Friday, December 25, 2009

Vegas Christmas 2009

Something that you might not know about my wife & I is that we go to Las Vegas nearly every Christmas. This began in the early 1990's when friends of ours realized that Vegas is essentially dead during this sacred time. Every year since we started this tradition Vegas has gotten a little more crowded for Christmas, most likely due the deteriorating moral fiber of our once great Christian nation.

Unashamed heathens, we treck to Vegas every Christmas to meet with friends from Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles and elsewhere while our neighbors at home consume their time with soon to be destroyed pine trees and soon to be landfilled wrapping paper.

If you live in a major metropolitan area, you likely share a mild obsession with highways, gently called, "How did you get there?" For Vegas, we hopped onto the 405, hit the 101, merged to the 134 which soon becomes the 210, and then jumped onto the 15. A crow would take the same route, I swear.

We hit Vegas right on time, and took the appropriate back roads to the Wynn. This is something like Barbie's hundredth stay at the Wynn and my fourth or so.

Le Hotel Wynn. For a few days it will be home.

I cannot explain it, but every time I check into a hotel room I look out the window for several minutes. Amateur anthropologists say this is not idle curiosity, but is in fact a survival instinct. What's more important to a hunter-gatherer than taking in the surrounding area of where you will be sleeping for the night. For the Vegas hunter-gatherer, nothing but maybe an Ace and Face Card.

Le View du Hotel Wynn.

Traditions matter. (Hidden images abound.)

With Barbie's older sister in tow, we met with friends from the faraway San Fernando Valley and hit dinner at Bartolotta.

If you think about it, unless they bring the fish to your dinner table in this state, for all you know they might be serving you pressed soy protein infused with fishy tasting chemical compounds.

Full disclosure: this fish costs the table nearly $200. I can in no way justify that. It was excellent branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) and fed four of us, but looking at the bill made me feel like a college girl waking up next to the wrong boy. Most decisions cannot be reversed.

Our friends were new to the Wynn/Encore facilities, so we went for a walk around the place. I didn't take any interesting pics, save this:

I wanted to demand Barbie buy the black dress. I also wanted to demand she adopt that hair style. Seriously. How far are they going to take this realistically sexy mannequin road? Until men start hiding them in garages under tarps?

We stayed up late watching the health care Senate vote because the Wynn Hotel wanted $75 per night to put a DVD player in our room. Seriously? We had brought three "Mad Men" DVD's to catch up with the rest of the world on this award wining show, but the Wynn's management wanted to charge us $75 per night for a DVD player that costs $30 to purchase. If only there had been a decision-making level person to whom I could have shouted, "My good man, there is ridiculous and there is preposterous but this fee sir is obscene!"

In daylight Vegas is not what you'd call aesthetically pleasing. But the point of Vegas has never been to be pretty. I have been to many cities on many continents and nearly all of them do their best to be pretty, maybe even beautiful. This may be the only city that wants to come across as a slut.

We headed over to City Center, the latest Las Vegas Strip development. Instead of building a hotel & casino that displays a clear theme based on a European city or ancient society, City Center is an attempt to rewrite the Vegas playbook by joining a few classy, themeless hotels with a classy, themeless shopping mall. If you're not sure what to make of that, then we are of the same mind. Do you come to Vegas to stay somewhere simply nice?

Case in point. This is the City Center mall, called, "Crystals." There are no crystals at Crystals. Just some very nice public art, such as this gigantic wooden bong shaped sculpture.

I love this picture. I hope it does not cause nightmares or dizziness for anyone. Can you guess what it is? The answer is right here:

Light and water.

I called City Center themeless, but now that I look closer at the public art in Crystals, noting the gigantic wooden bong and the swirling colored water, I wonder if they did not design this place anticipating the legalization of marijuana. Am I onto something?

We hopped onto the free tram to Bellagio, because everyone knows that they put on a lovely Christmas display every year.

If Jesus returned to us at this exact moment, he would without doubt adore what we have done with the holiday named after him.

Gigantic polar bear sculptures made of flowers. Tree shmee. Ornament shmornament. That's a gigantic flower polar bear.

Sometimes a pic comes out exactly how you wanted it to.

As we moseyed down the strip back to Wynn, we came to Caesar's Palace. One highlight on the island of Manhattan would be the restaurants Serendipity and Serendipity 2. A visit to NYC is a waste of time without a visit to Serendipity. Well, now Caesar's Palace offers Serendipity 3.

