Our Last Full Day In SoCal Begins

By the time the Eagles were set to disappoint me (terrible a game) I was ready to collapse! This is more physical labor than I’ve done in a long time.

stef-balcony-view.jpg

Physical labor! This has been a trip of physical labor. Yesterday was box day, moving them from my friend’s house to Stef’s apartment after I’d been softened up with some heavyweight shopping.

The boxes were cumbersome and heavy. The walk from my friend’s house to the car wasn’t long… but everything was cumulative. Once I got to Stef’s place the boxes needed to be lifted from the car and put on a dolly (operated by my fellow teamster Helaine) to go upstairs.

I mentioned the Dodge Grand Caravan before and I will again. This is a white box of a car with little styling. It is magical for carrying freight! The seats fold into the floor to reveal a huge cargo area. I don’t want one, but I appreciate how fortunate we were to get one.

We knew it was necessary, but not the extent.

By the time the Eagles were set to disappoint me (terrible a game) I was ready to collapse! This is more physical labor than I’ve done in a long time. I couldn’t nap because there was more.

I joined my friend Howard and our secretive friend for some Italian food. I’ve eaten so much on this trip all I wanted was a salad. Wish granted!

After dinner we went up into the hills above Encino to “Magic Matt’s” house. Matt, who is the morning man on Sirius/XM’s “70s on 7” channel has a free form Internet radio show.

I’m still not sure what it was all about, but secretive friend and I were welcomed as the fresh meat for conversation we were.

I was back at the hotel after midnight.

This is our last full day here. I have one more piece of furniture to assemble. Stef has a few more boxes to unpack. I suspect there’s more shopping to come too.

My credit card is actually glowing.

Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up

My friend Howard, a show biz manager, says you should never meet the entertainers you admire. He’s probably right. I’d still like to meet Steve Martin, though I’m probably not capable of carrying it off.

Last week, after reading an article by Steve Martin in Smithsonian Magazine, I sent an email to my friend Farrell:

“I want to be Steve Martin… except for his unhappiness.”

He responded:

“He is a great writer, too. Be Geoff.”

Nice sentiment. I appreciated it. This is why you have friends.

I went on to write about Martin in the blog, leading regular reader Jim&#185 in Truckee, CA to comment:

Thanks for mentioning the Steve Martin article. I’m right in the middle of his latest book, Born Standing Up, A Comics Life. If you liked that article in the Smithsonian, you’ll enjoy the book…

Five minutes later I was on Amazon. The book came yesterday.

I can’t tell you why, but when I came home from work tonight, I sat down and read the book – the whole book. I could not stop.

My friend Howard, a show biz manager, says you should never meet the entertainers you admire. He’s probably right. I’d still like to meet Steve Martin, though I’m probably not capable of carrying it off.

We share nothing in our background. He came from a family with little warmth. My family heated our whole apartment building. He had the chutzpah to perform live. I did my comedy on the radio where I was well hidden.

We’ve learned many of the same lessons.

I find him bright and witty – a Renaissance man in a world filled with people who eschew knowledge or any historical perspective. He followed a complex route to get there. He wasn’t as smart or observant in his twenties as he is now in his (shudder) sixties.

It’s good to see age does have some payoff.

When stand-up was no longer satisfying, he stopped. He was huge. He just stopped.

At first I was not famous enough. then I was too famous, now I am just right.

Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up is in hard cover.

&#185 – It should be noted, there are a bunch of regulars who comment on this blog from time-to-time. Jim in Truckee, for instance.

These are mostly people I don’t know.

I’m not sure why you’re here or what you find so compelling. I am flattered you find what I say interesting enough to come back on a steady basis and I’m always thrilled when you post a comment.

In real life, experience has shown the more you know me, the less scintillating I am.

Silly Bill Gates

I want to write to Bill Gates. This has nothing to do with Microsoft.

Recently, Gates was in Ottawa, Canada&#185. As Reuters reports, He was asked about his children and their use of computers.

“She could spend two or three hours a day on this Viva Pinata, because it’s kind of engaging and fun.”

Gates said he and his wife Melinda decided to set a limit of 45 minutes a day of total screen time for games and an hour a day on weekends, plus what time she needs for homework.

“Up to some age, to be determined, it’s very appropriate for a parent to get a sense of what they’re seeing out there and be able to have conversations about it,” he said.

