Long overdue post

There’s a certain irony to writing a blog. During those times when you have the most to write about, you have the least time to write it. The year 2007 has been, and continues to be, almost unbelievably good to me, and for several months I’ve been maintaining a hand-written list of all the things I want to write about. However, the blog format lends itself to telling stories in a chronological fashion, so as my list grows longer, I feel a certain pressure to write everything or nothing. More often than not, over the past few months, I’ve chosen nothing, but with a new travel adventure beginning in less than 48 hours, I’ve run out of time. Therefore I’ll dispense with the formalities and blurt out everything I recall in whatever order seems relevant. Perhaps it’ll all make sense at the end.

Las Vegas, Take One

I’ve actually been to Las Vegas twice since the beginning of June, both times with my girlfriend Kathryn. Since I’ve been to Las Vegas four times in the past 12 months, my acquaintances naturally have asked me whether I’m an avid gambler. The truth is, no, I’m really not a big-time gambler. Will I occasionally throw some money on a craps table and play for a while when I’m in a casino? You bet. However, I always budget a very modest bankroll for the visit, and when it’s gone, I’m out. The real reason I enjoy Las Vegas so much is the non-stop people-watching. The city is a veritable melting pot of every aspect of humanity, not just across the spectrum of races and ethnicities — I’ve lost count of the number of languages I’ve heard on the Strip — but across the spectrum of morality, in a city that attracts both the best and the worst of people.

I alluded to the June trip in my June 20 post, when I mentioned we saw the Jerry Seinfeld show at Caesar’s Palace. Overall, we had a pleasant time, but there’s a caveat I’ll get to in a moment. We stayed at Paris Las Vegas, which was the first time there for both of us. I asked for a room with a view at check-in, and they gave us a corner room with a view of the Bellagio fountains from one window and a view of Ellis Island Casino & Brewery from the other. Quite a stark contrast, actually. We had dinner Friday evening at Gallagher’s Steak House at New York New York. Gallagher’s is near the elevators to the guest rooms at New York New York, so when I’ve stayed there in the past, I’ve drooled over the dry-aged New York sirloin they display in the window. I’ve been wanting to try it for a while, and I’m glad we did. It was fabulous. After dinner, we drove to Fremont Street so we could see a bit of Downtown. After seeing the Fremont Street Experience, which had become quite a bit more commercial since my previous visit, we walked into Fitzgerald’s, where I played craps for a little while. I don’t know exactly what happened when I was passed the dice, but for the next ten minutes, I was completely on fire. It seemed like I could not throw a seven, and I very quickly had a table of new best friends. Inevitably, my streak did come to an end. Although craps players seem to be a very forgiving bunch, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to walk away ahead. It was late, so we headed back to Paris and turned in for the evening.

The next day started off well. I don’t remember exactly how we spent the morning, although I’m pretty sure croissants were involved at some point. We walked around the Strip a little bit — not too much, since it was Las Vegas in June — and the we went to Ellis Island for lunch. After lunch, we sat at the bar for a while and had a couple of their tasty one-dollar microbrews. I must have had one too many, because I left there pretty buzzed. Fortunately, our hotel was only a few minutes away on foot, and with the sun and the heat, we were both in need of some rest anyway, so we went back to the room for a disco nap.

This is the moment where the weekend started to fall apart.

We’re not exactly sure what happened, but the theory is that some combination of the sun and an antibiotic Kathryn had been taking for a skin condition caused an allergic reaction of some kind. The previous day, we had stopped at Hoover Dam to do the tour there, and we interrupted the tour because she wasn’t feeling well, but I thought that was over. As the afternoon wore on, her lips started swelling and she began itching everywhere. Since we already had tickets, we decided to go ahead to the Seinfeld show. During the performance, her lips began to rival Angelina Jolie’s. We also had tickets for the Eiffel Tower, so we did that too, although rather hastily. We then had another early night — although this early night wasn’t nearly as fun.

Any hopes of a quick recovery were dashed the next morning when Kathryn woke up feeling worse than when she went to bed. We checked out of the hotel early in the morning, and our first stop was the CVS on the Strip. She was just going to buy some over-the-counter allergy medicine, but she decided to have a consultation with the pharmacist first. It was a good call on her part. First of all, the pharmacist who was working that Sunday morning must have been the nicest pharmacist I’ve ever met. In my limited observation, it seems to me that most pharmacists nowadays sit in the back room and jerk off while their technicians run the pharmacy. By contrast, this guy asked a lot of questions and seemed genuinely concerned. This particular CVS has an in-store first-aid clinic, and he highly recommended she see the doctor in the clinic. The doctor saw her right away and recommended she go immediately to the nearest urgent care facility, which was only about a mile away. I drove her there, and she was given a shot of something and held under observation for a while. We were probably there less than an hour. My knowledge of all things medical is incredibly limited, so I really have no idea what went on, other than she came out feeling a lot better. We went back to the CVS to get her prescription filled, and she received another consultation from the same nice pharmacist. In the hour or so that had passed since our previous visit, more of Las Vegas had woken up, and the CVS on the Strip had started to become a very interesting place. While we were waiting for the prescription to be filled, we overheard a number of consultations that would begin something like “my girlfriend is in the car throwing up” and so forth. Like I said, the people-watching in Las Vegas is incredible.

