About Me

An avid traveler I have had the good fortune to have spent my career in the travel and vacation industry. From Bali to Copenhagen and all points between is where I have been or intend to go. This blog however is specific to the Western half of the United States as I explore this part of the world.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Behind curtain #1... A NEW CAR

So this is the Turbo Beetle we looked at... well actually it's not.

This deal was solo Sonny... when the VW dealership was using some old school car sales moves like,"little lady why don't you talk to the man of the house" and changing deal points we had discussed earlier when she stopped by alone... it was time to go.

She went to CAR-MAX (great place to buy a used car) and traded in her Ford Explorer for a 2002 Honda Accord V-6 with leather and 20k miles. I didn't know that she'd bought it till she pulled up to the garage, called me on the cell and said, "come down and see my new car."

Honda was an interesting choice and it certainly looked sharp... I say interesting because Sonny has always been an SUV person even when she didn't own one. It didn't have to be the flashy top SUV she just always liked 4x4, leather and sitting up high.

I've never owned a Honda myself but I have owned two Japanese cars and both were Mazdas. This got me thinking about past cars and my exploits in them... though only 2 have been in the west. My car history follows these lines... (Also some of these images are not of my actual cars as those pictures would have to be found in a storage unit... I don't have the time for that undertaking)

(Not my Actual Car)

197? Mazda B1800 Pickup

This was my very first car and a hand-me-down from Dad. It served me well and I even had a little mulch business for about 2 deliveries... I found I didn't much care for customer satisfaction issues at that age. Eventually I sold it to a guy I worked construction with for $200 in 1986. The most unique features I recall were its orange color, a real solid steel rollbar and if I locked my keys in the car I could reach through the rust hole in the floor and get them or at least unlock the door.

(Not my actual car)

1981 Audi 4000 5+5

I had the use of this car as a sort of loaner from my folks. I gave it up when it was in the shop more than on the road. It was brown and not a very attractive brown at that, but man could it handle and that straight 5 Audi put in those cars purred... the electronics and front universal join boots were for shit and it had a super touchy clutch. I remember hotwiring the cooling fan by hooking it directly to the battery with a fuse in line and a switch mounted on the hood that I could flip by reaching out of the front window. Hey... better than Audi shop prices.

The primer grey car on the right is my old Buick with my crew shell upon it

1979 Buick Regal

This was the car that got me to college. I bought it from my neighbor in 1986. He had been holding it for his son... but as his son was to spend the next 5 years or so in jail... he had no more reason to hold it. He told me that I was what he wished his son had turned out to be and he offered to sell the car to me for a $1. We knew each other alright I suppose and I used to help him occasionally when he needed a strong back. He would have given it to me but the dollar transaction avoided taxes.

It was a good car for about 2 years so I definitely got my monies worth but when the fuel pump went bad and me and a college friend Poncho (nickname) fixed it... It was only days before the timing chain broke... back to the shop... then it was only hours before a piston rod shot through the oil pan... dead! So it made a nice donation to a highschool shop class... rebuild the engine for the semester... a decent tax write off too.

(Nope, though the one on the right is as close to an exact match...)

1984 Audi GT Coupe

My Buick replacement in college. My Grandfather comes to the rescue... I was, being in college, about to buy a 3.2 mile to the gallon Oldsmobile that I swore was a converted WWII Destroyer. It was to cost me $800 bucks that I could barely scrape together and the transaction was neigh when I got a call from Mom... Papa, as I called my Mothers Father, was going to give me his Audi GT Coupe! How cool was that!

So now I was styling in a 5cyl silver Euro Sports Coupe! I drove it back thinking no one was going to have a car like this as coupes were pretty uncommon... I pulled into my new college apartment nicknamed "The Arc" because it was all wood (different story) and lo and behold there was another silver Audi GT coupe... I still remember the vanity plate he had PFORZE whatever that meant. So I wasn't going to have the most unique car on campus but I wasn't hurting for wheels either! It eventually was sold to my friend Chris when, with what I was paying in regular maintenance I could have bought a new Audi.

(Not it)

1991 Mazda 929

The Career Search Begins. I moved to Orlando to pursue my career in 1994 and I needed a car to chase it... so I picked up a silver 929 from a wholesaler and got a pretty good deal. It wasn't bad.. I was freelancing and working nights at Sloppy Joes on Church Street as a bouncer... mainly to add some spice to my social life in a new town.

