Saturday, April 12, 2014

Everything but the Strip

“Everything” is a GROSS exaggeration, but it was the most fun I’ve had in a Vegas trip yet. I was called by a company I thought weren’t too impressed me, but that’s how you land last minute gigs. I happened to be at a grocery store when I got the call for a next day departure last October. We drove out to Red Rock Canyon. A new group of colleagues I just met that morning. Interesting dynamic always. I’m ecstatic when they seem normal and the only odd thing was the boss’s penchant for “limited edition” junk food. And that seems mighty normal. We went to Walmart and he walked out with $40 worth of cereal and candy e.g. cereal that changed the milk neon colors and tasted like cotton candy. Okie. But these guys were cool. Both laid back and both really into photography. We went to the Hoover Dam one day. Dammmmmmn it’s hard not to make a mess of puns here. The history of the dam and building the dam is all pretty interesting and you should read it there rather than expect me to explain anything about it bc this is about me, dam it. Also, I don’t remember much, but the community that was built to house the workers on the dam is still there. Imagine a community thrown together. What do you do after work? Was it like college where everyone is there for one reason? Were there one or two bars that were hopping every night with workers and their families and gossip and did they all know each other and TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LIVES! I wonder this about Chinatown in the city. What goes on there. What the heck goes on there.

Anyway, we took a tour of the place, went into the caves and saw the big turbines. The day before one of the guys and I went to Red Rock. This was around the time I had some guy do work on my car in the parking lot of a Wendy’s after he stopped me at a traffic light to offer his services. Ya, ok, this seems legit. I digress…I told him this story and we were belly laughing in the car on the way home. Both hungry to the point of desperation, while talking about our picky almost snotty eating tastes and favorites in NYC we stopped at a gas station and ate Mexican food. It was--bad. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good. When we got in the car we confessed that we felt sad. Hours earlier we were also talking about his wife's healthy eating habits and my interest in nutrition. And then we exploited our will and ate Mexican food from a gas station. Ole.

That night we ate at this place they love that makes enormous portions of home cooked favorites. No clue what I got, but at the table we split the tip we earned earlier and had $100 left over. Instead of splitting it $33.33 each we decided hell we’re in Vegas, let it ride! roll? Let it go!!!! Neither of them was a fan of gambling, but we still put a collective $100 chip on 18 Red at a Roulette table at some sad restaurant/casino off the strip. Just before the ball LANDED on 18 the lady pulled our chip off the table and told us that it was $50 max. These guys were scarred from gambling even further. (I know I know! We should have made them give us the return for $50 winnings, we just left defeated). We went to Bellagio buffet to drown our sorrows the next night. I’d never gone to a Vegas buffet and I ate like I had never gone to a restaurant before. Sushi, sole, brownies, sweet potatoes?! Yes! All in one pile! And for round two I’ll have an ice cream sandwich and smoked salmon canapes! After the buffet we went to fountain show that times the fountains to songs and is actually pretty cool. I remember hearing it the last time I was in Vegas having dinner with TBones at the SugarFactory across the street. My first trip to Vegas I was lucky enough to be there when one of my best friends and a gaggle of his best friends were there. That one trip was all I needed with walking the casinos, gambling nothing, getting a milkshake at midnight before passing out. Gah, it was a wild one!

We walked around a bit more for the guy who likes limited edition stuff to collect more street cards and buy souvenir Eiffel tower thermoses bc duh. We left the next day, the guys still destroyed over losing a grand or two. I didn’t understand why this was such a big deal. It was tip money.

“Where did the bug go?” ----- this is written in my notes from this trip. No clue what this means..

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


"Upon landing in SA you will be given a Burka and head scarf and be shown how to wear it. Please verse yourself in culture and what to expect."

Loosely paraphrased advice for me to research our newest destination. And so the internet tells me to walk two feet behind my male company, cover my face at all times and to not speak to anyone of the opposite sex I'm not married to. Can't wait!

Walking off the plane behind the guys with this wrap over my face falling off I looked like an errant child. It wasn't fitting right and it felt north of 90 degrees with this on over my full suit. I'd been up for 24 hours at this point, not so fresh feeling after an 11 hour flight, and generally irritated and apprehensive of what kind of world we were entering. I hadn't taken more then ten steps before I hated this place. I. Hate. This. Place. I thought as I paced myself two feet behind my co-workers (co). I clenched my jaw and drudged forward. The guys would look back, see my scarf drooping past my chin and frantically motion for me to fix myself. I got it, dude...I don't like being told what to do in the first place and then perhaps I was a little bothered how quickly the guys took to the culture. Accepting my lesser role here and by proxy their sense of importance. This is shit. Bullshit. Ludicrousity! Made up words of rage! Amazing how quickly I was filled with resentment. I'd never felt this visceral sense of oppression before and I didn't like it.

