Last-minute Las Vegas

Two Sundays ago I received an unexpected phone call from old friends who were traveling to Las Vegas for a vacation they had planned over a year ago. They asked if I could meet them there. It was fairly short notice, but I asked Farrah if I could go to Vegas because I hadn’t seen these friends in over 20 years.  After working out the financial details – after all, have you seen the airfare prices! – I booked a flight on Southwest Airlines, got a hotel room, and made my way out to Las Vegas last Friday.

James (Bubba) and Lisa, my friends from Air Force days long ago, picked me up at McCarran airport.  When Bubba stepped out of their brand new Dodge truck, he didn’t seem to have changed much.  Oh yeah, there were few wrinkles on his face, covered by a scruffy beard that we wouldn’t be allowed to have in the service, but he was the same old Bubba.  I gave him a big hug, then went around the driver’s side to get into the truck.  I greet Lisa, who was driving, with a warm hand to the shoulder as we drove away from the airport.

We first talk about the weather in Vegas – it was about 98 degrees at 10 PM! – and about my flight.  We take care of the things I needed to get done – check into the hotel, dump my stuff in the room, grab a bite to eat – then we head to hit the slots (them) and blackjack (me).

Of course, we talk about the past, about people’s names we can, at times, barely recall.  We talk about things we’ve done together back-in-the-day, the shared memories or how we remember them. We speak of the 20 plus years apart, and the people in our lives now, about family and friends on each side who are unfamiliar to each another.  We convey to each other our individual triumphs and hardships we’ve endured, the journey and battle scars that life inflicted upon us up to this point in time. We spend the next three days sharing all of these memories.

It’s difficult to predict how often we will be in contact with each other after leaving Las Vegas.  We left each other with big hugs and the promise of staying in touch, and I know we’ll try our best to do so. But I recall making such a commitment to my Uncle David in the Philippines when I was eight years old.  I promised I would write.  He said, “You’ll forget me.  You’ll forget to write.  But that’s OK, for we will remember each other until the day we die.  This is just how it is.”

I wrote to him briefly, but I grew up and, as he predicted, forgot to write.  Who knows, with email and the Internet this may change with Bubba and Lisa.  And as they read this, as I hope they read this, I’m sure they are saying, “You’re damn right we’re keeping in touch.”

Will You Upgrade?

Are you going to get the iPhone 2.0?

I have been asked that several times the past few days.  As Friday fast approaches the answer is still the same, no I won’t be upgrading.

My three reasons why I won’t be upgrading:

  1. I don’t want to pay AT&T the $18 for the privilege of changing phones.
  2. The fact that the data plan cost slightly more, though understandably with the 3G speed and GPS included.
  3. The fact that you have to pay so much extra for text messages, which I have been doing more of since getting the iPhone.

The iPhone App Store will still work with my current iPhone when it goes online.  The only applications I won’t be able to take advantage of – that I can foresee – are those using GPS.  I haven’t really played with GPS enough to say I need it.  Goggle Maps have worked very well for my current purposes.

A year from now when my AT&T plan is up I will consider whatever version of the iPhone is available.  I think I’ll consider upgrading then.

Review – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Farrah and I sat down to watch the latest Indiana Jones film.  It has been nineteen years since the last movie in the trilogy – well, I guess it’s no longer a trilogy but a series of films – with many action films to wow us during that time.  Could Indiana deliver the ‘wow factor’ still?

The short answer is yes.

OK, here is the Netflix summary of the movie:

Hollywood icon Harrison Ford returns to the role of the adventurous archaeologist Indiana Jones nearly 20 years after he last donned the famous fedora and bullwhip to save the world from imminent peril. Joining Ford for this latest installment of the Steven Spielberg-George Lucas collaboration are Academy Award winner Cate BlanchettRay WinstoneJim BroadbentKaren AllenJohn Hurt and Shia LaBeouf as Jones’s headstrong young sidekick.

