Friday, March 31, 2006

The two faces of Las Vegas

There is an incredible dichotomy in this city. The better known side is euphamistically called "Sin City," and I strongly suspect this is by far the better known side of the city. As you can imagine, Sin City encompasses the row of big-dollar casino/resorts known as "the Strip," along with the more aged downtown casinos. Co-pilot Egg and I visited the strip yesterday afternoon, hoping that the "sins" would be primarily nocturnal. We started at the older, more run-down northern tip, parking at the Circus Circus. We went inside to see some of the circus acts that they have running throughout the day. That was pretty neat, and being free of charge, it fit well in my "take more from Vegas than you give" strategy.

From there we walked south down the strip, stopping to marvel at the incredible facades of the newer casinos. Our goal was to get as far as the Bellagio to see the incredible water fountains. I'm also a big fan of the Bellagio's lobby, being very intrigued by Chihuly glass. This certainly has to be among the top-five most beautiful hotel lobbys in the world.

In stark contrast to the glitz and flash of the casinos, I spent quite a bit of time hiking in the Red Rocks Canyon area. I've always loved the mountains, and being able to get right up close to them and study the various types of rock and the wide variety of flora was a real treat. I bought a 1 gig memory card for the new Olympus before we left, and to date I've managed to take over 400 pictures. I've been loading them onto the laptop (I will never travel without a laptop again - more on that later) and I've been astounded at the quality of the pictures I'm getting.

This morning we went to a casino in Summerlin rather than drive all the way back to the strip. I was able to find the nearby casino by using one of the most incredible internet tools I've ever seen, Google Earth. This thing has been a life saver. Co-pilot M got very sick the second day we were here, and by Wednesday evening had been losing fluids top and bottom for 24 hours. Dehydration was setting in, and we needed to find medical help. I had already bookmarked the Summerlin house we're staying in, and it was a simple matter to find a nearby urgent care facility. We drove there in just a few minutes, and since the initial triage showed an elevated pulse and signs of dehydration, we got in to see a doctor fairly quickly. The staff were very cheerful and helpful, and an IV of fluid, a shot in the rear, and two prescriptions later we were done. Like I said, I don't think I will ever travel sans laptop again. It has been a boon for finding restaurants, casinos, grocery stores, and anything else you may need in a strange city.

This afternoon we drove up to Mt. Charleston which demonstrated yet another facet of this diverse city. Just 30 minutes from our rental home in Summerlin, we were at 7000+ feet and tromping through snow. There are a few houses up there, costing way north of $1,000,000. They're worth every penny given the incredible mountain views they're exposed to on every side. We stopped at a very nice log hotel for lunch, then continued our trek up the mountain. It was very enjoyable and we all had a great time basking in the incredible scenery.

I took this using the self-timer on the camera as I was hiking up in Red Rocks Canyon, while pondering how the canyon could possibly have been given such a strange name.

Sin City can be very interesting just to look at. The enormous expense of building casinos like this should be a strong hint as to who exactly the odds favor.

Co-pilot Egg is the lucky member of our family. While Co-pilot M and I were losing nickels playing video poker, Egg hung out in the arcade. She hit the jackpot when a flaky machine went nuts and spewed out a couple thousand of those tickets you get from Skee-ball machines. It was enough to win a cute little lava lamp.

One of the neat things about Red Rocks is that not all of the rocks are red. The contrast between the various types of rocks brings a surprise around every corner. Truly awesome.

More than just a cool toy, Google Earth has been a real boon to the weary vacationer.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Travels, Tribulations, and Tourism

I’m sitting in the rental house out here in Summerlin, NV, a suburb of Las Vegas, sipping on a glass of ice cold vodka enhanced with a handful of crushed seedless grapes and waiting for the hot tub to heat up. I’m three-quarters of my way through my marathon of Spring airline travel, and so far it’s gone better than average. That said, would the statisticians in the audience care to compute the odds of having to wait at the arrival gate for paramedics to come on the plane and treat someone that had health problems on back-to-back flights? I mean really, you could fly the airlines on a daily basis for years without encountering a single instance of that, but for me it has to happen on two consecutive flights! What are the odds on that???

The flight back from Phoenix was unique in a number of ways, not the least of which is that it left on time and encountered no maintenance delays. I left the resort early since I had nothing else to do anyway, and Phoenix can have a pretty lengthy security line. The ride from the hotel to the airport is long enough that it’s actually cheaper to take a limo at a fixed price than to take a cab, so I had the bellhop wave over the limo guy that was staking out the front of the resort like a lion waiting for the inevitable gazelle at the local watering hole. Being as this was a trip towards home, albeit for only a couple of days, I was in a pretty good mood and had a nice chat with the limo driver. He apparently enjoyed our banter – when we got to the airport I tried to tip him a fiver, but he handed it back and said the conversation had made his day and a tip was redundant. More likely was that he was used to a more significant tip than $5, but what the heck. I’ll take him at his word.

The lines were relatively short, and I found myself at the departure gate well in advance of boarding time. I grabbed a seat near the jetway door as is my wont (it places you firmly at the front of the line when they call your group for boarding) and passed time people watching (by which I mean ogling young gals with exposed midriffs and lower back tattoos). As I was sitting there, I happened to overhear a distraught women trying to convince the gate agent that she needed to change her seat so that she could sit next to her elderly, infirm mother. I thought I heard her say something about seat 6B, and as I was the proud holder of a boarding pass emblazoned with the eminently desirable seat 6A, my conscience won a protracted internal battle and I approached the counter to offer her my seat. The gate agent had already told her that nobody was likely to trade a window seat for a middle row, so it was me or nobody. Unfortunately for me, my eavesdropping was inaccurate in one major way: she had said 26B. Last row in the plane, painfully close to the ubiquitous queue for the lavs. Stuck, was I. Too late to back out, her gratitude having overwhelmed me. The gate agent was astonished at my largesse, having been exposed to the cynical traveling public for far too long. Frankly, it was amazing to see his reaction. He couldn’t do enough to thank me! He settled for a free pair of headsets and two on-board drink coupons, one of which I gave to the guy sitting next to me on the aisle since it was he that bore the brunt of large butts brushing past him on the way to the potty. He had a gin & tonic, but it was still too early for me for heavy drinking; I compromised with a Bloody Mary. It was a long flight and I had plenty of time to regret my generosity, but it really wasn’t all that bad since I had a good DVD and a stiff drink to carry me through. The guy in front of me had it worse, finally ending up with a bottle of oxygen and a covey of litigation-conscious flight attendants hovering over him. And, of course, the paramedics at the gate.

The trip to Vegas went well too, although the aforementioned coincidence of being met at the gate with another set of paramedics was pretty odd. We spent today driving through Red Rocks Canyon, a short drive from the place we’re staying. It’s just beautiful, and in itself probably worth the costs of coming out here.

One more leg and it’s back home to my RV and my long-anticipated sheet metal class at A&P school. What a relief it will be to get back!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A quick hop in light chop...

I'm going to be out of town for the next two weeks, flying back and forth across the country at the mercy of the disinterested and impersonal employees of various corporate operators of the big Greyhound Flying Germ Tubes known as airliners, so I took the opportunity this morning to fly in the way men were meant to fly: in control. Clear skies and great visibility, but a 10 knot crosswind from the left - my least favorite direction because of the way the wind combines with the torque of the engine to almost guarantee a big swerve to the left on takeoff. Minor detail, that, and in no way a contributor towards any diminishment of the pleasures of taking an RV up high for no more reason than to fly patterns in the sky.

Bolton was using runway 4, so I was taking off towards the end of the runway where Columbus State has their aviation maintenance school. School is out right now for spring break, and they just had their annual maintenance symposium, so all of the "lab" planes were parked out on the apron. I was able to get a pretty good snapshot as I went by:

As much as I'm enjoying spring break, I'm still really looking forward to the start of next quarter. Last quarter was fun, but there was a lot of book learning to do. We spent a bit more time in the lab in the last week or so working on a simple little sheet metal project, but I'm looking forward to the coming sheet metal class that will be far more involved, and should be 80 - 90% lab work. The classes are longer, five hours per night instead of the four from last quarter, but I anticipate the time going very quickly. I ordered myself a good rivet gun, having had the opportunity to do 30 or so practice rivets using the school rivet guns and deciding I'd prefer to have my own higher quality tool. Towards the end of last quarter I found that it's preferable to have you own tools whenever it makes sense to, and as some of the other students saw the value they started getting their own tools too. I figure the very expensive things like bending brakes and shears are provided by the sheet metal lab, but if there's a tool that I am going to need to have in my collection anyway, now is the time to get it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Be gentle, it's my first time...

I met a guy recently that has never been in an airplane of any type. He's also a devotee of the Wings Channel, and thus is well versed in some of the more arcane details of historical airplanes. That and his professed life-long interest in aviation was too much for me to bear: I simply had to offer him a ride. Today's weather was picture perfect for a first time flier. Clear blue skies, very little wind, and great visibility all combined to make today a "mandatory fly day," so having an excuse to burn another hours worth of 100LL was welcome.

We spent a few minutes on preflight and showing John how everything worked on the airplane, then climbed aborad. We lifted off just before 9:30. It was still a bit brisk, but the greenhouse canopy of the -6 used the sunlight to good effect and kept us nice and warm. It was still early enough for the usual wispy clouds down in the valleys of the hills of southeastern Ohio, and the morning sun rising in the East lit them intriguingly:

We were headed to John's hometown of Gallipolis, OH which is serviced by Gallia County Airport. This was my first time landing at Gallia County, but it's been on my list of places to visit for quite awhile due to its proximity to the Ohio River. I had thought it might be scenic down along the banks of the river and that since the restaurants were in easy walking distance of the airport, I could grab lunch as well.

This is off the left wing as we've crossed over the airport, heading south:

Here's the village from one of the surrounding hills:

John's son was waiting for us at the airport when we go there, and he had never been in an airplane either, so I made it a two-fer and gave him a ride too. I really love giving people their first-ever plane rides, mostly because I enjoy seeing the miracle of it all again through their eyes. I've been flying for a long, long time, and I sometimes forget how incredible it is to be able to fly just about any time I want to just about anywhere I want. I'm used to the way distances seem compressed when flying, and how even large cities look tiny in the scope of a horizon-to-horizon view from 5000'. I don't even notice it anymore when my ears pop on climbing and descent, or how bumpy it sometimes gets as we descend into the turbulent air as we approach the airport. It's always interesting and refreshing for me to see the awe and enthusiasm they have, and get a nice glow when I hear from their families that it took hours for them to lose the silly grin they came home with.