Next Stop Milwaukee, Hopefully

There is no Marcus Welby medical care in America. It’s sad for patients. It’s sad for docs too. Lots of physicians want to do medicine that way, but it’s not practical in the 21st Century.

harold-and-bettyWe’re attempting our Milwaukee trip again. We leave from LAX this time (drive 40 miles save 50%), but again change in Phoenix. Please, no more shootouts/car chases from Tempe!

Lots of folks wrote me after I mentioned my mom in the blog. There were lots of suggestions, all different, some mutually exclusive. Still, the one thing that everyone seemed to agree on was being an advocate for mom.

That’s a nice way of saying keep an eye on the nursing facility.

There is no Marcus Welby medical care in America. It’s sad for patients. It’s sad for docs too. Lots of physicians want to do medicine that way, but it’s not practical in the 21st Century.

There was a meeting this afternoon at my mom’s current facility. Social worker, nurse, speech therapist, my dad, sister and brother-in-law plus me on the phone.

The physical therapist was a no-show. As explained, this person with the most insight to help us answer questions left work early. FML! Trudi and Jeff were justifiably furious.

As best I can tell my mom is making some progress. None of this comes easy or without effort and pain. She is frail. I can’t put myself in her shoes. We’re hoping she can reach the benchmarks that have been set.

roxie floorStef, who’s coming, drove down from H’wood with Roxie. Roxie and Doppler will be watched by Dop’s sitter who Roxie met today for the first time.

In the past Stef told me how Roxie responds as they exit the freeway. It’s a romantic story where Roxie basically comes to attention as they pull down the exit ramp to the light. She stays on guard for the next 5-6 minutes to our house.

On the way back today, in my car, I watched Roxie stand at attention as we passed that same spot! Crazy. Totally different experience, different car and length of trip. She still knew.

wpid-wp-1411080785006.jpegOf course there’s also good news in our trip. We’re lodging with my niece Melissa, her husband Mark and Charlotte who has promised to stay tiny for us, though the shot on the left now qualifies for “file photo” status.

Two full days on the ground. We’ll be busy

I Got A What?

If you carry your phone in your pocket are you dialing 10 digits to make a call? I didn’t think so.

That’s what makes what’s on this voicemail so special.

google-voice-screenHow many phone numbers do you have squirreled away in your brain nowadays?

I know Helaine’s number and Stef’s–both still 203. I remember my sister and brother-in-law’s house phone. I usually call them on their cells nowadays. I can’t tell you my parents’ number or the number of any friend, save Rick Allison whose number spells out two words.

I push a button. Most times I see their photo. Their voice magically appears.

Most of us are like that now. If you carry your phone in your pocket are you dialing 10 digits to make a call? I didn’t think so.

That’s what makes what’s on this voicemail so special. It’s a wrong number. Remember those?

She was polite. Points for that.

When was the last time you got a wrong number? I can’t remember. Years. Many years.

Do people even leave voicemail much anymore?

Disney Day

IMG_6343all of us

Trudi and Jeff, my sister and brother-in-law are visiting from Wisconsin. We’re trying to show them a good time. It seems to be working!

We went to Disneyland today. It’s a school holiday in many cities and the park was jammed.

We did a lot of walking in both the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s California Adventure. It’s as much fun to walk around and look at people as it is to ride rides… well, almost. Every shape, size, shade of person was represented.

We saw the Captain Eo Tribute. The color is washed out. The film techniques look dated. Time to ditch it.

Jeff and I discussed the amazing cleanliness of the parks. There was nothing on the pavement. The place is spotless.

We came home and had dinner out with the Irvine Foxes.

It good to get the family together. It doesn’t happen often enough.

Guests Mean Baked Goods… And Guests

Helaine's baked goods

Guests are arriving tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law are flying in from the ‘burbs of Milwaukee. Brutal winter. We’ll reintroduce them to the Sun.

Their trip from Milwaukee to Orange County will take nine plus hours.

I’ve done my part. I’ve been to the store to pick up my sister’s favorite goodies.

Helaine has been baking. Oh, my. I was skinny when Helaine and I met.

There are baked delights so delicious and unhealthy they can only be baked to convince a recalcitrant boy not to be scared of you. I don’t get those anymore.

“I don’t think these came out right,” Helaine offered as I walked into the kitchen earlier today.

