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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Over The Top in Vegas

I'm sure many of you reading this have been to Las Vegas, and maybe even more than once.  I discovered before and after our trip that many people think of Vegas as a perfect little getaway with all kinds of things to do and see.

And it is.  But when my brother said "Once was enough for me.", I kind of wondered what he meant.  My husband and I had never been there, and since we had missed our trip to Hawaii this past winter, he decided that we should do something different and a quick trip to sin city was planned.

The landing at McCarran International Airport wasn't quite as turbulent as some of my friends had described, so I was happy.  Since the knife incident earlier at Victoria International, you can imagine why I'd be worried about what kind of trip this was going to be.  We disembarked and headed to the long line of people waiting for taxis to the Vegas strip.  In that line was a client of my husband's, who described what we should see and do during our visit.  In fact, I noticed that pretty much anyone I spoke with before the trip had all kinds of advice for us.  Not just advice, but enthusiastic, over-the-top, almost giddy, advice.

It was late morning when the taxi driver dropped us off at our hotel, The Flamingo.  As we entered, I immediately noticed a smell which was kind of perfumed and smoke-laced at the same time.  Over the next few days, I noticed that many of the hotels had similar smells.

We got into our room earlier by upgrading, of course, which was the first hint that the "cheap" getaway might not be so cheap.  The 20th floor hotel room was recently updated, and yet it was a throw back to the 60's version of Vegas with an old-fashioned chaise lounge, a box of mirrored lights over the king-size bed and a switch that opened the curtains and sheers, exposing us to Bally's, a hotel across the street, and a great view of the water show at the Bellagio, kitty corner to our hotel.  We sat on the chaise lounge and stared out in wonder.  Wow.

Our first venture out onto the strip reminded us a little of our first exposure to New York City;  a kind of in-your-face senses overkill.  In the streets, alcohol and cigarettes, beggars and sex show pitchers mingled with music blasting from speakers and noisy traffic congestion.  We hung on to each other and chose to start walking to the south.

The super-sized hotels appear deceptively close.  It isn't until you try to get to one that you realize it's going to take longer than you thought.  I swear that a two minute crossing of the street turned out to be more like twenty minutes.  I'm still not sure why.  Maybe it's the escalators and overpasses you have to manoeuvre (you rarely actually cross Las Vegas Boulevard), and the crowds and street people all trying to do the same that conspire to make it such a trek.  And then there's the size of the hotel properties.  On our second day we walked for 6 hours and only covered maybe a third of the strip.

Irene in the "mall" of the Venetian
You can't just walk by a hotel, you have to walk into it.  Then you have to walk through two or three city block's-worth of casino before you get to the mall.  Every hotel has a mall.  Not just a little stretch of stores either.  They are theme-based, sometimes multi-level malls with dozens and dozens of stores and restaurants.  The Venetian has a canal running from outside street level to the inside mall, complete with gondolas and opera-singing gondoliers offering rides from one end to the other.  That's just one hotel.

We were somewhat stunned at the excess.  The volume.  The extreme.

On our first night we bought tickets to see Penn and Teller.  I am embarrassed to admit that I watch Celebrity Apprentice (for the record, I detest Donald Trump), and Penn was one of the finalists this year which prompted us to go and see their show.  If you don't know them, they are magicians, but that really does not describe them.  They reveal their secrets, they almost laugh at their own industry, and then they dazzle you with unparalleled trickery.   It was a fabulous show.  Afterwards my husband had to prod me to stay so that we could get our picture taken with Penn...I was exhausted from the 3am rise, the knife incident, the flight and the venture so far.  But I gave in and we got our picture:


Oh, and he autographed our fridge magnet.  Yes, we buy fridge magnets.

We also went to an unbelievable performance by Cirque du Soleil called "Love", which is based around the Beatles' music and their story.  Absolutely amazing, and a show I would highly, highly recommend.

By the fourth day, we had had enough of the excess, so we rented a car and drove along the strip to the outskirts, where we came upon the Neon Graveyard.  This little non-profit organization has taken it upon themselves to recover the old neon signs that originally graced many of the hotels on the strip.  The hotels don't actually own these signs, they are leased from and maintained by a company until they become too old or outdated to be of any use.  The Neon Graveyard takes them and keeps them on a city lot, where they preserve them and give tours.  They are in the middle of installing electrical outlets throughout the lot so that the signs can be lit up for night tours.  That will be really cool!  I would certainly recommend taking the tour if you are at all interested in the history of Vegas.  We learned a lot and the tour guide was excellent.

We also found our way (eventually, and after some heated debate, but that's for another story) to Red Rock Canyon, a national park that consists of a thirteen mile drive and a number of hiking trails all through the colourful rocks.  It was spectacular, and reminded me that what I love about travelling has more to do with the "flora and fauna" as they say, than anything else.  We were in a desert and this was an opportunity to pay some attention to that for a few hours.  We also ended up at a couple of ranches, saw some "wild" donkeys, and I actually saw a roadrunner running across the highway which prompted us to sing that old cartoon theme song "Roadrunner!  The coyote is after you!  Roadrunner!  If he catches you, you're through!"

Aside from the previously alluded to heated debate, that was a wonderful day.  And it was also the last full day of our tour of Sin City, so it was a nice way to end it.

And what did I learn in Vegas?