With her feeling somewhat better, we grabbed a hamburger for lunch, and popped into the Palms for a look around before heading back to Phoenix. Since the trip hadn’t turned out exactly the way either of us had planned, we agreed on the way home to attempt a do-over of the trip as soon as possible.

Las Vegas, Take Two

With the memories of our first trip to Las Vegas together still fresh in our minds, we went there again about six weeks later to see if it was possible to have two nights away together without anything horrible happening. Why this was so important to us will be clearer by the end of this post. I’m pleased to report, the trip went off without a hitch.

Las Vegas at night, view from The Orleans Hotel & Casino

Las Vegas at night, view from The Orleans Hotel & Casino

This time, we stayed at The Orleans, which is where I stayed in January when I went to Las Vegas by myself. Although the room wasn’t quite as nice this time, probably because I didn’t splurge for the upgrade, it had a fabulous view of the entire west side of the Strip. We arrived late on Friday, so I don’t remember us doing a whole lot that evening. I recall we took the shuttle bus to the Strip, walked around a bit, and got something to eat. We missed the last shuttle back from the Strip and had to take a cab, which wasn’t really a big deal.

Saturday was fun. The Orleans offers quite a lot to do, so we ended up staying there until early afternoon. We had breakfast in the coffee shop, and then we were going to go bowling, but unfortunately all 70 lanes we reserved for a tournament. We saw The Simpsons Movie, which had just been released the previous day. I loved the movie, but what I was pretty ticked off when I saw how many young children were in the theater. The movie is rated PG-13 for a reason, but even the television series isn’t appropriate for young children. I had to wonder what these adults had been doing the past 18 years that they couldn’t find 30 minutes to watch an episode of The Simpsons before taking their children to see the movie. What ever happened to parenting?

Okay, I’m done ranting for now.

Kathryn is a member of a fraternal organization, so in the afternoon we went to the lodge of its Las Vegas chapter and had a couple of cheap beers. After that, we did another lunch at Ellis Island. Then we headed back to the hotel. Unlike the previous trip, where we planned the trip around the entertainment, this time we planned the entertainment around the trip. I received an e-mail from The Orleans a few days before our arrival with a two-for-one offer to see Jon Lovitz’s show in the Ballroom. I was in one of my frequent procrastination moods, so I put off buying the tickets until we arrived. As it turned out, when we checked in, they were handing out free tickets to guests. Once again, procrastination pays off. Jon Lovitz is hilarious and the show was very entertaining. It was definitely worth more than we paid for it. I played a little craps after the show, but my bankroll disappeared quite quickly that night. No big deal. If you read my 7/7/7 post, you know I was definitely up for the month.

Sandy Eggo

In addition to our two trips to Las Vegas, Kathryn and I also took a weekend trip last month to San Diego. Since I moved to Phoenix three years ago, I’ve always heard people from around here talk about what a great getaway San Diego is. Don’t get me wrong, in the middle of the summer, getting to the coast and feeling the ocean breezes was a wonderful diversion from sizzling in the desert. However, I think all the hype about San Diego had built up an expectation in my mind that the city could never live up to. I’m not saying I didn’t have a pleasant time. I’m just saying it wasn’t all that.

We had taken my car on the two trips to Las Vegas, and I had done almost all the driving, so Kathryn offered to take her car and to drive to San Diego. By the time we got to Gila Bend, I took her keys from her. I don’t know if she hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before or if she had been stricken with white line fever, but I swear she fell asleep at one point. Once we got to Yuma, we stopped at Starbucks and rested for a while, at which point she got her keys back.

Hotels in San Diego are ridiculously expensive. We opted for the Quality Inn near the airport, which was the cheapest place we could find anywhere that was centrally located and not a fleabag. The location was decent. The naval housing was across the street, and it was relatively quiet. The hotel had a decent bar with a steady stream of sailors coming and going. We could drive anywhere in San Diego in a few minutes.

