Funky Nassau

We took a walk down the dock and up to Bay Street, which I think is the main drag. The city is bustling and the people seemed friendly. Three ships means seven or eight thousand visitors additional in one day!

We got an elephant! This was Helaine’s greatest anticipation and biggest fear. She wanted towel animals–sorely missed on our NCL cruise to Mexico.

When I went back to the room for a few minutes, he was waiting on the bed–our white elephant. Helaine’s sunglasses finished the look as his eyes.

It’s funny how a tiny stateroom can really have enough room–but it does. There is plenty of closet space and four small drawers. We put the suitcases under our bed and some bulky stuff on the top of the closet.

Last night had prime rib and lobster on the menu. I decided on the prime rib, but Helaine asked the waiter to bring me both–and he did. I’m a growing boy.

We went to the smaller showroom for Tony Esposito’s “R” rated show. Trust me–we’ve heard plenty worse without the “R” warning. I’ve become a Tony Esposito fan. He’s very funny.

I have a suspicion he’s a lot less good old boy/redneck than he claims. No–he is from the south, but from time-to-time something sophisticated comes out which belies his claimed simplicity.

It was another night with plenty of sleep! The ship really isn’t rocking that much so I suspect it’s the “less drowsy” Dramamine I’ve been taking. So, as of this morning I’ve gone off the meds, but not quite cold turkey. Before the trip Helaine started me on ginger capsules. I am very prone to seasickness. We’ll see how I fare without help.

We woke up docked in Nassau, Bahamas. Next to us was the Disney Wonder and alongside it Carnival’s Valor. We are the smallest of the three ships even with our seventy some-odd-thousand tons of displacement.

We took a walk down the dock and up to Bay Street, which I think is the main drag. The city is bustling and the people seemed friendly. Three ships means seven or eight thousand visitors additional in one day!

Among the coolest things is a lone policeman on a pedestal directing traffic with his gloved hands. He is all spit and polish and precision. There had to be a dozen little camcorders trained on him. One of the few times I’ve seen people recording video.

On the horizon Atlantis dominates. There are two huge hotel buildings. Helaine and I both have heard stories of people being nickel-and-dimed incessantly while there. We passed.

This is a short port call. We’ll be leaving around 6:00 o’clock.

Making The Most Of The Last Day In Vegas

For the next two weeks the rodeo is in town and Las Vegas is full of boots, hats and oversized belt buckles

Things are winding down. We said goodbye by Michael, Melissa and Max who then set out to drive back to Orange County, CA. We will miss them. Melissa has become Helaine’s sister.

We were stared at on our way down in the elevator. Then, somewhere between 18 and the lobby the man asked if I “was the newsman?” They were visiting from Wolcott and will be on our return flight. This is why I can only vacation with my wife.

IMG_4260.JPGA little poker–with good luck–then dinner with Helaine at California Pizza Kitchen. We’ve had the same guy as our waiter for at least five years and he was back with us today. As usual, I had a Jamaican Jerk Chicken Pizza.

Just across the way at the sports book they’re setting up for some country acts. For the next two weeks the rodeo is in town and Las Vegas is full of boots, hats and oversized belt buckles. Anybody gotta Bud?

It’s quite the eclectic group. The Mirage closes Cirque’s Love for two weeks of vacation while the rodeo’s in. This is not a French/Beatles crowd!

I went up to the room for a little while and on my way down got into the elevator with a guy holding a professional Canon HD camcorder. I asked a few questions and he told me he was shooting construction at the Mirage volcano. It’s currently under construction and officially closed. But, he said, it was going to be tested at 5:00 PM.

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I did go back to Venetian for the 7:00 PM tournament. Early on I had 3-Kings, only to find someone with “7s full.” I think I was first out!

If nothing else, Vegas is visually over-the-top. And, whatever was splashy last year has been trumped by something splashier this year… and brighter… and larger.

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Saturday Lunch Isn’t Easy

OK–let’s hit pause for a second. In this life the lowest form of low is the person who says, “Don’t you know who I am?”

I’m not sure how to tell this story. I got a call Thursday from my friend Mike. Mike and his wife Patty were coming to Connecticut from Nashville. Would we like to have lunch Saturday? Uh… yeah.

There are lots of reasons to like Mike. Yes, he’s my former boss and the guy who brought me to Connecticut, but that’s not enough. America is littered with guys (and women) who used to be my boss. He’s a really good guy and, in my presence, has always done the right thing.

Mike is gregarious. He laughs spontaneously more than any person I know. I can still close my eyes and hear him cackling after I said something moderately funny on the news. He was also into computers early. I remember his (and my) mid-80s obsession with “Seven Cities of Gold” for the Commodore 64.

Finding a restaurant for Saturday lunch isn’t as easy as it sounds. I called Assaggio in Branford where I’d gone for my birthday. Nope–dinner only on Saturdays. I continued down my list.

As I was finishing my next call the phone rang back. Assaggio. “The chef will be there preparing for the evening. He insists you come,” said the voice on the other end.

OK–let’s hit pause for a second. In this life the lowest form of low is the person who says, “Don’t you know who I am?” I won’t do that. But I understand why this offer was made and that it might not be available to everyone. I get it. So, I was uncomfortable, sure… but this restaurant is so good and they were being so nice.

Our lunch was great. Unfortunately for Mike and Patty they also had dinner plans. I have no idea how they’ll do that without waddling back to Tennessee.

Rest assured–Ryan, our waiter (excellent) got somewhere between a 40 and 50 percent tip.

My Mom’s Birthday

Today is my mom’s birthday. We came to celebrate. Helaine made the plans from Connecticut, but everything was kept hush-hush.