Would you believe that this 14 inch hot dog lead to a conversation that involved a true story in which a roomful of people saw a guy expose himself on webcam? I think you would believe that pretty easily.

But 14 inch hot dogs are not the purpose of Serendipity.

Whether in Vegas or Manhattan, THAT is the reason one goes to Serendipity. Frozen Hot Chocolate. Seriously. If you have never tasted this, fly to New York City or Las Vegas and get one of these beauties as soon as freaking possible. For all you know you could perish without tasting one and that would be unacceptable. (My lactose intolerant mother is exempted from the previous demand.)

Serendipity 3 offers a variation of Frozen Hot Chocolate unavailable elsewhere called Peanut Butter Frozen Hot Chocolate. I cannot believe I am saying this, but skip the peanut butter version. It adds nothing. Da Vinci did not force eyebrows onto the Mona Lisa, and Serendipity 3 should have shown similar restraint.

Traditions matter. (Hidden images do not abound.)

We were busy every minute of every day in Las Vegas, it seemed. We saw two movies, It's Complicated and Avatar (the wife skipped the second one), ate many meals and generally hung out. We played a little blackjack and a little video poker, wagering around $60 total and coming back with around $52.

On the last night we went to Le Rêve, which according to my iPhone's translation app means, The Dream. Apparently, someone dreamed of charging three figure ticket prices for a Cirque du Soleil imitation that does not burden the audience with Cirque staples like an intelligible narrative or an artistic vision.

They did not allow photography during the show. This is before the show. I did not break the rules. Just imagine a bunch of men in tiny shorts swimming and diving into this water and you have pretty much seen this show.

The one interesting thing about Le Rêve is the fact that it made my wife lean over and whisper to me, "This is the most homoerotic thing I have ever seen in my life." That is not an understatement. For the record, the wife, the friend, and the friend's wife all enjoyed the show. Odds are nearly everyone in the theater enjoyed it. I needed more vision, more story, more purpose. But that's just me.

Could I possibly cross a pedestrian bridge over Las Vegas Boulevard and not snap a pic? I only wish they had been speeding enough to stretch their headlights.

Now get this. We were suppose to sleep in Las Vegas one more night. But sleeping there a fourth night would have meant waking up Sunday morning and driving to Los Angeles in the traffic that normally flows from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on a Sunday. So we did the most logical thing. We grabbed our bags, checked out of the hotel, got the car out of the valet, and drove home at 1 am.

There is no traffic on this highway at 2:30 am.

We arrived home at 4:30 am and went to bed. We could not have been happier, as, "Thou shalt avoid traffic," is our own personal Eleventh.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Banana Cream Pie

Everyone has a favorite kind of pie. Mine is, without a doubt, Banana Cream Pie. And a five minute walk from our apartment takes me to Banderas, where the banana cream pie is quite unique. It does away with formalities such as looking like a pie and is more like a pile of pie elements. Sure, that gives you the vibe that some chef somewhere got a little artsy-fartsy with his craft and sat around thinking, "If Jackson Pollock can just throw paint at a canvas and become a big deal, why can't I just throw some pie-ish stuff into a bowl and watch adoring fans line up for me?"

There she is.

I'm not sure that I'm prepared to call this the best banana cream pie in Los Angeles, which probably still belongs to Ocean Seafood in Santa Monica. I am prepared to confess that the keen observer is correct in thinking that there is an extinguished candle in the center of that pie-ness. Yes, I chose to have my birthday dinner with my parents and my wife at Banderas because I knew all-too-well that there would be dessert involved, and this was the desert I wanted for my birthday. Is there a more ringing endorsement than that? (The even more keen will note that my birthday was eight weeks ago, which would indicate a bit of laziness on my behalf as far as sharing this picture.)

From the petty and small department... I wish to point out that Barbie's birthday dessert in 2009 was on a "mega-yacht" anchored off the coast of Calvi, Corsica. Just in case you find my birthday dessert at all decadent, I point out that warm Mediterranean waters were nowhere to be seen near this pie.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Super Dreidel!

For those who do not know, my friend Rick & I created an iPhone/iPod app. As of today, Super Dreidel is available on the iTunes store!

I am hoping that our dear friends who have an iPhone or iPod touch would (1) buy the app and (2) rate & review it with 5-stars and wonderful comments. Back rubs from me for all who do this.

