The start of the search

My daily writing has involved a lot of reminiscing about moments from my past that stand out for me.  This one felt still meaningful enough to share.

Also: 100th post!  <golf clap>

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“Dad, what is God?”

I had picked my son up from his mom’s house on a Sunday night. He was six; my separation from his mother was more than a year old. he rode in back, strapped into his car seat, playing with his favorite action figure.

The freeway was dark, and my eyes had to adjust and search for him in the rear view mirror, blocking out the headlights behind me to find half of his face reflected back at me.

“What’s that bud?” I stalled.

“What’s God?” his face was neutral, like he might have just asked why honey is sticky, or if He-Man would win in a fight with Conan. He moved the action figure’s arms and legs around, making small shooting motions with it. I was reminded that my mother tried to eliminate violent tendencies from her kids by keeping us from seeing violent movies or having toy guns around. Didn’t work. Boys will find a way to simulate conflict.

“Well, it depends” I stalled, unprepared for this question; I thought I had several years yet before this would come up. What’s next, the sex talk at age seven? Educating him on Roth IRA’s at nine?

He stayed silent, waiting for me to continue.

“Some people believe that there is a… well, a being, that watches over everything, and created us and everything around us, and that when we die we either go to heaven or hell. Some believe there are many Gods. Some believe there is no God.” I breathed easy, happy to have given him an answer that placed no demands on him to believe in anything specific. Committed to nothing. Safe and vanilla.

“Well, what do you believe?”

He wasn’t letting me off easy. I groped for the right words, the right way to step through this potential minefield of personal programming and prejudice. If I tell him there is no God, does he grow up to belittle religion and those who practice it? Will he lose hope and never get any benefit from what I see as the good parts of religion? Does he become a nihilist? If I don’t tell him there is someone watching out for us, does he become fearful of the world and the evil that people do, knowing he’s all alone in this universe?

I want to provide him comfort. Something to hold on to in bleak moments. I want to tell him that it will be okay, because there’s a plan for all the bad things that happen, that there’s reason and sense and structure, even if you can’t see it. I want to give him the equivalent of a mental and emotional security blanket to carry with him at all times.

But I can’t. I won’t start his life with what I believe to be fairy tales. I won’t sell him on stories that are made up to comfort and guide us, teach us right and wrong, justice and acceptance and humility, but are still just that: stories.   I read him plenty of fairy tales, and I tell him many stories that I intend as parables, teaching devices that will hopefully stay with him. But I don’t pass those off as truth or fact.

I haven’t given any thought to how I will raise my son in regards to religion. As a young man I railed against the evils I saw wrought by religion: the inquisitions, witch burnings, stoning and holy wars and oppression. I counted religion as inherently bad, a force for separation of people, not acceptance and understanding.

As I grew, my conflict with religion took on new dimensions. I saw individual people who believed strongly, and did great things through their faith. I came to accept that some people were better people through following religion than they might have been without it. The community that supports it’s own through religion did very well, both for those in the community and some outside of it as well. I could no longer believe that religion was a force for evil, at least not that simply.

In my late twenties, I studied world religions to better understand what all the different branches of Christianity believed, what Muslims believed, what Jews believed. I read up on Taoism and Buddhism. I tried to find commonalities and differences. Eventually I came to understand that a personal devotion to a religion can be a very good and powerful thing, but large, organized religion can be a very dangerous and damaging thing as the individual’s personal work to understand the religion is replaced by mindlessly following one man who interprets and dictates.

In Taoism I found concepts that finally made sense to me. The interrelation of all things. The universe itself as inherently good, the potential for a positive force through all things. Of one’s own infinitesimal spot in the vast cosmos and spread of time and space. The meaninglessness of struggle and pain, and the juxtaposition of the beauty of experiencing every moment. Buddhism as well had teachings that rang true for me: detachment from possessions and desires, seeing wonder in every small thing.

