48 Hours

If you are reading this between noon on April 9th to noon on April 11th, I’m sitting in a chair on the Sunset Limited between San Antonio and Los Angeles.

I decided to take the train for no other reason than I’ve never taken a long train trip before, and this was a great opportunity to do it. The trip from Dallas to LA is 48 hours with a 7 hour layover in San Antonio.

Other than the novelity of taking the train, there is really no reason for anyone to ever take a long train trip. If all you care about is price, take the bus. If you want to get there fast, you take a plane. The train sits in a no-mans land between bus and plane. It costs almost as much as a plane trip, but takes as long (or longer) than a bus trip. While 48 hours on a train can be more comfortable and have better scenery than a bus, its still a 48 hour trip. If I wanted to upgrade to a room with a bed, I’m going to pay more than a flight.

As it is, I’ll have to sleep two nights in a chair on a train.

The trip also takes about 10 hours to get from Dallas to San Antonio which I don’t understand, because its a four hour drive. From what I can gather from the Amtrak site, there are no stops between Dallas and San Antonio other than Fort Worth.

I’m guessing my next update will be one or more updates written from the train with a ton of photos.

Chain stores, subdivisions, and highways

I have come to the conclusion that the image of Texas I have always had is wrong. Very wrong. Texas was supposed to be oil wells, cattle, pick-up trucks and guys in big cowboy hats. It’s really nothing but an endless expanse of malls, stores, walled subdivisions, and highways.

Friday, I had no fewer than three 15 minute conversations with strangers about my trip. I think I’m going to get some business cards made with my website address on it. It will be much easier than having everyone find a pen and try to write down the URL.

I also visited the National Boy Scout Museum (I’m an Eagle Scout) and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. The Kimbell is a small but good museum.

Saturday, Scott and I went to the Apple store to get a tutorial on Final Cut Express and went to Micro Center to pick up doodads. In the evening we went out to a friend of Scott and Angie’s birthday’s party. We played Texas Hold Em until like 2 am.

Today I hope to hit REI for some more waterproof bags for my electronics and a camera store for a better tripod. Also, might try to get to Daley Plaza and take some video of the conspiracy crazies.

Monday morning, I’m on the train to LA for a 48 hour Amtrak adventure.


I’m currently in Texas staying with my friend Scott Kurtz for a few days. He’s got a really nice Mac setup and hopefully, I’ll figure out what I’m doing with my video camera and editing software before I leave here.

If everyone is nice, I’ll try to have some video up this weekend.

I drove through Oklahoma this morning and it was pretty boring, except for one small stretch with road cuts. I know enough about geology to know interesting structure when I see it, so I pulled over at a scenic overlook. Sure enough, there was a big sign about the Arbuckle Anticline.


Iowa Wind Farm

I’m writing a quickie entry from a rest stop in Iowa with wireless internet access. The fact that there exist rest stops with wireless internet is a sign of the times.

I changed plans and rented a car to drive to Dallas. I saved some money and I have lots of time. I’ll take the odd photo on the side of the road.

Vegas Errata

Vegas Sign

– The strip is one massive optical illusion. All of Las Vegas is located on a very flat plateau. As such, you can see a long way into the distance. Everything on the strip is built oversized. The signs are enormous. South of the strip on Las Vegas Blvd. there is as strip mall with McDonald’s and a Subway with a sign that is over 100 feet tall out front. The effect of this illusion is that everything looks closer than it appears. It took 90 minutes of pretty much non-stop walking to go from the Luxor to the Hilton.

– I totally freaked out when I tried to download video from my camera to my laptop this week. I got all the cables out, plugged everything in, only to find out that it didn’t seem to work with a Mac. Sony says in the manual that you can only get video onto a Windows XP computer. This struck me as really funny because in all the research I’ve done, I never came across that “small” fact. The cable you used was an i.Link cable, which I’ve never heard of. I’ve never had a computer with an i.Link port so I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Moreover, the i.Link plug didn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before. Five minutes of research online and I learned something that I probably should have known. i.Link is the Sony proprietary name for Firewire (which is the Apple proprietary name). They use the same IEEE standard, but Apple uses a 6-pin connector and Sony uses a 4-pin connector. I just need the right cable and everything should be cool.

