hitchhiking as well but eventually, I'd stop thumbing for rides after having had too many encounters that left me questioning that cheap form of transportation. To quote a line from a favorite TV show from years ago; "No thanks, Chuck, I'll remain on my own."

I wasn't necessarily a loner but neither can I say that I was much of an after-hours regular with the crowd of guys who made up our division. I'd go out with them occasionally in addition to some guys from other divisions and have a few beers but that was about it.

One of those outings was with Garry I. in December 1976. His brother had also been stationed on our ship and had finished his enlistment one week earlier and left his car behind for Garry to use. I don't know if Garry smoked dope much but he had some in the car with us; I knew he liked his beer. We were headed over to the Enlisted Men's' Club at the Naval Training Center on Point Loma and when we drove onto the base, the guard at the gate motioned for us to pull around to where they were conducting random vehicle inspections. Garry stashed the dope in the door of the car but there was no hiding it from the nose of the German Shepherd accompanying the officers. Garry did his best to try and pass the weed off as something his brother must have left in the car and that he was unaware of its presence. The MPs weren't convinced.

After collecting our identification information they sent us over to the Military Police station on base and we walked inside. The first thing we saw beyond an officer on the phone at the elevated front desk were two empty jail cells with their doors slightly open. Like a couple of knuckleheads, we each took our place in one of the cells and latched the door shut. The officer soon finished his call and asked us why we were in the cells. We told him we'd just gotten busted for dope at the gate and figured we would be spending the night in jail. He laughed and then called us over to the desk and proceeded to fill out a police report on the matter which would be sent off to our ship and Commanding Officer. And that was that; we were free to go.

As we drove back to our ship, Garry had an idea that if we kept quiet and somebody else somehow put the word out that we got busted, it would be a violation of our privacy rights and may possibly get us off. I had no idea if there was any merit to his plan but what else could we do? We agreed that neither of us would say anything to anybody about what had happened.

Mike Dugan was the Personnel Specialist who opened the mail the following Monday detailing our bust. It didn't take long for Mike to make his way to the living quarters we shared and remark to the others that it was a 'bummer about Gilmore and Ixxxxx getting busted the other night'. Say what? Everybody was all ears as it was the first they'd heard of it. I could only hope that Garry knew what he was talking about.

What exactly happened behind the scenes over the next couple of weeks I have no way of knowing. Rather than go to Captain's Mast where these sorts of things were typically handled (usually resulted in one to two months restriction to the ship in addition to a $250 fine), we were sent before the Executive Officer of the ship and received only a verbal admonishment. Had Garry been right all along? I asked no questions. The ordeal was behind us, or so I thought.

Years later at my job with the FAA, I was a controller in training. I was told that there was a man from the FBI who wanted to talk to me. I couldn't imagine why anybody from the FBI would want to speak to me. I met him in a conference room where he closed the door and introduced himself as Agent King. He asked me about an incident a few years earlier involving a bust for marijuana while I was in the Navy. I described for him what had happened and stated that the charges were dropped and that I was surprised the incident was a part of my records. He took notes while I spoke. Our meeting lasted only a few minutes and in parting, he told me that he'd be doing an investigation of his own. I never heard from him again.

Back on the ship and out from under the charges, I knew there was a reason I liked the solitude of my own company but I needed more than that.

A few months later I was at the Navy Exchange (a store on the base) where I spied a white Peugeot 10-speed. Having a nice road bike had been a desire of mine for a few years but that dream was shoved aside at 16 when I got my license. My bike would open up a new world to me and one where I'd make my health a focus. My riding would teach me discipline in a way I'd not known. This would be a good thing in so many ways.

To be continued...

Friday, September 11, 2009

A New Host and Saddle Solution Number 3

If you notice during the next few days that links within my blog appear to be dead there's a reason for that. I'm in the process of terminating my affiliation with Myacen, my web hosting service and bringing it back to life with Go Daddy. I hope to have it all back to normal in a week or less. I've been with Myacen for six years but over the last couple of years, they've become a shell of what they once were to the point where I needed to make this change. My site was down for most of yesterday. The five-year deal I've signed with Go Daddy will give me 10gb of storage and more bandwidth than I could ever use, all for significantly less than I've been paying.

