Monday, April 28, 2008

Palisades Park

First Nations just had a post on the amusement park in Portland that she remembers as a kid. I grew up in New Jersey and we had Palisades Park. It was on the Hudson River across from New York City, but up on the palisades not down at water level. I only remember going there once, guess my folks weren’t into it or something. But at least we had a theme song:

You can see many of the rides on the video. Looking closely at it the rides are at assorted county fairs, not really at Palisades Park, but they are similar to what was there. I wasn’t very good on rides, as I would get dizzy and sick very easily. I could absolutely not take the rides that just went around in circles. There are two rides on the video that I remember as being really treacherous. The first is one I think was called the spinning barrel. It looked like a large open top wooden barrel. It sat on the flat end, and people would walk in and stand around the circular outside with your back against the wall, looking across at people standing on the other side. It’s been a while, so I’m trying to remember the details: there were some loops you put your feet into and a strap that went around your waist. When people were evenly distributed around the outside the barrel would start to spin, pushing you back against the wall. After it got up to speed the whole thing would lift up and tilt sideways, with centrifugal force keeping you pinned on your back. You could then look up and instead of seeing the sky above you could see the rides next to you quickly spinning past. The one time I rode it I just looked across at the people twenty feet away on the other side, they seemed to be getting sick just like me. This was not a ride to get sick on, for if you threw up the force would just make whatever came out fly back in your own face. Fortunately I don’t remember getting sick on that one.

One of my favorite rides was the wild mouse. This was a small roller coaster type ride but with little cars made for one or two instead of long ones. The structure was wooden, build like a big cube. The cars were pulled up a track to the top, then they rolled down narrow tracks that wound inside of the cube. The ride was relatively slow, but the track had very sharp turns at random intervals, moving you through the cube like a mouse maze. You would only roll straight for a short ways, then suddenly jerk in a 90 degree turn left or right until you dropped down to the next level, where the track ran flat again turning quickly until it again dropped to the next level. I mainly liked it because you weren’t going around in circles and though you were thrown back and forth in the little cars it was still rather exciting.

The other terrifying ride was the swings. This was composed of a tall mushroom shaped device from which hung a multitude of wooden swings on metal chains. People would sit on the swings and the mushroom would then spin around. The faster it went the farther out the swings would swing. (that sounded good). I don’t remember going on this one at Palisades Park, but I did get on it at a local fair.

I grew up in a Catholic family. My grandparents were from Poland and Czechoslovakia which are hotbeds of Pope Fanaticism. We would go to church every Sunday and on to Sunday school afterwards; my father would drop us off, never stepping inside himself. He would go to the IAPC (Italian American Progressive Club) to sit in the bar and discuss things with his friends that would have also dropped off their families and needed to kill an hour drinking beer (oh, sorry, shot and a beer) before returning in an hour to pick up the crew. Yes, I was an altar boy, wearing the fancy robes and kneeling behind the priest (yes, behind, fortunately our priest wasn’t into altar boys, at least not that I knew about) ringing the bells and repeating back the right words.

This was back before the church was reformed again. The altar was at the front of the church and the priest stood with his back to the congregation. He would say things in Latin and the altar boys would respond back. The priest memorized his part; we had cheat sheets of the script printed on pages laminated in plastic. The priest would be up there talking to himself (sorry; talking to God) and every once in a while would pause. This would then wake us up (usually altar boys did the Sunday masses in pairs) and we would frantically look at the cheat sheets, trying to figure out what he last said and how the stuff on the printed page was pronounced and what matched what he just said and if we had to answer back with something or he was just pausing to do something else. If it was our turn and we took too long the priest would usually look over at us or clear his throat or make some noise to indicate that he was waiting. I did the altar boy thing for several years and never did memorize that stupid plastic card. I got to be pretty good at knowing when I had to say something, but I still had to look down and see what it was I had to respond with.

