Thursday, June 29, 2006


After my little trek up to Mt. Charleston last week, I've been doing a lot of thinking about planning my next camping trip. Once I get past this next financial molehill (first truck payment, insurance, and registration all due at the same time), I can concentrate on heading back to the mountains. I need to break out the camping gear from storage and take inventory and make any necessary repairs.

It's been pretty damn hot here in Vegas this week, summer is officially here, so unless I'm in the pool, I'm generally indoors during daylight hours. But once the sun goes down and it's cool enough to get some fresh air, I like to pour myself an ice-cold vanilla rum & coke, light up a Partagas Black Label, and sit outside watching the night sky.

On the edge of our property, we have a line of mature pine trees providing shade and privacy, and as a bonus, they smell really good, too. That combination of residual heat from the daytime and the scent of pine trees always takes me back to those days at summer camp over 25 years ago.

Living in St. Louis at the time, I was part of the local Boy Scout troop based at our church. Coming from a large family with six kids, family vacations never involved going to expensive places like Disney World--we always went camping for as long as I could remember. So I was cool with being in the scouts. Plus, having four sisters at home, the opportunity to hang out with dudes was a welcome change.

Anyhow, the highlight of my summers from 1979-1981 was going off to scout camp for a week at S-F Scout Ranch located outside of the wonderfully-named village of Knob Lick, Missouri. I looked forward to that every summer more than I looked forward to Christmas in the winter. And since Mormons have their own version of Sharia law that forbids doing practically anything enjoyable on Sundays, I'd always get to go down a day early with a couple of my buddies and set up camp for the rest of the troop that would arrive the next day.

It was hard, sweaty work, setting up all of those huge canvas wall tents and dining flies in the blazing summer sun, dragging around wooden floorboards, and setting up all the cots for everyone else, but I figured out right away that it was a small sacrifice to make sure we got the first choice of campsites and the best equipment. Besides, by 6 pm the first day, the work was done and we were grilling hamburgers and roasting marshmallows out in the woods, while the rest of the troop was still at home preparing to road trip down the next day.

The first night was always the best--there was nobody else around besides the Scoutmaster and a couple of other adult leaders, but of course we set up our campsite as far away from them as possible. The next morning, scores of other kids would arrive as camp officially began on Sunday, but by that time we'd already done our exploring and knew the lay of the land.

Sunday night dinner was provided at the commissary--it was spaghetti & meatballs with salad on paper plates every year, followed by the opening ceremonial campfire. Afterwards it was back to our campsites, and the first night was always the most fun--that's when most of the practical jokes got underway. A favorite at the time was to put an egg under somebody's sleeping bag, so when they sat down on their cot, they crushed it, making a gooey mess. And you and your tent-mate never wanted to be the first ones to go to sleep, because somebody would inevitably toss a smoke bomb in your tent. Fireworks were strictly verboten, but nobody was going to get into much trouble for having smoke bombs.

This particular camp didn't have a dining hall like most summer camps. Two people from each 'patrol' would go down to the commissary and give their troop number and patrol name (Troop 962, Screaming Eagle patrol--I still remember!) and they'd fill up a basket with all of the foodstuffs and ingredients needed for the upcoming meal. Those two guys would be in charge of fetching the food, water, and firewood for the day, two others were in charge of cooking it, and two others were in charge of cleanup. Usually a patrol was 8 guys, so two people got the day off from those responsibilities. But that was the routine for every meal, three times a day--two guys hiking down to get all the stuff, two guys cooking it, and two guys doing the dishes.

Of course hanging around the campfire and eating were always highlights of the week, but that was just a small part of it. During the daytime hours we worked on earning merit badges in subjects like camping, cooking, wilderness survival (who needs matches?), orienteering, pioneering (I can still remember how to pull a wagon load of rocks up a 20% grade with nothing but two wooden poles and a hundred feet of triple-braid rope), rifle shooting, archery, canoeing, rowing, swimming, lifesaving, Indian lore, leatherwork, mammal study, environmental science, astronomy, and conservation. Interesting stuff--great fun to the average 12 year old boy.

Every afternoon we got to do a free-swim for a couple of hours at the lake, and there were plenty of docks and trampolines to jump off of. But you had to follow the rules or suffer the wrath of the 'Swim Boss'. I'll never forget the guy--his name was Gene Schnell. He was about six-and-a-half feet tall and I never saw him wearing anything but Speedos and a whistle. But if you broke the rules, you got to spend your swim time with a coffee can piling sand up to his eyeballs...

Another thing I always looked forward to was the troop float trip. One night during the week, after an early dinner, everyone would load up a sleeping bag, pillow, change of clothes, snacks, and a flashlight in a hefty bag and head down to the lake. We'd leave the relative civilization of the camp behind, and paddle across the lake to some remote area and sleep out under the stars, coming back at first light. Good times!

The highlight of the week was always the Order of the Arrow tap-out ceremony. The Order of the Arrow was like a mini-Elks club within the Boy Scouts, but you had to achieve a certain rank and had to be voted in, so it was kind of a status thing. After dinner on Thursday night, everyone would assemble in a straight line, shoulder-to-shoulder on the path at the edge of the lake. The O.A. members would be in back, and the unwashed heathen non-members would be in front under strict instructions to face forward and stand at attention in a military manner, and not say a word.

There were 'smudge pots' providing light along the pathway, and a huge floating bonfire out in the cove. Then a couple of Indian-style war canoes would paddle around the point with the sound of war drums pounding in the distance. It was all very ceremonial, theatrical, and fun to watch. Anyhow, the guys in the canoes were dressed up in full Indian-style garb--feathers, war paint, the whole bit. One guy was obviously the Chief, and there was much chanting and shooting of flaming arrows and such. Then, two canoes full of 'braves' would land on the shore, the drums would stop beating, they'd light up their torches, let out a war-whoop and then run up and down the line of scouts, 'tapping out' the newly chosen members--that's how you found out you were elected, by getting tapped out.

Getting 'tapped out' was a misnomer in those days, basically the Indian guy (always a huge muscle-bound intimidating soul) would run up, stop right in front of you and punch you in the chest, knocking you on your ass. Of course the members behind you were there to catch you, and cover your mouth before you could say ouch or holy shiat or anything like that. They'd drag you back in the woods and instruct you not to say a word to anyone, but to go back to camp, grab a sleeping bag and go to a certain redezvous point and await further instruction.

But as the pussification of the American yoot has taken hold, there are no more tap-out ceremonies. Nowadays they just call your name out. Wusses.

Anyhow, I got tapped out my second year of camp, and it was quite an adventure, and I was returned to my campsite early the next morning in time for breakfast, none the worse for wear. Bruises heal and chicks dig scars...

Even though there were merit badge classes to attend every day, it wasn't a drudgery--it was always fun. Nobody really wanted to do the environmental sciences stuff, but the Nature area was interesting--scouts were always catching live animals (usually snakes) in camp, and they had cages and such to care for them. One time the guys in the camp next to us managed to catch a Copperhead in their latrine (the stuff nightmares are made of) and some enterprising soul managed to catch a mouse to feed to it. That was a great show. Somebody else managed to catch a blue racer, getting bit about a dozen times in the process--for a nonpoisonous snake, it was a helluva lot meaner than the Copperhead. We caught a pretty cool prairie king snake one year, and the thing really took a liking to me--it the most mellow snake in the world. I'm not one to hang out with reptiles as a matter of habit, but I carried this thing around on my neck for about three days straight.

By the time Friday rolled around, most of the work on the merit badges was finished, so the afternoon was spent down at the lake participating in water activities and contests. There was the six-man canoe race that was always fun, and the greased watermelon chase was good for a lot of laughs. Once the fun stuff was over, it was time to take a shot at the mile swim. I did it all three years, no problem at all, but I was amazed at how many people cramped up and had to be hauled out of the water by the lifeguards in the rowboats.

That pretty much wore you out for the night, but one Friday night tradition was always the troop-wide water fight, under the guise of 'cleaning the showers'. This was in the days before super-soakers and the like, so we just used empty coffee cans and water balloons. It was always great fun and a wonderful way to spend the last night at camp, plus it gave the opportunity to settle scores that always seemed to be a part of camp life, in a sanctioned manner.

Breaking down camp and going home was always the least enjoyable part of the week, especially when you learned from fellow campers that some troops were staying for two weeks straight. But the opportunity to wear clothes that didn't smell like smoke and use a real flushing toilet again had an appeal all it's own, and it was always nice to get home. But after a week or so, I was always ready to go back.


Honorary Northstar C.I.T.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

She's No Renata Tebaldi

Since I'm unable to sleep at night anymore, doing all my snoozing during the hours between 6am and noon, I spend a lot of time during the week watching late-night TV. There's usually not much on, although my favorite channels (History Channel, Discovery Channel, Military Channel, Travel Channel, Food Network) all repeat their programming every three or four hours, so I don't miss much. But surfing around last night on the movie channels, I came across the most colorful description of a movie (another of the wonders of digital cable) I'd ever seen, so I paused the tv and took the time to write it down:

Godzilla and a flying cyborg jet jaguar meet a giant cockroach and a big black chicken sent by the Seatopians.