Just go to and click on the iTunes link or Super Dreidel comic book cover to buy the app. You cannot review or comment until you buy.

(If that link on the home page doesn't launch iTunes for you, you can use this link:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Google Rocks

So... yeah, I'm kind of Google's little bitch. Gmail, Google Voice, Blogger, even Google Wave now; I know the derogatory name for guys who are way into Macs and whatever the derogatory term is for someone way into Google, well, that would be me. I'll go with GoogleBitch for now.

The reason for a non-travel related post here is this: I received an email about a private movie screening of that new Clooney movie, "Men Who Stare At Goats." We really want to see it, and free is a good thing; therefore, I copy the info about the screening and paste it in an email to the wife. ("Therefore" used to avoid another "so.")

After sending that email, I see in the right hand column of Gmail something that looks like this:

Add to calendar
Men Who Stare At Goats
Nov 5, 2009
7:30 pm

I click on add and BOOM, there is the screening in my Google Calendar with the date, time AND the theater where the screening is going to take place. It knew how to yank all that information out of the email's text and present it to me as a calendar entry. I added my wife to the event and it sent her an invite.

I believe that this may have been the most awesome benefit yet of allowing Google to read every email that I send and receive. I don't even feel violated. I still trust Sergei & Larry when they say their philosophy is, "Don't be evil." And in this case, Google's constant monitoring of my activity lead to a sort of magical internet moment. Orwell can kiss it.

I just wish that Google would decide to take on our cable company. Then I could switch to GoogleTV and be an even bigger GoogleBitch.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Best Burger in Los Angeles

Everyone has a right to their opinion. I am no exception. And it is my opinion that Barney's Gourmet Burgers, which is actually an expansion into Los Angeles from the socialist haven of Northern California's Bay Area, makes the best burger in Los Angeles.

You think I'm just going to show you the burger? No. You have to wait. This is the inside of Barney's, which Barbie and I walked to today.

How lucky do we consider ourselves that we live walking distance from here? Not lucky at all. It is not luck. It is design.

There she is. The Hickory Turkey with blue cheese in place of the standard Jack. When the flavors of the blue cheese, the barbecue sauce, the bacon, and the turkey patty come together, it is a festival of pure joy. Sure, you can get it with a beef patty, but I prefer this.

And I will have you know that I have eaten a few of these and continued to lose weight, because it arrives and I immediately cut in half and only eat half. I take my time, enjoying the iced tea between every bite, and half is all that I need.

It is a serious joy in my life to know that the second half sits in the fridge as I type.

And that, my friends, is the best burger in Los Angeles.

(Yes, this was shared due to everyone loving the food pics from Europe. It is only fair to share great meals at home, too.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cabo San Lucas, Day 3

Today was supposed to be a travel day, pure and simple. Wake up, eat breakfast, head to the airport. But... a rep from the hotel called (at 8:30 AM, which is what one might call uncool) to set up a time to show us other rooms on the property.

When we finally gave up on going back to sleep, I opened the curtains.

Not a bad view to wake up to.

Yes, we ordered an omelet to share that was identical in every way to the omelet we shared yesterday.

Except that we got a fruit plate as well. This fruit was crazy good. And how cool is the coconut?

I promised you a pic of the big ass bathroom door. And I delivered. If you tell me you have seen a larger bathroom door in your life, I am going to have to demand a picture. Because without concrete proof I will think you're lying.

Hotel rep guy came and took us to several different rooms and villas on the property. I took a lot of pics. A few highlights follow.

This is the front of a Casita. It doesn't matter how ignorant you are, you likely know what that word means.

This is the view from inside the Casita. Every room at Capella Pedregal has its own private plunge pool. You saw our infinity plunge pool many times. But this plunge pool is pretty remarkable.

The plunge pool behind a two story, three bedroom villa.

Barbie loved the stone turtles that were around the property.

The guy who woke us up at 8:30 AM wanted to show us even more rooms, but we had a plane to catch. Can you imagine if I was able to blame one person for both costing me sleep and making me miss a plane? That would be a lot of animosity, I would think. Good thing we left with plenty of time to spare. Too bad I didn't take a picture of the beautifully wrapped turtle cookies that they gave to us as we left. I ate mine on the plane.

Flying out of Mexico on a Thursday is brilliant. Nobody leaves right before the weekend. Travel like this too much and you forget what standing in line is like.

This is literally the last I saw of Mexico.

