Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bucket List (In the Category of Say What You Mean.) [#52Weeks]

We made good progress on our bucket lists this week, my husband Greg, and I. I like the idea of a bucket list. The movie was inspiring, but I actually had my own before I saw Jack and Morgan write theirs. I have always had in mind things that I really want to do before I die, like playing Blackjack in a Las Vegas casino. I like Blackjack. I play it often with friends at the Ladies’ poker night. But Blackjack in Vegas – that is authentic – I had to try it.

My first shot came in the mid-2000’s. The president of the company for which I worked decided to send me to a leadership training retreat held by Rapport International. I flew to Las Vegas (carrying a Thomas the Tank Engine themed backpack filled with things like a pasta ladle, a spatula and deodorant, but that is another story for another post) and checked into the Sunset Station Hotel and Casino. A wiser Kim would have gone straight to the Blackjack table to take care of business, but I felt apprehensive about looking stupid and I decided that, since I would be returning to the same hotel after the retreat, I could do it later. I hadn’t been through the leadership training yet, you see.

The “training” comprised 60 straight hours of demonstrating my ability to show passion, focus, enthusiasm, courage, conviction and heart. By the time it was over, I was exhausted and losing my voice. I’d just endured two+ days of screaming America the Beautiful at the top of my lungs and karate chopping through my “block to success” (which was wanting to be liked). I mean literally karate chopping -- through a 1” thick pine wood square. (Hit it on the grain, and it snaps like a fortune cookie.) The company president showed up at my “graduation” to give me a ride back to civilization, and I was grateful not to have to take the damn bus back into Vegas. (The retreat took place in a lodge about 90 minutes east of Las Vegas in the high desert.) We celebrated with a fancy dinner in the restaurant at the Renaissance Hotel on the strip in Las Vegas.  He had a red-eye back to Virginia to catch, but he insisted that I rebook into the much fancier Renaissance and forego my room at the Sunset Station.

He had just dropped $125 on a very nice bottle of red. I deferred to his suggestion. But the Renaissance Hotel on the Las Vegas strip has no casino. My exhaustion level and the time of night precluded any desire to find a casino, and so my window of opportunity to play Blackjack in Vegas slammed shut unexpectedly, crushing my metaphoric fingers the way a ghost slams a window on an interloper in a haunted house. My freshly honed leader instincts chafed. If I had learned nothing in the past 60 hours, I had learned not to miss opportunities. Would I ever make it to Vegas again?

At the time, I felt sure that the company president had managed to find the only hotel on the strip without a casino. It isn’t, and given that Nevada allows smoking in casinos, it’s nice to know the smoke-free options for hotels. Four years later I had moved on to a different company. (One of my take-aways from the Rapport training was the realization that the company president who had sent me in the first place was a great guy and also completely full of shit.)

Eventually, my new job presented to me the opportunity to plan a corporate event in Las Vegas, and I researched a number of potential venues for the event: indoor, outdoor, themed, casual. My new company president and I liked the tropical deck setup and pricing at the Trump International Las Vegas hotel, but he suggested I make a quick trip out west to see it first hand. The Trump offered to charge me only $99 for the night to make the meeting, so I booked a flight to Vegas.

The North Deck at the Trump International Las Vegas

The Trump International Las Vegas is another casino-free, and thus smoke-free, hotel on the strip (actually at the end of it, across the street from the Wynn Las Vegas, which has a casino). While I strongly disagree with Donald Trump’s politics, his hotel brand is, in my opinion, spot on, and I would stay again any time – the team that runs the place is phenomenal. And Donald is no fool. His hotel (originally built to function as luxury condos) has a relationship with the Wynn; they run a shuttle van from door to door. I scheduled my meeting with the Trump’s catering manager for 1:00 pm Vegas time and took the first flight out of Roanoke EDT. The flight and meeting both went perfectly, and I had concluded business by 2:15 pm.

It was June, actually, a few days after the Summer Solstice, about this time of year. I was already checked in at the Trump, unwilling to suffer a red-eye home (I’m allergic to airplane blankets). I scheduled my return flight for early the next morning, giving me sixteen hours to kill. Including travel time, I had already put in an eleven-hour day, so I had no qualms about calling it quitting time. I didn’t bother to change out of my business attire. I didn’t even bother to wait for the shuttle. I tucked $50 into my pocket and headed for the Wynn.

To my relief, the casino was mostly empty. I found an unoccupied $5/bid Blackjack table with a friendly looking lady dealer. I admitted to her immediately that I knew the rules of the game quite well, but when it came to table etiquette, I was a complete rube. She smiled and walked me through it. The only thing she didn’t tell me was that I should tip the dealer every now and again when I’m up. Thankfully, a man joined our table about a half hour into my “lesson.” He got a run of good hands and tossed the dealer a few chips in appreciation. I began to tip the same. (I was $170.00 up and had already tucked my original $50 back into my pocket – I should have been tipping all along!) I played for another ninety minutes. By then I was up by almost $300 in addition to the pocketed seed money. Bucket list item complete, I asked her if I could cash out.

“You were very lucky,” the dealer said as she passed me a handful of chips of various denominations and pointed me to the cashier’s window. I flipped her a $100 chip. She smiled warmly for a moment then turned back to the man, who continued to play. My heart pounded as the lady behind the window converted my chips to crisp U.S. dollars. I held up a $5 chip and asked, “Can I keep this a souvenir?”

“Of course!” She laughed and handed me my cash. After the tips to the dealer (and the cocktail waitress) I had net winnings of $175. I tried not to giggle as I headed to the entrance to wait for the shuttle back to the Trump. (I had only consumed a couple of light beers, but the sidewalk was actually under construction for part of the walk back to my hotel, and I didn’t trust myself in traffic.)  I did not play Blackjack again when I returned a few months later for the corporate event itself. I don’t know that I ever will. The first time was just that good.
After I left the casino, I hung out by the Trump’s pool and slurped overpriced light beers brought to me by bikini-clad cocktail waitresses, because, hey, that’s not a sexist cliché. Actually though, it did not suck.

This week’s achievements have the same lasting sense of satisfaction of a bucket list item well done, thoroughly crossed off, with no regrets. You see, this past Tuesday, I ate my first Philly Cheesesteak sandwich in Philly. As with the Blackjack, I needed two shots to do this. Our 2001 honeymoon flight to St. Thomas, USVI included a layover at the Philadelphia Airport, where I intended to have a Philly Cheesesteak, Cheez Whiz and all, regardless of the fact that it would be 9:45 am. I had eaten many cheesesteak sandwiches in my time, but never in Philadelphia. I like authenticity. It was a bucket list item. Al-Qaeda thwarted my first attempt, literally.

We married on the Saturday after the 9/11 attacks (we’d been planning since February) and tried to fly to St. Thomas on September 17, 2001, the following Monday. The government had only just allowed airports to open the day before. Some chucklehead had dropped a travel alarm clock in a trash can at the Roanoke Airport. A week earlier, the presence of a travel alarm clock in an airport trash can would have fazed NO ONE, but in the hyper vigilance of those days, it prompted the airport to close.

The maintenance crew required to clear our plane for take off at 6:45 am the next morning had not received word that the airport had reopened. By the time they showed up at 9:15 am, we had missed our connection out of Philly, a jumbo jet that would have taken us straight into Charlotte Amalie. Instead, the airline (US Air) rebooked us on a Delta flight to Atlanta, GA and on to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we boarded (after providing our weight -- Greg recommended I round up) a 10-seat airplane, including the pilot, that flew us – WITH THE WINDOWS OPEN – to the Charlotte Amalie Airport. I missed my shot at an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. Twelve years would pass…

Greg is a Rolling Stones fan, or more correctly, a Keith Richards fan. He has always wanted to see Keith play guitar live; it’s been a seemingly unattainable bucket list item of his for four decades. Four. Decades. When they went back on tour (likely for the last time – that’s what they threaten anyway), he wheedled and whined. He provided coherent arguments. I respect the bucket list, but ticket prices were obscene, our funds are tight and venues were limited.

“If you can find tickets for $100 or less, and we can afford to travel there, then get them,” I said. I wasn’t a big Stones fan, but as I said, I respect the bucket list, and anyway, the list of things I would not do for Greg is very short. But I honestly didn’t think I had to worry about it.

It was my idea for Greg to set up a Twitter account; I must own this fact. He follows the @RollingStones on Twitter, so he saw the announcement that 1,000 tickets for every show, in every venue for this “50 Years and Counting” tour would sell for only $85 per ticket. More astoundingly, the 1,000 seats would be scattered throughout the venue. I was skeptical. Surely, these were all nosebleed seats. But they met my cost limit, and Greg felt that he really just needed to be in the same room with Keith to meet his bucket list criteria. I wished him good luck scoring the tickets.

He Tweeted me ten minutes after the tickets went on sale to let me know I needed to request some vacation time. We had two tickets to see the Rolling Stones in Philadelphia, PA on June 18. Ticket price: $85. Seat location unknown; our instructions said to check in at the VIP door, look for the red and black balloons, and have the credit card used for the purchase and a photo ID. We would receive our tickets then.

I immediately began plotting how to work in a stop somewhere in Philly for a cheesesteak. I wanted to try Pat’s on Passyunk Ave. It claims to be the original, and I wanted authenticity. My cousin, Jen, lives in Philly, and I really hoped to see her if possible. We would only have a few hours between the time we hit town and the time the gates opened. Meeting for lunch at Pat’s for a cheesesteak seemed obvious, but Jen’s a vegetarian. I wasn’t sure how awkward my phone call to her to suggest this might be. Philly probably has a number of delicious dining options replete with vegetarian delights, but I needed a greasy steak sandwich with mushrooms and Cheez Whiz, the kind you have to stoop to eat lest the grease should drip onto your clothing.

Cousin Jen is a good sport though (truly – she’s amazing), and Pat’s has no trouble serving up a mushroom steak “wit” and hold the steak. My mushroom steak “wit out” had plenty of steak, not too greasy, and plenty of gooey hot processed canned cheese food. Bucket list item, check.

As for the location of those $85 seats to the Rolling Stones? Well, see for yourself.

Yes, that’s right. Section 101, Row 9, Seats 7-8. We used no zoom in this picture; our seats really were at the tip of the tongue, eye to eye (when they strutted out onto the walk) with Mick, Keith and Ronnie. They played for two and a half hours. Bobby Keys, Mick Taylor, and Lisa Fischer joined them for all the classics, and Brad Paisley played guitar on Dead Flowers. For Greg, it was all about Keith, and his guitar riffs, chords you could feel in your chest, in your heart – they made your hair stand on end. The behind-the-band Jumbotron (those teeth fade away) showed Keith’s intensity and concentration in sharp detail, but we could see it with our own eyes.

Bucket list item, check.


No comments:

Post a Comment