Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 7 – Cleavage city

If you are easily offended by a little frank sexual discussion, read elsewhere, but the following is based on keen observations from the male point of view. Hey, I might be married, but I ain’t blind.
The marketing slogan, “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” might suggest a certain level of naughtiness, perhaps a wink at infidelity and promiscuity, underlining the word “SIN” in Sin City. But, in truth, it is really Cleavage City, USA because what you see here, more than ANY other major American metropolis is …
Tits! Boobs! Breasts! Knockers! Melons! “Major League Yah-bows” (from “Animal House”)!
They are freaking everywhere and too many of those are displayed by those of the female persuasion who really should not be advertising when Mother Nature (or Dr. Feelgood) has provided. It must be something in the southern Nevada desert air or in the disappearing water in Lake Mead or in the free flowing scotches and waters; whatever it is causes women, who would never reveal as much as the average nun, to follow the “limbo” – how LOW can you go (neckline that is).
And it isn’t merely the hot looking 20-somethings, with their tanned bodies honed by 24 Fitness – it is damn near every female. The result is often less appealing than appalling.
Far too often seen are the 50-something yentas, dying to return to their youth but stuck in that sagging tissue called flesh. The anti-wrinkle cream isn’t working and the nip-and-tucks require heavy duty bars of steel to work. But there they go, romping through the casino passages, oozing botox from numerous pores and wearing tank tops or plunging necklines to their pupik.
The employment of botox on such females should be outlawed. If you inject SO much of that material, and your lips resemble those of a platypus, well that’s TOO damn much.
Stood there; saw too much of that. It hurt the eyeballs and male sensory outlets.
Women, who normally shop at the plus-size stores, choose Vegas to unveil dresses with little neckline and even less material below the waist. Add 5-inch heels to the ensemble (skinny women wear stilettos and bigger girls wear cork heels) and it’s time to party at Pure.
What often troubles me is not the outfit; I understand the burning desire to locate one’s past burning desire. But if a woman wears such an outfit, the SOLE purpose is to be noticed – by the opposite sex (otherwise why wear it?). When men begin to notice, with that naked deer in the headlights glazed-over visage, why do women that automatically begin to cover themselves up? It defeats the purpose of the display in the first place.
And like the old movie, “The Only Come Out at Night,” they are seen in all forms, implanted shapes and pushed-up-to-the-point-of-bursting sizes. They can be viewed around the elevators, trying to slip past the guy checking on room keys (I guess it’s the hooker check to keep some working girls away from the innocent guests; the old geezers with the young pre-arranged escorts are prepared like Boy Scouts), or leaning against boyfriends at the crap tables (with their ASS-ets hanging out so far you can play Texas Hold ‘Em),
On the distaff side, to be fair, the most consistent thing about men in Vegas is the lack of consistency. Those dressed in expensive suits tend to be older; younger 20-somethings tend to look like beach bums by day and hip-hoppers at night. Men seem to enjoy dressing like dogs while their women look like divas.
And in each restroom I’ve made pits stops, the younger males do the “Snow White” thing, almost begging the man in the mirror to answer, “Who is the fairest of them all?” They preen for several minutes to ensure the spikey hairdo has the perfect … crease through the middle of their forehead. Or they wear a pork-pie hat and measure the perfect tilt to their brim while patting down the sideburns (didn’t they go passé with mutton chops???).
For sure, no one will ever mistake me for the late Mister Blackwell, And my attendance in the old school way of life renders me incapable of appreciation for such matters.
But, as noted earlier, I ain’t dead and I do the same type of window looking (not shopping) as almost every guest in this hotel passing by the Fendi, Armani, Tiffany and other high-brow shops.
I already saw the Grand Canyon; don’t need to see the not-so-grand canyons on two legs.
Last night’s entertainment, Cirque de Soleil’s “LOVE: The Beatles” was everything it was advertised to be and MORE! It was 90 minutes of complete kinetic energy, channeled through the greatest soundtrack of the 20th century – the Beatles.
Awesome. Breathtaking. Mind-numbing. Extraordinary. Pick a word; it would fit. Not only was the presentation beyond words, but the actual music itself is so brilliantly presented – the sound so definitively crisp (there were speakers in the back of each seat), the Liverpool Lads never sounded as good on any single, album or CD.
In addition, because Beatles producer Sir George Martin (and his son) produced the soundtrack for the show, he had direct access to everything that happened in the studio – including outtakes, banter among the group and alternative takes. The audience gets to hear some of the chatter between the Beatles (in between production numbers) and the pre-show music is the actual instrumental tracks to their hits.
What you don’t hear are the melodies, which were, so the most part, provided by the lyrics and vocals. You get to hear how the tunes got constructed and how deftly George Harrison’s lead guitar and John Lennon’s underestimated rhythm guitar licks applied perfectly to the compositions.
The ticket price is steep (in excess of $150) but that’s the new price of poker in Vegas. For the pleasure received, it’s worth every damn penny.
