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Notes from Vegas

I spent last weekend in Las Vegas with two of my favorite high school boys. What follows are my observations from a well-rounded, fabulous trip.

– Vegas is no longer a place to take your family–unless your children are adults. Giant billboards featuring hoochie girls in racy outfits (if you can call them outfits) run the length of the Strip advertising half-naked shows at major casinos. The pool scene is a hotbed of inappropriate conversations between adults ranging in age from 18 to 55, all who have started drinking by noon. I can’t, in fact, think of an activity to take a child to in Vegas anymore.

-To fit in at a Vegas club, your dress can only cover one to two centimeters below your bottom. Otherwise you are out of place. My friend counted four separate women on the dance floor whose underwear, or lack thereof, he saw in plain view, in some cases multiple times. Since when is it sexy to blatantly reveal your thong on a dance floor before you get the guy you are grinding with back to your room! A true sign I am too old for the Vegas club scene.

-Walking the 2.1 miles, from the Wynn to the Luxor in cheap high heels may seem like a good idea at the time, with the lights, and the shiny new hotels to see, but I guarantee your feet will pay. I still have a red inflamed blister on the top of my toe, five days later.

-But on that same note, the Strip is at its best at night. The lights alone can give you a high. Say what you want about Times Square, and how annoying the foot traffic is, but the same thing applies. You just can’t beat bright, shining, colorful lights. It’s like having Christmas decorations up all year.

-Eating a plain old McDonald’s cheeseburger at 2 am is a great way to weaken the blow from your hangover…despite what my friend may say.

-It is very much worth leaving the Strip, and the city, and finding your way to one of the many natural wonders that surround Vegas. This trip I found myself hiking through Red Rocks Canyon, and being incredibly disappointed that I had dropped and permanently damaged my camera at the club the night before.

The Mix Lounge, on the 64th floor of THEhotel, may win for best view of the Strip. You can see all the way down to the Stratosphere. And with a delicious $15 martini in hand, I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a view so much.

-Another shout-out to the Mandalay Bay complex is for the Red Square restaurant and bar, which not only features a very tall headless statue out front, but also serves it’s martinis on a strip of ice running the length of a bar. The bartender is also nice enough to hand out free blue cheese stuffed olives to those of us that really couldn’t handle another martini.

-Vegas with a few of your oldest friends, who know you inside and out, and are totally okay with you doing the running man on elevators, is the right way to do Vegas. It keeps me coming back.

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Sanctuary For My Tired Soul

Deer in the woods

“…with the smell of the woods, and the wind in the trees, they will forget the rush and strain of all the other long weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their hearts and for their souls.” President Franklin Roosevelt speaking about vacationers to national parks in his speech at Shenandoah National Park‘s dedication, July 3, 1936.

My good friend from high school flew from California last weekend to go camping with me in Shenandoah National Park. Before motoring out of the District Friday morning, we both switched our BlackBerrys off, not to be switched back on until the drive home Sunday. I went 52 hours without my phone or access to the internet. It was fantastic.

When we arrived at our campsite, it was very, very cold. A lot colder than either of us had planned for. It turns out weather.com for “Shenandoah National Park” doesn’t account for the high points of the park. We both immediately regretted forgetting gloves.

After inspecting where to place our tent, we realized we also forgot chairs for the fire. The picnic table provided was chained to the ground, and way to far away from the fire pit to pick up enough warmth for our chilled bones. My friend was determined we would find something on our short hike to place our bums upon.

And he was right. Midway back from our mile walk to the closest lodge, I pointed out a log that looked just big enough for the both of us. Little did I know how much wood weighs. I tried to pick up one corner and could barely get it an inch off the ground. So my friend, sturdy, reliable guy he is, heaved what had to be at least a 70-pound piece of solid wood over his shoulder, and trekked it the half mile back to camp. He threw it down by the fire pit, we put a piece of plastic around it, and used the duct tape my friend had carried all the way from San Diego to secure the plastic in place. Voila…bench.

Once the fire was blazing, the red wine started going down easy and the cold didn’t bother us. We crawled into our tent after most other campers had called it a night, and looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

And that’s when Nature decided to make it interesting. About an hour after we got into our sleeping bags, the wind started whipping, and water started coming down from the sky. Our tent walls rattled and our tent roof , now coming undone on two sides, smacked against the sides. Halfway through our sleepless night, our poor tent couldn’t take anymore and caved in halfway, folding down onto the bottoms of our sleeping bags. The water started flowing in.

We spent the rest of the evening trying, and failing, to ignore the noise and the water seeping in. I had to shift around a bit to relieve my legs of the pressure from the fallen tent poles. The next morning, my friend’s first order of business was getting us to the lodge for a hot breakfast. Screw Pop Tarts and apples after the night we had.

