Family Vacation. A throwback to a simpler time, when traditional families were more common. A time when people were kinder and more gentle to one another. A time when loyalty, respect and love were common, and innocence carried the days, weeks, months and years. Innocence that let us play, meet strangers, experience small wonders and live fearlessly.
My parents were strong supporters of the family vacation. For years, no summer was truly “summer” until we traveled. We visited Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other states whose names most people can’t properly spell anymore. But some of my favorite trips were right here in California – specifically the road trips that we made to San Diego. We piled my parents, 4 siblings and myself into a car and drove for what seemed like an eternity at the time, until we reached the Catamaran hotel on Mission Bay, which was to be our home for a time. I had my first “special birthday dinner” at the Atlantis Restaurant at Sea World, at ten years of age in a suit and tie. And even though the venues changed over the years, and my birthday is not during the summer, it made such an impression that birthday dinners are still anticipated eagerly with my own family to this day. We rented boats and explored the bay, rode an old-fashioned river boat as a family, spent long lazy days in the pool and in the bay, collected seashells, visited Sea World, shopped for souvenirs. My siblings and I fought and made up a million times on vacation, and the closeness that was created remains to this day, even though I don’t speak with my sisters as often as I probably should.
My wife hosts a drinking night each week at our home with a woman who has become a very close friend. Since my alcohol consumption is only slightly less frequent than a lunar eclipse, I really don’t participate in these. It was something of a surprise when this friend suggested that we accompany her and her two sons on a family vacation to Las Vegas, Nevada. Since we have friends and a long history of enjoyment in Las Vegas, we quickly agreed.
Since our traveling companions were staying at the Circus Circus Hotel, which is located near the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, and Dino’s is only a few blocks north of there, we decided to focus our hotel search on the same area. We ended up choosing the Palace Station Hotel, and it turned out to be an excellent choice, and a very good value. Tuesday night, our first night in town, we attended a car meet at Dino’s, hosted by the local chapter of a custom car and truck club called Freaks of Nature. If you are not familiar with Freaks, I’m sure you can imagine that these guys like to party, and they are very good at it. The venue for their weekly event is a full-blown bar. As one might expect, alcoholic drinks were very readily available and very affordable. But my Freaks know me, and I was informed immediately upon our arrival that Dino’s sells Ginger Beer (one of my favorite beverages) and that my kids might enjoy a frozen custard treat at “the blue building across the street.” It was, by far, the best frozen custard I had ever had.
There was a moment when one of the female Freaks called me “grandpa,” which is a soft spot and premature. My 19 year-old daughter is pregnant, a fact with which I am struggling for various reasons. I am working under the impression that, by the time the child is capable of calling me Grandpa, I will have warmed up to the idea that I may not be as young as I once was. But when Victoria stood four feet from me, but on the other side of her truck, looking directly in my eyes, and enunciated each syllable in a loud, clear, and slightly precocious manner, all I could do was shake my head and laugh. In that moment, she was my (bratty) little sister, and I loved her like my own sisters. I received many compliments on my car, which none of them have seen since the suspension upgrades were completed and wheels and tires were installed. When someone shakes your hand and compliments your work, it means a lot. When you have been a friend and admirer of that person for decades, it means so much more. Jap and Jason, thank you for your kind compliments. The biggest compliment was when I was asked to park alongside the members of Freaks, right in front of the bar. I was touched and honored, and I immediately agreed. Reflecting on that evening shortly before we went “home” for the evening, I was at what has become one of my favorite bars, looking at my hotel and Circus Circus (both of which were well within sight from Dino’s) surrounded by people who made me feel like a long-lost brother. The kids were stuffed with custard and having a great time. My wife was relaxed. There was laughter and joy. This was a good day.
Wednesday, Day 2 was all about the kids, except our room was upgraded to a suite on the 18th floor with a spectacular view of the Las Vegas Strip. So, while the kids were at the Circus Circus Adventuredome, my wife and I were at our hotel, packing our things and making the room change happen. It was stress-free and relaxed. Dinner was had at the Circus Circus Buffet, and was a nice end to the day.
Thursday, we visited Counts Kustoms, a custom car fabrication shop made famous by the television show “Counting Cars.” The photos show the quality and wide variety of work performed there. Lindsay got her hair braided by Rolli, one of the fabricators at the shop…
Dinner that night was an OCD Sufferer’s dream – White Castle! Home of the box full of perfectly arranged boxes, each containing a tiny cheeseburger! We walked off dinner with a brisk 3 mile walk around the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s Palace. Another great day in the books!
After having stubbornly resisted parking my own car for three straight days, Friday had in store for us a trip to Madame Toussaud’s Wax Museum (at the Venetian Hotel, where I also failed to park my own car), and then the wheels fell off…
We had purposely not finalized our itinerary for Friday, because we have friends that live in town. When the trip was originally planned, we had intended to stay with them for the entire week. Their relationship, however, became an issue, and we decided to get a room. But we still wanted to see them. Friday was the day that we would visit them. We didn’t know if we would stay the night on Friday or not, since Lindsay had a commitment at home first thing Saturday morning. My wife, meanwhile, does not like to drive at night, and four hours across the dessert was more than she would be comfortable with.
The short version is that, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, things were said, things were thrown at us and others at the house, cars were disabled to dissuade driving under the influence, self pity was rampant, suicide was contemplated and the police were called. We ended up leaving on Sunday morning…just in time to drive through 200-plus miles of dessert in heavy traffic and swirling 60 mile-per-hour winds. We made it home safely around 5:00 PM Sunday night.
What we left in our wake was a sad group of people, many of whom were slightly lost. My kids were fine, and even took charge of the other kids when things got rough. I can not tell you how proud I am of the little leaders that my wife and I are raising. When you are a parent, and you have to try to make all of the other adults in the group act like, well, adults, it’s nice to see your kids step up and take control of their “people.” I was, and I guess I still am, very sad for my friends and their loved ones. Bad decisions yield bad results more often than not, and continued bad decisions…well, you get the picture. I had hoped this incident would be a wake-up call for them, particularly with respect to the alcohol and drugs. But I doubt it will have much of an effect, and I am already seeing signs that nothing is about to change. Victims will remain victims, addicts will remain addicts, and excuses will continue to be made. But there are innocent bystanders that need and deserve better. And they are not going to get better, because their adults are too weak to do what needs to be done. They talked a good game, but in the end…good luck, little people. Don’t tell me that marijuana is harmless.
So this is why my car blog has become unnecessarily personal. Why it’s not all about cars today. Because on the heels of this, there were two shootings today for no discernible reason. People are dead. My friends are acting like fools and robbing their children of the chance to be kids, and to grow up in a safe, happy environment. They will turn into junkies, addicts or losers because that is what they are being shown. Work is treated like a disease, weed is the magic cure for everything that ails you, from potential future cataracts to any aches or pains… and then there is alcohol, which really should not be consumed by stoned diabetics… Why must you continue to use? Why must others kill people for no apparent reason? What the fuck is this world coming to?