“My son said, ‘Am I going to have limits like this my whole life?’, and I said, ‘No, when you move away you can set your own screen limits’,” Gates recounted, to audience laughter.”

Bill Gates, you’re so silly. Sure, you’re the richest man in the world, but controlling your children… C’mon Bill, no one’s got that much pull!

I am told, when Steffie was very small, I claimed I’d never say “no” to her. I’d find a way to discuss and explain. I don’t remember saying that, though I don’t deny it.

What was I smoking?

You see Bill, the problem is we teach them to speak. We teach them to reason. They hear us dispute others in our conversations. Somehow, they feel they should have a free mind and free will.

I know, it sounded awfully heavy handed to me too. Why should a 9 or 13 or 19 year old child have any input when I make a decision? And yet, over time, they wear you out. They push and push and push some more until, finally, you are powerless to stop them.

Bill, it’s going to be tougher in your situation, because you’re surrounded by an army of sycophants who only know yes. They will be outweighed by your children who will only know “no.” Unfortunately, Children can’t be fired or outsourced to Bangalore.

Here’s my biggest revelation as a parent. You can’t teach experience! Your child will have to do everything you know is wrong or foolish or against their own best interests, just the way you did. From time-to-time, you will just have to sit back and watch them screw up.

I know you’re still a little naive. I’ve heard you talk about the incredible stability and security of the Windows platform. Fixing children is much more difficult. And this time, you’ve got to do it in “version 1.0”.

&#185 – When I first visited Ottawa in the late 70s, my friend Howard drove by the US Embassy and said, “That’s where the landlord lives.”

Since When So Cautious?

Back sometime in the late 80s, I flew to Ottawa, Canada to spend some time with my friend Howard. We were late on the way back to the airport and Howard gunned it through the snowy Canadian capitol.

I was white knuckling it, though Howard claimed he was in control.

Nearly 30 years have elapsed since that day. I guarantee Howard, now safely ensconced in Encino, California, doesn’t drive that way on his frequent business trips to the Great White North!

I thought about this as I drove to work today. I lived in Buffalo. I lived in Boston. I lived in Cleveland. I have lived in Connecticut over 20 years. I have lots of winter driving experience.

On I-91, everyone was passing me. I was driving with lots of caution. There was concern as I crossed over a large expanse of sleet to get off at Exit 4.

Where was my winter driving bravado? Aren’t I the guy who used to fishtail just a little in snow, because it was fun?

Maybe it was because of how slippery my driveway was as I pulled out of the garage? Maybe it was the ineffectiveness of the salt/sand that had been applied to the street around my house and even the main roads? Whatever it was, those days of sliding through turns to get to the airport are over.

How long until I worry about breaking a hip?

Lewis Black Comes To Connecticut

I am so excited. For Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa, Helaine gave me tickets to see Lewis Black at what was the Oakdale, and is now the Chevrolet Theater.

When I tell people we’re going to see Lewis Black there are two reactions:

1) I love him. He’s so funny.

2) Who?

Helaine is in the twos. I’m with the ones. Hopefully she’ll be converted Saturday night.

Lewis is a writer/comedian who’s been around for years. Hell, he’s even older than me!

His weekly appearances on The Daily Show have greatly increased his visibility. On top of that, Jon Stewart treats him with total deference… treatment befitting a comedy god, if you will.

I’m trying to think of a way to describe him for you ‘group two’s’ reading this. He’s witty. He’s biting. He is manic in his movement and speech. He does a lot of finger pointing and thrusting. He sees the absurdity in most of life.

He’s also a little tough on meteorologists. That includes one rant that had me on the floor laughing.

The thought crossed my mind – I’m TVboy. I know people at The Chevy. Maybe Lewis is having a meet and greet and I could wangle an invite?

No such luck. No one will be met.

Now that I’ve thought it through, a meet and greet would be totally contrary to Lewis’ persona. I’m strangely happier he won’t be having one! Anyway, my friend Howard, a successful Hollywood talent manager, says you should never meet those you admire. They’re always a disappointment.

I look forward to seeing Lewis from the audience, where I belong.

Dinner At Buca Di Beppo

We wanted dinner. We were tired. We wanted to stay close to the hotel.

From Albuquerque S…

Helaine and I walked through the parking lot to Buca di Beppo. Who knew it was a chain? Well, you probably. We went in as innocents.