We both agreed there was no way we were spending another night like the one before, and managed to find a cabin room at the Skyland Lodge for $98. The hot shower, and cozy twin bed, was worth every cent of my $49. Oh and the roof and the heaters…

Before settling at the lodge, we managed a hike in the rain, down to Dark Hollow Falls.

Buck in the bush

The beauty of Shenandoah left me awestruck, despite the terrible, wet weather. In our few days there, we were fortunate enough to see what had to be at least 100 deer, as well as a black bear meandering across the road. I was about three feet from a buck with my camera. I was very fortunate he didn’t decide to charge and take me, and my Nikon D60, out.

After a night of playing cribbage, drinking beer, and watching college football at the lodge, and another delicious breakfast, we set out Sunday morning on another hike. The weather had mostly cleared, and the sun started pushing out the clouds.

We trekked our way up to Stony Man Overlook. At 3,100 feet, the view of the color-changing trees, Skyline Drive, and Virginia below was magnificent. There is something about standing at such heights, looking down, that makes life seem so small and harmless. The view from the top of the world always leaves me feeling like everything will be okay, like somehow this vast, beautiful world is so much bigger than me and my problems. From up there, looking down at so many others living their lives, I am reminded mine will go on, despite hard times.

View from Ston Man Cliffs

After our hike, we made our way back to the city, and the next morning I said good-bye to my friend and returned to real life.

I was fortunate enough that same day to see Ken Burns speak about his new documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

He described the 58 parks as, “the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape.”

He also said, in a call to citizens of all races and backgrounds, “These parks are yours and you stand in them equal to everyone else.”

There is a reason these parks were picked and preserved. They are sanctuaries to tired souls. And they serve to remind us we are only one of many creatures on this planet.

Being in the parks is about more than experiencing nature. It’s about the people you meet along the trails. Nowhere else in the U.S. but on a hiking trail do I find people who say “hi” and “how are you?” to total strangers, no matter what they look like.

It’s about the animals you can see in their element, who don’t run from you, because in National Parks, there are no guns, at least not yet.

And it’s about the stories you create, because you can’t just run to Wal-Mart and pick up chairs and gloves.

My soul felt better after my weekend in Shenandoah. The combination of the company, the surroundings, and the adventure was more healing than any spa or therapy could have been.

“Pivot…Pivot…PIVOT!”

September 21, 2009 2 comments

Last Friday, my fross and I were discussing the mastery and magnificence of the TV show Friends. The conversation began after agreeing that we both couldn’t hear the word “pivot” without thinking of the scene when Ross, Rachel, and Chandler are attempting to guide Ross’ new couch up a set of stairs. I found the clip on YouTube tonight. Just so funny. Comedy doesn’t get simpler then a man yelling “Pivot, Pivot, PIVOT!” and his friend shouting back, “Shut up! Shut up! Shuttt Up!” And yet I can laugh even thinking about it.

I would argue that the chemistry of the cast on Friends remains unbeaten. The show started its run in 1994, when I was 12 years old and entering junior high. A year after I graduated college, the show ended. I based so much of how I wanted my post-college life to be off the lives of the characters. Sad to say I know, but those were my formative years, and I liked believing that life after college could be fabulous apartments in a big city with my five closest friends in the room next door or the apartment across the hall.

The funny thing is I did have that life, twice before the show ended. My last year of college, I lived with one of my best friends, and our five guy friends lived in the apartment in a building attached to ours. We had no Central Perk, but we had the boys’ living room, which was good enough. And we spent all of our time together.

I had that life again in Santa Monica, where I lived with two of those same boys, and another best friend from college. And Central Perk became our living room, but instead of coffee we drank beer and played cards. We struggled with the transition from school to work, but we didn’t really struggle, because we came home to each other, and lived in one of the most fabulous neighborhoods in all of LA.

But life couldn’t stay that way. And now I can’t go back to it. I left LA, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I wasn’t happy with what I was doing there.

What I couldn’t comprehend, on the day I drove away, is that I was leaving my Friends days behind me, almost exactly a year after the show ended.

I loved graduate school. I loved caring about what I was learning and having real conversations with my professors who respected me. I fell in love with my closest friend and spent over three wonderful years as his girlfriend. I have a great job now, and I’m on a career track I’m proud of.

But none of that means I don’t often long for the days when I had three or more of my closest friends to come home to. I never spent a weekend alone, or a day alone. Now I have to spend a lot of time alone. And I’m not very good at it.

Here’s the thing though. If I had stayed in LA, or if all of my college friends had followed me to DC, I wouldn’t have had a three-year relationship with a great guy. I wouldn’t have learned that sometimes I have to be alone. And I wouldn’t have grown up. Because it doesn’t work like the TV show. We didn’t pair off and get married. And we couldn’t all do what we were passionate about in the same place.

