Category Archives: Travel

day 194: the day i went back (but only for a visit).

It was a short trip. It was a mostly unplanned trip; or, perhaps, a better way to describe it is it was a redirected trip. On Friday, day 194 since I moved to Las Vegas, I made my first trip back to the Midwest.

When I originally scheduled the trip, it was to attend a wedding with a girl from Michigan whom I was dating at the time. However, about two months ago, the girl decided “this isn’t going to work” and that was that. I suppose it’s self evident that I am no longer invited to her brother’s wedding, right? Rather than reschedule, I decided to fly back to Michigan anyway. After all, I hadn’t seen my brother in Bay City in six months. I hadn’t seen my mother in South Bend in six months. I decided to use this as a brief—very brief!—visit with family. And, to be honest, I sort of needed it.

I’ve been getting a little homesick lately. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy living in Las Vegas, but it’s tough to be so far away from family, sometimes; especially considering my grandmother died not too long after I moved and I was ordered to not come back for the funeral. Who gave that order? My grandmother. With the rest of the family’s blessing, I honored her wishes, but it wasn’t easy.

This weekend visit was a whirlwind. I was in Michigan for 22 hours (about two of them at the airport when I landed in Flint, which is a funny story I’ll tell another time). I spent Friday night with my brother and his buddy, Al, hanging out at Stretch’s Curve bar on the west side. I always enjoy going out to bars in Bay City because they’re always great, little dives. The people are friendly, the drinks are inexpensive and unpretentious and the decor is…well, put it this way: every bar in Bay City reminds me of the Warsaw on The Drew Carey Show.

My mother drove up to Bay City on Saturday with her little dog, Clover. We all spent the day house hunting with my mother, which was more fun than I expected. We didn’t take Clover with us. She stayed at my brother’s house. I think she was mad at me for moving away . It took her awhile to warm up to me.

My mom and I drove back to South Bend after house hunting and relaxed at her house. It was truly relaxing to lounge at her house for the night; almost too relaxing. I laid down on a love seat at 9 p.m. and fell dead asleep. I had thought about taking a drive around town just to see some old haunts, but I guess I was exhausted. I woke up in a pitch-dark room and struggled to get my sea legs. “It’s probably about 11, so maybe I’ll still hop in the car and take a ride,” I said to myself. And then I looked at the clock. It was 5 a.m. I was out cold for nearly six hours. That NEVER happens. I guess I needed the sleep. I guess I was happy to be back in South Bend.

Sunday morning was like so many other Sunday mornings in South Bend. I had a couple cups of coffee and then my mother and I went to Sam’s Club to buy salt for her water softener. We did brunch at Golden Corral (where I ate my weight in pulled pork) and then, about an hour later, my mother drove me to the airport and I came home.

The weirdest part of this trip: when I was at my mother’s house, I felt like I was never gone. Like the past six months didn’t even happen. Like it was all a blur, a dream or something. I don’t know how to explain it, but I was really “back home” for the day.

It’s nice to be back home now, in Vegas. I’ll probably head back to the Midwest in the fall or winter for a holiday (and spend more than 36 hours there!). It was bittersweet this time around, really. I loved visiting with people and being back in the Midwest, but I wasn’t there long enough to really enjoy it as much as I’d like.

A few errant observations from this trip:

Adventures in Flying.
Southwest Airlines was a great ride, although they really do cram us into their jets like sardines. But they made up for it with complimentary soft drinks and free TV on your iPad. Cute flight attendant, too, so there’s that. 🙂

Allegiant Air, on the way home, was also a comfortable ride. I like their seats just a little bit more than Southwest’s. I didn’t feel as crammed in (Kramden?).

What in the hell is up with people who try to bum rush from the back of the plane, cutting in front of people, so they can be the first one’s off the plane? Seriously, this is rude, awful behavior. And don’t try and tell me they were trying to catch a connecting flight. I saw this woman start making a move and thought she was going to cut in front of me (I was in 4C). Uh-uh. I’m having NONE of this, today, sister! So I halted her progress. She got no farther than Row 5. You’re welcome, rows three and four.

And this lady who was in such a hurry? Slowest damn walker in the terminal!

TSA’s New Testament
Getting through security at McCarran Airport is one part cattle stampede, two parts switchback lines and a healthy dollop of Charlie Foxtrot.

Usually. But it would appear the good people who run security at McCarran are following the new book, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The day I flew, passengers were not required to remove their belts and shoes. Talk about a pleasant surprise! Not sure if the changes are permanent, but on this day, at the very least, we were partying like it was 1995!

Sadly, it was not the same at Michiana Regional Airport. We were still mandated to dance barefoot (and nearly pantsless, for some of us without a belt!) before entering their peepshow booth and being inspected by some 20-something with a badge and a 22-inch waist (to go with his 22-inch chest). Apparently, South Bend’s airport observes TSA’s Old Testament. It’s so humiliating.

And no, I do not hate freedom, asshole. I believe in security measures. I simply believe in being smart about it.

One More Thing
I got on a scale for the first time in nearly six months and have lost 10 lbs. The most humbling part of it is, though, no one noticed. Translation: you’ve got more work ahead of you, boy. Get your ass on that treadmill!

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the getaway car.

Judging by this photo, you’d think I was packing for a weekend getaway, right? Wrong. I’m not going anywhere that requires an overnight bag. But I’ve always said it’s important to be prepared for the unexpected. You know, like your car breaking down in the middle of the night when you’re miles from home and need to stay in a motel for the night. Fortunately, I was able to make do. But it’s funny how lack of a toothbrush and deodorant make you feel dirty, sweaty and smelly, no matter how hot a shower you took that morning.

Well, this bag you see here is my insurance policy against that ever happening again. This is my 911 bag. It will have enough clothes, toothpaste, shampoo and soap to survive a couple days on the road. It will always be in my car. Why? Because, as I learned last month, you never know when you’re going to get stranded and have no ability to get to a store to purchase what you need. This is my insurance policy that, should the Bat-Signal illuminate the sky, I’m ready to spring into action.

Like a good boy scout, I’m always prepared. Full disclosure: I never made it past cub scout.

Unlikely emergencies aside, the 911 bag also gives me something else that I like: the ability to hit the road right freakin’ now without interference. I may never enact the plan, but it frees the mind a little bit to know I can walk out of work on Friday night and drive 6–8 hours in any direction without so much as a hint of stopping at home first.

That may sound silly to you—and it is, no question—but for me, it gives me one less excuse to do something impulsive, like drive to Nashville. Or Chicago. Or Atlanta. Or DC. Or Detroit. I can just get in my car and go.

It’s sneaky fun knowing that, no matter what I encounter from this moment forward, I’m always driving the getaway car.

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return to wynn…damn if i don’t miss that atmosphere.

So, Las Vegas was good to me. I spent seven days in the desert as a tourist and loved nearly every minute of it. Heading into my vacation, I wondered if I might get mopey or maudlin about being back in Vegas. I mean, I loved living out there and sort of hope to get back there someday. But the truth is, I was having too much fun being a tourist to notice.

The only time I got even a little reflective was during my “rogue” nights, when I’d skulk into the Wynn properties. I took a long, slow walk around both properties on my first trip back into Wynn and Encore; just taking it all in again. I don’t regret leaving, but it doesn’t mean I don’t miss working there. I was proud of working for the finest resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. I loved going to work every night.

I didn’t spend too much time being mopey, though. I settled into gambling mode quickly. The funniest moment at the Wynn happened nearly immediately. I walked down the center aisle and took a right at the Main Game to survey the baccarat tables. It was fun to take it all in again. I aimed toward the video poker slant-tops just behind the baccarat pits when I glanced back toward the dice pit to catch two young women looking in my direction. I thought nothing of it and moved toward a poker machine. About the time I was ready to sit down, I look up and the two young ladies I spied were essentially surrounding me. Yeah, they were those kinda ladies. I politely declined and headed toward the Encore. Ah, Vegas.

In playing at both Wynn and Encore, I was quickly reminded of the differences between the two properties. Wynn’s gaming floor is huge. Encore’s is about half the size. Where the Wynn casino is lively and bustling, the Encore is sedate and relaxed. I love both properties, but as a player, I think I prefer the Wynn. But I’ll stay at either if they comp me. 🙂

Anyway, I went back to the Wynn and had a good time. I don’t want to go back to being a dealer, damn if I don’t miss that atmosphere.

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see you in nine days, las vegas.

I’m heading to Vegas in nine days. I’m excited to see the city again. Here’s the rough itinerary:

My favorite casino floor. Great atmosphere.

  • Sunday: Land at 9 p.m., at the hotel by 10 p.m.
  • Monday: Early a.m. walk on the Strip with a cup of coffee (I love that first morning).
  • Tuesday: The other half of the party arrives.
  • Wednesday: Find a pool? Perhaps hit Fremont Street at night?
  • Thursday: Exploration of the outer limits—Hoover Dam, In ‘N Out, check out some local establishments.
  • Friday: Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles Love at Mirage.
  • Saturday: The last chance to win back my money.
  • Sunday: Homeward bound.

Now you know.

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east jesus nowhere.

east jesus nowhere.

Filling the tank somewhere in New Mexico.

