On The Way To The Springs

This was a great trip to Vegas–not just because of my luck at poker. I had a great time with Helaine and my cousins and especially with Stefanie.

I’m writing from Las Vegas McCarran Airport. Thanks Google for the free WiFi. Next stop on this vacation is Palm Springs. It’s no secret this is the leading candidate for our retirement… whenever that is.

Palm Springs and Las Vegas are perfectly separated to make the choice between flying and driving difficult. It was truly a toss-up… even with Helaine finding a $25 fare between here and Ontario (where Southwest flies). With our companion pass that’s $25 for two, plus whatever taxes and fees are added, And, of course, on Southwest bags fly free&#185.

We had breakfast at the Grand Lux Cafe and then, on the way to the room, the cows called. We stopped at Invaders from Planet MOOlah.

MOOlah-cow.jpgI’ve written about this slot machine before. If a slot machine can be fun and entertaining MOOlah is! It’s been sort of like an ATM for Helaine and me.

“One day they’ll do an audit and find they made a mistake programming it,” I said to Helaine.

We threw a few bills in, started pressing buttons and… nothing. Oh, the pictures moved across the screen and our money supply lessened, but no payoff. Every once in a while we’d get a quarter back. Unfortunately, it was $1.25 per pull. A quarter back was a Pyrrhic victory to be sure.

I looked at Helaine. “Maybe they caught on?”

The next spin we hit nothing, but mysteriously MOOlah moved into the bonus round. It’s as if one of the cows said, “Oh, the Foxes. We like them.”

Within two minutes our original buy-in had tripled. We printed a coupon, took it to an ATM, cashed out and went upstairs to move out.

We were out of the room at 12:10 and at the airport 20 minutes later. Our flight leaves in 50 minutes.

This was a great trip to Vegas–not just because of my luck at poker. I had a great time with Helaine and my cousins and especially with Stefanie. She was a joy to be with. That will make it that much more difficult when she moves to California next month.

Palm Springs is a whole different vibe. Though also in the desert it is much more laid back than Vegas. It is heavily populated by “gray and gay” (and in some cases both at the same time).

It’s also warmer than Las Vegas year-round. As I type this it’s 72&#176 in Palm Springs but just 59&#176 here in Vegas. When it’s 105&#176 in the Las Vegas summer sun it can easily be 10&#176 warmer in the Springs.

For the next few days we expect to see snow as we drive–but safely on the mountains that surround the Coachella Valley.

&#185 – I mention this because I want to make sure Southwest never changes this 20th Century policy.

Las Vegas Wrap-Up

In case you’re wondering I’m told it’s $2/minute for a massage. It’s in the poker room. This is not a ‘happy ending’ kinda thing.

There are a few unfinished tidbits from Las Vegas I wanted to get in. I know business is down–tragically down. I couldn’t see it. The city was as busy as I’ve ever seen it. The casinos were rockin’. It’s my understanding the outlying casinos have taken this worse than the Strip, but I never went there. Maybe I just hit a good week?

There are lots of construction cranes that are silent and still in a town that used to build around-the-clock. From outward appearances Echelon seems dead in the water. There was some, but less activity at City Center, mid-Strip.

wynn-from-palazzo.jpgThere are lots of good stories in Las Vegas. My current favorite concerns the animus between Sheldon Adelson (Called the “tallest man in the world when standing on his wallet”) and fellow casino magnate and New Haven native Steve Wynn. Allegedly Adelson positioned the Palazzo Hotel in such a way as to limit the sun at Wynn’s pool to an hour or two a day.

Is it true? Who knows. Good story anyway.

lily-1.jpegOver the past few years I’ve watched the increase of masseuses giving massages to poker players while they play! In Vegas, where every woman is already good looking… where it looks like the cocktail waitresses have gotten leg extension surgery… this takes on added sparkle.

Lily (pictured left) was giving a massage to the guy in the seat to my right one night during the Venetian’s 7:00 PM tournament. I’m not sure it really made it more difficult to concentrate, but that case could easily be made.

During a break I asked her how long she’d been doing it and whether it had made her stronger. She held her arms up at shoulder level with her clenched fists inward toward her head. Wow!

In case you’re wondering I’m told it’s $2/minute for a massage. It’s in the poker room. This is not a ‘happy ending’ kinda thing.