We normally sit exit row, which means I take pains to frame shots from the plane around that annoying wing. For some reason, it finally occurred to me to accept the wing as not a large obstacle blocking my view but as an essential element of my view.

It isn't until you fly over other cities and then come back to Los Angeles and fly over it that you really grasp when the word "vast" should be used.


(I left out the wing pic with Catalina in view. I think this was a mistake. Hang on for a second.)

Okay, that took longer than a second. For me. For you, it was effortless. We took that odd flight path to LAX where you go out over the ocean, then come back over the land around Long Beach Harbor, and then make a wide left swing back to the landing route over the 105 freeway. The point being, we went out over the ocean and I was suddenly looking down at Santa Catalina Island. How could I not snap one of it with my new friend, the wing?

And now we were home again.

Cabo San Lucas, Day 2

Today marks our only full day away from home this trip. After all, this was just a quickie down to Cabo to check out this new property. No need to drag it out. After being away for two months this summer, we're both pretty pleased to know we'll be home tomorrow afternoon.

Today's Agenda: Massages. Nothing else specific.

Remember how I talked yesterday about the tunnel that separates the Capella Pedregal from downtown Cabo San Lucas? There she is.

When we arrived at the restaurant for breakfast, we were again treated to the "post nuclear last couple on Earth" vibe. The red circle shows where we chose to sit. I think you'd agree that table was the only truly valid choice.

For someone who orders iced tea constantly, I'm not at all an iced tea aficionado. But here they gave three choices, two with a fruit flavor and one without. (I'm not afraid to say it was entirely based on a quick assumption about calories. I've lost 15+ lbs since Europe and I'm not letting a few days in Mexico set me back.) But with the rather good tea flavored iced tea, they gave me a shot of a cinnamon infusion. I took a tiny sip, and it was a delicious combo of cinnamon and sugar dissolved into water. I didn't pour it in, because I don't like my tea sweet, but I could see many a person being overjoyed to pour in the whole mixture.

We ordered an omelet to share, and of course they brought it pre-split onto two plates. It was an excellent omelet, though our discipline to not have cheese in it means you cannot compare it to the great omelets of Paris.

You want to know what kind of "little things" they do at Capella Pedregal to impress you? The ice cubes in my iced tea were made of the tea itself. No watering down this tea. Impressed?

Barbie hit the pool and I hit the gym. The red circle denotes the elliptical machine I spent 45 minutes on. (Had to stop short of an hour for the spa appointment.) You know what was awesome? I wasn't crazy about the music in the gym, and as I was about to put in my iPhone's earbuds I noticed that the music was coming from one of those boom-box iPod cradles. Since I was alone in the gym and, really, nobody was coming in there no matter how long I worked out, I pulled their iPod out and put my iPhone in and, voilà, the music playing throughout the gym happened to be all the music on my iPhone shuffling. Privacy rules.

By the way... people checked in! There are now at least 5-8 other guests; they walked by the gym as I worked out.

At this point, we go to the spa for massages. It's a shame I left the iPhone in the room. The spa facilities were wonderful, with a separate pool as well as steam, sauna, jacuzzi, and a cool room with crushed ice in the center. The massage rooms were around the pool, with stones you walked across to your massage. Now... sure, those would have been great pics. But it didn't seem like a good idea to bring the iPhone along.

We headed "into town" for dinner. It is dreadful. All the main streets are torn apart by a corrupt construction company that has taken forever to complete the new-look streets and sidewalks. I didn't take pictures of the guys trying to drag me into places where women dance around poles. Yes, they asked me to go in spite of being an old white guy walking with his wife. (Full disclosre, my skin is not at all white so maybe I just looked like a guy, not a white guy.)

We walked to... the Hard Rock.

I got myself a Cadillac, but I can't afford the gasoline. (This one rests over the Hard Rock doorway.)

My Corona Light (it IS Mexico, after all) and Barbie's Coke in a guitar.

I neglected, somehow, to take a picture of my tortilla soup and Barbie's nachos & chicken strips. It was all very tasty.

The torches that line the tunnel back to Capella Pedregal.

Sometimes you play around with pics. In this instance, the minimalist imagery of the tunnel torches made for a nifty kaleidoscope image, no?

And thus ends our full day in Cabo. Mañana we fly home. Like a bank job, "In and out, nobody gets hurt."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cabo San Lucas, Day 1

It is not like we were dying to get out of town again, but a new resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, invited us for two nights and... who would say no?