As soon as we entered, I thought to myself, I’ve been here before? Buca di Beppo is the spitting image of a restaurant my friend Howard favors on Ventura Blvd. somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.

In fact if I find out this chain was ‘inspired’ by Howard’s restaurant, I won’t be surprised.

From Albuquerque S…

We walked through the kitchen, past a table where some lucky customers ate to one of many different dining areas. Though each is different, they’re all meant to be over-the-top Italian. It’s not a put down, but an homage.

From Albuquerque S…

One small room contains a solitary round table, big enough for a family. The center of the table rotates, so you can pass things back and forth. Since it’s too large to use the middle, that portion of the table has been taken up by a bust of Pope John Paul II.

From Albuquerque S…

We shared shrimp scampi, which was very good. Truth is, the decor was more fun.

We leave in the morning for a very long drive to Kayenta, AZ. Google says it’s 332 miles, most of which is off the Interstate.

It’s Tampa… And A Delay

Unfortunately, the first thing we saw in Tampa’s airport was the television screen showing us our outbound flight would be late. Luckily, there’s free wireless access at this airport.

As Helaine and I stood, milling around with our fellow members of Southwest Boarding Group “A,” we looked left. The boarding area was crawling with pre-boarders – parents and their small children?

“SBF,” I asked?

Though I’d never used those initials before, she knew exactly what I meant. Would this be the ‘screaming baby flight’ to Tampa?

As it turned out, most of the noise on the flight came from the boy’s and girl’s tennis teams from Springfield College, though even they were well behaved.

This was a classically good flight. I fell asleep before we were airborne. In fact, at one point I briefly woke up, turned my head to look out the window and only then realized we were flying.

Our pilot, from the Gus Souflas School of Aviation&#185, was very excited today. Instead of flying out over the Atlantic, we were flying over Central North Carolina.

Like I said, this was a very nice flight. Until the last few minutes it was smooth as could be, and even the bumps we felt on descent weren’t too bad. We landed in Tampa 25 minutes early!

Unfortunately, the first thing we saw in Tampa’s airport was the television screen showing us our outbound flight would be late. Luckily, there’s free wireless access at this airport.

From Flightaware.com:

Origin Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l [KPHX]

Destination Tampa Int’l [KTPA]

Route TFD2 CIE J2 FST J2 JCT J86 LEV Q100 REMIS BLOND3

Date Saturday, Mar 11, 2006

Duration 3 hours 20 minutes

Progress 1 hour 36 minutes left 1 hour 43 minutes

Status En Route (936 miles down; 856 miles to go)

Proposed/Assigned Actual/Estimated

Departure 11:15AM MST 12:51PM MST

Arrival 04:29PM EST 06:11PM EST

Speed 453 kts 516 kts

Altitude 39000 feet 39000 feet

Flight 915 is over Houston… and speeding its way here (faster than the original flight plan called for), but it will be late. It is a casualty of Phoenix’s first rain since October.

I’ve been on planes that stopped in Tampa, but I’ve never actually set foot in the terminal. It is broad with high ceilings and lots of space. I can see the stadium where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play out the floor to ceiling wall of windows.

Like any airport, it’s not meant for extended stays, so I’ll be hearing the “suspicious packages” announcement a few dozen times before we leave.

As I mentioned, there is wireless access, but there are few places to plug my uncharged laptop. I hunted down a socket with a flip-up covering in the carpet. It’s turned off.

The only working plugs I could find were associated with a phone booth. Actually built for dial-up Internet access (before the airport started giving it away), this fixture is a dinosaur. Between cellphones and wireless, there’s not much business left for pay phones.

My folks are holding dinner. We won’t get to their place much before 9:00 PM.

Did I mention this is Florida? Even at the tale of a long winter it’s sunny and green outside.

&#185 – I described Gus, a pilot described by my friend Howard, in this entry from an earlier Vegas vacation.

Raider Of The Lost Archives

My friend Paul Brownstein and I have been friends for better than 35 years. He was the first of the ‘gang’ to go to Los Angeles. He came to Helaine and my wedding late… not having been fit for his tux… and wearing a fur coat!

Our mutual friend Howard used to say, “Some people go to the seashore. Some go to the mountains. We go to the Hotel Brownstein.”