By the way, there ARE penny slot machines in The Bellagio! What’s up with that?!?
And I realized last night one of the essential old sounds of Vegas is missing. No longer can one hear the clanging of metallic coins in slot machine baskets when someone wins. It’s ALL done with paper tickets and is quite sterile if you think about it. You no longer see the coin buckets being carried from machine to machine by little old women; they simply do not exist. To be honest, I cannot recall (at this moment) whether actual COIN slots are located on the machines – only paper money feeders.
Without that unique sound, it just doesn’t SOUND like the Las Vegas I knew. But what else is new? Some further investigation is warranted so long as my wallet permits.
Until then … waiting to see the cheapest form of three-hour entertainment in Las Vegas – the Fightin’ 51s face the Sacramento River Cats spectacular … Shalom!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 6 – Las Vegas: The city of standing in line

If I could collar the executive director of the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Bureau, I’d make the following suggestion.
Change your advertising slogans to reflect the real truth. What happens in Vegas might want to stay in Vegas, but in reality, “what happens in Vegas WAITS in Vegas.”
Las Vegas could be the city that never sleeps and where time is irrelevant (except for dinner reservations and show times), but it should, for the foreseeable future, be known as the “city of standing in line.” Because that is almost ALL that you do these days in Sin City – stand in line to check-in, waiting for the buffet (an hour’s wait Sunday at The Bellagio), to see any major show at any hotel, to check-out, to catch a cab, ride a bus, and even to collect your winnings at the cashier.
It has become all about “hurry up and wait” when one visits Las Vegas. And it grates on one’s nerves enough to make you think HARD about future visits. I believe I’m NOT alone in that assessment and conclusion – not a good sign for Vegas’ future. The longer you are forced to wait, the longer it stews in your brain, “why am I putting up with this?”
The problem (for us) starts some 90 miles away, in Kingman, Ariz. (of all places), and is symbolic of who things have changed in southern Nevada.
The shortest and most direct route to get to Las Vegas, coming east on Interstate-40 is along U.S. Highway 93 in Kingman. That road goes OVER Hoover Dam and through Boulder City into Henderson/Vegas. It was always a treat to see the dam AND that most unique of observations – the two towers on the dam that showed Arizona and Nevada clocks. Sadly, since Arizona does not observe daylight savings time, the clocks hold no more mystique; it’s the same time on both sides of the state line.
Since 9/11, Hoover Dam has been seen as one of the most sensitive sites for possible terrorist attacks (and hence, heightened security) in the nation. Fair enough, but after almost eight years, I believe it borders on paranoia, and the ensuing problem it causes to thousands of others seems a bit much.
When you turn north in Kingman onto U.S. 93, there begins a series of signs, clearly marked, telling drivers that NO commercial trucks, trailers, etc. will be allowed to pass over Hoover Dam. None! No buses, no rental trucks – just cars and some campers (although the signs also prohibit them but I saw plenty of evidenced to the contrary).
Again, fair enough. But nowhere along the 60 miles you drive before reaching Hoover Dam is ANYONE told about the real traffic problem. Two miles from the actual dam site, we were stopped by a police checkpoint, with law enforcement representatives inspecting each vehicle before allowing it to pass. On the northbound side, we first encountered the backup a full two miles before the actual checkpoint and we NEVER reached more than 5 miles per hour for the next two hours!
Once past the checkpoint, traffic remained at a crawling standstill, snaking through the twisty, winding two-lane path until passing the visitors center when suddenly the heavens parted and the traffic evaporated.
Sitting in such a parking lot for so long, when the sun simply pounded you like an anvil, could have been totally avoided had someone in charge used their brains. Along U.S. 93, there are half a dozen overhead message boards, whose sole purpose in life is to tell motorists of problems ahead. Sadly, no one considered this to be out of the ordinary (which is a problem of itself).
Had someone, or something, told us of the two-hour delay, and offered the alternate route (going to Bullhead City and Laughlin and taking U.S. 95 into Vegas), we would have been on it like white on rice. But we had NO warning whatsoever … as well as hundreds, perhaps thousands of others in that 5-6 mile logjam.
All the while, we looked at what will eventually be a major bypass over Hoover Dam, including a huge suspension bridge towering hundreds of feet over the dam itself – yet another marvel of engineering in conjunction with the nation’s foremost engineering feat. When this will be completed is anybody’s guess; it could happen late into the next decade … who knows? But the purpose is to move traffic away from Hoover Dam in a more timely fashion.
Or will it close off Hoover Dam to the public? After 9/11, all tours on the inner workings of the dam (which cost all of $1 back in the day and was the greatest tour of its kind) were halted for fear of terrorism. Nothing was the same yet people still flock there; the danger still exists (if you see such happenings around every corner).