I’ve heard this before. She’s so wrong.

Pastry. I heard the word “almond” float by. Slender, twisted, pale in color. I took a bite. Flaky. Oh. My. God. Nirvana.

I offered to take them off her hands, no questions asked.

Also appearing on tonight’s show… chocolate chip and thumbprint cookies. Both killer.

The cool thing about Helaine’s baking is how much she enjoys it and how good she is at it. Where is my 21 year old metabolism when I need it?

Beside eating, we plan on showing Jeff and Trudi around. It’s a nice place and we have access to the Sun.

Universal Health – Less Simple Than It Seems

What are we going to do when employees of companies with good benefits packages begin to retire in droves, because they no longer need the one thing that kept them working – insurance

With a presidential election looming, there’s lots of talk from the candidates about universal health care. Actually, that’s the name if you’re for it. If you want to frame it as a negative, it’s socialized medicine… government mandated socialized medicine.

As Helaine and I talk more and more about what we’ll do after retirement, we realize some sort of health insurance is necessary. Right now, self financed health care for older Americans is ridiculously expensive, if you can get it at all.

We’re banking on universal care.

However, there are unintended consequences in universal health care – some good and some bad.

How will we keep our medical facilities from being inundated, if treatment is free? Should there be a limit on end-of-life care which prolongs life with little life quality? If so, who makes that decision?

What are we going to do when employees of companies with good benefits packages begin to retire in droves, because they no longer need the one thing that kept them working – insurance?

Some people have speculated about a huge wave of retirements at the US auto makers. There are other large institutional employers which will be hit the same way.

In some ways, this is a good thing. The allure of entrepreneurship will increase if a start-up comes fully equipped with insurance. Businesses, like that run by my sister and brother-in-law, might decide to go where the weather is better, if they would remain insured.

Universal health care as an abstract concept sounds pretty good. The devil is in the details.

The Long Journey Ends

This is it. Today is my last ‘in-a-row’ day at the TV station.

It’s funny. I love my job, but after working 20 of 21 days, I’m ready to leave it for a little while. My short term goal is to lay back and do nothing. I’m not sure that’s in the cards.

When you forecast the weather, it’s tough to get away from it. This afternoon I got calls from my friend Farrell, flying from Palm Springs, CA to Warsaw, Poland via Chicago.

Chicago… December… Doh!

He made his connection and is sipping champagne somewhere over the murky Atlantic on LOT Airlines Flight 2.

My sister, brother-in-law, niece and her husband weren’t so lucky. They called from DTW (Detroit Wayne County), on their way from Ft. Lauderdale to Milwaukee.

Again: Detroit… December… hello!

MKE was closed for plowing and their flight was cancelled! Later, Detroit would get a taste of winter.

While I was answering some weather question, my niece (who I easily could have dropped as an infant) made a snide comment about my forecasting abilities.

God is good. She’s stuck in Detroit atoning for her sins.

Snow is coming here Sunday night. I intend on observing while wearing pajamas.

Blogger’s addendum: Farrell, upon arrival at Frederic Chopin Airport in Warsaw, sent this correction:

Thank you for including me in your blog entry. It’s always fun to see my name in print!

I’d like to make one small correction, while commending you on your PinPoint (TM) forecast. Over the “murky Atlantic,” I was sipping Chateauneuf du Pape, which is the most famous Cotes du Rhone wine in France. It was delicious.

Getting Set To Go

I have burned the candle at both ends. We’ve hit the road a week ago last Friday. I am bushed. Please, let this not be the screaming baby flight from Vegas. I want to need to sleep.

My sister and brother-in-law arrived in Las Vegas yesterday. This is one of those lucky, versus planned, things. They were scheduled to be here for a convention. In fact, when I asked if they wanted to have lunch today, they were busy selling.

At least we had one meal together. Yesterday, my sister, brother-in-law, and three cousins hit the MGM coffee shop. We were seven, not a common number. We waited over and hour for a table, and that was with a line pass!

Last night, I thought it would be fun if we took our young cousin, Max, downtown. Staying on the Strip, downtown’s far away and never seen.

Fremont Street, the main drag downtown, is where all the gaudy signs were in the 40s, 50s and 60s. If you saw Elvis in Vegas, Fremont Street is where he was. It really can’t compete with the Strip anymore, so it has positioned itself a little more downscale and affordable.