Our garage project is on hold as we wait for Keith to finish work on cabinets for it. I'm actually not sure if he's even had a chance to start them yet as he's been busy traveling the Midwest following the NHRA race scene which he participates in. He's a busy guy and I'm sure he'll get to them before too long. It will be nice to have everything back in place once the cabinets are installed.

Anybody who cycles long-distance knows the woes of saddle sores. If you've never had them you can't consider yourself a serious cyclist. I'm a serious cyclist; like these guys. I thought I'd found the answer to my problems last fall with the purchase of a Selle SMP Evolution saddle but I was mistaken. After 1800 miles I had to replace it as it was causing some major irritation to my sit bones. This past spring I sprung for a Koobi PRS Alpha saddle and was very happy once again until I developed the same problem with it. Usually, the tendency is to develop sore spots right away which your body eventually adjusts to. This seemed to work in reverse. Both saddles started out fine but got progressively worse. I wasn't enjoying my time on the bike at all with the discomfort I was experiencing.

It can be an expensive endeavor to try and find the right saddle as shops aren't too interested in taking back something you've been riding for hundreds or thousands of miles. My solution has been to try yet another saddle; this time a Brooks and this time with a six month trial period, no questions asked, fully refundable. I'm talking retro. I've wanted to try one of these for a while but I've been reluctant because of their weight. There's no plastic shell with lightweight covering used in the manufacture of these. They're thick leather with large rivets to both give it its distinguished look and hold it all together. They're some of the heavier road saddles out there but they have some of the best reviews of any saddle for comfort. If it works for me the added weight will be a small sacrifice.

These saddles don't begin to break in until well on the other side of 1000 miles and I've only got a little over 500 miles on mine. I've heard it compared to sitting on a 2 X 4 when they're new and I'd have to say that that's not far off. I've been taking it out on 30 to 60-mile rides so as not to overdo it. It's a slow process.

I left home yesterday with another short break-in ride planned but the gorgeous weather got the best of me and I said screw it...I'm riding today. And I did. When I got to Fairbault I gave a few seconds of thought to turning back and heading home knowing I'd manage over 70 miles but I was also giving a lot of thought to heading east on highway 60 to Kenyon as I'd never taken this stretch of road. Highway 60 to the east won out and what a beautiful road it is/was; new blacktop with a wide shoulder and not much traffic.

By the time I reached the halfway point of Kenyon, my Garmin Edge 705 told me that I'd only had 80 seconds of paused time. You can get away with that riding in the country with few stoplights. I hurried inside the Marathon station and refueled as quick as I could. I was feeling pretty good in the saddle and I wanted to minimize my time off it hoping that would keep the pains at bay at least until I got closer to home. It seemed to work.

I came in on the tail end of rush hour and worked my way west along county road 46 through Rosemount expecting to see a lot more cyclists than I did. Didn't others realize what a beautiful day this was to be out riding? A direct route home would give me 96 miles total but I figured I was too close to another century ride for the season to not go for it. A quick loop around Lake Marion gave me more than I needed.

Tomorrow is looking to be another nice one weather-wise so I think I'll continue with the difficult job of breaking in my new saddle. This is serious business but I'll try and enjoy myself while I'm out there if at all possible.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fair Memories

Happy Labor Day. When I used to listen to talk radio I'd often hear Rush or Hannity talk about how it's the wealthy in this country who provide jobs for the masses. Without the generousness of the wealthy, we would have nothing. Fair enough; or is it? My thinking has changed in recent years and I'm now more inclined to say that without labor, all the money in the world would do the wealthy no good whatsoever. Who would assemble their products, deliver them and for that matter, buy them if it weren't for us common folk? Is one side in this equation more important than the other or this as pure a symbiotic relationship as can be? I don't have the answer but I do know that we're all in this together. Speaking from experience working as an air traffic controller in the FAA, when one side ignores the other and forces its will on them no good can come from that. Real leaders lead by example and encourage rather than force others to follow.

