Monday, December 24, 2012

Co-Operative Christmas Dinner

 I recall Christmas' when my mother was up early to get the turkey in the oven in time for the meal to be served in the afternoon, and her Christmas mornings were spent preparing everything in the kitchen while we all tried out our new toys and tried on new clothes.

What's Christmas without Turkey?
Not so here in Ottawa this Christmas. We trained our children right, and they have both developed excellent culinary skills, and enjoy cooking. As a result the meal was a co-operative effort with everyone chipping in something. We elected to do Christmas dinner on Christmas eve because Alisha is going to Deep River with Mark tomorrow afternoon, so you get to read about our Christmas Dinner before your's.

I started my contribution the evening before. I was trying a new recipe for the turkey. Alisha swears that brining is the way to go, but my Christmas gift subscription from her last year to Cook's Illustrated” claims that salting, not brining is the best way to ensure a moist turkey with crisp and browned skin. I spent the evening pushing salt under the skin all over the 15 pound free-range “organic” turkey Ryan had purchased to allow it to salt overnight. This afternoon, I pressed herbs and spices under the skin, and Ryan and I prepared a dressing of local sausage bread and chestnuts.
Working Together

Ben prepared an appetizer of bacon wrapped chestnuts and jalapeno peppers in a delicious barbecue sauce, to keep our appetites at bay since we were not eating until at least 7:30 PM. They were hot, sticky and spicy-good! Alisha introduced us to the “Pim's Cup”; cucumber, citrus fruit & strawberries in a mixture of Pims, Ginger Beer and Lemonade over ice.

Ryan's Beans
Although not a traditional “Christmas” vegetable, Alisha decided to add beets to the meal. She boiled them, peeled and chopped them into cubes and served them with a very interesting garlic walnut butter and goat cheese. Unusual but very delicious. She also made a “nightshade” free sweet potato and orange marmalade casserole.

Ryan, along with helping with the dressing, took one of our traditional Christmas vegetables, and updated it by shredding the brussel sprouts and frying them with bacon and balsamic vinegar. They were delicious but hardly recognizable as our old favourite vegetable. Ryan also made green beans served with a shallot and filberts sauce. A bit “oniony” for me, but enjoyed by everyone else.

Regis cooked up her traditional cranberry sauce, and she sort of oversaw everything else and made sure that everything had a place to be cooked and came out of the oven and off the stove at the same time.

Now some things just shouldn't be “messed” with, so I brought my traditional steamed Christmas pudding from home ready to be heated up, but I changed the sauce, using rum instead of brandy as flavouring and added chopped filberts for a bit of a different touch.

The dishes are cleaned up, mostly by Mark who arrived too late to do much cooking. Regis has made some lunch-to-go turkey left-over casseroles for the children when they go back to work next year, and the turkey carcass is boiling away on the stove for a turkey soup later in the week. Everyone contributed to a delicious, successful Christmas meal.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

White Christmas

To cold to hang out the wash.

No Problem Getting Around Here?
I’m sure there are WAY colder or snowier places, but for someone used to Halifax’s milder, mostly snow-free winters, Christmas in Ottawa is way more wintery than I am used to.

White Christmas? Not really a question here in Ottawa. Winter made it very clear that snow and Christmas definitely go together - it started to snow on the drive up from the East Coast as we got to Montreal, and some sort of cold wintery precipitation, be it snow, freezing rain, or cold nasty winter rain has been falling ever since. It snowed over 30 cm one day, and school wasn’t even cancelled - what’s with that? fifteen centimeters would have paralyzed the school busses back home.

But to be fair I do recall an hour or so of sun one day . . .
Are they kidding?

Good Idea.
While it is certainly Christmasy it takes a bit of getting used to. The sidewalks are perpetually icy,  and many street corners have huge slushy puddles to negotiate. Suddenly those Sorel  -25 rated boots are actually useful. I guess the Ottawa natives get used to it, but it isn’t even Christmas yet and I’ve had enough snow.

Now although I am complaining about the snow, spending Christmas up here in Ottawa with the children and their friends is really wonderful. 

Friday, October 5, 2012


Now I have written a couple of blog entries about piloting the houseboat for Regis and the girls, and I hope you have enjoyed them, but it really was an interesting vacation, and for anyone interested, I will tell you something about it, in case you might want to give it a try.

Lots of Room for Everyone
The houseboat itself is large, comfortable, and easy to maneuver. I have never really driven a bpat before and I really did not have any problem. You can pilot it from inside if the weather is less than perfect, but if it is sunny and warm, there is a second bridge up on the 'hottub' deck. Although the boat is like a big RV on the water, it is outfitted with a real household refrigerator, stove and microwave. The kitchen is large and easy to work in with lots of cupboards. The bathroom is a real bathroom with an RV style toilet, but a full size shower and sink complete with vanity. There is a couch and a large dining table that both convert to LARGE beds, and as you read, the girls really did have room to line dance in the living room. There were two bedrooms and a sleeping loft, so with the beds in the living area this boat slept 10 with no problem, and sitting nine at the table worked well. We saw another boat that slept 14 that had four bedrooms and two bathrooms (Only one shower however). There was a hottob on the top deck, as well as lots of room to sit around and talk or heaven forbid, square dance. There is a large flatscreen TV and excellent sound system in the living room, and a car type stereo up stairs so your collection of music on the Ipod or Phone is easy to play. There is a slide from the top deck into the water that would have been used if the water was warmer – it looked like fun. And there is a full size barbecue on the front deck.

Come on board . . .
The boat worked well. It has a 3.0 litre inboard engine that started easily with little fuss, and pushed us along at houseboat speed. This means that nothing shifted, you could put your coffee or glass of wine on the counter and even turns did not move it. It is a dual hull pontoon boat so is amazingly stable. Even one morning steaming up river at full speed with a strong wind and whitecaps, we lost water out of the hot tob but not out of the wine glasses inside. The slow speed and stability means that even those susceptible to motion sickness forget they are on the water. The boat uses a battery and generator system and is completely automatic. Regular electric appliances work just fine, and you do not have to worry about using lights or power. When needed the generator comes on and recharges the batteries. They pull water from the river and treat it internally for cooking and showers, and it is then put back into the river so you have no holding tank filling up even with a crowd, and the septic held enough so that even with nine people for almost a week we had no problem.

Underway up the River
The Saint John River, above the Mactaquac dam is your highway, and you can go as far up river as Woodstock. There are some activities to do along the river such as Kings Landing and Trees to Go, but the main activity is the houseboat itself. The scenery up and down the river is beautiful, especially in October with the leaves changing colour when I went, but I suspect any season would have it's own unique benefits. The relaxing speed of the boat and the comfortable setting with good friends make the voyage the best part of the experience.

It is not an inexpensive vacation if you were going on your own, but probably compatible to renting an RV, but put together a group of family or good friends to share the cost and you can have a really reasonable adventure.

Writing the Blog
As I write this, I am sitting on the back deck of the boat in October. I am sitting in a lawn chair typing on my Macbook with a cold beer beside me. I pulled into a little cove at about 4:00 pm , tied up to two sturdy trees and it is now almost 7:00 pm, the sun is going down and I'm watching the river flow gently past. Life is good.

Kindness Of Strangers (New Brunswick)

Did you read my entry on the kindness of strangers? Well it happens in New Brunswick too.

Friendly Houseboats in Nackawic
Regis had everything carefully arranged, and she found a pub that we could have supper in when we got to Nackiwick New Brunswick, which was as far as we were going up the river. We pulled into a nice spot right in the beautiful waterfront park in the town, and soon after we got settled, another houseboat pulled in as well right beside us. We exchanged pleasantries, and discovered that they were actually from just down the road. Now one advantage of making friends with the locals is that they quickly gave an opinion about our dining choices, and suggested that since they didn't eat at the pub, suggested we give it a pass as well, and when we found out that the pub food is not prepared on site but ordered from the Pizza joint next door, their advice sounded wise. This left us with a dilemma . . . . what to do for supper?

The kindly Padre Ginny met at the grocery store suggested a couple of places across the river, and said he was willing to drive us over even though it would take a couple of trips, but he couldn't bring us back because he had a meeting. Nackawic does not have a Taxi, and since one of the members was suffering from an injury (hiking, not alcohol induced) the 20 minute walk was out of the question.

Our New Friends
As we discussed our options up on the Lido deck, our Houseboat neighbours overheard, and once more came to the rescue. Although they had come here in the houseboat, they had a vehicle at their house and were only too happy to take us to one of the 'approved' restaurants. They said that we were in New Brunswick now, and people were just willing to help out here.

From Their Boat
Oh, we finally decided on Chinese take-out recommended by our Houseboat neighbours and they took Regis across the river to pick it up. We did spend a very enjoyable evening sharing our take-out dinner with them, but they brought a very handy bar size liquor dispenser and chocolate bars for desert. Another example of the “Kindness of Strangers”. Way to go New Brunswick!

The Captain Does not SQUARE DANCE!

Out On The River
When I volunteered for this trip, I promised to stay out of the way and not interfere with the “Girls” fun week on the houseboat. I went so that none of them had to worry about being 'responsible' for driving the boat. Besides, I really wanted to drive the houseboat.

What is rockin the boat?
I quickly discovered that just driving was not that easy. The 'bridge', such as it is, is right in the main cabin next to the dining room, so you don't get a nice quiet 'bridge' to pilot the boat. Now there are advantages to this. Your coffee comes quickly in the morning, and when the boat starts rocking badly in perfectly calm water, you do not have to go look for the problem, you can see that it is just the line dancing going on in the living room - when all eight of them sashay one way the boat does tend to participate in the dance.

Tying up the boat
I also discovered that the captain's duties do go beyond just steering the boat (Silly me . . . ). I discovered that my 'deck hands' were actually more of the 'deck fluff' variety and it was me that had to jump ashore when we chose a spot to stop for the night and tie the boat to a couple of sturdy trees. They were willing to throw the ropes to me but balked at jumping ashore to do the actual tying. When the table wouldn't come apart at bedtime to convert to a bed, I had to do it, and of course when the hot tub sploshed out in the wind, I was on deck to fill it again and get the temperature up to the suggested 110° required by Karen.
Square Dancing on the Lido

I did draw the line in the sand (We were actually pulled up on a lovely sandy beach in Nackawic) when I was asked to take part in Sharon's impromptu Square Dance lessons that started up on the 'Lido' deck because they couldn't convince the attractive EMO guys to come back and fill in for Elayne's bruised rib they were asked to attend to.


Boating With The Girls

Boating with the Girls
Ok, now retirement is all about finally having the time to try new things, challenge yourself, take chances and test your limits. Well, my latest adventure was probably my most adventurous. Regis, always looking for interesting things to do, found an advertisement in a 'tourist' magazine for a houseboat rental on the Saint John River. Now some of her ideas don't go very far, but this one proved popular and in no time she had nine girlfriends willing to go with her.

The Captain at work
I don't know what I was thinking, but I suggested that I would go along to drive the boat so they could all 'party' without having to worry about a “Designated Driver”. If it has an engine and a throttle I want to try to drive it, and since I liked the narrow boat in England I thought this would be fun. I should have realized when no one tried to talk me out of it that I might be in trouble. After all I had been in the house during their “serious” book clubs (I didn't know that much wine was involved with reviewing novels), and I had heard about some of their “get-a-ways” in Cape Breton. This wasn't one group, it was a combination of three groups, a book club, a Monday coffee group and some family & friends thrown in for good (or bad) measure.

Line Dancing on the Boat
Now I have never piloted a boat. In England I was designated “Engineer”, and Master Mariner Brother-in-law handled the difficult piloting duties, but he did let all interested parties a chance to man the tiller, and I only hit one other boat during my turns, and Regis was assured by the company that it wasn't difficult to pilot the boat, so I figured I could handle it. It was in the wide part of the river above the dam, and it was off season so I could learn to drive the boat without endangering other mariners too much. I even went so far as to take my 'Pleasure craft boating licence'. The interesting thing was that I worried about getting the licence and didn't really think about actually piloting the boat, but once I actually passed the test and had a piece of paper in my hand that said I could actually legally drive the boat, I started to think about all they things I didn't know. Which side is starboard again, where do you get fuel, how big was the holding tank going to have to be with nine girls wanting a shower every morning, where were we supposed to tie up every night . . . . . .
Sharing the fun

No problem, the “Boat Rental Folk” gave me a 10 minute course and when he asked if I knew about piloting a boat , and I said I had only helped with a narrow boat in England, but had driven RVs and trucks, he said “No Problem, you'll be fine!”

Walking the Plank
Actually it is pretty easy, and the boat is well suited to the river. It is an aluminium pontoon boat and I was told to just run it gently ashore, tie it to two trees and all would be good. It is no speed boat and you don't need worry about fuel, oil or even water. Back out, point it where you want to go and keep it steady until you get to the next night's mooring.

Filling the Hot Tub
And the “girls” genuinely appreciated my sacrifice and I was waited on and thanked by everyone for driving them. As I write this, we are safely tied up in a little cove along the river. The boat is nosed into the shore just like I was told to do it, and as I write this, the boat is rocking to line dancing. Now it is only the first day . . . . . . .

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

All Alone in St. Pierre

We went out for dinner on the first evening here on St. Pierre. The restaurant was right around the corner, one of many in the town within walking distance of our hotel. There was no one in the restaurant, except the server and us, but we were early so I didn't think anything of it, especially since the chef walked in dressing his street clothes a few minutes later. I could almost imagine the server slipping into the back room after seating us and calling his home . . . "Some crazy English tourists are here for dinner; come quick!". It did get a little better later, with a young couple dropping in for drinks and another English couple for dinner, but that was it. On the upside, we did chat with everyone there - you can't do that when the restaurant is full.

Leaving the restaurant at about 8:00 pm we exited to empty streets. Not a person anywhere; not a car on the streets; complete silence. It was like aliens had beamed up the entire population. We walked back to the hotel in complete and utter silence. We met no one, and heard nothing but the wind. It was odd, and a very little bit eerie, but we figured that there was a hurricane bearing down on this little French colony, so perhaps everyone was hunkering down indoors. We were told the next day that it was the day before school started, so everyone was home early getting ready for an early evening. WOW, in the cities I'm used to, the teenagers would be out for one final night of freedom before a year of school. Talk about culture shock! I should have been teaching here.

Overnight the hurricane came and went, leaving the island relatively unscathed, so when the sun came out at 10:00 we set out for a walk. Eventually we found a paved road leading out of town into the hills and decided to explore. We were gone for over three hours and saw one car and met no one on the road or the trails through the hills. That evening we tried another restaurant, this one with lots of people, but again when we left to walk back to the hotel we were presented with a dead empty town. Not one person on the streets and we walked through a silent town.

The next day we decided to explore the town and discovered that indeed there were people who lived here and the streets were busy and full of people. There were cars, buses, tractors, construction crews, and lots of people on the streets and boats moving in and out of the harbour. The town was actually alive! BUT . . . . . 12:00 noon arrived and everything stopped. Really;  everything completely stopped. The town went silent. No people on the streets, traffic stopped. the streets were dead! We walked back to the hotel past closed shops and empty streets. We were once again alone in St. Pierre. Looking at the signs in the shops we realized that everything shuts down from 12:00 to 2:00, and they really do shut down. It is very weird to suddenly have an entire town go so completely silent. It seems that the same thing happens in the evenings. No "Night Life" here, they roll up the sidewalks and go in for the evening.

I have learned to adapt, and I'm quietly writing this inside at the hotel at 1:57 pm, oh wait a minute I can hear the whole town waking up and coming back outside. Time to finish this blog entry.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Off the Grid

We spent a couple of days this summer completely off the “grid”. No power, no running water, no sewer, and no cell service. Our lives are so tied into and around having these “essential” services, that it takes a while to acclimatize to not having power at the flick of a switch or hot water at the turn of a tap.

My sister and her husband built a beautiful “cottage” on a lot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and invited us to use it. It isn’t really isolated, but when planning turned up protected wetlands, and situating sewage and water proved a problem, they decided to build anyway but go completely “off the grid”.

Water isn’t a real problem, since you can carry it in with you, but carrying out the resulting waste is not a pleasant option, so they quickly found the solution in a composting toilet - better that the traditional outhouse, but still requiring no power or water.

Once you settle into the cottage, life without all the ’essentials’ is actually pretty good. The toilet works great; no smell, and really easy to use and manage. Oil lamps chase away the shadows, and rechargeable lights and battery power work just fine - but there is always the option of just going to bed earlier as the sun goes down, and getting up when it gets light. Once you have no real option, this seems pretty logical. Water for drinking can be carried in, and two big rain barrels provide water for washing and cooking. Probably the biggest issue is with hot water; dishes come cleaner in hot water, and I really don’t enjoy washing in cold water.

There are some advantages too. It is really dark without electricity, and looking to the heavens shows a sky full of stars hidden from our urban neighborhoods, and having to wait to wash the supper dishes until the wash water is hot allows one to relax with another glass of wine while your meal digests. You just have to slow down a bit, and that really isn’t such a bad thing. I will certainly be willing to go back for another visit.

Beach Marbles

Lots of Beach Rocks

Why is it almost impossible to find a perfectly round rock? There are lots of ’rounded’ rocks, and you can find rocks that are perfectly round but flat, but try to find just one that is a perfect sphere; almost impossible.

I call it the search for the perfect beach marble. It is very hard to find a round rock, even harder to find ones  the size of a marble. Why is that?

Someone once told me that the odds of finding a rock on a beach that had actually been worn into a perfect sphere was virtually impossible. He claimed that it would have had to start out close to a perfect cube so that as it was washed and rolled about by the waves and water the corners would slowly get worn down until it was round.

Whenever I visit a rocky beach, I search for my perfect beach marble. I haven’t found one yet. I have a few almost round beach rocks, but not one actually round, and nothing marble sized.

My theory? There are actually lots of round rocks. The continual motion of the waves works to round all rocks to perfect spheres. It is just that as soon as a rock becomes an exact round shape, the ’roundness’ exerts itself, and one of the guiding principles of a sphere takes over and it begins to roll. As we know, anything that rolls, naturally rolls down hill.

Almost round . . .
So . . . once the perfect beach marble achieves roundness, the motion of the waves rolls it not back and forth, but just ’forth’; always down hill. Yup, somewhere in the deepest of ocean trenches, unexplored by mankind, lie thousands of perfectly round rocks. Scattered among them are my elusive ’beach marbles’.

But, the search continues. One day I will come across a rock just as it loses that bit that kept it from being truly round but before it begins it’s journey down. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Weir Fishing

Walking on the ocean floor
I usually write about my post retirement trips on this blog, and normally the trips are off in some far-off locations, but you know there are lots of interesting spots to visit and write about right here in my home province of Nova Scotia. This summer, I am not traveling far, and intend to make a few trips around the province. We are off on our first excursion early in June, picking up the trailer from dad in Elm River, visiting friends in Economy, and then going across to the Valley, and then around to tour the South Shore.

The Weir
Our first stop in Economy, gave us  a chance to go weir fishing. I’m not much of a fisherman, lacking the patience to stand around waiting for some fish stupid enough to get my fish hook stuck in its mouth. Weir fishing makes it easier. They go out onto the flats at low tide and set up poles and nets in a “V” so that the next time the tide goes out the fish are funneled into the “V” and into a large square net.

We walked out across the Bay of Fundy following the tide as it went out. The owner of the weir came out in an old truck (they only last so long driving through the salt water), and unloaded empty plastic fish boxes and lent us all rubber gloves.

The weir was full of fish, but four were large sturgeon that as a protected species had to be released. These things were big enough that they had to be pulled out to deeper water with a rope.

Letting the sturgeon go
We filled about eight tubs with flounder. You could stand inside the weir, and just bend down and pick the fish out of the water. The fish were four or five deep underfoot, and all you had to do was feel around in the water to find another fish to throw into the bins.

Although this is an easier way to fish than casting a baited line into the water hoping for a bite (we tried this the next day with NO success), after an hour of throwing flounders into boxes, I decided this wasn’t that “easy”. The couple who were actually catching these fish for a living were only starting - they still had to take the catch home and clean and process it for sale, over another three hours work.

Regis didn’t make it any easier, she was constantly telling us that “that little one wants to get away.” or “oh look at that cute one; you should let him go.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Food !

Good but Expensive
It would have cost $15.00 a day to have a refrigerator in our room for the two weeks. We could have ordered one from Sears for what we would have spent. We spoke to someone staying in another hotel that included a fridge. It was full of those little drinks and snacks, but he wanted to put his own food in it, so he took things out to make room – didn't use them, just took them out to make room. He was charged for every item he removed. So, if you come to Las Vegas, you are probably going to be sampling some of the many eateries in the city.

A delicious Hot Dog
There are an amazing number of restaurants in Las Vegas. In general, there are two bits of useful information I can give you about them. The food is excellent. The prices are high.

We really have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. We really have not had a meal that we could complain about. From hot dogs at a fast food place (Nathan's), to authentic Brazilian beef barbecue, at Pampas, the food has always been among the best we have had. We were taken to a Barbecue restaurant while in Santos Brazil, where the beef is seasoned with nothing but course salt and brought to your table on a spit and chunks carved right at your table so we knew what to expect, and the beef at Pampas, was almost as good as the original.

I have been trying, during all my travels to sample calamari from every place I go, looking for a sample that can match the calamari I can get at our local tavern The Mic Mac. I tried two samples here in Las Vegas, and although the Mic Mac still has the best calamari, the Las Vegas varieties were almost as good; cooked properly, and spiced just right.

Even the Buffets were good
Even the little places are good. We went out for lunch one day to a little bar and grill in the Luxor resort called the T & T . This was just a small bar in the main lobby area of the Luxor Casino, but the chicken wing appetizer I ordered was, I believe among the best wings I have ever had; big, meaty, and spicy enough to make them interesting without hurting.

Even the chain restaurants seem to put a bit of extra effort to stay ahead of the competition. I have always wanted to try one of B. B. King's Barbecue restaurants, and we found one in the Mirage Hotel & Casino. We went to listen to a Blues group that was going to be playing, but the NCAA basketball tournament seemed to be more important to most patrons, so we had to wait for the game to finish, but the wait was worth it, and the ribs I had were almost as good as my own, and the music was very entertaining. Regis reports that her chicken burger was also excellent.
There are so many restaurants it is hard to choose. We often based our choices on discounts and coupons we had, but sometimes we found places just by wandering around. One day while looking for tickets to a show, we found that the restaurant we were aiming for was VERY busy, but next door was a very interesting Italian place where we found that I actually had a choice of two pizzas I could eat (Not an easy thing when you are lactose intolerant). This restaurant, Lombardi"s Romagna Mia had friendly staff, and the pizza was excellent.

Great Place downtown at Freemont St. 
Although there are plenty of places to eat right on the strip, there are also some excellent places requiring a bit of a walk away from the neon world of the casinos and resorts. One example is the Alexis Gardens Restaurant in the Alexis Park Hotel. This is a small resort hotel a couple of blocks off the strip that we had an Entertainment Book coupon for. It was definitely worth the walk, the food was excellent, and the atmosphere was wonderful. It was nice to be away from the crowds and lights of the big casinos and enjoy a nice quiet meal. I had a Blackened Texas Redfish that was amazing.

Now you do have to check the reviews of the restaurants, and my famous “Trip Planner” is great for this. She really wanted to try one of Emeril Lagasee's restaurants. We dropped into his Stadium Sports Bar for lunch one day and enjoyed it, so we made reservations at his Seafood Restaurant next door in the MGM Grand. When we read the reviews however we had second thoughts, There was not one good review. Everyone agreed that the service was good, but the food just was not up to standards. Then when we met a gentleman who actually worked at MGM and agreed that we should go elsewhere, we decide to cancel that meal.

$9.00 Beer at a Bar?
So the good news is that you will probably enjoy any meal you have in Las Vegas. We found that everything was delicious, and the service was always friendly and helpful. The bad news is that if you eat on the strip it is going to be expensive. Main courses can be as high as $60 to $70 at most “good” restaurants in the casinos on the strip. Oh, BTW, you may have to pay extra for sides. Even when you find a place with decent prices on the food, don't be surprised by the price of the things you don't think about. Often the juice or coffee to go with your bargain breakfast will cost a couple of dollars more than you are used to. Don't expect to get a beer for under $7.00 at most casino bars or eateries unless you have a “Big Spender” card. I paid as much as $9.00 for a beer at one place. Don't expect to always see the prices either. If the beer prices are not on the menu, ask, or you may be surprised when the bill comes. Many restaurants and bars have “Happy Hours”, where prices on food and drinks are much better, but a beer will still usually cost you $5.00.

So when in Las Vegas, expect to eat very well. You can get anything you want, and it will probably be very good, but if you eat on the strip, expect to take a hit on the credit card.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Homeless Signs

Pedestrian Walkways
Las Vegas is famous for the “strip”, Las Vegas Blvd, running north/south through the city with casinos and hotels lining both sides. The roadway is constantly full of vehicles and the sidewalks are a steady stream of people. In order to keep all those potential gamblers safe, Las Vegas has constructed an excellent series of pedestrian overpasses and escalators.

As you walk across the street on these overpasses they provide an excellent view up and down the strip. They also give a great place for the homeless to sit and solicit money. As with the casinos, the competition is fierce, so the hand lettered signs are a great source of entertainment.

You will notice I have no pictures of the homeless, because they insist you pay them to take their picture, and I will not give them money. I did throw my loose change into the buckets of a group of people who were collecting money for the homeless, but these folks were actually dressed in a uniform, so they were either legit, or a very good scam.

The Mirage
There were lots of simple “Homeless, Please help, God Bless”, but there were lots of more interesting ones. We noticed one guy who had written, “WHY LIE, I WANT BEER!”, this must have worked because I noticed one of the “PLEASE HELP, GOD BLESS!” changed his sign to the same thing.

The TV ceiling at Freemont
“IF I HAD 10 BUCKS, I WOULDN’T BE HERE.” This guy was either lying or his sign wasn’t working, because he seemed to be always be here.

How about, “NEED BEER, NEED CIGARETTES, NEED LEFTOVERS”.  I only saw this one for a while, so perhaps they got their beer, cigarettes, and leftovers and are happy now.

One young girl sat looking very pathetic, had a sign saying “TOO PROUD TO PROSTITUTE”. I only saw her once, so either her sign worked, or she changed her mind. The same thing with the couple with the “JUST WANT TO GET TO CALI”. I only saw it once, so they must be in California now.

There are a few homeless with a bit more ambition, and move a bit more into busking over begging, playing guitars or squeeze-boxes. One outfit consisted of two homeless, and a big white dog dressed in scarf, and fancy sunglasses with a big sign “HE AIN'T NOTHING BUT A  HOUND DOG”. of course Elvis was playing from a blaster.

And, my favorite, “PLEASE HELP ME AND MY PUSSY”. Oh, don’t worry, she really did have a cute little cat on a leash.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gambling? Yes it does go on in Vegas.

They're Giving Me $200.00?
My Blogs on this Las Vegas trip really would not be complete without writing something about gambling. It is after all what Las Vegas is really all about. Make no mistake about it, you can come to Las Vegas and have a great time without throwing away a quarter on gambling, but the town was built on gambling, and gambling continues to support its growth. The dream of hitting it lucky is alive and well.

We have spent exactly five $1 bills in the “Machines”, and for two of those it took us a while to loose all of it. We could have walked away with almost $1.75, but we insisted on playing on until it was all gone. We have met others with the same attitude, but we have also overheard quite a few discussions about how much was lost. Funny how I never heard any about how much was won?

You are certainly encouraged to spend your money on gambling. It is hard to miss the huge sign outside the Tropicana Resort telling you that “The First $200.00 is on us.” If you sign up for the 'Trop Plus Player's Club” the casino will give you back the first $200.00 you lose. Here's how it works. You give them $200.00 and they give you a Trop Plus Card worth $200.00 that you can use to play any game in the casino. When you lose your first $200.00 they will refill you card with another $200.00. There was always a lineup to sing up for this deal. I wonder how many people lose that first $200, realize 'Oh, perhaps playing the slots is not the way to get rich', and then take their refilled card and cash out? As you walk through the many casinos, you do hear people cheering when they win, but I've only seen one person yell “YEAAAAA!!!!”, and then push that “Cash Out” button, the normal reaction is to leave the winning in the machine and just keep playing.

Playing the Tables
I watched a guy playing on the Roulette wheel. He had a stack of probably 20 chips on “red”, and red hit so he doubled his chips. He didn't even take those chips back to the stack he had in front of him, he just distributed them around the table. That seems to be the predominant strategy in play; you always use your winnings to try to win more. He didn't, in fact in short order he was back to pulling chips from the stack in front of him.

We came up in the elevator one evening and overheard two women talking. One said “Oh, I really don't know how much I've lost. I know I had $900.00. I'm assuming that “I had” means she doesn't have it any more, so if her math skills are so weak that 900 – 900 = 0 is not the answer, then $900.00 was only a fraction of what she actually lost.

We are not on a very strict schedule normally, so we sleep until we wake up, normally around 8:00 or 8:30, but the day of the Sprint Cup race we wanted to be there early, so we were up at 6:00, and were on the bus by 7:00 to get to the track. As we came through the casino (You always have to go through the casino to get anywhere), there were already people up putting money into the machines. Now I say they got up early to play, but it is Las Vegas . . . . . they may have been there since the night previous.

Sports Betting Area
I've seen the video gambling machines in taverns and other places, I've been to the casinos on cruise ships, and I've visited casinos in other places, but I have not seen the sports betting before. Every casino has an area where they have huge TV screens playing any important sporting event 24 hours a day, and banks of betting stations where you can place bets.There are always people in these parts of the casino, but when a major sporting event hits, they are crowded. We discovered that this area was a good shortcut to get out of the hotel and onto the strip, but when a major College basketball tournament started, the area was suddenly so crowded you had to pick your way through; they were even sitting on the steps leading to the exit. There were guys sitting everywhere with tablets full of stats, handwritten notes and newspaper clippings. There was a lot of serious gambling going on.

This week, Las Vegas is crazier than usual. It is Spring Break for a large group of American universities, and although I thought that Florida was the big Spring Break destination, it is obvious that Las Vegas is also a popular spot. The streets and the casinos are flooded with young people here for a good time. I notice that most casinos have special Spring Break promotions running just to entertain the college students. The Tropicana for example features a March Mania Mega Stack Poker Tournament. I wonder who this is aimed at? I hope it is only the students here on their “Family Money”, but I suspect that some hard earned, student minimum wage university savings or even some student loan money gets gambled away over the week.

As for us, we are not really doing our share of the expected gambling.