Not much of a summary, huh.  The movie takes place 19 years after the last one, placing the movie action in 1957,  This changes the bad guys from the Nazi to Communist Russians. The action begins in Nevada, then moves to the university where Indy teaches, to parts in South America.  The action is fluid and almost non-stop, just what you expect from an Indiana Jones film.

What I Liked

It’s great to see Harrison Ford back in the saddle as Indiana Jones.  After a string of so so films (e.g. Firewall, Hollywood Homicide, and Random Hearts to name a few), it’s good to see Ford not losing a beat with the Indiana character. He just slips back into the character like a comfortable pair of shoes.

The supporting cast proves pretty solid as well.  Karen Allen is the only returning character from the Indiana Jones mythology, and it’s great to see her next to Ford.  The rest of the actors provide solid support, with Cate Blanchett proving to be a nasty foe.

As I mentioned previously, the action sequences are what you expect an Indy film.  They were long enjoyable sequences, well most of them were.

What I Did Not Enjoy

Some of the latter action sequences involved a level of CGI which was noticeable. Due to the nature of the film’s content toward the end of the film (it involves some science fiction elements), the use of CGI was difficult to avoid.

Final Thoughts

It’s great to be in the world of Indiana Jones again. I say don’t hesitate and go see it. It may not live up to your previous Indy experiences, but could it really? Believe me, once you hear the theme music and see the iconic fedora on Harrison Ford’s skull, you’ll forget about your expectations and just go along for the ride.

New York City Recap

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

It has been a week since we came back from our trip to New York City. I thought about writing a day-by-day account of our adventures in The Big Apple, but I think the Twitter postings during our trip suffice.

What I will do is point out some highs, and a few lows, on the trip.

Getting Around

Best Experience: Virgin America and walking.  As expected, Virgin America provided an enjoyable airline experience.  The plane is new, comfortable, and you have slight leg room.  You get as many free drinks as you want, but no free food.

You are going to walk if you are in New York City.  You’d be surprised how far your feet can carry you in the city.  So bring a good pair of shoes, and prepare for a few blisters.

That's one big M&M
That’s one big M&M

Fine Experience: The Subway.  Not as clean and easy to navigate at The Tube, but once we figured out where we wanted to go, the Subway was the best method to get there.

OK Experience: Taxicabs. The only time we took a cab was from JFK to Manhattan and back.  It was a $60 investment each way (including toll and tip).  Nice to know the cost upfront, but it seems a bit steep.  I’m not sure how much it would be if it were not a flat rate (of $45).

Eating

BestGray’s Papaya.  An amazing birthday dinner experience to have two dogs with onions and drink, only for $3.50!  Also, Katz’s Delicatessen provided an amazing dining experience. If you want a corned beef or pastrami sandwich, you better stop by Katz’s in the Lower East Side.

Katz!!! Yum!!!
Katz!!! Yum!!!

FineThe Red Flame. A decent place to grab a quick breakfast.  It was convenient, located just down the street from our hotel.  They get you in and out as fast as possible.  Cafe Habana is a very crowded place in Little Italy.  Try the Cuban sandwich and the corn.  Yum.

BadMaxie’s Delicatessen.  Overpriced awful food.  Also, how can you not make a good cup of coffee?

The Sights

It's the Brooklyn Bridge!
It’s the Brooklyn Bridge!

Best:  There are so many things to see in New York City.  What still stands out in my mind are the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Grand Central Terminal.  I love Grand Central Terminal.  The first time seeing it, and having breakfast downstairs on a subsequent morning, will not leave my memory any time soon.  Times Square is amazing, the first time you experience it, both day and night.

Walking down the spiral staircase at the Apple Store. Walking down the spiral staircase at the Apple Store.

Fine: Top of the Rock, the NBC Studio tour, the Apple Store on 5th Avenue, and SoHo in general.

From the Top of the Rock
From the Top of the Rock

Bad: The third time going through Times Square.  All the people just started getting on my nerves.

Other Things to Note

We also saw Young Frankenstein, our first Broadway play.  The play was funny and entertaining even though Megan Mullally wasn’t performing that evening.