Being an altar boy was interesting, but at the same time rather dull. The number of altar boys required depended on how ‘high’ the mass was. For weekday or Saturday masses there was only one, for most Sunday services there were two, and for special High Holy Days there might be as many as four, when two priests were up their coordinating their efforts. The altar up front of our church was set about two feet higher than the floor filled with pews and people. There was a flat space for the priest to stand before it, probably about three feet deep and the width of the altar, which was about ten feet or so wide. There were two steps around the sides and the back of this leading up to it where the altar boys would kneel through the whole service. I never figured out why, but sometimes we would be together on one side, and sometimes we would be on opposite sides with the priest between us. You usually got to kneel on a little pillow, but if you forgot to put the pillow out before your mass then you had to suffer with an hour kneeling on the hard step.

There was a hierarchy, in that the boys with the longest time in service were senior, even if you were younger than a newer draftee. The senior ones got to pick what mass they served at first. There was a signup sheet in the back that covered the following week, and you usually signed up for the mass that your parents were at, saving you having to sit with them in the crowd for one mass then come back to serve at another one. The senior guys were also drafted into doing the masses which only required one boy, as supposedly they knew what they were supposed to do.

Ringing bells was part of the whole process, and the senior guy got to pick whether he was the one that rung the bells. Ringing the bells incorrectly was much more noticeable than saying the wrong response, as nobody in the congregation knew what you were saying in Latin anyway but they sure noticed if you run the bells wrong. So if you weren’t too good at the bell ringing thing you dumped it on the newer guy, who was sure to mess up, providing you with much amusement if you were kneeling across from him and could then make funny faces at him when the priest wasn’t looking. But you had to be sure your folks were sitting towards the back so that they couldn’t see you making these faces or you would get swatted on the way home for having fun in church. (Heaven forbid you have fun in church).

In our church the altar boys didn’t do much. We came in early before the service and poked around a big cabinet trying to find a cassock that fit and wasn’t too dirty. We wore different colors depending on how important the mass was, usually a long red or black robe covered by a white lace top with wide sleeves. We would then go out just before mass started with a long stick with a wick on the end and light the candles up on the altar and on stands around. Again, how high the mass was determined how many candles you lit. I have no idea who made up these rules, probably Jesus as he made all the rules that are important. One boy would light candles and the other would set out the little pillows to kneel on and the plastic cards with our script and the bells. We would then stand around in back and wait for the priest to get ready, walk in behind him, and go stand at our assigned step. Then through the mass we followed the script, saying words in Latin and ringing bells and kneeling and standing as required. Somewhere about the middle of mass the priest would take a break and walk over to the side and up into a little raised place where he would lecture the congregation. At that point we got to sit down while he talked before it was up again and back at it.

The plastic cheat sheet had our lines and little symbols for when to ring the bells, but it didn’t tell you when to stand up and when to kneel. This is a big thing in Catholic services, standing up and kneeling down during different parts of the mass. You couldn’t look at the priest for any clues, because he was always standing up, but fortunately all the old people sat in the front pews and we could watch them. The old people had it all down, some of them going to church every day, so they knew when to do things. When kneeling on the side of the step you could see people in the front row and even though they were slow you could tell when they were trying to stand up. People in church alternated between kneeling, standing and sitting down. As an altar boy there was no place to sit, you just knelt all of the time, unless it was standing time, so there was less movement for us than the congregation.

Another break was during communion. One of the altar boys carried around a gold circle on a stick, and held it underneath people’s chin as they knelt up front and received communion. This was before people got a sip of wine; all our group got was a stale flat white tasteless disk. You weren’t allowed to chew this; it had to melt on your tongue, and if your mouth was dry it would stick to the roof of your mouth and be there for quite a long time while you sat in your seat and tried to pry it off with your tongue. I think we had to hold this under people to catch any crumbs, and catch anything the priest might drop if he missed their mouth. Never happened when I was the holder, don’t know if it ever did or again it was just to intimidate people or something.

You also had to help the priest before communion when he washed his hands. Well, he really didn’t wash his hands, he just held a few fingers over the wine goblet and you dropped a few drips of wine on his fingers (this depended on the priest, some wanted more than others) from the same little glass containers (cruets?) you find in fancy restaurants, then a few drops of holy water. The priest would then wave his fingers in it and drink what was in the cup. That’s why some older priests wanted more wine than the young ones. After communion he wiped whatever crumbs were on the golden circle into the goblet, added more wine and water himself and drank it.