As I walked in my own world across the black top I was memorized by three SA woman walking ahead in the distance. Three of them walked together in sync across the tarmac, in grace and poise, their Burkas struggling in the slight breeze. I wondered if they liked it here, what they were thinking and what they were talking about. Groceries and babysitting or royalty and jewels.

While waiting for all of us to go through customs I stood on my own unsure of how much interaction I was allowed. I was pouting. The security guards and line men were snickering at me. I didn't understand why, but felt there could have been many reasons. My ill fitted head scarf, my pouting, my pale skin.

A gentleman approached me and told me to come with him.  With a raised eyebrow and my best brat I protested, why. "Please come to my operations." Indignant: no. He walked away irritated. A few minutes later he asked again. Uh. No. Do people just out right invite to kidnap you here?! The third time he came over he asked all of us to go. Ok that's better and then I realized he was a contact of ours from the states. Oh. I'm the dick. We were led into a private room and another contact exclaims "Miss, take that off your head! You do not need that!" We are westerners and this being the capital it is a bit more tolerant of Westerners and the only thing I had to be wearing was the burka, not the head scarf.

And so the men were snickering at me because I had the damn thing on when I didn't need to. Not because I was a woman or moody or hot or fumbling with all my luggage (I told myself). Relieved and giving my company the stink eye I removed it cathartically. Freedom.

I then cleared with our contact that I was allowed to walk at same pace and speak to fellow westerners, men included, in public. Like letting loose another notch on a belt.

We got into a taxi and off to our hotel in the heart of the capital. I was dozing in and out of sleep with my phone in hand waking up intermittently and snapping photos through my drooping eyeballs. I wasn’t sure how much exploring I’d be able to do and this may be my only chance to get photographs. We arrived at our hotel, which looked nice enough from the outside, but the entrance was in an alley and not on the main street which made my colleagues uneasy. It's not that I'm laid back it's that I'm naive--and exhausted. I would have slept right there in that alley. Thankfully, after learning an alternate hotel was 45 minutes away my company capitulated and we made our way inside. I'm a zombie at this point.

Lobby was nice blah blah blah, I just wanted a bed. And a bed I got. One of the hardest beds I've ever had at a hotel but it didn't matter. I snap awake into my usual routine of expelling clothes off me, as I drop my bags and inspect the room, I stumble my way to the bed and slip into a coma. A few minutes later there was a knock at my door. I threw clothes on, and flung the door open thinking it was my coworkers and we were already leaving. Instead it was the hotel staff asking if the room was ok. What? Call me on the PHONE. “It's fine,” I said curtly to their “courtesy call” closing the door and only then thinking how dumb of me it was to open my door to two strange men. The two guys I came from the states with did not get such a courtesy call.

I returned to bed, taking in a little bit more of the room as it was the most time I’d spent with my eyes open in this country. It was modern, new, colorful. The bed was still stiff. When I woke up several hours later my circadian rhythm was spinning on its head. I was up for so long on the flight over my clock was already off and then it's a six hour time difference not to mention the clock in my room was wrong, which was just the cruelest prank ever. I finally deduced it was midnight, but I was also hungry. I didn't want to call the guys rooms in chance I wake them so I emailed them both asking if they had any interest in exploring or eating. I wasn’t sure I could leave the room, let alone the hotel, by myself and another pang of oppression hit me. I could have left the room and I didn't have to be cloaked while in the hotel, but these were two things I learned the day we were leaving. One of my colleagues was also awake and emailed me to meet him in the lobby. We ate a midnight dinner at their snack counter. The staff here, and everywhere we went really were so very nice and accommodating, acting as if whipping up sandwiches in the middle of the night was no big deal. We stayed up for a while eating silently and then chatting, mostly listening to his stories of travel and looking at photographs from places I’d never even heard of. Full and groggy we went back to our rooms and I slept for what felt like minutes before another knock on my door woke me. This time I didn’t dress, I just yelled through the door and this time it was my coworker and if I wanted to go site seeing I needed to be downstairs in ten minutes. Ten minutes, awesome, thanks for the heads up guys! I was cranky.