This afternoon at 4:00, we headed south to Ft. Lauderdale for 5:00 PM reservations at Mai Kai.

What’s a Polynesian restaurant doing in Ft. Lauderdale? I don’t have a clue. Yet Mai Kai has been here for over 50 years. I’m not sure much of what’s there has changed in that time.

The doors opened at 5:00 and we walked in. It was dark… really dark. Quickly, a conversation sprung up at our table questioning whether we really wanted to see the place with the lights up!

Our waiter came, bringing a four page drink menu for each of us. If it sounded South Pacificy and was rum based, it was there. I hate to sound like a wuss (and I will), but I had some sort of frozen fruit melange which Steffie and Helaine both agreed was very tasty.

Next we ordered dinner. Mine was a seafood noodle dish which was pretty good.

The service was attentive and complete. I do hate being asked whether I want bottled or tap water. Tap – the answer is tap water. Can you just pass the word around for me.

We finished our dinner, walked around the tropical gardens (again, all the accouterments seemed like they were installed when the place first opened), then headed back for the Polynesian revue.

Recently, in light of Britney Spears bare midriff performance, a new sensitivity has sprung up around who can and cannot expose their middle in public. Tonight we found one performer who hadn’t heard.

Mostly, the show was pleasantly tacky, with a monotone emcee, four musicians and five dancers. It was what you might expect for a Polynesian show in Ft. Lauderdale.

Seriously though, the show didn’t matter. All that was important was, we were here for my mom’s birthday and we had a good time.

Mission accomplished.

My Grandfather

My grandfather, Sol Drelich at work in his Brooklyn lunchenonette

My folks are doing some minor redecorating down in Florida. They had a closet rebuilt with shelves.

Of course rebuilding a closet also means cleaning a closet. Everything came out and my folks started to sift through things they hadn’t seen in years. That’s what takes the most time, because you really want to savor every bit of history you find.

As is so often the case, my mom kept a lot of memorabilia┬╣. I’m glad she did. The picture attached to this entry is part of the haul. It’s my grandfather, Sol Drelich, taken in the restaurant he owned, probably sometime in the pre-war 1940s.

The prices jump out first. Imagine paying that today!

What’s not so obvious is my grandfather. He came here from Poland. He chose to leave Poland rather than serve in the army.

When he came to the United States he had nothing. He spoke no English, only Polish and Yiddish. In New York City, that was OK. There were thriving communities where Polish or Yiddish were all you needed.

He worked hard as a waiter, learned English, met my grandmother, Rose, and started a family – my mother, Betty, and her sister, Norma.

As time went on, Grandpa bought his own restaurants. With his partner Nat (always referred to simply as “Spiegel” – his last name), he owned a series of luncheonettes. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, they owned a little place right at the foot of the stairs of the Rutland Road Station of the IRT.

I loved that little restaurant. When I’d go, taking the subway all the way from Queens, Grandpa would show me off like a trophy. I didn’t realize that at the time – though I do now.

He also let me work behind the counter, where I’d pour coffee, get Cokes and generally slow things down. From time-to-time I also worked the register.

I remember being at the cash register, at the front of the store, when a policeman came to pay his bill. There were always policemen there. Grandpa ran to move me out of the way.

It was only later I found out, police officers ate for half price. Captains, lieutenants and other supervisors ate free. Coffee was always free for anyone in uniform, police or fire.

Was that illegal? I’m sure it was.

I know why Grandpa did that. Having cops in his restaurant in this very tough neighborhood was good for business. If it were my business, I might do the same thing.

There’s a lot of me that comes from Grandpa. My quick temper – unfortunately – is one part.

He always talked to me as if he knew I would be a success, even though he didn’t know at what. There was never any doubt that I’d go to college and make something of myself. He wanted me to be more successful than he was.

As a little kid Grandpa took me aside more than once to tell me about the Nazis and their concentration camps. That’s where his entire family was killed. He knew his stories scared me, but that was the point.

I can close my eyes right now and see him, in front of his little Cape Cod in Laurelton, Queens, telling me. We stood face-to-face as he went through it piece-by-piece; how the Nazis would herd the Jews and send them to “take a shower.”

Grandpa has been gone a long time now. He never got to see me on TV. I wish he had. I know he would have been very proud, even though he would have preferred me becoming a doctor.

I wish you could have met my grandfather. You would have liked him.

┬╣ – As long as I’m mentioning my parents memories, I should give a plug to the little video I produced about how my parents met.

Jessie Gets Married

Jessie is the daughter of my sister Trudi and her husband, Jeff. She was my parent’s first grandchild. She was Jeff’s parents first grandchild. Today, she was the first of her generation to get married.

We came to Milwaukee early, because the festivities began early. Last night we headed to the Volleydome!

Evan’s parents (he being the boy Jessie’s marrying) threw a little bash with food and volleyball. It started at 6:00 PM.

If you’ve never been to a Volleydome, it’s a large prefab building with a floor covered in sand. It is the best way for Wisconsoners (is it Wisconsinites – who knows?) to play beach volleyball without moving to Laguna Beach.

Neither Helaine nor Stef wanted to play. I entertained the idea, but just thinking about it was enough for me to pull something. I passed.

Everyone had a good time. Beyond that, I got to meet Uncle Murray’s girlfriend, Lilly.

The idea of my nearly 80 year old uncle having a girlfriend was a little foreign at first. We just don’t grow up think of seniors dating. But why not? And, she’s very nice and, obviously, very good for Murray.

Since I wasn’t playing volleyball, I brought along my camera, and clicked away. If it moved… and quite possibly if it didn’t, I clicked the shutter to capture what I saw.