The great joy in this trip, for me, is that for Cabo there was no need to put things like pants and socks into the bag. In fact, I should have a t-shirt that reads, "Have sandals, will travel." Sandals, shorts, bathing suit, t-shirt, and one decent shirt for dinner. That is it. I could have filled the pockets of my cargo shorts and gone bagless.

The last view of Los Angeles.

Okay, this is the last view of Los Angeles. Something about the sun on the ocean...

This is where we went. Almost exactly.

The first view of the Mexican sky.

If only I could have taken pictures of everyone's feet. I think 9 in 10 people were wearing sandals on this flight. The degree to which we all anticipated the Mexican heat was beautiful.

Passport time. Funny how for most of my life a CA Driver's license got me in and out of this country, while today I need a Passport. Meanwhile, for much of history you needed that passport to move from country to country in Europe, and today you travel freely across borders.

We arrived at Capella Pedregal through the 300m tunnel they blasted into the mountain. See, this resort is next to the heart of downtown Cabo San Lucas, yet a tall hill stands between it and the town. They brought in mining crews to blast out a tunnel through the rock and Voila, a new luxury resort next to yet seperated from the town.

The resort only opened last month, and as you can see what are clearly going to be water ponds are not yet finished.

But this part looks finished. I'd say that this would do the trick if you were seriously burned out and needed to refresh your soul. Just two hours from home.

I didn't get around to taking pics that really show the niceness of the room. But see that bathroom door? It's the height of our 14 foot ceiling, and moves with ease. I've got to figure out how to get a good pic of the largest bathroom door on Earth.

Our room, like every room at Capella Pedregal, has a private plunge pool. It's skin temperature.

Hungry for lunch, and settling in, we ordered room service. Tortilla Soup for him, Chicken Nachos for her. Too delicious, by the way. I don't want to have a major setback to all the post-Europe weight loss.

By the way, the genius of the infinity pool is that the water perpetually flowing across that infinity edge takes all leaves, grass, and general yuckiness away. The surface always looks perect.

The restaurant next to the pool.

What else did you expect? Cabo has an interesting history, it is true. But this quick jaunt to Cabo is about one thing... the pool and spa. Well, two things.

If pool pics bore you, leave now.

Does not the infinity edge to the pool absolutely make it look like Barbie is in the surf?

Included for the wave. Not the ocean's wave. The wife's.

This one gives you a feel for how close the pool is to the waves of the Pacific. This is the Pacific, so it is chillier than the Sea of Cortez side of Cabo. Of course, here the bodies of water meet and I have no idea where they draw the line. But I trust our driver who told us this is the Pacific; a young Mexican guy from Los Angeles, who moved here 10 years ago to live and work, and is now married with three kids. His parents visit from Los Angeles when they can. I did include these facts for those of you open to thinking more deeply about the complexities of migration over the USA-Mexico border.

Barbie with the swim up bar behind her. Have you noticed yet? We are the only people here. Like, ONLY. Clearly this is because they just opened and it is mid-week. Most travel agents were here over the weekend, but we delayed so that we could attend a wedding on Sunday.

If you'd like to have a luxurious resort to yourself, consider the value of travelling Tues-Thurs.

I have so far failed to mention that the pool is saline and skin temperature.

No, a pool does not get better than this.

Included for the curious types who were thinking, where does that infinity pool end? Of course, the really curious types are asking, "Why do they call it infinity if it has an end? Why not edgeless? But the edge is right there." You can be too literal.

This is Larry. I have around 20 pics of Larry. I started taking them from very far away, one every second or two as I slowly approached him. It was right after this one that he flew away. Larry is the smartest bird in the area. He has figured out the advantages of resting by a pool next to the ocean between fishing expeditions.

Larry is right THERE. He came back after I vacated his spot. Oddly, I suspect he was looking at me and named me Larry as well.

As we left, I turned back and had it not been for the bag I was carrying I would point out the two lounge chairs we used. Full disclosure: I didn't use mine once. There's no need to ever get out of the skin temperature saline pool, so I didn't.

Yes, this is the end. For today.

No more pics. Just two people in a room on laptops. We'd have the news on but gosh darn another famous person has died. Ted Kennedy's passing has now eclipsed all other news. Why is it that when we travel the 24 hour news networks devote 23.99 of those hours to a recent death?