Rachel had some friends over to play croquet Saturday but there was a play, they had to dress the part which meant plaid pants and polo shirts. Knuckleheads.

Tammy and I were going to take a pass on the Great Minnesota Get-Together this year because Saturday afternoon was the only time it would fit for us and the thought of how many other people had similar plans caused me concern. We decided to be brave and do battle with the crowds anyway and ventured out a little past noon. Rather than mess with stop and go traffic miles from the fairgrounds we opted for the Park & Ride by Mall of America. $5 each bought us a round trip ticket on the bus which was what we'd have paid to park anyway. It seemed a no-brainer to me.

I first went to the fair in 1967 at the age of 10 with my best friend Miles Harvey. Miles was pretty much an only child as his older brother was much older and no longer lived at home. I remember that Miles used to get $5 a week for an allowance. That was a lot of money back then and as one of six kids, it was $5 more than I got. His mom bought us tickets to watch the car races as Miles was huge into cars. We grew apart during junior high school and I lost touch with him altogether years later when he moved to Florida. Every once in a while I'll search the net to try and find him but so far no luck.

The crowds were everything we feared they would be but it didn't at all dampen our experience with one exception; we skipped getting a pork chop on a stick because the line was too long. It's my favorite fair food.

In all the years I've been coming to the fair I'd never once taken the ski lift (Skyrider, I think it's called) over the top of the fairgrounds. Neither had Tammy, but now we have. I enjoyed the view it gave and the nice break it provided from all the walking we were doing.

My favorite tattoo of the day had to be this one. I dunno, I just liked it. I've never seen a peacock feather tattoo and this one looked to be done very nicely.

Another attraction (for some anyway) is the carving in butter of the faces of contestants in the Princess Kay of the Milky Way contest. I've never figured out why people would want this done of themselves because they never, ever look at all flattering. But it's a tradition and I suppose that's all that matters. There's also a heavy smell of butter in the air.

We slipped into the beer garden before heading out to the midway. We'd no sooner left the gardens when we ran into one of our pastors from church and her husband. We chatted for a few minutes before continuing on. With beers in hand, we both had to laugh and dismiss concerns for our image with an understanding that Jesus drank alcohol too.

Scenes from the Midway.

Rachel went to the fair yesterday with a friend, Steven. They made a game out of seeing how many photos they could get into where people (strangers) were posing for pictures. They'd try and position themselves smiling in the background. They also tried to walk between obvious couples of people. More points were awarded if the couples were holding hands. If you could somehow somersault between them you'd earn bonus points. Knuckleheads.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Leaving Las Vegas, part 3

We left the pool and got into the elevator with a big fellow in his 60s. Tammy asked him how he was doing and he replied that he'd been down more than $8000 at one point but won $6000 of it back. He was quite happy having lost $2000. I guess it has everything to do with one's perspective.

We had one more night on the town before catching an early flight the next morning. On our way out of the hotel, we stopped by the front desk to settle up and to make sure there weren't any added charges we weren't aware of, and there were.

We knew we'd be charged for anything we used from the cooler as it stated clearly on the front of its door. What was a surprise to us was that there was also a hefty charge for any of the items on top of the dresser that we used and we used quite a the tune of $150.28! Page 1 and page 2 of our bill of extras. The love box doesn't come cheap at $32.33.

We explained to the woman behind the counter that we had no idea there was a charge for any of it. We figured that because we were such high rollers that we were merely being comped. She said that they don't do that. She went on to explain that all of those items have a sensor under them and if we so much as lift an item and replace it we'll be charged for it. Really? I told her that they needed to make that clearer to people and with that, she said she'd remove the charges from our bill. I think they must have to do that a lot.