It was because of this we often referred to Paul simply as, “The Hotel.”.

A trip to Paul and Sue’s teeny little house on Stanley Hill, above Laurel Canyon, would be guaranteed to have a touch of Hollywood. You’d always run into someone you’d heard of. And Paul always had stories to tell.

The house was packed to the gills with memorabilia. In this age of EBay, Paul’s sitting on a fortune.

Just being with Paul was entertaining. I’m not sure how else to explain to. Something was always going on, or seemed to be, even when it wasn’t.

Over time Paul became involved with artists who owned the rights to their own shows. He was pivotal in getting the old Smothers Brothers Show and Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour on “E”.

As DVDs of old TV shows grew in stature, Paul moved there. He is a charming guy – the perfect schmoozer. That made him the perfect person to produce special features for DVDs.

Paul’s the guy who finds old commercials to go with old shows, or gets that classic interview with the stars. He has been dubbed, “Raider of the Lost Archives.” It’s a great name, it fits, and I suspect he enjoys hearing it said by others.

Paul has dropped more names of more actors of the 50s, 60s and 70s than anyone in the world. Why not? He’s been with them and listened as they told their stories (sometimes for the last time).

Recently, Paul has been the guy newspapers and magazines go to for quotes about the DVD business. He is now a respected expert.

In Hollywood, your friend’s success often breeds envy. I live in Connecticut. I don’t need that. My friend’s success breeds pride. I am very proud of what Paul has accomplished.

Now he is profiled in the current issue of United Airlines’ in-flight magazine. Just in case you’re not flying any time soon, here’s the link.

My only regret is, it’s for February – the shortest month. Paul deserves a 31 day month at the very least.

Going To Malibu

Today, let me start before the beginning. We are in a beautiful hotel. Our room in it is very nice as well. But, there has been this one nagging problem.

Last night Helaine complained that at the top of every hour, the room’s alarm clock chirped a tone. Ever the electronics wiz I looked, but could find no way to turn it off. I called housekeeping.

This being a very good hotel, without skipping a beat they offered to swap our clock for another.

While we were out today they did just that. We knew it, because when we returned the clock was a different color. Sitting next to the clock was a Casio “G” Shock watch… not ours.

Coincidently, as I walked over to pick it up and look at it, it chirped. It was the top of the hour! It hadn’t been our alarm clock making the noise but a watch, left by a prior guest. Oops.

This evening Helaine brought it to the front desk to, hopefully, be reunited with its owner.

On to our day.

The plan of attack was to head to Malibu and take in the sights. Quite honestly, the weather could have been nicer. We have overcast skies with a bit of humidity. Not a perfect California day.

Malibu is a very easy drive from ‘headquarters’ in Century City. We took a left on Santa Monica, cut up Beverly Glen to Sunset, and then west past UCLA, OJ’s old neighborhood, Pacific Palisades and down to Pacific Coast Highway at the water’s edge. From there it’s a right turn and you’re traveling north toward Ventura County.

We were all hungry, so we looked for a nice place and lucked out when we found Marmalade Cafe in a small Malibu shopping center. Luckily, there was also a Radio Shack as Helaine can’t stand the touch pad on this laptop and was desperate for a mouse.

I had blueberry pancakes (excellent) and coffee (fair).

Let me become petty for a second. Coffee is lightened with cream, not milk. When restaurants bring out that tiny pitcher with white liquid, it should be cream. It was not at Marmalade Cafe.

We got back in the car and continued our trip north. As we approached Zuma Beach I could see some surfers, so we pulled over and I got out to shoot some pictures.

It was chilly and sandy and I suppose this qualified as a Geoff thing… a photo op. Helaine and Steffie stayed in the car.

A few months ago I had seen some surfing shots on a website, and I wanted to try my luck. I believe these surfers had about the same skill level surfing as I have with photography, but I got a few good shots anyway.

This was an opportunity to throw on the ‘long’ lens, my Sigma 75-300 mm. It’s not a bad lens, though it’s sort of slow&#185. My surfers weren’t up enough to get a lot of shots, but I caught a few that were actually in focus, with the surfer atop his board.

I’d like to try this again some time on a sunny day, and a little closer to the action.

