On The Way To The Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vegas Roundup

OK–this is a little nuts. I’m not that good a player. No one is. I’ve had nine winning sessions in a row including last night’s tournament win. I am seeing Benjamin Franklin in my sleep.

palazzo-slot-machines.jpgWe leave in the morning for Palm Springs, California. Vegas will be done for us. Stef left this afternoon. She slept her way cross country with an entire row to herself!

I played a little poker this afternoon and again tonight. Both times it was $1-2 no limit hold’em and both times I came home a winner!

OK–this is a little nuts. I’m not that good a player. No one is. I’ve had nine winning sessions in a row including last night’s tournament win. I am seeing Benjamin Franklin’s etched face in my sleep.

My friend Rick said I came with a positive attitude and that made me a more confident player. Others might have sniffed that confidence and moved away when I threw my chips around. Who knows?

frozen-hot-chocolate.jpgHelaine and I did take a little walk this afternoon and had dinner at Serendipity. This restaurant is an offshoot of the New York City original. After we both had our meals we shared the specialty of the house–Frozen Hot Chocolate. Good choice.

Before we leave a few words about this hotel: The Palazzo. It is spectacular. There are probably nicer hotels somewhere. I’ve never stayed in one.

This room–all the rooms– are suites. There is a sitting room a few steps down from the bedroom. There’s no wall, but the spaces are separate.

The bathroom is large enough for a bus terminal.

There are three flat screen TVs hung on various walls in the suite including one in the aforementioned bathroom.

Most spectacular is the huge area covered by windows. We’re looking west toward the mountains with a little peek up and down the Strip.

south-side-las-vegas-blvd.jpgThere are hotels and there is gambling elsewhere. There is no other Las Vegas. It is built on hospitality. It never fails in that regard.

Vegas is down on its luck right now. Hopefully it and all of us will recover before long.

The plan for Wednesday takes us from McCarren to Ontario Airport in California. Wheels up time probably under 30 minutes. Then it’s a 70 mile east through the desert to Palm Springs. We should be there around sunset.

Something Special In The Air

The part of this that upsets me the most, is the way the airlines look at customers. Airline ticketing policies and contracts are one-sided, and often arbitrary and unreasonable (like one way fares often costing more than roundtrip). Their advertising does its best to hide full disclosure.

“We’re American Airlines, something special in the air.”

For years, that jingle played incessantly on radio and TV. No more.

If American has a slogan now, I don’t know it. There’s none on their website’s homepage. They surely don’t have the balls to dust off ‘something special’ right now.

Aircraft Inspections Affect Some AA Travel

We are very sorry for inconveniencing you with the cancellation of a portion of American Airlines’ flights which started on April 8. Additional inspections of our MD-80 fleet are being conducted to ensure precise and complete compliance with the FAA’s directive related to wiring in the aircraft’s wheel wells. For more information about the progress of the inspections, please check our Press Releases. Please be assured that safety of our customers is, and always will be, American’s first priority.

You know how companies that put you on hold often say, “Your call is important to us,” even when you know it’s not? I feel the same way&#185 about, “Please be assured that safety of our customers is, and always will be, American’s first priority.”

Do they really think I’m buying into that gratuitous throwaway?

My friend Farrell’s relatives, visiting from Israel, were scheduled to fly AA from New York to Palm Springs. They got as far as Dallas… took a long pregnant pause at DFW… then continued to LAX (a few hours drive from Palm Springs).

Their bags? Right. This isn’t a fair tale. They followed two days later.

When I last left them, my sister-in-law and her friend were arguing with the AA clerk because AA promised $100 p/day p/person for clothing or necessities. AA since retracted that. In the meantime, Vered (Farrell’s wife) had taken the four of them to shop yesterday since they only had carry-on (my advice was to pack as much as possible in their carry-on’s).

I think we’re in the process of watching a meltdown of the so-called “legacy” airlines. With Frontier going bust, since its creditor would not support the majority of their cash, and the merger chatter going on, it’s a matter of time before prices continue to rise and consolidation becomes an actuality.

Please don’t think it’s only American I’m upset with. I’m still smarting from Southwest’s cavalier attitude toward safety inspections, and they’ve been my airline of choice for years.

The part of this that upsets me the most, is the way the airlines look at customers. Airline ticketing policies and contracts are one-sided, and often arbitrary and unreasonable (like one way fares often costing more than roundtrip). Their advertising does its best to hide full disclosure.

Why would they expect us to respect them or have brand loyalty when they so obviously dislike us?

&#185 – “I take full responsibility” goes on that list as well, especially when said by a CEO taking non responsibility.

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.

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.