After services you walked around and put out the candles, using the same stick that you light them with but on the other side is a little candle snuffer cup thingie. You also picked up the kneeling pillows and scripts and bells and brought them in back. These were left in a cabinet because the next crew, coming on ten minutes later, had to start the cycle up again by putting them back out.

Once in a while there were different things to do. At some special services they brought out this metal container on chains and a stick that incense was put into and it was waved around by the priest. I again have no idea why this was done, but the junior boy held a little container with the incense and the senior boy got to use a little spoon to put some into the burner on top of the burning charcoal. Before the services a charcoal piece about the size of a hockey puck was lit and put into the burner. The incense we used looked like different colored crystals, clear and white and pink and yellow, and I thought smelled really good. Usually the priest walked around the church waving the burner, followed by the altar boys. When the smoke got thin you would spoon some more crystals onto the charcoal so the priest had something smoky to wave around. You had to be careful about how much you put on, too little and there wasn’t enough smoke, too much and it put out the charcoal. And you didn’t want to pile it on too close to the end of the walking around part, because you had to put the burner on the step next to you for the rest of the service, and if there was no breeze you would be left with burning eyes and a runny nose from all the smoke hanging around you. But you did get to go home smelling nice for the rest of the day.

We also jumped to sign up for wedding ceremonies. Some couples would have fancy ceremonies, with a full mass as part of it. The couple getting married had to kneel behind the priest during most of the mass, and so we would have a pretty girl to look at where normally it was just your partner on the other side. And usually the best man would give the altar boys a tip, so there was some chance of money. I remember one wedding ceremony where I was in charge of the little pillow that the bride’s ring was placed on. At the start, after everybody walked up to the front of the church, I would walk over to the best man and he would put the ring on the pillow, which I held until I had to hold it up for the priest to bless and hand to the groom to put on his new wife. One time the ring came in a little plastic folded pouch, and I had a heck of a time getting it open to get the ring out. I had to hold the pillow with one hand while I untied some ribbons holding the pouch closed with the other hand, and then open it and take the ring out. Unfortunately this was a quick service, and I barely got the ring ready before the priest asked for it.

Now what was I talking about . . . oh yes, rides. Well, the church had a fair every summer, in the big dirt lot out behind the school. Some traveling company brought trucks filled with rides and booths and games and stuff, and they split the profits with the church. One year they brought a copy of that big ride with the swings on chains that I so dearly hated. This was the first (and only) time I tried it. I bought a ticket and got on a swing and was spun around and around and around and around. As we normally do, we hit the food booths before we got back to the ride area, and I was stuffed with whatever greasy items were available back then. I remember going around a few times, and getting so dizzy that I couldn’t look out any more. I closed my eyes and prayed for it to stop, but unfortunately the ride didn’t stop before my stomach did. One of the good things about this ride is that when you hurl it’s blown away by the wind, as long as you remember to turn your head first and not just throw up in front of you. I have no idea if it hit the people behind me on the ride or people down below or the operator, but as soon as it stopped and I got off I wandered away: well, it was probably like in one of those cartoons where the dizzy guy walks in circles and dotted lines as he staggers off. I don’t remember much about the fair after that. And I don’t go on any of those types of rides any more.

Back to Palisades Park: looking for that song on YouTube I also found this one, a commercial I remember hearing on TV every summer for years:

OK, I guess that Church part was in response to Wide Lawns, who discussed her families’ Passover celebrations. I discussed my altar boy times, but in school most of my friends were Jewish. This was of great pleasure when in mid and high school. As in most school systems we were on break for the Catholic holidays: Christmas and Easter provided us time to attend church and have those big family meals. But even better were the Jewish holidays. School wasn’t closed for those, but I remember one year, I think it was seventh grade, where I was the only non-Jewish kid in my class. All of the Jewish kids stayed away from school to attend services or whatever, and I was sitting in class all by myself. Why should I skip school and have my mother harass me for staying home? I just carried around a stack of books and got to sit in class all day and read whatever I wanted to. I think this was when we first got to Greek myths, and we had a real thick book full of them. It was really interesting to me, so I had a chance just to sit and read through all of those stories of vengeful gods and storms at sea and bulls and stuff. I don’t know how many Jewish holidays there are, but I do remember several times during the year that everyone was away from class but me.

That was a nice thing about having Jewish friends; they never tried to convert you or anything. Our neighbors on one side were Jehovah’s Witnesses; they were always bringing around pamphlets and the Watchtower newspaper and trying to talk to us. When I heard that there were no gifts or fun holidays and not even birthday celebrations I figured it was a religion that wasn’t going far, at least as far as I was concerned. Out here in Las Vegas we frequently have two guys in short sleeve white shirts and skinny black ties coming to our door to talk about God. Sometimes we get a pair of little old ladies (they always travel in pairs, like the guys with skinny ties) holding bibles trying to get us to discuss the Lord and why we should believe that their version is better than my version, not caring what my version is. That and getting great pastrami sandwiches on rye with sweet and sour cabbage soup at a real Jewish deli. And egg cream, can’t forget the chocolate egg cream, made with real Hershey’s syrup. DZ Akin’s in San Diego is a great deli, if you every get down there.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Flower Sunday

I wandered around our yard yesterday. The olives trees are in bloom and causing more allergic reactions around the valley this month, ours are no exception. We trimmed our two large trees out front back in February, they were getting just a little too tall and we were afraid that our high winds would break more large branches. One of the results of the trimming has been a real overabundance of flowers, which will probably be reflected in the olive crop. I went out to spray off the blossoms, which usually reduces the number of olives set, but I’ll probably still have to spray to reduce the fruit set. We don’t eat the olives, and the big purple blotches left behind are rather annoying.

While out I took some shots of what is blooming right now. It seems that yellow is a favorite desert color. Out back the California poppies are still putting out some golden blooms. The larger plants are about eighteen inches high now, most have started to put out seed pods, which indicates the end of the flowers.

Also putting out seed pods are the feathery cassias. There are still some yellow blossoms present though not as many as a few weeks ago, when we couldn’t see the green for all the flowers.

Another type of cassia is in full bloom. This bush is about a meter high (40”) and a little larger across.

We have a lot of smaller plants, didn’t keep the name tags but just pick up things at the desert nursery that catch our eye.

Out next to the tomato plants in our raised beds the pansies I put in a few months ago are doing very well, putting out lots of blooms before the heat hits and knocks them down for the summer.

As I stated, the olive trees are in full bloom. Most of the buds are not open yet, but I was surprised at what a sweet fragrance these trees do produce. Not really yellow, but blooming.

Oh, I guess it’s in the yellow flower theme, but I just wanted to show off what is going on out back. This is the earliest, probably due to the fact we put them in so early and the Spring has been rather mild, but we are starting to get tomatoes out there. This one is over an inch in diameter already. We should have a nice crop before the heat hits.

And one of the cherry tomatoes is starting up also - this is a yellow variety, starting to turn from green already.

Yesterday it was nice and warm and sunny, topped out at about 83f (28c) but scheduled for 91f (33c) tomorrow. We went to the first outdoor jazz concerts put on at the county center, Spiro Gyra, which attracted quite a crowd – probably had around 6,000 people out there, many more than usual. I missed the Def Leopard concert over at the MGM last night, last week we had Van Halen with David Lee Roth, so we are getting the big old rockers in town. Cher will be on Oprah this week (filmed in front of Caesar’s on Friday) to push the opening of her show. Tina Turner was on and announced that she will be starting another final tour sometime this year. And for those of you unable to make it to Branson; Donnie and Marie will start a six month engagement here on the Strip. Something for everybody.

Monday, April 21, 2008

E Friday - assorted

In following the tradition of Clare we return again to E Friday, where I post three photos of my darling granddaughter E, because VG really likes to look at these pics. Well, I like to look at them also.

Back in December B went up to Portland to visit. Of course she took some photos of E while she was there. For breakfast E seemed to like Cheerios and milk.

She likes puzzles, I sent up a fish puzzle that she just flies through, mom got her a large Dora puzzle with numbers and she has learned how to do that one quickly also.

Of course, she still likes animals, and is getting hooked on dinosaurs as well.

I don't know what it is with the hair on top of her head. I guess mom just wanted to get it out of her face, and isn't ready to cut it yet. I like her better with her hair down. (OK, four pictures today). And blue eyes, did you notice the blue eyes?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Blood donations

I went yesterday to have some blood drawn for testing, and it led me to remember other times when I had blood sucked out of me.