It was when two Hooters girls I knew made the comment "nice family car" that it was time to start thinking about the next car... and it wasn't too much later that I was rear ended on the way to an Orlando Magic game... fate?

Me and my GTI in Gatlinburg, TN

1995 Volkswagen GTI

It was time for a new car and since the 929 was approaching the 5 year can't finance period (after 5 years most cars cannot be financed so they lose a lot of value) and had a smashed trunk it was time for a change. I was working at Aristocrat Volkswagen in Florida to supplement my spotty freelance income and I wrote myself a sweet deal on a Black VW GTI.

Sunny riding shotgun in Red Rock Canyon

2002 Dodge Durango R/T

I was now the proud part owner of a Bayliner Trophy 2052 off shore fishing boat and it was getting a little tiresome having to borrow a vehicle or rent one to tow the boat... so Carmax online had the key in 2003... I wanted a Burgundy Durango SLT 4x4 but when I saw the R/T which exceeded my expectations in both features over the SLT and price I bought it via web and flew out to Las Vegas to drive it back to Orlando... Vegas to Grand Canyon/Flagstaff to Albuquerque to Dallas to New Orleans to Orlando... great trip!

I picked this photo because it is in the French Quarter of New Orleans

See me waving?

1989 Porsche 928 S-4

Originally my Papa's and the darling of cars past, present and future.

So I took Sonny's new Accord out for a spin and was impressed with the fit, finish, power and handling.... all in all a nice car. And a hell of a lot more reliable than the Ford... I imagine. Great Job Sonny!

And I wanted to add these two photos that I found while looking for shots of my old cars... and since these are car related...
It must have been a good day for Vic and John to wax the cars in Norfolk, Va...

Monday, September 26, 2005

My Weekend

My weekend started off as a real transition from work to leisure time. Friday afternoon I had a client meeting down at the strip and we decided to meet at the Mandalay Bay Sports Book. Many times when meeting down at the strip in casino/hotels the easiest place to find and meet people is at the sports book. I am not a gambler so meeting at the sportsbook in no way reflects any type of gambling interest I have... it is more of a strategic move for ease of meeting people... every casino/hotel has one, there are always signs on the ceiling that point towards the sportsbook, it is rarely completely full and they are all called "sports book" not Charlies or Sportsworld or any other unique name... simply sports book.

I would have to say that Mandalay Bay is one of my favorite casino/resorts. It has a unique look and feel about it, the service from my point of view has always been good and they have a nice selection of restaurants and clubs to choose from. When I arrived at the sportsbook my client, Dale, had arrived a little early and was already up $100 after dropping a $20 in one of the video, bar-top multi-games. We had our business discussions in one of the many lounges peppered around the casino area, I was drinking Johnny Walker Black on the rocks and he was drinking Bombay and tonic. The meeting went well and it looked like his project was off to a good, if not very small start. We had started about 4:30pm and it was approaching 7:30pm when we were wrapping up. Dale asked me if there were any good eateries at Mandalay and wanted to know if I had time to get dinner before he headed out of town.

The restaurant we went to in Mandalay is called Aureole and is one of the more interesting restaurants I have been to in Vegas. Now I must apologize since my pictures of the establishment are blurry. It is a nicer restaurant and I didn't want to be popping off flashes during our wait at the bar or from the dinner table. The first thing you notice when you walk in from the ground floor of the casino is that you aren't continuing on to the ground floor of the restaurant. You enter on a suspended walk way with the floor of the restaurant 2 stories down and the ceiling 2 stories up. This design accommodates what equates to a four story wine storage tower made of Plexiglas.

No matter if you are sitting at the bar or at a table if you want wine they have a great selection. However, it seems beyond most layman's mainstream wines so don't be afraid to ask. Or, if you are feeling particularly "in charge" even if you don't know wines that well just ask for the wine list.

The wine list is a compact computer notepad with a 14" lcd touch screen. Want to impress your group? The list is completely interactive... with tabs offering wines by type, country, pairing, etc. Find out what your table is eating and access the pairing menu to find what goes best with what entrees. apps, etc. and look like a real pro! I chose St. Supery Chardonnay... while I've had their Moscato (fabulous) their Chardonnay was to be a new experience... great bouquet and taste.

After a nice dinner, a stop by Red Square or Rumjungle (both in Mandalay) are good ideas depending on your mood. Red Square is a good Russian Vodka Bar for planting your butt in a bar stool and drinking fine Russian Vodka off of the frozen bar. Yes the white on the bar is actually ice so careful about putting your forearms down too long... but after a few shots... ahhh who cares.

Rumjungle is an eatery by day and a hot dance club by night... so if planting your butt and shooting vodka isn't your deal then go next door to Rumjungle and sip on one of any number of exotic rums and rum drinks while getting down on the dance floor as girls dance with you, above you in cages and on the catwalks (purely PG-13 if you were concerned about the cages). Below is what Rumjungle looks like if you spend too much time in Red Square...

Saturday was all about RELAXING. It was morning breakfast at Egg Works on Flamingo. I have been searching for a good Huevos Rancheros since I experienced it in Colorado, in some small town, on the way back to Denver from Vail. Well Egg Works has it and a really good and varied breakfast menu. The service is great and the food comes out at breakneck speeds. Of course the version I enjoy is called Chili Rancheros there.

Sonny and I took sufficient time to relax by going to the VW dealership to look at replacing her 1996 Ford Explorer with a VW Turbo Beetle. Nice drive and nice car. We will probably stop by later in the week to work a deal on it. I, unlike most, savor hammering out deals at car dealerships and many friends and some family have benefited from my passion for getting a good deal. I am a bit of an insider however as I sold Audi, Mazda and VW for a time... and my Grandfather owned a VW, Audi, Porsche, Mazda dealership in Indiana (I never worked for him... too young) so maybe its in my blood a bit.

After our VW visit it was off to Red Rock Canyon for some hiking... strap on the camel back and we're off. It was a fantastic day for hiking and was in the low 80's, dry and breezy with very light cloud cover.

We did the White-Rock La Madre Springs Loop. The sign says difficult but it really isn't that bad. I wouldn't bring your grandparents out here though unless of course you don't like them. The beauty of the vistas down to the smallest rock are just fantastic. We didn't hike at a brisk pace as there is so much to look at and be in awe of. And during our hike we did see some neat flora and some not so neat, at least to Sonny, fauna.

Now to the fauna that Sonny didn't like... it was a Tarantula about as big as my hand that was crossing the trail. I did the valiant thing and scooted it across the trail with my foot unharmed. That thing probably eats chipmunks for breakfast.

We had run into another couple hiking that had seen a pretty good sized rattler but after canoeing and swimming(not intentionally as I am no "Jackass") with alligators in Florida the only thing that would concern me out in the Nevada desert would be a big cat... and it didn't help that I read about their attacks and recently saw a Discovery or TLC special highlighting people that had been attacked by mountain lions.

Then I thought to myself, this is probably how mountain and desert people feel about going to the ocean and worrying about sharks or hitting Florida lakes and worrying about gators... no worries mate... just be respectful and attentive to your environment.

Now the animals we ran into that litter the desert up in Red Rock are the wild burros...

As for Sunday we spent the morning doing what you would call a fall cleaning and I set up our new hummingbird feeder and replanted some new plants into terra cotta pots... Lavender and Agave... maybe I can make some lavender tequila???

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bend, Oregon

What a great area. You have to fly in via turbo prop so if you don't like that... plan on flying into Portland and making the drive. It's a short hop really... about 35 minutes by plane. If it's no problem then take the plane and maximize your time in Bend. The actual airport is in Redmond which is only about 30 minutes from Bend which is south on 97. The Deschutes river runs right through the oldest part of Bend and a bend in the river is what the town is named after.

I was only going to be in Bend for one night. I arrived at about 12:30am and had client meetings lined up through about 6:00pm... the next day was also a full one and I planned to fly out about 3:00pm.

The entire Bend area is on top of ancient lava flows and there are a lot of interesting geologic features... one of the more interesting(at least to me) are the giant lava tubes. These tubes are formed by surface lava cooling while ultra-hot lava flows through the hardening lava like arteries. At some point the lava flow stops because of cave-in, blockage or the eruption ceasing the supply of lava. The super-heated lava runs out of the tube like water running out of a drain pipe leaving a hallowed out tube. Since lava is pretty structurally sound the tube remains and rarely caves in... what happens in most cases is that sediment left by seeping ground water eventually fills the tube with dirt. If you are in Bend make sure you hike Lava River Cave which runs about 1.5 miles underground before narrowing because of sediment.

One of my clients has a Nicholas and a Fazio designed courses on property. While Fazio's crew was blasting to create a canyon themed hole they discovered a very large lava tube. There are plans to turn this cave into a wine storage area and hold tasting events in the same area... don't be surprised if, when finished, this particular hole doesn't show up in all kinds of golf magazines.

After meeting all day with clients I had worked up quite an appetite and where better to take care of that than downtown Bend. There are some great restaurants all within about a single block. That night it was all about Merenda... a San Francisco style eatery with an interesting and unique menu. There are two other restaurants that I enjoy in Bend as well... Cork with its extensive wine list and great food and Toomies, a Thai restaurant that surprised me with how good it really is... I'm used to great Thai in metropolitan areas but Toomies proved me wrong. down townn Bend is also just a really nice area... like an old western town.... not overrun with branding either though there is a Starbucks near the edge of town... most other businesses are originals... even the theater is a throwback with a big multi-light marquee.

After dinner and a walk around town it was time to check in to my accommodations and relax. I chose to stay at The Inn of the 7th Mountain. They are sort of southwest of downtown... about a 15 minute drive... its a nice resort with large units that are on a bluff overlooking a lake and part of the Deschutes. They have pools, a newly opened restaurant and bar along with a skating rink in the winter. Store, hiking trails... nearly everything you need to have a nice relaxing time... unless you are on business like me :0.

I checked in, dropped of the bags and went down to the bar to have a Johnny Walker Black on the rocks and watch the rest of the Skins/Cowboys game... it got a little harry but can I say... "Hail to the Redskins!"

The next morning it was gorgeous outside and I have to show you the view from my deck at the INN.

I had to push my flight back to 5:40pm because I had to extend a meeting. I did have an opportunity after meetings and on my way to the airport to drive up on Pilot Butte and take some pictures. It is like this giant mound that rises up in Bend that provides a great 360 view of the area. I arrived back in Las Vegas at about 12:30 am and took this shot of the strip from the top of the airport parking garage.

Monday's trip to Oregon

As I am writing this I am sitting on an Alaska airline flight to Portland with a connection to Redmond Airport. It wasn’t too difficult getting up at 5:30 this morning as I knew all packing was done, clothes laid out for the trip and a quick shower, shave and getting dressed was all that was standing between me and hitting the road. The drive to the airport usually consumes about 30 to 45 minutes of my time and with an 8:00am flight I wanted to get there by at least 7:00am.

It seems to me though, when I have everything ready I tend to dawdle a little more as I know I have time and there is no rush… well I dawdled myself into 6:25am and wasn’t in the car till about 6:30am… not leaving much time for any traffic issues or any issues for that matter.

So I was off… and note to self… I need to get up this early on a weekend and head out to Red Rock Canyon. It looks fantastic as the sun rises and casts its early morning light on the mountainside that has broad strokes of red, sand and black rock. I would have pulled over and snapped a shot but tick-tick-tick went the clock.

The drive from my house to the airport on most occasions has me using the 215 or the Las Vegas beltway… It has been getting better as they complete sections but there are still areas that are not finished so you go from 60-80mph to 0mph at stoplights on the freeway. Because parts of the central throughway are still under construction the road diverts in certain areas to what will eventually be exit ramps but now serve as the main road… and what are at the end of exit ramps that lead to local streets? Yes folks, stop lights.

So I was zooming along toward the airport… passed Sahara, passed Flamingo, light at Tropicana… no slow down up over the rise and holy crap! Traffic is backed up about a mile to the next light… 6:40am.

I was going to check my hanging bag but I have carried it on before… so I strategize as to how I can put one of my 2 carry-ons (an LCD projector) in my hanging bag so as to avoid the whole bag check procedure to shave valuable time off the getting to the gate process.

Parked the car, packed the bag, I-Pod on… start walking. Hit the elevator down to the ticket level, which really isn’t the ticket level but has the most direct access to the ticket level across the airport and one floor down. Walk into the airport and conveniently there is the every airline check in kiosks right there. Check in and bam my gate is a D gate, which is also right there. No line in D gate security but C looks like torture for anyone in a hurry… all the way through the zigzag and down the hall.

So I hit my normal security ritual… laptop out and in tray, blackberry, headset, I-pod in the trey with my shoes and my car keys clipped inside my laptop bag. Now normally if I am traveling I wear my cowboy boots or slip on dress shoes but not this time because of the particular suit I was wearing and I have only laced shoes in oxblood (or cordovan as they like to call it now). Oh and I wear a shirt with a pocket so that my boarding pass is visible to the security personnel. Because I now had to put my shoes on and lace them I sat next to a nice older couple also tying their shoes. The woman made the observation that “they (I assume she means “The Man”) sure aren’t making it any easier to travel.” Borrowing from Carlos Mencia, the comedian I said, “If you want to avoid all this just airmail yourself… they don’t check.” Both the man and woman busted out laughing and the man said, “Yeah like that one guy did a couple of years ago. Maybe we will… at least we can keep our shoes on.” Strange that was such big news. I don’t think this was the couple that would be watching Carlos (this was his DVD that I was borrowing from, not his TV show on Comedy Central) I guess that is what good comedians do is bring things into their routines that a large number of people may not have on their current radar but haven’t forgotten.

I arrived at the gate at 7:15am not bad… boarding begins at 7:30am, I now have an aisle, exit row and all I need is a little food and I can relax. Wolfgang Puck made me a nice chicken ceasar salad with a bottled water. All aboard!

Oh and those one armed bandit pullers??? They don't stop till the wallet is empty or they hear their names for the third time over the PA system to board the plane.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Not the relaxing and restful weekend I had hoped for

After a long business and personal trip out to NY, I came home looking forward to an easy weekend and a little R&R before heading out early Monday morning for Bend, OR on business. It was not to be... I mean, I can't say it was horrible but it did nothing to reduce my stress level by anything but a modicum of intensity.

Still on east coast time, I wasn't bursting with energy when TGIF time came around and as a result, after a very busy day, it was all about the pillow. Of course I woke up early Saturday as I stated in my earlier entry.

After our coffee I still had a little work to do to prepare for next week so I was determined to get it done early so I could focus on absolutely nothing for 1.5 days. I was, however, excited to find the Fed-Ex Kinkos web site www.fedex.kinkos.com for servicing all printing needs without the need to go to the store.

You can simply download the software, it adds a button on your office appliations and when you need to send something to printing simply hit the button and follow the steps. My presentation was a 22 page power point that I needed 14 copies of and it consisted of 22 pages. So I downloaded the software and shazam it was on my office tool bar. I had completed the presentation and was contemplating the drive to the nearest Kinkos when I stumbled across this new (to me) tool while browsing the web to see if any newer and closer Kinkos had opened.

If you haven't seen the outskirts of Vegas, there are new strip malls and stores popping up everywhere to support the incredible growth this town has seen... Down by the strip they refer to it as the "Manhattanization" of Las Vegas. The point being, new stores are constantly being added to our plethora of choices.

Back on point, I sent my presentation and was able to chose paper, color, binding type, covers, etc., pay online and set a pickup time (had to be at least 4 hours from order time). I sent the job off feeling very pleased with myself and wanting to share this new tech with my virtual co-workers. So... I fired off an e-mail about the site with a promise to follow up about delivery and execution.

Just as I had finished the e-mail Sonny called wanting to chow on some Sushi and since I had just completed my work for the weekend I was definitely up for it. We went to Brian's Beach Sushi on Flamingo and Durango. They have a good all you can eat sushi deal at $22 and their menu is very broad including appetizers, sushi, nigiri sushi, hand rolls, sashimi and desserts... all included. So we stuffed our faces until... and you know this is probably why I don't do too many all you can eat things anymore as I am always trying to eat my way into the best bargain possible and it isn't always such a good idea... the iron clad stomach of my adolescence has taken some serious battle damage. Fortunately, I walked away from this challenge relatively unscathed and pretty satisfied. The large Sapporro was tasting really good too.

Since we met there we took our separate cars back home... and I don't know about how many of you out there have this competition with friends, partners or spouses but there is this "the fastest way to get somewhere" competition that exists between me and Sonny. I have to admit I have a slight edge as I am driving a Porsche and she is driving a Ford Explorer but as we all remember from drivers ed..speeding gaines you little time in city traffic. She went Flamingo west and I went Durango north... I drove up to the garage... hit the button... the door rose... and the flash of a Ford bumper greeted me... damn, I lost.

I pulled into the garage making an imaginary tally mark on the scorecard, turned off the ignition and climbed out of the cockpit. What was waiting to greet me?? A gloating Sonny... noooo, much worse than that... imagine this sound "ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss" coming from my back left tire. And not a very slight ssssss sound but the kind of ssssss sound you hear when you put your finger on the plunger in the tire inflation stem to let the air out.

Hmmm Z rated tires... can you say Cha Ching... my wallet was screaming in pain at that moment I think. Wondering why I was taking so long to come inside Sonny came out to the garage only to be assaulted by that same sickening sound. "Uh oh" she said. As an aside... if you need tires or any tire related products... this is where I always go and you can't beat the prices and search engine http://www.tirerack.com/

Back inside to relax and do a little PC gaming before going to see "The Wedding Crashers." The movie was to start at 7:40pm and my presentation was to be ready at 10:00pm so we planned to see the movie and then head over to Kinkos for the pickup. I must say The Wedding Crashers was hilarious. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, the snappy wit, high speed talking contrasted against Wilson's laid back whining lend to some great laughs. Definitely worth seeing.

After a great time at the movies Sonny and I headed out to pick up the project... at 10:15 arriving at the counter was it done?


Did they start it?


What was the reason?

System issues

What was the solution?

Now this is where they redeemed themselves somewhat. As you all know a company that is in the business of delivering any type of print media is only as good as their reliability (this including timeliness and quality). Their office manager was very willing to correct the problem and do what was necessary. Of course that required me to go home to pick up my mem stick and physically deliver the file for printing... which I did. He then promised it would be ready by 10:00am the following morning.

This morning I actually slept in a little... getting back into PST. Sonny and Angela were off to do some shopping at a cool vintage clothes store in downtown Las Vegas called The Attic www.atticvintage.com. However, before that could happen it was off to the IHOP for some grub. Below is my breakfast club...

Breakfast which was ok for me was not so ok for others because of a somewhat inept server combined with both Angela and Sonny overcooked steaks didn't start the day off at 100%.

I was now time to test Fed-Ex Kinko's once again by calling at 10:00 to see if they had completed the order... happily their answer was yes.

So I drove over to pick up the job. And sure enough there it was. "Please look over the presentation to make sure it is correct" said the pleasant attendant... I opened the box... it looked great... I turned the page... uh oh the branding bar at the top of each page beyond the first was compacted from about a 3" height to about a 0.5" height... that wasn't in compliance with branding... oops back to the drawing board... convert to PDF, print a test, see what happens. I normally wouldn't post such an uninteresting photo as a copy store in a strip mall but since I will be going back to see them yet again at about 6:00pm while praying they get it right I am going to give my readers (and few there are at this point) the opportunity to see the vision I will have seen 4 times in two days over a single project... I am going to go chill now.
Hmm notice the "FedEx" in prominent colors and the "Kinko's" in an unimpressive grey... matches my experience with them thus far... great delivery of packages and poor delivery of print jobs. Hey that's them calling... wonder if it is done or if there are further problems...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Brians Head, UT. Even though I have a 4x4... somehow directionals don't cut it in the snow. Posted by Picasa

Snowball fight with Lisa on Mt. Charleston, NV. Posted by Picasa

4 Wheeling with my other car in Red Rock a 4x4 Durango R/T Posted by Picasa

Me and Sonny at the Bellagio on Christmas Eve to join in on the festivities Posted by Picasa

Lake Tahoe mountains in the winter. Posted by Picasa

Floods are not uncommon... as are flash floods in Las Vegas. There is a road under all that and it may not look like it but the water is moving at a fast clip. Posted by Picasa