25 Random Things

I typically avoid participating in Facebook chain letters, but I didn’t have much to do this evening and found writing 25 random facts, habits and opinions about myself to be an amusing challenge. As luck would have it, Facebook isn’t letting me save it as a note as the chain letter instructed, so I’m posting it here instead.

  1. I don’t drink coffee.
  2. I hate wedding receptions. If you invite me to your wedding and I RSVP yes, I’m lying. I’ll likely come up with an excuse to skip it at the last minute.
  3. One of the Indigo Girls gave me a disapproving look for wearing a Metallica t-shirt to one of their concerts.
  4. My favorite unexpected Las Vegas celebrity sighting is a three-way tie between Bono, Joe Rogan and Phil Giroux.
  5. I hate conflict but sometimes say things I know will annoy people and may lead to disagreements. What’s that all about?
  6. When I get stressed about work, I dream about the video store job I had in high school and college.
  7. Most of the funny things I say are slightly altered jokes from comedy albums in the late ’80s.
  8. My best friends in high school were girls, resulting in my voluntary attendance at three New Kids on the Block concerts.
  9. I sometimes get jealous of my dogs’ lives. That all goes away when they have to shit outside in January.
  10. My friend Cathy has referred to me as Mr. Bubby for the past 14 years, and I’m not really sure why.
  11. I’ve never lived more than 3.5 miles from my childhood home.
  12. I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through college, which means I’m no longer Catholic but have a thing for girls in plaid skirts.
  13. I think the popularity of mobile phones is the worst technological development of my lifetime.
  14. My favorite food was, is and probably always will be toast.
  15. For at least 12 years, my wallet has consisted of a rubber band. I get a new one about every four months.
  16. I miss the Mayte era of Prince’s career.
  17. I find few greater joys than sipping cocktails on my deck with my wife on warm Saturday nights with music from inside the house blasting, dogs playing in the yard and bunnies scampering in the distance.
  18. I had Minnesota Twins season tickets during a couple of their worst seasons. It ceased being fun when they became good and other people started showing up for the games.
  19. I have owned five cars: a Mercury Cougar, two Pontiac 6000s and two Buick LeSabres.
  20. I like swearing. Shit. Fuck.
  21. I really wish this list was only supposed to be 20 random things because it has taken me more than two hours to get this far.
  22. Several times in grade school, I was sent home after vomiting in class. Once I even yacked in the lunchroom, covering Jeff Robertson’s PB&J sandwich with my chunks. In high school, my vomiting moved from the classroom to social events. If I began to feel queasy, I typically went outside to spew. For some reason, I always convinced my friend Dave to come along. He saw me throw up several times. As an adult, I rarely vomit. When I do, it’s directly tied to careless drinking.
  23. When I meet people for the first time, I usually assume they’re idiots and let them try to prove that notion false. It saves a lot of time and disappointment.
  24. When I go to the bank, I’m paranoid security is watching me and thinking I’m about to rob the place.
  25. I had a monster crush on Jessica Alba until she did a movie with Dane Cook

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

I live for vacations and just about always have one scheduled. Knowing I’m going to escape the normal routine of working 40+ hours a week—even if it’s four months away—is enough to keep me in a relatively good mood most of the time.

While waiting for vacation to arrive, I spend a ridiculous amount of time planning. When Michele and I go to Vegas, we frequently update our list of items we hope to squeeze in, restaurants we want to try and drinks we plan to sample. Sometimes I enjoy the anticipation of a vacation as much as the trip itself. 

My next vacation is Las Vegas Guy Trip #6. In 1999, to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, my three brothers and I took him to Las Vegas, beginning a biennial tradition. In 2005, my nephew was old enough to join in, so our group now numbers six.

The Guy Trip changes slightly every two years, but we’ve stumbled upon a formula that works well for the whole group, so we don’t mess with it much. Because these trips don’t carry the goals of trying new restaurants or doing much more than gambling, drinking and sharing some laughs, there’s nothing for me to plan. It feels like I should be making a Vegas list, but there’s no need. Here’s how a typical day during Las Vegas Guy Trip unfolds:

Each day, we meet at for a quick, cheap breakfast. I put aside my usual aversion to eating at fast food chain restaurants in a city with so many better dining options and willingly choke down Burger King a couple times each trip. During Guy Trip, breakfast is the least important meal of the day, so pretty much anything will do. We even ate the Imperial Palace buffet for breakfast once, and I wouldn’t feed that shit to my dogs.

During breakfast, one of us will suggest he’s thinking about going to a specific casino. Based on this, part or all of the group will head to that location. If anyone doesn’t feel like spending time at that casino, the group will splinter. Nobody is offended. We make no attempt to travel as a mob throughout the day. Before moving on, we usually agree to a time and location to reconvene for lunch.

Throughout the morning, we gamble and happily consume any complimentary drinks the casino feels like providing. We typically spend a lot of time together in groups of two or three. Everyone usually gathers for lunch in the mid-afternoon. If anyone doesn’t show up, nobody is offended. We find a buffet and eat way more than we should. This is the only substantial meal of the day, so why not? If someone hit a large jackpot during the day, he volunteers to buy lunch. Before separating, we figure out a time for happy hour. Two people volunteer to purchase beer for happy hour if we’re running low. They head to the nearest liquor store while the rest of us gamble.

A few hours later, we meet in one of our hotel rooms for happy hour. Snacks and stories are shared. Beer and bullshit flow. We laugh. A lot. Even if I hit a $1,000 royal flush earlier, this is my favorite part of the day. This is what the trip is all about. Nobody has ever missed a happy hour. If someone eventually does, nobody will be offended.

Whenever beer runs low or a couple of us start to get the gambling itch again, we agree on a time and location for the next day’s breakfast before heading back downstairs, going wherever our instincts take us. More gambling, drinking and wandering The Strip ensue. Sometimes we stay together; other times we separate. Whatever happens just happens. Eventually we all end up going our separate ways as one after another tires and heads back upstairs for some sleep. The next day, we do it all over again.

The reason these trips continue to be so much fun is because absolutely nothing is forced. Everyone is responsible for their own fun and nothing more (except buying beer for happy hour at least once). We’ve never fallen into the trap of trying to spend a certain amount of time together or planning our fun. We make tentative plans as we go and let the fun occur organically. This has served us well five times, and I’m fairly sure it will make my the next trip equally fun. 

Over the years, each of us has had friends and coworkers say they wished they had a similar trip tradition. Some have even tried to weasel in on our trips, suggesting they’d like to come along. They’re not invited. As long as we continue this tradition, we will also continue to have just two rules:

  1. You’re responsible for your own fun.
  2. No outsiders allowed.

Farewell 2008

I think just about everybody can agree that 2008 was a steaming turd of a year. The economy crumbled, job security became shaky and retirement savings dwindled. On top of these universal lowlights, it seems like just about everyone I know was dealing with longtime relationships dissolving, family members dying and assorted other shitty life-changing events. Bad times all around.

Even in the worst times, however, good things do happen. Looking back on the past 12 months, I see many roses amongst the weeds:

New Dogs: The first few months of the year were some of the saddest days of my life. Following the death of our 10-year-old boxer, Abby, the house was quiet. Really quiet. Painfully quiet. Things couldn’t stay that way for long. On April 5, Michele and I adopted Zoe, another brindle boxer. She immediately returned joy to our home. We soon found that Zoe needed a friend. Some dogs are well-suited to being solo pets. Zoe isn’t one of them. In August, we adopted a three-year-old fawn boxer named Thunder. We loved everything about him except his name, so we changed it to Otis. Zoe and Otis (collectively known as The Zotis) have provided a substantial injection of energy in our lives.

Concerts: I was thinking about doing a year-end list of favorite concerts from 2008 but had a difficult time ranking them. Top shows included Bruce Springsteen, The Hold Steady, George Michael, R.E.M., Semisonic and Oasis. All of these shows left me with post-concert buzzes that lasted for days.

Las Vegas: Taking a trip to Las Vegas is a guaranteed way to make the best of any lame year. In 2008, we squeezed in three trips. Our February trip included a quest for meat that led us to Righteous Urban Barbeque at Rio, a return visit to Bally’s Sterling Brunch, and several other great meals. We ate well. Despite losing, we had so much fine that we attempted (unsuccessfully) to extend our trip by a day. 

The second trip of the year was sort of half business/half pleasure, although all of it was great fun. Thanks to New Media Expo’s move from Ontario, Calif., to Las Vegas, we simply had to go. Although the event itself was largely lame, we had the chance to finally meet several fellow podcaster friends for the first time. Brian Ibbott’s Coverville 500 concert was a definite highlight. In conjunction with NME, we participated in the first Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza with VegasGang and The Strip. I’ll get to that shortly.

Our November trip was much shorter than most of our Vegas vacations. Spanning just three nights, this one was all about packing in as much video poker and Diamond Lounge time as possible. Within 10 minutes of sitting down at the first video poker machine, I hit a royal flush for $1,000. I played on the casino’s money for the next two days. The night before our flight home, I was almost back to even when I hit another $1,000 royal. I ended up taking an extra $1,200 home. Woohoo! In the evenings, we visited our friends in the Paris Diamond Lounge. As always, they took good care of us, providing us with unlimited free booze and good conversation. 

Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza: Despite our social anxieties, Michele and I agreed to record our podcast live on stage in front of an audience at Palms during our August trip. Thanks to an enthusiastic audience and countless pre-show cocktails, our nerves quickly subsided and we had a really fun time. Having a couple hundred people show up to see us, along with the hosts of VegasGang and The Strip, record our shows was mind-blowing. Meeting so many of our listeners (as well as Carrot Top and George Maloof) was pretty damn cool too.

Atlantic City: Over Memorial Day weekend, we returned to Atlantic City for a relaxing four-night vacation. Our previous visit was far too short. Staying a couple additional days gave us the chance to explore the Boardwalk, hang out with our friend Dave and venture over to the legendary White House Subs for unforgettable sandwiches. We drank heavily, gambled a lot and laughed even more. Even though Las Vegas is my heaven, Atlantic City holds a special place in this gambler’s heart as well.

July 4 Road Trip: Some people might cringe at the thought of spending 28+ hours in a vehicle with their spouse over the course of just four days. Not me. Even when our vacations consist of a quick trip to Oklahoma to see the inlaws, I can always count on a good time. In addition to trips to a bunch of crappy casinos in Oklahoma, we worked in a one-night stay at Harrah’s in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which resulted in a $1,000 royal flush, making the trip profitable as well as fun. Bonus.

Old Friends: Events beginning with an unexpected e-mail from a friend I lost touch with about 17 years ago led to a reunion with seven high school chums. After exchanging a bunch of e-mails and messages on Facebook, we got together for dinner and drinks. Despite my repeated proclamations that “this is fucking weird” seeing everyone again was incredible. I realized how much I missed them and found that I still really like these people. I love having my best friends from so long ago back in my life.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

With a rather nice, spring weekend finally upon us, my mind has become increasingly preoccupied with thoughts of summer vacations. As luck would have it, we are planning three getaways in the next three months. That’s a pretty good ratio.

In a few weeks, we will make our triumphant return to Atlantic City, a hoppin’ town we previously visited two and a half years ago. During that trip, we saw Bruce Springsteen perform from the second row, strolled the boardwalk and donated a few dollars to some of the nation’s finest gaming corporations. Unfortunately, it was a rather short trip, and Michele missed an entire day of fun after coming down with the bottle flu. This is her chance for a “do over.” 

Next up is a quick road trip to Oklahoma to visit Michele’s parents. The last time we visited was 1996, so I guess we’re a tad overdue. Our plan calls for a full day of driving followed by a day of visiting and enjoying all that Salisaw, Okla., has to offer (which shouldn’t take more than about 15 minutes). Then we’re turning around and heading back, dividing the drive home over two days. We’re planning to spend one night in Council Bluffs, Iowa, because it would be a waste to skip our chance to put in a few quality hours playing video poker at the Harrah’s location closest to our home. I also anticipate several stops at Sonic during our journey.

Finally, in August we’re going back to Las Vegas. With the Podcast Expo Portable Media Expo New Media Expo finally moving from Ontario, Calif., to the promised land, it has suddenly become a must-attend event. We’re hoping to finally get to meet some of the podcasting friends we’ve only known through e-mail, Twitter and, of course, their shows. There’s been a little talk of some sort of live Las Vegas podcast super event. Sounds fun as long as I don’t have to plan it. 

So that’s the summer. My only worry is that it will be over far too quickly.