One year ago today—at this very moment—I was somewhere on the road between Las Vegas and Indianapolis. After less than five months from the day I moved to Vegas, I was moving back. I was broke. I was jobless. I was homeless. And I was driving a 2001 Chevy Blazer with a faulty driver’s side door latch that caused the door to fling open while driving. On a highway. At high speeds. I don’t need to tell you how harrowing that made the experience.

Of all the moments on the road, my lasting memory of that drive will be fighting with that damn door for 1800 miles. I swear, it was a microcosm of my life, or some such thing. Here I am, trying to get from one point in my life to another, but can’t even focus on the task at hand for fear the car door will rip from its hinges and be left laying on an interstate somewhere in Oklahoma.

Even with the anxiety caused by the door (to say nothing of the anxiety of not having a job or any prospects thereof…or two pennies to rub together), it did bring me to a moment on the road that crystalized that entire experience.

New Mexico at night.

Dead of night, somewhere in New Mexico on I-40, I had to stop and (once again) address the door. Pulling off a major highway in the middle of East Jesus Nowhere, New Mexico is not the same as around a major metropolitan area. The strip of asphalt you’re on is cutting through miles of wide open spaces with little civilization around. I exited the highway and parked on what appeared to be a dirt road leading to a ranch or something. There may have been a farmhouse somewhere in the distance, but it was pitch-black dark outside. The only light I could see, aside from my headlights, were stars dotting the midnight sky. And, oh my, the stars I could see. Even though my car door was stressing me out, I was able to take a moment and take in my surroundings and appreciate what I was seeing.

The flat lands were covered with hard, brown dirt and brush. The cool night air was crisp, but bearable. The sky was dark, but the stars were so brilliant I couldn’t help but take it in. And the quiet. The highway was barely 20 feet from me, but empty. The only thing I could hear was my breathing. I imagine this particular spot where I stood receives more horse traffic than cars. I say that because I had to navigate a minefield of horse “exhaust” as I walked around my car.

That moment in my life—though most remarkable by the uncertainty of where I was heading (and if I was going to make it in my car)—is still among my most favorite. Because here I was, standing somewhere in the middle of New Mexico deep in the night, enjoying the tranquility all around me.

I don’t know why, but that moment means a lot to me. Even in East Jesus Nowhere.

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ready or not, here i come.

My summer Las Vegas trip is booked.

What: lasvegas2k11: the return.
When: Sunday, 26 June – Sunday, 3 July 2011
Where: Harrah’s Las Vegas on The Strip

This will be my first trip back to the desert since moving from there last March. I’m excited to see it again. A little anxious, sure, but mostly excited. I’m back in tourist mode, but will spend a day or two in the city, revisiting all my favorite, boring little haunts. I miss going to Von’s, Starbucks on Charleston, Las Vegas Athletic Club (when I could park within a one-mile radius of the joint), killing time playing nickel video poker at the Red Rock…I even miss the street names out there: Hualapai, Flamingo, Ft. Apache, Sahara, Desert Inn, Durango.

I really liked living in the Summerlin area. It was quiet, almost boring, really. Of all the things I miss about living in Vegas, I think I miss hanging out at that Starbucks the most. Given the schedule I was keeping as a part-time swing shift dealer, I had a lot of down time and limited means. So I spent most of my free time sipping a coffee in that Starbucks.

Of all the things I plan on doing in Vegas this summer, I’m really wanting to go and sit in that Starbucks again for old times’ sake. It’s the simple things in life I enjoy the most.

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an encore of my very own.

In uniform, on break, waiting to get back to my dice game and bust out my stunning press moves.

I don’t know if the new blog header warrants an explanation, but I’m going to offer one anyway. As most of you know, I lived in Vegas barely longer than an extended vacation, about 4-1/2 months (Nov 09 – Mar 10). I worked for Wynn Resorts at both its properties, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas. They are, without question, the gold standard when it comes to high-end resorts.

I’m proud to say I worked for the best casinos and one of the most famous bosses in the world. Who doesn’t know Steve Wynn?

Sure, I was a frontline employee, a dice dealer, but I loved going to work everyday I was there. Too bad I was something of a casualty of the economy. But closing that very brief chapter of my life opened a brand new one, back in my adopted hometown of Indianapolis.

You might say it’s a bit of an encore after a two-year journey in the gaming industry, culminating in my Las Vegas Odyssey at the Wynn. I look back on that period with pride, but a slight bit of sadness. It was good while it lasted.

But I’m in a new chapter, new groove and have a greater appreciation for what some might consider a conventional life. It’s those conventions that will allow me to live life to its fullest.

And here, we, go.

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