I started donating blood many years ago. I think my first donation was when I was in the Navy, even though they said it was something you could volunteer to do for some reason anytime that is said when you are in the military means that everyone is expected to. Well, you didn’t have to, but those that didn’t were usually permitted to clean out the toilets with their toothbrushes or engage in other similar activities while the rest of the guys went off to donate. It was also something expected of sailors, because if an emergency happened when out at sea blood would probably be required, and there is no local blood bank to call on when out in the middle of the ocean except for other people on the same boat. When in the military you always have to be prepared for bad things.

When in college the Red Cross would come through with campus blood drives periodically. I usually signed up, and I remember one session in a high ceiling room full of cots, where the organizers had put posters up on the ceiling for you to look at while you were laying down.

It picked up again when we moved to San Diego. For some reason I felt it would be nice if I donated something; I put some time in at Father Joe’s Vincent de Paul shelter but that took too much time, and I had a problem putting up with some of the people we dealt with. So I figured donating blood would be something I could do to ‘give back’ to the community. I started hitting the San Diego Blood Bank on a regular basis. Full blood donations were limited to one every six weeks, and I made an appointment for my next after every draw.

After going in a few times a nurse suggested that I sign up as a ‘Super Donor’, using an apheresis system for donation. Inquiring into this I found it entailed being tied to some type of machine for two hours that extracted platelets and different blood components, rather than giving whole blood, and that I could donate every two weeks instead of every six. This sounded like such a marvelous offer that I just could not refuse it. At the time I was running my own consulting business, and thus could set my own schedule and take time off in the middle of the day for things like this.

The San Diego Blood Bank is in a four story building that was close to downtown. Standard blood donations were taken on the first floor, but the super donor center was up on the top floor. Large windows wrapped around two sides with marvelous views of the bay and downtown. Instead of laying on a cot for fifteen minutes staring at the ceiling while blood drained into a plastic bag you were in a fancy chair with TV sets on the opposite wall while you were hooked up to a device that looked like a washing machine. A needle was inserted into each arm; one pulled your blood out and fed it into the machine, which then did some magic and extracted specific components, added a little saline solution, and then fed it back into you via the other arm. Depending on how the machine was set and what components were extracted you could be hooked up for between and hour and two hours. Since the standard location for inserting needles for blood donation was the inside of your elbow and you had a needle in each arm this meant that you could not bend your arms for the entire period: no nose scratching, no adjusting earphones, no turning pages in a book, not much movement at all.

The process started out with the same interview given before every blood donation. It was the same stack of questions: have you visited an area where malaria is present, have you injected any drugs, do you feel well today, have you ever been to jail, have you ever had sex with a man, even once, and on and on and on. They never changed the order of the questions, so you eventually got used to the same sequence of no, no, yes, no . . . and when a new question was added it threw your whole memorized path off. Eventually they approved a new procedure for regular donors where it changed to ‘since your last donation’ and then to just a single ‘any changes since the last time’ which made the Q&A part a lot faster.

There was a big cabinet filled with videos, and you would normally pick one out to watch while hooked up. Most of the time the movie ran for ten minutes longer than the draw took, so you usually just missed the end; it didn’t matter what video you picked, I think the machines were calibrated to the videos to go just a little quicker. But I did see a lot of old movies (what, you think they had the latest releases?)

The apheresis machines did not work on a continuous basis, they extracted some blood from one arm, then went through a small batch procedure to perform the extraction, then mixed in some saline solution and anti-coagulants and then shot that batch back into you in the other arm. Many people had a strange reaction to the anti-coagulants that were added, for me it just made me feel tingly all over and cold. The cycles seemed to take several minutes, you couldn’t hear any difference between phases, but I just noticed that strange feeling when the blood mixture was pumped back in.

At that time the machines could be adjusted to take an assortment of components; I believe they were platelets, plasma, white cells, red cells, or a combination of any two or double of one. Usually they asked how much time you had, and tried to talk you into whatever took the longest to extract, as that was usually what they were in short supply of. Since I usually booked my session and scheduled other activities around it I normally just let them take whatever they wanted. Evidently I was a good platelet provider, so they usually extracted that component.

