A few developments from Vegas 2018

Just got back from my sort-of-annual Vegas trip. This one was a 50th birthday celebration for a friend. Some developments:

1. This was my first Vegas trip during the ‘slow season’ — the time after Thanksgiving with the exception of Rodeo Week. It was REALLY slow — crazy slow, even on Friday night.

2. The niceness of some older hotels depends on the “refresh factor” — basically, how long it’s been since the hotel had carpets replaced, rooms painted, bathrooms redone, etc. It looks like the Tropicana, which I’ve stayed at for their funky garden bungalow rooms in recent trips, needs another refresh. And why do so many “nonsmoking” Vegas hotel rooms smell like smoke anyway?

3. Hotels visited this time: The Trop, MGM Grand, New York New York, Park MGM (good job with the massive remodeling, by the way), Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo, the Linq, TI, the Venetian, SLS (really liked the casual Northside Cafe there), the Hard Rock, the Fremont, 4 Queens, Golden Nugget, the California and Main Street Station. Also visited O’Shea’s and the Horseshoe, which don’t have hotels.

4. Didn’t blow the gambling budget but that was in part because of a really bad couple of hours in Day 2, which is the sort of thing that always sours me and causes me to gamble less.

5. Because I usually go in big groups, most of my Vegas meals are casual. Surprises on that front this time around: the aforementioned Northside Cafe, the thought put into the menu at Culinary Dropout at the Hard Rock, the buffet at Caesar’s (I’m not a buffet person but was really surprised at the overall quality here) and a really good breakfast at Tom’s Urban at New York New York (a spin on Eggs Benedict using carnitas and chopped poblano peppers).

6. Hit up a locals’ diner for the first time in a while; walked from the Trop down to Coco’s Bakery Restaurant a couple of blocks away. Highly recommended for the breakfast and the people watching. Good prices, big portions, good quality for a breakfast diner.

7. Downtown was even weirder than usual. And the 4 Queens, of which I have many fond memories, has gone straight to the dumper; it’s no longer a good gambling locale IMHO and I’ll probably avoid it in the future. And the Las Vegas Club building disappeared. And about half of Binny’s old joint is a T-shirt shop now. And I somehow didn’t go into the Golden Gate, which I love. And the renovation at the California is fantastic! And the beers from the Triple-7 at Main Street remain as good as ever.

8. Yes, I’ve been to Vegas a lot. You can read about past trips here, here, here, and here, among other entries I’ve written over the years.

Thanksgiving and giving thanks

I’m closing in rapidly on my 60th Thanksgiving. Even after all of these years, nearly half of which have been lived in the Washington area, I’ve still spent far more of them with my brother and sisters than any other alternative. But most of them head families of their own now, and their children have children, so they don’t get together often for Thanksgiving any more.

But there have been others. I spent a few alone, particularly in my early years in the DC area. I’ve spent a number now with my in-laws, who live in Florida, and that always feels like a vacation. I spent a couple Way Back in the Day with families of ex-girlfriends, avoiding the potential land mines that come with that experience. I spent one or two working in a newsroom, because newsrooms don’t shut down. And as a teenager, I once worked Thanksgiving night in a pizza joint — and it got slammed with takeout orders. (If there is one constant in my whole working life, it’s the power of pizza to improve every situation.)

But this was a rare one — I spent it with just my wife. We usually do Christmas by ourselves, but have spent Thanksgiving with just each other only a handful of times. Cooking the feast was fun — a smoked chicken and a number of the usual lifelong Thanksgiving favorites — and we enjoyed the dinner. But we also talked the things for which we are grateful. The list is long, and as we head toward the final holes on the course, that’s good to know. It’s really all you can ask.

A new mando I don’t need

Yeah, I got another (used) mandolin. Yeah, my mandolin playing is still…sub-optimal. Yeah, I need another mandolin like I need a hole in my head.

But I really want to quit beating up my Morris luthier-made mando (look back a few posts), and I got a good deal on this Gretsch Park Avenue. It sounds nice, it looks like a mandolin is supposed to look, it has an oval hole to help with sustain (better for the rootsy stuff I play vs. the sharper, more percussive tone of a mandolin with ‘f’ holes), it’s surprisingly loud, it has a built-in pickup and it won’t kill me if it gets accidentally booted over on stage. It also should be relatively easy to re-sell.

I now own three mandolins, which is about two mandos more than I really need, but at least I can fund this sickness by getting gigs that pay. And honestly, this thing is worth only about a third of the value of the harps I bring to a gig, so what’s the harm?

Notes from a career (so far)

1981 — One week out of college, picked up the phone on a Saturday in a nearly deserted newsroom in Jefferson City, Mo. and wound up talking to President Reagan.

1983 — Ran down the street from the newspaper in Cape Girardeau, Mo. in time to get knocked on my butt as a building fire blew out the front windows of a storefront.

1984 — Almost tripped over the body at the first murder I covered in Little Rock; subsequently had the story cut down to a photo caption.

1987 — Tabbed to write the breaking news piece for an “extra” edition when Bill Clinton announced his presidential bid; he changed his mind less than 24 hours before the planned announcement and my soul is crushed in unspeakable ways.

1987 — Promoted to assistant city editor; was younger than everyone I supervised. I was an asshole the first year until I got a clue.

1990 — Moved to Washington to cover the local delegation for the Little Rock paper.

1991 — HOLY SHIT HE’S GOING TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT AFTER ALL

1991 — HOLY SHIT GENNIFER FLOWERS

1992 — HOLY SHIT THOSE DRAFT LETTERS

1992 — HOLY SHIT THAT 60 MINUTES INTERVIEW

1992 — HOLY SHIT HOW DID HE FINISH SECOND IN NEW HAMPSHIRE EVERYBODY HAD ALREADY BURIED HIM

1992 — HOLY SHIT HE’S WON ILLINOIS AND MICHIGAN AND HE’S GONNA BE THE NOMINEE

1992 — HOLY SHIT IS THIS BUS TRIP EVER GONNA END AND WHO ARE THESE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE?

1992 — HOLY SHIT I NEED AN EMERGENCY APPENDECTOMY 10 DAYS BEFORE THE ELECTION?!?

1992 — HOLY SHIT HE WON AND I’M GOING TO COVER THE NEW PRESIDENT

(1993 to 1995 goes by in a complete blur of HOLY SHIT, followed by ‘just weird.’)

1995 — This thing called “digital news” pops up and since I’m the only guy lots of people know who has ever been online for any length of time, I start getting cold calls. Wind up with Congressional Quarterly after losing out on a job at AOL that I subsequently calculated lost me between $3 million and $5 million in stock options.

1999 — Senior editor of politics for CNN.com.

2000 — HOLY SHIT THIS WHOLE YEAR AND THEN SOME

2001 — Finally end up at AOL; two years later, leave with my options $250,000 underwater.

2003 — USA Today

2008 — NPR

2014 — Industry Dive, a biz news startup, where I’m the first editor-in-chief.

2017 — AARP.

And now you’re caught up.