Vegas 2023

It’s been three years, but I managed to get to Las Vegas for my birthday. It was a good trip overall, so here’s the stupid bulleted list trip report.

  • Flew in Thursday afternoon, out Monday afternoon, with the actual birthday being on Friday, so the timing was great. The trip was slightly front-loaded with activities and we spent the back half of the trip in “well, what now?” mode, but the pace was pretty decent.
  • This was a trip with a full crew. Bill shares the same birthday as me, and Marc’s often on these trips. We also had Lon, who I haven’t seen in a while, and my old roommate Andrew, who I think I last saw on one of these trips maybe ten years ago. And there was Todd, who I literally had not seen since he was on the 2002 birthday jaunt, when I stayed in the Elvis suite of the long-gone Stardust.
  • Because I’ve had to fly business select on so many last-second Southwest flights, this was a free trip, airfare-wise. The trip itself was flawless; very easy in and out. I brought no luggage, just a computer bag and a duffel.
  • No camera gear would fit in my duffel, except my Canon EOS M1, which is a bit garbage, and my iPhone took better pictures all trip.
  • We stayed at the Mirage. This may be the last time we stay at the Mirage, because it was recently purchased by Hard Rock and will probably be gutted and turned into something else soon. (Or not, given the economy.) I am not sure I’ve ever stayed there, although I’ve wandered through a lot. Rooms were decent, and the view of the strip was nice. The food and the casino were eh.
  • Went to Penn and Teller on Thursday. The show was decent. I think it was solid, but not outstanding. Some of the tricks were new, and this was one of the first shows of the year, so I think they’re still working stuff out. Great crowd, though.
  • Dinner at the Rio, a bit eh. We went to some diner and I got a thing of nachos about as big as a bus tub. The Rio is such a mixed bag and I’m a bit surprised it’s still rolling.
  • Birthday brunch at Bouchon was over the top. I had a chicken and waffles, and there were far too many pastries and breads. Amazing stuff, but I needed insulin after that one.
  • Got a Swedish massage at the Mirage spa for my birthday, and my shoulders hurt for days. But, like, in a good way.
  • For dinner we went to The Palm, which was also way over the top. Really loud in there on a Friday night. The food was great, and wagyu steak is always good.
  • I’ve always had really good luck gambling on my birthday. That streak continues, but for accounting purposes, I won’t say how well I did.
  • Had a good lunch the next day at the Grand Luxe in the Venetian. There are actually two of them, which is confusing. This was no Bouchon, but bacon was involved.
  • We went to Resorts World, which is the first time I’ve been to a brand new casino probably since the Wynn was built? Or maybe City Center, I guess. Anyway, it’s a weird looking place. It’s absolutely cavernous, and looks more like an airport than a casino. We went to some bar to get drinks and then a few minutes later, they told us football was starting and we had to pay fifty bucks each to keep sitting there, so nope.
  • Saw this show called OPM at the Cosmopolitan, which was really fun. It was themed like a futuristic starship’s variety show, and the interior was all cyberpunk/neon looking. There was an “android” hostess/MC who was funny, and then they had various acrobatic or musical things, all of which were impressive. The one I liked best was Billy and Emily England, who did a roller skating/acrobatic routine that was absolutely insane, especially in the close quarters of the very small stage.
  • Went to the Trop for a Sunday comedy show that had Mike Binder opening for Rich Hall. Binder was garbage. He started off with the “I’m old and I don’t understand pronouns” and went from there. Rich Hall was amazingly good. He played songs and did a ton of crowd work. Very quick, sharp, and it was hilarious to see him pivot a song on a dime to start singing about the concrete world trade show. I didn’t know what to expect from him since the last thing I knew him for was the Sniglets thing thirty years ago. Absolutely didn’t do that, and it was great. The Tropicana, not so much.
  • Weather was the coldest I’d ever seen. I think it was down to the mid-30s some nights, sitting in the mid/high-40s most days.
  • I walked an extreme amount every day, usually between 12 and 15 miles. That almost counterbalanced my meal schedule going completely sideways and eating like 100 Weight Watchers points per day.
  • The best part of this trip: I have not spent any time with guy friends in a long time, probably since three years ago. And the last time I was with a group this size was maybe 10? 15? years ago. I really needed this trip, and being able to just bullshit for hours with other tech geeks was absolutely awesome.

Good birthday. Good trip. I need to do this more than once a year, though.



I am fifty-two today.

I’m trying to think of what the number 52 conjures in my head. A deck of cards, obviously. Games of “52 pickup” which we “played” with my little sister. The B-52 bomber, which my dad worked on when I was born on a desolate Air Force base in the middle of nowhere. The number of weeks in a year. The number of hostages Iran freed on my 10th birthday. Denver is at 5200 feet. (Well, 5280.) It is the fifth Bell Number and the third untouchable number. There are 52 white keys on a piano.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I like even-numbered ages. I liked 50, and did not like 51. 52 sits better with me, but it’s also solidly in my 50s. And 52 sounds way older than 50 for some reason. I do like the even number. And I dislike odd-numbered years. Unfortunately, there’s only 19 days where both my age and the year are even. Age is just a number and time is an abstract concept, but I do like a good even number for some reason.