I don’t know if it was just a line used to keep you coming back, but at that time supposedly there was extensive blood testing and matching, and I was told that I was a very good match for some young girl with cancer that required frequent platelet transfusions. So each time I came in and donated the usual procedure was for the nurse to come by with the appointment book to schedule me for my next donation, with a little comment about how nice it was that I kept donating and how that poor little girl’s life depended on my coming by regularly. Well, it worked, along with my wanting to do something, so I kept going back. By the time we moved from SD to Vegas I got my name on the wall for having more than 80 donations. The top name on the wall had several hundred, so I had a way to go. I don’t know if the number of ‘regulars’ in San Diego has pushed me down the list and off the wall, I haven’t been back to look.

Over the years there were equipment changes, and eventually there was a switch from using a needle in each arm to using just one needle, with double piping which let the machine put blood back into the same arm it was drawing from. The internal extraction process also was improved, so it took less time for the overall donation and I wasn’t stuck there for over two hours each time.

One of the benefits to me of donating was that I discovered I had a high blood pressure problem. Several times when I went to donate I was turned down because of high blood pressure. This led me to find a doctor and try to figure out why my pressure was so high. After quite a few tried with different prescriptions a combination of drugs was found that brought my pressure down to the recommended levels. I’m told that this is a good thing, especially since almost all of my relatives have died from heart problems. And now many years later it seems that I have lived longer than all of my uncles on both sides.

So when we moved to Vegas I thought that I would continue the donation tradition. I went down to the blood bank that was not too far from my house and gave a regular full blood donation, and checked out the super donor program. When they heard that I donated frequently back in SD I was quickly signed up for their program. Unfortunately it seemed that the people performing extractions at this location were not the highest quality people available. The San Diego Blood Bank used nurses in the apheresis unit, and they were all pretty good at sticking needles in you. I evidently also had good veins, as there were needles going into both arms every two weeks, but I was told that my veins ‘rolled’, or moved when attempting to insert the needles. I don’t think that all of the people sticking you here in Vegas are nurses, and some are not very good at their job.

The equipment used for platelet and cell donations has changed greatly. Instead of a big washing machine sized device it’s now down to suitcase size, and the extraction is a lot faster. At the local location here whole blood was extracted at about a dozen chairs in the front of the room, more explicit donations were in a half dozen chairs to the back.

The second time I donated I was stuck by someone that did a pretty poor job. As usual, I told her that I was told my veins rolled, and to be careful. Usually the nurses appreciate being told this and I assume that they work a little differently, perhaps holding the vein down or something (please, tell me if it makes a difference if you know). Usually needle insertion is quick and you just feel a short sting. This time was a little different, it hurt and I heard an ‘uh oh’. Not a good sign. Evidently she missed the vein, or went through it or something. She then proceeded to move the needle around while stuck in my arm, trying to hit the vein. This procedure was very painful. After about a minute I told her to stop and pull the needle out as I had enough of the poking. (OK ladies, no snide sexual comments here). I didn’t want her to try in my other arm, or have somebody else try, I just left without donating.

The next day my arm was swollen up to twice it’s normal size, and I could not bend it. There was a huge bruise inside my elbow where she was working. I was not pleased, and called the blood bank asking what to do. They just suggested applying an ice pack (should have told me that right after she butchered me) and waiting to see if it went down. It took several days for the bruising to recede and the swelling to go down. This hindered my computer keyboard activities, and I did have some things to for clients.

I waited a while to go back. I did go back for a whole blood donation but then when the same thing happened to me again while up in the front donation stations I figured that at that point the negatives were overcoming the positives in the entire process and I just stopped going. I did donate several times when I was working at places where a bloodmobile came by, but I haven’t been back to that donation location since.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Video Monday - old stuff again

Back to video Monday, where I present a few videos of things I have come across or favorite songs from the past (probably before most of you remember music). For a start, Rob pointed to a song that was quite controversial when it came out. It sounded pornographic to a lot of people and was banned from radio play in a few markets: Je T’aime Moi Non Plus from 1969:

As long as I’m putting up foreign songs, another one from the same time in a different strange language; the British group the Seekers doing Georgy Girl, 1968:

Don’t know when I came across this one, it’s a House sound, probably something the kids would like bouncing around to also:

Friday, April 11, 2008

E Friday - playhouses

In following the tradition of Clare we return again to E Friday, where I post three photos of my darling granddaughter E, because VG really likes to look at these pics. Well, I like to look at them also.