Part of the reason for this trip was to go to the Malibu Beach Colony. The Beach Colony is a very exclusive, very expensive neighborhood of homes. This is a community of the well known, well connected and powerful. The homes are behind a guard house on private roads. The backs of the houses are right on the beach.

If it were up to the people who live there, the beach behind these homes would be private – but California’s laws are pretty explicit in this regard. The land from the mean high tide line down to the ocean is public right-of-way.

We pulled into a public beach parking lot and then, while Helaine and Stef sat on the sand, I walked under a chain link fence and headed down the beach.

The homes in the Malibu Beach Colony are ridiculously expensive. Of that, there is no doubt. They are also squeezed as tightly together as can be. Yes, you can paint your neighbor’s kitchen while standing in yours!

The homes are mostly small, mostly two stories and all with incredible Pacific Ocean views. There is no Malibu architectural style. The homes are eclectic and totally different.

As I walked, there were no residents to be seen. There were, however, a lot of workers – all seemingly Hispanic men. A group of four or five were repairing and painting some steps, others were cleaning and sprucing up homes.

Actually there were some residents around – two dogs who barked at me as I passed their deck.

Peoplewise, except for me, this beach was empty.

It is a really beautiful place. Unlike the East Coast where most of the shoreline is on a coastal plain, there are cliffs and palisades along the immediate beach here. Not far to the east are steep hills separated by deeply etched canyons.

It is there, on the hills, where the really big houses sit. Some are spectacular. Others, like this ‘castle’ are just weird. More proof that money doesn’t necessarily buy taste.

When we left Connecticut there was still snow covering the grassy surfaces. Here it is definitely spring, with colors poking out as the rain fed ground gives life to flowers and plants.

Later, this summer, months after the last rain, these plants will die and set the scene for the brush fires which will surely follow. It’s the natural cycle of California. The beauty is so great – the climate so friendly – that people build here knowing full well it could all go up in a puff of smoke… or wash away in a heavy rain.

It does every single year, without fail.

We headed back toward Century City. Unlike our trip west, this time there was traffic. We crawled back up Sunset, retracing our steps to the Century Plaza. We’d need some time because we were going out to dinner tonight with my friend Howard and his wife Maria.

I’ve known Howard since our first day of college when he was (as I realized tonight) exactly Steffie’s age. We’ve been friends for over 35 years… and we’ve been friends through a lot.

Howard and Maria live here. Howard’s been in the L.A. area for close to 20 years. He is a show biz manager – a profession I still don’t understand 100%. Ido know Howard’s a great manager, especially based on some of the work his clients have had.

Tonight’s choice for dinner spot came from Steffie. We went to “Dolce” on Melrose Avenue. Melrose is very trendy, and “Dolce” fits in nicely, with celebs as the owners.

The restaurant is dark with loud (though very good) music, mostly from the 70s and 80s. The five of us sat in a banquet type booth. It is not the optimal table for conversation.

Though food was secondary in Steffie’s decision process, this was to be a meal. “Dolce” features Italian cuisine, and it was delicious. I had a pasta dish with Italian sausage. Helaine and Steffie had pasta with lobster. The portions, though not large, were decent. The food came out piping hot. Or waiter was attentive.

For desert we all had chocolate souffles which were rich and tasty. Unfortunately, it was milk and not cream (again) for my coffee! I know, I’m getting obsessive about this.

Considering this restaurant was picked more for its back story than it’s food, we were very pleasantly surprised. And, all things considered, the meals were reasonably priced.

Tomorrow, it’s dinner out with friends again! I’ll be 400 pounds by the time I get home.

&#185 – The relative speed of a lens refers to its ability to capture light. A slow lens captures less than a fast lens, forcing you to slow down the shutter speed. The faster the lens the better… and of course the more expensive.

Our 21st Anniversary

Much of November 26, 1983 is vivid in my memory. Much of it is a blur. You could say it was the pivotal day in my life – the day I married Helaine.

That I was even getting married was surprising. Years earlier I had put marriage on the same list with liver and opera – fine for people who had the desire, but not me. Helaine changed that for me.

Though it could be argued I entered matrimony kicking and screaming, I made an incredibly good decision those 21 years ago.

We were married in the suburbs outside Philadelphia. Friends and relatives, many traveling long distances, fought their way to the hotel on November 25th in snow! It wasn’t a terrible storm… in fact it was quite beautiful and gone the next morning. It was enough to give us a scare.

