This Is Me--2024 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Themes in the past have covered a range of topics and for 2024 the theme is a personal retrospective that I call "I Coulda Been" which is in reference to my job and career arc over my lifetime. I'll be looking at all sorts of occupations that I have done or could have done. Maybe you've done some of these too!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Unexpected Trip To Vegas

         A trip to Las Vegas had not been in my travel plans last week, in fact I thought I was done with traveling for the summer.  However, one of my daughters was visiting us for the week and was going to meet up with her future sister-in-law who was visiting Vegas with some of her friends.  Originally she was going to drive by herself, but my wife wanted us to drive her there and have a mini get-away at the same time.  That was okay by me.
Welcome Sign as you enter the Las Vegas Strip
(photo credit)

         If you've been to Vegas I don't have to tell you how cool it is.  Well, not cool in temperature--we sizzled in temps of 108 degrees Fahrenheit and with scorching wind that took our breaths away--but cool in sheer dazzling spectacle.  Let me put it this way:  It's like an adult Disneyland with booze, gambling, top-notch entertainment, and buffets big enough to feed all the starving people of the world.   Las Vegas is maybe not for everybody, but it is a place that will leave you goggle-eyed when you first encounter it.   It's sun, sin, and spectacle all in one big city, and you can have a pretty good time and stay within a reasonable budget if you avoid the sin.

         I've been there enough times now where it's not such a big deal anymore, but I still enjoy popping in now and then.  And even while I was still at home making my travel arrangements, I realized that this trip was going to be somewhat different than my previous visits.  First of all, I realized that there were some pretty big conventions in town and that fact, combined with the summer tourist season, meant hotels were going to be booked up and the value prices I am usually accustomed to getting were not going to be available.

          This was a correct assessment.  Harrah's, the hotel where we usually stay, only had rooms that were $200 per night or more--not for me.  Likewise, up and down the Las Vegas Boulevard Strip--the most happening part of town to be--hotels were totally booked or at prices I was not willing to pay.  Other nearby hotels of a dubious nature were available at cheaper rates, but my finicky nature doesn't like to take chances on places where I'm going to be taking my suitcases into and sleeping for the night.

         I finally decided to book our room at the Springhill Suites in Henderson, which is about 15 miles from the Strip.  This was no longer going to be as much of a Vegas experience as it was going to be a Henderson experience, and that was fine with me since it would be a new experience.  As I pondered some of the things we might do in Henderson, it occurred to me that this was the home of and I had read where they gave facility tours.  Now that was something I could get into more than the usual Vegas shenanigans.

         Upon investigation of the site I discovered that tours were available Monday through Thursday, but they had to be booked ahead of time and there were no openings available until July 7th.   I was disappointed. Still, I planned on going there anyway just in case there was a cancellation.  More about this later.

         On Thursday morning we got a later start than I had originally thought.  The trip to Vegas from our house is three and a half hours as long as everybody is speeding, which is usually the case.  I like to stay with the flow of a traffic cluster as I prefer not to get speeding tickets.  The trip went smoothly.  Once we had negotiated the Las Vegas traffic and gotten our daughter dropped off at the Imperial Palace, where she would be staying with her new friends, it was twelve-thirty--lunchtime.
South Point Hotel and Casino

         My wife and I were both famished, but decided to avoid a buffet.  On the interstate I had noticed a billboard advertising a Steak 'n Shake at the South Point Casino a few miles south of the Imperial Palace.  We don't have this restaurant chain anywhere near where we live, but we have always enjoyed eating at these restaurants on our travels back east.  Also, I figured the parking would be easier and the restaurant would be less crowded than those around the Strip.   I was right about the parking, but there was a line for the restaurant.  We waited anyway and didn't have to wait long.  As always, the burgers and fries were darn good and shakes were about as good as you can get.   I wasn't super impressed with South Point, having never been there before, but I would go back for the Steak 'n Shake if I got that craving.  And what the heck!--If the rates were right I might even consider staying there sometime.