After reading that, who wouldn't want to see that movie???

Unfortunately, it was still a couple hours away when I wrote it down, and I got distracted and forgot about it until this morning. Damn. I should've recorded it.

On the plus side, I got to see my all-time favorite episode of Frasier, entitled 'Out with Dad'. In case you haven't seen it, it's the one where Frasier talks his dad into going to the opera with him on Valentine's Day and hooks up with a gal across the theatre who also has 'season tickets' (played by another all-time favorite icon of old hotness, Marg Helgenberger) . Marty, trying to avoid an uncomfortable matchup with the gal's unattractive mother, lets them believe that he is gay. The comedy really picks up as they bring over a gay friend for him and he's unaware that he's on a date. It's easily the most clever and well-written episode of the entire series, and every time I see it, I laugh my ass off for the entire show. I think that particular episode actually won an Emmy or Peoples Choice award of some sort, too.

So that's how I spent my night off, eating chips and salsa, watching an old man pretending to be gay, and wishing I'd stayed awake to see Godzilla vs. Megalon.

Life just doesn't get much better than that, does it?


Middle of the Night

Hey Gang...

Sorry that I haven't posted much in the past couple of days, but I've been pretty bored lately. Not a whole lot going on around here, and since I'm scrimping and saving most every dime this month, my adventures are somewhat tame.

But I'm wide awake, sipping on a delicious rum concoction, and attempting to post something of interest to my handful of regular readers. My most influential composition teacher back in college always told me that if I was suffering from writers' block that I should just sit down and spend fifteen minutes writing about whatever mundane shiat pops into your head, and inspiration will eventually come. This is my attempt to do just that...

Oh, and those of you who may be tut-tutting about me enjoying a tall rum cocktail at 4 am on a Wednesday morning, remember that it's only 4 am on a Wednesday morning to the rest of the world, but it my world, it's Sunday afternoon. Brother Jimmy was absolutely right--it's five o'clock somewhere.

Last week damn near wore me out--I did five straight nights of dice dealing. It was quite an accomplishment, as I survived the first three nights without killing one of my fellow crewmembers--the most obnoxious and disgusting human being I have the displeasure to know, and I also survived eight hours dealing to "Hoppin' Bob"--probably the most difficult dice player that frequents our tables. Nice guy, easy to get along with, and a decent tipper, but after eight hours of him, you feel like you've been ten rounds with Mike Tyson.

The guy has a seemingly bottomless pocket of hundred-dollar bills that he gladly pisses away when he visits, and the words 'same bet' are nowhere to be found in his vocabulary. He keeps the stickman busy by having a half dozen prop bets going on every roll, along with pressing or changing every place bet after each toss of the dice. As soon as the dice land, he's rattling off instructions like a machine gun and tossing checks around the table like an old man at the deli trying to send back the soup sitting on a bench feeding the pigeons. Not so bad when he's alone, but on a full table it can get a little busy. I bent over to set up his bets at 6:00 pm and I swear I didn't stand up straight again until two in the morning... But as the boss said, eight hours of him is like spending a month dealing at any other table. It was good practice, although I certainly didn't enjoy doing it at the time.

Anyhow, five nights straight of dice dealing, especially with some of our regular players, has a tendency to suck the life out of you, so when I finally made it home early on Tuesday morning, I was exhausted, spending most of my day in bed recharging the batteries.

Before coming home, though, I went out with a few of my friends to drink a few beers and shoot some pool. Of course, I've never really enjoyed shooting pool that much, so I spent a little more time on the beer-drinking side of the equation. But since I was worn out and it was still about a hundred degrees outside at four in the morning, I couldn't decide if I wanted beer or just a bottle of water. So I found a happy medium and spent the morning sucking down a sixer of Michelob Ultra.

We had a great time drinking our free beers while gossiping and bitching about work. My lipstick-lesbian friend Candace brought up an excellent subject for discussion--What would our 'desert island' albums and dvds be if we could only pick three each. Regular readers know my first two album choices, but I couldn't decide on a third. I did learn however, that one of my buddy's favorite artists is David Allen Coe. I would've never suspected that, since he's such a clean-cut, preppy, Lexus-driving, married-to-a-cocktail-waitress father of two little girls.

After talking about music for awhile and moving onto favorite dvd's, the conversation pretty much devolved into four drunks standing around a pool table tossing out lines from Dazed & Confused. Good times!

Although this past week at work wore my ass out, it's been well worth it. Our daily toke amount has been going up significantly lately, in complete contrast to bigger Strip properties. The neon telegraph is a wonderfully efficient industry scuttlebutt provider, and last week when we were getting $165-$200 per day, word around the campfire was that places like the Venetian and Hard Rock, typically huge-toke jobs, had a few days where they didn't crack a hundy.


I didn't go to poker school yesterday--the World Series started on Monday, and since I was unable to enter the first event like I'd been planning on for several months, I'm pretty ambivalent about the whole thing now. Besides, half of the guys I went to school with got jobs working the tournament, so if I went to class it would just be me and a bunch of newbies. I'll probably go back today, just for the practice, but again, any thoughts of a second job are on hold until this whole shift-bid thing works itself out at the end of next month.

As far as school goes, I'm pretty much finished. A couple of days of practice is all I need, then I'll need to re-do my final evaluation. Then it'll be 'officially' over. Of course, I never officially finished dice or blackjack school, but I was so tired of classes that I just quit going and went out and found a job. Just like college.

Besides school and work, I need something else to keep my brain from turning to mush, so I do a lot of reading. On my days off, I like to browse the bargain racks at the front of the store down at Barnes and Noble. Of course I pick up the latest sailing magazines, too, but my latest find was a 500-page masterpiece called W.C. Privy's Original Big Fat Bathroom Companion. Great summer reading, and you don't have to be in the smallest room in the house with your drawers around your ankles to enjoy it. On the more serious side, I got my hands on a paperback edition of Flags of Our Fathers, and I'm looking forward to digesting that over the next few days, too.


Monday, June 26, 2006


You know I don't need a miracle but I could use a push in the right direction...

Coming home from work tonight, I popped in one of my favorite cd's from the mid-90's, The Refreshments' Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy (gotta love that Tempe sound!). I haven't listened to it for several months, maybe years, and hearing it took me back to life as it was ten years ago. At the time, I was sharing a house with probably the strangest roommate I ever had--he was the original 40-year old virgin, but not in a funny-ha-ha way, more in a funny-strange way. I was working for a crappy startup company doing database research making crappy money (thinking I'd stay there for the long haul like the dudes at Microsoft and end up being a go-zillionaire like Forrest Gump after the hurricane) and driving my POS 280 zx with no air conditioner.

One night that summer, my guitar teacher, Jack Wolf from the band Attitude Cat, invited me to come see them play that weekend at one of the greatest dive bars ever, The Mesa Lounge. To call it a dump would be an insult to all of the proper landfills out there. But there it was, tucked into the corner of a run down strip mall in what nice folks would call an 'economically diverse' area of town.

Of course the band rocked the house and I laughed out loud when some redneck gave me the great (future) idea to yell 'FREE BIRD' whenever the band took a quick pause between songs. But I was having a helluva time drinking my two-dollar Bud Lite, listening to some great classic rock, and watching the crowd--obviously a roomful of extras from five seasons' worth of COPS.

The band was a five-piece, sometimes six, but that depended on if Billy the 'other singer' was in jail or not. If he wasn't spending time as a guest of Sheriff Joe out in Tent City, he'd be on stage doing all of the high-pitched stuff like AC/DC or Guns & Roses. I've never seen anybody that could cover Axl as well as Billy the jailbird. And, well, if he was back in jail on any particular weekend, they'd just skip that stuff and play more hillbilly rock.

Anyhow, after the first two sets, the waitress told me that all my beers were free, courtesy of the owner because he wanted to talk to me.

And that's how I got a second job that summer making $50 a night working the door every weekend and taking out all of the empty beer bottles at the end of each night. I also got to be good friends with the bartender Rob, and by the end of the summer I moved out of the house with the 40-year-old virgin and into a better place with Rob and his girlfriend Elizabeth.

(Quick story about the weird roommate--one night, during the summer Olympics in 1996 from Atlanta, I brought a girl home with me. We came in the front door, and the roommate was sitting in the living room recliner watching tv. Whatever he was watching involved much screaming and cheering. Thinking we were going to catch the USA winning another gold medal, we stopped in the living room for a second to see what all the fuss was about. Not only was the guy wearing only tighty whiteys, but the entire rest of the country was glued to the Olympics at the time, and he was watching American Gladiators. In his underwear. On a Friday night... We made a hasty retreat to the bedroom and didn't emerge until the next day when we were sure the coast was clear).

Anyhow, I eventually moved out of there and into a much better spot a few miles away in Gilbert. A few months later, around 10 at night, my doorbell was ringing. My brother, the Reverend Dave, showed up with all of his clothes in a suitcase and told me that he and his freak-ass first wife were splitting up.