* * *

I am getting old. 52 is old. I mean, we all are getting old, but this year, I look in the mirror and… yeah. I’m no longer young. When I was in my 40s I could sort of pass for 30s, but now I’m definitely in my 50s. I had to get my driver’s license renewed, and I don’t recognize the guy looking back at me. I look seventy. Not having hair anymore really does it. Things are happening to the skin on my neck that no face cream will fix. The eyes are not the eyes of a thirty-something. I shouldn’t care about any of this. I do.

* * *

I am going to Las Vegas for my birthday this year. I’m writing this before I leave, so it’s autoposting while I’m already there. This is the first big trip to Vegas in a while on the actual day of my birthday with Bill, Marc, and a few others. I think the last one like this was 2011. I don’t know what Las Vegas will be like post-pandemic (or during pandemic? I don’t know what their cases look like these days).

I’m staying at the Mirage this time, and maybe the last time, because it was bought by Hard Rock and it’s rumored that it will be completely gutted this year or next. I can’t remember if I’ve stayed at the Mirage before. I’ve been there a lot, and I know I stayed at Bellagio before. (2006?) It’s amazing that at one point, I knew enough about this to write a book, and now it’s a bit of a blur. And I generally don’t stay in hotels with casinos anymore. The last few times I was in town, I decided I needed a kitchen. So this time, I’m back to the regular grind of being on the strip.

A few plans this year: Penn and Teller, Bouchon. There will be steak. I’m not sure what else, but it will be good to get out of town for a few days and see friends.

* * *

A lot of amazing people left in their fifty-second year. Zappa. Houdini. Christopher Reeve. Chris Cornell. Luke Perry. Bob Ross. Grace Kelly. I’ve now outlived Shakespeare, Napoleon, Proust, James Gandolfini, Roger Maris. I’ve outlasted Alois Alzheimer and don’t have his namesake disease (yet). I’ve lived longer than Walter Reed and haven’t stayed at his hospital or caught yellow fever (yet).

Whenever I make these lists, I’m grateful I’m not on them, but it also makes me think about how these people are old, and I don’t even feel like an adult half the time, let alone an old, fully-formed person. I have a healthy dose of imposter syndrome when I think about this, and it’s deeper than thinking I haven’t accomplished enough. It’s this uncanny feeling: I am not an adult, am I?

* * *

Any time I make one of these posts, there’s always some forward-thinking statement about what I want to do in the next year of my life. I do a bit of that in my end-of-year summaries, and the two are almost back-to-back posts, so there’s a lot of redundancy there. (Also, I’ve already broken the no-Taco Bell goal.)

Year 51 was grim and not entirely happy. And I obviously want better than that in year 52. Otherwise the goals are the usual: write more, read more, do more, be more. So I will do that.


The death of an uncle

I know I’m always writing these “the death of” posts left and right about malls and stores and whatnot, but I really hate when I have to write one about a person, especially a person who I’ve known my entire life. And I’m not a fan about writing about family, because people get weird when a fact in your brain doesn’t match the narrative in theirs, which is why I’ve largely given up on autobiographical fiction or whatever it’s called this week. But this post isn’t about any of that; it’s about my uncle Jim, who died on the 27th.

My uncle Jim was my dad’s oldest brother, the oldest of the seven kids. His real first name was Ambrose, which I didn’t even know for years, because he was always Jim, or Jimmy. (My grandfather and my great-grandfather were also Ambrose. Prior to that, the names were significantly more Austrian: Paulus, Johann, Georg.) My grandfather died in a car accident when my father was six. Shortly after, my uncle joined the Navy and spent the next twenty-some years all over the world, working on planes, living on aircraft carriers. I vaguely remember him returning when I was maybe four or five. My memory was that he flew home and gave me the pack of peanuts from the plane. Nobody in my family ever traveled, so this was amazing to me at the time.

We lived in my dad’s home town from when I was an infant until I was seven. This was Edwardsburg, Michigan. It’s immediately north of Elkhart, and it’s a small village that had maybe a thousand people back then. My grandmother lived there, and was retired. My uncle retired from the Navy when he was 40 or so, and moved back in with her around 1975, to take care of her until she passed in 1993.

My uncle never married. I’m not sure he ever dated. He didn’t smoke or drink; he never swore. I can’t remember him even raising his voice. What I do remember is him always being around, always helping, coming over to do things around the house. My parents had this rundown cinderblock house, and they were always continuously adding onto it, sealing off the front porch into a room, covering the bricks with wood planks, adding in new windows, painting new trim. He was always around doing yard work or playing with us. And we spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house, which was maybe a mile away, near the lake. That place was a central hub of activity for all seven kids, their kids, the neighbors, and many others. Almost my entire memory of Catholicism was going to the service, getting donuts, then going to my grandmother’s to play with my uncle and my cousins.