A few months ago I bid and bought a monopod on EBay. This was my first opportunity to try it out. Unlike a tripod, a monopod easily goes from place-to-place. Of course, just one leg doesn’t provide the same stability, but it definitely allows you to shoot usable photos with slower shutter speeds. In a poorly lit Volleydome, that meant getting shots which would have been otherwise unobtainable.

The wedding was early Sunday afternoon. My sister had asked if I’d be an usher (well established as the pivotal wedding position), so I was in my tuxedo and at the Synagogue by 10:30 AM.

All brides are beautiful and Jessie was no exception. Her gown had a very long train. Jessie cried through much of the ceremony, as did Helaine, sitting to my right.

Helaine and I are easy touches when it comes to crying. Both of us have cried at particularly poignant commercials.

You’ll notice I’m not mentioning Evan much. Groom’s are necessary, though on the wedding day, they’re more ceremonial than important. This is the bride’s day, plain and simple.

Later, Evan will learn a ‘gift for the two of you’ is actually for her. Marriage has lots of guy benefits, so we let this small stuff slide.

We retreated to the Mequon Country Club for the reception. Very nice, again, and I was shooting up a storm. By the end of the day, I’d taken nearly 300 additional photos – a full 2 Gigabyte Flash Card! What’s gotten into me?

During the reception, my dad told me he didn’t remember his wedding reception at all. I remember Helaine and mine. It was a great party.

We had French service, which drove us both a little crazy. Every time you stood up, someone would come and refold your napkin. If your drink was down a smidge, a waiter would get you a new one. I don’t want anyone concentrating on me quite that much.

We hardly saw each that night. That made this wedding reception a whole lot better in the ‘company you keep’ department.

Gotta Love Cabo

Aboard the Norwegian Star

I’m on the balcony. It’s around 1:00 PM. The breeze is gentle, the air is warm and moderately dry. We are at anchor in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

If you’d like to find me on a map, it’s easy. Find Los Angeles, then trace the coast south with your finger. Pass San Diego and Tijuana. Keep tracing until you run out of land. I’m there. Simple!

Before I get to more specifics about today, let me wrap up yesterday.

We did decide to see Dave Heenan, the comedian, again. This time he was in the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 12. It’s a nightclub style venue. I’m guessing it seats 400 or so. The chairs are comfy. The service is excellent.

There’s no doubt, Norwegian Cruise Lines is making money on booze! It’s tough to sit anywhere for any length of time without a waiter or waitress approaching to ask if you’d like a drink. They are everywhere taking orders and delivering drinks.

Dave Heenan’s show was totally different than the one we had seen earlier in the week. He says, and I believe him, that he ad libs everything. He knows enough jokes to keep a stream of consciousness running for 45 minutes at a clip.

Best line of the night. Speaking about the cleanliness of the southern restaurant chain, “Waffle House”: “I saw a cockroach there throwing up.”

When the show ended, we walked downstairs to Aqua. That’s deck 12 to Deck 6 for those counting. It was nearly closing time and the restaurant was emptying out. Once again the meal was great and once again I had a light cooking meal that couldn’t have been light. It was Chicken Parmesan with pasta. The dessert was a souffle.

I could get used to this life, if my arteries would allow it.

We finished dinner and headed back up the six flights of stairs to Deck 12. Steffie wanted to see Dave Heenan again – and he was funny enough that it made sense.

Another 45 minutes with hardly a repeat… and when he did repeat, he’d acknowledge it was something he said earlier.

Our night was done before midnight. We were all tired. There’s just so long you can lead this kind of life without a recharge. Anyway, today’s port call would be very early and with much less time than any of the others.

I’m not really sure whether it was the captain’s announcement or Helaine in the shower that woke me this morning. They happened pretty much simultaneously. We were anchored near the harbor at Cabo.

Everything I know about Cabo, I learned on Love Boat. Everything she knows about Cabo, Steffie learned on MTV. Who has the more liberal knowledge? Captain Stuebing – you’ve let me down!

From the balcony, I immediately made up my mind. This was the most beautiful of the ports we’d seen.

Looking out I could see miles of white beach flanked by five and six story hotel (maybe condo) buildings. Between us and the shore was a huge yacht. Whatever you’re thinking of, it’s bigger. A helicopter sat on an upper deck in the rear of the ship. Attached by lines were a few jet skis and other small boats.

I can’t see the name, but I do have the tail number of the copter. The ship is registered in some British Commonwealth country (based on the flag, which has a Union Jack). The chopper is from the United States (the tail number starts with “N”).

Helaine and I went up to Deck 12 for breakfast while Stef showered. As soon as we had a vantage from the port side of the ship, I saw the rocky outcropping that makes Cabo San Lucas so famous.

There is no harbor here large enough for the Norwegian Star, so we walked down to Deck 4 and got on a tender.

I’ve seen this on cruise ships before. There is actually a dock that swings out from the ship’s hull which is used for boarding.

A few of the lifeboats had been lowered down to the water. They would be used for tendering.

Again, with so much else on this ship, these lifeboats are super sized. I believe they can sit 125 or so in case of emergency! This is not some little dinghy.

The trip to Cabo took five minutes – no more. We landed at a marina full of moderate to large sized fishing boats – most from the states. There was an amazing amount of activity in the harbor and the marina.

When you looked to the water, you saw boats and you saw pelicans. Lots of pelicans.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Pelicans up close like this. They are not pretty birds. They are substantial. We saw more than one down a fish whole in his beak!

Like I said, Steffie knew this place from MTV – specifically Laguna Beach. She knew where she wanted to go and Helaine already had directions to “Cabo Wabo.”