I rented a tuxedo for the occasion. Sometime the afternoon of the wedding, my friends Paul and Howard (though I suspect mostly Paul) got into my hotel room, took the black tuxedo and replaced it with something polyester and cream colored.

In an incredible leap of faith, I believed somehow I had been given the wrong tux and set out to get the right one. I panicked, called the store and went as far as getting in my car to drive an hour for the exchange until I notice another friend, Bob, lying on the hood, snapping photos of me and laughing.

At the time it was not funny.

Over time, that same tuxedo has showed up under similar circumstances at other friends weddings and (as I remember) even replaced one friend’s clothes in the suitcase he took on his honeymoon!

I’m not mentioning names because I don’t think these events happened with ‘current’ wives.

We had a beautiful, wonderful ceremony. In the photos my family is smiling and excited. They knew I was marrying a wonderful woman. Helaine’s family frowned and seemed apprehensive. After all, she was marrying me.

Everything went smoothly at the service. Even the flower girl, my now grown-up niece Jessica, walked the aisle admirably. It was only later I learned that she balked at first, only to be ‘gently’ cajoled by my sister.

I won’t tell you exactly what Trudi said to her, because I’m not sure there’s a statute of limitations on this kind of thing. As far as I can tell Jessie has grown up unscathed by the incident and my sister never faced formal charges.

My father-in-law threw a tremendous party for our reception. I remember remarking at the time how little I got to see of Helaine that night. We were constantly separated, seeing friends and relatives.

Even when the police came to tell my father-in-law his car was in a fire zone and it was going to be towed&#185, and when my grandmother collapsed and fell to the floor while dancing&#178, the party went on! It was an incredible night.

It is 21 years ago and yet in many ways it feels like we’re still newlyweds. How I could have been such a fool and resisted marriage (believe me, I did) is beyond me today.

This morning the doorbell rang and flowers, beautiful orchids, were delivered to Helaine. They are just a small token of the love I have for her – love that continues to grow, even after 21 years.

&#185 – My father-in-law claimed to have parked the car elsewhere. I totally believed him. It was all very puzzling to all of us then, as it is now. He moved the car, but it was weird.

&#178 – My Grandma Rose was very excited about the wedding. I was the first grandchild, which I suppose gave me a favored place in her life. She danced until she dropped, literally. An ambulance was called and she went to the hospital. Later she would say the hospital in Jenkintown, PA was the nicest she had ever seen and they had treated her like a queen. If it’s possible, the hospital was a positive experience for her.

Greetings From Las Vegas

Good morning from seat 7F, cruising at 35,000 feet. I’m typing this aboard our non-stop Southwest flight to Las Vegas. Outside the plane, the Sun is shining. Puffy white clouds sit thousands of feet below. The ride is smooth.

As is customary on getaway day, we were up early. Very early. Outside, it was pouring. The Accuweather meteorologist on WCBS (they hide the fact that it’s Accuweather providing their forecasts since co-owned WINS has promoted Accuweather exclusivity for years) said there were thunderstorms and flooding in the area.

With a plethora of unused cell phone minutes, I transferred our home phone to my cell number. We’ll see how that works.

Instead of pulling the car out front, I loaded the bags in the garage. Farther to carry, but worth it to stay dry. If I needed to, I could have rearranging for more room, but with casual throws, the bags filled the rear of the Explorer.

It’s a holiday, so the traffic was light. Parking the car and the ride to the terminal were uneventful. Checking the bags was not.

We have locks on our bags. The locks are approved by the TSA and their employees are supposed to have master keys. The screener said he could get a key, but it would be easier if we’d unlock them and he’d see they were locked before hitting the log flume ride they take on their way to the plane.

As Helaine watched, they went through the X-Ray machine and then onto the belt without being relocked. By the time she told me, they were on their way downstairs – unlocked.

It’s not as if someone wants to steal my underwear, but there are some valuable items in there. It was out of the TSA’s control. If Southwest wanted to help, they could… and they did.

My hero is Jeanette, a counter agent at Southwest. She went downstairs and found my bags. And, when the lock wouldn’t work, she called the desk and asked me to help her on the phone.

There’s another reason to like Jeanette. This morning at 12:01 AM, I went on Southwest’s website to print boarding passes. Helaine and Steffie got into Group “A”. Because my ticket used a paper frequent flyer voucher, I couldn’t get a pass. When Jeanette saw our plight, she hand wrote a note on my boarding pass to let us go together.