I guess the following opinion is mine alone but if we are THAT scared, as a nation, to act as if you are entering a foreign country merely to get into Nevada, then take the next step – stop ALL traffic from traveling on U.S. 93. Permit NO one to use that roadway and keep ALL people away from Hoover Dam. Then it will be COMPLETELY safe from strangers.
Otherwise, tell the motoring public of what is happening WELL in advance, with full disclosure of the problems, so more intelligent and timely decisions can be rendered. As taxpayers, we deserve nothing less.
And when the Bellagio bellman agreed with me, almost word-for-word, without me having to say a single word in my defense, I knew I was spot on.
But this isn’t your father’s Las Vegas or even your older brother’s town. Everything costs more than any other planet in the nation. Sandwiches that cost $6 are sold for $10 and you are grateful it was THAT cheap. Shows average nearly $100 per ticket and the era of the free lounge act, serving as apprenticeships for rising singers and comics, have disappeared.
That was a time when inexpensive food and low priced big-name entertainers were the draws to get people to stay and gamble. No more, sadly; that time has been demolished with the like of the Dunes (The Bellagio occupies its former space), Sands (now the Venetian), Desert Inn (now The Wynn), Frontier, Stardust, Marina, Aladdin, Hacienda (now the Mandalay Bay), Maxim, Bourbon Street and many others. The ax will eventually fall on the Tropicana, Riviera and Sahara.
Once upon a time not so long ago, one could stand on the Strip and see the surrounding mountain range without much eye clutter. One could stand at one end of Las Vegas Blvd. and clearly see the neon lights of each hotel from the Hacienda down to the Sahara. Now there is so much iron and steel and glass shoehorned into precious open space, you cannot see around the corner.
There are fewer headliner stars and more and more shows, led by Cirque de Soleil’s numerous different offerings. Even the long-running Follies Bergere has exited the Tropicana in favor of “Sopranos Last Supper” and some hypnotist. The high-end hotels offer 7-8 wildly expensive restaurants, each once tagged to some celebrity chef, and costing at least $150 for a dinner for two.
And, of course, you have to wait in line to get in.
If it is causing developers to cut back or re-assess, you cannot tell by the crowds. Sidewalks are jammed and it is impossible to navigate a CPS (concierge personal system).
That … and plenty of money (to gamble, to tip, to purchase). Some things about Las Vegas NEVER change.
“Upon further review” might be the three words no NFL fan wants to hear, but for our own use concerning tomorrow’s plans, it is exactly the right phrase to employ.
Originally, we were going westward to see Death Valley National Park, the hottest place in America (as in scorching heat, not hip activity). My quest to see as many national parks as possible has run into the unmovable barrier – personal energy. Simply put, we are too damn ass-dragging tired to expose ourselves to temperatures over 110 degrees. Only a fool would think that to be a wise move and I stopped being a fool somewhere along Route 66 in New Mexico.
And traffic around the Strip is horrendous, adding 30 minutes extra to any planned excursion away from the city. Since we are on a strict show schedule tomorrow night, there’s no use screwing around with clock management. We will probably have lunch up at the Mount Charleston Inn where it should be 20 degrees cooler than the triple-digits on the valley floor.
Besides, this is one of the finest hotels in America and even if the cost is almost 70 percent off the normal rack rate, we should enjoy the numerous amenities offered.
Wise choice, Chuck. Your body will thank you later.
However, I must skip a day in posting blogs until we reach Riverside. The Bellagio (as do all the major hotels on the Strip) charges $14.99 PER DAY for 24 hours of internet service. That is what we pay Verizon PER MONTH at home – which reinforces my point about the cost of coming here becoming out of reach for most people.
However, I can’t tell if there is any slowdown in the number of visitors; everything remains jammed packed.
Until then … waiting to see the Cirque de Soleil’s “LOVE: The Beatles” spectacular … without waiting all night … Shalom!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 5 – The first name says it all … GRAND

There are many symbols that automatically identify their location as synonymous with the United States of America.
The Statue of Liberty.
The Alamo.
The St. Louis Arch.
Fenway Park.
But those are man-made. There are a few natural symbols that are unique to this nation, and first and foremost on the list, is the Grand Canyon, in northern Arizona. A place of unimaginable beauty, bordering on breathtaking, it speaks volume about our country and its immense capacity to be spectacular.
Jodie thinks she was here when she was 3 but possesses no memory of that trip (other than revealing her fear of heights). This was one of a few “must see” trips she wanted to experience (Yosemite was another) and I am delirious that I was the one who delivered for her.
I loved the place but my growing problem of “slipaphobia” prevented me from taking an up close and person examination of everything. If acrophobia is the fear of heights, I have slipaphobia – the fear of somehow falling off the edge and tumbling over and over and over to who knows what. I do not enjoy driving along winging mountain roads and peeking to the side, imaging replicating the opening car chase in the latest James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace.”