“Cabo Wabo” is owned by rocker Sammy Hagar. It’s a few blocks off the main drag, up a hill and across the way from a strip club. Inside was set up for small concerts with bar service. My guess is the real money maker is the merchandise stand near the front door.

Steffie now has a t-shirt and I have a hat. Sammy can taste some more Tequila on us.

Cabo is loaded with little shops selling silver and crafts. We went into a store where Helaine got a bracelet and another where I got a silver bookmark (now in Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat,” which I should finish before Ls Angeles).

We headed back to the ship, through the marina area. Every few feet someone wanted to sell you something. There were hats and serapes and little carved toys. If it could be sold… If Heche en Mexico could be stamped on it… it was here!

We didn’t buy anything from these vendors, but we did make one more stop. At a bend in the marina, a Mexican man stood, holding two iguanas. One was wearing a sombrero. Neither seemed particularly mindful that they were the main attraction in this man’s business.

For $2 US, I could have my picture taken with the iguana – and I did! Actually, nimble fingered Stef shot of a half dozen – maybe more.

The mere fact that Stef got this photo is amazing, considering she was laughing herself silly at the time.

We tendered in and were back on the ship by 12:30. Right now, as I type, the last of the tenders are bringing passengers back. A few of the tenders have already been hoisted on their davits and stowed for their real job. We should get underway within 10 – 15 minutes.

This is our last port before returning to San Pedro/Los Angeles. We’ll be at sea all night tonight and all day tomorrow. We dock early Thursday. Los Angeles is the better part of 1,000 miles from here.

With a few blasts of the ship’s horn, we’re underway. Though we’ll be doing 21 knots on the trip north, it takes a long time to accelerate to that point.

We headed south first, then a sharp u-turn around the tip of Baja.

I am surprised, 45 minutes after leaving Cabo, a Mexican Navy patrol boat is keeping pace between the Norwegian Star and the coast. Finally, at 2:48, it makes a clockwise turn and heads home.

We’re all alone in the Pacific.

There is no doubt this was our most beautiful Mexican stop.

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.

Nearly Childless

Now that Steffie is at school, Helaine and I are nearly childless. We can come and go as we please (as can Steffie, much to our chagrin).

Last night we went out to dinner with another couple and went to an adult restaurant. I’m not going to give their names, and you’ll understand why later.

The restaurant was Le Petite Cafe in Branford. It is a tiny place on Montowese Street, adjacent to the Green. It is tied with another restaurant for Zagat’s highest rating for Connecticut.

It’s small enough that I missed it as I drove by. It was only through Helaine’s diligence that we stopped.

Dinner was excellent. I had a chowder appetizer and lamb for the main course. Both were wonderfully prepared and very tasty. What’s not to like?

Though the restaurant is small, there are two seatings. We were there for 8:30, which is an early breakfast for Helaine who is normally in pajamas by then.

As we finished our main courses, the husband of the other couple started looking uneasy. A quick glance down showed he was taking his own pulse! He’s a physician, though most of his work is research and certainly not centered on anything his pulse would enter into.

He wanted to go to the car and lay down, but we weren’t hearing any of that. I gave my credit card to the waiter and walked him to the car. A few seconds later his wife climbed in and drove him to the Emergency Room at Yale/New Haven Hospital.

They were still there when I spoke to them this morning. His tests have come back fine. He’s still feeling achy and tired. He’s good enough to go home… but not good enough. There’s something going on with him that wouldn’t normally be checked for at the ER.

He’ll find whatever it is and he’ll be fine. Of this I have no doubt. But, it’s scary for all of us.

Today was another day with nothing to do. Helaine and I climbed into the car and drove to Foxwoods.

There are two casinos in Connecticut. Only this one, Foxwoods, has poker. At one time they both had poker rooms, but Mohegan Sun closed theirs about 20 minutes before the big poker boom hit America.

With no child left behind, we’re staying at one of Foxwoods high rise hotels. Like Mohegan Sun, this is a beautiful resort hotel. The rooms are every bit as nice as anything you’ll find in Las Vegas… though the view out the window is decidedly Eastern Connecticut.

Unless someone told you, you’d have no reason to suspect places like this existed in Ledyard and Uncasville, Connecticut.

I sat down almost immediately and played cards for a few hours. Then, it was dinner time.

Helaine had made reservations at Cedars, the steakhouse. We showed up at 6:30 and waited about 20 minutes. OK, that’s not a long wait, but 6:30 is 6:30.

The food was worth the wait. I had chowder (again) and a steak, prepared Pittsburgh (charred outside, rare inside). Between the soup and a side dish of potatoes, I decided dessert wouldn’t be necessary for me and Helaine concurred.

I headed back to the poker room for some more play.

This was a very good day of poker. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. Whatever insight or skill I bring to a brick and mortar casino, I owe to my low stakes online play.

Years ago I thought I was a pretty good poker player. I was not. Now I’m decent. I can keep my head above water at the stakes I choose to play.

Today I was conservative and measured. Patience is a poker virtue.

I only had one bad beat, though it was a doozy. I went in with a Jack and King of Spades. The flop came with 3 more spades – I had a King high flush!

The next card, the turn, was a rag (no help).

Then came the river. That final card was another spade. I was set to beat any other hand, except one that had the Ace of Spades.

I knew the two cards in my hand and the five on the board. That left 45 unknowns The one person playing against me had two cards. So, the odds were 2 in 45 he’d have it.

Ouch. This was a very expensive hand to lose. Still, the day ended quite positively.