The main thing on our agenda for the night was the late performance of Cirque du Soliel, Love, The Beatles. But first, we took some time to see the Shark Reef at the hotel. We've got something similar at the Mall of America and it's quite impressive but I think this was even better. They give you a device to hold up to your ear and it tells you what you're looking at as you walk along. As far as value goes it's well worth the $16.95 admission price for adults considering you're in Las Vegas.

I think we all liked the jellyfish exhibit best. I did not know that jellyfish don't have a brain, eyes or a heart. Sounds like some people I know, but enough about the FAA.

We took the monorail and got off at the exit for the Mirage where the show was playing and where we had dinner at BLT Burger. I've never before spent $17 for a hamburger, fries and a drink. Maybe I don't get out enough. It's best to not even look at the cost of things and just know that you're in LAS and go with it. Trying to find something cheap would be futile unless you go to McDonald's, which we did at least once.

The highlight of our vacation had to be the show; Cirque du Soliel, Love. I've never seen anything like it nor anything near as good. It's a combination of acrobats and dancers performing to Beatles music. It's theater/circus in the round and I don't think there's a bad seat in the house. There's so much happening that I often found myself trying to focus on one area of the stage at the expense of another. My eyes were all over trying to take it all in but during some parts I simply couldn't. I'd absolutely recommend this as a must-see if you're going to Las Vegas.

Tammy has been singing Beatles songs since the show. Yesterday she was singing, "I am the apeman, I am the apeman, you are the walrus, coocookachoo," I asked her if she said "apeman" and she said yes. I said it's "Eggman". We both laughed as she was certain that she was right and I was wrong. Now she had me wondering if maybe I've had the words wrong all these years. Apeman did make more sense as I've never heard of an eggman. However, a quick google search gave a nod to me. But I like better one other lyric she used to mess up. Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven has a line that says "and as we wind on down the road". In Tammy's youth she used to think they were singing, "and there's a wino down the road". Too funny.

We got back to our hotel after midnight and we were all beat tired. A full night's sleep would've been great but we had to be up in 3 hours for a 4:10 AM shuttle ride to the airport.

I think I was half asleep going through security. I had to go through the metal detector 3 times before I got everything emptied from my pockets. We left security and took the tram to our departure gate. Just as the tram doors were closing I realized that I'd left my cellphone in one of the 3 trays I'd used getting through the metal detector. I quickly called it using Rachel's phone but nobody answered. I'd hoped a TSA agent had picked it up. I caught the next tram back to security and breathed a sigh when one of the security guys handed it back to me. Wake up, Kevin!

I'm not one to sleep on planes but Rachel's gotten pretty good at it. She's become quite the traveler with all the trips she's taken in the last few years and has the routine down. She prides herself on being able to sleep without leaning on the person next to her in her seat. I wish I could.

We arrived back at MSP in the early afternoon but we still had to pick the pups up at Jerry and Jackie's on the north end of the cities. A big thank you again to Jackie and Jerry for watching them for us. We got home and I was exhausted. I went right to bed and slept for 6 hours before getting up at 10:00 PM. Again, I couldn't believe we'd only been gone a few days as it felt like so much longer.

It was fun vacation. We only dropped at most $50 gambling. I'd like to go again but maybe not for another few years. I've got some other places on my bucket list that I need to check off.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Experiencing Las Vegas, part 2

We took to the city on foot Wednesday night and had no idea how much ground we'd cover by the time the night was done. We walked from our hotel (Mandalay Bay) to a point about a block south of the Stratosphere over 4 miles away. Our route was a zigzag one which added to the overall total. What better way to see Las Vegas?

The peddlers of porn along the sidewalks grew tiring but I found myself feeling sympathetic toward them. These were people who probably occupy the lower rungs of the economic ladder doing whatever they can to make a living. They line the sidewalks holding what looks like stacks of baseball cards in their hands. They'd hold out one or two of the cards and flick them with their fingers making a noise to get your attention. Often people would grab the cards thinking they were coupons but once they looked at them and saw what they were they would usually toss them on the sidewalk if there wasn't a trash can nearby. The sidewalks were littered with them in places. I didn't pick one up to study it but I think they were advertising for escort/prostitution services which are legal in Nevada.