And with the thinness of the atmosphere (after all, you ARE 7,000 feet above sea level … slightly higher than north Texas), I was questioning my balance after driving such a distance in one seated position. I wasn’t taking ANY chances of being the old duck, caught on someone’s digital camera and being the next YouTube sensation as I roll from cliff to cliff to the endless bottom below.
However, such an ailment did not lessen the pleasure and enjoyment of seeing that place. As we slowly drove around the South Rim area, it was difficult to maintain a steady route, because you just saw a different angle and viewpoint, each producing gasps from both of us.
And while I had gotten “photoed” out at other venues, there wasn’t a moment during which I saw, “I’ve seen enough.” Those words never pass over your lips.
Everyone should visit the Grand Canyon in their lifetime and bring their family for the educational experience and for the sheer magnificence. Yesterday, the park was packed with several thousand people from ALL over the world (I heard at least 10 different dialects). There were license plates from most of the states in the union (minus Alaska and Hawaii) so our car game of seeing all 50 state plates was nearly completed with this one stop.
The entrance fee is a little stiff at $25 per car BUT the price tag to go to Six Flags is almost twice as much and it isn’t nearly as satisfying.
The Grand Canyon is among the biggest and most important of America’s natural national parks (along with Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier) and frankly, we are doing a lousy job of stewardship for all our parks. Not enough funds have gone into preservation and maintenance (many of the facilities need physical upgrades, including access to disabled people and expanded visitors centers with adequate restrooms). It’s a crime against nature, against humanity and against our citizenry.
It’s fine and dandy to rescue the auto industry (if we must) and bankers who were more interested in their own finances over their patrons (if we had to). But for future Americans, as well as other who come here and become inspired by what they see, we need to properly maintain, and INCREASE, our natural resources like the Grand Canyon.
The most frightening thought would be for someone to discover an oil supply underneath the floor of the canyon and listening to the ridiculous debate that WOULD occur concerning preserving vs. drilling.
You can ALWAYS find alternative fuels and different sources of energy. There is only ONE Grand Canyon and we should be everything to keep it that way.
We are on the road today, just a couple hundred miles from Flagstaff to Las Vegas (and a hotel with decent towels that aren’t the size of tea towels and don’t feel like sandpaper). It will be three days and three nights of a varied schedule – the Cirque show “Love: The Beatles,” a baseball game (don’t laugh but for the length of entertainment, it is the cheapest ticket in Vegas), a side trip to Death Valley National Park (just to say I’ve been there), either a second side trip to Zion National Park in Utah OR a lunch drive to Mt. Charleston outside of Vegas.
I don’t plan to spend more than a few minutes in any casino (been there, lost that), but we will explore The Bellagio and notably the fountains in front (which dance to selections ranging from Pavarotti to Sinatra). Perhaps we will run into Terry Benedict …
Mainly, the sight we wish to see is Kelsey, my youngest daughter, who is living in Vegas and studying to be a hair stylist. One of her first “victims” will be me – I need a little work on my ponytail. Seriously, she loves the idea of doing this – and has since she was a young teen.
Until then … from the city of Danny Ocean and my daughter (no, they’re NOT together) … Shalom!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 4 – Remembering Farrah

Thursday must have been one of the biggest days EVER for the website TMZ.com – the number of online hits might have equaled the federal debt.
I also imagine most of the inquiries were for the sudden death of a TMZ regular – Michael Jackson, at the improbable age of 50 (didn’t it seem like yesterday that he was a pre-teener making number one hits for Motown?). The “King of Pop” will never again be hounded by the press and public over what was (charitably) a strange adult life. However, his music (in the Jackson 5 and in his early solo days, culminating with one of the biggest selling albums of all-time, “Thriller”) will stand the test of time. Perhaps he will finally get to duet with his former father-in-law, Elvis, and maybe, just maybe, he will find some peace.
But earlier in the day, it was announced that actress and 1970s icon Farrah Fawcett lost her battle with cancer at the age of 62. In her days, the late 1970s, there was NO bigger TV star or celebrity in our society. From the second biggest poster of ALL time to “Charlie’s Angels” to her marriage to Lee Majors, the “Six Million Dollar Man,” the American public couldn’t get enough of this gorgeous Texan. She was so famous, people just used a single name to ID her – Farrah. You said it and everyone else knew immediately who it was.
And she WAS Texas through and through. Raised in Corpus Christi and as a student at the University of Texas (she was runner-up in a Miss UT pageant yet no one knows who finished ahead of her), Farrah was the shiniest star of the Super State. Her first major (albeit) small movie role was in “Logan’s Run,” which was filmed at Houston’s Greenspoint Mall as it was under construction.
As unlikely as it would seen, I had a personal connection with Farrah. In 1977, I was sports editor for the Conroe Daily Courier, a small paper just outside of Houston. While it was a small position (compared to the two Houston dailies), that part of Texas was undergoing explosive growth and change – much of it happening at Lake Conroe and residential developments.
