Viva Las Vegas

The first day of October, Honey and I loaded up the car and headed for Las Vegas. This was the first trip that far west for either of us, and we decided to drive and enjoy the scenery along the way.

The first leg of our trip was to Oklahoma City, but we were up early the next morning to head for our friend’s home in Albuquerque. We arrived early enough Sunday afternoon to enjoy dinner with him and a couple of his family members. The view from his apartment complex was insane. The International Balloon Fiesta was being held that weekend and we were hoping to see the launch of the hot air balloons the next morning, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate.

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We headed for the Grand Canyon the next day, and although we were dismayed at the nearly 80-mile trek down a two-lane road to reach the park, we were completely blown away by the view from the canyon’s edge. It was incredible, and there is simply no way to describe it or capture it with a camera. You simply must visit in person to grasp the immensity and beauty of it.

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We headed back the interstate and made our way to Vegas, arriving at our hotel (the Bellagio) just before dark. We were both completely exhausted. The crowded streets that were nearly impossible to navigate, cigarette smoke was everywhere, and we were hungry and irritable. We couldn’t figure out where to eat, so we decided to return to our hotel for the enormous buffet. After standing in line for 20 minutes and paying $90 for 2 plates of mediocre food, we both decided we hated Vegas.

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The view from our room was fantastic though, and we could see the fountains erupting every few minutes.

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Things seemed much better after a good night’s sleep, so we got back in the car Tuesday morning and went to visit the Hoover Dam. Talk about amazing! We ventured onto the bridge that crosses the river via a pedestrian walkway that has interstate traffic zooming by just a couple of feet away. That, combined with the vertigo, made for a very harrowing experience, but the view was breathtaking.

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After crossing the top of the dam by car, we were blown away by how low the water level was compared to the clearly visible water mark on the cliff walls behind the dam.

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We had tickets to see Michael Jackson One by Cirque du Soleil at Mandalay Bay at 9:30pm on Tuesday evening. We arrived a little early and checked out the MJ store attached to the venue. There were also displays of some of Michael’s clothing – including his glitter socks and loafers.

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Given the time and day of the week, I had low expectations for how many people would be at the show, but, man, was I ever wrong! The earlier show had sold out, and ours was completely packed. It was phenomenal in every way. The sound, lighting, dancing, costumes, and attention to detail was some of the best I have ever seen in a live performance, and it was the ultimate tribute to the greatest entertainer of all time.

By our third day in Vegas, we were starting to get familiar with our surroundings and finding decent places to eat. We might have even started liking the place a little.

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The catalyst for the trip was seeing Celine Dion, so I was beyond excited that the time for the concert was quickly approaching. We spent the afternoon walking around, shopping for souvenirs, and even wasted a few dollars on gambling just because we felt like it was kind of appropriate given our location.

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It wasn’t long before we were in line to see Celine, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. Our seats were fantastic, and she sounded even better than I had imagined. She talked quite a bit and was her usual goofy self, but the best part was when several audience members rushed the stage (myself included) for her performances of “River Deep – Mountain High” and “Purple Rain.” She loved the attention, and even told us to stay put while she did a dance routine by the drummer.

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Celine’s spine-tingling performance of “My Heart Will Go On” had her standing inside a ring of falling water. Truly majestic.

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I recorded this short video from our hotel room window on our last night in Vegas. It really captures some of the excitement of the Strip.

We started home Thursday morning, and the leg of the trip between Las Vegas and Denver turned out to be the most beautiful. Utah is probably the most lovely state I have ever been through. As a tree lover, I didn’t know how I would feel about the desert landscape, but it is just amazing. You can see so far that you lose your perception of distance, and there are far more mountains than I expected.

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We began our trek through the Rocky Mountains later that evening. The temperature dropped to around 30 degrees, and it was even snowing/sleeting in the higher elevations. We arrived in Denver around sundown.

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Friday, we drove from Denver to Kansas City, and after a quick stop at the Truman home on Saturday morning, we drove home.

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It was a very long trip, and I don’t ever want to drive that far again, but it was really enjoyable and something I hope to remember for the rest of my life.

Length of Vacation: 8 days
Miles Driven: 3,500+
Hours of Driving: 50+
States Visited: Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois

A moment in time

I just spent a couple of hours scanning some old photos, and looking at pictures of myself from 20+ years ago always leaves me feeling a little depressed.

PhotoScan (94)I look at that young, innocent face and I feel a mixture of jealousy and remorse because he has his whole life in front of him and doesn’t even grasp the significance of it. He doesn’t understand how beautiful he is, and how much his life will change over the next few years.

He has no idea that twenty years later he will be staring at his own photo thinking about how fast the time goes. Or how quickly looks fade and bodies fail. Or how he might have done this thing differently or that one the same.

He is just thinking about how the photo will turn out, or some boy he likes, or what he’s going to do tomorrow.

If I’m fortunate enough to get another twenty years, I’m sure I will look back on this time in my life with the same envy and the same feelings of melancholy.

I guess I’d better start posing for more pictures.

 

Meeting Hillary Clinton

Sunday evening, while watching our local news channel, I learned that Secretary Hillary Clinton would be visiting a restaurant the next morning that was only about 20 minutes from my home. I turned to Honey and suggested he stop by on his way to work, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go myself.

I saw Mrs. Clinton in my area in 2008 when she was competing with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. We stood in line forever before going through intense security, then stood for an even longer period as we listened to introductory speeches from local politicians before finally getting to see Hillary give her stump speech. After she finished and made her way along the front of the crowd, I got close to her, but not close enough to shake her hand or do much more than call her name along with the throng of people around me.