Speaking of walking the streets; buildings tend to be much further away than they actually are on the streets of Las Vegas. It may look like the hotel/casino you're seeing off in the distance is only a couple blocks away but in reality, it may be a good deal further than that. They build 'em big there.

Traffic, both vehicle and pedestrian can be relentless.

Buses run regularly but it seems at times that you're better off walking as they can be painfully slow with so much time spent idle waiting for lights to change, traffic to move and pedestrians to clear. A one-way bus pass on the 'Deuce' costs $3. The monorail is much quicker and makes fewer stops for $5 one way but you sometimes have to go a bit off the main road to find it.

We caught the Deuce (double-decker bus) for the ride back to our hotel and walked Rachel up to the room as she was long past tired. Tammy and I headed back down to the casino in the hotel to test our luck. We're not very lucky. We'd planned to blow $100 a day on slots but we came nowhere near that amount. The entire time we were there we spent/lost maybe $40-50 in total. We each hit on a couple of winners that paid out and gave us a rush when they happened but those feelings soon faded as the money made its way back into the machine. For the most part, we looked just like every other person playing slots who lacked expression or emotion as they mindlessly pushed buttons hoping the symbols would line up in their favor but seldom did. That's not to say it wasn't fun; it's just that neither of us is all that hyped on gambling. I'd rather watch others lose. Every now and then you'd hear a big roar go up and it was usually coming from a Craps table. I've heard that that's where your best odds are but I have no idea how to play the game.

I must admit that the ever-present smell of smoke in the casinos and the steady drone of bells and alarms from slot machines eventually gets old. It's nearly impossible to find someplace other than your room where it's quiet; not even in the elevator where there's continual chatter from a flat panel monitor advertising acts at the hotel. Between all the noise and the heat outside, I found my energy levels taking a hit after a couple days. Thank God for room darkening shades that kept the rising sun out of our room until we were ready for it.

We got a late start Thursday morning, our last full day in Las Vegas. We headed down to Raffles Cafe in the hotel to spend our $50 voucher. We used it all plus a little more...a bit on the expensive side but good. Rachel took a pass on heading out into the city with us and opted for the pool instead. We'd catch up with her there later. Tammy and I needed to get over to the Mirage to pick up our tickets she had reserved for the night's Cirque du Soliel-Love, show.

We used this trip back into the city to cruise through some of the hotels we hadn't yet been through. If the country is in a recession I don't think Las Vegas knows about it.

We met up with Rachel in the afternoon and spent a couple hours playing around in the wave pool. There's a knack to hitting the wave at just the right time to be able to ride it all the way in. I soon figured it out and got more than I bargained for by making it beyond where the smooth landings end. I didn't let it happen twice. Even Tammy was getting into it. She lost her glasses at one point but they were found by one of the many lifeguards situated around the pool.

Laying out in the lawn chair it began to dawn on me that it felt like we were in a time warp. It seemed like we'd been gone for at least a week when it had only been a couple days. We had crammed a lot of living into a short amount of time so that must've been the reason for my confusion. And there was still much more to do.

I had no idea how little sleep I was in for.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Leaving (for) Las Vegas, part 1

It's been five years since Tammy and I have taken a vacation. Not that we haven't had time off work; we just haven't gone anywhere. We figured that as long as Rachel has been able to get away on mission trips with her church groups we were fine with us staying put.

Our five-year streak is over.

The three of us took a quick vacation to Las Vegas last week. I'd never been there. Our choices were New York City, Lake Superior's North Shore in northern Minnesota or Las Vegas. I let Tammy and Rachel choose.

We left Tuesday morning. I was celebrating my 52nd birthday as we flew out. Rachel turned 18 the day before. 18 gets you into casinos in Minnesota and that's where her friends took her for her birthday the night before but you've got to be 21 to gamble in Las Vegas. She said she didn't care much for slot machines but had fun playing Blackjack. She joined the ranks of the losers to the tune of $7.