The two biggest were April Sound and Walden on Lake Conroe and much of the promotions centered on sports. At April Sound, the golf pro was former PGA champion Dave Marr (who designed the course and owned a townhome on site) while the tennis facility was led by two of the sport’s all-time greats, Australians Roy Emerson and Rod Laver.
Walden, not to be outdone, had its golf course designed by Aussie Bruce Devlin and it is still regarded as one of the top 20 courses in the state.
But Walden added a second component to its portfolio – show business because its general manager (the late Merv Siegel) used to manage musical groups like the Fifth Dimension. He used his connections to bring performers to a cabaret setting in the Walden clubhouse (including comedian Jack Carter, saxophonist Boots Randolph and singer Lou Rawls).
In June, 1977, Merv pulled off the biggest coup of all. He had Walden host the first Jack Benny Memorial Tennis Tournament to benefit Juvenile Diabetes. On the star-studded roster were the likes of Dan Rowan, George Peppard, Robert Stack, Mike Connors, Dick Van Patten, Dina Merrill and a young actress whose parents (Jim and Pauline) and sister (Diane Walls) lived on the local property.
The invitations went out months, perhaps as long as a year before, so no one knew what to expect. When the event came around on the calendar, Farrah was already a superstar. Yet the event was being held in a facility unaccustomed to superstars. The place was only expected to hold 500 fans yet 5,000 tickets were sold to see Farrah play tennis (which she did fairly well).
She needed a five-man (as in BIG, LARGE men) police escort everywhere she went and the Saturday night banquet required an outdoor tent twice the original size to hold the throng. It was a sight to see and I was there to see it all. In fact, I had the honor to play in a doubles match (with TV sports anchor Ron Franklin) against her and an amateur partner. The round-robin format allowed for one set matches (which I lost because I had no business out there in my jeans and horrible backhand). Still it was the thrill of a lifetime.
However, it was not THAT I remember. On Sunday, toward the end of the event, Siegel granted my long-standing request and I had a five-minute one-on-one interview with the hottest woman on the planet.
The professional journalist I pretended to be was AWOL that afternoon. The awe-struck male, sitting in front of Charlie’s favorite angel (in my book at least), could barely mumble intelligent questions. She didn’t seem to mind; I believe she had seen it and heard it before.
This is what I remember: her teeth. Farrah Fawcett, along with striking blonde hair, an athletic body and bubbly personality, had the whitest teeth I had EVER seen (before or since). They radiated and when she smiled, it was like a Halogen lamp at full blast. They were beautiful and she was beautiful; it is a tragedy that an insidious disease like cancer literally destroyed her beauty from within.
On the wall of my back room, where I have my Hall of Fame baseball collection and signed photos of Drew Pearson, Willie Nelson and others, hangs an autographed picture of Farrah at a Bill Cosby charity tennis event in Los Angeles the month before she appeared at Walden. It is the only print and I showed to it her to sign.
“Wow! Where did you get that?” she asked, and I explained the picture’s background. She seemed intrigued and genuinely moved.
“You aren’t going to sell this, are you?” she inquired.
“Are you kidding?” I said. “I’ll take this to my grave.”
Sadly, she has gone first. So when I return home from my vacation, I will find that photo, put it in a proper place in the foyer, light a candle in mourning and say a little prayer for one of the brightest stars (and teeth) in the Texas sky.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 3 – Scottsdale: Born to wander

Ever get too cute for your own good? Ever think some idea is beyond brilliant but in actual execution, it fell as flat as a cheap crepe?
I resemble all of the above when doing the solo vacation drive and today was no different. Despite the wise words of wisdom from my spouse, “You’re tired; go the safe route,” I wanted some adventure from Albuquerque to Phoenix.
So I convinced myself that taking the interstate route through Gallup to Flagstaff and south to Phoenix (a trip of almost 500 miles – the second in as many days) was too much and there was a much shorter route, as the crow flies.
Of course, crows don’t have to follow 18-wheelers or endless highway construction projects. They just fly straight to their destination. I wish I was as lucky.
No, I turned off I-40 just before Grants, N.M., and went to see El Malpais National Recreation Area as part of my ongoing quest to visit as many national parks as possible. It was beautiful is its starkness and tremendous sandstone formations.
An aside: I must say New Mexico is one of the most beautiful landscaped states in the union, ranking just behind Oregon in my estimation. Sorry, but too much of Texas can’t hold a candle to its western neighbor.
And it seems so damn clean everywhere; New Mexicans must care enough not to dirty their precious landscape. Wish Texans would follow that example.
Back on point: Instead of backtracking to the interstate, I pointed the Ford Escape southward and headed to Phoenix.
I had weaved through endless construction zones along I-40 (New Mexico seems to be working on every inch in the state … at the same time) so the prospect of avoiding that traffic was more than appealing; I was an easy sale.
With the CD player roaring out old 1960s psychedelic tunes (followed by solo best from Mark Knopfler), I was flying with the cool wind in my radiator.