Oh hell yeah! Everyone in our family hated her--we knew it wouldn't last and it only took Dave about two years or so to come to his senses.

Anyhow, it was cause for celebration, so we headed out to Walgreens and bought a couple packs of Swisher Sweets and Dutch Masters, then headed to the liquor store for a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, and we sat out on my screened-in back patio smoking the worst cigars and the harshest Scotch in the history of mankind's vices until the wee hours, laughing it up and enjoying his newly-found freedom.

That's how I got started smoking cigars. Luckily my tastes have improved in the years since that night. If I'm drinking Johnny Walker, it's gotta be Blue Label. And Partagas Black Labels are my cigar of choice. We ended up giving the bottle of Red Label to Rob--he was a varsity alcoholic. But it was so harsh that even he could only drink about half of it before giving up and pouring it down the sink...

Ten years under the bridge. Luckily my fortunes have improved somewhat. Sadly, it seems that the music world has been unable to keep up.

Now I just have to get the good reverend to finally burn me a copy of The Pistoleros Hang On To Nothing cd. They were another fantastic Tempe band from that era that should've gotten huge, but didn't. One time, at the height of their popularity, I ran into the lead singer in the mens' room at America West Arena, and he recognized me from the audience at a couple of their other gigs. I had to teach him the no-handshaking-in-public-restrooms rule, but that's a story for another time...

At least it wasn't the mens' room at the Mesa Lounge.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Pressure & Time

Sometimes, I have a weird outlook on life. For the past four or five years, I've told myself that besides clothing, food, and other essentials, I don't want to buy anything that won't fit on my future sailboat.

Of course, I've made exceptions for things like a new office chair and a bookshelf that were deemed 'essential', but overall, I've been pretty good about sticking to my commitment. The only luxuries I afford myself these days are cigars, rum, books, and the occasional DVD. Necessity will dictate the purchase of a new computer and digital camera very soon, because keeping up this website seems to have grown into quite a hobby for me, but other than that, I don't buy much 'stuff'. I've always thought that it would be better to have stories and experiences rather than stuff, anyways, so I'm perfectly content to have everything I own fit in my bedroom, my driveway, and my storage unit. And my usual big-ticket expenditures are usually for trips--cruises, long vacations, etc.

Unfortunately, a sailboat is a huge initial expense, and a significant ongoing one. I had a pretty good plan in place about six years ago--purchase an appreciating asset, my condo, live in it and pay it down, (I had a 20 year mortgage on it instead of a 30-year one, also) and when the time came, sell it off and use the money to buy a boat, and take whatever savings and investments I had and use them to live off of until I was lost at sea or 'went bamboo' in some tropical paradise and swallowed the anchor, cavorting with native girls and drinking rum until they toss my old dead carcass into the nearest volcano.

Now, at 39 years old, I'm starting all over again. I was hoping to get out there by the time I was 55, but just running the numbers, even 60 looks optimistic. Now I have to figure out how to get my hands on another appreciating asset (and hold on to it this time!). Even with the new truck, I'm still able to save a bit of money, now that I'm mostly debt-free, and my years in the brokerage industry have taught me a few tricks that will absolutely help me make a little bit of money in the stock and options markets. And hopefully this new truck will last several hundred thousand miles, the wheels finally rusting off just as I cast off my last dock line, keeping me from a lifetime of car payments that everyone else in the world (well, my corner of it) doesn't seem to especially mind.

That's probably why I'll never lease a vehicle. I know, I know-- conventional wisdom says that you should buy appreciating assets, like real estate, but lease depreciating assets, like cars. Unfortunately, I'm old fashioned because I went through my own personal Great Depression, and having the bank send the repo man after you is quite a trying experience. I just figure that if I'm leasing a vehicle, as long as I want to continue driving, somebody else is going to be controlling me. That ain't gonna happen. And I'll never finance a boat, either. This means that I'm going to have to come up with about a quarter million or more to purchase and properly outfit the kind of boat I want.

Anyhow, I guess the point to all of this rambling is that I need to hurry up and get that second job dealing poker. Of course, that's kind of on hold until this new shift bid works itself out--who knows what my schedule will be like come August.

But numbers don't lie. If I'm working five days a week dealing poker (in addition to my regular job), and saving $150 per day, it'll take me just short of eight years to save up $300,000. That's without interest or capital gains. Of course, that's assuming that I can actually save almost every dime I'd make dealing poker (an unlikely assumption, at best). If I give myself the full 15 years, I won't have to kill myself to get there and I should have quite the nice little nest egg available at that time.

Fifteen years.

It only took Andy Dufresne 16 years to tunnel his way out of Shawshank. I can beat that. And dealing the cards and dice in Vegas beats crawling through a river of shiat anytime. But a man will do just about anything to pass the time, so I've got some chords to memorize and some Jimmy Buffet tunes to learn. So I guess I should probably go ahead and buy a guitar, too. But not to worry--it'll fit on a sailboat.


Toes In the Sand

It's 107 balmy degrees here in America's Playground, and just a few degrees lower than that indoors at the Hurricane Hole. Living in our vintage 1960's-era swinging bachelor pad, with more un-opening windows than walls, is sort of like living in a greenhouse with shag carpeting. It's a groovy pad, baby, but the air conditioners just can't keep up.

But here I am, sipping on a steaming hot cup of coffee this afternoon, surfing for any new sailing books that I haven't already read or put on my wishlist. Unfortunately, there are none. But I'm in a tropical mood, again, this time because I found some coconut-creme flavored Coffeemate at the grocery store last week. So a splash of that in my hazelnut java, and these palm trees I see from my bedroom window (wall) might just as easily be swaying in trade-wind breezes on the shore of some distant Caribbean island instead of defining the property line between my back yard and the next subdivision where every house looks like it was built by Taco Bell's chief architect.

But as I pen that last sentence, I sip the last bit of coconut-infused coffee from my well-worn ceramic mug, and realize that the nearest ocean is 200 miles and several months away.

Maybe I should switch to drinking the hard stuff. That always brings me back to Vegas...


Answer: The World Cup

Question: What does the World Athletic Supporter hold?

Forgive me for being a Cretin, but I just don't get it. Soccer, to me, is just about the most boring sport I've ever tried to watch, except for maybe Olympic Curling (but at least there is some great unintentional comedy whenever curling hits the tube). I've tried to be open minded about it, but I just can't get into it. I work in a casino, and it's easily the biggest international melting pot I've ever been a part of, so all of my co-workers have been following the fortunes of their home-country's teams with almost religious fervor. I'm sorry, but compared to the more traditional American sports, I just don't find it the least bit interesting.

And most of my fellow citizens don't either.

If soccer was ever going to catch on in the USA, this would have been the year. The soccer geeks have been telling us for ten years or more that it's just about to explode here in the States, but the big bang remains unheard and unseen. And after the World Cup ends next month, soccer--in this country--will go back to it's rightful place in obscurity, somewhere between the European passions of cycling and Caber-tossing.

Yep, thousands of kids in this country play soccer, but they usually stop around the time they hit high school and discover the less strenuous delights of weed and the opposite sex. My guess is that all of the mini-van driving parents out there enroll their spawn in youth soccer just to wear the kids out so that when they get home it's easier to make them sit down and shut up.

But I've tried to take an interest this year. And ESPN, bless their thumpin' gizzard, is ramming it down our throats at every given opportunity. Even after the USA was eliminated from competition, they're still running the World Cup coverage as the top story on their webpage. As if we give a shiat. Isn't Wimbledon going on right now? Or the baseball all-star game coming up? And we can't forget the annual Larry Brown drama from the NBA... Nope, it's all soccer, all the time. Ugh.

But since there is so much coverage, it's impossible to escape it. That provides a little bit of comedy... Such as, we all know what a soccer ball looks like, right--All those little black and white pentagons? Well, just the other day I caught a glimpse of the official World Cup soccer ball:


Ok, maybe they were going for a modified baseball-style stitch to appeal to the American audience. Nice try, but it looks to me like somebody just covered the damn ball with maxipads.

The European police blotters are also a good source of entertainment, as I was reading one account of a couple of drunken hooligan fans who were taunting some free-roaming peacocks in one of the neighboring city parks. I guess the peacocks didn't like it, and attacked one poor unfortunate soul to the point that it cost him a trip to the emergency room. Just goes to show that if somebody is going to get their ass beat by Nature's Drag Queen, it would be a soccer fan.

But I'll stick to my American style futbol, if you don't mind. I love the violent ground-acquisition game that we play--I think it appeals to the American warrior spirit. There's a winner, a loser, and sometimes somebody gets hurt. Soccer, on the other hand, is a bunch of prissy guys running around and screaming for hours on end, most of the time accomplishing nothing. Too much like the U.N. or E.U., if you ask me.

I think the folks at had it right the other day when I found this gem:

At first this Associated Press dispatch sounded like bad news:

There was no glory for the United States at this year's World Cup, only frustration and failure.

Done in by their own mistakes and a crucial penalty call, the Americans lost to Ghana 2-1 Thursday in a game they had to win to advance past the tournament's first round.

But don't worry. We did some research, and it turns out they were only playing soccer. And let's be honest: People who play soccer deserve to lose to Ghana.

Yep, that about sums it up.


Friday, June 23, 2006

A Little Pizza Follow-up

Well, Dave P. asked, and I kind of hedged my answer to the question of which is better, New York Pizza & Pasta on the west side or Metro Pizza on Tropicana.

I had lunch today at Metro Pizza, like I do most payday Fridays, and I can now officially say that New York Pizza & Pasta is better. Metro is damn fine pizza, to be sure, but I don't think it officially qualifies as 'New York style' pizza. No individual slices are available (except at the Ellis Island outlet), and the crust is too thick.

And my biggest pet peeve of eating at Metro--it takes for-farking-ever to get a beer in the place. If your dining companions order soft drinks or just water, no problemo, they come right away, but you have to wait about ten minutes to get your beer. And it seems to be against the rules to have the person who took your order actually fetch the said beer. I don't know what the problem is, but it drives me nuts. The same thing happened a few weeks ago when I took David and Angy there, and that's when I realized that ordering a beer at Metro takes an act of God.

It's happened time and time again and it really irks the shiat out of me.

Otherwise, the service is top-shelf and the pizza is excellent. But New York Pizza & Pasta makes a more authentic gotham-style pie. And it's a bit cheaper, too.

You wanted me to pick a winner, so there it is.


Two Short Weeks

That's all, less than two short weeks until Captain Jack returns in this most anticipated sequel. I cannot wait to see it. If I'm not in the theatre on opening weekend, I have a lunch date set up for Monday the 10th--maybe I can talk her into seeing it with me.

A great way to spend the afternoon, I would think.



Last night at work went by fairly quickly--instead of my usual 8-4, I was in from 5-1, getting home at a much more reasonable hour, too.

But on the way home, I stopped at the local Shell station and filled up the tank again. First lesson learned--do not attempt to top off a Dodge Dakota. When the pump clicks off, not only is the tank full, but so is the feeder tube all the way to the neck. Now you know.

My gas gauge was indicating only a half tank (and it's a 22 gallon tank), yet the trip odometer that I reset Wednesday morning before taking my road trip only showed about 159 miles on it. Rough calculations in my head told me that I was the proud new owner of a monsterous gas guzzler. While pumping I was trying to justify it by telling myself that I spent a whole helluva lot more time climbing those mountains than I did coasting down, plus I spent a lot of time sitting in traffic once I got back to town.

Well, the pump switched off before I even got nine gallons in the tank ($3.03 for mid-grade), much to my relief. Further evidence that the gas gauges on automobiles are only accurate on 'Full', unlike airplanes, where the gas gauges are only accurate on 'Empty'.

I wrote down all of the exact numbers and as soon as I got home I calculated that even with all of that climbing and driving in the rarified air of the Spring Mountain Range, and all of the mid-afternoon stop-and-go of the spaghetti bowl at the north end of town, my new truck got over 18 miles per gallon--much better than the Lincoln, and even better than my previous Nissan four-banger. I was very impressed. And I'd be surprised if that number doesn't improve with the next tank.

Anyhow... Work was cool last night. I'm getting a break from Chinatown and dealing dice all this week. Well, at least four nights out of five. And coming in at five pm instead of eight makes the shift just fly by. We were so busy on a couple of my rotations that I was surprised when I was being tapped out for breaks.

As soon as I got in, one of the floor supervisors came by with these big gaudy bright-yellow buttons advertising the Jumbo Jackpot or some other such nonsense that we had to pin on our shirts. I told her that it wasn't in my contract to wear propaganda, but then she told me that I needed to read the fine print, shut up, and wear my flair.


Of course, when I went on break at 7:20 and all of the eight o'clock dealers started trickling in, they saw it and wanted to know what it was for (you could see the bright yellow cheeziness long before you could read the tiny text on it). So whenever one of the chicks on my shift passed me in the back hallway and asked me what the button was for, I replied, "It says Press here for good lovin'". Yep, that was a pretty good conversation starter...

Anyhow, after my shift was over, I left the button on the shirt and tossed the whole thing down the laundry chute. Hopefully tonight I can get away with less-than-the-required-amount of flair.

And speaking of work, I found out that all of the dealers will have to re-bid on all of their shifts within the next couple of weeks. It seems that our new casino director is quite ambitious, and seems to like change just for changes sake.

Thinking my seniority was pretty good, having been hired in May of last year, I thought I might change my days off or something. But no, they're going by 'Date of Full-Time Status', which for me was in January, and as luck would have it, they've promoted nobody else to full time since then. So guess who gets the last leftover shift after everyone else had done their bidding. I'll give you a hint, his initials are Hurricane Mikey...

Luckily, nobody wants swing shift--everybody wants day shift or graveyard, so I probably won't have to change from that. But my days off are very likely to change--I can't help that. Although, a rough guess is that most people want Mondays off--not too many people want Tuesdays and Wednesdays like I have. If I have to change 'em, no biggie. But I'd prefer to stay right where I am, or maybe have Monday-Tuesday off instead. We'll see.

Of course I'll keep everyone updated on any schedule changes that might interfere with future buffoonery.

In the meantime, I'm tired and I'm going to bed, satisfied in the knowledge that we don't have to hear about the thugs and pimps in the NBA again until November. Football season is just around the corner.

Oh hell yeah.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Day Like Today

Earlier today, I was spending some quality time in the pool, catching some rays and enjoying a rum-based cocktail. There was a slight breeze tickling the surface of the water and bringing a momentary chill upon contact with wet skin.

It reminded me of a conversation I had almost two years ago with a couple of complete strangers. It was during our first full sea day aboard the Carnival Elation. We were southbound from Galveston, halfway across the Caribbean, heading for Mexico. I had a bucket of ice-cold Coronas and a Veranda-deck jacuzzi all to myself, entranced by the blue water passing under our keel and thinking to myself that life just didn't get much better.

Then a couple of bikini-clad gals from Texas decided to join me.

They sat on either side of me, and of course I offered them a beer from my stash. They accepted and the usual smalltalk ensued for a few minutes. One of them mentioned what a perfect day it was, and I just threw out the comment I wonder what the poor people are doing today...

Without hesitation, one of the gals answered We're sitting in the hot tub with you!

Laughs all around, and the next time a waitress made an appearance, another bucket of Corona was ordered. We drank 'em all while lounging the afternoon away under that hot Caribbean sun, laughing it up like old friends.

The sunburn was worth it.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Slice of the Big Apple

Those of you who know me or have been reading my stuff for any length of time know of my never-ending quest to find excellent New York style pizza in the cities that I call home. Nashville--forget it--there was none to be found. In Phoenix, NYPD Pizza on Highland was about as close to Nirvana as I could get without airfare and a cab ride across the Brooklyn bridge to Fulton Street. (Although, word on the street is that Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix is considered the very best by discriminating pie-o-philes. Sadly, I didn't even know about the place before I moved away almost four years ago...)

Since I've been in Vegas, my quest has continued, but I'm pretty much content with the idea that Metro Pizza is about the best pizza found in the city. I love the individual nine-inch pies, they are perfectly sized and have a wonderful crust. The problem, however, is that if you order a large pizza at Metro, the crust changes completely from NY-style thin, to something thicker, almost on the order of Domino's (but thankfully much tastier). So the secret to having excellent pizza at Metro is to stick with the individual pie and order no more than two toppings.

As a bonus, Metro Pizza on Tropicana is just a few minutes away from my house, so I manage to eat lunch there at least twice a month, more if any of the constant stream of visitors I pick up at the airport are hungry for lunch before checking in to their hotel rooms and attacking the green felt.

But don't even try to get good authentic NY-style pizza at the most obvious place, the New York New York Casino & Hotel food court. Their sad offering will make anyone living south of the Cross-Bronx Expressway recoil in horror faster than a Derek Jeter trade rumor. It's just plain bad. Actually, terrible is more like it.

Anyhow, back when I was a wet-behind-the-ears dice dealer at the Golden Gate casino, two of the guys on my crew were born-and-bred native New Yorkers. And whenever the game went dead, if we weren't talking about women or sports, we were talking about food. I told them of my quest to find good NY style pizza-by-the-slice, and they both heartily recommended NY Pizza & Pasta, west of The Strip out on Jones and Sahara. 'Recommended' isn't quite enough of a word to describe their enthusiasm--they both raved about how it was the only pizzeria in Vegas that had pies good enough to remind them of home. They also told me that they ate there every chance they got.

That was good enough for me.

Since I don't often venture out to the west side, I filed that info away under the 'someday' file. Well folks, someday was today. Driving back from Mt. Charleston this afternoon, I was getting pretty hungry, having only had a Powerbar and a bottle of cold Starbucks vanilla frappuccino from the convenience store earlier this morning when I gassed up the truck on my way out of town. So when I saw the exit for Jones Blvd, I remembered the recommendation and pulled off the highway.

Since I was traveling south, and the restaurant is on the northeast corner, it took some creative u-turning skills in the heavy traffic to get into the parking lot. The first thing I noticed were a couple of Metro Police cars parked out front, and my first thought was Uh oh, the place got robbed. Of course, my second thought was This joint must be good because cops always eat at the best places...

Nope, they weren't robbed--turns out that Vegas' finest also enjoy a slice or two of good pizza as much as I do.

I walked into the storefront restaurant and was surprised at how big it was--it looked like it started small but eventually took over their neighbors spaces and knocked out the walls to expand the dining room. There were no waiters or waitresses, you just walked up to the counter and ordered directly from the nice Jewish-Italian lady from New York, who immediately called out the order to the dough-flinging pizzaiolo about ten feet away in front of the huge gas oven. Not missing a beat, he kept the dough spinning in the air and yelled the order back for confirmation.

Two slices of pepperoni & sausage, with a large root beer came to about $7 and change. Unfortunately, my only beef with the place is that it's a Pepsi restaurant, not a Coke restaurant, which is why I went with root beer. Since it was such a hot day, I would've preferred a couple of bottles of St. Louis's finest macrobrew, but didn't much care to have all the boys in blue sitting at the next table seeing me draining the suds and then getting back on the road.

The restaurant itself was not fancy at all--typical square tables covered in plastic red & white checkered tablecloths, with black pleather banquet chairs for seating. Silk flowers from Michael's provided the tabletop ambiance, although I probably would've preferred an old Chianti bottle with a candle stuck in it. At least they had the good sense to pipe in Sinatra music instead of TV's blaring ESPN or the news.

A few minutes later, the cashier/housemother delivered my tray of piping hot New York City goodness. I gave it a light sprinkle of parmesan and snapped a quick picture.

I followed the proper protocol and promptly folded the first slice in half. Even before the first bite, I was impressed--the outside of the crust actually cracked, but the inside held together, indicating the perfect combination of crunchy and chewy that most pizza crusts fall desperately short of. Not this time. And the tip didn't sag either, another good sign.

The first bite gave that wonderful combination of pleasure and pain--excellent flavor, yet still hot enough to burn the room of my mouth. A pizza eater's slice of heaven.

The entire slice was excellent--the crust was cooked to perfection, and there was just enough cheese and sauce to compliment the toppings without overpowering them. Forgetting my duties as a reviewer, I almost downed the first slice before I remembered to snap a picture of the bottom of the crust.

It too, was impressive--as nothing ruins a good slice of pizza more than undercooking, which for some reason almost every pizza chain in the world is guilty of. Notice the satisfying puddle of grease left behind on the pan--it just doesn't get any better than that.

The only small critique I have (other than serving that vile Pepsi shiat) is that they don't offer fresh basil on the pizzas. When the cashier lady came around to refill my drink, I asked her if fresh basil was available, and she said not on the pizzas. They have a full menu with salads and pasta and such, but the kitchen is separate from the pizza-making operation out front, and thus no greenery. A small oversight, but an important one, especially for an authentic place like that.

Lack of basil aside, it was an excellent experience. The service was good--everyone working there sounded like they were from The City, and the food was excellent. The boys on the dice crew were right--they make some fine pies at NY Pizza & Pasta.

I will be back--I just have to find an excuse to cross The Strip, that's all.


NY Pizza & Pasta
2400 S. Jones
(Northeast Corner of Jones and Sahara, west of the Vegas Strip)
Open 7 days a week from 10:30 am to 9:00 pm

Run to the Hills

Hey gang, sorry I didn't post at all yesterday, but again I was one of the last people on my shift to get out of the casino early on Tuesday morning, so I came straight home and got a couple of hours of sleep before getting up and heading back to poker school.

Yep, I was fairly rusty. After a couple of hours, Candy (the gal that rescued me on the side of the road on the night the Sled died) and I snuck out and went to lunch at the Johnny Rocket's up on Paradise, across from the Hard Rock. It was damn good--we both got milkshakes and burgers and spent a handful of nickels playing cheesy oldies on the tabletop jukebox.

After lunch it was back to school to do the weekly no-limit tournament, where of course I didn't do so well... except for the dealing part--I did fine with that. But the tourney didn't end until almost 8 pm, so I came home after a quick drive-thru at Del Taco, surfed the net for awhile, and went to bed after watching a most entertaining episode of Entourage on the Tivo.

I got up early (for me) this morning, topped off the gas tank on the new truck and headed up to Mt. Charleston. I was actually very surprised at just how close it is to the city. If you're taking Hwy 95 north towards Reno, it's the next turnoff past the end of civilization (the Durango exit marks the beginning of the Nevada frontier). About 15 miles up the hill from the turnoff (State Rd 156, I believe) and you're deep into Kyle Canyon and a beautiful and dense pine tree forest.

I put the most appropriate driving-across-the-American-southwest music I had, U2's Joshua Tree, in the cd player and drove all the way to the end of the road, where the elevation changed from about 2500 feet here in the desert surrounding Vegas, all the way up to 8000+ feet. It was easily 20 degrees cooler up there, and of course the breeze carried the scent of pine and juniper, so I spent most of my time up there driving around with the windows down enjoying the fresh air and incredible scenery.

The Spring Mountains visitors center in Kyle Canyon--just before Superman made an appearance.

Another view from the visitors center--this time looking up the canyon towards Mt. Charleston

As nice as Kyle canyon was, the two campgrounds there left much to be desired--too close to the road and the individual campsites were much too close together. So after a quick stop at the (closed) visitors center, I drove back down the canyon and took the spur road (158) that runs across the eastern edge of the Spring Mountains over to Lee Canyon. First of all, that road is a serious climb. I'm not sure if the elevation hits 9000 feet in altitude, but it comes very close. There was also a place called Hilltop Campground I tried to find, but couldn't, but came upon an outpost up there with a high school that was literally in the middle of nowhere on top of a winding and very narrow mountain road.

I have no idea which team plays here, but I'm guessing that their kicker can hit 80-yard field goals.

Once past the summit, the road came to a T, and I followed the signs toward the camping and ski areas. I immediately liked Lee Canyon much better--it was bigger and more beautiful than Kyle Canyon, with better views of the mountains and amazing open meadows surrounded by huge pine forests. Bigfoot country.

The mountain pass between the two canyons had plenty of scenic turnouts--this was just one of many

I drove around at a couple of campgrounds, but found the one I liked best, called Dolomite, named after the peaks in the Italian Alps made famous mostly because of jigsaw puzzles. I pulled in and talked to the 'host', who asked me just as many questions about my truck as I asked him about the campground. I got out and snapped a few pictures and noted which sites I liked the best for my next visit, making sure that the next time I was up there, I would bring a tent, a cooler full of beer, and a good book.

This is the view from the campsite at the Dolomite campground. The picture doesn't do it justice.

After getting out to walk around a bit and stretch, it was back on the road for the drive home. Once I got out of the canyon, I pretty much coasted downhill for 14 miles all the way back to Hwy 95, tapping the brakes occasionally as the elevation changed from 8000 feet down to less than 3000, trying not to hit 90 mph on the way down.

The round trip, even with side treks into all of the campgrounds and picnic areas was less than 150 miles--hard to believe something that looks and smells like Big Bear is so close to Las Vegas. And I live on the far side of town, near Sunset Station--but it's not even a half hours' drive from Santa Fe Station.

I can't wait to break out the camping gear and head back up there sometime soon.


PS--clicky on the pics for full-sized goodness

Monday, June 19, 2006

Road Trip!

I need to get the new truck out on the freeway and break in the engine properly, so--although it's somewhat short of a thousand miles--a quick getaway is in the works.

Wednesday is my most relaxing day off, so I'm going to spend the day driving up to Mt. Charleston and doing a little bit of exploring. I haven't been camping in almost four years (has it been that long since Derek, Jake, Ed, Wade, Adam, and I spent three days drinking beer and playing horseshoes up at Ponderosa?), and word is that there are actual trees and mountains just about an hour away from the neon lights of this fine city.

Since there is a dearth of information out there on the internet--most especially an absence of pictures--I'm going to have to just get out and take a look at the available options before I load up the truck for a 3-day getaway. I'll make sure to take the digital camera with me to get some decent shots to share with everyone.

One of the gals I work with usually has the same days off as I do, and she wants to get out of town and do some camping, too, so hopefully within the next few weeks we'll have a trip planned. And since we won't be going on a weekend, chances are the woods will be even more secluded. I can't wait to get some fresh pine-scented mountain air in my lungs, hang around the campfire and sip on cowboy-style coffee, and just relax a world away from the ding-ding-ding background noise I deal with on a daily basis.

It's time to get the gear out of storage and get back to nature for a few days.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sampling the Goods

It's a beautiful day here at the Hurricane Hole. Well, it's 105 degrees outside, but inside the air conditioner is doing a yeomanlike job of keeping it comfy, and I've got the fan cranked up to full speed to help.

Since it's so warm and summery, I decided to go ahead and crack open my newest bottles of rum. The first one I tried was the Cruzan Estate rum. It was better than I expected--very tasty, smooth, and not nearly as harsh as that distilled rotgut they use in their flavored rums.

I also believe I found the perfect mixers for rum--7up Plus. It's that diet 7up soda with the fruit flavors--no calories, no carbs, and surprisingly little aftertaste. I mixed the Cruzan with the 'Tropical Fruit' blend, and it was excellent, reminding me of a lazy day on the beach. All I need now is a grass skirt, a lei, and a hibiscus flower taped to the side of my head and I'm in paradise!

But the best was the Mt. Gay Vanilla. I mixed that with a tall glass of the 7up Plus Cherry flavored stuff, and it was fantastic. I'm drinking it as we speak. Of course you'll never be able to get this drink in a bar, but I'm thinking it might be my cocktail of choice while lounging about the pool here at home.

Luckily I've got to go to work tonight, or else I'm likely to knock off the entire bottle in one sitting.


A History of Fine Rides

Or, 1978 must've been a good year...

Now that I've got the last vehicle I'm going to have for the next several years (knock on wood--I remember when I bought my condo back in Phoenix in 2000, I told my dad that it would be the last address he'd have for me until I got a P.O. box somewhere in the Caribbean... and we saw how that turned out), I've spent some time reflecting on all of the different vehicles I've had in the past.

Like Goose said to Slider, the list is long and distinguished.

I didn't have a car when I first turned 16--I was one of those kids bumming rides or begging to borrow the car until my sister Nancy went away to college, leaving behind that spiffy burnt orange 1976 Datsun F-10 'sportwagon' I mentioned in a previous post. It was ugly as sin, with off-white vinyl seats and a 5-speed transmission that needed a little extra attention when shifting into third gear. As a bonus, the front axle made an awful clicking sound whenever the wheel was turned all the way to the left. We never quite figured out what that was about. And I'll never forget listening to my dad's Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass 8-tracks on the top-of-the-line stereo system.

I guess you could call that my 'first car'. But it's not the one I took to my drivers license exam in. I learned to drive in my sister Cyndi's 1978 Mazda GLC sport, but it wasn't available when I went to take the exam, so I took my mom's Ford (Fairmont?). It was a mid-sized sedan but still had a manual transmission. It was impossible to parallel park that thing, which was my undoing, leading to a big red 'FAIL' stamp on my first attempt.

My dad took pity on me, and let me use his big-ass boat of a car, his company Chevy Caprice Classic. It was easy to drive with the automatic transmission and power steering and such, but it was so huge that when I drove back into the lot after passing the driving test, I hit the bumper of another car while trying to park the thing. Automatic fail.


To a 16-year old, failing the driving test is like a prison sentence. Nothing is more devastating. Of course failing it twice provides comedy fodder for all of your buddies. Yeah, I took some shiat the next week.

Finally, on the third try, I passed the driving test with a 97. Hell yeah, I was legal--I just didn't have a car. Nancy and I were supposed to share 'Spedly' (the name she gave to the F-10), but reality being that the older sibling always gets first dibs. Once she went off to college and was out of the picture, it was mine, all mine--until the day that the engine decided that it just didn't want to run without oil anymore... Dad wasn't too happy about that, as I recall.

So I was without wheels for about six months, but managed to save up enough for a small downpayment and talked my dad into co-signing for another car before my senior year in high school started.

My next car was a 1978 Mazda GLC, kind of like Cyndi's, except much uglier. It was a great car for a high-schooler--four doors, cheap on gas. Unfortunately, I never quite got around to getting license plates on the thing, so I was constantly getting tickets. On the plus side, it was the car that that provided most of my high-school memories. At some point, the starter died, and instead of replacing it, I just made sure I either parked on a hill or had buddies with me to help push so that I could pop-start it. I swear I went over a year without a starter in the damn thing, much to the entertainment of all my friends.

Of course, not having ever gotten license plates on it irritated my dad to no end, so he made me park it on several occasions, but of course I'd get the keys back whenever I needed to go to work and such.

Not wanting to take a chance on getting pulled over during my senior prom, I borrowed my brother-in-law's second car, a complete junker--a 1972 Caprice Classic with a 350 Corvette engine. It ran like a bat out of hell, but looked like a rusty hulk of a ship abandoned on a reef somewhere--it was two colors, green and rust, and the interior was a real treat to behold also. But it was legal, so I used it to take a little hottie named Angie from Parkway North to the prom.

She didn't care about the car at all, so she was my kind of gal... Anyhow, after the evenings festivities were winding down, we were parked out under the trees at Creve Couer lake, getting ready to give those long bench seats a proper christening, when out from a speaker hole in the rear deck popped my cat, Benson. Scared the shit out of both of us and pretty much ruined the moment. It seems that after we'd gone back to my dad's house to have all of the pictures taken, the cat had gotten into the trunk through one of the huge rust holes in the rear fender to take a nap, and had accompanied us to the prom. No longer scared by the noise or the movement, and hearing my voice, he decided to make an appearance.

Damn cat cost me some good lovin'.

Anyhow, I drove the Caprice around a little bit that summer, but still had the GLC until I totalled it later that fall, driving down Hampton Avenue in St. Louis, a Honda Accord turned left in front of me in the rain. It was 'driveable', but smashed up beyond recognition. After that, I was without a car for a couple of years.

I didn't get another vehicle until I was in college--this time a 1978 Suzuki GS 750 motorcycle that I paid $400 for. I bought it from a guy on my softball team and just rode the hell out of it for a couple of years. Of course, I never got a motorcycle license (and actually, in Idaho, where I was at the time, I don't recall that I even needed to get a motorcycle endorsement). At the same time I also picked up a 1978 Honda CX 500, and a buddy and I pooled our cash and bought a 1978 Honda Accord--and the story of that car is a topic for another post in and of itself.

Before leaving Idaho, I divested myself of both Hondas, but kept the Suzuki. I went to Alaska for six months to be a whitewater rafting guide, and my friend Matt offered to keep the bike at his parent's house in Salt Lake City. I got back later that fall, spent a couple weeks in Utah with my buddies, and then loaded five duffel bags on the Suzuki and headed for the next chapter of my life in Arizona, taking the back roads all the way on some romantic old-west adventure.

Boy, was my ass sore after that.

The Suzuki was a good bike for about a year or so, but developed a compression problem that got too expensive for a poor college student to fix. One night it broke down on the side of the road about two miles from my house, so I just walked home. My roommate at the time raced motorcycles and had a truck and bike trailer, but when we went back the next day to fetch it, some redneck had shot a hole through the gas tank and exhaust manifold.

I was without a bike for about two weeks, but another guy I went to school with had the exact same bike--another 1978 Suzuki GS 750 for sale, and by way of a small miracle, I was able to buy it from him.

That one lasted another two years before the compression problem happened again, and I ended up selling it for $200, riding the bus for almost a year. That was a depressing time...

After that, I managed to pick up a 1980 Nissan 280 ZX for about $1200 from a neighbor. That was a sweet car for a long time. I drove that for years, and loved it. It had a cool stereo, t-tops, black paint, nice wheels, and lots of power. And it looked hot, too. Unfortunately, once it started to fall apart, it was like an avalanche. The front end developed some sort of unfixable problem that caused it to chew through tires like Homer Simpson going through a box of Krispy Kremes. I had to replace stuff like the driveshaft and fuel injectors, and even the ignition box on the steering column. The windshield wipers stopped working, which wasn't much of a problem, living in Phoenix, but when the air conditioner went down, I knew the end was near. And then came a stretch there where the car was in the shop every month to the tune of $500+.

It was time for a new ride.

Luckily my fortunes had improved to the point where I'd gotten a new and decent-paying job at Schwab--no more punching the clock and living paycheck-to-paycheck for me. I managed to buy up a ton of company stock from the years spent at my previous job, so once I got the job with Schwab, I cashed it all out, paid off all my bills, bought a new guitar, and had $3000 left for a downpayment on a new ride.

That's when I got my favorite vehicle (until now), a slightly used 1995 electric blue Nissan extra-cab pickup truck. The story of how I got that one is an entertaining tale, which I'll write about very soon, but suffice it to say that it was a great truck and I wished I never would've sold it. I kept it for just over three years, and one month when three or four of my buddies all got new cars, I got the fever and traded it in for a brand new 2001 model bright red Frontier.

Worst mistake I ever made.

Not that it was a bad truck--it was actually really nice. But it caused me more unnecessary financial distress than anything I'd ever done before. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with my other truck. I just felt like I 'needed' a new one at the time and I'm still paying for that mistake to this day.

I mentioned in an earlier post what happened to that new truck, but that led me to getting the Ghetto Sled a few years back. It was a decent ride, but I spent more on repairs than I spent on the initial purchase, so I wasn't too sad to finally say goodbye. I'd purchased it under duress, it served it's purpose, and died doing it's duty. What more can I say.

Now I have my new Dakota.

It's a beautiful, and affordable, new truck that I've always wanted. And everywhere I've stopped this week, some complete stranger has complimented me on in. But my first payment is due on July 15th, so lets keep our fingers crossed that I still have my job when that date rolls around.


This Just In...

Cox Cable officially sucks ass. Right now, I'm trying to watch either 1) The US Open 2) The Nascar race from Michigan and 3) A Styx concert on VH-1 Classic. Care to guess which channel is working?

How about none of the above!

Um, yeah, there are two very popular sporting events taking place at the same time, plus the NBA finals and that world cup nonsense all happening this weekend--you'd think they could get their shiat together and make sure their half-assed cable tv system worked.

If they had a corporate softball team, I would suggest they call themselves the Cox Suckers.

At least I still have internet access, for now. Dirtbags.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Gettin' Stuff Done

Friday night at work was especially long--one of the guys on my 'string' only knew how to deal 3-card poker, so I spent the whole night working around him, basically going back and forth between Pai Gow and the WPT Poker table. Of course, it would make more sense to put him on blackjack and send over one of the other dealers that actually knows how to deal all three games, but that solution makes entirely too much sense and that decision is clearly above my pay grade. It was just a frustrating night, that's all. Adding to the drudgery was a terrible house band they hired to 'entertain' in the Gaudi Bar (the bar right in the middle of the pit). I swear the chick singing was a first-round reject from American Idol--just horribly off-key all night long. It just goes to show that blonde hair, a low-cut top, and enthusiasm will get you a long way in this town...

I also managed to talk the roadmap-kryptonite manager into letting me out a few minutes early, but it was no easy task. He finally figured out what I was trying to tell him and I punched out at 3:30 and came straight home and went to bed.

I turned the on tv with the sound down low on NBC so I could drift back and forth during the US Open coverage, but the digital cable had a meltdown early this morning and my tv was broadcasting the blue screen of death while I peacefully slumbered away. So I didn't see one single hole of the tournament today. Finally, I woke up around 1 pm, turned off the blank tv screen, and got dressed.

My first order of business was to get down to Home Depot. Luckily I managed to get out of there only spending two bucks, this time on a package of sheet-metal screws to attach a front license plate on the new truck. Two years ago at Christmas, my sister Amy gave me a very cool looking skull-and-crossbones license plate, which was much too nice to defile by attaching it to the Ghetto Sled, so I've just been carrying it around with me waiting for the day I could put it on a spiffy new truck. Today was that day. Although it was blistering hot outside--somewhere in the triple digits--I found a nice shady spot to do the install and five minutes later the mikeyfication of the truck was almost complete. All I need now is a 'University of Margaritaville' decal for the rear window and a new hula doll for the dashboard.

I also did a little research on the internet about the Dodge Dakotas, and I found out that the Magnum V-6 I've got puts out 210 horsepower. The V-8 only puts out 230-250, depending on which variation you get, so I don't feel like I lost that much by getting the smaller engine. Since I don't have a trailer full of Jetskis to haul around--although it would easily tow it--the power is plenty good enough for me.

Anyhow, once the truck was taken care of, I came back inside to tackle my next project--assembling my new office chair. I'm guessing that was the start of the deluge of cash I've been dumping lately, but I bought it before I even considered buying a truck this week. When I had the Charger, I was down at OfficeMax buying new printer cartridges (another big ticket expense!), and they had office chairs on sale, so I decided to pick one up. It's been sitting in the box out in the entry hall since then, waiting for me to get around to it.

I'd bought a black leather one several months back, but it was a cheap piece of shiat with plastic armrests that held the back on. Having had it only about two weeks before dropping a milkcrate full of books on one of the armrests and shattering it, it was pretty much useless after that because the back of the chair had no support to hold it up. After trying several times to get replacement armrests ordered, and getting the wrong ones every time, I just gave up and threw the damn thing in the dumpster.

But the one I got earlier this week is much better. It's a brown suede color--not my first choice, but that's not so big of an issue for me--and weighs about three times as much as the other one. Heavy furniture = good quality. This bad boy is made out of heavy gauge steel plates to support my substantial girth, comes with width and height adjustable armrests, and is very comfy. Since it's replacing the metal WalMart folding chair I was using to sit in and blog, I'm hoping that the quality of my writing improves in proportion to the increase of comfort for my fat ass. Can't you tell already? I'm writing this very post while sitting in my new office chair.

Instant results, I tell ya.

Now that my chores are done, I've got to go back to work tonight and hustle up some tokes. I haven't had a car payment in quite awhile, so I've got to put on my Bill Clinton face and try to squeeze a buck or two out of the stiffs at the Pai Gow table.

Every little bit helps.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Throwing Money Around

Happy Friday to all you readers out there in the real world. While everyone else is getting ready to enjoy a nice summer's weekend, I'm gearing up to spend my 'Tuesday' slaving away under the bright lights of this fair city. I really can't complain, though. I've worked a lot harder for a lot less money (and in much worse places) back in the day.

I spent most of my day out running errands--it's nice to have wheels again to be able to do such things. But I've been out peeling off hundred-dollar bills like dead skin off of a sunburn. Before I lived here, I'd think nothing of spending a few days in Vegas just throwing money around like beads from a Mardi Gras float. These past few days, however, the money hasn't exactly been for entertainment purposes.

Today I spent my time shopping around for 'real' insurance for the truck. I got a month's worth of 'drive off the lot' insurance from the dealer, but even the guys at the dealership said that the company they use is a fly-by-night operation, existing only to satisfy the letter of the law, and I should hurry up and get my own policy as soon as possible. My first stop was at American Family, on a recommendation from a co-worker. Unfortunately, the gal in the office was a complete freak. Huge rack, but still koo-koo-ka-choo. And their coverages and prices were kind of on the high side. I left there and walked next door to Farmer's and had a much better experience and saved a little bit of cash on my premiums. I got my full coverage along with towing, rental car, and glass replacement, and in six months my bill automatically drops $35 per month. The gal there at Farmers also helped me avoid the un- and under-insured coverage (accidental medical coverage) that is mandatory at American Family--she told me that her husband also works for Station Casinos and our standard health insurance policy covers all of that, so I didn't need it on my auto policy too... Got me a discount for having renter's insurance, also, so if somebody wants to come by the house and steal my obsolete computer, now would be the time to do it.

After another marathon session of signing my life away and forking over another $375, the truck is now somewhat legal--I'm just waiting for the paperwork from the dealer to come in so that I can go down to the DMV and write them a check for $500, ensuring that the State of Nevada gets it's cut. But since I'm "in for a penny, in for a pound" as they say, I'll just go ahead and give 'em an extra fifty and get me those HRCNMKY vanity plates. (ANGY'S BOY TOY just wouldn't fit...)

Once the insurance was bought and paid for, it was off to the Cingular store to get a new cellphone. The one I had looked like it'd been out on patrol for several months with the 101st Airborne over in Iraq--just beat to hell. And everyone complained that whenever they called me it was too static-y. So I dropped another hundy plus in there--not on the Razr--just a new Sony Ericsson model, and hopefully that will elimate all of the bad connections I seemed to have had lately.

After all of the errands were run and the cash was spent, I was hungry and needed a bite to eat. Luckily I got a little taste of Nashville today--they've just opened a brand new Lenny's Sub Shop about a mile away from my house. Lenny's is a great lunch stop--there's one down in Franklin very close to my old office back in Tennessee. I used to eat there about once a week, and if both of us could get away at the same time, I'd meet my sister Amy there for lunch on occasion, too. So today I had myself a #6 Lenny's Club Sub on wheat, read the paper and felt for a few minutes like I was back in Nashville. Luckily it was only for a few minutes, though... Vegas is much better.

Now that all my running around and spending money is done, I'm going to spend the balance of the afternoon assembling my new office chair and folding laundry, or just lounging in front of the TV watching the US Open highlights. My money is on the latter.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Adding to the Collection

It's been such a long week that I've forgotton to make an update on last weekend's activities. My sister Cyndi and her husband David were here in Vegas for the weekend, and we had a great time together, although I had to work every night--so our buffoonery was limited to daylight hours only.

I got two great meals out of the visit (David and I had lunch at Grand Lux on Friday before Cyndi arrived--Asian Nachos!), and one pretty average one . But the best thing was that since Cyndi flew in from that duty-free slice of paradise, St. Croix, she didn't arrive empty-handed. Sensing that my rum stocks might be low (they aren't), she brought me a couple of bottles of the Good Stuff.

First of all, there was a bottle of Mt. Gay Vanilla. Now, everybody knows how much I love vanilla rum, but Mt. Gay is also my favorite brand of rum. So mix the two and I'm pretty much in heaven, liquid refreshment-wise. I can't wait to crack that one open next week. The second bottle I find intriguing--it's a bottle of Cruzan Estate Dark Rum, aged two years in an oak barrel. It looks more like bourbon or scotch than rum, and I'm looking forward to finding out how rich it tastes. My previous experience with Cruzan is that it's generally a lower-quality flavor-infused rum (their coconut rum is absolutely disgusting), but this bottle looks like the real deal. It has on-the-rocks-with-a-cigar written all over it.

As for the rest of the weekend, we had a great time, although it wasn't quite the adventure that last summer's visit was. We spent Saturday morning out by the pool at the Luxor, and I got got burnt to a crisp after about four hours in the sun. (Don't believe 'em when they tell you that the sunscreen is 'waterproof'). I still love that Luxor pool, but it was pretty shiatty for awhile--there was an 'Arena Bowl' party going on out there with some wannabe dj's set up cranking hiphop at about 400 decibels for the first couple of hours. First of all, I've seen the crowds at Arena Football games. Hip Hop, they are not... And second of all, nobody wants to go out to the pool and relax while the sun bakes the toxins out of their body at 10 am and listen to that shiat. It was so loud that you couldn't escape it. It finally ended after about two hours, but man, did it ever suck.

Once we left the pool, it was off to have lunch. We decided on Mexican, so I drove them over to Viva Michoacan on Sunset. Like Joe Walsh said, ain't never been there, they tell it's nice... But it was very good. I had some excellent fish tacos, my only complaint being that they were served with lemons instead of lime wedges. We also had some excellent bubbling queso fundido (served on a hot cast-iron skillet, fajita style) as an appetizer. Don't remember what Cyndi and David had to eat, some sort of combo I think, but the fact that the bar offered Pacifico (my personal fave Mexican beer) was enough for me to be happy. Sunburn, Mexican beer, fish tacos--just like being back in Cozumel...

Too crispy from the sun, we spend Sunday indoors. After I picked them up, it was off to Red Rock Station to give them a glimpse of what casinos are supposed to look like. Yep, they were very impressed. Not only did I run into about six of my former co-workers who were dealing that day, I won $126 at the Pai Gow table. (It would've been $226, but I let David talk me into playing four hands of blackjack. Dealer got 21 all four times).

The casino is beautiful--if you haven't gotten a chance to visit, it's well worth the drive up there to BFE. My personal favorite is the sports book--it's the nicest in Vegas as far as I'm concerned.

Anyhow, after our gambling was done, we had lunch at the Salt Lick BBQ. Unfortunately, that was the low-light of our visit to Red Rock. The service was excellent, but the food was just plain ... average. The brisket, usually my favorite thing to order at a 'cue joint, was dry. And David was born and raised in Texas, so bad brisket is like blasphemy to his refined palate. The pork ribs seemed to hold promise at the first bite--very smokey. Unfortunately, they weren't as tender as I'd hoped and we all agreed that they were almost too smokey. I commented that the ribs reminded me of what my sleeping bag would taste like after a week-long camping trip. The hot links were actually the pretty good--something that I never would've ordered, but they came with the combo--and we enjoyed them. Cyndi had a pulled-pork sandie, and it was probably the best thing on the table. The worst thing, however, were the sides. Bland is the only word I can use to describe them--the beans, the potato salad, and--dare I say it--the coleslaw were all reminiscent of the finest cafeteria food found at a typical nursing home. 'Flavor' somehow missed being included on the list of ingredients.

Overall, we were quite disappointed with the Salt Lick. My only advice is, if you're gonna eat there, make sure you get a comp...

Crummy meal aside, we really enjoyed our visit to Red Rock, and David left saying that on their next visit to Vegas, that's where they'd be staying.

Sadly, I didn't get to spend as much time with them as I'd hoped, but they needed a bit of time together and get away from the vortex of activity that always surrounds them--with their constant travelling, I don't think they'd had any 'alone time' together in almost a month, so I'm sure they enjoyed their weekend relaxing in Vegas without a houseful of people to entertain, like most weekends. (As my classy sister Cyndi said, she needed a conjugal visit...) But we had a great time together, and as always, a lot of laughs. I love it when they come to visit.

Now it's back to reality.

It's too bad that I have to work tonight. Otherwise I'd crack open one of those new bottles of rum, light up a cigar, and spend an hour or two reflecting on just how damn good life can be.



Well, now that I've finally got the transportation issue settled, I think I'm much less wound-up and able to finally relax. I've been tired for a month straight, and last night after all of the running around I did--plus a lot of time spent out in the sun wandering that huge lot at the dealership, by the time I got home I was wiped out. Of course I made sure I took the time to post pics of the new truck, but after that, I had to go to the grocery store (Hadn't set foot inside of Vons since Angy's last visit) and buy some food.

I made a quick dinner and then tried to read for about an hour, but I fell asleep face down in my book with the light on. I woke up again around 4:30 this morning, made a quick trek to the bathroom, then went back to bed--light off this time. Next thing I knew, it was 10:30 in the morning.

I hadn't been sleeping much lately, but last night I think I cleared the deficit completely. I had planned on going back to school today, but now that it's past 11, I think I'm just going to putter around the house and get small projects done. It's now my Monday and I have to go back to work tonight.

I hope the Hyundai salesman who's been after me is there again tonight. I've got some bad news for him...


Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Got my chips cashed in...

Ok, I was considering using The Search is Over from Survivor as the title of this post, but the cheeze meter doesn't go quite that high.

Song lyrics aside, the good news is that I'm no longer bumming rides off of people or wishing I was one of those fortunate souls who actually owned a vehicle. Yep, I bought a fine new ride today. I had an appointment to go back to the dealer this afternoon at 1 pm, but honestly I didn't have high hopes. I was certain that they were going to ask for a bigger down payment or something else like that would be a sticking point. As luck would have it, I got a call from 'Lloyd' the finance manager and he said I qualified with just a thousand bucks down. He then told me to come down right away and pick out a vehicle.

I finished up what I was doing, stopped by the bank, and headed for the dealership. Brian the sales guy was outside waiting for me, and said he had the perfect car for me. Ok...bring it on. A couple minutes later, he drove around the side of the building in a 2004 Mustang convertible.

Uh, no.

I took it for a test drive to humor him, but I had absolutely no desire to own a convertible as my primary transportation. It has good power and a monster stereo, but I didn't much like it. I told him I wanted to look at trucks instead.

We got back and wandered the lot, and I saw a nifty bright red 2004 Dakota, so we got the keys and took that out for a spin. It only had 12,000 miles on it, and had a sunroof, too, but something was missing--I just couldn't quite put my finger on it, but our test drive hardly lasted five minutes.

Back to the dealership we went, and I told him that I really could wait a month or longer for something better to show up and also gather a down payment, but I wanted to look at some 2006 Dakotas while I was there. As soon as we pulled in, I saw a very pretty maroon truck kind of tucked away unseen in a corner, so I went to investigate. It had a sticker price on par with the blue book value of the Mustang they initially pitched me on, so I told them that if we could make a reasonable deal on that truck, I'd likely buy it right then.

Unfortunately, upon closer inspection I found out that it had just the 3.7 liter V-6 engine. Not the V-8 that I wanted. I was about to give up, but Brian told me just to try it and I'd probably really like it. Well, since the engine was bigger than the one in the Charger I'd been driving around all week, and the the truck weighs less, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance. It had so much more power than the Nissan I used to have, and it was a comfortable ride, too. Besides, he told me, it'd be cheaper on gas and insurance. Good salesman, that Brian...

About thirty seconds into the test drive, I was sold. Yep, I said, I'll take it. So after a quick jaunt around the side streets of Henderson, back to the dealership we went. At first they said it was going to be tough to get into it for a decent payment, but they decided to go ahead and give me the full $3500 rebate that supposedly only applies to buyers who use Chrysler Financial. So between that and the thousand I had on me, it was enough of a downpayment to satisfy their lenders and made the monthly payments reasonable and well within my budget.

The paperwork went fairly quickly--much easier than the hassles I'd had at the Nissan dealerships in the past. And while I didn't get the total price down as low as I wanted, the full rebate helped to alleviate my concerns. They also threw in a full tank of gas and covered my first months insurance premium to sweeten the deal. Hell, both parties knew that I was leaving with a truck that day, it was just a matter of making me feel like I got a fair shake.

Of course, after all the initial stuff was done, I had to sit around and wait for the finance guy to do his paperwork shuffle, but it was relatively painless. I also got a good deal on an as-yet uninstalled bedliner, but I've got to go back and do that at a later date.

After all that was done, I got to hit the gong while everyone in the showroom clapped and cheered, just like on the tv show. They had the truck detailed and gassed up for me, and Brian even offered to follow me back to the Thrifty lot to return the Charger, as long as I'd drive him back to the dealership, saving me cab fare. Pretty good service, if you ask me.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. While sitting around waiting for paperwork to be done, I saw the blue genie guy. He's not really blue. More like, um, dark brown... He was also the only one there that didn't say a word to me during the whole process--everyone else was completely friendly, so even though I find the tv show kind of annoying and repulsive, my experience at Towbin Dodge was nothing but positive.

Anyhow--picture time!

Beautiful profile, huh? I think the only thing I'd change is that I'd get it some new shoes. But 20-inch Sprewells just aren't in the budget anytime soon.

From the rear...

I didn't even know it had the suicide doors until after I said 'I do'!

Of course, the first stop after leaving the dealership was to the automotive department at the local Wal-Mart for some fuzzy dice. The original Hoya dice were crushed into the middle of a forest-green metallic cube last week.

Almost forgot--At some point in the very near future, you'll also see my picture in the 'customers' section on