Monday, August 31, 2009

Finally Back From Our Vegas Vacation, Without Uncle Eddie

I looked at the last entry that I posted on my blog, and it’s been almost 2 weeks ago. This has been the longest drought in posting since my last big trip, my honeymoon, but at the same time, my travels this time were of similar significance. Girl and I haven’t had a true long vacation where we could relax in quite a bit of time, and since our planned vacation in Mexico in the spring was cancelled, our trip to Vegas was a time to get away from everything. For the next few posts, I want to share the highlights of the trip to the land that never sleeps.


We got back from Spokane Monday afternoon, and things had been a blur since we got back. I left some of my stuff packed from the drive up, simply because I was using some of the same things during our trip. It did provide some adventure in our bedroom, though, having suitcases lying about made maneuvering around that much more difficult.

It was also odd to return to work for just a couple of days before traveling again, but at the same point, it was similar to my wedding, where I got married on a Saturday and we left for our trip on the following Wednesday. I came back on Tuesday, and was leaving for Vegas on the Thursday, so the big concern at work was managing projects and keeping things afloat without having a huge assignment added that would start for a bit, then sit for a few weeks until my return. Thankfully, nothing work related happened, and I was able to go home without it hanging over my head.

However, there were other distractions going on. While at work on Wednesday, I got a call from my sister that my grandmother wasn’t doing well health wise, and depending on what happened when my uncle arrived to be with her, they might take her off oxygen to allow her to die. After dealing with the family issues in Spokane over the weekend, I wasn’t prepared to deal with more issues, but that’s how things work with families. Challenges come up, and you have to learn to deal with them.

Girl and I were locked into going to Vegas, as we couldn’t cancel our plans without incurring some serious penalties. But I think girl made the best point that it would have been different if we knew we could make it out in time to see her before she died for a final visit. Funerals, while important, are mostly for the living to talk about memories, and they are full of sadness, angst and emotions. In thinking about it, I couldn’t think of a way to make it out there without significantly affecting the planned trip we planned, thus impacting our bottom line. It would have been quite a production to get out to Goodland, Kansas in time, and so it was a decision to honor our trip, but honor my grandmother and her life.

I am glad that my grandmother was able to meet girl, and that they had time to get to know each other. I wished my mother would have been alive to do the same thing, but girl learned about my family and where we came from, and she understands how my family works very well. There’s always been tremendous distance between groups of relatives, and I’m not just talking about actual geography. We all grew up very differently in various parts of the world, and it’s been tough at points to bridge that gap. I love them without issues, but at the same point, I have closer relations with girl’s family and friends I have here. It might be sad, but it’s the reality of the situation. What I have done is tried to build on relationships with relatives that always haven’t been good, and because of that, I’m very close with my uncle and dad because we make efforts to remain close. I also email some of my cousins to keep in touch with my mom’s family, and that helps me feel a bit more connected. Technology can be quite amazing at points.

Thursday, August 20th:

We packed up our stuff Wednesday night and were up very late trying to make sure that we put everything we needed into our three bags. We had arranged for first class tickets to fly to Vegas, and so we could take extra luggage and have bigger seats for the flight down, and since I’d never flown first class, I was curious to gage the experience. We packed a lot of nice clothes and casual gear, knowing that our plans included a nice dinner, perhaps some dancing, and lots of pool time. As we feverishly put things in various pockets of the bags, the clocks rang up time until the clock finally hit 2 AM. Well, at least we know we’ll be able to sleep on the flight if we wanted to.

The alarm hit at 8:00 AM for extra time to get some final things arranged, time to say good-bye to our pack of cats, and get a good breakfast before we left. The shuttle was arriving at our place at 10:30 AM, which would allow us a few hours to chill in the first class lounge before our early afternoon flight. Sure enough, the driver was right on time, and we wheeled our gear up for loading. Our driver was very nice, offered some Vegas suggestions, and even liked the design on my bank card, a golf ball trying to find its home. We arrived at PDX at 11 AM, and within moments, were checking in for our flight.

It was amazing to get to advance to the front of the line, as first class check in gets priority. Normally, the queue is one of the worst things about flying in an airport, but first class allowed us to fly through check in and security without issue at all. Girl even was able to purchase a nice laptop bag, which allowed her to keep it safely within the bag but still have security do their thing in checking us out. We got our shoes off easy, answered the right questions, and by 11:10 AM, we were sitting in the first class lounge with a nice comfortable couch and coffee.

Had I known about the lounge, I probably would have tried to do this sooner, because the lounge was simply amazing. There were multiple large televisions, two nice coffee makers, and plenty of tables with magazines and newspaper for reading. And it was really quiet, as most people were busy reading or checking email before their flight. Well, mostly quiet, except for the guy who kept chatting on his cell phone in the lobby instead of the cell phone area as he was supposed to. The time flew by, and the only interruption I had was a text message from my sister. My grandmother was gone, as she left us peacefully in her sleep.

There was nothing I could do at this point, as we were already heading south. I said a few nice things in my mind about my grandmother, while thinking happy thoughts that she was finally at peace after many years of fighting illness. I was still thinking about girl meeting her, and the question of religion came up. My grandmother is a devout Catholic, and wanted to know if girl was coming to the church. Since we had only been dating a short time when they met and religion hadn’t been a hot topic, I told my grandmother she was. This was mostly to appease what I thought might be a difficult conversation, because I knew about girl’s experience with organized religion, and pretty much knew that she wouldn’t be up for any type of church, regardless of the situation. It did foster some discussion later, and now I regret not giving them a chance to talk about it. It might have been a good conversation, but at the same time, it provided me a lesson about relationships that all topics need to be on the table at all times. Secrets just lead to more issues if they aren’t talked about.

We left the lounge about a half an hour before our scheduled departure, and it was then our next issue popped up. They needed to move gates, and we didn’t have a plane when we were schedule to leave, because the flight up from Vegas was late. This did allow us some time to chill at the gate, and deface a certain copy of USA Today with a particular member of FC Puke Green that was on the front page of the sports section. Girl has some great art skills, and by the time our masterpiece was done, the plane had arrived and we were boarding about an hour late.

We got to board first, and settled into the first class area, and as we found our seats, we heard the song “Brighter Than Sunshine” by Aqualung on the plane sound system. Since this was our wedding song, it seemed rather appropriate to hear this as we were settling in. For me, it was a sign that we were making the right choice. Already, I could see this first class thing was worth it. The seats were a lot bigger, there was much more leg room, and there was bottled water available. I could really get used to this way of traveling, and as soon as the doors shut, the flight attendant was asking for our drink order.

We took off, and as soon as we were leveled in the air, there was a gin and tonic sitting next to me. For the next two hours, gin and tonics showed up about every 20 minutes or so, and we both managed to get 4 down rather easily, along with a good amount of snack food and salad. I did feel pretty happy as our plane landed about 2 hours later, and we were soon off to collect our luggage. Thank you, Alaska Airlines!!!

While I went after our bags, girl went to check into the MGM Grand, the hotel we were staying at. We were able to check in at the airport, and got our room assignment and keys quickly. Since we were checking in a bit after the 3 PM check in time, we were worried about having our room type available, but apparently, we got what we wanted according to the employee. We headed for the taxi line, and were off to our destination.

The cabbie was quiet initially, until he asked where we were from, and once we said Portland, the conversation flowed. He asked about the weather, the city, the beer, and we were happy to oblige with answers about the Rose City. The ride took about 10 minutes, but it seemed to take no time at all, as we pulled into MGM Grand. The meter read 11 dollars, but we handed over a 20 and said to keep the change. The cabbie beamed, and made sure our bags got out of the trunk quickly, and we were in the lobby.

MGM Grand is like a little city, taking up a huge chunk of space at the corner of Tropicana and the Strip. It just goes forever and ever, but since we’d been there last December, we still had a good idea of the layout. We headed to the West Tower, and soon enough, we found our home for the next 8 days. And it was as advertised, the celebrity spa suite. It was a very large room, having a separate section with a computer desk, couch and bar/fridge set up, with the bed on the other side of the dresser/TV cabinet. The TV sat on a rotatable platform, and could be moved to be seen from the couch or bed, and the bathroom had a huge spa tub in the back. We had joked about the Hooters casino, which seems to be out of place for Vegas, and sure enough, it was right outside our window. The joke is that simply why would you want to go to a place with scantily clad women when you can go to any other casino and see nakedness?

We unpacked, and decided to explore our surroundings and find some things we missed in our last trip. We checked out the pool area, which was not open on the last trip, and would be a destination for us. Our package gave us access to the pool, gym, and clubs for free, and other specials, like reduced drink costs, so we wanted to take advantage of everything we could. After the exploration, we headed to the MGM Buffet for a rather huge meal, which you can get at these places. Acres and acres of foods, but we did learn a few things. First, I thought I was on the account to charge things, but apparently I wasn’t, so girl had to sign. Secondly, there’s a reason why you leave the safe unlocked after you leave the room. We tried to get into our room safe after before dinner, and the folks that stayed before us failed to leave the safe open so it could be reset. Nice, but as with everything, the MGM staff took care of everything. Once we left the buffet, we headed to Walgreen’s on the strip to get a few necessary supplies, and then back to the room for a relatively early night’s sleep. Our plan was to venture out Friday to a grocery store near the Rio for more substantial food, but the weather reports indicated that it was supposed to hit 108 degrees on Friday. Nice and warm, which is good, but you don’t want to walk far in this stuff, so we needed to be up early for our next adventure.

Next time – Google Maps Strikes Again, Mode Up Close and Personal, and Do You Want Some Mimosa to Go?

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