I reached a tiny town (Quemado) and headed to Springerville, Ariz. where I was shocked to see a McDonald’s and plenty of other signs of civilization. Hell, after two hours of silence, it actually had full cell service.
Thirty minutes later, I hit the town of Show Low (which could be renamed High Up since it sits more than 8,000 feet above sea level). It was, to my surprise, a major population area in northeast Arizona, and looked like a place one could call home …provided you could handle the altitude (sorry, not me).
Show Low sits in a thick forest that makes one appreciative of Tennessee or parts of Michigan, except these trees were growing in a border state with tall mountains. Very beautiful, I imagine, in the wintertime.
Confident in my decision and after consulting my handy AAA map (old school GPS), I continued down U.S. Highway 60 to the Valley of the Sun.
Second aside: When mapmakers print their products, they should make them more informative. Just because you THINK a road looks to be a better choice, full disclosure is needed to the motorist. He or she needs to be told that certain roads, humorously called “scenic highways,” are squiggly ribbons of asphalt explored at one’s own peril. The 78-mile stretch from Show Low to Globe took almost two hours to cover and that was a little quick to me.
The road was as straight as a plate of cooked spaghetti and took you down an altitude of more than two miles, most of which were covered between 25-40 miles per hour.
Unless you were following a school bus, dump truck or a driver who insisted on staying a quarter-mile behind the closest vehicle. Since the opportunities to pass were infrequent, at best, it made for a frustrating time that no amount of great music could soothe.
This drive scared the living crap out of me as my eyes tried NOT to see the huge drop into places like the Salt River Canyon and when you speak the word “canyon” in Arizona, it DOES mean big and deep. It doesn’t take much for me to envision careening over the edge and flying helplessly into the bottom of who-knows-what.
I should have known but I should have been told by the map. It should clearly state that “scenic highway” means lots of twisted roads and dangerous hairpin turns overlooking miles of bottomless pits.
How BAD was it? My dashboard compass stopped pointing north-south-east-west. Like me, it had no clue as to what direction we were headed.
It just pointed up or down before exploding in the first known case of directional suicide.
Globe, Arizona (combined with Miami) is a copper and gold mining town and U.S. 60 is the main artery. When that artery is blocked by construction (a highway bypass???), no amount of traffic Plavix will help. You sit there and you wait to move and then only at a snail’s pace.
Eventually I made it to the Phoenix area, a few hours later than planned only to hear that a “cooling trend” had lowered the temperature to 97.
Thank the Lord for small favors and ask the Lord for better maps. Next time, I’ll listen to smarter people than I.
No driving Friday UNTIL Jodie arrives in Phoenix aboard American Airlines; I’ll have to find some place to kill five hours before the plane lands (a movie maybe?). Then it’s just 140 miles to Flagstaff in advance of the first anticipated great shared experiences – the Grand Canyon.
While we just have one day to see as much as we can, it won’t be like Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” when he was in a hurry to leave (had just ripped off a cash register when the front desk refused to cash a check without ID which had been stolen …). He gathered the family to see the wonderful scenery and, in three seconds, yelled “Time to go!”
We’ll savor each moment and enjoy saving the $50 park entrance fee, having exchanged out Golden Age Pass for the NPS Access Pass. It’s one of the best bargains imaginable if you’re of significant age or disabled (I resemble both remarks). I am guessing we will save in the neighborhood of $150 for all that we anticipate visiting. It is NO crime to do whatever you need to tamp down the vacation costs.
Oh yeah, having from cable service to Verizon two months ago, we will use the $168 VISA gift card for 4-5 of our meals. It’s like eating on house money.
Until then … waiting for my best travel companion to arrive … Shalom!

Day 2 – Albuquerque: The rainbow connection

What a difference a day and cold front makes. Twenty-four hours before, I felt like I was in a steam bath (with clothes) in Oklahoma City, as it was over 100 degrees.
But in Isotope Park in south Albuquerque, on the campus of the University of New Mexico, it was a gorgeous 73 degrees, with a breeze and cool, intermittent summer rain – Mother’s Nature air conditioning.
Day 2 had been planned as a long drive and a reward to myself with a visit to this ballpark to see a team named (in 2003) for an episode of “The Simpsons.”
But when baseball slugger Manny Ramirez decided to begin his rehab assignment here (coming off his 50-game suspension for using a banned substance), it became … AN EVENT! And, as a retired journalist, how I LOVE events!
I have seen minor league contests all over the nation – from Durham, N.C. to Fishkill, N.Y. to Lansing, Mich. to Corpus Christi, Little Rock, Oklahoma City and San Antonio; each possessing its little bit of uniqueness about it. This stopover was quite special because of the background view – the towering Sandia Mountains past the right field area. To me, it provided an aura of peacefulness that was MORE than easy on the eyes.
Fans could enjoy excellent seats in the concrete and steel sections or lay on the cool grass in the right field section – complete with children’s rides and a carousel.