Fremont Street is where you an get 99&#162 shrimp cocktails (Golden Gate Hotel – they’re still great) and where $5 blackjack players get rated for comps. The street itself has been closed to traffic, covered with a mesh canopy and loaded with little kiosks and stands.

The atmosphere is comparable to what I’d expect on New Years Eve in Times Square. There are people of every shape, size and color. Families gawk. Pierced, Mohawked wackos gawk. Retirees gawk. They’re all together, and though the area seems tawdry, I never felt unsafe.

Cousin Michael made note of the nearly invisible security. We’re guessing they’re hidden, just seconds away… but that’s a hopeful guess and nothing more.

Once an hour, all the outside casino lights dim and thousands of tiny lights on the overhead canopy turn on to project a multimedia show. It’s called the Fremont Street Experience.

A few years ago the show was brought up-to-date… which ruined it! A more appropriate, though still modern, show is currently featured.

We were back at our hotel before midnight (which here, on a Saturday night, is something like noon anywhere else).

Our room is sad now. Nearly everything is packed and ready to go. Southwest Airlines has already sent me a text message saying our flight should be running on-time. The weather here and in Connecticut should cooperate.

It’s not over until I call the bellman. That’s only minutes away.

No Snow – Thankfully

I’ve been keeping a very close eye on tomorrow’s weather. Even more anal than usual! How often is snow possible in April?

It looks like we dodge the bullet this time. On the other hand, my sister and brother-in-law in Milwaukee are watching the snow fall right now.

Everyone I speak with, even the snow lovers, are begging for spring.

Maybe most puzzling is, this extended period of cold weather – what some are calling the coldest April on record – comes as the rhetoric on Global Warming ramps up another notch.

Long Trip To The Movies

What’s left of Ernesto left Connecticut early. Sunday turned out sunny and pleasant. We decided to go to the movies.

Actually, we attempted a twofer. My car had gotten new tires and fresh oil and was sitting in front of the tire place in Cheshire. We headed to the movie theater in Southington.

Good idea! We’d save time and miles. Of course I forgot to bring the keys for my car. I’ll say it – what an idiot.

Today’s movie was “Little Miss Sunshine” with Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin and Steve Carrell. At the moment, there is a law somewhere which says Greg Kinnear must be in every movie made.

The story centers around the Hoover family of Albuquerque. They are dysfunctional in just about every possible way.

The dad is a failing motivational speaker. The grandfather snorts drugs in the bathroom. The son hasn’t spoken for months. The brother-in-law is a gay professor specializing in Proust who has just failed at suicide.

This is a comedy based on interaction between family members. Each one is more screwed up than the next, except the nine year old daughter, Olive (Abigail Breslin).

I’ve read, more than once, this is her movie. I wouldn’t go that far, but she certainly holds her own with major league acting talent. And, hers is the pivotal role around which the action revolves and the family unites.

Stop! That last sentence might lead you to believe this is a feel good movie. No way – this is a very dark comedy… very dark.

I laughed out loud a few times, but I left the theater unsatisfied. I’m not sure yet, but it could have been the same reason I was unnerved by “Postcards From The Edge.” When dysfunctional life is too close to reality, I have trouble laughing at it.

Helaine on the other hand thought the movie was great.

Maybe, today especially, her opinion should be valued higher. After all, it was because of me, we had to drive all the way home to pick up the keys before retrieving my car.

It’s Wisconsin

I’m writing tonight from a motel in Mequon, WI – just north of Milwaukee. The story of the day is the trip here.

We left Connecticut on Southwest’s 12:50 PM flight to Chicago’s Midway Airport. Driving to the airport, parking and boarding was no problem. In fact, somehow Helaine has gotten off the TSA’s ‘frisk me every time’ list. We don’t know how.

Thunderstorms were expected this afternoon in Connecticut (and from the radar, it looks like much of the state got hit). That meant building clouds as we flew west and a very bumpy ride.

It didn’t much matter, because no sooner had we left the ground than I had my ‘ox yoke’ on and was snoozing. That lasted nearly 45 minutes, which was when someone right behind us began sneezing.

These weren’t dainty achoos. This was projectile sneezing! Then another nearby voice loudly complained that someone else had spilled a drink on him.