– I’ve stated this before, but the lowest job in the world are the people who hand out cards on the street for escorts and strippers. It requires no skill at all. No language skills, Nothing. A blind, deaf, mute guy with no limbs and Down’s Syndrome could in theory put a bag of cards around his neck and still do the job. Hardly anyone takes the cards, and those that do usually throw it on the ground within a few steps. I’m not really even sure how they get paid and why the people who pay them find this to be an economical way to advertise. Four color cards can’t be cheap. Are the guys paid by the hour or buy the card? I’d really like to know how much you can make doing this any why people do this over anything other job.

– There is an odd juxtaposition of things and people in Vegas. Vegas caters to the hoi poloi. This is not a bad thing. Vegas is fun and people of all strips and backgrounds can all congregate in Vegas and find something they like. This usually means swarms of people in tourist attire (t-shirts with obscene sayings, 3 foot tall margarita glass around the neck, drunk…you get the picture) Also all the casinos are open to everyone by law and by business plan, so you get all types of people everywhere. At the same time, you have some of the classiest shops, hotels, restaurants and shows in the world. The type of stuff that you would see on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or 5th Avenue in New York. Its odd to see someone with a “I heart to fart” t-shirt window shopping at Armani.

– Vegas exists not because the logic of local geography (a harbor, a river, etc) but because of local laws. There is no good reason to put a huge city in the middle of desert. (I’d say its the second dumbest place for a city in the US after New Orleans….which is below sea level, sinking, and surrounded by water). The power of local sovereignty is the resource which makes Vegas run. Everyplace else in the country places onerous restrictions on gambling and drinking. Vegas (and to an extent, all of Nevada) doesn’t care. Its the same why that indian reservations and small island nations can eek out a living. Just have laws more liberal and flexible than everyone around you and people will lead a path to your do. It doesn’t just apply to vices like drinking and gambling. It can apply to nuts and bolt things like incorporation (Deleware) or banking (Cayman Islands). It should also be noted that none of the places which have these loose laws are in state of anarchy. They get by quite well, thank you very much.

– Penn & Teller vs. Danny Gans. Everyone knows who Penn & Teller is right? They’re on TV all the time. Penn hosts a game show and had a radio program. They have written books and produced DVDs. That they have a big auditorium in Vegas is really of no surprise. If you go down the strip however, the biggest single billboard for any entertainer is for Danny Gans. WTF is a Danny Gans. (Turns out he’s an impressionist and a pretty good one at that) I’ve never seen him anywhere other than in Vegas. I’m not sure how he got top billing at the Mirage, an enormous billboard on the strip, and still can sell tickets or who goes to see him.

Back By Popular Demand (of the State of Minnesota)

My original plan was to leave for LA from Vegas. However, I have to return to Minnesota for a day or two to straighten out my drivers license situation. I received a speeding ticket in Roseau, MN a while back and the check I sent to pay for the ticket never got cashed. The story I’m told from the Roseau County Court is that the check probably didn’t get there in time, the price went up, and they didn’t cash it because it wasn’t enough. I never paid attention to it after I sent the check and it just sat there. I was able to get my car insurance and tabs renewed, so I had no idea it was still outstanding.

Turns out that my license was suspended because the fine wasn’t paid. The problem now lies in trying to undo the suspension. The fine has been paid. I know this because I sent a money order to Roseau County via priority mail. I called them and they gave me an account number saying the fine was paid. I went to the DMV before I left for Vegas and they showed the fine as being paid. I also paid $30 for a reinstatement fee. So far, so good.