The game was nicely presented by the organization, with plenty of between inning frivolity, giveaways and spirit (as it should be on the Minor League level). The lower deck reserve seats cost just $11 – FAR, FAR, FAR lower than Class AA Frisco at $18, which should serve as a lesson in the tight economic market. You shouldn’t overcharge based on what you could in the past.
As for the game itself, Manny went 0-for-1 and a walk, which made the sellout crowd of over 13,000 (the local Isotopes only average 7,700) more than restless. Just how many of those spectators remained in the 15th inning, when the Sounds (a franchise once owned by country star Conway Twitty) “edged” the ‘Topes 8-3 was problematical. I wasn’t among them. After three hours and nine innings (including a nice two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth), I called it a night. In my old age, the concept of “it ain’t over until it’s over” gets lost when the body is screaming to sleep.
As said, the game had a little of everything, including a slightly intoxicated fan (a woman), who ran onto the field and just sprinted across the outfield from right field to left) because security and the Albuquerque police “collared” her. In truth, she just ran out of gas but that didn’t prevent six burly men from escorting her to the pokie with a painful WWE arm bar (not sure it was necessary; she seemed willing and too tired to resist).
Thankfully, she kept her clothes ON. However, if she was trying to find Manny, he had long since departed Isotope Park (nicknamed “The Lab”) – not wanting to get hurt in the slick, wet field conditions.
During the middle innings, the heavens opened up and rain cascaded off the mountains, sending the fans scurrying for cover – meaning most of them were standing right behind me in that most claustrophobic manner. It offered me a chance to make social behavioral comments to the guy next to me – a retired dairy deliveryman named … Charlie.
I couldn’t help but notice that the women with the largest chests also held the larger cups of beer – including the arrested female. My observations hold no scientific basis; it just seemed to be that way on this night.
While the crowd was a blessing for the Isotopes management, the onslaught overwhelmed the facilities in many ways. The concourse resembled a New York subway station at rush hour and the concessions were not prepared.
I stood in line and ordered a diet cola in a “souvenir” cup – I made my order in plain English – but the man serving me returned with a large all-white Styrofoam cup.
“That’s not a souvenir cup,” I noted.
“It is tonight,” he responded with a clear “deer in the headlights” look. He then fumbled around trying to execute a simple credit transaction (I refuse the cola).
“You haven’t done this before I take it,” I asked, with a sympathetic tone. People who are completely unfamiliar with retail tasks hurt the process more than help. The “warm body” theory often reveals the Peter Principle in full bloom – you rise to the level of your own incompetency.
“How could you?” he said, with an upward glance which said to me, “Get me the hell out of here.”
Charlie and I could not think of any current baseball player who could draw such a crowd to Albuquerque, a city steeped in deep Los Angeles Dodger tradition, going back decades to when the Dukes were the team (and San Antonio was the AA squad). Perhaps if Barry Bonds were to stage such an event, it would be comparable. It WAS that way in 2006 when Roger Clemens came to Corpus Christi for a rehab start and so many people flooded the ballpark, the fire marshals had to step in and limit the capacity.
Manny will play tonight and then go to Lake Elsinore to join the Inland Empire 66ers for a contest and a weekend series in San Bernardino – two eventual stops on MY minor league journey. My rehab is ongoing, however.
So Manny plays four innings, decides not to risk a slip and a hamstring pull (he is susceptible to that injury) and heads out in the fifth inning. But then, a funny thing happened…
It stopped raining.
The breeze settled into a gentle wisp.
The sun peeked through the low-hanging clouds and revealed a perfect blue sky through the holes.
And … a rainbow appeared over the right field stands.
It was something I had never seen before at a baseball game. And the beauty of the sport is this: you never know WHAT you will see at a game and it could be something you’ve never seen before … or since.
So it was a beautiful night after all.

The longest portion of the entire trip has been completed and I felt every one of the 500-plus miles.
One immediately knows when New Mexico begins as you see the mesas on the horizons after the only stretch of I-40 in Texas with expansive beauty – west of Amarillo and following the world’s largest feed lot and (consequently) biggest collection of … methane. In that June 100-degree heat, the smell alone can knock you dizzy while driving.
Today (actually it’s early in the A.M.), I will make one of those coin-flip decisions between taking the safe Eisenhower Interstate routes down to Phoenix/Scottsdale and go … wandering for something different. Route A is a “been there, seen that” situation but I AM quite tired …
Too bad I don’t have an online poll for the “readers” to decide. Perhaps a visit to one or two national park sites will be the answer.
Until then … with more rainbows to see … Shalom!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seen in da (OKC) house!

Yes, it WAS Jennie Finch, the country's most famous softball player and two-time gold medalist.
She was a few rows over in the section, watching and waiting for her husband, pitcher Casey Daigle of the Round Rock Express, to appear in a dull 2-0 game (he didn't).
She was there with her toddler son and other relatives.