  1. A TV built into the bathroom mirror is really cool.
  2. I can still get blisters, even in my best walking shoes.
  3. A desert could actually have been under the ocean once.
  4. The mob were sort of a fun bunch.  Kind of.  In a way.
  5. Pawn Stars have a huge following.
  6. Guns are fun?  Yikes.
  7. Hotel pools are not for relaxing.
  8. Margarita glasses come in much larger sizes than I knew.
  9. Evil Knievel had a lot of guts.
  10. The rat pack is long gone.
  11. Now I see why the coyote could never catch that bird.
  12. The "one arm" on the one arm bandits are just there for nostalgia.
I'm sure there's more.  But that's enough Vegas for me.

IJ

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Knives On A Plane

Irene in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, having survived the knife incident.


I couldn't believe my eyes as I watched the officer in security at the Victoria International Airport slowly pulling a very large kitchen knife from my carry on bag.

What?!  Is this a joke??

It was about 4:30 a.m. and my husband and I were on our way to Las Vegas for a few days for a little get away.   We had decided not to bring our suitcases and just stuffed everything into carry on bags instead, careful to put shampoo bottles and toothpaste and anything else like it into clear, plastic ziplock bags just as the instructions tell you to do.  Nothing to hide.

I had been picked out randomly to be either patted down or go through that full body scanner contraption, and I had chosen the pat down.  In the meantime, my bag was slowly going through the x-ray machine.  Once the pat down was done I walked over to retrieve my bag.  "We're going to have to open your bag and check it,"  the security officer said.  "Sure, go ahead."  I casually answered.  I looked around to see where my husband was, and then looked back as the officer was pulling out the knife.  Knife??  Then he pulled out a carving fork.  Carving fork??  I stared at the implements in a stupor.  "Obviously, we can't allow these on the plane."  Oh.  My.  God.  I looked over at my husband.  "Irene!"  he said, staring at me in compete shock.

It took me a few more seconds to shake off the brain fog before I suddenly remembered.

I had hurriedly stuffed the kitchen implements into a side pocket in my bag a few months earlier in the middle of my parents' move out of their townhouse, and had completely forgotten about them.  Since I never go into that side pocket, I hadn't even opened it when I was packing for Vegas.

I looked up at the security officer, but he didn't seem all that perturbed.  "Do you want to put them in your car or something?"  he asked.  "No, no, just get rid of them." I said, relieved that I hadn't been arrested, or something worse.  He took them and handed me my bag.  I was still stunned as I walked toward the door, where another female security officer stood.  "I had to stop from laughing!"  she said, and continued on to tell me how many people often forget what they've got in their bags and get caught at security.  "It happens all the time," she smiled.  Yeah, but not to me!  I thought.

And so began our adventure to Vegas.  It took me an hour or two to get over that one.  One older lady who was on the same flight as we were, eyed me suspiciously several times while we waited at the gate.  I saw her go up to the flight desk at one point, and wondered if she had asked where I was sitting.  Or maybe that was just my imagination.

And Vegas?  How to describe Vegas?  It was our first trip there, and many of you reading this have likely visited Sin City already.  I'll save THAT story for next time :-)

IJ

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Joy of Small Gestures

Many years ago when we were in our late 20's, my husband and I were lined up in a local Dairy Queen one evening to pick up a treat on our way home.  It was not too busy, and we had just put in our order when we both noticed something on the ground at about the same time--a $20 bill.  We picked it up, realizing that a woman had just left with her order and it must have been hers.  We hesitated for a brief moment, and then finally went outside to try and catch her.

That hesitation was just long enough that by the time we got out there, she had already driven away.  But the guilt at not having tried harder to catch her stuck with us.  We felt so bad that the next day we took the $20 and donated it to the Salvation Army, because we couldn't bear to keep it.  It wasn't a perfect solution, but we felt better at not having spent it on ourselves.  It taught me a lesson, I guess, because I still remember that incident to this day.  I wouldn't hesitate for a second now under the same circumstances to get the money back to its rightful owner if I could.

But it made no sense to me the other week when I looked outside my living room window to see that someone had come along and destroyed every last lovely red tulip in our front garden.  I couldn't believe my eyes and had to go outside to confirm it to myself.  I nearly cried!  Just careless and self-serving nastiness, and for no good reason.  The tulips had been particularly bright and beautiful this year...I guess the temptation was too much for someone.

Later on that Sunday morning, I decided to post my experience to Facebook and received many responses from my friends which gave me some comfort.  But two responses were unexpected.  A couple of days later, my oldest daughter saw some tulips in a grocery store so she bought them and brought them home to give to me.  And several days after that, a friend gave me a chocolate tulip because when she saw it, she said she thought of the tulips I lost.  It's amazing how little gestures like that can just make your heart swell with joy!

Another recent incident also restored my faith in human beings;  this past week a package arrived in the mail for my daughter, the one who had given me the tulips.  It had no return address on it, which was curious.  When my daughter opened it, she found her change purse, which she had somehow managed to lose a few days earlier.  Someone actually took the time and spent the money to mail it back to her, with not a cent missing.  I could see that my daughter was genuinely touched at the fact that someone would go to the trouble, just for a change purse.  And it seemed to bring everything full circle...she did something nice for me, and someone did something nice for her.  Good karma, perhaps?

Life is full of so many little lessons if we're paying attention, never mind the big ones.  The loss of tulips and change purses are hardly front page news, but the small gestures they inspired somehow felt huge and life-affirming.  I'm hoping that the person or persons who destroyed the tulips will eventually learn what I did, all those years ago.

That a stupid guilty pleasure doesn't feel nearly as wonderful as a good deed.

IJ