There would be no more sleeping for me.

We were on time into Midway. I know the airport because I’ve seen it so many times from Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. From the air it looks like a square plot with criss crossing runways.

Since it’s the second airport in Chicago, I expected it to be a small facility. Houston’s like that with Hobby versus IAH. I could not have been more wrong. I was very surprised.

While Helaine and Stef went for the bags, I headed to Hertz to fill out the paperwork for our car. Helaine had found an unbelievable deal on Hotwire – better than half off anything else available.

Before I go on, let me mention the obvious. It could have been named Pleasant Experience Rent-a-car. It was not. Though an alternative spelling was used, Hertz pretty much sums up my experience today.

There were two people behind the counter and somewhere between 15 and 20 in line when I arrived just before 2:15 PM! Though two others would be added to the staff, it took a full hour (almost to the minute) before I was served.

The woman behind the counter was nice enough. She slavishly asked each insurance and gasoline question, though she must have known from my answer to question one that I was saying no to everything.

About three quarters of the way through the process, a woman came up behind her and whispered in her ear. Helaine heard the words, “emergency at home.” In a flash she was gone.

Her replacement came out a few minutes later. The first thing we noticed about her was that she didn’t seem to notice us. It was as if we were totally invisible.

She immediately set out to clean her area. She rearranged papers, moved things, lowered the computer keyboard, sanitized the desk. When she finally looked up at us, she said, “Do you think I have a problem?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her how many paragraphs she’d get. Helaine looked at me and said, “This is going in the blog.”

You betcha!

Our car is a Buick La Cross. You know, it’s not bad. Good going GM. It’s got comfortable large seats and a good size tunk… though without a light (or at least a working light).

We headed north for Milwaukee. Midway is an old airport, shoehorned in by neighborhoods that have grown around it. Traffic was heavy and slow as we moved down busy Cicero toward I-55 South.

The idea was to skirt around Chicago and avoid the traffic. Still, it’s disconcerting to get on the ramp for I-55 toward St. Louis.

We took I-55 to I-294, the Illinois Tollway. Illinois has its own RFID toll system – I-Pass. I don’t have one. I should have thought about that before I got caught in an I-Pass only lane! I’ll let you know when they catch up with me and send the bill.

The traffic was horrendous. We stopped more than once. At other times we were cruising along at 4 or 5 mph.

In case you’ve never been to the Midwest, a little physical description: nondescript. It is much less green than Connecticut. The vegetation is significantly more scrubby. There are probably other locales less physically stirring. I just can’t think of any off hand.

Somewhere in Northern Illinois things lightened up and we started to move nicely. The three of us were happy…then a police car raced by… and another.

North of Milwaukee a tanker truck was on the center divider. A set of wheels was at a 90&#176 angle to the truck and connected to nothing. Good grief – another half hour lost I’ll never get back.

We did finally make it to the hotel and dinner with my folks, sister and brother-in-law.

Honestly, I’m so exhausted right now the story will just have to wait.

Stef Returns To College

Today was Steffie’s day to return to college. Classes start on Monday after what seems like a century of vacation.

Considering she’s 18 and we’re not, we all got along very well during the break. Of course some of that was on vacation, during which we followed the ‘open wallet’ policy. For another week or so, she was with my parents in Florida where no store was left unvisited.

The trip to school is nearly 100 miles, taking nearly two hours. Is there traffic? C’mon – we’re passing through the Bronx and over the Throgs Neck Bridge.

Speaking of traffic – the next time someone questions my accuracy, let me refer them to the traffic reporters I heard today. Was I listening to a ‘best of’ compilation while they took a cruise?

On the way back, as we zipped along between 70-80 mph, the disk jockey on one Connecticut radio station cautioned us about the residual traffic backup from an earlier accident in the very spot we were passing.

At least on TV we’re forced to show you the traffic cameras. It keeps us honest. On the other hand, not many people are listening to our TV traffic reports in their cars.

A long trip contains lots of time for talking. Among the things I learned was Helaine’s plight as she tried to transfer money from our checking account into Steffie’s debit card account.

She needed a password and then an emergency backup super secret answer. “What is the name of your favorite pet,” the bank asked? “Ivy,” replied Helaine. Big red letters appeared on the screen! Wrong, wrong, wrong. “Your pet’s name must have four or more letters!”