How much better could I do? Not much, I figured. So, at 10:30, I went up to the room for the night.

I am going to work tomorrow, but there’s an 8:00 AM tournament and I think I’ll get up early and play.

It’s All Over In Birmingham

I’m sitting in a corner of the lobby of the Radisson Hotel in Birmingham typing this blog entry. Most of my classmates have gone home or gone to lunch. As a chronic snacker, I’ve already had my fill.

We spent all day Friday seeing presentations and lectures. There were a few given by Weather Service personnel from here in the south. What they said was fine, but it was really about types of weather I just don’t deal with… and never expect to deal with.

Later, one of the Mississippi State instructors presented a case study for us to analyze. Again, it was interesting, but it dealt with a type of storm we never see in the east.

Finally, as the afternoon was ending (it was actually evening by then), we began another session of tape watching.

While it was going on, I thought I was the only one dreading this. Later I found nearly everyone was self conscious and petrified of what their classmates would think.

Isn’t strange how we can go on the air, in front of thousands (sometimes millions) of viewers without a second thought. But, to show our work in front of a room full of our peers is a weak kneed moment!

My tape was pulled. I stood up to say a few words before it played. I attempted to crack a small joke at my own expense. Silence. Tough room.

The tape played and I was really squirming. I think it was OK and, of course, the polite comments were very nice. Who can really tell?

What impressed me more than anything were the few people who had no background in broadcasting or weather, adults who had decided to begin a new midlife career and registered for the MSU program. A few of them were the program’s best students.

The session ended around 7:30 and I headed to the room. I was fully intending to stay there for the rest of the evening until I called Helaine. She accused me of acting like an old person. I was in Birmingham. Have a good time.

I changed my shirt and headed to the lobby.

A few groups were organizing, deciding where to go. I joined a group of 14, and we headed to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s no way to say this restaurant chain’s name without sounding like you’re mispronouncing it.

We entered the restaurant and were escorted to a small, private room. That was perfect, because we didn’t want to disturb the other diners, and we certainly didn’t want them to disturb us!

I had lamb chops and broiled tomatoes. The chops were beautifully seasoned, thick and very tasty. I started to explain to the waiter how I wanted them cooked. He just looked at me and said, “Pittsburgh?”

Exactly, Pittsburgh. Some burn on the outside, but more medium in the center.

We left the restaurant and headed back to the hotel. On the way, some decided to go to Danny’s, a local bar. This time I took a pass and continued to the Radisson. There was, after all, another morning of class to come.

I have been getting up very early (for me) on this trip. Even though my commute was by elevator, I was still out of bed by 7:30 AM. That’s just wrong.

Today was the final session. A practice test&#185

Hold on… cell phone. Uh oh! Words I never want to hear.

“Hello, Mr. Fox. It’s Mary from Delta Airlines calling.” This is not a social call. “Unfortunately, your flight from Birmingham to Cincinnati has been canceled.”

This blog entry will be picked up when I get back to Connecticut.

pause

Where were we?

In order to successfully finish the course, you need an 80 on a two hour, 100 question comprehensive test. It covers all three years. How could you possibly study?

On the other hand, the instructors have told us 90% of those taking this test pass on the first try. People with A’s and B’s always pass the first time.

I took the sample test. The benchmark was 55 answers correct on this shortened test, to pass. I got 54 right! Better luck next time.

As I checked around the room I realized, I wasn’t alone. This test might have been a little harder, and it certainly wasn’t an open book test, as the real one will be. On a test like this, where I’ll probably know 75% of the answers immediately, open book will be the difference.

There were also awards handed out. I did very well at MSU and was thrilled to receive, along with six others, an award for academic excellence.

You may have noticed, as the photographer, I’m not in many pictures. Well, for this award I handed the camera to another student and walked to the front. At least this one achievement should be documented.

That is how the photo came out of the camera!

Even more impressive, a few of the awards were captured by people who had never been on the air! This course was their first meteorological experience and they scored all A’s. That’s astounding.

We finished off our sessions with a talk about the qualifications for the American Meteorological Society Broadcast Seal. The AMS is transitioning to some new criteria for the seal. In fact, though I’ll be grandfathered in, it’s obvious the AMS is trying to diminish the Mississippi State program in favor of four year, calculus based degree programs.

It’s ridiculous, because the MSU program is more than sufficient for an on-the-air forecaster. It seems to me, this is only a way for the ‘traditional’ on-campus meteorology programs to avoid competition.

The AMS is also starting a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist program, which I will not qualified for! I didn’t have meteorology classes that were calculus based. Of course, no one in operational meteorology ever uses any calculus to produce a forecast!

Angry? Me? Sure – a little bit. I knew all of this going into the AMS program. It’s the meteorological equivalent of a protective tariff.

So, that’s it. The program’s over. I have not yet taken the comprehensive test, but my instructor instructed me to begin referring to myself as a meteorologist… and I will.

And then, that phone call from Mary at Delta!

We spoke for a few seconds, and things didn’t sound promising. Then, I said I’d be willing to fly to Hartford and have Helaine drive me to New Haven to pick up my car.

Perfect.

Delta would move me to an earlier Birmingham to Cincinnati flight and then take me to Hartford. I’d be over 50 miles from my car, but I’d be in Connecticut three hours earlier than previously scheduled.

I packed up my gear and hopped into the hotel’s airport van. Three guys in airline uniforms joined me. As it turned out, they were my crew to Cincinnati.

We got to talking and before long I was asking them, then telling them about meteorology. The pilot, a kite surfer, was looking for a better way to predict ocean winds. I made a recommendation.

Later, during the flight, he congratulated me on passing my course on the plane’s PA system. How embarrassing.

