Normally driving 700 miles in one day would be an arduous, exhausting task, and today was no exception. Despite a stop in the Kolob Canyon of Zion and a break for lunch at the Bellagio buffet the vast majority of the day was spent cruising over I-15 at between 70 and 80 miles an hour, watching desert go by. It’s sad to see the trip come to an end, but it was a great one. Two days of rest at home, then back to the grind…
Today was one of a handful of days on this trip that required a lot of driving, so after setting off we covered over 450 miles through the deserts, going from Indian Wells up to the borders of Zion National Park. The obligatory stop in Las Vegas yielded a tasty lunch at PF Chang’s and $7 in winnings at Haywire Deluxe (that’s right, I’m the big winner), then it was off on Interstate 15 and through the Virgin River Gorge to our destination for the evening. I’ve got Audrey suitably frightened about the hike up to Angel’s Landing tomorrow, followed (hopefully) by a trip through the Narrows. All is well in the land of Holliday.
As an incentive for employees to work an unhealthy number of hours, 120 VC (the company through whom I contract with DIRECTV) offers a yearly trip to individuals who average at least 45 billable hours per week. Last year’s trip led Aaron and I to the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara, while this year’s offering took us to the Green Valley Ranch Resort in Las Vegas. For those unfamiliar with Vegas, the Strip is the center of all activity; Green Valley is not on the Strip. As a result, on Friday night Aaron and I hopped into a shuttle, arrived on the Strip, and spent the next several hours punishing our livers and increasing casino profit margins before hailing a cab to return to quieter settings. The next day we awoke with the typical day-after Vegas lurgy and after spending some time at the arcade headed off to the hotel spa for detoxification, all the while vowing that Saturday night would be more laid back; this vow was one that would be broken.
The company had provided me with a bit of spending money for the weekend, so we decided to break convention and see a show. Since Cirque du Soleil has about 300 shows currently in Vegas we figured that was a good option, and randomly picked Zumanity, not realizing that it was Cirque du Soleil’s freaky sex-themed show. While I was fully in favor of the myriad of boobs and acrobatics, the six foot six dominatrix host(ess) and gay gladiators were less of a draw for me. Aaron summed it up well: “That was crazy. I liked it. I’m glad we went. But I’d probably never go again.”
With the show ending around 9:00, the evening took a new direction. Hanging out in the bar at New York, New York casino we were watching highlights on Sportscenter, talking to random people, and occasionally stepping away to lose a few dollars in the slot machines when the magic of Vegas intervened. While we were downing Coronas an obviously drunk pair of brothers from the actual state of New York came dancing by, and Aaron made the comment that “you guys are just sort of making your own little dance area, huh?” “Dance area” is Vegas code for mayhem, and thus was born the New York, New York dance floor. In the midst of a busy casino walkway next to the bar Aaron and his new friends started levying a dance tax on all who passed through – “This is the dance area, you have to dance in the dance area!” While this would have been beyond obnoxious anywhere else, in Vegas these moments are the stuff of legend, and girls, guys, waitresses, security guards, young people, old people, and everyone in between spent a bit of time dancing through the next four hours. One old Asian lady who clearly spoke no English looked panic-stricken when Aaron danced up to her, partially blocking her way, but after two seconds a smile broke across her face, she high-fived, and shimmied her way along. There were moves made that caused women to swoon and would have caused Fred Astaire to cringe, people who returned hour after hour to see what was going on, many drinks consumed, and more laughter than on almost any Vegas trip I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in.
The dance-a-thon ended around 2:00 AM, and by 3:30 I returned to the Green Valley. Aaron made it back around 6:00 AM, and the very overpriced room service was a blessing when we finally awoke the next day. I had planned on setting off back to LA around 4:00, but after a streak of bad luck the gods of Vegas decided to keep me around a bit longer by giving me two of the three highest “Hot Hot” jackpots during a two hour stretch (“highest” is relative on these slots – I won a grand total of $50), and when finally I rolled back into Culver City around midnight it was a tired but happy man that curled up into bed.