       By the time we had finished our lunch and dawdled at the South Point Casino a bit, I realized it was going to be too late to catch the last Zappos tour for the day.  Since there were no tours on Friday, according to the website, I figured a visit to was not going to be on the agenda for this Vegas excursion.  So we went to our hotel.

        It felt like the middle of nowhere in the middle of the desert.  A panoramic view of the Las Vegas Strip stretched before us fifteen miles away.  There was a lot of residential housing and industrial complexes around us, but there wasn't much in the way of restaurants or stores in walking distance.  Not that this was such a bad thing--we did have a car if we needed to go anywhere.   And the desert view was pretty spectacular.

Springhill Suites in Henderson, Nevada
        Springhill Suites is a Marriott owned property.  We typically stay at Marriott Hotels when we can.  They are consistent in quality and value.  They are also smoke-free, which makes for a better smelling place.  And in addition to all of that, I get points for my stays and that usually awards me some free rooms every year.  Like most of the Marriotts I choose, this hotel also offered a complimentary breakfast.

         When I arrived at the front desk, I was greeted by a charming young lady by the name of Natasha.  As I was checking in, I mentioned about how I had wanted to tour Zappos and had missed that day's tours.  She told me to wait a moment and that the hotel's sales manager might be able to help me.  The sales manager was Annie Clark.  She came to the front desk and I told her of my interest in Zappos.  She said that she had connections there and might be able to help me and would get back to me.

          My wife and I unloaded our suitcases into a comfortably air-conditioned room.  With the 108 degree temperatures outside, that room was a welcome retreat.  As soon as we were settled into the room the phone rang.  It was Annie Clark.  She said we were on for a tour at 12 noon the following day and that we should get there by 11:45.   I was thrilled and I was grateful for Annie's superb handling of my request.  I must give my kudos to Annie, Natasha, and the entire Springhill staff for a delightful stay while we were there.  And now we had an activity planned for our Friday.

        That afternoon we slept some in that refreshingly cool room and then I blogged for a while.  I had recently acquired a wireless mouse for my notebook computer and it made my activities so much easier than that pad thing on the laptop.  Later we decided that we should probably have something to eat and went out to look for a restaurant.  Signs of dire economy were all around us as we came upon one closed restaurant after another.  There were some Mexican restaurants, but I'm overdosed on Mexican and just wasn't in the mood.     We decided to head in the opposite direction from where we started and it was a good thing.  A few blocks from the hotel we found something that sounded good--and it was.

Metro Pizza in Henderson, Nevada
      Metro Pizza looked inviting from the outside.  It also looked crowded.  We only had to wait a few minutes so it wasn't too bad.  Once we were seated the service was fast and efficient.  We wanted to eat light so I ordered a personal size pizza and my wife asked for the fried mozzarella.   I got a 24 ounce microbrew honey porter.  It really hit the spot on such a hot evening.   My pizza was incredible, although next time I will probably get a different topping than the ground beef.  The beef was crumbly and seasoned like taco meat--not what I would have preferred.  Otherwise, the crust, sauce, and cheese were about as good as it gets.  One of the best things on the table was the bread they served before the meal.  We asked for more it was so good.

       After dinner we took a bottle a wine back to the room and relaxed.  It was such a comfortable room and we wanted to take advantage of our stay.  After all, we didn't need to go out and gamble or hang around the strip.   Chilling out--and I mean chilling in the air conditioning--was good enough for that evening.  Besides tomorrow we had our tour for Zappos set up.  More about that on Friday.

       Have you been to Vegas?   If so, what do you think about it?   Do you have a favorite place to stay while there?   Is there any particular hotel chain you prefer to others?   Are you familiar with


Monday, June 27, 2011

Blog TV

         Things have been getting tossed my way so quickly of late that it's been difficult to keep juggling without dropping.  Last week an unplanned trip to Las Vegas came my way, which becomes the inspiration for my blog posts later this week, so I hope you'll come back to hear some of my thoughts on Las Vegas on Wednesday.  Then on Friday I'll tell you about what was my trip highlight.