I realized while putting clothes on I would be cloaked for the day so I could think even less than usual about what to wear.  Point one for the burka! We met our tour guide downstairs and took off into the city. The streets were packed with cars, dusty ones. It seems as there are no rules of the road, but our tour guide navigates it flawlessly, as if he's played hours of frogger. He is from Syria and dislikes Riyadh but here he can make money. We drill him with questions about the customs and life here. There are no bars (it’s a dry country), no movie theaters, no bowling alleys; no public places for fun. People are here to work-not to be entertained. So we go to the mall.

But first we get out of the car and he realizes my burka is on backwards so I have to take it off for him to fix. Now not only do the guys see my silly outfit, but I am about to be burka-less in the capital of SA and exposed to the general public passing us on the sidewalk. Super. Once our guide dresses me we carry on. This was not the last infraction of the day.

In the mall we walk towards a Starbucks thinking nothing of anything, Macchiatos maybe, and our even keel, soft spoken tour guide bellows out behind us "LIZ! SINGLE SIDE!!" Wtf, sir? I had wandered into the singles side of Starbucks. For single men. The place for woman and families and married men with their wives to get Starbucks was around the corner. It's not hidden, but you can't see into it from outside. This was the same situation at the food court and because I was with the guys we all had to eat on the family area. Separate but equal? Women are allowed to talk to cashiers or waiters, but not male casual conversation. Like when my co-worker turned to a lady and asked if there were any good restaurants in the mall and she gave him the coldest stare and shoulder. Our tour guide visibly flinched at his faux pas. He could have been arrested. She could have screamed in his face. We lucked out by getting our coffees and the heck out of there unscathed. There was a level in the mall for women only. The first few floors were unisex housing the normal stores, Victoria secret, SuperDry, Gap. I should have gone to the-women’s only-top floor, but I really had zero interest. There could have been amazing things up there, but what??

This is an affluent area of SA. Some ladies had blinged out designer burkas; Coach, Gucci. Some had pajama pants underneath their burkas others had leopard shoes. It was a fun factor to people watching. We did a lot of people watching.

Our tour guide had to go to his office at some point so the guys and I stayed in the mall. We walked around loitering and chatting like normal until we realized we were being stalked by a security guard. He stood uncomfortably close to us we assume because I was talking to this man openly and vice versa. Scandalous.

We walked around as trying not to touch anything or break anything or offend anyone, security keeping a close watch on us. Finally, our tour guide returned and took us to the top of the Kingdom Tower. This is the tallest building in SA built for the king from one of his sons. My camera phone had died and I have no evidence, but I don’t know what I would have posted anyway. It was a large, sprawling city covered in a reddish brown hue of sand and desert.

In the elevator on the way down from the tower a couple of men started chatting my coworkers. I sidled up next to them to see if I'd be welcomed into the conversation, but there was not even a glance my way. Topping that, when we walked outside the mall returning to the car we passed the security guard from earlier in the day. About an hour later. He'd been tailing us the entire time. This is an intense place that I'm not dying to get back to. There are a few restaurants I'd like to check out that were suggested to us. What is traveling if it’s not about food?

This is another level though. The loss of identity being cloaked in this robe and having certain rights taken away from you. I wonder how SA woman feel. They can’t work, they can’t drive, they can’t speak to certain people. Who cares, maybe. They may not hate being driven everywhere and not having to work and keeping their bodies, face and hair preserved only for her family. Not even to say that they don't know anything else because I suspect they are fully aware of lives outside their own country. The western lifestyle, but even the stark cultural differences of their neighbors in Dubai. Plenty of expats and hop over there for a weekend break or vacation. And maybe they’ve seen Jersey Shore and aren’t too impressed with a no rules, no class lifestyle. And I’m sure there are plenty of woman who think it’s crap and want to get the hell out of there too. I don’t know. To each their own.

The rest of the trip was much of a muchness (;)). We kept odd hours, ate a lot of hummus, and were filled with a new sense of appreciation for the grand 'ol USA. We can do whatever we WANT here! And it felt so good to be home. There was a brief stop in Paris for a quick airport cappuccino, but otherwise two seven hour flights and lots of water. The burka now sits in a ball underneath a pile of towels, so it knows its place. A souvenir of how great not-SA is. The next time we go back the mission is to eat at an authentic restaurant and appreciate what it does have to offer and to also never go back.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Monterey, CA: Otter Stuff