So, now I’m home. I’m really tired, but I’ll be better tomorrow. Going to Birmingham turned out to be a better, more valuable trip than I anticipated (not that I had any choice in going)

&#185 – Even though I have totally completed the course of study, there is a comprehensive test of 100 questions in two hours that I’ll have to take within the next few weeks.

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.

Off to Newport

Since she was a little girl, Steffie has played team sports. We have always gone to see her play when we could, whether it was basketball, lacrosse, or field hockey. Yesterday was field hockey in Newport, RI – 2 1/2 hours away. The day was beautiful, so we decided to go.

Oh, did I mention Steffie said it would be OK for me to bring my camera?

We have recently found that I-95 is awful on Saturday’s. The traffic is bad until you approach the split between I-95 and I-395 where it gets worse. I’m hoping this is summer oriented traffic and will abate when the warm weather crowd decides to stay home.

Newport is off the beaten path as far as the Interstate Highway System is concerned. We took I-95 to Rhode Island exit 3 and then got on a two lane road – seemingly forever.

Actually, the fact that it was a two lane road through a rural area wasn’t the problem. It was the speed limit that got me. Most of the way the limit was posted at 40 mph or less.

C’mon, I do 40 mph in my driveway!

Being on an island, the last part of the trip took us over two spectacular bridges (note to Rhode Island – EZ-Pass would be nice) with views of sailboat – filled bays.

I have been to Newport a few times, and was never impressed. What was wrong with me? This is a great destination. It is beautiful in so many ways, from the seaside views to the mansions to the walkable streets with shops and restaurants. More on that later.

Helaine had printed out directions from Steffie’s school’s website. It, unfortunately, referenced businesses that might have changed names or gone out of business. Basically, we went on a wild goose chase through Newport in search of St. George’s School.

Finally, in desperation, I called the school. The person who answered, quickly offered up that she was from Massachusetts. Luckily, after another few minutes of driving around I found a landmark she knew! It didn’t take long to get to the school.

It’s tough to believe there’s another school like St. George’s. On 200 acres in Newport, it has sweeping ocean views. The land alone must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars! The campus is dominated by a large Gothic chapel. There are numerous, well kept fields for field hockey, soccer and football.

Steffie’s team was there for pre-season field hockey scrimmages. Over the course of the afternoon, her team played three games – winning none. Still, it was just practice and Steffie played really well.

She had been a defensive player, but has now moved into an offensive position, basically covering the entire field. I have no idea how she and the others played three games. This is a physical game. Don’t think, because these are girls playing, that it’s any less aggressive.

I brought my Canon Digital Rebel and both lenses with me. It was an opportunity to try out a feature this camera has – continuous focus for sports – and the 70-300 mm zoom lens.

I am happy with how the camera and lenses worked in nearly every way. My long zoom lens is as ‘powerful’ as the lenses the pros use, but it is not as ‘fast.’ It needs much more light to produce similar pictures, and that forces me to either shoot with a slower shutter, wider aperture, faster film equivalent speed, or not take the picture at all.

There was so much bright light in Newport, it didn’t make a difference.

Looking back, most of the pictures were sharp and clear. The sports mode gave me shutter settings that were very fast, mostly taking shots faster than 1/1000 of a second. That meant stopping the action without blur.

I have read reports of this Sigma 70-300 mm lens not being particularly sharp. Maybe for the most critical of applications that’s true. It looks pretty sharp to me.

One of the cool parts of taking pictures at St. George’s are the amazing views. Many of the shots show the beach in the background. If you didn’t know any better you might think this was Malibu, not Rhode Island.

After the third game we decided to head into downtown Newport for dinner. I found a place to park ($10 – “You can park it yourself, I don’t take my test for another two weeks.”) and we began to walk around.

I was hungry, and no one objected, so we ducked into Christie’s, located on the docks. The wait was 15 minutes, so Helaine and Steffie went to a store, while I went out on the dock to take some shots.

It wasn’t long before we were seated, outside on the deck. We didn’t know it when we picked Christie’s, but our view was to the west and we were about to see a remarkable sunset.

Helaine and Steffie shared lobster bisque and I had chowder. Very good. My dinner was fried clams. Helaine had scallops. Steffie didn’t like the stuffing of her stuffed shrimp, but everything else was fine.

As the Sun went down I picked up my camera to take some pictures. I could see, in front of me, some people with a point and shoot camera trying to get a portrait taken. It wasn’t going to work – so I offered to take the shot and email it to them. That opened the flood gates.

By the time I was done, I had four email addresses in my pocket and had taken pictures of, and with, a bunch of people. It was around this time that our waiter recognized me and offered up that he was originally from Old Saybrook… instantly forcing me to up his tip another 5 %.

We passed on dessert at Christie’s and headed to Ben and Jerry near where we were parked. The day had gone on a very long time. I was getting tired.

We headed back toward Connecticut, following directions Helaine had downloaded from the net. I got us to I-95 where she took over and finished the trip.

I think we were all surprised at how much we like Newport. We will definitely be back.

Blogger’s note: There is a photo gallery with more pictures from our day in Newport here. Each picture on this page is also clickable for a larger view.

Saturday in The City

Fear, trepidation – sure, I had both with the promise of protests preceding the Republican Convention. But, the lure of knockoff handbags was too great and so we went to New York City, Saturday.

After much thought on which way to get there, I decided on driving to Stamford and catching Metro North from there to Grand Central. Then it’s a short subway ride to Canal Street.