          So in the interest of keeping this post relatively short, I wanted to toss something out to you and get your thoughts.

        Call it what you want to--vlogging, vidblogging, vidding, or what have you--I'm sure you've all run across the blogs where the blogger is actually there before you talking.  Sometimes the blogger compiles a narrated tour of something or even acted out scenes.  Usually the blogger speaks directly to us via the vid cam about a topic pertaining to their normal blog theme.   You yourself may have even made a video for your blog.

          I have so far made one video specifically for my blog which you can see here.  I have posted several YouTube videos, but I guess that's not the same as something unique to my blog.  There are a number of things I could put on video.  Some have mentioned that I should do a how to juggle video.  I could do a video tour of my work space--something I have seen other bloggers do.  I could talk about favorite books, music, movies, or the like.   Or I could just make a fool of myself and yack away.

         Sometimes the video blogs are nice because we get a feel for what the blogger is like and it's the next best thing to actually meeting them in person.  However, I find that typically they are too long.  I have a difficult time spending more than five minutes on a video and if the video is over ten minutes it better be incredibly interesting to keep me watching.

         Anyhow, this is a contemplation that I've been having and I thought I'd toss the idea out to you to see what you think.  I would hate to spend time making a video that no one watched.

         How often do you watch videos when someone has them on their site?   What kinds of videos do you like to see?  What is the maximum time you are usually willing to devote to watching a blog video?  Do you have any direct experience with posting videos on your own site?


Friday, June 24, 2011


          In the summer of 1971, after my second year at the University of Tennessee, I had decided not to work for the summer and instead embark upon a hitchhiking odyssey throughout the United States to visit the places of my past.

          It was mid-June.  I was at the end of the first week of my travels when I found myself at the Greyhound bus station in Morgantown, West Virginia.  My last ride had dropped me there at my request.  I did not want to alarm my grandparents by letting them know I was hitchhiking and preferred to let them presume that I had arrived on this surprise visit by bus.  They didn't know I was coming, but seemed glad that I was there.  My grandfather rushed over to pick me up.

          They lived in a three story house on Wilson Avenue which was in South Park, a neighborhood of similar homes crammed closely together.  The house that my grandparents lived in had been built in 1906.  I had often visited there as a very young child and had so many wonderful memories.  Then, after moving to San Diego and later to Northern Indiana, the visits had become rare.  Now, returning as an adult, it felt like a homecoming.

          My grandmother showed me to the bedroom where I would be staying.  She told me that this had been my mother's room when she had lived there.  My mother's family had moved to the house in the forties when she was in high school and she stayed there until she got married in 1950.

          I first noted the large windows overlooking the avenue below and the large houses across the street.  But then upon entering the room a new wonder greeted me.  The entirety of one wall was a built-in bookcase. It was a wondrous sight even if it wasn't completely filled with books.  I was going to be here a week.  I knew what I would be doing much of the time.

         My fingers ran across the book spines as I perused the titles.  There was an eclectic assortment of books here.  Since I had recently changed my college major from psychology to English, I decided to begin with William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.  I had read some Faulkner short stories in high school and was well aware of the prestige of this author.  My first choice for my summer reading proved to be a good one.

       With its large windows affording a comfortable breeze and ample natural lighting, the bedroom was an ideal reading room.  When I wanted a change of surroundings I would go to the large front porch where there was a porch swing where I could read between distractions of passing traffic or strolling neighbors.  This was small town America at its finest.

      After I finished The Sound and the Fury I read a couple more books that were in the shelves before noticing some books on a fireplace mantle of another bedroom.  Curious, I browsed this small collection of books until I was drawn to a small, but elegant little volume with the peculiar title Intra Muros. I immediately decided that this would be the next book that I would read.  Since it was short, I would finish it quickly.

      The story captivated me.  It was the author's purported vision of heaven while suffering near death from an illness.  The account was beautifully written in a haunting way.  I don't remember if I looked at the edition date, but I did take note of the author, Rebecca Ruter Springer, and I wrote the book title and author's name in the journal I was keeping so I would remember it later.  This was a book that I wanted for my own library.

      The time spent that week with my grandparents was wonderful.  My grandfather, who was a city councilman and knew many people, took me around with him and introduced me to many people I've long forgotten.  My grandmother fixed me wonderful breakfasts that we would eat at the kitchen table while listening to the swap and sell show on the local radio station.   The childhood memories flooded back to me and made Morgantown a real place experienced in adulthood. The Book Room--my refuge of reading--was the peaceful retreat that added that extra special of magic to my week at my grandparents' house.

       My grandfather died the following January--dropped dead at a city council meeting.  My grandmother eventually sold the house and most everything in it.  I don't know what happened to the book that I coveted so. After I returned home from my odyssey, I went to a book store to find a copy of Intra Muros.  It was out of print.

        For the next three decades I would periodically ask at bookstores about the book.  It was now a relic of the past.  However, after I had succumbed to the lure of the internet and began exploring, I eventually found that Intra Muros was now back in print under the less ambiguous name My Dream of Heaven.   I ordered it.  It was every bit as good as I had remembered.  As I read I was taken back to the Book Room in my grandparents' house in Morgantown, West Virginia.  Dreams come in many forms.

Intra Muros: My Dream of Heaven by Rebecca Ruter Springer

           What book do you uniquely remember?   Have you ever searched high and low for a book that has gone out of print?




Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Favorite Book Challenge: Part 2 -- Non-fiction

          Not only did I do what thought I wouldn't do by participating in a blog event at this time when I'm trying to catch up with things, I am doing a second installment.  My Monday post consisted of five of my favorite novels.   Today I'm going to present my list of five favorite non-fiction books.   I tend to read more non-fiction these days than fiction so I have quite a few to choose from.

           Once again, I am not including The Bible or any reference books. And although I have many non-fiction books on writing, religion, philosophy, politics, biography,  and other topics, in my list here I am only including historical books that are written in a more narrative form.

          This blogfest is hosted by A Writer's Journey and you can find the Linky list of other participants there.

           Here are five favorite books in the non-fiction category:

1.  Son of the Morning Star:  Custer and the Little Bighorn
by Evan S Connell 

         "The full story of General Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn as seen from all sides with the events that led up to the fateful event."

          The story telling is vivid and comprehensive which really brings the story to life. 

 "An incredible recreation of everything the title describes."

Made curious after seeing the film Gangs of New York, this book really brought the setting of the story and the history around it to life for me.

3.     Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

"Fascinating history and facts about the common substance we now mostly take for granted."

Fun trivia that you can use to amaze and amuse others is presented in a page turning epic about something we all use every day.  

by Nelson Lankford

"Under siege and impending invasion by Union troops, the Capitol of the Confederacy collapses in chaos and flames."

Like a trip in a time machine, this book takes readers into the heart of the action and makes us feel like we are there.

"Incredible stories from pioneers and early settlers of the U.S. who were captured by indigenous tribes and lived to tell their stories."

The stories in this collection are told with detail and candor, painting a vivid picture of what life must have been like for these people.  

            Do you read non-fiction?    What are some of your favorite non-fiction books?  Have you read any of the books I have listed here?


Monday, June 20, 2011

Favourite Book Challenge Blogfest

         Okay, I said I wasn't going to do blogfests for a while and now here I am doing one.  This one is from Teralyn Rose Pilgrim's A Writer's Journey.  What can I say?  It's one of those list-your-favorites type things that I couldn't resist.   Here's the scoop:

June 20-22nd - Favourite Book Challenge Blogfest

  1. Pick your top five favorite books
  2. Between Jun 20 and 22, write one line of what each book is about and then write one line of why you liked it. Think of it like a twitter pitch for other people’s work. Semi-colons are cheating, but you can use them anyway.
  3. Go to other blogs and discuss the books.
  4. If you do not keep a blog, put your challenge in the comments on the day of the event.
        I'm not including anything like the Bible or a dictionary  or any reference books to which I frequently refer.   My choices will strictly be novels that have influenced me in a significant way.  There are other books that I might like better and probably some I didn't think of.   But these are big ones for me.  Here they are:

       1.   The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 
            "A boy and a runaway slave have adventures along the Mississippi River as they each seek their own interpretations of freedom."

              An often absurd story with great humor combined with some very true insights and touching moments.


    2.  The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

         "Young man goes to war, finds out war sucks, becomes cowardly, then becomes heroic."

          This short book has a simplicity of style with an eloquence of plot and character development--an epic of a young man's personal growth.

           3.  A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

                "War is hell and can really screw up a relationship."

                 It's a depressing story that's easy to read and has some pretty cool scenes.

       4.  Intra Muros: My Dream of Heaven by Rebecca Ruter Springer

           "Woman on her deathbed visits heaven then lives to tell about it."

            Idyllic read that is reflective and comforting like a story my grandmother might tell.


       5.  The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy

                                            "Cowboys who don't seem to know there's a Mexican border struggle with the modern era."

          Somber and weighty stuff that captivated me and took me to another place and time.


And those are mine.
You can find the choices  from the other participants at The Writer's Journey.

          Which of my choices have you read?   What was your opinion of those choices that you read?

          On Wednesday I will present five favorite non-fiction books.


Friday, June 17, 2011

A Sure Thing

           To close out my week's tribute to the great Flannery O'Connor I offer you a short piece of fiction that I've prepared specially for this occasion.   This is by no means as good as O'Connor's writing, but the story was inspired by it.  I hope you will enjoy it.

                               A Sure Thing

           When the Preacher heard that Old Man Sweeney's demise had been prognosticated by the doctors at the VA hospital, he decided he should go to call on him.  It was late in the afternoon when the Preacher found the grizzled Old Man sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of the run down house.

           The Old Man scowled, "If'n yer here to tell me bout Jesus and me gittin' saved then I don't wanna hear none about it and you can jest turn around 'n go right now."

           "I heard the news about your cancer and wanted to see how you were doing."  The Preacher pulled up a tattered cane chair next to Sweeney and sat down.

            "I'm jest fine and I ain't goin' nowhere."  The Old Man gazed at the dirt road that led to the highway beyond their sight.

            "Mr. Sweeney, I hope you're with us for a long time," the man of God said in his best pastoral voice, "but I thought you might like to reconsider what Jesus can do for you after your time on this Earth."

            Sweeney sat forward abruptly and glowered. "Listen here Preacher--there ain't no Jesus.  Never is and never was.  You ain't seen 'im.  I ain't seen 'im. Jest cause you read about some Jesus in a story book you read on Sundays don't make it true.  What makes you so certain there's Jesus if you ain't never seen 'im fer yerself?"

           Spittle flecked the Old Man's peppered chin whiskers as he looked at the Preacher expectantly waiting for an answer.  A unseen peafowl screeched somewhere in the distance.  The Preacher wanted to say something about having faith, but decided there was no sense arguing with Old Man Sweeney.

           Changing the subject, the Preacher said, "You out here waiting on someone?"

           Sweeney spat.  "Waitin' on the government man.  He's bringin' me a check for ten thousand dollars."

            The Preacher tilted his head with a questioning look on his face.  "A check for what?"

            "Some sort of 'sessment--I'm not sure fer what.  I sent in my hunnert dollars processin' fee and they said a government man would bring me a ten thousand dollar check right to my door."

             Exhaling a deep sigh the Preacher said, "How do you know they were from the government?"

             "They said so.  That's what they tol' me and I know they're comin'"

              "Mr. Sweeney..." the Preacher's voice drifted off in exasperation.

              Sweeney clenched his fists and blurted, "What are you sayin' Preacher?  Are you callin' them liars?  The man from the government said they was comin' and I believe 'im.  If you can't believe in the government then who can you believe in?"

               The Preacher settled back into his chair pondering the scene before him.  The sun setting behind them cast a shadow of the rickety house across the barren expanse of land that passed for a front yard.   The dirt road led away from the house and disappeared into the dusty horizon.  The trees stood silently beside the road as though awaiting the arrival of a long awaited guest.

          If you missed my earlier posts about Flannery O'Connor this week, I hope you will go back and check them out.   And by all means please read at least one or two of her stories to see what you think.  I'd love to hear your thoughts after you have done so.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Everything That Rises Must Converge

           On Monday (6/13/11) I discussed the American author of Southern Literature Flannery O'Connor.  I was not surprised, but a bit disappointed in the number of commenters who had not read anything by her.   It is my hope that more of you will make a genuine effort to seek out her work and at least read a story or two.

           Writers of fiction are encouraged to not just write, but to also read, read, read.  They should not just read in their own genre or only current fiction, but they should also get at least an overview of the literary classics that have influenced today's literature and other arts.  We can learn much through what other authors have done with the craft of writing.

           Reading Flannery O'Connor is like a master class on how to write well. Her mastery of dialogue, description, and developing theme will leave you nodding in appreciation if not awestruck with the wonder of her genius.  Her stories are uniquely absurd, surreal, and at times may make you shudder with horror.

          The era of which O'Connor writes is one of change when the ways of the Old South were falling to the Civil Rights Movement and modernist thinking.  Many of her influences come from the Bible and a number of philosophers.  The stories she has written are like none you may have ever read before and may haunt you and make you think long after you have read them.  

           As I read the Brad Gooch biography Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor I wanted to reread her stories since I had not read them for nearly thirty years.  I was distressed when I could not find my copy of   Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works.   Then, when my neighborhood Borders store was closing I found the short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge on sale for a very inexpensive clearance price.  I grabbed it and my follow up read to the biography was in place.

           Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge is her second and final collection of short stories which was published in 1965, a year after her death.  The book is a collection of nine stories, each one meticulously crafted into a masterful work of literature. The stories are bizarre and frightfully freaky in some cases.  Some are like Stephen King on literary steroids while others approach religious mysticism in a down South setting.

            The stories deal with issues of race and racism, class distinctions, and generational conflict.  A few of the stories fall into the realm of nightmarish Southern Gothic literature with endings that may make the reader cringe in horror. Other stories raise questions of social consciousness or religious doctrine.  However there is a beauty in the writing that makes a reader want to savor the words and envision the images portrayed.  The characters in the stories have been described as grotesque, and yet they are like people you may know or see in Walmart.  This is an amazing cast of characters that you will not soon forget.  These are stories that will haunt you.

           The story that is my favorite is called "Revelation".   Most of the narrative takes place in the waiting room of a crowded doctor's office.  The banter that ensues here is comically realistic in it's context, yet sad in the true content of what is being said as the group of people discuss the class rankings in society.  The final revelation of the main character left me with chills and wide eyes as a most amazing vision is described.  The vision has not yet left my memory and will be with me for a long time.  You have to read it to believe it.

         In the interest of keeping this commentary short I won't give any examples in the form of quotes, but many of O'Connor's stories can be found on-line (see links below).  If you are wary of purchasing your own copy of her books, you may wish to sample them first.  Then, if you like what you see, I encourage you to get your own personal copies of her books for your library.  If you are affected like I have been, you will want to read these stories many times.  There is much to be learned from her writing style and much to contemplate in the stories themselves.

           If you do read any of O'Connor's stories, please let me know what you thought--I'd love to hear some opinions.   If you have already read her work, what is your favorite story?

Here are some links to a few stories that can be found on-line:

A Good Man Is Hard To Find (text)

A Good Man Is Hard To Find  (audio as read by the author)