We've hit the border, and we're eager, anxious even. Four hours in a car with the only stop being for a delicious, albeit greasy, breakfast can make a man that way.
We get off the freeway and pull into the entrance. There's no parking garage, only a sea of black top; this fact is reinforced as we tumble out of the SUV and the heats blasts us both from above and below. We grab the wrappers and Styrofoam containers -- out with the old, and in with the new -- because we are, if nothing else, polite and excellent car guests. Plus, we don't want any bad juju affecting our luck. Sunglasses are adjusted, and smiles spread like wildfire as we head towards the shade of the entrance.
Yes we can, we think; yes we can.
"We Are the Champions, My Friends."
A light show to the music of Queen blinks and pops overhead. We see pictures of Freddie Mercury with his fine moustache. The band hardly ever smiles in its pictures, which is apparently how we are to know that they're cool. They stare at us, unsmiling, and we stare back, jaws slacked and necks arched. In this way, they are different.
I look at the people around me. Many are singing along; who doesn't want to be a champion, after all? Or, maybe it should be said, who doesn't want to feel like a champ for a few minutes?
Some people are wearing beads, some have their hands clasped together, some have their hands over their back pockets, desperately trying to protect the money they will happily give away in a few minutes to a different type of light show, one with spinning wheels featuring sevens or cherries.
But for a moment, monetary concerns are forgotten. The producers have made sure it's loud enough and bright enough to make you forget that this place is one where angels fear to tread.
"This Is Where I Get It All Back."
It's Thursday. For most of us, the places in our wallets that used to be primarily the color of money are now primarily the color of wallet. Still, the one thing we couldn't overlook was one glorious buffet. We get in towards the end of breakfast time so that we pay the breakfast price, but, in a few minutes, we get to eat lunch food too. It's the best of both worlds.
"I question your manliness if you don't eat at least five plates, I know I'm planning to; this is where I get it all back."
There are laughs and general agreement with this notion. It should be noted that the excuse for the trip was a weight loss contest, and that excuse is nowhere more flimsy then when you consider that this is the third all-you-can-eat buffet that we've been to in a twenty-four hour period. I'm not sure that you'd call us gluttons, but I suspect that that is mostly because you're polite.
"Oh, by the way J, when you take us back to our hotel, would you mind stopping on the strip for a few minutes? I placed a bet yesterday on the Padres game, and I won. Let's just say that it's time for Caeser to render unto me."
"I Thought We Were Playing 26."
Now it's just my brother and I. The rest have started the trek back through the desert. My boss asked me to attend a meeting in San Francisco on Friday, and it seemed like a great idea a few weeks ago to stay an extra day with my brother, and then fly to San Fran direct from Vegas; now that I'm down to my last twenty I've budgeted for the trip, I'm questioning the wisdom of that decision. Nevertheless, here we are in Rome so we go and do as the Romans do by hitting a blackjack table on the way back to the room. I float my twenty down to the table and receive four five dollar chips in return. My brother does the same. We look at each other and think maybe this table will be different.
We sit there for a few minutes, winning and losing, winning and losing, until my brother has had enough, and he sticks his twenty in chips into the betting circle. He draws a seventeen to the dealer's twenty.
I tell him I'll do the same thing and then either cash out or head back to the room. My first two cards equal 12. I'll need a small card. Hit me.
I draw a two. Dang. Too small. 14. Hit me.
I draw an ace. 15. Hilarious. Hit me.
Another ace. 16. I'm having trouble remembering why I enjoy this game. Hit me.
26. Too many.
I thank the dealer (if nothing else, I'm polite, remember?), and I walk the walk of shame back to the room. I'd say it could have been worse, but when you lose all the money you've budgeted, well, that's about as bad as it gets, right? Only then do I remember that I still don't get to see my wife for another day. I guess it can always get worse.
"Walk Like a Man, Talk Like a Man."
That night, my brother and I get dressed up to go see a show. We decided on Jersey Boys, which is a retelling of the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Season. It won the Tony for Best Musical in 2006. I've been wanting to see it since then, and it doesn't disappoint.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening is how the crowd cheers for each new song the actors sing. Remember, the people singing are not the real people the show is based on. These people are cheering for fakes. I remember back to the Queen show a few nights before, and I am amazed at how much this music, that I had always thought was kind of silly due to the sky-high falsetto of Valli, means to these people.
Nevertheless, by the end, I too get lost in the songs and the stories of the songs and I'm having to hold back tears. The ideas in these songs are so pure and genuine, it's hard not to get lost in them. Falling in love. Falling out of love. Encouragement to be the best person you can be.
All this time, I've missed the forest of the human experience detailed in these songs for the trees of that once silly, now haunting falsetto voice.
I leave feeling better about life, and those I meet in it.
"What the Deuce?"
My brother and I took a bus (called the Deuce) down to the strip to see the show. Now, three hours past the show's end and two buses filled past capacity that we cannot therefore get on, our spirits are, to say the least, a little sour.
All the walking on that hot desert night while trying to find transportation back to our hotel has made us thirsty, so we hit a Subway sandwich shop at the base of a hotel to get a couple of Cokes. They are icy and spicy and delicious, and we greedily drink. We walk along the base of the hotel, and pass a lounge that has dueling piano players. Our feet are tired, so we sit and hope again for musical respite, and we are not disappointed. First comes the unmistakable instrumental solo, then, "She's just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world..."
I smile from ear to ear. This song used to crack me up in its pure eighties-ness, but now I just love it. I look at my bro, and he smiles too. I won't stop believing.
"Leaving, On a Jet Plane, Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again."
Sometimes, the takeoffs are rough. Sometimes, the plane seems like it's losing power in the engine closest to you as the plane feels like it's slowing down after takeoff, which doesn't feel like a good thing. Sometimes, you wish you would have told your brother when you hugged goodbye at the airport to tell your wife you love her. On Friday morning, all those things happened to me. As you may have ascertained, I got through it.
I look out my window at the sprawling desert community. The television had a lot of commercials for lawyers offering legal aid for people who had been foreclosed upon. I wonder how many of the houses below me are still occupied, and a wave of gratitude washes over me for the fact that I've got a home and beautiful wife to come back to.
I'm happy this part of the trip is over, and I'm more happy that the plane has started to speed up, and I'm most happy that I hear that engine going again.
I chose to wear a suit today, though it will be a little fancy for the meeting. The suit I'm wearing has alternating black fabric running in vertical lines. Amazon had a deal on suits, and I wanted one for the trip so I could pretend to be a high roller. Once in Vegas, though, I opted to save it for my flight out. Even though I hadn't earned a million dollars, I wanted to feel like one.
"You Are My Sunshine."
My meeting was a breeze. It was in regards to a monthly report, and all that was basically said was that we should continue to do it the same way. It took two and a half hours to say that, but still, it's nice to know that there won't be extra work.
I haul my luggage back to the BART station to head back to the airport, and the train is packed. I stand and try not to fall over during its brisk starts and stops. After a few stops, however, people get off, and I am able to find a seat.
At the next stop, a family of three gets on. The third is a little girl, who can't be much more than four or five, and she is a happy little girl. Her mother tells her to sit on a seat by herself with her little pink suitcase, and she obeys right away. She then starts carefully zipping and unzipping the sides with a huge smile on her face. I can't remember the last time I was so unabashedly happy at such a small situation.
The parents are talking; the mom says something about New Orleans and how she'd like to go there for her birthday. The man seems like he suspects it won't happen, but he gives the standard "Oh, okay" response that comes printed on the back of the man-card the federation sends you when you hit puberty. The woman lowered her head and looked at the man with a tone of voice that said, "We'll just see about that."
The woman looks over at the little girl and smiles, and she is right to do so. I hope my daughter is half as cute. Then the mom, in a voice as thin as paper, starts to sing:
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy, when skies are gray..."
At this point the daughter starts to sing along:
"You'll never know dear, how much I love you,
Please don't take my sunshine away."
My mom used to sing that song to me. Fortunately, I'm wearing my big sunglasses, so folks don't notice when my eyes well up.
I used to excuse people when they did bad things under the assumption that everybody was just trying to do the best they could with what they had. I don't think I believe that across the board anymore, but here, in my little corner of the universe, in the back of that BART train, I was reminded that sometimes, just sometimes, it was still true. Sometimes, people do nice things just to have done something nice. Now that's a human experience I can get behind.
"Where Are You?"
I'm on the ground in San Diego waiting for my wife to pull up. The traffic is horrible, and people like to drive stupidly at the airport. Oddly enough, that second parts seems to have a direct correlation on the first.
I see my wife has called me on my phone. I didn't hear it ring, even though I had set it to loud. I call her back, and she asks me where I am. In just a minute, she pulls up, and she is all smiles. So am I.
So am I.
14 hours ago