I have a lot of memories of specific things we did, things he taught me: playing golf, collecting cans for the deposits (ten cents in Michigan), playing card games, reading books. He and my grandmother were garage sale fiends, and any time he found a trove of Encyclopedia Brown books for sale, they were mine.

I also think a lot of his selflessness, and how he took care of my grandmother. He always drove her everywhere: to appointments in Elkhart; to see family in South Haven; to Florida in the winter when her health was poor. I remember him coming back from one trip and telling me all about watching an early Space Shuttle launch. I think he was a father figure to all of us cousins, and later the second cousins. (There were I think 13 cousins, and I don’t even know how many second cousins.)

After my grandmother died in 1993, he continued to live at the same house, and it was still our central hub for the family. I would go there any time I was home. Unfortunately, his health deteriorated over time. He managed to live alone until maybe four years ago, when he fell and went to a rehab center. He managed to hang on until he was 88, which is phenomenal. It’s sad for him to have gone, but he lived an amazing life. There was much tragedy in his lifetime, the loss of both parents and four siblings (one to suicide, three to cancer, all too young). But there was such great humility and service and selflessness in his whole life.

My uncle used to take us to McDonald’s when we were little. There wasn’t one in Edwardsburg; you had to go to one in Elkhart. This was pre-McNuggets, pre-Happy Meal, everything fried in beef lard, everything inside a shade of brown. I know it’s stupid, but when I got the news Tuesday morning, I went to McDonald’s for lunch and ordered two cheeseburgers and thought of that. A dumb tribute, but a strong memory to a long time ago. He will be greatly missed.



I guess I have not done one of these year in review things in a while. Well, I haven’t done much of anything here in a while. New Year/New Me, so here’s a summary:

  • Various health and psychology things, which I won’t go into here, because this is public. Spent a lot of time on various self-improvement schemes, some of which were useful. I also managed to not catch COVID.
  • Finally gave up on the battle versus male pattern baldness and having hair. I know, ha ha, middle aged balding guy wants hair plugs, much laughter. Giving up and shaving my head was a difficult decision, and it impacted me more than I could know. And yeah, everyone says “just own it,” but that advice only works if you are psychologically self-confident, and maybe don’t live in a society where hair = power.
  • 2,200,380 steps; 1,038.01 miles; Workout streak: 2,522 days. 2021 was 1,872,548 steps 883.23 miles, so good improvement there.
  • Weight was… not good. I lost 35 pounds in the last nine months of 2021, and I gained back about 25 of that in 2022. So, guess what my resolution is? (Please, no stupid advice on fad diets. I know what I have to do; I just didn’t do it.)
  • I don’t like to talk about work stuff here, so I won’t, but I did get promoted to director, finished hiring my team, and worked on big stuff.
  • I sold my land in Colorado. End of an era there.
  • Went to Chicago for my sister’s wedding in April. This was my first time on a plane since the beginning of 2020. It was a quick long weekend, and I saw a lot of relatives I haven’t seen in decades. I didn’t catch COVID, although many people there did. I also got to hang out with John Sheppard for an afternoon and do some mall-walking with him.
  • Visited Denver for a week in June. I haven’t been back in a dozen years, I think. (2010?) I spent a day photographing the city with my friend Tarasa, and met one of my coworkers (only the third person I have physically met at the company). Lots of walking, took a side trip to Pueblo, and many photos were taken.
  • Visited Stockholm for a week in August. This was my first time leaving the country since 2016, and a good test of if I can deal with long plane rides in my fifties. (I can’t.)
  • Visited Maui for a week in October/November. Stayed upcountry this time, and that made all the difference.
  • I was supposed to visit Indiana for Christmas, but hell froze over, and I decided to cancel.
  • Completed a two-year MBA program in five months. Wrote 184 pages, memorized thousands of terms, and I’ve probably forgotten most of it by now, but I have that line on my LinkedIn forever. And I can get into arguments with people about the Federal Reserve, although I now know that anybody who is talking about the Federal Reserve who hasn’t taken a finance class is 100% wrong and most likely financially illiterate, so don’t bother.
  • I quit writing in 2021. Towards the end of 2022, I “un-quit” and went back to identifying as a writer, and wrote about 50,000 words, mostly about how I couldn’t write and trying to figure out what I should be writing. I am not in a daily writing practice, but guess what my second resolution is?
  • Blogged 17 times here. I need to work on that.
  • I took exactly 12,600 photos. This is by far the most photos I have taken in a year. The highest was 3898 in 2011, and 2021 was 3779, with half of that in December. I had the idea that I’d take way more photos, and tried to hit 100 a day for a while, but there were some pretty dead months, and I did not take nearly as many as I wanted on vacations. I’m not sure how much I will do in 2023.
  • I had a huge interpersonal drama situation that probably burned up six months of my life. I cannot get into that, and this is just a reminder to myself in ten years that you really need to cut the shit there.
  • I don’t know how much I read, but it wasn’t much, except for finance and accounting books, and I really need to not do that.

So my goals are to keep writing, stop eating at Taco Bell, and keep writing. And all things related to writing need to change or get back on track: read more, take more notes, find new things, and write. And write. And write.