For whatever reason, they still haven’t removed the “suspended” status of my license and I have no clue what I need to do anymore to change. it. I also have this twist which makes it more interesting: I’m technically not a resident of Minnesota anymore. I’m getting all my mail sent to Wisconsin. If I got a Minnesota license, I’d have to wait four weeks for the physical license. If I get it in Wisconsin, I can get it immediately. I’ll be in Minnesota however, not Wisconsin, and Wisconsin wont give me a license until the ‘suspend’ is removed from my Minnesota record. The only thing I’ve been told by MNDOT is what to do to get a new MN license, but I really don’t want one, I just want to be able to get my Wisconsin license. Minnesota is also asking me to show proof of insurance too, which is great, because I don’t own a car anymore and hence, don’t have any need for insurance.

….so, I’m hoping I can straighten this all out in one or two days. The only reason I need a license is so I can rent a car in Hawaii and I can get an international drivers permit before I leave. You need your local license to get the international permit.

I’d like to also point out that as frustrating as my experiences with my mortgage company have been in the last few weeks (and its been frustrating), its nothing compared to working with the State. No one in State of Minnesota has any real incentive to get this solved. I’ve been willing to pay whatever restitution I need to get back in good graces, but at this point I have no clue what I need to do anymore. No one else can give me a straight story either.

Security Theater

The security measures at American airports are a total joke. A total absolute joke….and everyone knows it.

I’m writing this at McCaren airport in Las Vegas, the only major airport in the US that offers free wireless internet to everyone in the airport. (This sort of shoots all the arguments about how airports have to charge ridiculous prices to cover costs in the ass)

The line at the security check point was the longest security line I’ve ever had to go through. There is no way you can effectively check that many people in that short of a period of time. I had a bag full of electronicns. Laptop, GPS, iPod, DSLR, digital video camera, tons of cables, etc. I took none of them out of my bag while going through security. It would have taken too long and I figured that if they did want to inspect me more, given the odds of it happening with that many people, the expected time spent in line would be less by doing nothing. I was right. They let it zip right through, while they did harass people for small water bottles.

The security system as airports are designed to give the illusion of security and to cover the ass of those in charge in case something happened. Shoes and water were fine until someone tried to use them in a terrorist attack. Making you take off your shoes and banning water after the fact doesn’t help security. Knowing how the system works, all terrorists would have to do are plan attacks involving laptop computers and other things people travel with and leak the plans so everyone is more annoyed.

Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole

Last night, I had the pleasure of having what can only be described as the best meal of my life. Period. Hands down. No debate. No discussion.

It also happened to be the most expensive meal I’ve ever had, so its a damn good thing it was the best.

We had reservations at 6pm for Picasso at the Bellagio. AAA rates restaurants on a five diamond scale and there are only a handful of restaurants in the world which merit a five diamond rating. There are none in Minnesota or Wisconsin. New York City has three. Vegas has four. Picasso has been awarded five diamond for six years running. This is the first and only time I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant of this quality level. It is also ranked as the 10th best hotel restaurant in the US by Zagut’s.

The ‘gimick’ at Picasso is that the walls of the restaurant have actual paintings by Picasso hanging on them. That’s pretty impressive. We didn’t sit near any Picasso’s however. Given our early reservation (6pm) we got a seat out on the patio and were able to get a front and center view of the Bellagio water fountains all evening. (The shows are every half hour).

The first thing that struck me was that they had a sommelier and a 90 page wine list. Picking a wine was like reading the phone book. I’ve never had a master sommelier at a table before and it was a real education. His name was Desi Echavarrie. He had a really in-depth knowledge of everything on the wine list. Who grew it, where it grew, the vine types, the soil, everything. Picking a wine from a list that large is really a crap shoot. On his recommendation, I went with a 50-50 Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Argentina. It was very good and the price was reasonable given where we were dining. (I saw one bottle on the menu for over $8,0000. For that much, a bottle of wine better take me out for breakfast in the morning)

The menu consisted of two tasting menus. That’s it. You could pick the right or left hand side of the menu. There were some options for entrees, but that’s it. One of the courses consisted of foie gras. I had never had foie gras before and had always wanted to try it. It was amazing. I anxiously await the foie gras flavored Doritos.

You can’t eat at a place like Picasso every month or even every year, but it is worth doing at some point in your life, just to say you did it.