The next morning I had grandiose plans of running down to the wharf, but falling asleep at 4AM isn’t conducive to healthy activities and instead I only made my way downtown about 2PM. Wups. It was a beautiful, sunny day out. I got a cab, suggested by the front desk, but it was $10 for two miles and there is a bus that goes every hour and the walk is only 30 minutes and this is not New York city so I won’t be doing that again. Front desk chumps.
I went right back to the water I was fearing the night before. Everything looking much more blue and inviting and crisp.
There was a seventeen mile stretch of scenic ocean views.
Down to Asilomar State Beach
Then back to walk around the area trying to find a hair cutting place that I finally found at Bhinb. A lovely hair dresser there from Thailand chatted the whole time, bonding about how dating someone from another country can cause unnecessary fights due to language and accent barriers. Ha. She was super sweet and hugged me goodbye.
I wandered into Caffe Trieste next door
For a cappuccino for no reason and a cookie on the house
The day flew away from me so before it got completely dark I walked into town as dusk settled
Down to the wharf
Mesmerized by the taffy
Boats and boats
Found some seals!

Basking in the sunset




Found Fisherman’s Shoreline park and made more plans to run tomorrow. Definitely going to run tomorrow!


And then I didn’t run. I instead woke up and immediately went otter searching


Otters are supposed to be all over the place here in Monterey and being an huge fan of adorable things I was pretty disappointed when my otter spotting (I spent hours, hours, sitting by the water looking for the little dudes) was only rewarded with the weird otter paraphernalia.


They just love otters here


Well, except this place where they wrap them up in puff pastry and eat them

Phone File 3544

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is here, which is like the fish bible on how to eat sustainably and safely.


And there are a lot of taffy shops


By night fall I drove around the cliffs and was completely enchanted with the night and the water as I usually am. I decided to go into town to see what the nightlife was like, but when I got there to the bars and drinks all I could think was what these people were missing just minutes from them. Do you know what’s down there?! But these bars did look pretty happening.

For dinner the next night I went to a restaurant I forget who told me to check out, but it was a local one that was always packed and it was. Monterey’s Fish House. Simple enough on an unasuming road bookend by parking lots, I actually passed it the first time driving by
It was packed with a line out the door and a long wait time, but dining for one has its advantages. I went right to the bar and scored a front row seat to some shucking.
I got to talking to a couple who were in town selling their bees. Real life apiarists! An interesting industry that I forgot all about. They come to this place every time they’re in town and eventually talked me into getting some dessert. Which doesn’t take much.
I liked Monterey, couldn’t spent another few days there. And maybe during one of them I would actually run through the scenery. But probably not.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Monterey, CA: More Monsters

The routine is bust open hotel room door. Kick off shoes. Shimmy off pants. Throw off already unbuttoned shirt like it’s on fire. Suit, be gone! Relaxation commence! Then I can check out the room or close the door or whatever. These articles have not moved for two and a half days.
Phone File 3466
The first night we arrived in the evening. I stayed in the room, exhausted and a bit achey. The next morning was rainy and I had a bitch of a migraine that kept me under the covers in a ball of ache and throb until 5PM.

After I regained strength and ability to stop whining I picked myself up and poured me into the car finally venturing out to the dreary coast.
Phone File 3444
Cannery Row was right down the street so I walked on to check out the restaurants and little shops. Only to remember later that Cannery Row was the title one of Steinbecks books. CULTURE!
Phone File 3451
The aforementioned migraine situation led my justification of indulging in a strawberry oreo milkshake while I walked up to the very romantic “Lovers Point Park” with my tasty date
Phone File 3458
I am terrified of dark water. I found this fear in my early teens when visiting Bading Hollow beach house of one Col Ev’s and we’d sneak around at night planning games and heists for the next day. Amazing times at that beach house. And fears realized when getting too closer to the water and realizing my heart was in my throat. Dark water monsters, the most vicious of the water monsters. So anyway I got as close as I could muster to the water and then ran back with sand filled shoes
Phone File 3640
After brushing off the sand and imaginary predators I went back up to Cannery Row and up the street to a brewery I had spotted earlier appropriately named “The Cannery Brewery.”
Phone File 3463
I had their honey wheat. It was light and refreshing, nothing spectacular alongside my bland salad and sharp ale cheddar soup.
Phone File 3465
The bartender was very attentive. I would return to this place for the service and give the food a second chance because the rest of the menu looked delicious.
Phone File 3462
I kept to myself for dinner and went on way back to bed. The hotel was nothing to note. A decent Hilton Garden Inn.
Hotels get big ratings from me when they have three things:
1. Outlets near the bed. not the desk. who cares if there are outlets by the desk. just get rid of the desks.
2. Vending machines. I don’t appreciate stocked lobby snack shops. I don’t want to have to face someone during my snack run. I’d rather let a machine eat my money and spit snack packs back at me to eat. Anonymously. Thank you.
3. Knowledgeable front desk staff who actually know the area. A front desk person should have at least one place to recommend outside of the hotel bar. I’ve found, however, even when they are useless, the cleaning crew knows whats up.
I’m off track. After my beers I headed back to the hotel and went to bed. After a walk of shame midnight snack run. Shh!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Aspen, CO

Last night was the first time I felt I made the most of this nonsense. We arrived five or six in the evening at the Inn at Aspen.

