Friday, May 18, 2012

Vegas For the Win!

We recently returned from our Las Vegas vacation, and it’s time to add up the wins and losses:

It hasn’t rained in this area for it seems 6 months, but it was raining as we drove to the airport for our departure: I volunteer to park the car to spare St. Pauli Girl’s hair. As soon as I park, the rain comes down even harder. I have to run to two different shuttle bus stations. By the time I get to the terminal, I’m soaked. Loss

Since it was vacation as well as 8:30 a.m., we treat ourselves to Bloody Mary’s on the plane. The debit card machine breaks down, and the flight attendant never comes back for payment. Free drinks for the Win!

Flight arrives early. Baggage arrives quickly, no waiting for the rental car. We arrive at the Paris for brunch 30 minutes earlier than planned, get a great table on the outdoor patio at Mon Ami Gabi after only a 15 minute wait. Win

“I can’t wait to gamble,” I said. “We are on quite a roll.”

VIP check-in at the Golden Nugget, no waiting. Win (Okay we paid extra for this as we were celebrating the sale of our restaurant.)

No more Elvis slot machines at the Golden Nugget. Loss

A lot of high profile chefs these days offer exclusive (read: expensive) kitchen seating where you can see all the action up close. For a mere fraction of the cost, sit at the Binion’s CafĂ© counter which is directly in front of the grill. Watch the talented grill cook handle 20 pounds of hash browns and 15 hamburgers and buns at once, plus eggs and bacon. Enjoy the show as he berates the servers for grabbing the wrong plates. And it’s tough to beat Binion’s Hangover Burger, even if you don’t have a hangover. Win for the food and the entertainment.

65-year-old male bartender singing along to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” Win

To get away from the casinos for awhile, St. Pauli Girl finds some antique shops to browse. As we walk through a shop, we hear a woman screaming from up front:

“Don’t touch me! Don’t %&# touch me! Do you hear me? You call my grandmother and ask her who #&^% runs this shop! What did you call me? You think I’m not worldly and smart? Who the *%#@ do you think you are saying that to, *%#@*? You call my grandmother and ask her! Then you come back and tell me who the %&# runs this shop!”

At that point, we run into another vendor and ask him, “Is there a back door?”

“Oh don’t worry. This happens all the time. No big deal.”

When we hear a pause in the screaming, we run for the front door. Push (It was funny afterwards but actually pretty scary in the store.)

St. Pauli Girl orders meatloaf for dinner. Loss

At midnight, we drive past a guy sitting on the ground meditating in the lotus position on top of the Main Street Station parking garage. Win

Woman asks bartender if they have any better wines.

“Not for comps,” he replies.

“Then can I have a taste of the white zinfandel?”

Apparently even comped drinkers can be choosy. Win for entertainment.

$13.99 a day for internet access in the hotel? You can get free access at Motel 6, and they’ll leave the light on for you! Loss

Playing blackjack next to a barefoot 80 year old Chinese man who rubs his arm a certain way for luck on every hand. We both get dealt a blackjack. He gives me a fist bump. Win

Playing blackjack next to a guy who is providing color commentary on his own play. Loss

We go out to the pool bar for an afternoon cocktail, find out it’s last call. Push

Call hotel maintenance because our smoke detector keeps beeping. Before he replaces it, he asks, “You sure you don’t have anything in your luggage that’s beeping?” Push

Unsure what to do for lunch, we break down and hit the cheap buffet. Vegas buffets have become quite good over the years and some of them charge $50 to $80 per person. This one charges $7.99. And it isn’t worth it. Epic Loss

Total gambling: Loss

Our flight arrives back in Austin and apparently it hasn’t stopped raining since we left. I volunteer to get the car. It’s pouring again. I’m sure I parked in space 80, but that’s not our car. After running around and getting soaked, turns out I parked in space 60. And in another section. Plus I’m pretty sure everyone on the shuttle bus was laughing at me. Loss

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Smoking the Neighbors Out

We’ve lived here three years, and we met one of our next door neighbors for the first time last week. It’s great that we finally know each others’ names, but it’s kind of disappointing that we almost burned down their house to get acquainted.

I have previously written about our experiences adjusting to country living, especially the necessity of having to burn things. By now we should have become old pros, having successfully completed several burns of dead brush over the years. We can easily knock out a large burn pile in 1 to 2 hours.

The previous owners of our property planted a lot of trees and shrubs, which is usually aesthetically pleasing in the spring and summer. But as a result of several years of drought, a lot of trees, shrubs, and vines have died. The dead stuff is not so appealing. We’ve spent the last six months pulling up dead trees and bushes, creating not one but two massive burn piles.

The second burn pile was in our front yard and had grown to a good 7 feet high by 20 feet in diameter. With the hot, dry season just around the corner and knowing a new burn ban was imminent, we decided it was time to get ‘er done. I followed protocol and called the sheriff’s office to let them know we’d be burning that afternoon. Fine, they said.

We proceeded in our usual manner, with me watering the ground around the pile and St. Pauli Girl sprinkling on some diesel fuel and lighting the pile. I stood to the side by our neighbor’s fence with the hose, watering more ground just as a precaution.

Let me point out here and now that dead wood, brush, and leaves burn really fast. I mean really, really fast.
As usual the flames quickly roared through the burn pile, spouting up a good 12 to 15 feet in the air. I started to back away as the familiar intense heat came at me. Before I knew it, I was protecting myself behind a tree, well away from the huge fire. Although it was a particularly hot day, everything was going as expected.

Then the wind kicked up, blowing the flames north. At that point St. Pauli Girl made the crucial decision to pick up the hose and move it away from the fire. She later said she was afraid it might melt. Suddenly, a huge gust of wind came, pushing the flames even higher and further away from the pile. I heard a cracking, then a small explosion sound. I looked up into the big oak tree I was standing behind that was a good 30 feet north of the burn pile and watched in horror as clusters of leaves burst into flames.

"The tree’s on fire," I yelled to St. Pauli Girl, pointing.

She looked up and immediately turned the hose on it. The wind was persistent, and the flames showed no sign of dying anytime soon. More branches burst into flames.

"Go call 911!" St. Pauli Girl yelled, jerking at the hose to get closer to the tree.

I ran back to the house to retrieve my phone. I couldn’t believe we were about to torch our yard and maybe even the whole neighborhood. But once I grabbed the phone, I hesitated. Then I made a tactical decision: I would to wait just a few seconds to see if the burning tree had gotten worse. I figured if I called too soon, the fire department might show up after we had everything under control, only to yell at us. Whereas if the fire had spread out of control, the tree and most of our yard would already be in the ashes of history anyway, regardless if I called right then or waited 30 seconds.

I ran back to the fire to see that the main fire had indeed calmed down as a result of the dying wind, and the tree was now only charred and dripping. St. Pauli Girl continued to spray water into the branches. The main burn pile had returned to its usual normal "boring" status.

A few minutes later, our neighbor whom we’d never met wandered out toward us. "Almost got us," she said.
I looked up at her tree which hadn’t been touched. I wanted to say we had it under control but I just shrugged instead.

"I could feel the heat all the way on my back porch," she continued. (Her back porch is probably a hundred yards away.)

We chatted with her for several minutes while keeping a careful eye on the fire. We had already decided to not add any more brush to it, and to save burning pile #2 for another day.

After she left, I asked St. Pauli Girl, "Do you think she really felt the heat back there?"

"No. I think she heard me yell at you to call 911."

So other than our own tree, there was no collateral damage, and we were saved the humiliation of dealing with lectures from the fire department and sheriff’s office. But we’ll probably not volunteer at the annual homeowner’s association cookout this year.