When E and mom were down last month Grammy took them to a new shopping center at the south end of the Strip, by the airport. It’s another outdoor mall, with nice shops and a really nice play area for the kids. E didn’t spend much time on the rides or in the maze but she really liked the play houses that were there. It was set up like a little town, with shops down below and apartments upstairs. E pretended to be a shop keeper, played at the counters, and just sat on the furniture by herself, talking quietly.

No idea what was going on in that little head, or who she was having conversations with.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Video Monday

In following the tradition of Clare we return again to Video Monday, where I post three videos that I find enjoyable or amusing. Let’s start with somebody we just saw. (yes, I know it's a little early, but at least it's up)

The local Stations Casino chain has started to put in small lounges that are used in the late evening as night clubs and in the earlier evening as smaller concert venues. By smaller I mean that there are probably about 200 seats, so no matter where you sit you are not far from the stage, and there are cocktail waitresses wandering about offering refreshment. These places are rather enjoyable to be in, and usually host jazz music. We’ve been over to the Railhead Lounge on the east side of town a few times, and last Friday we hit the lounge over in Green Valley. We went to see Keiko Matsui, a name I regularly hear on the ‘smooth jazz’ station I periodically listen to. She writes all of her own music, and has twenty albums out. For us she played electric piano and also had a concert grand. Very nimble fingers. Most songs were much faster than this one.

Coming to the same facility in July is someone my wife wants to hear, a trumpet player named Chris Botti. He used to play in Sting’s jazz band. She usually has the jazz station on and says that his music is different than most of the others.

Don’t think the singer in that one will be appearing there, but you never know. He’ll be in town on May 23 with his old group, The Police. Our local free jazz in the park series wll be starting up at the end of this month also, starting out with Spyro Gyra, and including a New Orleans band and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

The last video today is of a different direction, posted by Johnnie, truth in seduction.

Your next visit

If you plan on coming to Vegas for a vacation or trade show I’ve put together a few tips for you:

1. SUNSCREEN!!! It does not matter what time of year you come, there will always be sunshine. We do have some cloudy days and rain; I think last year we had a total rainfall of 2.2 inches. But we usually have over three hundred days of sunshine a year. Especially this time of year, when people come out here from snowy where ever and see the sunshine and the temperature is a lot better than back home but still not really hot, so they lay out by the pool for just a little bit, or they wear their shorts and t-shirts when walking the Strip. Please, put that stuff on! And I don’t mean wimpy stuff, no, use the SPF 60. You will still get a tan to show off back home, but you don’t want to look like some of the people I see every day. Which brings up another tip – be careful what you name your image files if you post pictures. I just searched Google images for sunburn, here are a few of the shots that came up (among several hundred thousand). I have not idea who these people are, so apologies to them, but you posted the photos first:

2. Sunglasses. Along with the sunscreen; it is bright out here. I am a cheap person at times, so rather than buying those fancy Armani sunglasses I just go to Home Depot, hit the tool crib, and get a handful of the safety glasses with sun and UV protection tint. For under ten bucks, we have them everywhere. They are cheap, but I don’t care too much if the break or get left behind. Be sure you have the ones with UV protection; you don’t want to damage your eyes. So when you are walking the Strip and wander into a casino, you just pull them off rather than taking ten minutes for your eyes to adjust to the ‘darkness’.