For those who suspect that during the past few months I’ve been lazy about updating the journal, and only add entries at the end of the month when I realize I haven’t written anything in a while, you are correct.
This month was the first time in my life that I completed a round of golf, not counting an outing in high school where, after mishaps on my first couple of swings, I was asked to just throw the ball rather than further risk anyone’s safety. My current golf skills are such that I can claim to have scored par on only my second hole played, and can also proudly report that I’ve lost two balls into the water on a single hole and even lost a ball while practicing on the chipping green. Aaron and I played two nine hole rounds a few weeks back, and while I feared to use anything larger than a four iron Aaron hit driver on a few holes, highlighted by the final hole of the day when he brushed the ground as he was hitting and sparks flew out from his club as he made contact with the ball; it was awesome. The shot sucked, but who cares when there are flames coming off of your driver?
My other new endeavour for this month has been observing Ramadan and not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. One of my co-workers suggested I should try it for a few days to provide her with moral support, and since it seemed like a fairly hardcore thing to try, and also since I’d never really done anything like it before, I figured why not? The no water thing is annoying, and I have to get up every day by 6:30 to make sure I get something to drink before the sun comes up, but otherwise it’s not bad and the bonus is that since I’m up so early I get my eight hours at work done by 3:30; with the recent workload I still don’t get home before 7:00, but it’s nice to know that I could leave in time to catch the after-school cartoons if I wanted to. Cartoons rock.
Last of all, Aaron and I took a one-day Vegas trip over a Thursday and Friday. Mandalay Bay was running a promotion, so we got a good room and a couple of spa passes. As usual Vegas took a fair share of my cash, but the spa and pools at the hotel made it worthwhile, and even though he hit on 20 at blackjack (A-4-5) Aaron dominated Roulette and a few other games and came home with extra cash. The spa was a great find, and despite having to witness some naked calisthenics both the Goob and I came away thoroughly refreshed. The ride home featured some pretty ridiculous weather, including a tornado warning – it was the first time I can actually remember hearing that “this is a test of the emergency broadcast system” thing used for something that wasn’t a test. I took off the following day for a brief visit back to the Bay Area for my mom’s birthday – Virgin America is a cool airline, although sadly their live TV didn’t include the Browns game.
And that’s it. Below is the obligatory pretty picture. Assuming my normal pattern persists this may be the last entry until Halloween. On a similar note, apologies to everyone who I owe email to; the inbox is overflowing with messages that go back several months – I’m not very good at this internet thing.
In an effort to prove that we don’t have a gambling problem, Aaron, Charlie Chi and myself made yet another excursion to Vegas last week. I proved to be a lucky charm (for the casinos), and shortly after I arrived Aaron and Chi’s winnings had turned to losses. My own luck was rather terrible as well, and my losing streak at Let-It-Ride now stands at twelve straight hands. The slot machines treated us better, and we managed a slow bleed with occasional big wins, including a $75 jackpot for me that ended my gambling for the weekend.
In other ways life is trudging along as normal, so rather than bore with details of my days spent programming at DirecTV, here are a few other noteworthy events going on in the world:
- SpaceX is planning their second launch attempt for early March. Provided it goes off without a hitch then space travel is suddenly three times less expensive.
- MIT is working on a plan that would put huge floating wind turbines a hundred miles offshore, generating enormous amounts of power while avoiding the “not in my backyard” complaints of those with oceanside vacation homes.
- Lost is still a ridiculously good show.
- Boeing’s new 787 airplane looks very cool. Bigger windows, a more comfortable cabin, and lots of other goodies in addition to better fuel efficiency to make the airlines happy.
- The combination of Open Office.org and KDE running on Linux is looking better and better. In another year or two I suspect I might be done with running Windows.
Yes, I’m a big dork, but technology is cool. And of course, here’s the obligatory pretty picture:
Sometimes people need to go to Vegas. And then when they get there it’s FREEZING, and because those people came from LA they didn’t bring coats, and so they end up walking a mile along the Strip and turning into icicles. And then those people go to P.F. Chang’s for dinner, and the wait is an hour and a half, so they play the slot machine with the UFO on it (it’s the best one). And then they finally get seated and they do animal impersonations while eating, and it’s actually really hard to think of animals to impersonate after the first six or seven. And then the next day they go to the Bellagio buffet (it’s the best one) and they eat a lot, and then they find another slot machine that lets you play a video game when you get enough wilds. And then they go home broke and happy.