I had my camera with me a lot while in Vegas. I was never asked to put it away except once while I shot participants in a slot tournament. One night I even used the tripod while in the Palazzo’s spectacular casino.

Finally, Helaine and I found the funniest slot machine ever. Even better it acted as if it was our own private ATM!

“Invaders from the Planet Moolah” features cows as the wild card match. The funny part is the cows moos (obviously humans not even trying to pass as cows) are slightly delayed from each other making each ‘hit’ slightly different and weirdly comical.

This machine would be fun to play even while losing which is both sad and scary. Luckily we didn’t have to find out first hand.

Favorite line from the trip: “Oh look, a penny slot machine. Anybody got change for a nickel?”

Email When Friends Are On-The-Road

Hopefully Wendie won’t mind as I share some of her Japanese trip with you. She’s a very learned woman… but she doesn’t capitalize. I’m going to leave these as sent.

My friend Wendie is somewhere between Tokyo and New York. She’s on her way back to Miami via JFK after a week long trip to Japan.

Yeah, I’m jealous.

Though Wendie didn’t bring a computer with her, she did keep her friends and family up-to-date by sending daily emails. I’m not sure if she stopped at Internet cafes or used a PC at her hotel. Whatever the method, it worked.

I find these on-the-road messages some of my favorite emails, not only from Wendie, but from any travelling friends. I hope you feel the same way when I post on the blog during my vacations.

Hopefully Wendie won’t mind as I share some of her Japanese trip with you. She’s a very learned woman… but she doesn’t capitalize. I’m going to leave these as sent.

Day One:

i’ve already scoped out the area around the hotel.. it’s called shinjuku.. lots of shops, a massive train/subway station.. and found an ATM that took my

u.s. card and spit out the proper amount of yen.. then even gave me my card back..

what more could you want!

Day Two:

i did the “city tour” thing.. ended up sitting next to a nice woman from north carolina. so, at stop number 3 we ditched the tour, and ended up exploring a fabulous neighborhood calls asakusa… we found these amazing plastic food stores, and yes, i did buy plastic sushi… but only a few pieces, it’s really expensive! then we took the subway back to the neighborhood we’re staying at, grabbed a snack..

Day Three

it’s been a busy day….at the crack o’ 5:45 am i went down to the tsukiji fish market.. a massive market complex on the river here.. and it was amazing.. they hold a huge tuna auction every morning that is closed to visitors, but once it’s over, thousands of vendors set up shop selling fish, food, and just about everything else. there are bunch of teeny little restaurants all through this complex that sell sushi or ramen.. and i stopped into one of them for the best tuna sushi i’ve ever eaten…it was awesome.. i have a ton of pictures of the market… excellent photo op.

Day Four

so… if you go to mt. fuji… but you never actually view mt. fuji, because it’s snowing, the entire region is socked in with fog, and the road to the 5th station (halfway up the mountain) is closed due to ice, so you can only go to the first station … can you claim to have seen mt. fuji? or is the more proper response to say you have BEEN to mt. fuji.

Day Five

in kyoto. getting here was great.. the bullet train was a blast..nothing

like going 257 kilometeres an hour through the japanese countryside.. it was terrific.. and just 2 quick hours from odawara to kyoto… kyoto is very different from tokyo… no high rise buildings, and many shrines and temples clustered together.. plus, a wierd train

station that is either a fabulous example of modern architecture.. or… a horrible depiction of wierdness.. depending on your point of view.

Day Six

this morning i played tourist, visiting a magnificent shinto shrine.. the “golden pavillion”.. which is in fact covered in gold.. it’s a gorgeous day, weather wise, and it has been a lot of fun. tonight is going to be interesting.. it’s a night at a ryokan, or japanese inn… it’s in the gion section of kyoto… the geisha section… so my bed will be a tatami mat! tomorrow i am doing an afternoon tour outside of kyoto to nara… which is about an hour away and has one of the world’s largest bronze buddhas… note to all.. when you come to japan be sure to try the green tea ice cream.. it’s fabulous!

Day Seven

yesterday was terrific… the ryokan was in a wonderful, old area of kyoto

and we wandered around and stumbled on a massive shinto temple complex with a park… it was sunday afternoon, gorgeous weather.. and the place was packed with families enjoying the day… lots of adorable kids.. the japanese love children, and i have had the best time playing peek-a-boo with kids everywhere.. on the bullet train, in the parks, in stores… even with no common language, making a child laugh is universal… the whole afternoon was .. well, i:ve pretty much run out of adjectives..

