Sunday, August 27, 2006

1,540 miles later...

We got back from our road trip last night; I wasn't able to update the blog along the way, so this afternoon I will post stories about each day of the drive, along with some pictures I took. I'll change the dates so the stories reflect the calendar a little more accurately. The short version: over the past week, we drove to Las Vegas and back again, and had some fun adventures along the way. Scroll down and enjoy watching my beard grow!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Day 6: Homeward Bound

We left Avila this morning and headed north to Hearst Castle, something that we've talked about seeing in the past, but is just far away enough that we've never gotten around to visiting. The tour was nice; I am not sure if I am in awe of the splendor, or disgusted by the excess, but either way, it's a hell of a house. I asked the tour guide if Hearst had ever screened Citizen Kane in his theater; she said no, but I doubt that is true. A lot of the tour seemed to gloss over and whitewash Hearst's past, so I took all of it with a grain of salt. Sand? Whatever it is you take a grain of. Regardless of whether you view Hearst as a Nazi sympathizer or great American capitalist, the idea that this man was spending $10,000 a month on ice for his polar bear at a time when most of the world was plunged in the depths of the Great Depression strikes me as obscene.

After the tour, we headed home, and wrapped up our trip across the western part of America. According to the odometer, we covered more than 1,500 miles. According to the temperature gauge, we went from the low 50s leaving SF to 114 in the Mojave Desert. We played some good (and not so good) poker, ate fantastic food, met interesting people, and didn't kill each other. A successful vacation, indeed.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Day 5: Las Vegas to Avila Beach

We actually planned on the fifth day of our trip being long, but I miscalculated a little, so it turned out LONG. We left Vegas around 11AM and headed west towards LA. We did manage to spot a Fazoli's for lunch, a rare treat for us since moving away from Kentucky.

The bad part was that we hit Los Angeles right around 4, just in time for rush hour. Ouch. We crawled up the coast towards Santa Barbara, and got to our hotel in Avila Beach about two hours later than we'd hoped. This didn't leave any daylight to explore the area as we'd wanted to, which was fine, since we weren't really in the mood to get back in the car. We had dinner at Fat Cat's Cafe, down on the pier at the beach; good food + low prices x silly pictures of cats on the walls = feeling better.

One of the amazing and infuriating parts of the drive was what I will call the Accordian Effect: that weird traffic anomaly whereby traffic comes to a complete standstill for absolutely no reason at all. My guess is that, like the proverbial butterfly in China, one guy taps his brakes (rather than just laying off the gas...I hate brakes on the highway about as much as I hate anything in life), which causes the guy behind him to tap his, causing the next guy to lay on his a little more, and so on, until traffic is coming to a complete stop back down the highway, and then will continue to speed up and slow down as people break free, speed up, and then have to slam on their brakes again. Annoying to say the least.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Day 4: The Poker Gods smile on us

Tried the noon tournament at the Luxor again; stayed in longer this time, but it's a tough tournament if you want to play good poker. Allow me to explain: you start with $500 in play chips, but the blinds start at $25-$50, and go up every 15 minutes. That means from the very beginning, you are committing 10% of your stack in the big blind, and a standard raise in poker (3x the big blind) commits almost a third of your chips. Therefore, it is very difficult to hang around and wait for good cards, or you will get blinded out. The result is a lot of all-in bets early on, and you hope to get lucky. I did not get lucky. In fact, as I was about to get blinded out, I went all in with Ace, King...and got beat by a guy who went all in with King, Queen and hit the Queen on the turn. I had a couple more chips than him, so was forced to go all in on the very next hand. I look down at Ace, Queen...not a bad starting hand. The same guy calls me with King, Jack...and hits his Jack on the river. Ouch. One hand, okay...but two in a row? The Poker Gods were telling me it was not my time. Yet.

Since we had the car, we decided to drive out to the Red Rock Casino to take a look and see if we could meet Heather from Hell's Kitchen. The casino is nice, and the poker room is very large. Unfortunately, the games were a little out of our comfort zone, so we opted not to play. We did go to the restaurant that I was told Heather would be executive chef (scroll down a bit for my earlier post about this), but were told by the hostess that while portions of the show were taped there, in fact Heather had been offered the exec chef job at their Italian restaurant...and still hadn't accepted the job. So no pseudo-celebrity meet and greet for us. Back to the Strip.

We signed up for the 6PM tournament at Mandalay Bay, and went to play some low-limit at the Excalibur again. We both ended up down this time, so a wash from the previous day. On the way out, the host told us this long and very personal story about an experience in Big Sur that he felt was both spiritual and very emotional...why he chose to share this with us, I am not sure, but I have to admit it was a nice story.

Mom, if you are reading my blog, skip this next section...

[Interesting side story: Vegas is a constant destination for conventions, and while we were there, we kept seeing people with two different badges; one for something called Isagenix, and then a whole different kind of badge, with naked ladies on it. I found out that there was a convention for owners of "gentlemen's clubs" going on, which partly explained why we also kept seeing women with basketball-sized breasts walking around...aside from just being in Vegas, that is. Anyway, when we sat down to play at the Excalibur, we happened to sit down next to this woman. Huh...small world.]

The tournament was great; both the wife and I made it to the final table, and both of us made it into the money. The better half came in fifth, and I came in third. The money from that made up for our ealier buy-ins and then some; in total, we ended up leaving Las Vegas with all of the cash we brought plus about $50. How cool is that?

Also fun: there was a UFC fight coming up at the Luxor over the weekend, and so a bunch of fighters and trainers were in town, and several played in our tournament. One of the fighters, Thomas "WildMan" Denny sat at my table, and we had a very cool conversation about Ultimate Fighting and poker. He said that he gets more excited about going all in sometimes than he does at his fights; I pointed out that in poker, there is more luck involved since fat guys like me actually have a chance of knocking him out. He thought that was pretty funny.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Day 3: Viva Las Vegas!

The third day of our Odyssey was one of the best days I have ever had in Las Vegas, and I have had some great days in LV. Started with the noon poker tournament at the Luxor; not my best poker (went out on the first hand I played when I went all in with top pair, and guy called me with a draw...which he of course hit on the river...unreal), but I'm not at work, so things are magic. The better half almost made it to the final table, but also felt the wrath of the dreaded river. After poker, we headed to the spa for massages; very nice after a couple days in the car.

The poker was still calling to us, so we headed over to the Excalibur for some low-limit fun; played for about an hour and a half, and we both walked away up. Nice. After that, we headed back over to our hotel for a fantastic dinner at Diego (some of the best guacamole I've ever had), and then wrapped up the evening with a show at the Tropicana. The show was as cheesy as we expected, and topless showgirls do not automatically equal "sexy" (Baywatch was wrong; naked people should not run). Still, entertaining, and one of the last Las Vegas review shows around, so glad we saw it.

On the way back to the room, I finally spotted a celebrity (one of my long-standing issues is that I never see famous people; I guess they don't hang out at the 1-3 limit poker tables?): Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and a woman I assume is his girlfriend were heading into Tabu. I gave Shari the camera and got ready to do the gushing "I'm a big fan" speech, but it was clear that Chris and his lady friend were arguing about something, and given that he was on a date and not in the best of moods, I decided against asking for a picture. Part of me thinks I did the right thing, but then again, Chris was wearing his signature cowboy hat and a Full Tilt Poker bowling shirt, so it's not like he was going incognito or something. Oh well.

A great day!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Day 2: Santa Barbara to Las Vegas

The second day started well: free cinnamon rolls in the lobby, which was filled with a mixture of rude Europeans and families, headed by Angry Dads that made it clear they didn't like my t-shirt. So sorry.

We headed down the coast, skirting LA (didn't see the Hollywood sign?) and heading off into the desert towards Barstow, the site of a planned pit stop hosted by another group of MINI owners.

Had lunch at an In and Out Burger (I don't like their religious messages, but MTTS gave us gift certificates for a free lunch...I put my feelings aside for a free lunch), and met Jim McDowell, president of MINI USA. Nice guy.

Drove on to Nevada, where we stopped at Buffalo Bill's Casino for a free ride on The Desperado. I sat next to Jim, and I am still kicking myself for not taking a picture of me and the president on the coaster...that would have gotten me on the website for sure.

Finally made it to Vegas and our hotel; got the sweet upgrade to the bigger suite (why? Because I'm Brendon, dammit...that's why! Seriously, I think it had more to do with it being mid-week in August, and therefore not a lot of guests), and then headed over to the House of Blues for the MTTS event. Not that exciting, but we're in Vegas, and that's all that matters.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Day 1: Monterey to Santa Barbara

Today we began our road trip with other MINI owners as part of the MINI Takes the States Road Rally. We drove to the kick off in Monterey while it was still very dark; as usual, MapQuest screwed up a pretty important left vs. right, and it took us a while to find the gathering. Once we spotted the parking lot with about 200 MINI Coopers, we were pretty sure we were in the right place.

The beach party was nice: coffee, donuts, coffee, bottled water for the road, and did I mention coffee? We took our photo with the cutest sand castle ever.

The drive down the coast is very windy; we stopped at a vista or two just to get out of the car for a minute.

Also stopped in Pismo Beach for lunch and a look at what the beach looks like without fog and wearing a sweater. Who knew?

Eventually got to Santa Barbara and our hotel on State Street (think Union Street in San Francisco, only everyone is tan and in shorts). The hotel was "historic," which is code for "small elevators." Still, a fridge and a comfy bed...nice.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"It's raw fish, SLICED!"

Semi-enjoyed the season finale last night of Hell's Kitchen, a reality show on Fox that was (like a lot of reality tv) good, dumb fun. I say "semi-enjoyed" because I had been hopeful that Kevin "K-Grease" would pull out the win, but I also thought Heather was the clear favorite from the second week or so. Glad Virginia didn't smile her way into her own restaurant.

Here's a surprise: this is the restaurant where Heather is now the executive chef. How do I know this? Certainly not from the casino or show websites; not a single mention anywhere on either. Doesn't that seem odd? I guess if the Red Rock is trying for upscale, maybe they don't want to advertise that their exec chef is a reality contest winner, but still...I would think they would advertise this a little bit?

So how did I figure it out? I called the Red Rock Casino reservations line and asked; the woman who answered had no idea what I was talking about, nor had she ever heard of the television show, but put me on hold while she asked her supervisor. She came back on the line to tell me that it is the chop house, and then added, "But sir, you know that Hell's Kitchen isn't a real restaurant, right?" I appreciate that the Red Rock is concerned about my ability to differentiate between fiction and reality. I'll remember that when I go to their pool and can't figure out where all the half-naked models are, the ones I see cavorting (that's right, cavorting) on their commercials.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

If you don't know me very well, here is a small window into who I am. One, I love sushi. Two, I love robots.

So why does this disgust me so deeply? I guess I was hoping for something a lot cooler, like the one in Runaway that Tom Selleck orders from, the one that says (with a horribly un-PC accent), "You want sushi? HA HA HA!"

Now that would be cool.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Your chance to do the Hump

Silly. Juvenile. Wrong. And yet, funny. If you own a Hummer, check out this site to see if anyone has violated it recently.

And by the way, especially if you own a Hummer, go see An Inconvenient Truth. I saw it last weekend, and I thought it was very interesting. It is fascinating that there are still people out there who doubt global warming. Maybe the sand smells nice?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Not fun

Among the many things you don't want to hear from the train operator on the way home, when the train is stopped and the doors are closed:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the delay...the police should be here shortly."

iPod, take me away.

Good shake

Felt a good-sized shake last night when a 4.4 quake hit north of the City. We get little trembles now and then, most indistinguishable from the train or a big truck going by outside. However, this one was a little more than that. It started light, but then went up a notch so our bookcases started shaking for a couple seconds, and then got even heavier for a few more seconds, and then finally went away.

It was that second crescendo that got me nervous; a little shake now and then, okay. But when it lasts for a while (in retrospect, ten seconds isn't that long, but when you are in the middle of it, and you don't know if/when it is going to stop, and it is getting me, that ten seconds is l o n g ...), and is getting stronger, that's when I start noticing I'm not wearing shoes and I have only a vague idea of where and how to shut off the gas and water.

Not a good feeling.

And by the way: the cats? Completely useless. I thought they were supposed to feel things coming, but they both were completely normal until it started, and then their tails got all poofed out, they hid in the corner until it was done, and then slunk around all night, all freaked out. Useless.