The Sofitel was the hotel we stayed at in Manhattan.  Very nice hotel, with a pleasant room and splendid staff. If we were to go back to New York City and wanted to stay in Midtown again, I would want to stay here again.

Overall, the New York City experience was a great experience.  A big thank you to my beautiful wife for giving me a fantastic birthday present, and memories we can share the rest of our lives.

[Note: For photos of our trip to NYC, please see the Photographs section.]

Taking Off To New York City

We’re getting ready to go to New York City! We’re taking Virgin America as our airline. I’m hoping for as a good flight experience as we had when we took Virgin Atlantic to London last year.

I’ll see if I can blog from NYC on the iPhone. I’m not sure if it will happen. At the least, I’ll provide some updates via Twitter – which will, in turn, appear on the blog.

I know, the weather outlook in NYC looks pretty wet. I’m hoping it’s not. Either way, I won’t let it damper the trip.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KR4dxPISegY

Celebrating March Birthdays

Yesterday, we celebrated Rex and my birthday with a small dinner at Nana’s house. The other birthday boy this month, Big Gordon, is in Nebraska. Of course, he couldn’t make the celebration.

We had an early dinner. I tried to BBQ some steaks, but they didn’t turn out their usual juicy selves. I decided to rely on a meat thermometer while BBQ-ing instead of my instinct. Next time I’m going to rely on my gut feeling.

Cake on Fire
Cake on Fire

Rex received a few gifts, the big surprise being the Wii! Me? I got some water pistol underwear and a lovely shirt. Since my bday is later in the month, I think the other presents will be given closer to that time. At least I hope they will.

Of course the big gift this year is a trip to New York City. The reason I bring this up (again) is that I purchased a new camera for the journey, a Canon G9. I’ll write more about my experiences with the G9 later. In the meantime, head on over to photo gallery to check out pictures of last nights celebration, and a video, taken with the G9.

A Review of Juno

The first movie to be reviewed on the “reloaded” web site is Juno. Farrah and I watched Juno about a week ago at the AMC Cupertino Square 16. This theater is becoming our number one place to watch movies. I suppose because it is new, clean, and doesn’t smell like feet yet.

We had only heard good things about the movie, so expectations were slightly high. The only aspect I wasn’t looking forward to was Jennifer Garner’s acting. We bought our Milk Duds and headed into the theater. We were early enough to have our choice of seats. But the place quickly filled up with eager moviegoers. It had been some time since we watched a movie in a crowded theater.

Here is the brief synopsis provided by Netflix:

Facing an unplanned pregnancy, worldly teen Juno (Ellen Page) devises a plan to locate the proverbial perfect parents to adopt her baby. But the seemingly ideal couple Juno chooses appears to still have some growing up to do. Now, everyone in Juno’s world must do a little soul-searching. Michael Cera (Superbad) co-stars while Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner play the pair of affluent yuppies anxious for a child in this offbeat coming-of-age comedy.

What I Liked

The film is a funny and smartly written. Sharing laughter with a large crowd sure makes the movie experience more enjoyable. Juno is one of those movies that has very quotable dialog. You can find yourself quoting lines often throughout the following weeks. The acting is sharp all around, especially from Ellen Page who plays the lead. Yes, I even liked Jennifer Garner.

The film moves at a brisk pace, clocking in at a fast 92 minutes. The seemingly predictable plot points turned out to be refreshingly unpredictable, at least from my standpoint.

 

A scene from Juno

What I Did Not Enjoy

I can’t think of anything I didn’t enjoy about Juno. I could say it was short, but it didn’t feel too short. I was awaiting an unsatisfying ending; you know the endings where each viewer needs to determine for themselves if the characters found happiness or not? Luckily this did not come to pass.

Some may think the dialog is trying to hard to be memorable, trying hard to be cute and hip. But it works in this movie for both the characters in high school and the adults.

Final Thoughts

Strong movie. Smart script. Strong acting by likable actors. A good way to spend a few hours in a warm theater.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars