travel

Great Wolf Bacchanal

I recently posted about my family trip to New York, then Boston. I glossed over the middle part, where we spent two nights, and a very full day in between, at the Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. There are many Great Wolf Lodges throughout this country, but this was the first one we ventured into. I assume many of them are similar. Once you find a business model where parents shovel money toward a bottomless pit for ten minutes worth of child engagement at a time, why bother switching it up? Just ask Disney.

The Great Wolf Lodges combine water slides and a ropes course, with an arcade and a scavenger hunt. Throw in a buffet and a Build-a-Bear with exclusive content, and it’s like a childhood Mardi Gras. You’re just as likely to send you home with rashes in uncomfortable spots. 

Water Slides

The thing they’re probably most known for is the ginormous water park smack dab in the middle of the hotel. Daughter’s finally to the point where we feel she can exit the pool after finishing a water slide. Still not sure I’d be comfortable with the types where they plunge her into the pool at the end, but if the slide comes out at the same level as the pool, such that her momentum is already heading toward the exit, she’ll be fine. Fortunately, a park that caters to five-to-ten-year-olds isn’t gonna have much of the former. In fact, the only slides that ended in anything other than a splash pad were tube rides. 

Not that getting out of an innertube is easy at my age. But the park ain’t catering to me. The only part of the parents’ bodies they give a shit about are our wallets.

While the wave pool and lazy river (more of a stream) are more meh than wow, the slides are legit. Two of them drop the entire four stories of the hotel. As a bonus, you don’t even have to lug the tube up to the top. They have a conveyor belt elevator for that. 

Unfortunately, you still gotta get your own ass up there. No conveyor belt for the humans. The look of pain and exhaustion on the adults at the top of this torture device spoke volumes. We all needed a breather and maybe a calf massage. 

Even worse, I wasn’t wearing my Fitbit. I must’ve missed out on fifty floors that day.

And now my kid wants to plummet all the way down and then hike right the fuck back up. Forget the massage, how about a margarita bar up here? They’ve got lifeguards down there who can get her out of the family tube that probably flipped over on her fifty pounds, and I’ll be waiting for her when she gets back up here. With a salt rim.  

Unfortunately, the booze is at the bottom, so I might as well ride down with her. 

I just gotta grab my gas mask first.

The chlorine level in the air is, after all, enough to kill any random waterborne or airborne pathogen. Or any stray boche soldiers out in No Man’s Land. 

Holy crap! 

Fortunately the waterslide area is closed off from the rest of the lodge, cause man, it hits you as soon as you open the door to the water park. The air is THICK with chemicals. But at least down by the chaise lounges, it’s technically indoors and climate controlled. The tubes, on the other hand, go outside, where you’re now ensconced in a thick plastic tube that’s baking in the sun, heating the chlorine inside into a substance that’s been banned since the Treaty of Versailles. 

Chemical weapons aren’t the only war crimes being committed in the water park. Their drink policy is also a Geneva Code violation. 

For lunch on Water Slide Day, we opted for the food stand instead of returning to Lodge Proper for a wedge salad. The “burgers” were meh, but the cheese curds were good. Then again, I’m not from Wisconsin, so I probably wouldn’t know the difference between a good or bad cheese curd. Are there really gradations of deep-fried dairy?

We also bought a round of drinks, each of which was a maybe 10 oz. cup to access one of those “add your own flavor” Coke machines are growing ubiquitous. Heck, we even have a movie theater nearby that uses them, which is saying a lot, because movie theaters usually don’t let you pour your own drinks lest you break their golden ratio of nine parts ice to one part soda. I usually love these machines, because Coke Zero tastes a hell of a lot better with a bit o’ raspberry and lime, something I never would’ve guessed four years ago.

This particular drink machine seemed defective at first. It kept telling us we were using the wrong cup, which I wouldn’t think is something a non-sentient machine can determine. The employee exchanged our cups and then it worked fine. Although it still oddly had different fruit flavors available or unavailable for different drinks. For instance, raspberry ginger ale was shadowed as “temporarily out,” but raspberry Coke Zero was available. Isn’t it the same flavored syrup being added to either drink?

But that was nothing compared to what happened when I went up for a refill. I got maybe two ounces in the bottom of the cup before I got a similar error message about the wrong cup. But this message was slightly different, in that it acknowledged the cup was correct but it had already been used. Holy shit! They’re tracking refills now? And even worse, they’re not giving you ANY! Because what was in the bottom of my cup was pretty much what was missing from the top of the last one after you account for bubbles subsiding. 

Then there’s the unsettling addendum to this thought: my first cup had already been used. By someone else. Not sure if there’s enough chlorine to wash that taste out of my brain. Good thing I can go to the bar. At least I know ahead of time I’ll have to pay for my second glass of beer. And, again, it’s a glass that’s SUPPOSED to be reusable.

I ended up having that wedge salad for dinner. It was pretty disappointing for a wedge salad. They chopped up the wedge. It’s supposed to be a ginormous wedge. Hence the name. And if I had to guess, they used ranch over bleu cheese crumbles instead of actual bleu cheese dressing. And that was in the “restaurant” portion, not the snack bar or buffet portion. We had buffet for breakfast the next morning, finishing the hat trick of disappointment. 

Not overly surprising for a place that caters to kids. In keeping with that theme, the Dunkin’ Donuts was meh. I’ve tried Dunkin’ on many occasions, and I don’t think I can ever get more than a meh out of it. Not really sure the appeal. I’ll take Starbucks any day over bitter coffee and mediocre donuts.

MagiQuest and the Rest

Food aside, the Great Wolf Lodge experience was solid. Daughter wants to climb any and everything she comes across these days. It must be a thing for kids her age, because the Lodge was prepared with both a rock climbing wall and ropes course. I figured she’d only want to do the rock climbing wall once, so I was going to buy her an unlimited on the ropes with one or two runs on the rock wall, when they told me that if I bought unlimited on both, it was only an extra four dollars. Why the hell not? I wonder if it’s always four dollars more than whatever it is you’re about to buy.

Hey, give me a beer for $10. 

How about a beer with unlimited rock climbs for $14?

Sold!

Those courses were nice because I didn’t have to follow her around. And, legitimately, there’s a beer barn and tables right there. I can look up into the air and give Daughter a thumbs up that she thinks is because she made it across the rope bridge, but in reality is my signal for one more blueberry ale. 

Unfortunately, the game that occupied most of her time required a tad more movement from the parentage. In a direction away from the beer. At least at first.

Magiquest is a scavenger hunt of the entire property. Kids are given a laser tag magic wand that, when aimed at various places around the resort, causes them to light up or animate or say something. Treasure chests that open up, paintings on the wall that change when activated, random stars in the ceiling that you don’t even notice until they light up. At first it’s unnerving when you’re just walking around the resort only to hear random sparkling with an ethereal, “You’ve already completed this task.”

There are maybe thirty total targets throughout the resort. Some of them give you virtual gold pieces, many are used in different quests as the player “levels up.” The first quests were for the fairy princess, then the goblin king, and finally the dragon. While the princess missions only required Daughter to pick up three “items” (at completely opposite ends of the resort), by the time she was constructing her weapons to defeat the dragon, each quest took six or seven steps. And to defeat the dragon, you have to make four or five of these weapons. But by then, Daughter knew precisely where to go. The “portal” (basically a mounted Android tablet) showed her a crown and a rose and a star, and she’s off running around the hotel because she knows precisely where the crown, rose, and star are. All on opposite ends of the place. 

Even better, Wife and I could just sit there as she ran back and forth, checking in with us to excitedly tell us how close she was to the dragon. 

Did I mention there was a brewery? I call that a win. 

I’ll even overlook the whole war crimes thing.

But not the one drink policy.

New York with Family, the Personal Stuff

A few weeks ago, we took my eight-year-old daughter to New York for a trip originally planned before the pandemic. In my last post, I wrote about the touristy stuff we did, like Statue of Liberty and Coney Island. This post will delve more into the personal things, the people and oddities we encountered that you won’t exactly be able to book through a travel agent.

Concert Upgrade

While in New York and Boston, we did two concerts and a Broadway show. The show was Aladdin, which was neither great nor terrible. There isn’t much chance for surprise from a show that follows a 30-year-old movie beat by beat. Unlike the Frozen musical, which adds a song, “Hygge,” that might be better than any in the original movie, the only songs worth knowing in Aladdin are all from the movie. The magic carpet ride, however, was pretty fucking cool. Daughter was mostly “meh” throughout the first act, but when everything went dark and the carpet took off, she couldn’t lean forward enough.

The second concert we went to was Lake Street Dive in Boston. I’ll review it in my normal year-end post. Normal as in “every year up until 2019.” Pretty sure that’s the dictionary definition now. Normal (adj): occurring regularly prior to 2020.” We also spent a few days at the Great Wolf Lodge, an experience which will get its own addendum after I post these two New York writings, because I’ve got a LOT to say about that juvenile bacchanal. 

But the first concert we saw was Billy Joel, performing his 80th “straight” show in his Madison Square Garde “residency.” I don’t know how it qualifies as a residency if it’s only one show a month. I also question the designation of “80 straight,” for which they raised a banner to the rafters next to those of the Knicks and Rangers. After all, we originally had tickets for a Billy Joel concert at the Garden in June, 2020 that didn’t happen. Perhaps “residency with 80 straight concerts” is just a fancy way for Billy Joel to say, “I ain’t coming to your town, you’ve got to come to mine.”Not that I’m knocking it. If I could just roll out of bed once a month for my job, sign me up. On second thought, Billy Joel is over 70. I sure as shit hope I’m not still teaching then, even if it’s only once a month.

Billy Joel is known for giving away his front row seats. He got tired of looking into the audience and only seeing super richies who didn’t give a shit about the concert. Next time you watch a baseball game, check out how many people behind home plate aren’t watching the game. So Billy Joel sends his band members and/or security out into the crowds before the concert starts and hands out front row upgrades. That way, not only does he get a “real fan” who was willing to see him from a half-mile away, but he also gets a real fan who is super excited to no longer be seeing him from a half-mile away.

Evidently, now that it’s a well known practice, many fans go to the shows looking for the undercover ticket people. Then they loudly talk about how excited they are to have these Row ZZZ tickets to see their FAVORITE artist of ALL TIME. With signs to boot.

I was not one of those people. I was just a dumbass tourist trying to figure out how to get up to the nosebleeds of an arena I’d never been in before. We were supposed to be on the fourth floor (which, oddly, is beneath the third floor) behind the stage. The fourth floor, or I suppose I should call it the 400s section, only exists in one area of the arena, only accessible by one set of stairs. It isn’t by any arena entrance and isn’t referenced on many of the signs showing people where to go to find their more plentiful sections. 

“I think we’re up here,” I said to my family when we found a random staircase in the general section of the arena where I thought our seats were. I’m still not entirely sure the staircase was marked with the sections it led to.

I’m not entirely sure what the guy in the suit first said as Daughter barreled past him. It was something along the lines of “Why are you going up there?” Although it might’ve been more directed, like “You don’t wanna go up there” or “That’s the wrong direction.”

Still completely obtuse, I responded something like, “We’re in section 413,” showing him my phone.

“No, you don’t want those seats. Do you want to sit somewhere closer? “

At this point, I’m thinking the guy is trying to swindle us. Been to far too many ballgames where the “I need tickets” guy is 50 yards away from the “I’ve got tickets” guy. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I slowly realized that, wait a second, we’re already inside the arena. Not the smartest place to engage in ticket scalping when all your customers already have tickets. Like the T-Rex at the Natural History Museum waking up from a nap in the tar pits,  I remember we are at a Billy Joel concert, and Billy Joel is famous for…

Fortunately, Wife was much quicker in the uptake. “We’d love better seats. We came all the way from California and it’s her-,” puts hands on Daughter’s head,  “first concert. She loves Billy Joel.”

(Never mind that Daughter’s way more excited about Lake Street Dive in a couple of days and, while she does know most of his songs, is mainly just tagging along for this leg of the journey.)

“Are you okay with her being in the floor?” the guy asks. 

Are you fucking kidding me? Of fucking course she’s fine sitting on the fucking floor and if she isn’t, then she best be shutting the fuck up about it right the fuck now. We paid $100 for these tickets and were about to be sitting in $1000 seats. 

Remember that whole thing about wanting excited fans in the front row? I think my last comment is what he’s going for. 

Of course, once we had the tickets, we had no fucking clue where to go. We returned to the spot at the bottom of the stairs to ask the guy, but he was gone. They’ve got to keep moving. As soon as attendees see other random attendees being handed tickets, the swarm is on. After our exchange, we heard other people muttering, “No, it’s usually a lady, but this time it’s a guy in a suit. Look for a guy in a black suit.”

Eventually, three elevators and four or five confused ushers (“Those are floor seats. What are you doing up here in the nose bleeds?”), we finally made our way to the floor. The last usher knew the score. “Hey, you’ve been upgraded!” 

So anyway, on the left is a picture of where our original seats were. Third row, right above the Bud Light sign. The picture on the right is the view from our actual seats. Not bad for $110 on the secondary market, huh?

In the past, Billy Joel was criticized for having hot women in the front row. He explained that he gave the tickets to his band members and roadies to hand out to whoever they thought would be good for the front row and, well, guess who they want looking back at them? Not a couple approaching their fifties with an eight-year-old who kinda sorta knows some of the songs. 

I assume Billy Joel has adjusted who gets to hand out tickets, and presumably now that he’s playing the same spot every month, he’s switching up who hands out the goods. That’s why the other fans expected a woman. And clearly the guy who gave us the tickets wasn’t going to be staring into our bosoms for the whole concert. Billy Joel now has a daughter close to my daughter’s age, so maybe there are general instructions to find families with kids. Or maybe it’s just to look for the numbnuts who clearly have no idea what they’re doing. That fit us to a T. 

Either way, Daughter’s has a lifetime of concert disappointment in front of her after getting front row at Madison Square Garden for her first.

Hotel Bathroom

I’ve got to save a few column inches to discuss the bathroom at our hotel. Not that I have any clue what the fuck was going on in said bathroom. I assume it had something to do with New York being visited by many Europeans, so maybe it’s what happens when you translate bathroom into metric? I know it fucked up the Hubble Telescope. And I might’ve been able to see alien galaxies with the contraptions in there, if only I could figure out how to use them.

First up was Toilet 2.0. What’s that? You didn’t think toilets could grow sentient? 

Of course, it had a bidet. That’s to be expected if you cater to foreigners. I’ve dealt with them before, and by “dealt with them,” I mean I’ve largely ignored them because, thankfully I’ve never used a toilet that was bidet only, like many bathrooms give you no paper towel option, only air dryers. How did Covid not do away with those germ spreaders? Every person leaving a dryer-only bathroom is still shaking water from their hands. 

While I didn’t use this bidet, I did at least take note of it. It’s got your normal settings for back wash and front wash. The person requesting the front wash looks suspiciously female, which would seem to be a no-no these days. There’s also an option for soft or hard, which makes sense on the back end. Some visits require more aftermath, if you know what I mean. Although I don’t know how a bidet user knows which visit is which. I usually need to check the damage on the TP to know how the rest of the visit will go.

What strikes me most about this bidet is that you can program in two user profiles. What is there to do beyond front or back, hard or soft? I’m trying to think of the person who has a specific bidet method that requires a complex procession and progression through the four options, such that they must save the profile. Add to that the fact that this is a hotel, so you’re really only using this bidet for a few days. And he’s probably still wiping when he’s out and about. Oh, and he’s got someone else in this very hotel room that needs their own super secret, super special progression of H2O up the Wazoo.

More unusual than the programmable bidet, however, was that it appeared to be a self-cleaning toilet. Not in the manner of a self-cleaning oven or coffee maker, where you can set it to a cycle. More like a Hal-9000, Terminator gaining sentience style of self-cleaning. Every time one of us walked in the room, we would hear the water running. Not like a full flush or anything, but a trickle of water, a sprinkling, like a pre-lubrication of the bowl. 

At first we worried that it would run all night, but it seemed tied to movement. It ran even if we kept the light off. So now my toilet is taking notes of how often I’m visiting. Should I expect an introductory email from my friendly neighborhood proctologist by the time I return home? 

Oh yeah, and the seat was warm. At first I thought I was imaging it, but Wife and Daughter confirmed. It was like the car seat warmers, except that those can be turned on and off. The toilet seat was on ALL the time. Sometimes when I’m back from walking Central Park on a muggy June day in New York, I might want to deposit funds in the porcelain bank without scalding my sack.

Considering the damn thing had AI and enough energy to power a nuclear power plant, it isn’t surprising that this toilet came with an extensive list of rules and regulations, a standard list of dos and don’ts to avoid liability when it leaves the hotel room to kill Sarah Connor. 

The list took up the entire inside of the lid, and while I didn’t read all the terms and conditions before accepting (I had to pee, after all), I noted the first warning, which was “Don’t get water inside.” Um… it’s s toilet. Do… do they not know how toilets work? It takes some water to help alleviate the skid marks. Because even after an overnight of self cleaning, they were still noticeable. 

Next to the toilet was a shower that had not two, nor three, but FOUR shower heads. None of which were a standard shower head.  First up was a hand held wand, like an old game show microphone with the water coming out the sides. Then you had the overhead waterfall spigot. We’ve got one in our house and I don’t fucking get it. Who the hell wants the water to be dumping down on them from above? Such that,  if any of your skin gets merely a splash of water,  your entire body is also drenched. How does one lather up or apply shampoo?

The final two shower heads were in the wall, one about chest height and the other at my thigh. They were adjustable to a point, but their sprays were still only able to make it up to my chin and waist, respectively. The spray also maxed out maybe two feet from the wall, with a force equivalent to a water fountain. Not enough to rinse off my armpits or undercarriage, two spots I also couldn’t hit from the overhead. And the microphone came out with too much force for the giblets. 

There was only one handle to control all four spigots. Turn it a little bit and you’ll have both microphone and wall. Go too far and you’ll cycle back around to the waterfall. Another handle controlled the temperature, but it didn’t matter, because all four started out frigid. 

By day three I figured out how to conduct a masterpiece like I was a few blocks over at Carnegie Hall. Use the wall to get wet, use the microphone to rinse off. Try not to teabag the wall. Turn the microphone on to wet the hair, then off while I shampoo, then back on to rinse. Avoid the third rail of the waterfall faucet at all costs. 

Do I get a doctorate at Columbia for figuring all that out? 

Random Thoughts

1. Daughter doesn’t know what cigarettes are. Not sure if this is a sign that we’ve parented well or poorly. Maybe it says more about the times. She thinks she knows what cigarettes are, but what she’s actually smelling is marijuana. She doesn’t like the smell, and she doesn’t encounter it often, but now that I think of it, she probably encounters it a hell of a lot more often than cigarettes. I mean, who smokes tobacco anymore? Anyway, whenever she smelled weed (and trust me, it’s all over the place in New York, and that’s coming from a California guy), she’d plug her nose and whine, “Ugh, really? Why do people have to smoke cigarettes here, too?” I’ll be curious to see what she calls it if she ever smells a legitimate cigarette.

2. On our first day in New York, after checking into the 44th floor of our hotel, Daughter looked out the window at the 57th Street abomination. Not sure if you’ve seen it, but it looks like a damn pole. It only takes up maybe 100 feet by 100 feet of real estate, but then shoots up 90-odd floors. The top floors aren’t finished yet and are currently on the market for $180 million. What a bargain. Anyway, when she saw it, she asked, “Is that a skyscraper? I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one.” Bear in mind she’s visited her aunt in San Francisco no fewer than twenty times. And did I mention we were on the 44th floor of our own hotel? Not sure what them kids are calling skyscrapers these days. 

3. She ended up being fine with the subway, but her only complaint was that it should be more like Disneyland. Shouldn’t everything? But what she was specifically looking for was the part of the Disneyland train where you go through the dinosaurs and Native American lands. I mean, what good is an underground train system that transports you miles closer to where you need to go for three dollars if it doesn’t also have some racist animatronics?

4. In my whole trip, three people jumped out at me that I needed to note. First was the lady wearing her Miller High Life t-shirt to see Aladdin. Look, I know it’s a show for kids and all, but it is a Broadway theater. She couldn’t upgraded to her nice MGD shirt? Second was the dude wearing a “Don’t California My Texas” t-shirt. At the Statue of Liberty. In New York, which is neither Texas nor California and probably doesn’t want us apply either of the latter two locations to their former. 

Third was the guitar dude at the Imagine mosaic in Central Park near the Dakota building where Lennon lived and was shot. Seems it used to be a quiet, contemplative spot, but the last two times I’ve been, it’s a spot for selfies and self-important douchebags who bust out their accoustics for poor renditions of Beatles songs that nobody requested, as if two of them being dead wasn’t bad enough. Anyway, when we walked by this time, Dude was playing “Get Back,” which… um… is a Paul McCartney song? Under normal circumstances I might not critique a guy for not knowing that John had nothing to do with the writing or performance of that song, but Peter Jackson just made a nine-hour documentary, that anybody with the audacity to think they deserve to play their own instrument at a John Lennon memorial ought to have seen, which showed “Get Back” being created from scratch while John was still sleeping off a heroin hangover. 

5. Last time I was in New York, I made sure to have pizza from Lombardi’s, the first pizzeria in America. This time I added a few more iconic food items: cheesecake from Junior’s and a hot dog from Nathan’s. I mistakenly thought Junior’s was the cheesecake referenced in Guys and Dolls, but apparently that’s Lindy’s, which has closed. Good thing, too, because the cheesecake was just kinda meh. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it didn’t have much flavor to it. It was sweeter than I expected, more cream than cheese. I’ve had plenty of better cheesecakes in my life.

The Nathan’s, on the other hand, was solid. I’ve had a ton of Nathan’s dogs at various establishments, but the ones at the original location are different. They grill the buns, which the ones in the mall don’t. They also seem longer and thinner than the ones you find in the store, and the griddling (not boiling or grilling) is uniform and thorough. My only regret was standing in the long line with the people who wanted burgers or who knew they served clams, before I realized there was a hot dog express lane where I could’ve got my dog and fries twenty minutes earlier.

6. I don’t mean to criticize these photo op guys in Times Square, but…
*Hulk needs to work out a bit. You wouldn’t like me when I get a beer belly.
*Spiderman, a secret identity does no good if you stand around with your mask off the whole time.
*Grodd is a DC property, not a Marvel property. Shouldn’t be hanging out with Avengers. Oh wait, is that supposed to be King Kong? Dude, he doesn’t even HAVE a comic book title.

7. I only found one sign to add to my collection. If you’ve followed my other travelbolg posts, you know I love signs that are a little too cutesy or on-the-nose. The sign on this particular trip that amused me was neither of those. In fact, the only thing I enjoyed about it was a missing letter. 

Sure, I know it’s really just a room. But am I alone in thinking a luggage storage ‘roo would be much better? I mean, it already has a pouch. And then when I’m finally able to get in my room, it can just hop them up there for me instead of making me do the schlepping my own shit after hours of walking around Central Park after minimal sleep on a red-eye. Imagine my disappointment when it was only a closet manned by a human being. I guess I’ll swap the tip for a smaller bill.

I probably need to visit Sydney to find an actual Luggage Storage ‘Roo.

New York with Family, Touristy Edition

Back in February of 2020, we had a summer trip booked to New York with Daughter. She was really into Billy Joel Radio at the time, and it seemed like all the good movies and video games take place there. Heck, she was playing (or trying to play) Marvel Lego Super Heroes, where Magneto literally makes the Statue of Liberty walk off her pedestal and attack the Lego heroes. Not sure how that works with said statue having no actual legs. But other that that minor squabble, the physics of a Lego video game are entirely spot on.

Somehow that vacation fell apart. Can’t put my finger on it. Did anything major happen in March or 2020?

Regardless, we finally decided that two years was long enough a wait. Billy Joel wasn’t getting any younger, there was a new favorite band playing the same weekend as him, and the time share was going to keep charging us “maintenance” fees whether we used the room or not. 

So in June of 2022, we finally made our 2020 trip to New York. I’ll break this into a couple of posts, one about the generic New York kinda touristy stuff, and then a second one about some of the experiences more personal to us. 

Masks

No true Travelblog this decade is complete without an update on when and where, and under which conditions, we must mask and/or show proof of vaccination and/or bend over and have a random stranger shove something up our ass. 

Wait, that last one isn’t a Covid precaution? Damn, I want my money back from that dude in the trench coat.

Most of New York is mask-free these days, with some notable exceptions. JFK Airport required masks, even though the planes didn’t anymore, so as we landed, the flight attendants told us to put our masks on before leaving the plane. Would’ve been a nice thing for them to tell us before we checked our baggage.  Fortunately I had one in my carry-on because we connected through Seattle, which I figured was second on the list of places most likely to still impose masks. Turns out we only needed the mask to get off the plane. Once in the terminal, many people weren’t wearing masks and nobody bothered to enforce it. And I’m not talking pulled down in chin diaper fashion, I mean no sign of cloth anywhere near their face. The situation was similar in the subways. Masks are required, but only about fifty percent complied and nobody gave a shit. 

Where we had to mask the longest was the American Museum of Natural History. We went there on our first day, before we were even able to check into our hotel and shower. So the other people in the museum were probably happy to be wearing masks. The museum was one of the first places on our go-to list because we’d made Daughter watch the Night at the Museum movies as prep, so she was jazzed to go. Her favorite movie was the sequel, which took place at the Smithsonian, but she still couldn’t wait to see the statue of President Robin Williams. Unfortunately, the one on horseback has been removed because it had Native Americans in it. I was also worried she wouldn’t be able to find Sacajawea, who features prominently in the movies., but we finally found her tucked away in the back of the fourth floor. Unfortunately, no Egyptian pharaoh or magical tablet that brings them all to life. Daughter was pissed.

We also had to wear a mask en route to the Statue of Liberty, but only for the one airport-style security room. Then the masks came back off. I think we had to wear them in the Statue of Liberty museum, as well. Because, you know, liberty! Ironically, the one other place where we were harangued about wearing a mask was the Hamilton store. Similar to the Statue, Hamilton is an endearing symbol of standing up to an arbitrary, overreaching government…

After New York, we went on to Boston, where masks were less mandated but more prominent. Imagine that, people wearing masks only out of concern for their fellow humans. Almost as if, with freedom and liberty ought to also come respect and responsibility. Ha ha, jk. This is ‘Murica, where freedom means I don’t gotta do shit while everybody else needs to kowtow to whatever made up offense I’m feigning this week.

Taxi in from Airport

Last time in New York, when it was just we adults, we took the subway in from JFK. Easy enough. But arriving after a red-eye from the west coast during morning commute, with an eight-year-old not accustomed to mass transit, we figured we’d splurge for a taxi. It was the first of many “We haven’t vacayed in three years” splurges over the next six days.

In retrospect, maybe not the best decision from a timing perspective. Holy crap, that morning commute is brutal. I thought nobody drove in New York? Those streets and freeways (sorry, “turnpikes,” cause they ain’t free) were bumper to bumper! It took us well over an hour to get to midtown from JFK. It was a half hour before we realized that the tiny windows on the side of the minivan/prison-transport hybrid could open. That was a blessing, because it’d been 24 hours since we showered and the Plexiglass partition was making the environment moist.

At first I thought a $52 fixed fare seemed a bit steep, but it ended up a blessing. If we paid normal taxi “idling time” surcharges, it would’ve been in the triple digits. A few days later, I checked Uber to Coney Island, which is a little bit farther than the airport, and it would’ve been $80. Plus that wasn’t during morning commute, which I’m guessing would’ve been prime surge time. So yeah, $52 was a screaming deal. 

We did get two “congestion charges” of $2.50 each, added at the thirty and sixty minute marks. Plus a six dollar charge going through one of the tunnels. But how often do you ride in a taxi for over an hour and add less than $10 to the fare?

I kinda felt bad for the driver. Sure, we tipped him 20%, but that still only came out to $16, which might not even be minimum wage in New York City. Hopefully he hung around Manhattan and picked up a bunch of $20 fares in rapid succession. 

Next time I’ll splurge the $3 for a subway ride and all those commuters can just deal with my luggage. 

Statue of Liberty

When I went to New York with Wife in 2018, we intentionally skipped some of the more kid-friendly attractions, like Coney Island and the Statue of Liberty, in favor of stuff like the 9/11 Memorial and Avenue Q, figuring we’d be bringing Daughter back with us at some point. So this time we did all the stuff that she’ll roll her eyes at when she’s a teenager. 

I did the Statue once on my first trip to New York in the 1990s. Back then you could go up into the crown, which I did. When my mom first visited in the 1950s, you could still go up to the torch. Now you can’t do either. Turns out the Statue of Liberty is a great metaphor for the lives and restrictions of Boomers vs. Gen X vs. Gen Z, or whatever the hell they’ll call Daughter’s generation. Can’t wait to have my grandkids on my knee some day, while looking at the Statue from the boat, the closest we’re able to get by that time, regaling them with stories about lawn darts.

Allegedly they’re going to bring back crown access at some point, but I can’t find reasoning for shutting down in the first place. It doesn’t seem to be a Covid restriction, since you’re still allowed in the pedestal which necessitates many people in small confines. I don’t think it’s a remnant of 9/11, per se, but I think since then, they’re looking for any and every excuse to shut it down. They’re doing some construction refurbishment on the former military fort under the pedestal. Maybe that’s their excuse. Although, again, pedestal access would be just as damage to the base as going to the crown. Then again, they’re also drastically limiting pedestal access – it was sold out for all three days we were there. That’s what happens when it only costs thirty cents more than regular ol’ island access.

At least we took the correct ferry. We almost got duped into the “Liberty Cruise” from one of those hop-on/hop-off busses. The wording is very questionable, claiming to be the only bus tour with “close up” views of the Statue. Complete with a “live audio tour.” And a “Statue Selfie Spot.” Good thing yours truly considers himself well versed in the English language. I became skeptical that the boat tour started over near the Brooklyn Bridge, not Battery Park, and if you look closely at the map, it doesn’t actually dock at the island. Once I saw how the dock is actually run, there’s no way they could have more than one operating companies. We were on the bus when a whole bunch of excited people got off to go “see the Statue.” Totally wish I could’ve been on the bus that collects a bunch of pissed off patrons afterward.

If we wanted a “close up” look, we also could’ve taken a helicopter. Not that I saw any advertisements for that. They don’t cater to the TKTS crowd. But I saw a heck of a lot of them flying around. Many of them were black, a detail I might not have noticed with my vision topping out at about ten yards. But Daughter noticed. “Look, it’s another black helicopter. There sure are a lot of black helicopters flying around the Statue.” 

Of course there are. The real question is: government? Or aliens?

Turns out there’s an even better way to get up close. Walking around the island is kinda groovy. 

The Statue is, who woulda guessed it, majestic and beautiful. I don’t think I bothered to look up in awe much back when my primary goal was to climb upher insides. Probably a metaphor for a lot of my twenties. But when you’re staring out from the crown, all you’re see is Manhattan, a view you can find from many locations. Including a “Liberty Cruise.” But this shot can only be found in one spot:

The audio tour has some great info, too. Sure, a lot of it I already knew because I’ve taught U.S. History many times. So I only yawned while Wife and Daughter were fascinated about Pulitzer’s fundraising drive and Gustave Eiffel building the superstructure ten years before he repeated the process with a minor tower in Paris you’ve probably never heard of.

But all the scientific and construction stuff was news to me. Turns out the outer “skin” of copper is only the thickness of two pennies. The individual sheets could be bent to conform to Eiffel’s structure. If you look close enough, you can see the seams between one plate and the next. Impressive, to be sure, but all I could think is that’s an awful lot of coaxial cable. I mean, aren’t people stealing catalytic converters for a couple ounces of copper? Liberty’s got 62,000 pounds!

I’m envisioning a heist story. Kinda like Die Hard, the assumption will be that the criminals are storming the Statue for terrorism reasons, but the twist will be that they’re just trying to take off her dress. And face.

I think I just figured out why they won’t let us in the crown anymore. Bring a file and you can buy your own Liberty Cruise.

Coney Island

The other child-friendly locale we skipped last time was Coney Island. Or I guess we didn’t “skip” it, so much as didn’t give it much of a thought. We “skipped” the Empire State Building, meaning we went past it, discussed going in, but decided to move on. If you aren’t partaking in Coney Island, being an hour-plus trip on the subway, it’s easier to just ignore it.

I assumed Coney Island would be kinda sleepy, kinda sleazy. And yeah… As long as you’re expectation is a bastardized love-child of a Six Flags and a county fair, you’ll be fine. Honestly, the midway was fun. The rides were fine. The only thing that this SoCal-raised guy found truly beneath me was what they passed off as a beach. So maybe they should just move it to the Upper East Side.

The rides were expensive, but that’s to be expected when it isn’t one-ticket-for-all access. Most of the rides worth riding were in the eight to ten dollar range, depending on what bulk you bought the tickets. Considering the rides last, on average, a quarter to a third of the time a Disneyland ride lasts, it doesn’t take long for the trip to cost in the Disneyland range. I think Daughter and I rode six rides each, so that’s over $100.

It was only supposed to be five rides each, but we got duped into the “Liberty Cruise” scam of Coney Island. There are two companies that run the amusement parks, but they own random lots that aren’t always adjacent. So you’re in Luna Park, but to get to another Luna ride, you have to walk through Deno’s, where you’ll have to buy a different ticket card. Overall. we did a pretty good job of purchasing tickets a la carte (a.k.a. more expensively), for specific rides we could see nearby, to make sure we didn’t waste money. 

Until we didn’t.

One of the biggest rides, viewable from blocks away and one of the first you see when exiting the subway, is called the Thunderbolt. It goes straight up, then straight down. Sign me up. It’s a Luna Park property, although there’s nothing on the ride that designates it as such. Nor was it referenced at the other Luna Park a few blocks away, where we rode a painful ride that lays you down flat and then cracks your back more than a chiropractor, but not as therapeutic. Reminds me of the signs I saw at a water slide. Don’t go on if you have back or neck problems. What do you mean? I’m using this water slide to FIX my back and neck problems.

Deno’s also has a ride called the Thunderbolt. Not that I rode it. I don’t even know if I saw it. I only know they have a Thunderbolt because the sign with ticket prices, in plain view of the legit Thunderbolt, said that the I could buy ten tickets to ride the Thunderbolt. A block away, when the Thunderbolt employee told me my tickets wouldn’t work, I explained where I bought them and they said, “Yeah, that happens a lot.” Kinda weird in a city renowned for an overly aggressive government that likes to regulate what size soda you can get. 

We didn’t go to the Freak Show. I didn’t even notice it until we were on our way back to the subway. That’s another thing I’m surprised is still allowed in twenty-first century NYC. You can’t call her a bearded woman anymore, she’s a bearded birthing human. Unless she can’t give birth. And to be fair, the sign didn’t specify bearded women, it only listed “Weird Women,” which is kinda worse. I mean, I’m far from uber-woke, but who the fuck are the proprietors to designate what is weird and, by extension, what is normal. They run a business at Coney Island, for chrissakes. I don’t think I saw a normal person the entire time I was there, present company included. 

The one Coney Island attraction we didn’t partake was the only fucking one I wanted to do in the first place, which was the Cyclone. It’s the original wooden roller coaster that’s been there for almost one hundred years. It’s a Luna Park property, but we actually had the correct tickets that time. The problem came down to weights and measures. The ticket lady didn’t want to let us get in line until after she’d measured Daughter to ensure she was 54 inches. She failed.

I’m not saying, for sure, that Daughter is at the magical height. Its damn close, but I feel like she hit 54 at all the other measuring spots. But the measuring stick they used here wasn’t a permanent fixture, but a pole they lugged out of the ticket booth and held up next to the child being measured. From my vantage point, it appeared the sidewalk was on an uphill slant. Well, not really uphill, more 95-year-old heaving pavement. They put the stick on the uphill side of her and she ended up being just under it. It was close. Kinda like the when the NFL brings the chains out to measure first down, despite having not placed the ball at the correct forward progress. And I couldn’t ask for video replay to confirm the stick wasn’t on level ground.

I was about to point this out, but figured the most likely result would be they take my money and still not let her on when the numbnut at the front of the line was just at inept at measuring children as the one at the end of the line. So I guess I have to wait until next time to ride the Cyclone. Not sure if there’ll ever be a next time I visit Coney Island, but whatever. It’s been there for ninety-five years, so maybe when I have grandkids. Not that they’ll be tall enough to ride.

Come back next week to hear about our hotel bathroom, marijuana, the most awesome thing that can happen at a Billy Joel concert.

Maui Trip, Part 3

Wrapping up my quick jaunt to Maui. This was my third trip to the islands, but first time to Maui. I posted earlier about things like luaus and booze and Covid restrictions. Read on for more thoughts, like ziplines, pancakes, and airport bathrooms.

Businesses: Might as well make this a true TravelBlog and highlight a few businesses you should frequent if you’re there. No, you don’t get a discount. Nor do I get any kickbacks. I don’t know if it makes these more or less legitimate. Whatever. I liked them and I’d like them to still be in business should I ever make it back.

*Camp Maui Zipline: There are a few zipline companies in Maui. The one we did was at Camp Maui, just outside of the town of Haiku. Haiku, a small town. Barely even on a map. Old school Hawaii. (See what I did there?)

The zipline company is on an old World War II base, and they claim to have a “museum” of stuff unearthed while digging out the course. Don’t go out of your way for it, though, as it’s really just a couple planes and jeeps in a tent. Then again, the stupid Pearl Harbor exhibit is just a couple stupid ships that you’re not even allowed to walk on because they’re under water. Who the hell puts ships under water? I want my money back.

This is kinda cool, hanging on the walls of the museum, although clearly ripped off from the Pearl Harbor museum. Still, props to FDR for changing “world history” to “infamy.” Not even the first result on thesaurus.com. After the past two presidents, I kinda forgot we used to elect leaders who didn’t fumble through the English language.

To add to the lackluster “museum,” the ziplines are pretty much run of the mill, some barely dropping enough altitude to let gravity do its work. They had to throw Daughter like a damn fastball or else she would’ve come to rest smack dab in the middle. I guess I’m not doing a great job of selling it, but once she asked, they put enough spin on her to make it into a curveball.

That’s because the staff, at least the ones we encountered, made it fun as hell. They were consummate professionals, despite exuding full hang-loose loadie personas. In a weird way, they made the safety elements cool. When listing all the dos and don’ts, a guy who told us to call him Loki started with “Don’t trust your farts.” Then, when reviewing, he asked the most important rule. Safety first? Have fun? “I mean, those are all important,” he said, “but I think I said don’t trust your farts first.” He turns to his co-guide. “Did I forget to tell them that?”

At one point, when they had to scooch past us on a platform (because they had us all go up the ladder first, then they had to get past us to the zipline), they actually snapped their safeties onto each of us as they passed. I was already attached to the line, so if they slipped and fell as they passed me, we both would’ve gone plummeting off the platform, but we’d only go as far as my rope allowed. Guessing it would be easy to half-ass that part on a course they’ve been on thousands of times. I wouldn’t have noticed that they were unattached for the three steps it took to get past us, but I noticed (in a good way) that they clipped onto me. Daughter might’ve worried that made them look like the “only stupid instructor at the zipline.” 

But once everything was secure and on the actual zipline, they encouraged hands free, spinning, leaning back. Loki (turns out his real name was Danny, but he didn’t reveal that until the end. Even when you know, you don’t call Superman “Clark”) even did a forward flip off the platform one time, resulting in a barrel roll for the first half of the zip. I’m sure they would’ve preferred having a non-stop line of fit twenty-somethings, but they were totally at ease around a bunch of kids. I doubt either of the guys have children of their own, but their repertoire of dad jokes put this dad to shame. But then you see them working the brakes and coming halfway back up the zipline to collect the lightweight who didn’t quite make it, and they’re back to being caring professionals. 

My favorite was one of those difficult stretches where one guide threw my daughter extra hard to get her across. Right after the kid before her only made it partway and Loki had to yank himself uphill to retrieve him. Unlike the other kid, Daughter made it all the way across, but she was totally out of gas. Loki caught her, snapped one of his lines to her then “pretended” to forget about her and turn around when she wasn’t on her feet yet. All of our eyes grew wide as she started to go back up the zipline, thinking he was going to have to go out and get her anyway, when the line caught her after only a foot or two. Then he plays the “Oh, there you are!” and pulls on the line to bring her closer. 

Great time, indeed. If you find yourself there, ask for Loki.

*Surfing Goat Dairy: Another jaunt up into the hinterlands, this time to look at goats. And eat cheese. The goats were for Daughter, the cheese was for us. 

To be honest, the tour was kinda meh. You get to feed some goats. A ton of female goats plus a handful of males who, in typical dude fashion, try to muscle in with an “Are you gonna eat that?” At first I found the sex disparity odd, but then I remembered that guys don’t lactate. Best we’d get from male goats is some From’Undah Cheese. You’d think that, being a man, that bit of biology wouldn’t escape my notice so readily.

The males are only there to make the ladies pregnant to get the milk, and let me tell ya, they were gettin’ it DONE! Holy crap, the whole damn farm was pregnant. One of them looked either ready to burst, or else she was having quadruplets. The only ones not pregnant were those who recently birthed. There were six baby goats who had been born within the past week, including a baby just born that morning. Four hours old and she could already walk. I’m belatedly disappointed in Daughter for taking a year to figure it out. So much for humanity being the echelon of evolution. Then again, Daughter can now add two triple-digit numbers together while the adult goat peed on his beard to improve his sexual attractiveness. 

The cheese was decadent, so clearly Pee-Beard is doing something right. They had hard cheese and soft cheese. “Ping Pong Balls” swimming in garlic oil, a creamy Tahitian lime blend. And I don’t know which goat mixed some horseradish into her teat, but I appreciate the effort.

-Slappy Cakes: You won’t find this one advertised in your hotel lobby. No Viator busses shipping hundreds of blue-hairs to a catamaran to enjoy the local breakfast place. There was still a line out the door.

Once upon a time, on an obscure corner heading into the city of Lahaina, stood a Korean BBQ. One of those restaurants where you cook your own food on a hot plate in the center of your table, a mixture of Japanese teppanyaki and fondue. Unfortunately for that Korean place, the location isn’t overly convenient and, well, who the hell wants to cook for themselves when they go out? Your kitchen is a hell of a lot cheaper. 

Fortunately, someone took over the spot and, instead of gutting and revamping the whole thing, pondered if there was something else customers might enjoy cooking on a hot griddle. 

Sure, I can make pancakes back at home, too, but the batter doesn’t come in a snazzy squeeze bottle. And, oh yeah, I’m not at home and the hotel doesn’t have a stove top. 

So yeah, Slappy Cakes for the win. They’ve got three flavors of pancake batter, but I think one of them is gluten free, so that doesn’t really count. We ordered one tube of buttermilk and one of chocolate. I really wanted to try the red velvet batter that was on the daily special menu, but thought that would be too much pancake. At the time, I believed we’d make another sojourn to the Slappy Cakes. Unfortunately, we never made it back, so the red velvet remains a mystery.

The tubes come with a tapered spout. You have to squeeze a fair amount to get it out, not because the batter’s thick, but because the nozzle’s pretty small. This caters to a bit of an artistic flair. Even moreso when you get two flavors with different colors. Instead of a mon-colored Mickey Mouse, you can make the ears and chin in chocolate, but fill in the eyes with buttermilk. If only I had a little deep red, I don’t know, velvety color to throw in for accent.

You also get toppings. We opted for five, but probably could’ve gone with three, because they fill those dishes up. Fortunately, some of our toppings were crumbled bacon, macadamia nuts, and blueberries, so we could just eat them sans pancake. Next time, I’ll order fewer toppings and get that red velvet batter. I know it was listed as a “daily special,” but the frayed sheet of paper implied this wasn’t its first go-around. I also won’t get the shredded coconut next time, as they provide a coconut syrup free of charge, which was far more scrumptious than the shredded coconut.

They specify that the toppings are only supposed to go on AFTER the pancakes have cooked. Uh huh, sure. I know how insurance works. But bacon cooked into the pancake is a heck of a lot better than on top. You don’t get chocolate chips on top of your ice cream, do you?

The good news is Slappy Cakes doesn’t appear likely to follow the path of its Korean forebear. We got there at 6:55 am (five minutes before they open, because we went on our first morning, when our bodies were still on West Coast time), and the line was already ten deep. It was even longer when we left around 8:00. 

The price was affordable, too. Other than having to fly to Maui. Maybe they’ll franchise on the mainland some day, where West Coast time is behind everybody else, not ahead.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

If you’ve followed some of my other trips, you know I can’t resist a good sign. Only a couple jumped out on this trip, but they’re doozies.

This guy’s got more problems than a minor traffic infraction. I can’t tell if he’s prisoner number 08 or if he blew a .08. I highly doubt either of those are accurate statements. Sure, Hawaii’s gotta be mostly peaceful, but I think they’ve had more than eight prisoners. Shit, before France even had forensics, they made it all they way up to 2460… ooooooooone. (How does one phonetically write out a long lead into the number 1? Wwwwwoooooon? But that’s a different word.)

As for the .08, oh hell no. The baggy eyes, the frazzled hair, the polo that hasn’t seen a laundry room in a week. That guy’s been on a weekend-long bender, at least. Maybe he’s on day 08 of ingesting all his calories through alcohol.

More importantly, why is he allowed to keep his beer with him when he goes to jail? Hey Hawaii, if you have a problem with drinking and driving, maybe you need to take away part of the incentive. Even if it’s empty, as it might be based on the fact that he’s partially crushing it, that’s still a level of dependency the public safety system shouldn’t be encouraging. He’s snuggling that empty can like my daughter with a stuffed animal at night. 

Furthermore, how long did it take them to book him? That’s got to be some flat beer. Unless it’s sugar, because on further glance, that doesn’t really look like any alcohol container I’ve ever seen. It could be a pull tab, but that means this guy’s got a time machine, and if movies have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t throw the time traveler in jail because he’s probably here to save all of humanity. And back in his day, .08 wasn’t considered “drunk,” it was considered “breakfast.”

No, I’m back to it being a sugar shaker. This guy’s got more problems than we can possibly imagine. Shame on the state of Hawaii for throwing him into the drunk tank. They’ll only have themselves to blame when he fails to prevent the forthcoming time-pocalypse.

Then we have this beaut, a bathroom, or maybe a conference room, next to the doozy of a TSA checkpoint line. I’m sure a lot of people fly out of Maui, but shouldn’t that give them more experience at ushering us through? Vegas seems to have things dialed, except maybe on a Sunday evening. We were flying out on a Friday morning, when most people should be flying into Hawaii, not out.

We’d heard horror stories about the agricultural checkpoint, but that was a well-oiled machine compared to TSA. I don’t understand their fear of taking agriculture out of the state. I’d think the worry would be bringing in foreign pests would supersede an errant pineapple boarding an airplane.

At least the long line gave me time to contemplate what’s going on inside this bathroom.

Fonzie’s office was, as we all know, inside the men’s bathroom at Arnold’s. But most of his office meetings didn’t take longer than a quick palaver about who does, and does not, deserve to “sit on it.” Nary a breakout session in sight.

Do the meetings inside this particular “conference room” provide continental breakfast or am I supposed to dine before I arrive? I’m a little worried at the placement of that coffee urn. I’ve never encountered asparagus-flavored creamer before. Anything like hazelnut?

I know the sign clearly says it’s for conference room use ONLY, but is it okay if I use it as a bathroom? Or do I have to go to a nearby room, with maybe some folding chairs and an accordion wall, to take a dump? Because I’ve got a keynote address brewing, ready to trumpet out among the attendees. I don’t even need a microphone.

But I am going to need to scan your badge.

Okay, enough with the fun and frivolity. I’m sure the sign means the bathroom is only to be used by people attending a conference in a nearby conference room. It’s not for us plebs doing the pee-pee dance as the TSA cycle through travelers with a pace even the DMV finds offensive. Hopefully the “no liquids” rule doesn’t apply to my bladder. High grade explosives, indeed.

Even the official story doesn’t make sense, however. Who has a meeting at the airport? The hotel next to the airport, sure, but the last thing I want while I’m discussing the application of the newest technology on the whatsit and the best contemporary practices of whosit, is to watch a steady stream of of grumpy erstwhile vacationers being anally probed by government bureaucrats. Most conference attendees already feel that way, they don’t need the metaphor to be acted out. 

Then again, that sunburnt guy in the TSA line might pass out if he’s touched. Let’s go to the bathroom and watch the shitshow.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve been to the Big Island twice, once as a child and once as an adult. I’ve done Oahu, but it was literally back in the Reagan Administration. The luau had a kissing line, where everybody lined up to be groped by random strangers. Can’t imagine why they stopped that sexual harassment waiting to happen.

This was my first trip to Maui. My main takeaway is that Maui is very touristy. The world of the resorts isn’t really tied to any sense of reality, much less the island. I’m sure Oahu is the same way, but at least in Oahu (from what I remember), there’s more of an urban environment. The resorts might be on the beach, but they’re still tied into the city. In Maui, the cities are separate.

The Big Island, to me, feels more like “Hawaii.” Lots of different things to see there. You can visit a macadamia nut farm or a coffee plantation, find a waterfall hike, or head into cities, from tiny to middling, each with certain personalities. Allegedly you can do similar things on the “Road to Hana,” which I didn’t do, but on the Big Island, those experiences aren’t isolated on the other damn side of the island, requiring a full day to get to. We didn’t do the Road because we have a seven-year-old and all anyone ever says about it are “Beautiful, but long.” I could never even figure out if there was anything to DO in Hana once you get there, or if you end up driving four hours in heavy traffic for the sole purpose of turning around and driving back. Like the Line Ride in that Simpsons episode.

When I went to the Big Island a few years ago, I had lots of things to say about the Hawaiian language and its lack of consonants. It’s not like people are walking around conversing in Hawaiian, but there’s a conscious attempt to keep it alive. On Maui, I never heard or saw the language much, aside from city names and an occasional “In Hawaiian, ona means drunk, and we hope you get very ona tonight.” At fifteen bucks a drink.

I’m told Maui is “not what it used to be,” that it “used to be a quaint little something or other.” I’m also told that, after shutting themselves off from the rest of the world for 18 months, Maui is now interested in diversifying their economy away from 90% tourism. Maybe they should’ve thought of that before they dug up all the pineapple plants and sugar cane, but meh. We saw a fair number of fruit trees, especially citrus, growing where the sugar cane used to be, but the trees were still tiny. By the time they’ve grown, they’ll be replacing them all with marijuana.

My father-in-law, who has been going to the same time share since he bought it in the 1980s (when it was the “only one in Kaanapali”) insists that the Big Island is now where Maui was thirty years ago. I often say the same thing about Amador County wineries vis-a-vis Napa. If that’s the case, then yuck. I guess I better enjoy the Big Island while I can, then get my ass a timeshare on Kawai before it turns into Vegas.

Maui Trip, Part 2

Welcome back. Part Two of my Maui trip is more about me and my family than the actual island, then I’ll wrap it up next week with some business reviews and final thoughts.

Alcohol

Most of my Maui tweets tweets involved the various alcohol policies at our hotel. Rules and regulations, pricing, what have you. But mainly the pricing. Take some resort lifestyle and runaway inflation, add in the fact that I’m not quite the bar hopper I once was, but damn!, those prices.

I love me some pina colada, but in ninety percent of social circumstances, I’m not likely to order one. Call it toxic masculinity, call it not wanting to be the asshole who orders a blended drink. Regardless, when I’m on a cruise ship or somewhere tropical, give me an umbrella drink, stat! But holy crap, fourteen dollars? They literally grow pineapples and coconuts right here on the damn island, or at least they used to, so it should be cheaper. I wanted to throw out the Pulp Fiction line about putting bourbon in it, but at at this point, I’d sell a testicle to get a $5 milkshake. 

Of course, they don’t use those pineapples and coconuts that should be in abundance on the island. Nor do they make a proper pina colada with coconut liquor. It’s just that Island Oasis pre-mix, that probably costs less than $14 for an entire carton of at Costco, and pour in some rum. Not that this stopped me from buying it. It just increased my bitching.

Last time I was in Hawaii, I gravitated toward those lava flow drinks, which are pina coladas with strawberry puree. At the same price, why wouldn’t I buy the one with the extra yummy? Except my hotel made a couple faux pas to lessen the lava flow desirability. 

First, they put banana in it. Blech. Banana is such a bullshit bully when it comes to smoothies. It deadens all the other flavors, making everything a banana* (with special guest star, raspberry) smoothie. I’ll never understand why Jamba Juice puts it in ninety percent of their drinks. One place we went, either Hula Grill or Cheeseburger in Paradise because those are the only places Daughter allowed meals to occur) threw in a mango instead of a banana. I probably coulda gotten on board with that. Unfortunately, wherever it was, I couldn’t just charge it to the room, so I opted for beer. 

The other Lava Flow misstep was not with the lava flow itself, but with the pina colada, which came with a floater of dark rum. I always thought of floaters as superfluous. Great if you want to light your Dr. Pepper on fire, but why not just throw an extra shot in the actual drink? Like separating the yolk from the white, even though they’re all going into the waffles anyway. This aversion is alleviated in a frozen drink, however, because the floater actually stays as a floater. And my first response when sipping from this pina colada was, damn, it doesn’t have a lot of pina colada taste to it. Tons of rum, though. The second half of the drink, after the two lifeforms had merged,  tasted more like a strong pina colada, which makes papa happy. In later incarnations, I drove the straw deep for the first suck, getting full pineapple and coconut, before heading back to the rum.

Both these drinks, mind you, cost the same fourteen dollars. So for the same price, I can either add either a banana and strawberry, or an extra shot of booze, to my pina colada. That banana bully has graduated to stealing my lunch money. If it was a nine dollar drink, it might be a tossup, but if I’m paying double digits, I’m milking every ounce of booze I can.

The beer, on the other hand, only cost seven dollars for a 12-ounce pour. That seems amazingly moderate, commensurate with what I pay on the mainland. In Sacramento, we have a minor league baseball park that charges more than ten bucks. Am I just out of the loop? Has inflation hit mixed drinks harder than beer? Is there so much microbrew competition now that you can’t charge too much? As opposed to Island Oasis, which has a monopoly.

The beer prices were so reasonable that I refused to order it during happy hour, which was two dollars off each drink. A $12 pina colada becomes marginally approachable. A $5 draft beer seems like overkill.

Said happy hour happened twice each day, both seemingly tied to the pool. The first one happened right when the bar opened, at 10:00 am. I applaud a place that encourages you to get your drink on as early as possible. As a bonus, you can model your business on people making poor decisions. How else to explain all the people spending money for those enclosures on the beach, then promptly falling asleep in them? Sure, it’s a lanai while you’re looking at Lanai, but once you’re there, you’re trapped. Play on the beach or in the water and you’re wasting your money. So instead they nap, spending a hell of a lot of money to do what the homeless people in San Diego do for free. Those people need a couple mai tais at 10 am. For twelve dollars instead of the normal fourteen.

It’s a lanai… looking out at Lanai

Ten o’clock was also the time the water slide opened. At first I thought this was to encourage people to behave badly. But after riding the water slide a couple times, I realized it wasn’t made for anyone in the 200-pound range. I damn near got stuck twice on a ten foot slide. So maybe they both start at the same time to give so we can shuffle our kids off while we go get a damn drink.

The second happy hour was the more standard one, from 4:00 to 5:00, coinciding with the closing of the water slide. It was a great breakaway for those of us who just spent hours feigning excitement over our children’s umpteenth slide down. What’s that sweetie? Did I see the slight change in your body position? Of course I did. That made all the difference, didn’t it?

The problem is that once the water slide is closed, we’re back to parenting again. Not to mention showers and dinner plans. Throw in the fact that for most of us it’s anywhere from 7:00-10:00 on the internal clock (those people in the lanai are snoring away for different reasons now), and it wasn’t surprising that the second happy hour had less partakers. Like a real happy hour.

The pool bar closed at 7:00 pm. And I mean CLOSED. I was grilling hot dogs nearby and wondered if I should get a drink (a beer, since it was not happy hour) to drink while grilling or to take back to my room with the hot dogs to consume with dinner? I chose poorly, because when I swung by the bar on the way back to my room, the bartender informed me they closed at 7:00. I checked my watch and it was, I shit you not, 7:02.

Daughter. 

Sometimes I forget that my daughter isn’t four years old anymore. Other times I have to remind myself she’s not a teenager yet. Occasionally, she loses track of these factoids, too.

Things she used to be afraid of, she’s now fine with. Things that were once of no concern now inspire existential dread. Her food palate seems to be going in all directions. In some instances, she’s more interested in new flavors, while at other times she’s regressing from loving broccoli to tolerating it. Last trip to Maui, she allegedly fell in love with fish & chips. That lasted for all of a month or so before she started hating it, so it was back to the usual mac & cheese/chicken strip restaurant fare. Nothing worse than paying ten bucks for the same box of Kraft dinner we can cook at home for ninety cents. 

This trip, she was on a cheeseburger kick, despite being iffy on them back home. For the first half of the week, she devoured those things. On our first trip to Cheeseburger in Paradise, which she was upset to discover wasn’t associated with Jimmy Buffett (yeah, I’ve got THAT kid), and she mauled that entire burger and some of her fries. Against our wishes, we returned a couple days later. She ordered the same thing, this time with avocado on top, and a side of fruit in lieu of the fries. She proceeded to eat the avocado, the bun, and the strawberries, but not the pineapple. Never touched the meat and/or cheese. All things considered, I shouldn’t criticize a kid who eats avocado and strawberry, but seriously kid, there were other things on the menu. You didn’t bother looking. And I don’t know where this new aversion to pineapple came from. She always loved it before. Perhaps she associates it with coconut, which she’s never liked. 

Then again, if she doesn’t drink pina coladas, would she associate the two? 

She loves putting the “Do Not Disturb” sign on our door, but she only wants to do it when we’re away from the room. That way, people won’t be knocking forever, wondering why we aren’t coming to the door. But while we’re in the room, then everybody’s welcome. I don’t know who she expects to come by. Probably a kidnapper. And we wouldn’t want him to waste his time. Since housekeeping during one’s stay is quickly becoming a thing of the past, it wasn’t much of an issue. Not that they’ve had the “Request Maid Service” sign for years. It kinda feels like now’s a good time to bring that one back, only to be used as necessary.

This trip was the first time I saw the beginnings of that persnickety social bullshit that is undoubtedly coming in shit-tons over the next decade. She has become aware that other people might notice and have opinions about her. Even worse, it happened at the pool and the beach, so my next Maui trip will include her lying around on a chaise like my sister used to do for her entire teenage existence. 

While we no longer fear Daughter sinking to the bottom each time she swims, she’s not exactly Michael Phelps. Even a normal jaunt into the pool requires a parent on hand. If for our sanity if not entirely for her safety. She can make it to the side of the pool on her own, but doesn’t exactly know when it’s a good idea to head in that direction. With the amount of excess energy she expends over each ounce of water, if one of us were not with her, she’d swallow half the pool by the time she made it there. Even when she’s “treading water,” (or sinking then bouncing back up) she doesn’t realize the purpose is to keep the water out of her mouth. Close your fucking mouth, kid!

So when it came to swimming in the ocean, we mandated some stricter guidelines on the off chance a current separates us or a wave changes the depth quickly. Wife wanted her to take an inflatable floatie out, but I said life preserver. While I don’t think either of us intended to combine the two, in Daughter’s mind this morphed into quite the hypothetical visual. Aside from the fact that it might be physically impossible, I can kinda see where she might have a problem with fitting the life jacket into the hole of the inflatable duck. Traipsing out amongst beachgoers with seventy-five layers of protection sounds very 1980s sitcom. Should we throw some colored zinc on her nose, too? Are glasses and headgear out of the question? 

It took me a while to come up with the word “headgear.” Don’t see those around much anymore. Technology might be destroying our planet and plotting humanity’s demise, but at least we improved the teeth straightening.

She never directly said dork or geek, I don’t think she ever even enunciated the phrase “embarassing,” but you could tell that’s where she was going. Her exact worry was not being, “the only stupid kid on the beach.” Ugh. Since when did she start noticing how other people perceive her? Are the mean girls already mean girling? Is Daughter on the sending or receiving end? And is it too late to return to distance learning?

Of course, we parents didn’t help matters by noting that none of these people knew her, to which she responded that made it even worse. First impressions, and all that. I guess it takes until middle school when you learn that strangers are a far safer commodity than people who see you every day and will remind you of said embarrassment every fucking chance they get.

Come Back for Part Three

One more batch coming up early next week. Find out my thoughts on ziplining, pancakes, and goats. Just what you’ve always hoped for!

Maui Trip, Part 1

I kept going back and forth about blogging my Maui trip. I doubted there’d be much more to add to my Poo-litzer level,  Michneresque 5- entry polemnic from when i visited the big island four years ago (turns out there are still more vowels than consonants in the Hawaiian language, not that you encounter the Hawaiian language much on Maui), plus I’d be reacting to a few things in the waning days of Covid restrictions that would be obsolete by the time I posted (even more obsolete than most of my pop culture references). 

I tried live tweeting a couple things instead. I wish I could do that more, get quicker digs, more buy-in to and from the zeitgeist. That’s me, right on the cusp of the technological frontier, contemplating the key social media conduits of 2001 and 2011. Come back in twnety years to see my TikToks.

Unfortunately, my vicious salvos of truth often need some percolatin’. Who woulda guessed this shit is actually edited? And I never wouldve assumed I’d get 5,000 words out of sipping pina coladas at the pool, but I did, so I guess I’ll break it up into parts. So, meh, here are some thoughts:

The Covid Stuff

We were in Maui the last week of mask mandates. As happened in California, the last gasp of Covid restrictions is an odd in-between times. Either they’re necessary and useful or they’re not. Nobody believes that they are necessary right now, but we can already predict the date at which they will lose their utility. Kinda like the last two weeks of school, when no teacher assigns anything meaningful, the moment you announce that masks will no longer be required on a specific date in the future, it becomes a charade. 

Worse than California, ninety percent of the places in Hawaii where masks were required are outside. Including the damn airport, which isn’t even on the verge of lifting the mandate. I know, I know. “Following the science,” right? The science that outdoors is the safest place you can be. While I’ve poo-pooed many of the Covid restrictions (particularly those more performative than purposeful), but I’m all for masking up in airports, where drastically different populations comingling increases the likelihood of mutations and variants. But what do you do with an airport that’s mostly outside? Science works best when nobody asks questions.

The restaurants in Hawaii also tend to be outdoors. Nothing seems more foolish than putting on a mask to walk past a bunch of people sitting at tables in a sand pit, just to get to your sand pit, where you can take off your mask. All in a state that says masks will no longer be worthwhile the day after tomorrow. 

The biggest victim of Covid policies was our luau. At least I think. Or we could’ve just been at a shitty luau. Hard to tell.

One of the joys of a luau is the all-you-can-eat factor. I mean, sure, they dance fancy and ooo, ahhh, fire! And long tables to converse with strangers. But unlimited mai tais? Sign me up. 

Unfortunately, that whole “let everyone scoop their own food at the buffet” is frowned upon these days. Maybe. Instead, they brought plates of all the delicacies to our table. In their defense, they brought out eight appetizers, one scoop each, four to a plate, from which we could spoon from those plates onto our own. If it was buffet style, I might’ve doubled up on the noodles and macaroni salad, skipped the kimchi. Or maybe I would’ve tried a bite of kimchi, offset by an extra macaroni salad. When it’s delivered to us without ordering, all with the same-sized scoop, that’s not an option. Meaning, to be a good dad, I had to stock up on the taro root and leave Daughter the pasta types.

The dinner followed suit. One plate came with pork and fried rice, another with chicken and veggies, while a third had fish with veggies. There was plenty to go around for the three of us. I was able to eat two fish, one chicken, and some pork and there was still enough for the rest of the family. But scooping things from one plate to another doesn’t have the same feel as “What is that new exotic dish? Only one way to find out.” 

Not to mention, when you keep sending the poor waiter back to give you more free mai tais, as opposed to grabbing another one off the free-for-all table, it feels more co-dependent than festive. There was also substantially less variety of drink. At the last luau, random new drinks came out, just as fun to sample as food. This one had mai tai or a Blue Curacao lemonade concoction. I only had two, which doesn’t factor into the price of the luau quite as nicely as six. In fact, they stop feeling like “free” mai tais.

The next morning, we went to breakfast at a different hotel and, wouldn’t you know it, they had a buffet! No restrictions. The Indian place back home requires me to put on a goddamn HazMat suit to get some goddamn butter chicken these days, in a state that ended its Covid restrictions a month ago. Meanwhile, I can hack a lung over that vat of Hawaiian scrambled eggs till my heart’s content. 

So maybe they aren’t illegal during Covid? In which case, bad luau. And bad resort for blaming Covid (or making us assume to blame Covid), when you just didn’t want to bother putting out a pina colada fountain. 

Maui Geography

While this was my first trip to Maui, Wife’s been there a good twenty times because her parents have owned a timeshare for decades. Shit, Daughter already visited once before I made it out, because we didn’t have to worry about coordinating Spring Breaks when she was four. As such, I never understood people’s descriptions of where things are on Maui. Now, I understand a bit more, but still have a general sense of “Have you ever looked at a map?”

First and foremost, up vs. down. Every other spot on Earth, up means north, down means south. We might have a reasonable discussion on the effects of white privelege, but until the world decides otherwise, it’s how maps are made. In Maui, “up” appears to be toward the airport, or maybe up one of the mountains (Haleakala), but not the other (Pu’u Kikui). Any way you define it so that the resorts in Kaanapali are “down.” The Ritz Carlton up (north) in Napili is as far “down” as you can get. Now that I’ve been there, I kinda get it. It’s one long road, seemingly straight but actually curved, to get from the airport to the resorts. The road starts out going south. Maybe that’s where it comes from? It can’t be an elevation thing, because the runway is damn near on the water. I thought there was no fucking way we were going to land before the asphalt ran out.

Our zipline was upcountry, but also on the north side of the volcano,  so as a bonus, I can say we went “up” to the zipline and be correct either way. 

The most direct route from the airport to Napili and Kaanapali appears to be around the “top” of the island. But evidently that’s a shitty one lane road, like the “Back Road to Hana,” so you’ve got to go the long way. Even though they’ll complain about the traffic on the two main roads, they won’t throw some asphalt on the alternate routes.

Speaking of which, Wife often talks about the “Other side of the island.” Based on what I’d heard, I assumed that meant Hana. But no, nobody ever goes to Hana, other than to take the Road to Hana. The “other side of the island” from Kaanapali is Kihei. Down south. Facing west. Kind of like how Los Angeles and Seattle are on… different sides of the country?

Again, I kinda get it now, in that when leaving the airport, after driving south, you take a left to go to Kihei and a right to Kaanapali. But… but… They’re still on the same sides of the island. 

Resort Land

We were staying at Kaanapali. As were probably ninety percent of the tourists. It’s a minimum of ten gargantuan resorts, stretching along what would otherwise be a desolate coast. When you’re walking along the path late at night, there’s a really good chance the property you’re turning into is the wrong one. And you can’t even ask people for directions to the Marriott property, because I think Marriott owns half of them.

My wife and daughter kept gushing about Hula Grill, where they went before when staying at the grandparents’ time share. I assumed we wouldn’t be going there, seeing as we’re staying at a completely different property. Nope. Hula Grill’s in the middle of the sprawl, so every place feeds into it. As the hour and a half wait indicated. But we still slogged through it, (on our first night, approaching 11:00 pm according to my stomach), and it was, in fact, wonderful food. We went two more times before the vacation was out. With a mask while outside. Even more comical, the waiter asked if we needed our parking validated. Doesn’t everybody walk there? Although I totally wanted to Uber back to the hotel, because it was dark and windy and I knew for a fact I was about to walk into the wrong damn Marriott.

It’s not quite as removed from the local populace as some of those Mexican or Caribbean resorts. Unlike in Montego Bay, there are no warnings about being kidnapped if you leave the property. But it still feels like a segregated party town. On the drive in from the airport, it’s nonstop beaches and small towns, then wham! Hey honey, I don’t think I need the navigation app anymore.

Alright, that’s a good enough place to leave it. Read on for odd juxtaposition about the price of alcohol and my daughter having the audacity to grow up.

Snow Camping

After multiple fits and starts, years after the initial idea crept into my brain with the perseverance of syphillis, I finally headed up into the mountains and camp in the great white, frigid tundra of the Sierra Nevada, facing harrowing white-out conditions, a la Jack London lightsabering open his Tauntaun, relying on only my MacGyver wits and those innate survival skills harkening back to caveman days.

Okay, a couple slight misrepresentations there. Jack London had no lightsaber. Other than that, it’s all legit.

Plus the fact that I was in Yosemite Valley, where there are park rangers every other square foot. Not to mention grocery stores. And bars, in case I forgot to pack enough beer, the ultimate survival sin.

Oh, and the weekend in question, the temperature was only a few degrees cooler than down in the flatlands.

This was my second planned glorious freezefest marred by temperate conditions. Two years ago, my outdoor curling bonspiel, held at one of the coldest spots in the lower 48 states, resulted in a high in the mid thirties and a low in the twenties. Don’t get me wrong, that’s cold and all, but that same competition this year had highs in the single digits.

Yosemite camping, in comparison, was closer to what I assumed it would be. Yeah, that high temperature wasn’t substantially lower than back home, but the high temperature doesn’t tell the whole story. In the valley, you probably get three to four hours a day near the high. In Yosemite, if you walk into a shadow, you’re losing ten degrees. The only time I felt truly miserable was 2:00 pm, returning to campsite after hiking to the Vernal Falls bridge, only to find said campsite completely shaded, and realizing that sweat cools very quickly. The sun teased us way up on the mountains, but it was gone for good from down below. Even though the temperature dropped another twenty degrees by nighttime, we were acclimated by then.

Actually, the most miserable I felt was when 28,000 steps at elevation combined with carnitas and beer. The bus that takes you into Yosemite is called YART, for Yosemite Area Rapid Transit. Yart is also what I did inside my tent.

Speaking of which, the shuttle busses are back! After two years of destroying the environment in order to stop the sniffles, they finally decided to let our feet and exhaust pipes rest. The only weird thing about the busses was the time and date posted inside were wrong. We rode around Saturday afternoon, but the busses through it was Sunday morning. We thought maybe if we rode the busses long enough, we could find out who won the Super Boal and make a bet on it. Alas, at 5:00 pm Saturday, it was still only reading 8:00 am Sunday, and I don’t think the shuttles ran at midnight when we could listen to the game. Damn you, time travel paradoxes!

Sorry, that had nothing to do with snow camping, just a Yosemite/Covid aside. 

As for the temperature thing, it did get pretty chilly overnight. Somewhere in the mid-twenties, I’d surmise, although one of the wives saw a report of 18. Nothing that a tent, sleeping bag, and about five layers of clothes. 

Oddly enough, my feet kept getting cold around 3:00 am. I’d think my feet would be the warmest, buried deep in my sleeping bag. But I suppose they’re also closest to the edge of the tent. Plus the whole distance-from-heart thing and only one layer of socks. On night two, I threw a hand warmer down there, but it had burned out by the time I needed it. I opened a second one, but I don’t know if I didn’t shake it right or if it was a dud or whatever, but it never seemed to warm up and I was too fucking tired to reassess. 

Yes, I’m talking about those little iron oxide packets. As I said, roughing it like our forebears. 

But dammit, there WAS snow on the ground, so I’m claiming victory over snow camping.

Honestly, I was a little worried. We had huge storms in December, but the last four weeks have been dry, and I wasn’t sure what impact a month of fifty-degree days might have on tobogganing conditions. I knew there’d still be snow up on the mountains, but the valley only sits around 4,000 feet elevation. Fortunately, there was plenty of snow to go around. Considering our campsite was in full shade from 2:00 pm on, I think the snow will stay there well past the equinox.

At least it wasn’t last year. We originally booked our snow camping for last January, but Yosemite canceled it due to the first, or maybe second, Covid surge. Back before we started naming variants, because they didn’t start naming variants until after got vaccinated and weren’t living in fear of plain ol’ vanilla Covid.

While I complained about Yosemite shutting down, because it’s not like we were going to be exchanging lots of saliva with strangers while outdoors in January, perhaps it was a blessing. Our first (and only) storms of the 2020-21 winter didn’t arrive until two weeks after our reservations. Without snow, it isn’t really snow camping. It’s just cold camping, which doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

Aside from the length of time it’s near the high, want to know the other difference between forty degrees at home and forty degrees camping? The latter doesn’t have central heating.

I figured forty was no big deal. I regularly walk to my classroom in shorts when it’s sub-40 in the morning, and half the times I’m wearing shorts because it’ll be 65 by the time I walk out. Except on the way to my classroom, I’m only outside for 500 paces or so. When it’s forty degrees at a campsite, you better be sitting your ass by the fire. Then your front. Then your ass again, like a goddamn rotisserie chicken.

I’m mostly exaggerating. Weatherwise, it was more or less what I was looking for. Cold and crisp, enough to require layers and bundling, but nothing bone-biting. Not sure I would’ve wanted to run around naked at midnight, but nothing a fire in the morning and evening, and a little walking around during the day, couldn’t accommodate. 

Although we did a hell of a lot more than “a little” walking around. In addition to those 28,000 steps, my Fitbit clocked me at 130 floors on Saturday. We did Mirror Lake AND Lower Yosemite Falls AND the Vernal Falls footbridge. I’ve become so used to camping out in the middle of nowhere where the biggest exertion comes from sitting by a lake and playing cornhole, that I forgot camping can include some rather aerobic exercises.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve done Vernal Falls twenty times in my life, I still fall for that sign at the beginning every damn time. “Vernal Falls Footbridge,” it reads, “0.8 miles.” How hard can a trail be if it’s less than a mile? 

Except for the fact that it’s 0.8 miles straight the fuck up a mountain. I tried to explain this to the two Yosemite noobs with me on this trip. We’d done Mirror Lake already and it was getting close to lunchtime. I really only wanted to see if Happy Isles was open. I didn’t need to prove anything.

But it’s less than a mile, they said. There ain’t no pain in the world we can’t withstand for one measly mile. Twenty minutes up, twenty minutes down, and we’ll be right and ready for lunch. 

Then I suddenly forgot a lifetime of experience. I’m older now than I used to be, I reasoned. My legs are longer. An hour car ride used to be straight torture, and now I do it on a daily basis. Based on that logic, the NFL would be filled with fifty-year-olds. 

Holy shit, Vernal Falls is a brutal fucking hike!

There’s one stretch, only fifty yards or so, that appears to cross the surface of the sun at something like a seventy percent grade. No, I don’t care if that can’t exist. This entire stretch stands only as a reminder, after hiking ninety percent of the way under a beautiful tree canopy, that nature is an asshole. On a summer hike, you rest beforehand, drink your body weight in water directly afterward, and then become a druid so you can fuck the nearest tree. 

I thought maybe it would be a pleasant respite in the middle of winter, but nope. Because when you’re hiking in forty-five degree shade, you’ve got layers. I contemplated stripping off my flannel and sweatshirt in order to cross the threshold in my skivvies, but that would’ve taken way too much effort.

When we returned to the campsite, now with no sunlight, my friends remarked it was a deceptive 4/5 of a mile. I felt like reminding them I tried to talk them out of it. But instead I only shivered while cold wind buffeted my sweaty undergarments.

The Mirror Lake trek was more pleasant. The only drawback to that slow, paved incline was some slippery-as-shit batches of ice. Not so bad on the way up as the way down. My curling skills came in handy. Walk like a penguin, low center of gravity. My friends didn’t do quite as well. Four tumbles between the two of them. 

Speaking of ice, I was surprised the actual lake was iced over. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. Ice and snow don’t form the same way, and if it’s regularly dropping into the twenties and teens at night, it doesn’t matter if it’s been a month without a cloud in the sky. But still, Mirror Lake is pretty shallow. Not really a lake at all so much as a slight egress, a Thanksgiving belt unbuckling, of a fast-moving stream. In fact, the pool just beneath Mirror Lake, which I always considered more or less a part of Mirror Lake, didn’t have a speck of ice despite only a fifty foot elevation change. 

And yeah, I totally wanted to curl on that shit.

The Yosemite Falls hike was pretty much the same as it is in the middle of summer. Almost as crowded, too. For the most part, the park was serene and, from the perspective of a regular summer day, sparse, but the Lower Yosemite Falls bridge was still ass-to-elbow.

The only other place that felt crowded was, ironically enough, the campgrounds. Only one of the seven or eight valley campsites is open in the winter, and it’s only half open, all of us jammed into a hundred or so campsites. So even with decreased demand, we’re still right on top of each other, especially for guys used to camping somewhere remote enough for home run derby and throwing butter at trees. Maybe Yosemite knew what it was doing when it canceled my reservations last January. I thought there was no way we could spread Covid to strangers while outside in January. Turns out it’s about as private as a cultish orgy.

They didn’t, however, close Yosemite Falls last January. I assume that’s what caused every single surge and variant of the past twelve months.

Even the village store was a ghost town. I didn’t even know it was possible for the parking lot to only house a handful of cars. On a summer day, you’re idling for ten minutes until one of the two hundred cars leaves. In January, they don’t even bother plowing half the parking lot. 

Or maybe it was just that people bought their shit during the day, not wanting to drive over icy roads in the dark like a couple dumbass city slickers rolling into town twenty minutes before the store closes.

Which leads to the biggest issue with my snow camping adventure, the biggest switcheroo from my comfort zone of summer camping. 

Did you know that the days are shorter in February than in June? Who woulda guessed?

I knew there was no way in hell we’d make it there before the sun went down, but couldn’t fight that niggling hope at the base of my spine that I wouldn’t be blindly groping in the frozen dark like a freshman trying to unclasp Elsa’s bra. We discussed grabbing dinner on the way into the park, but didn’t want to lose time. So no stopping at the Pizza Factory or inviting brewery in Groveland. Because… well, I’m not sure why. It’s not like 8:00 would’ve been darker than 7:00. Once you hit nighttime, you’re setting up camp blind. The only difference is sloppiness caused by hunger pangs.

In the end, after fumbling around with some persnickety poles that seem to go together perfectly fine when I don’t have to worry about my fat ass blocking the lantern light, we finally boiled some water and had ramen for dinner that first night. It was almost PB & J sandwiches, but the other guy realized he threw some packs into his camping gear back in the Bush administration and that stuff can withstand a nuclear winter. Or a Yosemite winter. 

Not as good as the brewery or pizza in Groveland. Then again, had we stopped for dinner, the store might’ve been closed when we got there, meaning we could only burn the wood we brought with us. Ramen and fire beats pizza and no fire.

Who says I’m irresponsible while camping?

Next year, Polar Bear Challenge!

Family and other F Words

My family occasionally reminds me why I moved to the other end of the state.

That “occasion” is every damn time I have to interact with them. 

Christmas this year was no exception. Is it too soon to wish for the good old days of 2020 when we had baked-in excuses to avoid travel and gatherings? Sure, that excuse still exists. It’s just sounding more like an excuse.

The Boomers who have ruled my extended family with an iron fist since the moment they clawed their way out of war-weary wombs are dragging everyone into their self-centered black holes. They never doubted their infallibility over the last seventy years, why should they start now?

My parents generation wrested Christmas and other holiday celebrations from their own parents in the so-called Greatest Generation while in their thirties and forties. Meanwhile, I’m pushing fifty, but so far they’ve allowed ONE member of my generation to host ONE holiday. And it’s Easter, which no one gave a shit about. You can take Charlton Heston’s gun easier than we can take a Certified Family Gathering(tm).

I mean, come on, if they were the “Greatest Generation,” why would they let other generations take things from them? Don’t they know that greatness means grabbing everything and holding onto it with a death grip? Otherwise the fascists win. Not that the Greatest Generation would know jack shit about standing up to fascists. They didn’t have Facebook OR Twitter in 1941. How could one possibly stand up to fascism without changing the font on their profile picture? “Greatest.” Pfft.

For the past thirty-ish years, Christmas dinner has shifted between my mom, my aunt, and their cousins. As negotiated in the Great Treatise on Holiday Celebrations reached during the Clinton Administration, right up there with the Good Friday Agreement and Oslo Accords., my mom and aunt hold the Christmas festivities in even years, while the heathen side of the family got the odd years. 

Not that they’re heathens. With an Irish last name, you might think I’ve got a protestant/Catholic thing going on. The two sides of my family, descending from my grandpa and his sister, are quite agreeable. It’s the generation gap that gets a bit hairy. In case you hadn’t noticed.

As with everything, Covid kinda fucked up that whole arrangement. Nobody held Christmas in 2020. There was quite some consternation, and many negotiations back and forth, as to whether 2021 should go to the person who was skipped in 2020, my aunt, or the original 2021 designee, a cousin. I can only assume both sides sent pawns to a neutral location with missives and salvos before going to the mattresses.

Enter my niece, who graduated college in December. Because no story about obtuse Boomers is complete without a it’s-all-about-meeeeeee Zillennial. I’m not sure whether she was demanding a graduation party or whether my mom, her grandma, insisted. Probably a bit of each. Grandma uses any excuse to throw a party, not because she enjoys company, but so she can prove she throws better parties. But niece was the one who didn’t want to wait until spring or summer for her party. Granted, it’s taken her seven years and at least three locations to finish said college career, but now that she’s finished, dammit, gotta throw the party ASAP.

Seems a simple pickle, yeah? Just cancel Christmas and throw a graduation party instead.

I wish I was being facetious. 

Step one. Niece can’t make it to Grandma’s house for Christmas because of, I don’t know, work or friends or bong hits. So they planned her graduation for the middle of January. What’s better than one Awkward All-Family Shoutfest over the Holiday Season? That’s right, two.

And okay, not to throw everyone else under the bus without acknowledging the grenades I lobbed. Because if we’re lumping people into their generations, then how does Gen X play out?  “Yeah, I ain’t fucking doing that.”

Did I mention that my students asked if I was a Boomer? I was incensed. After I explained I was Generation X, they responded that they had never heard of that. So right on par.

In this family issue, I feel I made many concessions. In fact, I was willing to fly to Southern California for both events, Christmas and the graduation. What I refused to do was make my daughter schlep her ass across the state twice in a two-week period. Especially with one being the day after Christmas and the other being at the end of her first week back at school after two weeks off. To say nothing of the $500 I spend each round trip. 

I thought the most logical trade-off was both of us come for Christmas but then it’s just me for graduation because, honestly, why does a 7-year-old care about college? Like most 7-year-olds, she has a natural aversion to festivities where everybody’s gushing over someone else instead of her.

Naturally, nobody gave two shits if I was going to be there. If I don’t bring Daughter, then I might as well sit my ass back at home and save five benjamins.

Regardless, I set out the plans. Both of us would pack everything up the day after Christmas to come visit for a few days, then I would fly down solo in January. 

As an aside, I’ve hated with a passion, since my earliest days, the whole visiting grandma after Christmas. Even when we only lived an hour away, the trip to Grandma’s house lasted from 10:00 am on Christmas morning through at least the 27th, usually the 28th. What’s more fun than opening a bunch of gifts then leaving them behind for three days? And sure, I could bring some of the new stuff, but it’s torturous when you get the hot new video game from Santa, but Grandma doesn’t have an NES. Some years I brought the case and read the instruction booklet.

One “Yeah, I ain’t doing that shit” I carved out years ago is not flying down until the 26th. Of course, we spend most of the 25th at Wife’s family, so there’s still an element of never getting to play with your new shit, but welcome to the holidays.

Except not this year. Cause my mom told me that if we were only coming to one of the two celebrations, she’d rather it be the graduation. She talked about how everybody I’d want to see at Christmas would also be there at graduation. And they’d cook the same dinner, if that’s what I was worried about missing out on. And the baby (there’s a baby in the family) might not be there the day after Christmas but would definitely be there at graduation. 

The first thing I asked before deciding was if my aunt was okay with it. After the prolonged negotiations, this year’s Christmas was gifted to my aunt, who missed her turn last year, instead of her cousin, who was originally slated for this year. I wanted to make sure she was okay with me not showing up for Christmas. My mom thought this was an odd request, because who gives a fuck about other people’s ideas and emotions? But she acquiesced and (allegedly) got clearance from my aunt, and then we were set.

Well, not really set, because now that my mom has us all coming down for a graduation on a Saturday in January, why not stick around all day Sunday to open presents and eat quiche and drink Bailey’s, basically the full Christmas bacchanal. Then jam all those presents into an extra suitcase that we pack for a 36 hour turnaround and hope it isn’t over fifty pounds on the return flight.

And again, maybe I’m the asshole here, but I said no fucking way. If you want us there for the graduation instead of Christmas, you get us for graduation, not Christmas. You know what’s great about opening presents on the 26th or 27th? I don’t have a brand new term, with new subjects and new students the next day. So sorry, but I’m not flying down on a Saturday in order to do a full extended family party followed by a present orgy the following morning in order to fly home late on Sunday to get both Daughter and I ready for school the next day. If you want us there for Christmas, we’ll come for Christmas.

That’s an asshole hat I’ll proudly don.

Not that I went scrooge or anything, I bought everybody gift cards I could easily hand to them during the festivities so as not to take the focus away from the graduating Zillennial. I sent presents to those who wouldn’t be at the graduation.

Who wasn’t going to be present, you might ask? After all, one of the selling points was that “everybody who would be at Christmas” would also be at the graduation. Except for my aunt. 

Could you guess that was coming? Turns out my aunt wasn’t quite so thrilled at her sister telling people to skip her party for the much cooler one in January. My uncle thought my mom was trying to replace their Christmas with the graduation which, of course, “never entered” my mom’s mind, except for yeah, that’s exactly what she fucking did. So whether to placate my mom or stop hearing about it from her husband, my aunt finally canceled Christmas. 

Well, she didn’t cancel Christmas. Hallmark wouldn’t allow that. But she tapped out of the family bullshit and gave the annual celebration back to the cousin who would have been scheduled to have it during this odd-numbered year if not for 2020. So all is right with the world. And my mom was happy to note that none of this drama would happen next year, because it’s her scheduled year. And if my aunt goes six or eight years between hosting, who the hell cares, right? Seventy-year-olds regularly wait around eight years for shit to happen. Just ask Joe Biden.

So fine, I’m staying home for Christmas, Aunt is miserable, but Mom gets her precious all-hands-on-deck celebration. All is right with the world and if it’s not, at least the repercussions shouldn’t last longer than a decade anyway, right?

If only someone had asked Mom to clear it with Aunt first. Oh right, I did.

Except don’t forget, these plans are being made in the joyous 2020-2022 corridor, so you know Covid is going to rear it’s ugly head. Earlier this week, I got a text that, due to the recent Covid spike, the graduation party is canceled. Postponed until spring or summer when we can festivate outdoors. It was surprisingly thoughtful for my mom, until I inquired further and one of those “spikes in Covid” was her husband. Had it not affected her household personally, I’m sure she would’ve thrown caution to the wind.

But wait, there’s more. Don’t cancel your flight yet, Mom implores! Maybe I can still fly down and we can open Christmas presents. In mid-January. Because I skipped Christmas at her request. For a graduation that isn’t happening.

Just so long as Mom gets her “Christmas” photo of all her grandkids and her one great-grandkid. Except one of the grandkids and the great-grandkid won’t be there, because husband of said grandkid (and father of said great-grandkid) just got Covid. Oh, and the one other cousin near my daughter’s age won’t be there either. Her mother has Covid.

Far be that from convincing my mom to put a cork in her fantasy of creating a holiday celebration better than her sister’s holiday. And if we all catch Covid from each other, than maybe that old “I’m in my seventies, this might be the last…” will come true. 

So now I’m schlepping my ass t Southern California for no reason other than to open presents. And I’m not giving presents, I’m only handing people cards.  Like a typical self-centered Gen X’er.

Present at this function will be my mom, my sister, the niece who just graduated college but isn’t getting her party, and my aunt. 

Yes, my aunt. Because my mom’s husband has Covid, these festivities have been moved to my aunt’s house. 

In economics, we call that an equilibrium.

A miserable, pain-in-the-ass equilibrium. And just like the ones in economics, the only ones who it benefits are the Baby Boomers.

Outdoor Curling, Off-Ice

I originally intended for this post to be a two-parter.One for preparation, one for the Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel. But one of our games turned into an epic, inspiring poems retold for centuries to come. So now it’s a threesome of posts. No, wait a second. Is there another word for a group of three? Perhaps a double-team? You’re currently reading the meat of this curling-post sandwich.

Read on to find out what the beautiful town of Stanley was like and how I managed to snap my wrist! Then you can find the on-ice stuff here.

Okay, so the good news is that the weather was way warmer than expected. I spent the last three months expecting zero degrees Farenheit, and in the end I got zero degrees Celsius (and y’all thought I didn’t know metric.)

Heck, we didn’t even need the beards and goggles. But when you deck yourself out this sexy, there’s no turning back on account of weather.

The bad news is that it’s really, really difficult to curl when the ambient temperature is the freezing point of water. Because, you see, we need the water to be actually frozen. If it’s melting, the stone can’t glide across it, as it’s supposed to. We went to a hockey game and a water polo match broke out. Not that I’d trust horses on either surface.

As an example, we time our deliveries in curling, in order to give the sweepers an idea of when to sweep and to give the shooter an idea of how the ice is working. We only time the beginning of the delivery. Under normal conditions, a delivery of 3.5 or 3.6 or 3.7 seconds means the rock will end on the button (the middle of the “bullseye”) at the other end, about 25 seconds later. And if I’m timing the lead on my team and discover it’s 3.7 to button versus 3.5, then that tells me I need to slide out a little slower than usual.

At the beginning of our first game, it was 2.6 seconds to button. As far as we could tell. At those speeds, it’s hard to get an accurate reading, as the sweepers are chasing after a 20 MPH bullet. So yeah, for the first two ends, we were pretty much throwing as hard as we could and hoping for the best.

The game was scheduled to start at 5:00, but they pushed it back to 5:30 to accommodate for the weather. They should’ve pushed it back to 6:00. Because by the third end, the ice was closer to normal. Okay, maybe it was 3.3 to button instead of the usual 3.6, but that’s something we can work with.

Not that we could work with it. We scored one in the first end and then got shutout for the next five. There were a few times we’d get a little something going, but then the other team would make a perfect draw and we’d end up with squa-doosh. I was ready to throw in the towel on the second-to-last end when we were down 8-1. But then we were looking at three points before I took my final two shots. We all agreed: if we score less than five, we’ll shake hands and concede the game. Because if we score, the other team gets the hammer (final shot). And it’s really, really hard to score more than two if the other team has the final shot. But if we scored five, we’d be down by two. And then….

We scored five. Game’s now 8-6. Other team wants to shake hands, but we went dick-mode and made them play the final end. It didn’t matter. My final shot curled a foot too far, pushing our own stone back instead of their stone, as intended, so they didn’t even need to take their final shot.

The weight actually normalized a bit when the sun started to set. Although human beings might not like the temperature in the twenties, curling rocks do. That’s one of the ways we were able to mount that comeback. Once the ice behaved in a marginally normal way, we were able to make some stuff happen. The lines were still wonky. If you moved the broom six inches to the left, the rock might end up six feet to the left. But that actually worked in our favor because the other team kept missing their hits. A team can’t really score five points in an end unless the other team messes up.

Then again, you gotta be ready to pounce on the opponent’s mistakes.

After the game, we headed to one of two restaurants in Stanley. There’s usually a pizza place, too, but it was closed for renovation. We were worried that, in a town of 67, the restaurant might not be open past 8:00. Heck, I live in a city of 60,000 and it’s sometimes hard to find anyplace open that late.

Turns out we didn’t need to worry. They stayed open for us, and were still open when the next draw ended. Makes sense. Sixteen teams, four curlers apiece. We just doubled the size of their population. I guess when you live in a remote town, anytime there’s outside money coming in, you gotta accommodate them. Otherwise you’re just taking money from Henry at the hardware store, whom you’ll be giving it back to next week when you need some more propane.

Word in the restaurant was that the late draw worked the opposite of us. The speed of the ice was normal for the first couple of ends, and then the fog rolled in, which pushed people back up to 2.6-second draws. I never thought about the effects of fog on curling rocks (not something we encounter too much indoors), but it makes sense. The air’s going to get heavier and there’s going to be more moisture. Neither of those are great for speeding up a 42-pound rock sliding across a frozen pond.

Unfortunately, because we lost game one, we were stuck in the early draw the next morning. 7:00 AM, an hour and change before sunrise. A wonderful time to enjoy the comfort and extravagance of a mountain retreat. It was pitch black when the game started. Check this out:

You can almost see where you’re aiming, huh? It changed how I held the target broom. Usually I try to make the target as small as possible. I stand directly behind my broom, tuck one foot behind the other. The head on my broom is usually a neon green or garish orange that really pops against the black of my pants and shoes. Don’t want to confuse my team with where the target is. Some skips stand with their legs a foot or two wide and the next thing you know, you’re accidentally sighting in on their left foot or the open air in between instead of the broom.

I started this game doing just that. Then one of my teammates told me to spread my legs. After the commensurate and anatomically errant “That’s what she said,” I opened them up wide. When finished, I saw why they were asking. My body had been blocking the spotlights. They couldn’t really see the orange target. But if I widened my stance like a GOP Senator in a Minnesota airport, they could see the giant stick between my legs.

And there was a broom there, too. Hey-Oh!

I was told by a guy who had come in previous years to be on the lookout for the sunrise. It’s beautiful, he said, and it will, however temporarily, help you stop the nagging doubt building in your gut as to why you signed up and paid for the “privilege” of frostbitten testicles. Then again, he was there on one of those negative-five days, not a twenty-degrees-at-sunrise type of day that I got to experience.

But he wasn’t wrong about the sunrise:

These photos are brought to you by a couple of stones that I didn’t bother watching. I probably could’ve swept them to better positions, helped my team win their fucking game. But really, how can I let that sunrise go by? I didn’t come here to win games. I came to freeze my testicles!

I decided to throw on an extra layer of clothing this time. Despite months of planning, the previous night had been a bit chilly. My legs were fine. My toes, despite two layers of socks and two layers of rubber, felt the ice whenever I stood still. But the worst part was my chest and arms. One layer of thermal, then a t-shirt, then a onesie was not enough. And that had been at thirty degrees. This time the thermometer read a crisp eighteen when we left our hotel. What had been a wee bit uncomfortable last night would be a tad more hard-core today.

It was fine, though. I brought the flannel shirt I usually take camping. It’s thick. Add that to some thermals underneath and my super fancy onesie on top and I should be nice and cozy, right? Well, it was better but still not ideal.

I did finally get my chest to a happy medium, though. After our second game, we were supposed to return to the ice rink to help them out with some stuff around midday. This time I went old school. I have some of those old-fashioned wool long-john style underwear that I’ve had since I was a teenager. I don’t want to say we’ve regressed as a society, but the ugly-ass shit from World War II works a hell of a lot better than the sleek black Audi shit of today. We’ve become more concerned with looking good than, I don’t know, surviving the elements. At least the rescuers will find a very sexy corpse-sicle.

Fortunately it stretches, cause my gut ain’t what it once was. Or rather, it’s a lot more than it once was. Unfortunately it doesn’t stretch THAT much, so the downward-slope of my undergut was feeling a bit drafty. But whatever, it kept the rest of me warm. I actually just wore a t-shirt over it. No onesie! Besides, it was the low-thirties once again, so I didn’t need to ward off frostbite.

By our third game, I had perfected it. Sleek black thermal, wool longjohn, flannel shirt, onesie. Four layers! I was downright toasty.

Except for my feet. Cause no matter how protected my chest and arms were, my toes were still permanently aware of the fact that they were walking on ice. One layer of cotton sock, one layer of thermal sock, shoe rubber and gripper rubber be damned.

I tried some of those iron-oxide foot warmers, but they didn’t seem to do much. I put them outside the thermal socks, thinking the closer to the ice, the better. Maybe I should’ve put them in between my two socks. If I ever return, I’ll test that out.

Oh, and I fell on the ice when I helped during the day. You see, when the sun is out and it’s 34 degrees, it makes the ice super slippery. It’s a bad time to curl and evidently it’s a bad time to walk. I was in the act of kicking an errant rock over to the edge. The ice was in the act of kicking my ass to the ground.

The good news is that years of curling has taught me how to fall on ice. Always fall forward, never backward. Backward is where blackouts and cracked skulls happen. And trips to the emergency room with the commensurate ambulance bill. Unfortunately, when your ass gets above your teakettle, you can get a concussion on the front-end, too. Did you know it’s possible to land temple first?

The good news is that my on-ice instinct must be honed very well. The bad news is that I got my wrist underneath me at the last minute before my face planted. Or maybe it’s the good news. Because a sprained wrist is better than being knocked unconscious and whisked off to the nearest hospital, which was over an hour away. But unfortunately, a sprained wrist is substantially worse than an unsprained wrist. It looks gnarly, too.

That’ll teach me to help out.

Best Buffett in Vegas

Just hopped down to Vegas for the weekend to catch a Jimmy Buffett show.

Not sure I’ll do a concert review this year. I’ve only seen two shows , and they’re both bands I’ve seen and written about before.

But we traveled to see both bands, so I guess I can write about the travels and the concert together.

I saw Mumford & Sons in South Carolina in March. Did I forget to write about that? Hmm…

South Carolina was very Caroliney. Lots of barbecue places, although most were mediocre until we found an excellent one in Columbia. Also, Columbia is the home of the University of South Carolina. Home of the Cocks. I guaran-fucking-tee I’ve written about my love of the Cocks before.

Wait a second. That came out wrong.

And the concert was awesome. I think I’ve written about Mumford at least twice before. They are spectacular in concert. In fact, I’m seeing them again in a couple months. This time nearer to my home.

But enough about Mumford and the Carolinas. Let’s talk about Jimmy Buffett in Vegas.

Phil Collins was also in Vegas that night. We thought about trying to fit them both in, but their concerts started within a half-hour of each other. Really, Aging White Dudes? Are you not aware that some of your fans might want to double dip?

Oh well, I can’t tell you anything about Phil Collins. But boy, if you’ve ever wondered if there are any places that might make Buffett fans more Buffett, well, I found it for you.

Parrotheads Descend Upon Sin City.

I’ve been to Jimmy Buffett concerts before. I’ve been to Vegas before. Both are experiences in their own regard. So when I saw that Jimmy would be playing in Vegas, well, I just had to go.

Evidently I wasn’t the only one.

Holy shit!

You wouldn’t think a single fan base could make a dent on the Vegas ambiance. Vegas has a few hundred thousand visitors on a normal weekend, right? Some people are there to see Reba or the Jonas Brothers or Barry Manilow or, occasionally, Phil Collins. Heck, I’m guessing the mummified corpse of Frank Sinatra is performing somewhere. Not to mention the sporting events, be they NBA All-Star Games or Ritualistic Ear-Biting.

In addition there are, allegedly, other recreational activities that might draw people to the middle of a fucking desert.

Normally, any one set of those travelers don’t make much of an impact. The Air Supply fans and the Drake fans each orbit around amongst each other without affecting the overall gravitational pull that is Vegas. I bet when Tupac got shot, he was right next to some drunk frat dude with an ironic trucker hat.

So I didn’t expect to see the neon footprint of Parrotheads wherever I went. In fact, it was so far out of my mind, that when there were four people dressed like pirates when we took the monorail (MONORAIL!) to the Flamingo area for brunch, I didn’t even think they might be there for the concert that was still nine hours away. I just thought, “Huh. Pirates.” It’s Vegas. What’re you gonna do?

But as we took the skybridge from the Monorail (MONORAIL!) station into the Flamingo, we saw a giant banner for a “Son of a Son of a Pool Party,” to be held from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Now, you might think this is just a great cross-promotion. Get all the people that are heading your way for the concert later tonight to show up early, spend some extra money. And, yeah, to a certain extent, that’s what was going on.

Except not entirely. Because the concert was at the MGM Grand, not the Flamingo. Granted, I’m never really sure which casinos are currently affiliated with which other casinos. But when I was in the Flamingo, I could use my Caesar’s loyalty card. Then again, when we told the aggressive timeshare salesguy that we were staying at Hilton, he said, “That’s our competitor. How about I give you a deal to stay here next time?” This despite the fact that it’s always been known as the Flamingo Hilton and there was still a sign at the Uber drop-off that referenced “Flamingo by Hilton.”

Regardless of if it’s a Hilton or a Caesar’s, I don’t think either of those are affiliated with MGM Grand. So while this was an attempt to get the Parrotheads out early to spend some extra cash, it was not an attempt by the property where the concert was actually happening. It’s counter-promotion, like the Puppy Bowl at halftime of the Super Bowl. Except instead of half-time, it’s beforehand. And instead of cute puppies, it’s drunks who should have stopped wearing swimwear like that about thirty years ago. Present company included.

I never found out which pool had a Phil Collins pre-party. It might be tough with all of the bald heads.

Then again, the Flamingo does have the Vegas Margaritaville restaurant. So the symbiosis did make a certain amount of sense. In fact, it’s a bit of brilliance. There’s a reason Jimmy Buffett is one of the most valuable musicians despite never having a number one hit. He knows that his fans are in town, he knows they like to drink, and he knows they tend to run older and higher on the socio-economic scale than the average fan base. And they can’t all fit inside the Margaritaville restaurant. So how about a pool party?

Oh yeah, he also opened a weed dispensary in town with the same name as his band, the Coral Reefers. Its grand opening was the weekend of the concert. Not bad for a dumb redneck from Alabama who just sings stupid party songs.

But the Parrotheads weren’t just at the pool party. We went across the street to Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Mesa, and wouldn’t you know it, Parrotheads everywhere. We went to see Potted Potter, a show at Bally’s, at 2:00 in the afternoon, and there were Hawaiian shirts everywhere. And hey, dude in front of me? Do you mind taking off your foam shark hat so that I can see the Ron Weasley wig?

To be fair, there might’ve been a lot of Phil Collins fans traipsing around the Strip as well. But they’re not as easy to spot.

I actually felt under-dressed. Or maybe I was overdressed, seeing as I had socks. But my major faux-pas was my lack of a Hawaiian.

I packed a Hawaiian, of course. I think of you show up to a Jimmy Buffett show without a Hawaiian shirt, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in Parrotjail.

And heck, half my wardrobe is Hawaiian. The Tommy Bahama outlet store is my own personal, inexpensive Disneyland.

But my Hawaiian (with parrots, natch) was still back in the hotel room. Because the concert was still over nine hours away. And I was going to be eating and drinking in between now and then.

These people… were they going to stay out all day? Were they going to start drinking heavily and still make the concert at 8:00? This is Vegas, can I bet the over/under on how many of them aren’t going to make it to the show? Also, any chance I can figure out what seat the dude with the balloon-flamingo hat and the “pet” foam shark on the pipe cleaner-esque “leash” has? Because I’ve kinda got nosebleed seats and would like to know where there’s likely to be an empty seat tonight.

Did I mention it’s easy to spot the Parrotheads?

But here’s another cool thing about Jimmy Buffett. This wasn’t the last I saw of the pirates from the monorail (MONORAIL! ) or flamingo-balloon-hat lady or Pet Shark Dude. They showed up at the show. Just maybe not in person.

If you’ve never seen a Jimmy Buffett show before, he usually plays in front of a giant HD screen that shows pictures and videos that go with whatever song he’s singing. Lots of tropical beaches, bucolic mountain vistas, and fun-in-the-sunners. “License to Chill” featured a video selfie of Jimmy Buffett kayaking. “He Went to Paris” had shots of the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s Five o’ Clock Somewhere” started with a clock with a whole bunch of fives. Then it showed some boat drinks. Then a pool. The pool totally looked familiar… Holy crap! I know that pirate!

What followed was three minutes of footage from the pool party that day. The pool party at a competitor’s hotel. How cool is that? All you have to do is spend money for his concert and at the pool party put on by his restaurant, and maybe his pot dispensary, and you can see yourself up on stage at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Shit, to do that at a Bruce Springsteen concert, you have to be Courtney Cox.

One more kinda cool thing. There was no opening band. Tickets said 8:00 and by 8:17, Jimmy was out on stage. He’s gotta be considerate of all of the old fogeys he made drink for ten straight hours.

He played for two hours, with only a 6-minute break to go grab a drink or a what have you.

I know the break was about six minutes because he played a video to keep us entertained. The video featured a ukulele player playing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” complete with lyrics so that we could all sing along. And sing along we did. You haven’t heard horror tinged with comedy tinged with “aww, that was sweet” until you’ve heard 20,000 people try to time “Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!) Bismillah! No, we will not let you go.”

Why did Jimmy have this random video of a random ukulele player playing a Queen song? Because the guy had opened for him in Dublin. How cool is that? Buffett liked the guy and liked the performance, so he gave him free exposure to this crowd. And sure, that’s often the point of an opening band, but who the hell pays attention to the opening band? That’s just background music for getting frisked by security, right? And those assholes usually end up playing way too long. Some even get surly that we aren’t there to see them and are only paying marginal attention to get a clue as to how much longer their asses are going to be wasting our earspace.

But this guy, Jake Shimabukuro, is playing right in the middle of the show, when we’re all in our seats. And he’s only playing one song, so we don’t get tired of him. And it’s a song we all know and can sing along to. And even better, he didn’t even have to show up! That’s the fucking trifecta of expanding an audience right there.

If only I could get Jimmy Buffett to promote my blog.

Mid-Eighties Circus. 

We usually stay at the south end of the Strip, but this time we were on the north end. So I was able to check out the Sahara, which has been refurbished since the corpse of Frank Sinatra played there. And Circus Circus, which most assuredly has not.

I’ve been coming to Vegas since the early eighties, when my age was still in single-digits. And we always stopped or stayed at Circus Circus. Back then, my mom could give me $10 in quarters and I’d go full Latchkey for HOURS on the upper floor. Carnival games, arcade, circus acts. What’s not to love? I remember feeling sorry for my poor mom, who had to be downstairs in the boring casino, missing all the fun up there.

Back then, Circus Circus was actually a destination, a worthy anchor of the northern end of the Strip. There were maybe only ten casinos, most of which had been there long enough to have streets named after them. Circus Circus didn’t have its own street, but it was an anchor, nonetheless.

Boy, its hallowed days are gone.

Unfortunately, this affects their business model, as well. Because there wasn’t shit going on on the Saturday morning we went there.

Those who have followed my travels before know we sometimes bring our daughter’s stuffed animal on our trips, so they can “take pictures” and “report back to her.” Except on this short weekend away, where we went straight from work to the airport, oops!, we left Giraffey at home. No problem, we figure, we’re staying by Circus Circus. Let’s go get her a new friend.

Except the upstairs wasn’t open until 10:00 AM.

WHAT? Sure, maybe the circus acts aren’t going to run 24 hours, but the carnival games? And I know they need employees to run those games. But at least the video arcade should be open, right?

Wait, they don’t do video arcades anymore? Is Pac-Man no longer chic? Boy, where have I been? Downstairs in the boring casino, I guess.

Speaking of the casino, we figured maybe we could just gamble for a little bit until the upstairs opens. I just needed to get a rewards card and… never mind. The reward card center doesn’t open until 10:00 AM, either.

So much for being the city that doesn’t sleep. At least one end of the Strip not only sleeps, but sleeps in as well.

I just threw five bucks in a machine while Wife visited the bathroom. Without the benefit of Big Brother tracking me.

When she returned, I had it back up to five bucks. So yay! I broke even. Although if I had been using a rewards card, I would’ve made a point or two. Whatever, I just pushed the button to collect my winnings.

Then something crazy happened. Instead of the familiar dinging sound I’ve come to expect when the ticket prints, there was a strange whirring. Then something shot out the bottom of the slot machine.

Holy Shit! Those are quarters! Coming OUT of a slot machine. It really IS 1986 in here!

When I realized what was happening, the things went through my mind in rapid succession:

1. What the hell is happening? Where is my fucking ticket? Is this thing possessed? It’s, like, spewing out its innards!

2. OMG! Those are quarters. How fucking cool is that? It’s so retro. Like I’m a fresh- faced 21 year old again (at least according to my i.d. at the time). Tonight were going to party like it’s 1999, baby!

3. What the fuck am I supposed to do with 20 quarters? How fucking annoying is that? I hate coins. If I have a dollar bill, it’s worth a dollar to me. If I have 99 cents, I might as well have nothing. In my world, ten dollars in coins is worth less than a single dollar bill. Because the coins in my pocket at the end of the day just go on the nightstand to die. Or they stay in my pockets where the laundry fairy takes them as compensation for cleaning the sacrificial dirty pants I left in her hamper-shaped altar. Back in the old days, when my i.d. said I was 21, I used to hold onto coins until I came to Nevada, but now slots don’t take coins anymore, so the one value coins had is now gone. Wait a second. If these slots pay out quarters, maybe they’ll… Nope. No coin slots. They take in paper money and pay out coins. Even when you win, you lose.

So I grabbed one of those buckets next to the machine. Remember those? Not that I needed it for a whopping twenty coins, but dammit, they done pissed me off with their coin bullshit. They’ll be lucky if they get this bucket back without my DNA in it.

Don’t get me wrong. The idea behind the retro slot machine is a good one. Think of all the all of the old video game consoles on the market these days. But a ticket-or-coin option would’ve been appreciated. Or maybe at least a warning sign.

Unfortunately it still wasn’t 10:00, so after cashing (coining) in my winnings, we headed for the Monorail (MONORAIL!). Still had to get a new stuffed animal. So we high-tailed it to Margaritaville to buy a couple of plush parrots. I’m sure Jimmy Buffett appreciates our business.

Daughter ended up naming the parrots Jimmy and Buffett. She then took them to show-and-tell at school. CPS, I await your call.

People. A couple shorties to finish off. Two people who stuck out. Maybe not for the best of reasons. Unless you are entertained by idiots, in which case, they stood out for the BEST reasons!

First was the guy sitting next to me at Mesa. He had clearly watched a fair amount of Food Network in whatever podunk area of the country he came from. And being at Bobby Flay’s restaurant gave him carte blanche, or rather creme freche, to make random requests out of his ass.

His wife ordered some pink concoction. Maybe it was a Cosmo, but it looked foofier. He tried it to see if he liked it before ordering a drink of his own. Of course, the server had to stand there for the experiment. Diner decided it was a bit too sweet and wondered if there was something a little less sugary.

Boy, that’s a tough one. Are there any drinks less sweet than a Cosmo? Can’t think of a single one. Sorry. We all know that cosmos are the driest drinks around, right? Certainly not Martinis or Old Fashoneds. A straight shot of scotch whiskey might as well be a swizzle stick when compared to the stifling bitterness of the Cosmopolitan. The mummified corpse of Dean Martin drank cosmos all the time.

He then asked if they could take a drink like that and add some bitters. I wanted to jump out of my seat to assist the server’s explanation that bitters aren’t actually bitter. But whatever. Dude probably heard it on a Bobby Flay show once, so who are we to question his culinary knowledge.

I didn’t pay attention long enough to hear what he ordered. The next time he caught my attention was when his burger was delivered. Tight before he asked if they had any “straight mayonnaise.”

Straight mayonnaise? I didn’t even know condiments had sexual proclivities. Sure, mayonnaise might look like semen, but I’m sure these Vegas condiments are only creaming meat, as God intended, and not some other condiment. Then again, I don’t partake in mayonnaise much, so maybe I’m just out of the loop on the Mayonnaise Agenda. Or is it a War on Mayo-mas?

But what do you expect from someone who orders mayonnaise? No mayo deserves to be anywhere near a well-cooked burger, regardless of whose bread it likes to butter.

It turns out, of course, that this guy wanted regular, unadulterated mayonnaise. None of that garlic aioli crap. Unflavored. If he’s going to dip or smother his food in sweet lard, he wants the pure stuff. Black tar heroin.

I only hope he didn’t want the mayo for those fries on his plate. If I end up yacking in my Irish Coffee, I’m adding it to his tab.

But no, the server explains, they don’t have straight mayonnaise. The closest they have is a subtle aioli.

Food connoisseur passed, disappointed.

Umm… not to side with Patron Guy in this endeavor, but if you have garlic aioli, how do you not have mayonnaise? What’s the base of the aioli? I hope Bobby Flay isn’t shipping his dips in from far away.

Go ahead, Server, double-check on that mayonnaise. It might be listed as creme fraiche.

Dude number two came running up to our Uber driver as we were heading to the airport Sunday morning. Where, he wanted to know, might he watch an NFL game.

Uber Driver feigned ignorance. “No hablo ingles.” Pretty convincing, too, as Wife and I were worried we might have trouble communicating with him. Not that you need to communicate with your Uber driver. That’s what Google Maps is for. But still, sometimes it’s more convenient to explain where we’re going.

Turns out he knew enough English to say and hear what he needed to say and hear. And I’m pretty sure he could understand “TV” and “Futbol.” Even if he pointed to where one could watch soccer, he’d be doing Dude a solid.

But that’s not his fucking job. He doesn’t need to tell Dude where to watch an NFL game on a Sunday morning in Las Vegas. Even if the answer is “Literally Anywhere.”

Seriously Dude, you see that high-rise buildings? Or that one? Right, the ones with the neon.  They’re called “Casinos.” And in these “Casinos” are things called “Sports Books.” The “Sports Books” take “Bets” on “Games” and then have giant “TV’s” where you can “Watch.” So if you’re looking for a particular game, pick a direction, any direction, and go into a high rise, any high rise. Then look for the wall with twenty giant screens on it.

They have NFL Sunday Ticket, too, so you can even watch obscure teams like… what’s that? You want to watch the Raiders? You mean the team that’s going to be the Las Vegas Raiders next year?

Yeah, I’m guessing you could watch them on local TV.

Maybe even at Circus Circus.