Next question.

Two thirds of the way there, I decided to tune the radio to Mega 97.9. OK, they’re in Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish, but it seemed right at the time.

This station was first placed on the air by the Muzak Corp. in 1941 as W47NY on a frequency of 44.7MHz. In 1943, the call letters were changed to WGYN. When the new FM band was adopted in 1946, the station moved to 96.1, moving again to 97.9 in 1947. In the early 1950’s, the station became WEVD-FM&#185, which it remained until February, 1989, when the station was sold to Spanish Broadcasting and the current call letters and format were adopted.

As we got to “La Mega,” they were going into what seemed like a two minute live commercial, on remote and over the phone, from Potamkin Mitsubishi – Volkswagen. From there it was a long series of commercials in Spanish, followed by three in English and another in Spanish.

It’s very strange to hear Spanish commercials with English thrown in. Phrases like “18 to party, 21 to drink,” appeared in the middle of an an otherwise all Spanish ad.

I was getting into the music, but Helaine and Steffie were looking at me with that strange glance that normally comes prior to involuntary commitment. We switched stations.

Our E-ZPass was put to good use as we approached the Throgs Neck Bridge and passed a few lines of 20+ cars waiting to pay cash.

Though Stef had brought a half car’s worth of stuff home, we went back to the dorm loaded. I have no idea where all that stuff’s going.

I attempted to re-snake the cables for her computer and knocked over the hutch which sits atop her desk. Papers and pictures and three shot glasses (effect only – I’m sure they’d never been used) all hit the linoleum floor. The glasses shattered.

Helaine and I didn’t stay long. Once the glass was picked up and some rudimentary straightening was accomplished, we were in the car, on our way home. I stopped for coffee and gas and was headed toward the parkway when the phone rang. It was Steffie.

She found a wire that wasn’t in its proper place, attempted to snake it under the hutch and suffered the same fate as her father! We turned around and headed back.

That’s where we got to see Nassau County’s crowning achievement in fiscal responsibility. At this 90&#176 intersection were at least 17 traffic lights. I’m not sure. There might be one hidden by the bus.

Again, for those of you just joining the broadcast – 17 traffic lights. Anyone got a brother-in-law in the lighting business?

We’re home now. Steffie is asleep in the dorm (or so says her IM away message). I’m not sure she can appreciate how much we enjoyed being with her and how much we miss her.

Sending a child to college is just as much a test for the parents as the student.

&#185 – In a startlingly strange sign of New York’s very liberal past, WEVD was named after Eugene V. Debbs, American labor and political leader and five-time Socialist Party of America candidate for President of the United States. How strange is that?

Not My Idea of Comedy

There are eight of us here in Las Vegas with the arrival of my sister and brother-in-law. We do lots of stuff on our own, and some things we do together.

We thought it would be fun to do something together tonight, specifically go to the Improv at Harrah’s.

Everything went wrong. Even after it went right, it went wrong!

Helaine (Queen of Vegas) had found a BillHere.com, a website that specializes in half price coupons and tickets for Vegas shows. She had four coupons good for eight tickets to the Improv at Harrah’s.

We all walked across the street to Harrah’s then up the escalator to the box office. We walked up to Yoko who looked at the coupons and said, “I’ve been warned about these,” and refused to take them.

We wanted a manager to speak to, but she said no one would be there until 4:00 PM. I left my card and asked to be called. We headed back across the street.

Meanwhile, Helaine was quite upset. We checked BillHere.com’s website, and sure enough these coupons were still available from Bill. I sent him and email.

With no message from the manager at Harrah’s ticket office by 4:30, I headed back again. This time Stephanie, the manager was there. She too told me they wouldn’t accept the coupon.

I asked them to look at BillHere’s website. If they weren’t accepting these, I wanted them to force him to stop. It wasn’t fair to me or anyone else.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on, I got Bill on my cellphone (As it turns out, Bill too didn’t return my call). Bill said the folks at the box office were wrong, didn’t know what they were doing and should call Brooke in the production office.

The Harrah’s people didn’t want to have anything to do with Bill… or call Brooke.

Finally, after a long consultation with her boss, Stephanie accepted our coupons. This saved us about $100 on a $200 purchase.