3. Money! Yes, you need money to enjoy Vegas. We might have more hotel rooms that all of Delaware, but that doesn’t mean that a room is cheap. Sure, you can find good deals at some of the lesser known places, but then you are miles away from the action. You’ll end up spending money for cabs that you save on the room. Standard rates for the big hotel next door start at around $300 per night, but there are some hotels right on Las Vegas Boulevard that are not too bad with lower rates. The TI sometimes has good specials, and the location is great. Up to the north end the Sahara is usually much lower priced, but then it is quite a walk down to the rest of the casinos. We used to stay at the Luxor when we came down, I really liked the rooms in the pyramid. You will have to buy food in addition to paying for your hotel room. The big buffets charge around $30 per person for dinner. Even a hamburger in a coffee shop will be $10. Mention one of the fancy restaurants and expect a bill, without wine, of well over $100 per person, with the really big names getting $400 for dinner. Want to hit one of those ‘ultra lounges’? You’ll probably end up blowing $500 per couple before the night is out. But there are bargains out there if you search for them and work on things – you can find coupons for just about everything, two for one deals and money off and all sorts of stuff. You just have to search.

4. Shows. Yes, they are expensive, but since you are coming out here to be entertained then spend the money to see one of the big shows. Bally's and the Tropicana still have the old fashioned feathered showgirls on stage.

The late show for both of them is still topless if you really want to sit a half mile away and see real (well, no guarantee there) breasts. Big performers always come through Vegas on their national tours, but be prepared; tickets here are two to three times the price of the same tour show in other cities. For example, coming through will be Bon Jovi, The Police (yes, with Sting), George Michael and Rod Stewart. Most of the resident shows are well worth seeing. I really like the Cirque du Soleil shows, and we have five of them now, with a few copies in addition. My two favorites are Mystere at TI, the oldest one around, and O at Bellagio. All of the shows sell tickets over the internet, so make your reservations in advance; you don’t want to wait until you get here and then find out there is a big conference that just bought up all the tickets. Remember the regulars here – Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, Cher, Elton John and many others.

5. Red lights mean stop. This goes for pedestrians as well as cars. Cab drivers will run you over, and you don’t want to spend any part of your vacation sitting in an emergency room waiting several hours for that x-ray and cast. When I go for my lunchtime walk we wander around in front of the Big Hotel Next Door and it’s new expansion on the corner. There are traffic lights at the driveways for both, and it seems that everybody walking just ignores them. Come on people, if the light is red, and there is a red hand in the box, it means you should stop. Cars need to go by. Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean that you can ignore the laws that are inconvenient. I’m glad they put the pedestrian bridges over the heavily traveled corners, which has sped up traffic quite a bit, and cut down on the number of people run over. But there still are a few places on the strip where you cross the street itself, so please be careful, watch for cars coming, and stop walking if the light changes. It is far easier for you to stop than a car or truck. In the photo below note the red light, the people ignoring it and walking anyway, and the cab which should not have to look for people had to stop for some idiots over to the right taking photos in the driveway.

6. Comfortable walking shoes. Yes, the ones I had in the last post might be pretty for hitting and Ultra Lounge (no, I have no idea who came up with a name like that, must have been a PR person) but they look like torture devices if you wear them all day. Check out what my wife eventually bought, she loves them. When you come here you will be doing a lot of walking. The distance from the front desk to the parking garage in most casinos is about a mile, and that is if you park close to the elevator. I take a walk at lunch every day, through the Big Hotel Next Door, and it can take over forty five minutes without retracing my path or going outside, and I still don’t cover the whole place. That’s inside of just one hotel/casino. Wander through the Miracle Mile shops in Planet Hollywood (formerly the Desert Passage at the Aladin); they say it’s a mile walk. The shops at Caesar’s Palace is just as long. If you just wander through the MGM Grand casino floor you will get lost. Vegas all looks like it’s stuck together in the pictures I see, but believe me, you can spend three days just walking and not cover everything.

7. Just walk the Strip! I know in #3 I said money, but you can spend several days just looking at things and not spend much. Go back and read my post on The Strip in three days. If you have comfortable shoes, sun block, sun glasses and a smile you can spend a lot of time just looking at things, window shopping, and looking at people. And make a point to stop and sit down periodically. I tend to just keep walking, but it is really nice to stop for a coffee and watch people go by, have a glass of wine in front of Paris and see the Bellagio fountains across the street, have a coke (or more) at one of the small bars inside the Bellagio while looking at everyone on the slot machines.

OK, there are a few things that I thought about. If you have any questions please feel free to email me. Oh - almost forgot the most important one: if you are one of the regulars around here, be sure to email me in advance so that we can meet for lunch.