That’s just a taste. I only plucked a short snippet from each day’s email. I think it’s enough for you to get a real feel for her journey.

I can’t wait to see the photos and talk with Wendie to hear more.

What’s In Your Wallet?

About six months ago, Helaine bought a new wallet for me. Today, after she asked for the fiftieth time, I switched over. Having a ‘fresh’ wallet doesn’t seem to be a guy thing, but I’m willing to play along.

Every wallet I’ve ever had has been a black fold over affair. Not this time. We’ve gone brown. No consultation. I’m guessing I’ll still match… though don’t green and brown clash?

Over time the old wallet fatter – a repository of stuff I didn’t want to throw away. I think that was as much of a problem as the shabby exterior. On the other hand, cows were upset it was still being referred to as leather.

I pulled everything from the old wallet and put it on the kitchen counter. I only carry one credit card, plus an ATM card I’ve never used.

From my mid-winter poker trip to Atlantic City were three casino cards. They are credit card like in their shape and appearance. You can no longer play in a poker tournament without one. I have no idea why I carried them. They’re now gone.

There were also a few business cards from people I met and exchanged cards with. Except for one, the others have been disposed.

Insurance card, AFTRA card, FedEx, Southwest, AAA – gotta keep those.

I have about ten of my own business cards I keep in my wallet. We have nice cards at work – meaning they’re thick. Ten takes up a lot of space.

I had one bandage in the side pocket. It’s a very small round one, still in its wrapper. The wrapper itself had a tear, meaning it’s no longer sterile. I have no idea why I was carrying that. Gone.

I’m not sure why, but I always carry a single dollar bill behind my drivers license. I always have. It is not money meant to be spent. If there’s a superstition with this habit, I’ve lost sight of it over the years.

It’s very possible this particular Series 1995 bill has been sat on daily for the last 12+ years.

The joke is, guys in their late teens and early twenties carry condoms in their wallets, which leave noticeable circular impressions in the leather. I’m in my fifties. I carry Splenda.

I don’t just have a new wallet. I now have a slimmer butt!

Birthday Tradition

Every family has its traditions and ours is no exception. One of our more recent traditions started three years ago when Steffie decided she’d like to have her birthday dinner at Lenny’s in Branford. The fact that Steffie wasn’t a seafood lover and Lenny’s is a seafood place left us confused at first. But, it was her birthday and her decision.

This year we brought along Steffie’s friend Ali. They have known each other since grade school.

Helaine and I have been going to Lennie’s since we came to Connecticut. My impression is that Al Blinke (now news director at KDKA in Pittsburgh, but then our assignment editor) led the way and everyone else just followed.

There is probably a Lenny’s-like place in every community. It’s the kind of restaurant that has grown successful in an organic way, with little planning. No one could put up a restaurant and say, “Let’s make it like Lenny’s.” It is, for the most part, unchanged since I’ve been going.

They still don’t take credit cards, and never took checks. There’s now an ATM machine, allowing Lenny to ‘sort of’ accept credit cards, make money on them, and still be in an all cash business.

Adjacent to a salt marsh in the Indian Neck section of Branford, the parking lot is gravel. It used to be dirt and as I remember was quite nasty after a heavy rain. Now, for the first time, there are lines painted on the gravel. This is a major improvement.

During the summer, on the weekend, you just can’t get near the place. It is jammed without fail.

What makes Lenny’s is the seafood, especially shellfish – specifically lobster (the photo on the left shows live lobsters – even a box of 5 pounders – squirming around in the freezer). I don’t think I’ve ever ordered anything but the “Shore Dinner” which is corn on the cob, clam chowder (New England or Rhode Island), two clams on the half shell, steamers, a lobster, a huge slice of watermelon and coffee. Helaine gets bisque and fried shrimp. It’s always great.

Today, since Helaine had gotten a birthday cake for Steffie, I came off my diet. I’m down 25 pounds, my goal, and have been stuck for a while around 175 pounds. Still, I’ll be back on tomorrow.

Being off the diet allowed me to have birthday cake and corn (and some oyster crackers – what the hell).

Earlier, when Steffie had opened her presents, she was happy with every gift. Now, she and we were happy with dinner. It was a great day.

Stefanie’s turning 17 was a lot easier on me than I feared it would be.