Everything seemed fine until we got to the Improv. We sat at the side of the stage a few rows back. It’s not a very large place and the sight lines were fine. The sound was not!

From the time the emcee came on stage it was obvious the sound system wasn’t putting anything but bass in our section. We could hear some words, but often at the punchline we’d all be scrambling for a simultaneous English-to-English translation.

My mom and dad, sitting in front of all of us, understood nothing. Nothing!

It was very disappointing. I can’t believe the Improv or Harrah’s doesn’t know about this problem with the sound system.

We heard other people laughing. There must have been parts of the room that heard fine, but not us.

We came back to the Mirage. My sister and brother-in-law, still bushed from their flight, went to bed. The rest of us had a late dinner at the California Pizza Kitchen.

I had the five cheese and tomato pizza – excellent. Helaine had Split Pea Soup and Key Lime Pie. That’s an esoteric combo, but she said they were both great.

Before I leave for the night, a quick word about poker – awful. I did poorly this afternoon and it went downhill later tonight. It was only a late rush that kept me from being creamed.

This was a night when luck really entered in. I just didn’t have the cards. There was only one hand all night that I wish I’d have played differently. One hand would have been the difference between winning and losing!

More On Monday From Las Vegas

Lots to be done as we settled on on our third day here, but the day that had been scheduled to be the first. Max had to go to the airport, and that was the perfect opportunity for me to pick up our rental car, also at the airport.

Melissa was driving. Note to NASCAR: Any teams needing a new driver, Melissa is your girl. I have flown in an F/A-18, but it didn’t have the maneuverability of Melissa’s Toyota Sequoia.

With bumper-to-bumper traffic on Las Vegas Blvd I’ll swear she hit 80 mph… and that was just changing lanes!

With lots of people to shuttle around, we needed to rent a car with room. Helaine (Queen of Deals) had found a Chrysler Minivan from Dollar for about $130 per week. Taxes and fees added an extra $60!

I have a Dollar FASTLANE card. It cost nothing. The program is now named Dollar Express, but the effect is the same.

We walked into the rental office and saw a long line. Next to it was a space for Dollar Express members. I walked up and was taken next! Without the little, free, card, we’d still be in line.

We saved at least an hour – maybe more.

This car is not stylish. In fact, it sort of represents everything this trip is not supposed to be. It will do, because it is what we need.

On the way back from getting the car we stopped to get water and soda to keep in our room. It was interesting to see both the drug store and grocery had small video poker rooms.

I wasn’t done with poker, and when we got back, I sat back down. My luck from the morning hadn’t changed.

Actually, that’s wrong. My play hadn’t changed. I was playing sloppy, like a tourist who wanted hands to play and was willing to play lesser cards. That was a $180 lesson.

I was still up, but now my winnings were marginal… and I was upset, because I knew I could play better.

We all had dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant at the Venetian – Zeffirino. I had a pasta/seafood dish, which was very tasty.

As dinner ended, the waiter, captain and the restaurant’s strolling mandolin (Was it a mandolin… I’m really not sure. It wasn’t a guitar) player came by with a piece of cake and candle to celebrate my dad’s 80th.

The birthday isn’t until later in the week, but that’s what the trip is all about.

Michael and Melissa and my folks stayed at the Venetian. Helaine and I returned to the Mirage. I needed to redeem myself.

Let me stop for a second and explain something. Even when you know how to play poker correctly, it is always possible to be swayed by the siren song mediocre cards. That’s especially true of someone like me who will be here a relatively short amount of time and wants to play, not fold. I have to fight the temptation.

As it turns out, I did stick to my guns and played very nicely… until 2:30 AM PDT. Bottom line was a $40 win.

It would have been more (it would have been a few hundred more), but, with Aces full, I was beaten by an unlikely four of a kind by a player who went in, in the face of betting action, with nothing but a 2-4 and caught just the right cards.

I’m sure I also had a few unlikely wins, but it’s always the ‘beats’ you remember.

My sister and brother-in-law are on a plane now, heading into Vegas. I’m the designated driver, so I’d better get going. More later from Fabulous Las Vegas.

Wish you were here.

My First Action – Poker In Vegas

We were up and at ’em before noon – a major accomplishment considering our cross country trip and fatigue.

