In My Room

Looking north you see how far civilization goes and how abruptly it stops. Vegas doesn’t thin out. It just stops. Homes on one side of the street, a desolate desert wilderness for hundreds of miles on the other.


We’re on 27. In Las Vegas that doesn’t necessarily mean the 27th floor. They count oddly. No floors in the unlucky 40s. There’s a lot more hotel above us.

The view is to the north. The Wynn/Encore complex block the northwest.

Las Vegas (The Meadows) sits in a broad desert valley. The region is flat, ringed by mountains.

Looking north you see how far civilization goes and how abruptly it stops. Vegas doesn’t thin out. It just dead ends. Homes on one side of the street, a desolate desert wilderness for hundreds of miles on the other.

Sunsets here often resemble the mixed drinks you find on cruise ships. Tonight’s did.

Las Vegas Oddities

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Michael and I just returned from a trip down the Strip to Encore. It’s a beautiful luxury hotel, sister to the equally elegant Wynn. My friend Jon Schneider from Cheshire is visiting. We had coffee. Very nice.

The rolling signs advertising “Girls That Want To Meet You” are still driving around, though as Michael noted, they’re looking faded. Some of the women pictured on the signs must be in their forties by now.

The world’s largest Ferris Wheel is now visible, though seemingly not yet running.

It was cool–high was near 60&#176. There were still people out at the pool this morning. For some people, being in Las Vegas this time of year is like receiving a pardon from winter.

The Wynn is all dressed up for Chinese New Year. The influence of Chinese culture is very visible in Las Vegas. Some of the casinos’ best customers are of Asian ancestry.

Here’s a perfect example. We’re staying on the 50th floor. Except it’s not. It’s really the 40th!

The express elevator counts 38, 39, 50, 51, 52, etc. My understanding is “4” is an unlucky number to some Chinese people.

At some point in the constructions some contractor must have said, “Renumber the floors? Sure, we can do that.”

There’s also a large Buddha shrine with fresh flowers as you enter the lobby and red everywhere. Red is a lucky color.

At the Wynn/Encore, where their players club card is called, “Red,” there are Chinese gardens with large red ornamental dragons hanging from the ceiling.

Everywhere you go there are statues of horses. It is the year of the horse.

This is smart marketing. I’m sure the Catskills marketed this way toward my parents and their friends in the 50s and 60s.

A Hike In Red Rock


Most people think of Las Vegas and stop at casinos. That’s easy to do. They’re built as one-stop shops to separate you and your money. Luckily, there’s a lot more going on here in the desert.

Just west of Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada’s first National Conservation Area. Red Rock Canyon is located 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip on Charleston Boulevard/State Route 159. The area is 195,819 acres and is visited by more than one million people each year. In marked contrast to a town geared to entertainment and gaming, Red Rock offers enticements of a different nature including a 13-mile scenic drive, more than 30 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking, picnic areas, nature observing and visitor center with exhibit rooms and a book store.

Red rock 2   GmailMostly, it’s undisturbed desert with great views.

With temperatures in the upper 50s today was perfect for a walk. We chose a trail with little vertical climbing and started out.

We’re actually not sure how long we were on the trail before we lost it. There were still plenty of footprints in the dry river wash we followed and we didn’t go too far astray. We just lost the actual trail!

My Cousin Michael was quick to note, no birds. We did see one tiny gray bird Mother Nature has made nearly indistinguishable from the rocks it lands on. That was it. One bird… and we were looking.

It’s also interesting to see the colors of the plants. Many of the living desert species have colors normally only seen once a plant has died!






The Sad Life Of The Retired Neon Of Las Vegas

Since its gambling days began Las Vegas has been known for its garish neon signs. No more. The signs are still garish but the neon is gone, replaced with LEDs and computer wizardry.

Many of the signs have been lost. Not all. Las Vegas hosts a Neon Museum.

We went to visit on a recent trip. I’m glad I went, but disappointed in what I saw.

Most of the signs are intact, but unrestored. Most can’t be lit. Colored spotlights shine on the signs adding a look that never existed when they were originally on display.

It’s sad. I wish I didn’t have to say that. This is more a specialized junkyard than museum.

We took the one hour tour. Too long. I would have preferred an unguided tour with some written material, but that’s not an option. Guided tour or no go!

I’m sure the museum is operating on a small budget with limited resources. I wish they could do more with what they have.

Here are a few of the shots I took. I’ve converted them to black and white to try and capture the grittiness and condition of the signs today. I think it gives them a 1950s retro feel.

All the photos are clickable for a larger view









Stuff You See While Flying: Sky Ranch


On a recent trip from Orange County we flew over a community that looked unusual. As you can see from the attached photo (click to enlarge), there’s one main street running right down the middle of the development with no homes or businesses on it. All the other streets feed off the main drag. Though they do have structures, none of them is near the intersection with the main road.


I took a closer look and realized that’s no regular street, it’s a runway!

Runway 03-21 is the center of action at Sky Ranch Airport in Sky Ranch Estates. Sky Ranch is in Sandy Valley, Nevada, within feet of the California line.

Internet sleuthing says 75 planes are parked under the hangars that accompany most homes on the ranch. I also learned…


No control tower. No lights on the runway, except at the thresholds. But, you can fly home!

This is not the promise of the Jetsons. It’s as close as we get so far.

CT To CA — We Have Arrived On The Left Coast

The Eagle has landed. Helaine and I are sitting in the lobby of the hotel we’ll call home for the next twelve days. The room’s not ready yet. Oops.

Our trip from St. George was mainly uneventful. We expected I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge to be scary. It was the last time we drove it. We’re winding road veterans now.

The cliffs are as steep as anything we saw in Colorado and Utah. They’re very close to the road and very tall. Very. Still, it was NBD!

We left early to try and beat the Sunday evening Las Vegas to Los Angeles traffic. It is legendary.

Don’t misunderstand. We still saw plenty of traffic. South of Vegas the road was jammed, but we were still doing 60 mph.

Three more states today. Here’s the full list:

  • Connecticut
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Indiana
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Nebraska
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Nevada
  • California

We pulled into our hotel at 3:23 PM PDT. We’re now settled in and VERY tired.

Here are the final stats:

Total time: 5 days 2.5 hours
Total mileage: 2,862 miles
States entered: 14
Gas used: 151.5 gallons
Miles per gallon: 18.9
Speeding tickets: 0
Fastest speed before realizing how fast I was driving: 95 mph

Doppler is settled in on the sofa in our room. She is calm and sweet as she was for the entire trip.

We close on our new California home this Friday. Thanks for tagging along

Our Taxing Problems

Tim Cook from Apple testified to Congress yesterday. To summarize, Apple moves money around the world to reduce/eliminate taxes as the law proscribes.

Our tax laws make this possible! This is a face palm moment, right?

Before we let Apple off the hook, let’s remember tax policy is greatly influenced by lobbying which is paid for by people/corporations whose ox is about to be gored.

During the last election Mitt Romney said he paid all the tax he owed and not a penny more. Left out was these were tax rules Bain Capital had rallied for.

What I’m getting at is, when someone says they’re just following the law, take that with a grain of salt.

Meanwhile, what’s going on here with Apple has been going on in England with Google.

From Google’s boss has told UK politicians to “sort out” the tax system, after criticisms of the internet search giant by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Mr Miliband told a meeting of the firm’s staff that he was “disappointed” it had paid just £6m in corporation tax on UK sales worth £3.2bn in 2011.

But executive chairman Eric Schmidt said Google followed “the tax laws of the countries we operate in”.

I’m sure they have, but I close my eyes and see accountants playing Twister on the books!

There was a time when big business and the American dream were closely aligned. We could afford to give corporations a little slack, because in the end we knew they’d employ people and drive prosperity. Those days are over. We shouldn’t favor corporations with gifts for acts they no longer perform.