Monday morning’s experience proved to be much more personal.

Honey and I arrived at the restaurant about an hour before she was scheduled to appear, and the parking lot was already filled to capacity, with cars beginning to park in the lots of neighboring businesses. We entered the restaurant to find it was already standing room only, and decided to hang out near the main entrance so we would be guaranteed close proximity to her when she arrived.

Secret Service agents soon appeared and announced that this last-minute stop hadn’t provided them with the time to make proper security preparations, so they would be checking people with metal detectors in order to keep Mrs. Clinton safe. After putting officers in front of the exits to block anyone else from entering, they began wanding the inside occupants.

Several minutes later, we were instructed to move away from the door and stand in the aisles between the restaurant tables. We grumbled aloud, thinking we were going to miss our chance at getting a handshake. Around 45 minutes after her scheduled appearance, Mrs. Clinton walked into the building.

After greeting the restaurant owner and posing for a photo with him, she greeted the crowd and gave a very short speech. She then said she would be greeting everyone. We were ecstatic!

She worked her way through the crowd, laughing and posing for photos, all the while surrounded by national press and security. She was extremely personable, and also much shorter than one would think. She was wearing a pink pantsuit with a scarf tucked into the neckline, and I would describe her as downright grandmotherly. In a cute way, of course.

When she finally got close enough for us to talk to her, Honey introduced himself and then me as his partner of 11 years. She was delighted. He asked if she would pose for a photo with both of us, and as we positioned ourselves, she said she loved the Hillary signature pin I had attached to my jacket. I handed my camera to Alison Grimes (!) who had accompanied Mrs. Clinton on her visit, and we posed for a couple of photos.

Hillary was beginning to move to the next guests when Honey stuck his phone into the air to get a selfie with her in the background, and she unexpectedly leaned in for a few more photos. After he told her he was honored to meet her, and I told her to stay strong, we moved out of the way to make room for other people.

It was only when we got into the car to drive away that it sort of sunk in how incredible the whole thing was. I know a lot of people despise Hillary Clinton, but regardless of what you think of her political views or personal history, this is a woman who was the wife of a very popular governor, First Lady of the United States for two terms, senator from New York for 8 years, and Secretary of State under President Obama. She is one of the most recognizable and powerful women in the world, and I feel very fortunate to have had the pleasure of meeting the person I hope will become the next President of the United States.

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Celebrating 10 years

A couple of weeks ago, Honey and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. Because we aren’t married (and can’t get married in our home state of Kentucky), we annually recognize the day we first met.

We wanted to travel somewhere special for our big year, so we decided on Savannah, Georgia. This was a first visit for both of us, but some of our friends have been there and highly recommended it. We settled on a condo in Tybee Island, which is about 20 minutes from historic downtown Savannah, and made reservations at a few restaurants that looked promising.

Our condo was beautiful and inviting, with floor to ceiling windows facing the Atlantic Ocean. We could sit on our balcony and watch gigantic commercial freighters slowing going out to sea, before they dropped out of sight on the horizon.

View from our condo on Tybee Island.
View from our condo on Tybee Island.

We visited Paula Deen’s Lady & Sons restaurant for lunch on our second day in town, and it was just as delicious as expected. We walked off some of the buttery goodness with a long trek to Forsyth Park to see the famous fountain filled with mermen.

The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah.
The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah.
Fountain at Forsyth Park in Savannah.
Fountain at Forsyth Park in Savannah.
Live oaks with Spanish moss in Savannah.
Live oaks with Spanish moss in Savannah.

The weather was overcast and rainy for the first two days of our vacation, but things changed dramatically when the day of our anniversary arrived. I snapped a photo of a beautiful sunrise from our balcony as my heart almost exploded from contentment.

Sunrise on our 10th anniversary.
Sunrise on our 10th anniversary.

We learned of a movie being shot on the beach about a mile from where we were staying, so we walked there to do a little snooping. Zac Efron’s character takes his grandfather (Robert DeNiro) to spring break in Daytona Beach, Florida, but they chose Tybee Island for filming because it wasn’t as crowded.

Movie shoot starring Zac Efron and Robert DeNiro on Tybee Island.
Movie shoot starring Zac Efron and Robert DeNiro on Tybee Island.
Another view from our condo.
Another view from our condo.

We chose Alligator Soul as our dinner spot for the evening, and it was the nicest restaurant I had ever entered. I felt slightly out of place as our waiter completely reset the table between courses (and even used a crumb scraper on the table cloth), but it was a lovely experience with incredible food.

Lamb chops from Alligator Soul in Savannah.
Lamb chops from Alligator Soul in Savannah.

The next day was our final full day in Tybee Island, so we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather with a dolphin tour. I didn’t really have high expectations, but Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventure knew exactly where to go to get the amazing creatures to interact with the boat. It was definitely one of the high points of our trip!

For our final dinner on vacation, we gorged ourselves on seafood at The Crab Shack. Our “Dinner for Two” included snow crab legs, shrimp, crawfish (yuck), mussels, potatoes, corn on the cob, and sausage. It was pretty amazing. We enjoyed seeing the baby ‘gators outside in the lagoon.

Dinner at The Crab Shack.
Dinner at The Crab Shack.
Young alligators at The Crab Shack.
Young alligators at The Crab Shack.

It is amazing how fast ten years can go by. I am so proud of our relationship, and so thankful to be sharing my life with such an outstanding person. I am looking forward to the future with great hope (here’s looking at you, Supreme Court!), and I feel like one of the luckiest people alive.