But still I did not choose to follow a religion. The teachings in those belief systems still seemed like lessons, guides, and words of wisdom. Not a dogma to base my life on. Not a scripture to follow and use as a lens for my entire world. And now here my son was taking his first hesitant step into this complex and maddening world of religion. “What is God?”

I opened my mouth to speak, not exactly sure what to say, but fumbling my way through an explanation as I found words that at least felt true. I gave him the only answer that seemed true to me. The only answer I could give him without feeling like I had dictated his beliefs yet had also not steered him away from what I think is a crucial search for meaning.

I told him that I believed it was everyone’s personal job on this earth to search and decide what felt true for themselves, to ask of many people what God meant, and find a way to believe in something larger than yourself. That you shouldn’t accept what other people believe, you should search for what you believe.

He seemed to consider this a moment. Silence stretched on, and I stole a nervous glance back in the mirror to see if I had troubled him, or soothed him, or set him on an inquisitive path. Cars passed me in dark and wet of the freeway, their dull, muffled roar approaching and receding in a never-ending pattern. He posed his action figure and walked it along the safety bar of his car seat.

Finally he spoke: “Dad, can I have a snack when we get home?”

“Yeah bud. Yeah, you can have a snack.”

Who goes to Iceland in March?

Iceland?  In March?  Who does that?

The idea started years ago.  Hate, Rosebud and I were having a beer at Brouwer’s in Fremont.  It seemed delightful: a quick weekend jaunt off to the tiny, frozen place.  Sadly we never did anything about that idea.

Then suddenly BC and Rosebud sent me a message: it was on. Here’s a date.  Book the flight.  Take a day off work.

Let’s start with a fun fact about Iceland:

Geographically, it’s a little smaller than Kentucky.  However, at a little over 300,000 inhabitants, it’s quite a bit less crowded since Kentucky has over four million people.

So we left around 5:30pm Thursday, and arrived around 8am Friday morning.  Since I can’t sleep on planes, this means that by the time we arrived I was able to muster just enough brain cells to form monosyllabic grunts and move my feet with relative coordination.

Coincidence: this is a state I would return to late that night.  But more on that later.

The place we rented was right smack dab in the middle of the best part of town.  Now, Reykjavik is a pretty small place for a major city, so it’s not hard to be close to all the happening stuff.  But this place was something else.  A two bedroom loft on one of the main drags through town, a bakery right across the street, and a beautiful view out on the deck.

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Houston, we have deck. I repeat: we HAVE DECK.

Now, the interior was decorated in modern style mostly, which is very cool by me. Clean lines, lots of windows, funky furniture of questionable value for actually using, all that normal modern European quality. However, the artwork inside the place was… interesting? For example, one wall held this statement on it (and this is the only lettering in the entire place, it is not a continuation of anything else):

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BC demonstrates.

The loft contained a mere two bedrooms, and neither of the beds were the “two twins stuck together” that we might separate in order to comfortably house the three of us, so Rosebud and I opted to alternate on one of the beds; I would take first night, he would take second. The other sleeping surface was a perfectly serviceable couch. As it happens, I would not actually get to use the bed. More on that later as well.

Right. So we perused the bakery briefly, then agreed that a quick nap (no more than 2 hours, don’t want to miss our chance to get to sleep at regular times tonight) was in order. After that, we had to get the main attraction of town out of the way first: Hallgrimskirkja:

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Hmm, I don’t know Reykjavik, are you compensating for something?
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Mr. Erikson stands guard.

Another fun fact: 85% of Iceland is Lutheran. Another 10% are other assorted Christian alignments. Around 5% are undeclared or unaffiliated. What other country (shut up, Vatican City) can claim that kind of alignment around beliefs!?

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Surprisingly artistic entry doors.
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Impressive. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a European Church.
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Cleanest and most harley-esque organ pipes ever.
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Convertible pews! This is a game changer!
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View from the top
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I can see my house from here. I think.

Post-church, it was time again to indulge our stomachs. We wandered for a good long while before settling on a lunch spot that seemed to offer a wide enough selection to appease us all. Rosebud The Adventurous chose a Minke Whale Burger. It turned out to be basically a very tough steak slapped between two buns. Not worth anything more than the novelty of it. And for the amount of disdain and moral shame he should feel for eating a whale, totally skippable. I opted for the remarkably safe chicken salad. BC got a safe-sounding club sandwich, which turned out to be a fabulous surprise:

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Not your average club sandwich

While we ate, it came to our attention that someone thought a necessary dining view would of course have a depressed sculpture hanging its head for your enjoyment.

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Iceland: home to sad man sculpture.

Rosebud pointed out that this is remarkably similar to Arrested Development’s ongoing Charlie Brown reference. I’m not one to disagree:
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Post-imbibing we ambled around town rather aimlessly taking in the sights. While Reykjavik has many “normal” buildings, it also has some of obvious new design that stand out:

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Noticeably awesome building
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Honeycomb. Apparently Iceland has large, architectural bees.
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Yes, on the inside too. Fabulous.
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More modernistic buildings

It’s also got some public sculpture that is NOT of sad, moping gentlemen. Which comes as a relief.

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Solfar. Not to be confused with “sulfur”. It’s much prettier and doesn’t smell nearly as bad.
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Looks kinda like a scorpion from the front.

Also, while cruising around town there are other unexpected sights to appreciate:

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Not without it’s public wall art.
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Or some public “art” installations or a less ambitious, more pedestrian scale.

Lastly, just as in places like Croatia, the street names are sometimes a joy all on their own.

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Them’s fightin’ words, yo.
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Them’s… well, I have no idea what them’s supposed to be.
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STOP MAKING ME LOVE YOU, REYKJAVIK.

Eventually nighttime fell and we took a deep breath and braced ourselves to sample the nightlife. If you don’t know, Reykjavik is developing a bit of a legend where it comes to having a night scene and the party culture around it. We being old, OLD men (well, okay; I’m technically the OLD man, whereas my companions are just old): we were eager to see what the collection of whipper snappers could bring to bear.

Happily, we discovered some rather excellent bars. For example, the first establishment (the questionably named “Bunk Bar”) turned out to be a well designed, airy, and thoroughly hopping establishment. A couple of the local beers turned out to be quite nice as well.

This message was displayed on one of our later establishments, much to our approval:

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Dear world, please add this to every place ever anywhere. Thank you.

Some places were not quite the home run that these others were:

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Please form your own opinion on the fact that this exists. In Iceland.

Eventually we found ourselves in several British or Irish seeming bars that fit us just fine.

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You really can’t beat truth in advertising.

Now, the thing to realize about nightlife in Reykjavik is that it goes on for quite a while. In fact, it goes on far longer than one might expect. In our glee of trying new bars and new drinks and new bars and new drinks and new (well, you get the idea), eventually four or five in the morning rolled around. BC, being a reliable steward of such nights out, at one point ferried me back to the house when I had seemed to regress to my previous monosyllabic state, but we had lost track of Rosebud. So,
BC gamely ventured out to reacquire Rosebud, and on return they found that I was occupying the restroom, which was of concern as they were in need of such facilities.

Upon entreating me to finish up, the sad news was delivered that I didn’t actually know how to get out of the bathroom, the door refusing to release me when tried. They did explain slowly that there was a key, and it should be turned (as keys are usually supposed to be operated). I informed them that not only did I not know the location of said key, but could, in fact, not say whether there was even a keyhole in the door for application of such technology.

Long and short: in the morning when I awoke in the bathroom, the key was quickly located and the door performed as expected. The bed accepted my exhausted head for a good fifteen minutes before our bus was ready for our day’s tour.

Fun fact #3: Iceland has a split down the middle which marks the division of two tectonic plates: the North American plate on one side, and the European on the other. And you can visit this divide. Awesome.

So: the tour. First we bussed out to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall area in the middle of a stark, desolate plane of rock and whiteness.

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Gullfoss. Means “Gold Falls” Imagine my disappointment upon seeing it’s whiteness.
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In truth, rather impressive.
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Barrel ride over the falls is not recommended.
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Iceland’s saddest snowman attempt.
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Smile. Don’t think about why you came here in March, for god’s sake. March? Really? Brrrrr.

After Gullfoss, we visited a geyser area, which was notable for being rather bereft of snow due to the extreme temperatures from the boiling water which would erupt on a rather regular basis. It was also notable for having wind that would nearly pick you up and hurl you, screaming and confused, into one of these open pots of boiling water. This wind would never actually stop. No, it might die town to a minor threat for a moment or two, but then, as if to say “ah hah! Fooled you!” would pick right up and yank all of your clothes violently against your frame, attempting to tear it all off you. Alarming. And freezing.

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This is what a non-erupting geyser looks like. Not so exciting.

Only Rosebud had the patience to hold a camera steady at the geyser long enough, letting the wind tear at his frozen, locked fingers, to get an actual video of the geyser going off. Kudos to him. BC and I quickly glanced around the frigid landscape, then scurried inside warmer places.

Then it was off to the divide. The split. The tectonic rift. A placed called Þingvellir.  And it did not disappoint, as you can walk down in it:

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America on one side, Europe on the other.
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I can see Europe from here!
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There’s a lake out there. It’s kind of hidden by all that white stuff.
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No part of me thinks: gee, I’d love to set up a little shack out here. Kind of a vacation home, ya know?
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More of the lake.

We returned to Reykjavik red-faced from being windblown and more than impressed with the starkly beautiful, rugged and stony landscape. It really is a beautiful country, definitely worth seeing once in your life. Actually, probably twice: once during the cold, and once during a greener time, where maybe the wind might not be so committed to assault and battery at every chance.

That night we opted for traditional Icelandic food, which basically means a bunch of fish dishes.

Fun fact #4: 70% of Iceland’s export economy has to do with the fishing industry.

All the dishes were ordered with a little bit of hesitation as “fish soup” doesn’t engender the same kind of mighty salivating as a great steak or a even a scrumptious crepe. Salted fish on rye; similar. “Mashed fish” was the one none of us were going to touch, but ended up getting anyway. Surprisingly all our dishes panned out beautifully. All of them were quite tasty, with the Mashed Fish taking top honors. We all agree they need a marketing revamp, and found that once you put the word “fish” in anything, it takes on a less appealing aspect. Eventually BC came through with the improved name: “Flippers and Mash”. If you see this on offer next time you are in Iceland, you have him to thank.

We resolved that, while we would go out for another couple drinks, none of us were at all into the level of exertions we performed on the first night. Our first bar, called Ob La Di Ob La Da was approached with subterranean expectations, but it turned out to be quite excellent. Fate decreed that Rosebud would discover that an old college friend was in town at that very moment, so our threesome became four, and we moved from beer at the Beatles bar to whisky at the whisky bar. After that, the details don’t really matter but we found ourselves enjoying cigars on our deck at five in the morning and shaking our heads at the fact that we had gone through two nights in a row at that speed.

Overall, I’ll give Iceland 4.5 pickled herrings (out of 5).

I’m only deducting a half a herring for the bloody wind.

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At least they understand that their names for things are ridiculous.
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Farewell Iceland. I shall be back.

The Scarface connection

Last weekend the Elder came to visit, and to celebrate this fact, Fruit Cup joined us for a run around Portland multiple nights in a row.  Friday saw us out until the wee hours with the Navy Gang from Seattle.  Saturday we met up with Microbe and Vegas.

While imbibing of a cocktail at the Low Brow Lounge, I decided to order a pretzel.  In my defense, it was advertised as “The Crack Pretzel” and the waiter advised us that I’d know what that meant when I was on the third one and craving a fourth.  See, it was warm, soft, and stuffed with jalapeno cheese!  How could I resist?

However, the experience took a turn for the strange: the side of my face, along my jaw and under my ear, swelled up rapidly upon eating this supposed culinary delight.  It felt like a small mouse had been stuffed under my skin right at the joint of my jaw.  It was tight to the touch and the others around the table nodded their observations that, yes indeed, that does look swollen.

A subdued panic ensued.  The Elder inquired as to the exact ingredients of the pretzel (it’s, like, pretzel and like, fake cheese, man.  With bits of jalapeno…), but this is not a help as I’m not allergic to anything.  So we continued to sip our drinks and agree with each other that this was a rather strange event.

Within fifteen minutes the swelling had gone down.  We continued on to our next haunt, again ordering a round of tasty libations, with some snacks for good measure.  Again that mouse was inserted into my jaw.  This time sans pretzel.  And the drink was something entirely different.

Puzzlement all around.

A quick web search on symptoms pointed to the likely diagnosis of a Sialolith.basically a stone in the saliva duct.

What?  This is a thing?  This happens?  I’ve already got one bizarre malady that crept up as age sets in, now I get another?  Getting old is not fun, people.  Anyone who tells you different is deluding themselves and trying to drag you in with ’em.

So Monday I make an appointment with a doctor.  Tuesday I’m admitted.  I describe the symptoms and he stops me before I’m even close to finished and says “yeah, got it, totally a salivary blockage”.

He proceeds to prod and probe my cheek and jaw with all the tenderness of a meat tenderizer, while telling me how “Scarface” Al Capone relates to this; how it was a common punishment to slice down someone’s face, severing the salivary duct so that every time this unfortunate person eats, drinks, or even THINKS about doing such will have swelling and pain at the least, and at the worst: oozing puss dripping down his cheek and inside his mouth.

Ladies and gentlemen: we have a bedside manner WINNER.

However, the good side of this is that his prescription is to put a hot compress on the outside of my face a couple times a day, and eat lemon drops constantly.  This later order is in the hopes that the constant salivation will flush out whatever material is blocking my duct. My dentist might be at odds with that recommendation, but I’m not about to look a medically-prescribed horse in the mouth.

Especially not if it’s got a severed salivary duct.  Ew.

Auditions

In trying to bash out a story per day, I find I’m mining my memories and setting them into bite-sized stories.  This one stood out to me as it was actually a huge transition point in my life where I met some of the best friends of my adult life.  Seemed worth putting up here. Oh: and welcome to a new site layout.


Singing Young Man

A song.  A song?  As in, I need to sing a song?  This seems like a bad idea.

I’m on a hard chair in a cafeteria at Microsoft.  I came here before my night job, working nights answering tech support calls.  The late afternoon sun crawls weakly through the giant windows, filtering through fall branches that still retain the odd withered leaf or two.  Other strangers around me clutch papers in their hands, their mouths moving silently, reciting.  Memorizing.  Practicing.

I’ve never been what you might call “musically gifted”.  A more apt description might be “musically challenged” or even “musical menace, don’t let within six yards of noise making devices”.  In second grade I decided I’d like to try violin.  The expression on my father’s patient face as he tried to help me learn to form a C or E flat on the cruel device was not unlike someone trying to smile encouragingly while cats mate beside his ear.  Several years later I would try piano.  I got as far as learning the opening notes to Close Encounters of the Third Kind before giving it up.  Trumpet followed in Junior high, and was quickly jettisoned for Science class.  Guitar was attempted in high school.  Because, you know, chicks, man.

None of it stuck.  When I was married, I remember gleefully singing along to a song on the radio.  My lovely wife attempted to inform me in the nicest way possible that I really was not cut out for this sort of thing.  Ever the perceptive lad, I was able to piece together all the clues and arrive at the conclusion: music and I are like a camp fire and a block of ice trying to be friends.  At a distance we are alright, but trying to do something together could only lead to disappointment.  And potentially damage.

So why would I subject myself to singing a song in front of strangers on purpose?  Madness?  Did I lose a bet?  Do I crave humiliation?

Well, I was recently divorced.  I really had no social circle to speak of, and I craved a creative outlet.  I had fond memories of drama class in high school, and a play I took part in Junior High (even though I ended that with a broken nose).  There’s nothing like the camaraderie of a cast after a performance; nothing like the rush after stepping off stage to applause.  So when I saw an add for a community theater play being put on by a bunch of fellow Microsoft folks, I swallowed the nervous lump and chose to dive in.

The requirements: memorize a short monologue (comedic preferably), and choose a song to sing.

Monologue was no problem.  I knew several Kids in the Hall sketches by heart already.  A frivolous choice?  Why not something from Shakespeare?  Nah, too dry, too expected.  If people couldn’t appreciate a good KITH sketch, they weren’t my people anyway.  Anyway, the idea of performing one of my favorite skits in front of people just got me eager and excited, so I stayed with it.  But a song?  Like, to sing?  With my own voice?  And likely ‘a cappella’ since I don’t know how to play an instrument.  This seemed less of a try-out tactic than a hazing ritual.

Still.  Their show, their rules.

Nervously I selected “Candy” by the Presidents of the United States of America.  Because it was as ridiculous as I felt.  Oh, and I love candy.  Plus it had about three notes to the entire song.

So now I watch nervously as people are called, one at a time, and enter through a plain office door into god-knows-where, to do god-knows-what.  The waiting numbers dwindle.  Then, far too soon I hear a woman call my name in a questioning voice.  I stand up and manage to blurt out “here”.

The room has long tables with more hard chairs; it is a conference room usually used for presentations.  Three people, a woman and two men, sit at one table.  I hand them the paperwork I was to fill out.  They smile, and one of them invites me, with all the politeness of a recruiter asking for one’s resume, to begin my monologue “whenever I’m ready”.  I’m pretty sure I will never be ready.

I had a bad stuttering problem as a kid.  Couldn’t get a word out without skipping across the letters like a needle stuck on a record.  I suddenly feel it will come back.  I open my mouth to begin and the words won’t come out.  I’m sure if I can just get started it will all flow out fine.  But the air won’t come out.  There is a boulder in my throat, nothing gets by.  I close my mouth and turn sideways, picturing in my mind how the sketch played out on TV.  Mimicking exactly, I turn my face to them and begin: “Want to know something?  I’m a bad doctor…”

I blitz through the skit, gaining speed as I go.

It is over before I know it.  I’ve seen some smiles, a little forced laughter, but overall encouragement.  I’m heartened.  I smile weakly and sit down.  They ask some questions about my past, my acting experience.  I don’t remember it well; that familiar adrenaline rush that follows a performance is spinning in my head.

Then the crucial moment: “so what are you singing for us today?”

How is that a question that can just be asked?  You can’t expect someone to just, well, sing.  That’s not how it works. There has to be some kind of lead-up, some fore play.  You must ease them into the mood.  Maybe light a few candles?  I don’t know, but I know it’s not supposed to be like that.

But there it is.  The question hangs in the air, smoke from a gun.  I explain my choice and they look at each other for any recognition.  Seeing none, the woman says “well, we are eager to hear it, begin whenever you are ready.”  She also asks if I have accompaniment, and I kick myself for not arranging something.  Anything.  A kazoo.  A small badger beating a drum.  Anything.

And then, without knowing it I’m belting it out.  Singing.  In front of people.  My hand lightly and nervously slaps my leg to keep time.

And it feels good.  It sounds good.  And I get into it.  I like this!  It’s great singing for other people!  Why doesn’t everyone do this all the time every day?  I’m a changed man.  I’m pretty sure from now on I’ll be singing my order at the lunch counter, serenading support calls at work, rising every day with a full-throated bellow and yodel.

In short order the song is done and I look back at them, having avoided any kind of eye contact during the song, and I’m suddenly, thoroughly, and powerfully embarrassed.

The man who I learn is the music director explains that I have “a really interesting sound” and asks what my range is.  I bunch up my brow like a wad of paper you are about to throw away.  He asks me to sing scales as he taps away on a keyboard that he has in front of him.  I oblige.  He goes low, low, lower, until I just can’t hit a note any more.  Then he takes it higher, higher, into squeaky teenager territory, and sure enough my voice cracks and strains at the top.

And then they thank me.  And I’m dismissed.

I walk out buzzing in my head and at my limbs.  I feel exhausted.  And I feel energized.  A bird chirps his song in a barren branch above me.  I quietly mimic his song.  Very quiet, right under my breath.  But out loud nonetheless.

So four old dudes go into a bar…

Eight years ago, my buddy got married and we had a hell of a bachelor party for him.  Each year since we’d talked about getting the guys back together for a guy’s weekend.  This year we finally committed.

I’m used to the fact that I’ve got some travel karma issues.  Things can frequently go badly.  Sometimes big, sometimes small, but either way I think I’ve got a bit of a curse following me.  Probably some kind of penance for having such a ridiculously awesome travel life in 2013.

So when it came time to fly to Vegas, it wasn’t terribly shocking that things started to go all pear shaped.

So: wake up at 5, to the airport by six for a flight at 7.  All good.  The path was PDX–> SFO –> LAS.  Karma kicked in right as I got through security: delayed plane.  Something about high winds in SFO wouldn’t let planes land.  Wind?  Please; planes don’t need wind.  They run on magic and happy thoughts.  People try to explain to me concepts like “lift” and “wing shape”.  Balderdash: if you take a pressurized metal tube, fill it with people and luggage, then hurl it thousands of miles and expect it will just land, there’s some magic involved.

A couple of hours blinking sleep out of my eyes in the PDX gate eventually landed me in San Francisco’s terminal.  My original itinerary had a one hour gap between connecting planes, but since we had to wait around for two hours in Portland, I knew that connection was missed.  I felt strangely tranquil about this.  The day was still young, and Vegas wasn’t going anywhere (and, apparently, neither was I).  Checking in with United’s customer service yielded a slightly confusing interaction:

me: “Hi, my plane from Portland got in late, so I missed my connection to Las Vegas and need to get on your next plane”

her: “certainly, let’s see, I can put you on one at… 10pm?”

me: “er, it’s noon.  I’d rather not wait in an airport for ten hours.  Any other options?”

her: “oh, actually yes, it looks like there is one leaving in 1/2 hour.”

me: “Great, can I get on it?”

Her: “Let’s see… looks like it’s a full flight… let me see your ticket.  Hmm.  Oh, you are already on it!”

me: “But it was supposed to leave at 10?”

her: “yes, it was delayed.  High winds, you know.”

I attempted to explain to her about the whole winds / magic issue, but her polite and dismissive smile was impenetrable.  Regardless, I had a plane flight after all, so things were looking up.  Karma, it seems, was only going to trifle with me this trip.

Upon arriving at my gate, they informed me that the flight had been delayed indefinitely.  High winds, you see.

I did not attempt to educate the rather severe and harassed woman at the gate re: magic vs. winds.  Judging by the fact she’d been holding off impatient Vegas-bound gamblers for a better side of three hours left her in no mood.

So, I wandered.  And here’s where I’ve got to give Travel Karma an appreciative nod.  I would have never known how cool SFO’s temporary installations in their terminals were if I didn’t have time to walk around and discover them.  They had a museum-worthy collection of Japanese toys that I would have paid to see.

These pictures don’t really do the collection justice, and it’s less than half of what they had on display. Regardless: might be worth a flight in to SFO just to check these out.

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Obligatory Hello Kitty collection.
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Great Mazinga!!! I had this exact one when I was a kid! Well, okay, not this exact one; mine ended up filled with b-b pellets from some jerk who lived on my street. But still! Mazinga!
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A collection of Ultraman’s enemies.
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A ping-pong ball pitching godzilla knock-off. Because Japan.
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Godzillas. Of all shapes and sizes.
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Sweet Japanese kite art.
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A dress made of Hello Kitty. Because, as I said before: Japan.

Eventually whoever was in charge of such things decided we could go forward with the flight. And here is where Travel Karma gave me a little reminder that things can always be much, much worse. And also where my arguments regarding magic vs. wind were put to the test. Halfway through the flight the captain informed us that we would likely experience “turbulence”.  Now, I’ve done my share of flying so I realize this usually means there will be some bumps and jostling. Enough to make you look around slightly concerned and ponder what actually keeps the plane flying.

Soon after that the captain informed us it was too dangerous to have carts in the aisle, and indeed too dangerous to have flight attendants walking around so the remainder of the flight would everyone please just stay glued to their seats.

This was a new wrinkle.  But time passed without much more than a few shakes, so people started to relax a bit.  The tension that had formed with the removal of the drink carts eased and dissipated.

Then we suddenly had one of those fantastic “falling elevator” feelings.  The kind that last for just one moment too long, enough to make you go “oh God, we are dropping out of the sky”.  But not long enough for full on panic to take over.  People looked around, smiling and joking nervously as the plane again felt to be moving right.

Then the plane really fell.  Long enough for actual full mouthed screaming and assorted things to fly up in the air.  Like someone forgot to charge the magic fairy dust holders.  We dropped, things flew, people screamed, and then a great tugging force as the plane eventually decided that it didn’t want to drop all the way to the ground after all.  The joking was gone after that and people just clutched their belongings and white-knuckled it until we were on approach to the airport.

We did eventually land in Las Vegas (thus my ability to still type), but I would like to formally inform my Travel Karma that I fully respect how bad things could be, I really don’t need any more reminders or wake-up calls, thank you very much.

Sadly, my time in Vegas was not going to be the warm, sunny time I was hoping for.  Here’s the view from my room:

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You got your Seattle in my Vegas!

Regardless, eventually I meet up with a friend and past co-worker who now lives in Vegas and who showed me an amazing burger joint (Holstein’s in the Cosmopolitan) and a beautiful cocktail lounge with a view of the strip.

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Someone finally turned off the water.

We were joined later that night by the rest of the Seattle contingent: Rosebud, Dinjo, and Horns. So, there we were, a bunch of old dudes in Vegas. Things progressed as one can imagine a Vegas night would.

It did not, however, end up how I would expect a Vegas night might. More specifically: if you take a bunch of guys, put them in Vegas on a guy’s weekend (ostensibly in celebration of a bachelor party 8 years prior), where do you think this motley crew will end up?

Probably not at a dive Korean karaoke bar in a strip mall far away from the Vegas strip. But that’s where we found ourselves at 3am.

Now I have been to my share of karaoke bars before. Usually the best are the ones where you get your own room so you can be as ridiculous as you please, and I was happy to see this was one of those. But I have never been, and likely never will be in one again, like this:

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First: there’s a TV on the back wall and a projector that plays videos on the front wall. That’s all well and good. However, the videos are basically a running loop of k-pop, little wayne, and maybe a Taylor Swift video thrown in the mix. There is absolutely zero coherence with whatever song you may or may not select, the video loop will just play on relentlessly.

Second: the song you select will be played for you in nothing but the cheapest of midi renditions. Any kind of production value or nuance to reflect the original song will be stripped for this midi version. We tried many, many songs, and every one of them was tinny midi playback.

Third: the words are obviously transcribed by pseudo professionals. Amusing misspellings and mangled translations on english songs are to be expected. And these words are projected on top of the incessant video loop.

Fourth: you can get food, but it may not be what you expect. For example, we opted to share a few delicacies of the house: pot stickers and sweet potato fries. The pot stickers turned out to be hard crispy heavily deep fried concoctions with a small cup of soy to dip in, and a small cup of… ketchup? Because; sure, that makes sense.

The sweet potato fries came out as long, thin cut pale potato fries, but with sugar instead of salt.  And for dipping? a mound of fluffy whiteness on the side that turned out to be whipped cream. So, technically: sweet + potato.

We did our best to fully exhaust the potential of this place, staying for probably twenty or more songs.  And now we know how a bunch of old dudes end a night in Vegas: strangely.