We can’t afford big corporations being financial takers. We just can’t.

Huffington Post: Citizens for Tax Justice, which advocates steeper corporate taxes, said it surveyed major U.S. companies and found that 26 on average paid no net federal income taxes between 2008 and 2011, among them General Electric and Duke Energy .

“This isn’t fair to the rest of us,” said Bob McIntyre, director of the left-leaning tax research group.

No joke. It isn’t.

This doesn’t just go on with money moving to Ireland or the Cayman Islands. There is a state-to-state competition as well.

Take a look at your phone bill (if AT&T is your home or cell carrier). Look down near the bottom for a copyright notice.

Since 2008 all of the current and past AT&T trademarks and previous regional Bell names are now owned by various Nevada Limited Partnerships based at 645 East Plumb Lane Reno, Nevada. This office location is currently an AT&T main office-formerly occupied by SBC/Nevada Bell.

That means when your Connecticut phone bill comes, a rights fee is paid to AT&T Intellectual Property for displaying logos, etc. That lowers AT&T’s taxes here by shifting the income to Nevada where there’s no corporate income tax! Any time you see an AT&T logo, money is being moved to Nevada.

The problem with fixing the tax code is those who want the code fixed (you and me) will be outspent and outmaneuvered by those who want to avoid paying taxes. I wish I had the solution.

Back in the Eisenhower administration, Charles Wilson was nominated for Secretary of Defense. He had been president of General Motors so there was concern he’d make any decision that affected GM in the company’s favor. He said he would not…

“because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa”. – Wikipedia

Those days are gone.

We Ran Into A Few Asses Outside Las Vegas (photos)

We’re city boys. We have no idea whether these asses were going to be nice or be… well… be asses!

Later I’ll post some nighttime vistas from Blue Diamond, NV. Until then the brief story of getting there.

My Cousin Michael, his son Max and I headed out into the desert for some dark sky astrophotography. This past winter we drove west into some Bureau of Land Management property out in the sticks. No people live there but it is populated by burros. Last time we heard them. This time we saw them!

As we pulled the car to the side of the road a small herd of burros began to approach. We’re city boys. We have no idea whether these asses were going to be nice or be… well… be asses! We got back into the car.

I planned on bringing a tripod to this expedition. Unfortunately it never made it out of the hotel room. With the burros around it would have gone unused. Luckily I had a little clamp which let me mount my camera on the car window!

Here are my two burro/ass shots. I apologize for the fuzziness. This was all done in the dark.

Friday In Las Vegas With The Sun Shining

Foolishly I headed toward Las Vegas Boulevard only to find horrendous traffic! The rest, mostly forgotten now, had the potential to be a major family dust-up. I can tell you a RAV4 is too small for five adults and a full vacation’s worth of bags!

Greetings from Las Vegas. The Sun is shining, but it’s chilly. Helaine, who has already been outside, tells me you warm quickly in the desert sun.

I’m in our room now. We’re on the 39th floor with a northwest view. That’s away from most of the Strip action, but a nice shot of the mountains to our west.

It looks like there’s a little snow on Mount Charleston. It’s still early in the season.

We arrived yesterday and were met by Stef with her boyfriend and visiting friend. That was one stuffed RAV4!

Stef asked me to drive since I know Las Vegas. Foolishly I headed toward Las Vegas Boulevard only to find horrendous traffic! The rest, mostly forgotten now, had the potential to be a major family dust-up. I can tell you a RAV4 is too small for five adults and a full vacation’s worth of bags!

The five of us were joined by my California cousins and had dinner at Zeffirino an Italian restaurant in the shopping area at the Venetian. We’d been there before for Thanksgiving. They throw out the menu and serve an unbelievable holiday buffet. I don’t have to eat for the next month!

I played a little poker after dinner at the Venetian. This might be my favorite poker room anywhere. It’s big and comfortable with action around-the-clock. The service is attentive and quick.