We stayed at Mandalay Bay on the south end of the strip; a very nice place. When we got up to our room on the 20th floor it still hadn't been cleaned and it was late afternoon. Tammy called the front desk and they told us they'd move us right away to a room on the 60th floor and comp us a $50 meal voucher for our troubles. We couldn't complain.

We got settled into our room and Rachel noticed the Love Box and the Travel Box among some assorted snacks on top of the dresser. Guess which one she had to check out? More about that later.

I'd made plans to get together with a friend, Mike McGregor, from my Navy days who I hadn't seen in over 31 years. Tammy and Rachel had tickets to see The Lion King production playing at the hotel. I phoned Mike to let him know we'd arrived and we arranged for him to meet us for dinner at the House of Blues located downstairs on the main level.

How often do you get to see somebody you haven't seen in three decades? This is twice for me in the last six months. My memories of Mike haven't faded much over the years. He'd transferred to our ship in San Diego from an east coast assignment and replaced me as the junior guy. He had family in Mesa, Arizona and used to drive his van back home on his days off. I remember him telling me how he'd set the van on a straight course on the freeway then quickly get out of the driver's seat and run back to grab a beer from the cooler. I'm not sure if he had the luxury of cruise control back then.

Mike works as a construction foreman and has been living in Las Vegas since the early '90s. His free time is spent on his motorcycle. He's an incredibly nice guy and I wish we lived closer to each other.

Before finishing dinner Mike approached the singer/guitarist and asked him if he would sing happy birthday wishes for me. I tried to stop Mike but knew it was futile. The whole place joined in. I blush too easily.

We left Tammy and Rachel to go to their show while we made our way out to the strip where Mike gave me a quick tour. He said he seldom makes it into the city. We eventually worked our way over to his home in North Las Vegas and pulled into his driveway just as his lady-friend, Donna, was returning home on her Harley from school. The three of us would later go back into the city for the Fremont Street Experience. Fremont is where the strip began (I think) and has grown its way south over the years.

We walked up and down Fremont enjoying some of the cheapest beer around while taking in the sights and listening to the ever-present music. It was nice spending time with Mike again.

They brought me back to Mandalay Bay and I told them that we had no plans in particular if they wanted to get together again before we left on Friday.

Tammy and Rachel loved the show.

Mike called us the next morning and offered to drive us to see Hoover Dam. I didn't want to put him out but he said he's been wanting to get back and see it as they've just completed work connecting an arch that will support a much-needed road across the Colorado River and he wanted to see it. "Sure, if you don't mind, that would be great," I told him.

We headed down to McDonald's across the street, grabbed a late breakfast and waited for Mike. There were a few dozen protesters on the street corner voicing their disapproval of Obama's health care reform proposals. Before too long a couple Metro Police showed up on motorcycles but I don't think they had much to worry about. The people with signs didn't seem all that angry or disorderly, in fact, I've never seen happier protesters.

Mike picked us up and we drove 45 minutes east to Hoover Dam. He made a few stops along the way so we could get out and look around. It was hot with the temp over 100 degrees and I loved it. It felt nice compared to the cool summer we've been having in the Midwest.

Security waved us through the checkpoint leading to the dam and we drove on a bit further until we could park the car and get out. Impressive doesn't come anywhere near describing this engineering wonder. I'm always amazed at what people can do, especially men when it comes to larger than life structures such as this. (there's a joke in there...did you spot it?) I did tell Tammy and Rachel, "Do you see that plaque under the arch?" " says, 'No women were used in the making of this arch'." It didn't go over so well.

The visitor center offered two tours, the tour of the dam or the tour of the power plant. We'd have to wait 90 minutes for the dam tour (I heard people using the word 'dam' a lot to try and be funny) so we opted for the power plant tour instead. It probably covered much of what I was interested in anyway and was well worth the $15.

I uploaded a set of photos from the dam to my Flickr account.

To be continued...