As Vegas is wont to do, my winnings of day one turned into losings on day two, but it was still a fun trip – there was a midget on a bar pouring shots, after all. Life has since returned to normal, with the Browns losing, JAMWiki progressing, and many fewer midgets around to pour shots. We saw Audrey’s friend Shark (yes, that’s his name) at a show a while back, which was all good. The government here is more insane than I suspected they could be, the weather is nice again, and did I mention that the Browns are losing? Life goes on as usual.
Lest it get lost from memory, in the last journal entry I forgot to mention the outing Audrey set up to go see a performance of Carmina Burana at the Hollywood Bowl. I know nothing about the music, but apparently it’s a famous piece and everyone has heard parts of it in movies at some point (trust me, you have). Anyhow, given the joy that is Los Angeles traffic we decided to meet Greg and Bronwyn in downtown Culver City to catch a shuttle bus to the Bowl. As we left to meet them I realized that I was having discussions with my stomach about a vanilla latte I’d consumed twenty minutes earlier. Unhappy with the state of discussions, my stomach sent a few gallons of cold sweat up to my head about fifteen minutes into the bus ride, and my head returned the favor by draining of all blood. By this point Audrey was searching through our picnic dinner for a bag to give me, but we arrived at the Bowl without incident. Once there I calmly followed the group to our seats, dropped off my jacket, and then headed to the men’s room to lose my latte. After that the concert was fairly awesome, and ended with fireworks and massive flame towers that I swear raised the outside air temperature several degrees throughout the Bowl.
And that was all of the excitement in my life until Friday. Aaron called to find out if I wanted to drive with him to Vegas – he was going for a bachelor party, and his driving buddy had bailed. The catch was that I had to find my own lodging, and that we wouldn’t be able to hang out together until Sunday; not a problem – I’m admittedly cheap, so rather than shelling out $100 for a crappy room I figured I’d just crash for the night in the Suby.
So I picked up Aaron, we had a fun drive here, and then I dropped him off at the Luxor and headed over to the less-pricey end of the Strip to see if I could find a $5 Let-It-Ride table. Six hours later with $20 of winnings in my pocket and having seen a three-foot-tall man dressed as a leprechaun running up and down a bar pouring shots I headed out of town to a spot I’d parked at for the night on a previous trip. Unbeknownst to me, however, Nascar was in town, so my nice quiet exit twenty miles outside of town was filled with hundreds of cars leaving the Las Vegas speedway. Luckily five miles later the next exit had only a few semis that were parked for the evening, and I slept like a baby until the sun woke me up at 7:00.
I dropped Audrey off at the airport so she could catch her flight to do a job in Las Vegas, and then I started off in the car for… Vegas. Yeah. I probably could have flown, but wanted to visit Mojave National Preserve along the way, so figured driving wouldn’t be such a horrible thing. The preserve isn’t bad, and I need to go back and explore a bit more. I arrived in Sin City around nine o’clock, the third visit in the last month.
Spent most of the day in the Monte Carlo hotel room, then Audrey and I spent the evening roaming around trying to find the dumbest slot machines possible. She actually won some money on the mermaid machine, the shark game ate us alive, the old prospector took my five dollars, and Rocky came through and gave me a couple bucks. Most importantly we signed up for one of the casino’s player cards, so there should be hundreds of comps coming our way any day now.
Scott and Anna arrived in the evening to celebrate Scott’s thirtieth birthday, but the flu bug hit so I spent the evening passed out in bed.