I sat down at a new table that was just opening and watched the dealer convert a few grand from the ten players into chips. It was a thing of beauty as he methodically parceled out the chips in a way that allowed him to retrace his steps and account for each dollar should there be a dispute or error. This guy was an all-star. He elevated poker dealing to an artform.

I played for a few hours losing for a while then coming back almost to even. Almost… that means I lost, right?

Today is Helaine and my 27th anniversary. More to come.

Note: Internet and simple cell access via at&t has been horrendous. Often we’re seeing full bars, but no service!

The Get Off The Pot Moment

The grief wasn’t because the Democrats proposals were bad after all. The grief was solely because the proposal was from the Democrats and if it benefits the Democrats it hurts the Republicans.

Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader from Nevada (you know, the guy who looks like he’s always just a few seconds from saying, “Hey, you kids get off my lawn”) spoke about healthcare reform today.

“As we’ve gone through this process, I’ve concluded –with the support of the White House, Senators Dodd and Baucus — that the best way to move forward is to include a public option with the opt-out provision for states.”

So, the public option is in. Good.

It’s in with an opt-out provision. That’s not so good.

Well, actually it wouldn’t be good except it’s all a ruse.

From Huffington Post: Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican leader from Tennessee, said on the Senate floor Monday, in advance of Reid’s announcement, that the opt-out provision isn’t to be taken seriously. Medicaid, he noted, has an opt-out provision, but not one state has opted out.

We have come to the ‘shit or get off the pot moment’ and… holy crap, starting with Lamar Alexander they’re getting off the pot!

All this grousing… all these tea parties… all the tumult to slow things down–Alexander is really saying no one has the courage of their convictions, or maybe they just have no convictions. No one will opt-out because opting-in is so much of a better deal.

The screaming wasn’t because the Democrats proposals were bad after all. The grief was solely because the proposal was from the Democrats and if it benefits the Democrats it hurts the Republicans. Pols see this all as a zero sum game.

Maybe I was just naive growing up because I seem to remember a time when we were more interested in bettering our nation and less concerned about blocking our opponents.

Busy Week Ahead

If all you do is look at the number, 25 seems like a lot of years. In real life you live it day-by-day. That’s why 25 years actually feels like the blink of an eye.

There’s a lot going on with the Foxes this week. Everything is pointed toward Wednesday–Helaine and my 25th wedding anniversary.

If all you do is look at the number, 25 seems like a lot of years. In real life you live it day-by-day. That’s why 25 years actually feels like the blink of an eye.

We’ve been through a lot. We met in Philly, married while living in Buffalo and moved to Connecticut in 1984. Stef was born three years later. Helaine’s parents have passed away. Mine have moved away.

We fly to Las Vegas Wednesday morning. I’m not sure there will be time to sleep after working Tuesday night. We’re praying for good weather at Midway where we change planes.

Stef and my parents arrive separately as do my California cousins. Wednesday evening we’re renewing our vows in a wedding chapel on Las Vegas Boulevard. Elvis is not attending.

It’s winter in the desert too. Rain is expected while we’re in Nevada. They’ll welcome it. We definitely will not.

There’s a lot of configuring and packing still to come. Like I said–busy week ahead.

OJ’s Back

The trial has potential. And, best of all, it will be televised.

I’m not sure how to react, but it looks like my favorite TV show is being remade as a sequel–It’s OJ II! OJ is back, badder than ever. He’s charged, along with Clarence (C.J.) Stewart, with 12 counts including kidnapping and armed robbery, both of which carry potential life sentences in Nevada.

Judge Ito’s part has been recast. Now we’ve got Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass. I’m not sure we’re trading down.

“Listen folks,” she said. “The last thing you want me to do as the judge is to start losing my temper in front of the fine ladies and gentlemen of the jury and having to deal with all of you. You’ve been warned, folks.”

Firm, yet folksy. The trial has potential. And, best of all, it will be televised.

Hooked On Hookers

Now that I’ve stood on my high horse about Spitzer’s position, let me throw in a curveball. Why exactly is prostitution illegal in the first place? Seriously.

The big news this afternoon has been the New York Times story about New York’s governor, Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer has been linked to a prostitution ring.

I feel awful for Spitzer’s family. How does one reconcile with a spouse or child after this betrayal of trust? How do you re-establish trust?

Maybe you can’t.

Now that I’ve stood on my high horse about Spitzer’s position, let me throw in a curveball. Why exactly is prostitution illegal in the first place? Seriously.

I understand the act of prostitution in and of itself offends the sense of morality in many people, but do we legislate morality? Should we?

There are certainly serious questions raised about women forced into prostitution. It’s a horrendous and repugnant situation. However, wouldn’t we be better able to police and control that if prostitution was brought out of the shadows? The same goes for questions of disease.

We permit prostitution in much of Nevada (though not Clark County/Las Vegas). It’s also legal and controlled in the Netherlands. I’m not sure what the effects have been, but I suspect the answer is not much. Prostitution will exist with or without the sanction of government.

I suspect some of you will leave a comment and disagree with my opinion. It’s even possible one of you will comment and change my opinion. I’m not afraid to flip-flop on this if I find I’ve missed some crucial fact.

With all that’s wrong in the world, do we really have enough time and resources to go after prostitutes and their tricks?

I See Palm Trees

I am writing tonight, sitting in front of our hotel room, in Palm Springs, CA. The swimming pool is ten feet ahead. On the other side of the pool a group of people are sitting, chatting, around a small gas powered fire pit.

Back home, there’s a dense fog advisory. Here, the stars are blazing.

Wow, it’s nice. But first, our trip.

You don’t get to Palm Springs by dark without leaving Connecticut before dawn. Helaine’s alarm was set for 2:00 AM. We pulled out of the driveway around 4:30 AM.

We’ve planned stays in both Palm Springs and Las Vegas, so we flew to Vegas first, rented a car and drove the nearly 300 miles to the Springs.

The fight itself was uneventful. Much of the Eastern United States was partly cloudy with a distinct haze that dulled the view from 36,000 feet. It was as if the Midwest had been rendered slightly out-of-focus.

Before takeoff, and a few more times during the flight, the pilot told us it as very windy in Las Vegas… and it was.

We made a very steep descent into McCarren Airport, probably to avoid the turbulence until the last minute or two. As I looked out the window, the right wing vibrated up and down like a guitar string after it had been plucked.

By the time we were rolling on the runway, the passengers had broken into a round of applause. I’ve always wondered if they can hear that in the cockpit?

The Las Vegas airport has a brand new rental car facility, a little farther from the terminal than were the cars were before, but containing all the rental agencies under one roof. Helaine found a great deal on the car, and since I had a “Dollar Express” card (though I hardly ever rent cars), we headed downstairs and were in our red Dodge Charger with Nevada plates in about ten minutes.

It’s strange to arrive in Las Vegas and immediately turn south, away from the Strip, but we did. I-15, the highway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, was loaded with cars as we left the city behind and were soon in what’s surely some of the ugliest territory in the united States.

The speed limit on I-15 is 70 mph, but I assumed I’d be doing 85-90 mph. Not with this traffic. I settled back in the pack and held on tight as the strong winds pushed the Charger back and forth in my lane (and sometimes out of it).

Our plan was to stop in Baker, CA, right at the edge of the Mojave Desert and not far from Death Valley, at The Made Greek Cafe. It’s a place LA-LV commuters have always known about, now made famous after a piece on Food Network.

The Mad Greek is about as tacky as you can get, but my souvlaki was pretty good and the strawberry shake was to die for.

There’s not much in Baker, other than the Greek’s. The main drag runs parallel to I-15. Down the block is the World’s Tallest Thermometer!

Back in the sixties, a radio preacher named Curtis Springer put Baker on the map. His headquarters were at Zzyzx Springs, but his mailing address was Box B, Baker, California.

From Baker, we headed through the desert to Barstow and then Victorville, where there’s both a Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans Drive!