We had dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter after we arrived Friday night. Neither the Gaslamp Quarter nor the dinner impressed me. Call me crazy, but I expected the Gaslamp Quarter to have gas lamps. Is that asking too much? Instead, they have electric lamps in the shape of gas lamps. I moved to Phoenix from a city that actually still has gas lamps, and it doesn’t go around bragging about its gaslamp quarter. Whatever. Dinner was overpriced, generic Italian at a place called Trattoria La Strada. It was pretty disappointing overall, except for its location at the corner of two busy streets and its great view of the pedestrian traffic.

Saturday was beach day. We started out at La Jolla, where it seemed like we walked for miles. We also walked through the downtown area of La Jolla, where we descended into some cave. We also had lunch there, which was another disappointing meal, so I won’t bother to elaborate. After La Jolla, we drove to Coronado Island, which was really quite beautiful. We walked through the Hotel del Coronado and out to the beach to have a look around. However, by that point, the sun had gotten to us, and we didn’t stay too long.

That was really all I had to say about San Diego. Maybe I’ll remember more later.

Nickelback

I haven’t been to a lot of concerts, so what I think is not going to carry much weight. Nonetheless, the Nickelback performance last month at Jobing.com Arena was the best concert I’ve ever been to.

Compared to seeing Godsmack in July, arriving at the venue was a piece of cake. Kathryn and I had already been there several times to see Coyotes games, so we knew the drill. The event staff was very well organized and everyone filed in smoothly. When we arrived, Puddle of Mudd, the first opening act, was already on-stage. I enjoyed their show, even though I’m not as familiar with them as I am with Nickelback. The second opening act was Daughtry. They more or less insulted the crowd by expecting us to know the words to their songs well enough to sing along. Judging from the response, I wasn’t the only one who had never heard of them.

Nickelback was awesome from the moment they took the stage. They didn’t shy away from performing all their biggest hits, mixed in with a cover or two. The best part was the way the lead singer worked the crowd. It was half rock concert, half Tonight Show monologue. The funniest moment was when he told everyone in the crowd they should have a drink, and as he turned his head, his eyes caught someone else’s and he said, “Except you. What are you, six years old?” The audience couldn’t see who he was talking to, so at this point, I thought he was just flirting with a woman in the audience. When the crew finally got a camera on her, we found out there actually was a little girl in the audience, who, it turns out, was eight years old, not six.

Autumn adventure

Now that I’ve rehashed the past three-and-a-half months — and because it’s already after midnight — I can move on to current events. I know that’s what you came here for.

Some of you may recall from an earlier post that I was in the market for a car. Well, I bought it. The car is a 2007 BMW 328i, built to my specifications, including a deep green metallic paint, which is quite unusual here in Phoenix, a beige leather interior with premium package, and a six-speed automatic transmission. It is one sweet ride.

Except that I still haven’t seen it yet.

Tomorrow morning, Kathryn and I are leaving for Germany. We’ll arrive there Saturday, which coincidentally is the first day of Oktoberfest. We’ll sober up by Monday morning, at which time I’ll take delivery of the car. I’m hanging onto it for 15 days. The plan is to drive it to France, Monaco, Italy, and Austria before bringing it back to Munich to be shipped to the BMW Center in Phoenix where I bought it.

To say that I am excited about this trip would be quite a serious understatement. I’ve been to Europe a number of times, and I’ve even spent quite a bit of time on the road there, but never in a car like the one I’m buying. On top of that, it’s been a long time since I bought any car at all, and even longer since I bought a new car. The last car I bought was a 2001 Mercury Sable, my current ride, which I bought in 2003. The last new car I bought was a 1994 Ford Escort that I bought in, you guessed it, 1994. Anyway, I’m as giddy as a kid with a new bicycle on Christmas.

However, the new car is only a small part of why I’m so excited about the trip. Mostly, I’m excited about seeing Europe with someone new. Kathryn has never been to Europe before, and this gives me the opportunity to relive it as though I’m seeing it again for the first time. Although we’re going to several cities I’ve seen before, we’re making an effort to experience things that are new for me, too. We already have a couple special plans for Paris involving things I’ve never done, as many times as I’ve been there. Anyway, she’s every bit as excited as me, and she’s not even getting a new car out of it!

To make it easier to get around, I bought a portable GPS navigator a several weeks ago, with North American and European databases preinstalled. I’ve been testing the unit by using it to go back and forth to work and to get around the city for various chores, and it is the shit. It receives broadcast traffic alerts, so that it can automatically route me around traffic snarls and accidents. It’s really cool. I figured if it saves me even a few minutes of being lost, or a few minutes of arguing with my travel companion, it’ll be worth every penny I spent.

As I did last summer, I’ll try to post updates to my blog whenever possible while I’m traveling, although since I won’t be alone this time, they probably won’t be as frequent. When I get some pictures of the new car, they’ll go in the gallery. Along with pictures of my girlfriend, if she stops being camera-shy.