Phone File 2440The weather was getting bad in New York so we were stuck here for the night. The night before was Christmas Day and spent with the Irish in the city. We had a lovely dinner in Battery Park and then went for a few drinks in Bethpage. A long night at the end of it I had a few hours of sleep before being called to go to Aspen and for no good reason, I was exhausted. I could have watched television and sunk into the bed.

Phone File 2428

We weren’t needed until noon the next day so instead of soaking up too much television, I changed clothes and pushed myself down to the lobby. Downtown Aspen was only a couple miles down the road so I took advantage of the hotel shuttle and headed in. The front desk suggested a pub called Fins when I asked where I could get good cheap eats.

Phone File 2433 - Copy

Having no knowledge of Aspen I didn’t realize it can be a stuffy town with more fake tan and facelifts if you go to the wrong place.

Phone File 2432 - Copy

It was cold. The van dropped me off and pointed me to the pub which I wound up running to because it was cold and again, I had not packed other shoes.

Phone File 2431 - Copy

The pub was bustling, but I was able to squeeze into a corner spot at the bar. I ordered the veggie melt and a Guinness that knocked me back. The combination of high altitude and lack of sleep, she can do that sometimes. The melt was delicious, as was the mac and cheese I heard my neighbors boasting about.

Phone File 2434 - Copy

Sitting at the pub Nick introduced himself, a snowboard instructor at Buttermilk mountain and his friends Seth and Ag, also snowboard instructors or at least for the season. Seth is a computer engineer and Nick used to be something else, but they both found that being happy was more satisfying than being rich. We were joined by Mike and Krista, a couple, and Marie and another couple. Others came and went. At one point I was sitting in the booth we were at, bookended by strangers I’d just met, drinking and chatting like we did this all the time and I am socially apt.

Phone File 2436

I kept trying to pin point what was going on. I tend to overthink these situations, feeling impressed with myself for nothing, congratulate myself for integrating, but I wasn’t doing anything. I was calmly enjoying the ease of all of it.  Mike was sitting to the right of me in the booth and we started talking. He was friendly, genuine nice guy with a very silly and adventurous and outgoing girlfriend. I liked them a lot. Nick got hammered and switched shirts with a girl at the bar and then she bolted, leaving him in a tiny black turtle tank. Seth, being a damn good friend, offered to wear the tiny girl top and switched with Nick. And Seth actually worked it well enough to get hit on a few times. They were all so relaxed. Laid back, happy, fun group of people. Everyone was my age. I’m so used to going out and meeting people about two years younger than I, but to be talking to other 28 year olds I felt a silly sense of relief. Nick was a bar butterfly talking to various groups at the bar, hitting on ladies and striking out with one, but Krista was a self proclaimed stellar wing woman went to undo the damage and have them join us. She failed, but I liked her style. We downed a failure shot before we moved to the next string of bars. I made them look at my shoes before we left making sure I would be let in with my stupid attire. They laughed and assured me no one's gives a shit.

These were all locals, home for the holidays and we were going to a less fancy, more local part of the promenade. They referred to it as Su Casa’s at Erics. It is three bars connected, Su Casa, which is more of a loungy restaurant, Erics which was a big bar and then a billiards bar. Chatting mostly with Seth and Marie at this point. Chatted Seth about the nine to five. Rich people. Being happy. Trying to be a good citizen, but maintaining your own happiness that is sometimes outside that conventional path without feeling guilty about it. Krista had run off to another bar and Mike had to run off after her laughing at her ridiculousness. That is love. At this point it was probably midnight. My phone had died around 11. I had missed the hotel shuttle at 10 and then the bus at midnight, but luckily Marie lived closed to my Inn and offered to drive me home. Seth was going to sleep in his car, despite it having snowed a few inches while we were out. It was 2AM when I got home and 6AM (not noon, as previously planned) when I got a wake up call to be ready in an hour. We’re going to Michigan.

Phone File 2447

Aspen is a cool town. Small, but a lot going on and a lot of good people.