We slowed down entering the Cajon Pass, a steeply descending and curving stretch of highway that gives truckers fits and made Helaine a little uneasy too.

On the radio, we’d heard about a small plane crashing in the center median of I-15 and sure enough, like some trophy deer head, the tail section (along with the last few digits of the plane’s registration number) sat on the edge of the breakdown lane, slowing traffic as everyone took a look.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We got a bottle of water in Loma Linda as we continued on I-215. By San Bernadino, the flora had changed. It began to look like Southern California with tall palms spotted across the landscape. The ugly desert had turned into the pretty desert.

We took the ramp onto I-10, saw the beginning of the huge windmill farm that straddles the opening of the Coachella Valley, exited onto California 111 and pulled into Palm Springs by late afternoon.

I’ll write more about this hotel, the Desert Riviera, in a few days. Least it to say, for Helaine and me, this is quite a departure. The hotel is a very small property – only ten rooms built around a swimming pool.

It is run by a husband and wife and their sister. It has been lovingly restored to 50s retro chic.

The only downside right now is a problem shared by all the hotels in the Springs. There’s a motorcycle convention in town! I believe it’s a “I used to be wild, but now I ride on weekends because I’m a grownup,” group and not Hells Angels and Mongols.

On the other hand, every few minutes a throaty and noisy Harley rumbles it’s way down Palm Canyon. I’m tired enough to know I’ll sleep through it.

The Sky Is Blue

Yes, I know Nevada can be excruciatingly hot during the summer, but right now, it’s heaven. Temperatures have been in the 70s during the day with zero cloudiness!

What’s not to like?

My poker playing continues my head’s still above water. I decided to try the afternoon tournament at Caesars Palace.

When I first came to Las Vegas in 1975, Caesars is where I stayed. The original buildings are still there somewhere, but not in a form recognizable by me.

Back then a parking lot sat between the hotel and Las Vegas Blvd. Over the years, more and more has been built in that space and every other space.

The poker room at Caesars is new, spacious and nicely furnished. More important for me, the structure of the poker tournament is excellent. You get a lot of chips and the blinds increase slowly. That benefits a more conservative player, like me.

I still lost my $130 buy-in, placing well back in the pack.

I headed back to the Mirage to nap. A ‘wrong number’ to my home phone, which is begin forwarded to my cell phone, woke me after 30 minutes. Nap over.

I called Helaine and found she had walked dow the block to the Bellagio. I headed out to meet her. In our opinion, Bellagio’s buffet is the best on the Strip. We decided we’d have a buffet dinner there.

Meanwhile, it was early for dinner, so I sat down in Bellagio’s poker room. It was jammed. Actually, it was too jammed!

The poker tables and seats are much too close together for my liking. The room is pretty with a beautiful ceiling, but I’m not on the ceiling. It just wasn’t a particularly comfortable place to play.

I won back around $40. That was Bellagio’s saving grace.

Our nighttime plans took us to the Flamingo Hotel for Second City. Second City is an improv comedy troupe. It is named for, and has its base in, Chicago.

The show was very good… very funny. The theater is fairly small, so even though we sat in the back, the sight lines and sound were good.

I know Second City claims to be improv, and maybe these routines were originally improvised, but there seemed to be very little improvising going on last night. I’m not disappointed, just puzzled.

Before bed, I decided to play some more poker. I found a table at the Mirage which was a miniature United Nations. There was a Chinese man, Laotian woman, and at least two other accents I didn’t recognize. This at a table of nine players.

For the first time on this trip, I thought I played poorly and quickly dug a hole for myself. I was too interested in playing hands – that’s bad. By the time I righted myself, a stack and a half of the chips in front of me had been distributed to other players.

I bore down and scraped back. I was getting closer to even, when I was dealt two Aces. This table was so aggressive, I was able to bet strongly at each stage of the game without scaring everyone away.

The Aces held against another player’s Jacks, and I walked away up $29.

I continue to be ahead at the poker tables on this trip. I’m not up a lot. More importantly, I’m not down.