Neither task was a big deal, but she did both with a smile, even though she was working at an ungodly hour on, what to most folks was, a holiday morning. She is part of the reason we have switched our allegiance to Southwest. There will be a note sent to Southwest commending her when we return.

The flight got off on time.

I like to sleep while flying, and did sleep a little, but this was a “Gus Souflas” flight. Gus is… or probably was a pilot for a major airline. One day, as my friend Howard flew coast-to-coast, Gus decided to note the crossing of every state boundary.

Today’s pilot was on the PA four or five times, always ending with the exact distance to Las Vegas.

From the air it’s astounding to see how much of the country looks empty. No disrespect to folks who live in the ‘great flyover’ but there does seem to be loads of unused space.

We flew south of Denver, over Colorado Springs. As we crossed the Rockies, there were still lots of snow covered peaks. No mountain was ‘capped’ with snow, like an idyllic picture of Mt. Fuji, but there were many veins of white.

We got to Las Vegas right on time. There’s construction in the baggage claim area and things were really jammed up. Thankfully, all our bags came – though the locks never were locked on one of the bags.

We went to Dollar to get our car. We had reserved a Dodge Intrepid, or similar. They were out of that class of car, so they said take a Pacifica – a car I’d never heard of, but turns out to be a six passenger, roomy cross between a van and SUV.

When we went to check out, the amount on our contract was different than what we were quoted. Unreal! It always happens. Is this a scam or what?

I had to go back to the office and work it out, which removes the advantage of being a Dollar Fast Lane member. But, things are now correct – and the car is nice.

My parents are seeing Mama Mia tonight at Mandalay Bay. The tickets were on Helaine’s name. So, we stopped there (and I double parked in what looked like a bus area) and she went to the box office. Then we stopped at Walgreen’s for a few cases of water.

I have never seen Las Vegas more crowded. It’s unreal. The sidewalks are jammed with people and Las Vegas Boulevard moved at a crawl. We turned in to the Mirage valet area and ended up in a long line of cars. Helaine got out while I made my way to the front of the line.

Helaine says nothing she asked for was here! Not a room near the elevator. Not two rooms nearby – one for us, one for Steffie and her friend Ali. Not a Strip view.

Still, the room is very nice. After all, it’s the Mirage – one of the most beautiful hotels in Las Vegas.

On the way to the room we ran into my folks and then my sister and brother-in-law. Only Cousin Michael, Melissa and Max are AWOL. I’m sure we’ll see them soon.

Meanwhile, a call to the Bell Desk says it will be at least 30 minutes until we get our bags! Helaine can’t wait. She’s showering. I’m writing.

More later from Fabulous Las Vegas.

Phony Northeast Blackout Image?

Right after 9/11, a photo circulated on the Internet showing a man on the observation deck of the World Trade Center, facing a camera. Behind him, a plane flew directly toward the building. It, of course, was a fake.

In fact, tools like PhotoShop make it incredibly easy to turn the unreal…real. Such is the case with a satellite image making its way across the world, mostly through email. It has been resized and had the levels tweaked a bit, but it’s the same image.

So far, I have gotten this from my father, my friend Howard, loads of viewers and other well meaning people. If it were true, it would be a pretty spectacular shot.

The real photo is actually a montage of a number of satellite images from a Defense Department Weather Satellite (DMSP). In order to get a fully clear view, and cover the whole country, the actual time frame of the image is Oct. 1, 1994, to March 31, 1995.

Few people look at visible satellite imagery at night, because all you can see are city lights… and normally that’s not very helpful.

If you really take a good look at the phony image, it’s done in a ham fisted way. The areas of removed light shouldn’t resemble a black hole, but should be shades of dark gray. After all, there was some illumination from the moon. Also, there were pockets of lights still working, even within the blackout area. And, though wire reports implied otherwise, most of Connecticut was powered up and good to go.

When I first saw the photo, I knew it was wrong because I know the original very well. It’s a classic. But, I also knew this satellite doesn’t see the whole country at once, nor is the whole country ever cloud free.

There are before and after images from the blackout, and they are pretty amazing. Unfortunately, fact isn’t quite as glamorous as fiction.