Fully recovered, Scott and I investigated how best we could lose our money by playing Let It Ride. My theory when it comes to gambling is that the casinos are always going to win, so the goal is to have as much fun over as long of a period as possible before they take all of the money — basically make the casino suffer a bit before it bankrupts me. During the day I managed to stay even, but a $10 minimum in the evening had me sweating. Cashing in $60 and getting six chips turned my stomach to acid, and while the game moves slow enough that the cash wasn’t burning up in front of me, it was still a pretty painful experience. As my chip pile slowly dwindled Audrey came over to watch the carnage, and I was dealt two aces. She then said with utmost certainty that one more was forthcoming, and a short time later I walked away from the table noticeably richer.
Spent the last day in Vegas with Scott and Anna before heading off on my own to visit Wynn (wow) and then picking up Audrey for the ride home. The evening’s excitement was crossing back into LA county and passing a car chase going in the opposite direction — three cop cars and a helicopter all barrelling down the road.
Last Friday night Ryan Sutherland, Aaron and I headed to Vegas to celebrate Aaron’s birthday. The trip started with Sutherland’s primordial response upon hearing the cost of a hotel room for the evening (“Goo”), was followed by much Beastie Boys music along the way, and culminated with an appearance by Charlie Chisel and a journey led by the ouija beer. The night ended late, and the following day we hit the Bellagio for brunch before heading home by way of the Mad Greek in Baker.
Audrey and I headed out to the desert two days later for some camping. Death Valley is a good bit cooler in the winter, and we had some good hikes in between coyote and kit fox sightings. Highlighting the differences between someone like myself who prefers the outdoors, and someone like Audrey who has spent almost all of her life in cities, the wind picked up Tuesday night and lulled me to sleep, while Audrey was up most of the night wondering if the tent would blow away (it didn’t). We headed to Vegas Wednesday to catch the Blue Man Group show (it ruled), lost some money on a baffling video slot machine involving an old prospector and Q-Bert, and finally headed home this afternoon after visiting the Mirage’s pool and jacuzzi.
The slow push to get through the remaining Antarctica photos continues, although I should be able to get most of them online tomorrow. As to the rest, at the rate I’m going it may be several more years…
I’m trying to reconstruct last night based on the contents of my pockets, which include a bunch of Irish email addresses written on a coaster and a CD of a bar band that I vaguely remember getting after tipping the band $40. There was waaaay more beer involved than was probably smart (I should have known better than to drink with a couple from Ireland), but it was a classic evening. Chuck Chi was Irish step dancing with a sixty year old Asian woman in a straw hat, Aaron actually tried to use the line “I’m broke and I’m cheap, but I’m a good guy”, there was (earlier in the day) a chow-mein reuben combo at the Bellagio buffet, and vastly more silliness than I’ve experienced in years.
The skies were overcast in Death Valley today, so I slept in until seven and then took my time heading out of the park. Amazingly, Badwater Basin is completely flooded — I was mystified, as what was previously a bone dry salt flat was suddenly a lake several miles long and a few miles wide. The wildflowers near the southern entrance to the park were even more spectacular than elsewhere, but as has been the norm on this trip I didn’t get any pictures that really did them justice.
Came to Vegas for dinner, ate very well, and it now looks like I’ll be heading back to Los Angeles to see a friend. I’ve warned her that she is likely to smell me long before I arrive, so it may be a brief visit.
Crazy weekend. I had planned to be in Mojave tonight so that I could watch the Spaceship One launch tomorrow morning, but while driving through there on my way home from Vegas it was a zoo — there had to be at least four hundred RVs parked at the airport, every hotel was booked, traffic detours were set up. I may regret it some day, but getting up at 4:00 AM and fighting a crowd to get a glimpse of the takeoff wasn’t the experience I was looking for, so I headed home.
Prior to driving through Mojave the weekend was filled with a trip to Vegas & Death Valley. The Vegas trip was good — when I arrived it was about half, it then moved to full, and tapered back to half by this morning. There may have been some looping, and Pukes was doing his share of skeet skeet skeet. I’d never been to Death Valley in the summer, and while I planned to stick around until sunset, the lack of shade and 114 degree temperature was a bit more than I could handle, so after a few hours of hiking I moved on. It’s an incredible place, but I don’t see how anyone can spend much time there during the summer without spontaneously combusting.
Me, Rob, and Steph G’s tongue in Vegas over New Year’s: