Friday, December 17, 2010

This week: Las Vegas, Nevada (and a few other places)

What if I told you….?

Morning was sunny in Las Vegas, but chilly as it was December. I was headed to the CVS next door before the rest of my group was up for the day. I was hoping to get a morning walk on the Strip before the crowds of afternoon appeared and while my husband and the rest of my traveling group were still sleeping off last night’s vodka and Red Bulls. I took only three steps from my hotel door when I heard someone call my name from behind. It was our friend Jim, the organizer of this little weekend excursion, a gift to his wife and our dear friend, Ellen, for her birthday. He wanted to know where I was going. When I told him, he asked to join me. Ellen had forgotten her toothbrush. I had forgotten my contact cleanser so a trip to the store was definitely in order. I also said I wanted to walk around the hotel and check out the pool. He thought that was a good idea and followed me down the hall.

We were staying at the Aria, just one of several swanky new hotels in the City Center district of the Las Vegas Strip. We checked in yesterday, but didn’t have time to really visit the place as we had tickets for a show at another hotel that night. It was about 8:45 a.m. as we headed down the elevator to “The Promenade” where the pool was located. We followed the signs and the obnoxiously strong scent of Jasmine to the glass doors that led to the pool. At least that scent wasn’t as strong as the vanilla scent in the lobby or we might have needed air masks. Upon entering the pool area, we were greeted by an older gentleman with slicked back gray hair and wearing one of the burnt orange bowling shirts that signified he worked for the hotel. He asked us how we were doing. We said we were fine and seeing as how we were wearing street clothes stated that we just wanted to see the pool area. He said that was not possible because the pool didn’t open until 9 a.m. But it’s only 5 minutes before 9, we pleaded. This did not sway him. He said there was too much cleaning equipment that needed to be put away before we could enter. Expressing our disappointment he made us an offer.

“Why don’t joo go back to yer room, put on yer bathin’ zuits and when joo get back da pool will be open,” he said in his finest Brooklyn accent.

We said we were on our way to the store and didn’t have time.

“Wha-di-fy toad joo…dat da pool…iz eighty-one dah-grees?” he asked, leaning over his pool desk like he was letting us in a secret. That’s great, we replied.

“Wha-di-fy toad joo dat da hot tub…iz a ‘undred an’ four dah-grees?” Fantastic.

“Wha-di-fy I toad joo dat da temperature iz goin’ ta be sixty-eight dah-grees taday?” he said with a nod of his head. Ok, we were sold. However, we said we’d come back later.

“Joo look like a nice couple. Nutten more romantic dan sittin’ in a hot tub, eh?” he asked. We mentioned that we had other significant others and were not attached to each other.

“Well, joo know wad dey say, whad‘appens in Vegas stays in Vegas…” Yeah, we’ll pass, but thanks.

With that we were on our way out of the hotel laughing our asses off all the way to the CVS. A few minutes later while sitting in Jim and Ellen’s hotel room deciding where to go for lunch, Jim and I replayed the whole conversation to the others in our group. Jim had the whole room rolling with laughter with his authentic New York accent. We spent the rest of the weekend enjoying our new catch phase:

“Wha-di-fy toad joo deys runnin’ a maratawn on da Strip?”

“Wha-di-fy toad joo dat beers and hot dogs are a dolla fiddy all day?”

“Wha-di-fy toad joo dat Cabo Wabo iz at Planet ‘ollywood?”

“Wha-di-fy toad joo dat da Venetian iz no Palazzo?”

These are the kinds of stories that make travel interesting for me – the small, intimate and often hilarious encounters with people from the places I visit. While most travelers pass these incidental contacts off preferring to impress people with the museums they saw, the wonders of the world they photographed and the exotic food they ate, I prefer experiences of the ordinary kind, mundane even. Sometimes these incidents were uncomfortable in the moment, but with each retelling, become more memorable and, in my opinion, downright funny.

Like the time I was in Sydney, Australia:

After having spent the previous four hours of my Saturday morning conquering the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, I stopped in a nearby pub to have lunch. It was the pub talked about by our bridge guide because of its historical significance to the city of Sydney and the bridge, the Harbourview Hotel. (Although it was actually a pub, the Harbourview was called a hotel because of a law back in the day that only allowed hotels to serve alcohol so pubs back then had a few rooms for rent, but were really just pubs.) I was feeling pretty proud of myself for accomplishing the climb and felt I deserved a hearty lunch. What better place than the pub where all the workers on the bridge spent their free time and wages. When the waitress approached I was ready to order.

“I’ll have the fish fi-LAY and chips,” I said. The waitress cocked her head to one side and put her hand on her hip.

“You mean fish fi-LET?” She asked loud enough for the patrons at the bar to hear because they all turned to look at us. Of course, she wasn’t really asking me, she was telling me.

“Um, sure,” I said and then hid my head behind the menu. Wow, she must really hate the French.

Then there was this encounter in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico:

In an effort to get some comped excursions from our hotel, we agreed to attend the hotel’s timeshare presentation one morning. This would include breakfast and two tickets for a Jeep tour to a zip line in the mountains. When we arrived at our scheduled time, Hector greeted us and took us to the breakfast buffet.

After spending an hour at breakfast where Hector told us his life story - humble beginnings on a farm with many siblings before moving to the seaside to raise a family and make a lot of money - we then went to the “selling” area, a large, well decorated room with lots of round tables filled with people just like us haggling over timeshares.

After another hour of Hector asking us questions about our finances, our jobs and our vacation habits he then proceeded to complement us on how we dressed, especially impressed by my husband Christian’s shoes. We also impressed him with how well we took care of our money and that we chose Mexico for our vacation. We were the smartest, best looking people he’d ever met.

“Yeah, but how much does it cost?” we asked. He then spent another half hour telling us how wonderful this part of Mexico was and what it had to offer, the mountains, the ocean, the restaurants…followed by the amenities of the resort.

“Great, how much does it cost?” He then told us how many other units he had sold in the last month and how he was the best salesman the resort had.

“Super, how much does it cost?” He then told us about his family and how he had three mouths to feed.

After several more requests he finally gave us a five-figure number. Then he said the price wasn’t to purchase the timeshare. It was actually a lease good for only 20 years. That meant that we would have to repurchase the lease if we wanted to keep the timeshare. Had something to do with Mexican law about foreigners owning land, he told us.

Since we didn’t think repurchasing a lease at the same time we would be retiring was a good idea, we told him thanks, but no thanks and got up to leave. (Of course, we hadn’t planned on buying anything anyway, but this was a good out for us.) Hector then proceeded to curse loudly, telling us how stupid we were to turn down this fabulous offer. How quickly we had fallen from favor. At least we had a good breakfast. We missed the Jeep excursion, though, too many tequila shots the previous night.

Although we were pissed at Hector’s little temper tantrum at the time, now whenever we encounter an overzealous sales person, we smirk and say, no thanks Hector!

And finally some anecdotes from Marco Island, Florida:

I tagged along with my husband on a business trip. The trip was a convention/seminar at the Marriott Resort on Marco Island. The Marriott was gorgeous: Gigantic hotel room with king-size bed and a balcony. The bathroom was as big as our house at the time - all paid for by the company. It had four restaurants and a world-class spa on the property - not paid for by the company. The best part was having the widest beach I’d ever seen at my disposal.

After spending two hours of the morning getting a seaweed wrap and massage in the spa (a birthday gift to myself that I paid for), I then went to spend the afternoon lounging on a pool chaise with a book. A woman with two small children put their towels and bags in some chairs nearby. The kids, a boy and a girl, jumped and splashed around the pool laughing. They appeared to be having a great time. The woman sat with a magazine in the shade of an umbrella. About noon, a man in dress slacks and dress shirt approached the woman and began talking. I couldn’t hear what he said, but I sure heard what SHE said,

“What do you mean we can’t come to lunch with you?? You dragged us all the way down here and we haven’t had a single meal together. You should be spending this time with your kids!!!!! So when will I see you? What do you mean we can’t have dinner with you??? Why are we even here????” Her voice rose in pitch with each question.

Really? You know, your husband didn’t have to bring you and the kids to the Gulf Coast of Florida…with its silly sunshine and unbearable 80 degree weather. Oh, how awful that must have been.

Later that same afternoon, I met up with the wife of one of my husband’s coworkers, Robin. We sat at the bar of the beach cafĂ©, called Quinn’s on the Beach, drinking ice tea and debating whether to get the Cuban or the Crab Cake Po Boy, when the bartender, a stocky woman with a little gray in her brown hair, came over and asked us where we were from. When we told her Colorado, she said she’d heard it was pretty, but had never been there.

“Maybe Marriott should send me there next,” she mused. We agreed, but said we thought that Florida was a pretty good gig.

“You’re telling me,” she said. “I’m originally from Boston.” She pointed to her name tag. Marriott name tags had the employee’s hometown as well as their name on them.

“I worked at the Boston Marriott for almost 20 years. Then when my son went off to college and I thought, I should go someplace warm, so I filed for a transfer and Marriott sent me here.”

We asked how long ago that was. “Almost three years ago,” she said. Then told us she was having doubts about Florida after the hurricane. Hurricane Wilma had whipped across Marco Island the month before. The Marriott was still cleaning up some areas of the resort and trees were down all over the island.

“We got lucky,” the bartender told us. “It was only a Category 3.” She said she was contemplating a move before another, stronger, hurricane came through. “I bet Colorado is great, but I don’t want to live where it’s cold.”

Robin and I let her in on a little secret…in Denver, it didn’t really get that cold. The mountains, yes, but the city, not so much. Sure it snows every now and then, but the next day the sun comes out and melts everything away.

“Mmmmm, I’ll have to think about that,” the bartender said while washing a glass and smiling. Satisfied we had another convert, Robin and I skipped the sandwiches and went straight for the cheesecake. Nummy.

For more colorful conversations and people, check out these previous blog posts:
Thomas – St. John
Richard – Ambergris Caye, Belize
Hitchhiking – St. John
Awesome Adventures – Key West, Florida
Tarantula – St. John
Antique Car Rally – Bundaberg, Australia
Late Night with Conan O’Brien – New York City