My folks spent last night, unhappily, at the MGM Grand. Nothing went right. All that was left were smoking rooms. There was an ironing board and iron in the middle of the room. My mom couldn’t sleep.

They were coming to the Mirage Tuesday, but Helaine managed to get them in today. They are now safely ensconced here, along with my cousins Michael and Melissa and their son Max. My sister and brother-in-law get here Tuesday.

Helaine, Queen of Las Vegas, had arranged for line passes. These are worth their weight in gold. Getting to the head of the line can be very valuable when the line snakes forever! These aren’t comps – we’re paying – but it’s still worthwhile.

We went with Cousin Melissa and had breakfast in the Caribe Cafe. It’s a Vegas coffee shop and everything good that implies.

After breakfast, and moving my folks, I headed to the sports book to watch the Eagles. It was ugly. It was a win.

Michael and I headed out for a walk, but when it was his turn to watch Max, I headed to the poker room for my first tableside action.

I have been playing $10-$20 of late at Foxwoods. None of that here. I signed up for a $6-$12 table, but before I was called a “Sit ‘n Go” tournament opened.

In a “Sit ‘n Go,” 10 players ante up $100 plus $15 for the casino. Each then gets $1,000 in tournament chips (no value off this table). The 10 play until there are two left. First place gets $700, with the remaining $300 for second.

In the beginning I was incredibly nervous. My play was fine, but I was intimidated to be doing something live and in person I usually do at home, on the couch, in pajamas.

I took a quick lead, amassing $3,500 of the tables $10,000. It didn’t last. I stayed up, but was soon in third and probably fourth for a while. I played steady. I measured my bets, studied the pot, figured the odds.

I have been reading Dan Harrington’s poker book and used some of his advice.

The table leader was a man from Alabama who played very loose and had been lucky. I knew he would burn out.

Finally the table was down to three. The player to my right went all in against the player to my left. They were nearly even in chips. That meant there would be two… and one of them would be me!

We continued to play. The player to my right was up by a few thousand chips. With me holding King/Queen off suit, he made a bet. I decided to take a stand and go all in. He asked if I wanted to split the $1,000 cash 50/50?

I was a crap shoot. Who knew. But, right then, half the pot seemed good to me. We shook hands.

I’ve played once and so far, I’m up. I was pleased at my play and pleased at the quality of the others playing. They are beatable.

This doesn’t mean i will leave Las Vegas a winner. It does mean I have a fighting chance. Even if I lose a little or come out even, I will be a winner, because I enjoy the action.

Of course, I could lose a lot. I’ll try and limit that.

Happy Birthday Harold – Hope You Can Join Us

Next week is a milestone for my dad. He will be 80. This is not a number to take lightly.

I’ve asked him in the past to contrast his age with his expectations of what that age was going to be like. He couldn’t. Long ago he passed any age he had expected to see.

This is not to say my father thought he’d be gone by now. It’s just no one thinks of what life will be like at 80… until you’re late into your 79th year.

I think I speak for him when I say, these are the best times of his life. He and my mom live a wonderful life in Florida. Their condo complex is socially active, which suits them fine.

My mom has become more active in governing the condo complex, something I never would have expected. My dad has become a computer maven to his fellow senior citizens who see him as a latter day Bill Gates.

So, what do you do for an 80th birthday? My folks thought it would be fun to take Helaine and me, along with my sister Trudi and brother-in-law Jeff, to Las Vegas for a family oriented celebration. My cousins Michael and Melissa will be joining us.

What says happy birthday more than Las Vegas?

My folks don’t gamble, but they are great explorers. Vegas has so much to explore. We plan on seeing some excellent shows, taking in the sights and eating as if cholesterol hadn’t been discovered. I will also attempt to play poker 23 hours a day or until I can no longer afford Steffie’s college tuition.

My folks are due to leave Florida Tuesday. Well, they are now. I suppose it’s all Hurricane Wilma dependent.

If you look at the tracking maps, the current projections bring Wilma right over their place. It’s not a reassuring outlook. The one saving grace is, Wilma won’t be a particularly strong hurricane by then.

Earlier today I asked if they would call the airline, AirTran, and see if they could move their flight. Lots of other airlines were accommodating passengers in this manner. not AirTran… or at least not in a way that was meaningful.

October 20, 2005, 10:00 am ET