I know, looking at my logs, that many of you reading this live far away from Connecticut or New York City, so let me give you some subway advice. There is no better, faster way to get around Manhattan than the subway. It has its shortcomings – nearly no service on the far West or East Sides and multiple routes on the same platform, going different places.

We consider it safe, though sometimes interesting. Yesterday, on the #6 train downtown, a man entered from the next car and began to tell his tale of woe in a loud, non-threatening voice. He was begging. But he never intimidated anyone (that I could see). In fact, in his spiel, he said he would not do anything untoward (OK, he didn’t use that word exactly).

More than anything, the subway gives you the feel for the real New York, which continues to be a city of immigrants. While on the platform at Grand Central, I asked Helaine how many languages she thought we could have had translated?

I’m getting ahead of myself.

We parked in the garage across the street from the Stamford station and bought three tickets with a $4 Metro Pass (subway) add-on from a machine. I must have missed a menu somewhere, as I bought an off peak/peak ticket – overpaying. The conductor pointed this out, and later at Grand Central Terminal I applied for a refund… which may or may not be mailed to me, and which forced me to be another set of off peak tickets for our return.

Neither the train or the subway were a problem. We got to Canal Street, popped back to ground level and started to sweat. It was stiflingly hot and humid. The sky was a steel gray of haze with indistinct clouds.

Canal Street was busier than I had ever seen it. Along with the Chinese and Indian merchants normally there were African men selling watches and sunglasses. I would guess they had been moved from the area, now cordoned off, that will host the Republican Convention. They sold their wares while walking along the street, as opposed to the more entrenched merchants who had tables and tiny storefronts.

While Helaine and Steffie walked along, darting into cramped little spaces, I stayed on the street snapping photos. There’s not much here I haven’t snapped before, but now I have the new camera and a chance to get a different perspective.

Throughout the afternoon, I watched at least 3 or 4 caravans of police vehicles, lights and sirens running, move through. Often there would be a marked patrol car or two, black Yukon or similar big vehicle (with police lights), a few enclosed scooters (normally used for traffic enforcement) and another marked police car at the rear.

New York is not Connecticut. Cars do not part because of lights and sirens in New York. First, there’s usually no place to part to! Second, it’s New York and even lights and sirens don’t get you an advantage.

It was quite a fruitful day for Steffie. She came home with three bags. I saw some computer books, but nothing I wanted. In the past I had seen a few software vendors, selling what could only be bootleg software. They were not evident, nor was there the normal amount of bootleg DVD dealers.

I also looked at watches. I tried on a very nice tank watch but couldn’t ‘pull the trigger.’ It was very handsome, emblazoned with the name of a very well known, high end watch company. The quality was excellent. There’s no one I know who would even suspect it wasn’t the genuine article. It will be there next time we go.

We decided to head uptown to eat. Over time, there are traditions a family develops – ours is the Stage Deli. Forty years ago my Uncle Dave was a waiter there. They don’t hold that against us.

We headed into the subway, swiping our Metro Cards to go through the turnstile. Helaine’s didn’t work. A station cleaner, not doing much but yakking on his cellphone, told us we were out of luck. This, of course, was the fear of New Yorkers when the city switched from tokens to Metro Cards. What happens if there’s trouble in a station without a token booth? We found out – you lose $2.

Well, not exactly.

Even New York has its street justice. A man getting off the train at Canal Street saw our plight. He must have had a weekly or monthly pass, allowing him unlimited rides, because he turned to Helaine and me, smiled and said, “Here, use mine.” And, she did.

We took the train to 47th and Broadway, the north end of Times Square, and prepared to walk the few blocks to The Stage. As crowded as Canal Street was, Times Square was just the opposite – empty. I looked across the street at the TKTS booth and saw something I had never seen before – no line!

On many occasions Steffie and I have gone to New York and waited 1-2 hours in line at TKTS to buy Broadway show tickets. TKTS sells unsold Broadway and Off Broadway tickets for half price, plus a small surcharge. They’re still not cheap, but it’s one of the best bargains in New York and we’ve often gotten great seats.

I checked the board and was amazed. Nearly every hot show was available – and for 50% off! We had seen Hairspray, Mama Mia, The Producers and a few others. Among the listed shows I hadn’t heard about was “The Frogs.” I asked someone nearby what they knew of it and she said two words that immediately made our decision, “Nathan Lane.”

The Frogs was playing way uptown at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center on 65th Street. The Stage was on the way. Life was good.

There is nothing special about the Stage Deli – nothing that would strike you if you were only looking at it from the street. I suppose its days as a New York City show people hangout are long over. Now it’s inhabited, mostly, by tourists who vaguely connect with the name.

The Stage is known for its immense sandwiches, huge desserts and unlimited sour pickles at every table. Helaine and I had roast beef sandwiches while Steffie had a Denzel Washington – pastrami and sauerkraut under melted Swiss cheese. For dessert we shared a piece of chocolate cake the size of a Manhattan apartment.

It would have been a moderate walk to the theater, but Steffie wanted Jamba Juice, so we backtracked four blocks. While Steffie and Helaine went inside, I saw these two mounted New York City policemen. I thought the look of Times Square with horses in the foreground would make a good shot. I’m pleased with how it turned out.

I mentioned earlier how I had seen lots of police activity on Canal Street. The same was true in Times Square, including two or three policemen visible standing in front of every hotel.

It’s easy to think suburbanites should be healthy and New Yorkers flabby but reality trumps perception. New York is a walker’s city.

We headed up 7th Avenue to Central Park South, then turned west toward Columbus Circle. We passed a man, with his dog laying on the sidewalk. As hot as it was, the dog was at ease. I decided this dog led a better life than I ever would… certainly in a better neighborhood.

We crossed Columbus Circle, catching a glimpse of the Time Warner Center across the way. Along the edge of Central Park we passed a small army of protectors. They were probably there regardless of the Republican Convention, protesting political conditions in China.

There was also a lone protester with a sign complaining about the press. I asked if I could take his picture. He asked, “For who?” Me! I took the picture.

We still had a few blocks walking along Columbus Avenue to Lincoln Center. The Center itself was busy with at least two performances.

When we couldn’t find our theater, I stopped a man wearing a tuxedo shirt with no tie. He led the way, giving me the opportunity to ask if he was a ‘player.’ I meant it in the old school way… and he was – a bassist in the Mozart performance at Avery Fisher Hall.

The Vivian Beaumont Theater is one of the best performance spaces I’ve ever seen. It seats about 1,100, but with its amphitheater design and staggered seating, no one was far from the stage or without a great sight line. The stage extended well beyond the curtain, forming a semicircle big enough to mount a play (though that was not the case for The Frogs).

Our half price seats were in the 10th row, slightly to the left of center. They would have been great in any theater.

The Frogs, written by Aristophanes and first performed over 2,400 years ago (though heavily adapted and rewritten) started strong, ended weak. The Steven Sondheim score is excellent. It’s just that second act. It dragged interminably – especially during a debate between Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.

That’s the bad news. The good news is Nathan Lane. He is amazing. After this show, I’d pay full price to see Nathan Lane read from the phone book. As I was disappointed seeing The Producers without him, I can’t imagine this show post-Lane. His presence is so strong. His timing is so exquisite.

In a way I feel sorry for Roger Bart who is wonderful as Lane’s slave. In any other cast he would receive the raves. Trading lines back and forth with Nathan Lane allows much of the show to be stronger than its script alone. The same can be said, though not quite as strongly, for Peter Bartlett.

As has happened so often recently, I was surprised by another name in the show, John Byner. He plays Charon, the boatman who crosses the River Styx to deliver Nathan Lane and Roger Bart to Hell.

Originally, the part played by Roger Bart was going to be performed by Chris Kattan of Saturday Night Live fame. Ten days before the opening he was canned. I’ve got to find the back story on that!

After the show we caught a cab to Grand Central and made the 10:10 train to Stamford. Actually, an express that left a few minutes later got to Stamford a few minutes sooner. We didn’t know that at the time.

The story should end here… but it doesn’t. We left the train station and headed to our car. The garage was, by this time, virtually deserted. We drove around and around searching for the exit! Finally, after at least 10 minutes of scouting, we saw a service vehicle. I flashed my lights to get the driver’s attention.

As it turns out, to exit this garage late at night you have to drive all the way to the roof and then connect to an adjoining garage. Unfortunately, there are no signs that say this – none!

It was a full day. We were home around 1:00 AM

Blogger’s note: All of the photos with this entry are linked to larger versions. Just click on the photo. There is also a gallery, with these photos and more, here.

The Guys Go To Fry’s

Sunday morning – only one day to go. Very sad.

As always, Las Vegas woke up to sunshine. People here sometimes complain about the consistent, predictable sunshine. Give me a break.

After a quick breakfast at the coffee stand I took Michael and Max to Fry’s. I have heard about Fry’s over the years. The are stories about Fry’s in Silicon Valley during the early days of the dot-com boom… geeks picking up motherboards and nachos in the middle of the night.

It is a more technically oriented version of CompUSA, but the size of BJ’s or Costco. I saw displays of CPU’s, motherboards, cases, everything tech! Good God, I was in heaven.

I ended up buying a 120 GB Western Digital hard drive for $60 after rebate and two $22 books, both free after rebate. Not bad. Michael bought a DVD for Max and a few more very esoteric art film type DVDs for himself.

Before I leave the subject of Fry’s, there is one very tacky thing. The entrance of the store, which faces away from Las Vegas Boulevard, is styled like a slot machine. It’s very cheesy. The vertical stands, used to prevent cars from driving in, are fashioned to look like stacks of quarters.

We came back and I took a nap. Then it was back to the poker room. Though there was only one table playing $6/$12 and four on the waiting list, the woman with the clipboard told me it would move quickly. Right – I don’t think so.

I sat down at $3/$6 and bought a $100 rack of blue chips. It didn’t take long to notice a heavyset man with a large, though old, tattoo on his right arm. His long brown blond hair was askew as if he had slept on it, but hadn’t showered, or had just been up for a long, difficult time. He was loud. He had two drinks in front of him. He was drunk.

I really don’t care if there’s a drunk player, because they usually play stupidly, giving me a shortcut to their money. He was loud enough and off center enough to take my concentration off the cards and onto him. And, his irrational large bets totally changed the strategy necessary to stay afloat.

I lost a close hand – what should have been a cheap hand, but wasn’t because of his constant raising. I didn’t lose to him, but I lost. Before long I had shed $70. I tried hard not to go on tilt, to keep my play steady.

Little by little I played back and after a few hours left up $15.

During my play he was visited by at least two floor people. One came on my insistence. The other was called in by the dealer. He should have been cut off from liquor. He should have been removed from the table. I suppose if I would have pressed a little more he would have. On the other hand, I don’t want some huge drunk upset with me.

Dinner tonight was just Steffie, Helaine and me at the California Pizza Kitchen. Helaine and I are positive we’ve been served by this waiter at least 5-6 times before.

And now, my last chance at poker.

Blogger’s note: I continue to add photos to the gallery for this trip. You can see them by clicking here. The whole Vegas trip has its own category, which means you can link to these stories specifically by clicking here or read about the 2003 Vegas trip here.