And YES, she is as good looking as advertised - athletic, TALL, very blonde, stunning white teeth, and gorgeous even without makeup.
She was gracious with the fans that did approach for photos and autographs (although she wasn't exactly flooded in the city that HOSTS the NCAA Women's Softball Tournament, which she won).
Nice way to escape a boring contest in the humidity of AT&T Bricktown Ballpark.

Day 1 – Oklahoma City

Author’s Note: For the interest of anyone out in the vast blogosphere, I will attempt to report various “interesting” (as subjective a word as can exist in the English language) aspects of this almost 20-day road trip (for me at least).
The first obvious thing one notices when driving from Dallas to Oklahoma City is the cleanliness … on the Oklahoma side. There are clean lines of sight, without the Texas distraction of porn houses, mobile home lots, trash and other unsightly monstrosities that litter Interstate-35 North.
One can only wonder this: If Oklahoma can maintain its interstate highways in a pleasing manner, why can’t its big neighbor to the south?
Even Oklahoma City’s well-traveled center city highways appear FAR more neat and crisp than anything around Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, Austin or San Antonio. I didn’t see anyone tossing out cigarette butts (which would be quite dangerous given the extreme heat and dryness of the surrounding grasslands). No Oklahoma pickup was seen with loose trash flying out of the back beds onto the roads.
I’ve written this before and will continue to do so until the situation is remedied. I-35 and I-45 are two of the WORST drives for any motorist (going from DFW to Houston, Austin or San Antonio) in America! I would be hard pressed for anyone to trump them for the vast collection of sheer scenic ugliness AND optic trashiness. In those two areas, we ARE number 1!
You also notice one more thing, beginning at the state lines between Oklahoma and Texas – the signs and symbols of economic development that Texas refuses to engage. There are perhaps a dozen casinos just on that 135-mile portion of I-35 to Oklahoma City and each one seems to be a potential job creator and business magnet for many small communities – not just the capital area.
They look clean, well-tended (unlike some of the roadside joints I remember seeing in rural Louisiana a few years ago) and even on a sweltering Tuesday morning/noon, there were cars at each ONE of them. I’d bet the Thackerville casino, better known as WinStar, had scores of Texas license plates in those lots.
WinStar, for the record, has also become a fairly big entertainment center with weekend concerts drawing fairly big name stars (true, some of them might be a tad past their prime but the Gipsy Kings went from the Meyerson Symphony Center one night to WinStar the next).
Many of the casinos (operated by Native American tribes) looked like ultra-modern shopping centers or movie theaters while WinStar has unveiled a sectional appearance where a different country/culture is represented (English, French, Italian, etc.). Hell, Vegas has entire hotels doing the exact same thing and they consume most of the Strip.
Each casino, as said, represents revenue for the tribes AND for the state of Oklahoma. This isn’t a new tax, a new fee, a new charge, a new add-on and no one is forcing ANYONE to be there. They get their revenue and provide a little amusement, enjoyment and fun in the process.
They also create jobs – not just for the Native Americans (Lord knows they need them) but for everyone. In turn, there are satellite business surrounding these places (hotels, restaurants, shops, gas stations, etc.), which help expand the local economies.
The ridiculous, and now unnatural, resistance, in Texas is beyond comprehension; it is bordering on madness. In a time when our state budget, and local school and municipal budgets, are being squeezed dry, like lemons for a Route 44 drink at Sonic, to simply sweep this viable revenue source off the table, for some mythical “morality” argument is just plain old Stone Age thinking. Our legislators in Austin would rather open their arms and hearts to massive polluters and unscrupulous businesses before considering admission into the 21st century and allowing Texas to approve casino gambling.
If such approval were to happen, you’d see one of the biggest and explosive expansions of construction and job manufacturing ANYWHERE in the U.S. and, perhaps, not seen since the late 1970s oil boom when Texas was labeled a SuperState.
All it takes is a little guts and a dash of courage – neither of which can be found in Austin (especially with that coward governor, “Helmethair” Perry, possessing the veto pen).
All it takes is for the voters to make it perfectly clear that incumbents are being tossed out of their offices because of their opposition ot THIS issue. Then things WILL change.
The shortest drive of the entire trip has been completed and, hopefully, tomorrow, the longest stretch of highway 540 miles of I-40 in around 8-9 hours (resembling nothing of the fabled old Route 66), will be tolerable in the 100-plus degree heat that has engulfed Texas and Oklahoma.
The Escape feels a tad claustrophobic with luggage and boxes everywhere within eyesight.
Tomorrow’s highlight will be seeing the Albuquerque Isotopes play Nashville with the latest steroid abuser, Manny Ramirez, in the ABQ lineup as part of his “rehab” assignment. Tuesday’s game was sold out in advance and this game might be as well … but my ticket is bought and paid at the advanced will call window.
I AM the world’s biggest proponent of planning ahead for spontaneity.
Until then … with hopefully a better Wi-Fi connection … Shalom!