I’m fortunate enough to say I’ve had a lot of “best days of my life.” Some were with my “Friends” and others were with my boyfriend. And I’m sure there will remain quite a few from each when the total number of best days is tallied up.

I thought it was ironic that what sparked this blog post was the word “pivot.”

Here’s what Merriam Webster has to say about it.

Main Entry: piv·ot
1 : a shaft or pin on which something turns
2 a : a person, thing, or factor having a major or central role, function, or effect b : a key player or position; specifically : an offensive position of a basketball player standing usually with back to the basket to relay passes, shoot, or provide a screen for teammates
3 : the action of pivoting; especially : the action in basketball of stepping with one foot while keeping the other foot at its point of contact with the floor

I think my friends are the foot on the floor. They remain, despite their distance, the pin that holds me steady as the other foot turns from man to man and from job to job and from place to place.

The Meaning of “Date”

Six years ago, while walking from Harvard Square to Central Square, my dear college friend looked at me and said, “We’re so lucky. We get to go on dates all the time.”

The “we” was him, a handful of other gentleman, my best friend with the same name as me, and myself, who all lived in an adjoined apartment building–the boys on the 4th floor, the girls on the 3rd, on Green St. in Cambridge. We were each other’s social circle, a “rat pack” of sorts. And it was not uncommon for one of us two girls to be out for dinner, a movie, a walk, or ice cream, with one of the four boys. It was innocent and fun. There was no pressure at the end of the night, or expectation. Despite the lack of butterflies, those were some of the best nights of my life. They are all blended together now, imperfect memories of maybe 100 dates during my last 12 months in Boston.

I wanted more than anything, that year, to have a boyfriend. But as we so often do in life, I look back now and know I would never trade all those date nights to have had some guy, who did not know me or love me as much, and who would have probably broken my heart.

You see, what I’ve realized, is friends, true friends, don’t break you heart. They endure your pain with you, and find ways to make you laugh. And they take you on the best kind of dates–even when you are a miserable person to be around.

I’m not sure yet, after almost 30 years of living, that all the wonderful dates with a new guy who turns into a boyfriend and maybe even a husband, are worth the pain of the days that follow him breaking your heart. What I am sure of is going on a “date” with a good friend, lady or gent, will not end badly, and will stay with you, as your truest friends do, for all your days.

Categories: Date, Friends, Guy Friends

Who Knew…Bocce?

August 6, 2009 1 comment

I joined a Bocce Ball league to meet people—namely men. When I received the names of my teammates, I was happy to discover it was four guys and one lady.

I was the first on the scene for game one. I picked up my brick red Bocce team shirt and waited anxiously to meet my fellow Bocce-ers. As my teammates arrived, I was excited to see the area filling up with men.

As the game began, and we started to dominate the other team, I found myself laughing and joking with all five teammates. After our big 16-6 win, we walked to the sponsor bar and planted ourselves at the lone open picnic table. We proceeded to consume six pitchers of beer—a pitcher apiece. We talked about jobs and hometowns and sex.

The guys did what every group of guys loves to do when they find willing females—ask for sex tips. And, despite having just met them, my female teammate, who was eerily similar to me (except not single), and myself doled out any tips we could think of that weren’t cliche or overused.

In the course of one evening, and two more Bocce, beer-filled evenings, I realized this had not become about meeting men. It had become about starting over. I was creating friends who didn’t know me because of my ex-boyfriend. People whose first impression of me was throwing a ball and drinking a beer.

I like who I am around my Bocce teammates. I am not broken-hearted.

I thought the best way to move on was to find a new man. But first I had re-create my life. Who knew Bocce ball would be the start of starting over?

Categories: Bocce, Friends, Guy Friends

Drunk Texting an Ex is for the 18-22 Crowd

I will not deny the college set their drunk texting. For my generation, it was part of our  “first relationship” experience.

But at the age of 27, there is no longer an excuse for drunk texting. Unless, maybe, it’s to say “I love you” or “Sleep Tight” to a current significant other. But when it’s to your ex-boyfriend, and it’s slobbery and messy, it does no good.  I have done it on two separate occasions since our break-up two months ago, both of which I woke up regretting.

My very good high school friend is the nicest guy to his ladies that I know. And even he reached a breaking point with an ex-girlfriend who hung on too long. She sent one too many text messages, drunk or not, among other slightly stalker-ish behaviors (leaving chocolate at his front door). And he who never gets angry or exposes a temper, wrote a harsh email, an 8 out of 10 for harshness, telling her he needed her to leave him alone.

On the same day he sent that email, he gave me the best advice I’ve received since my break-up. The shorter version: “Don’t be her. Move on. Don’t be the one who keeps pursuing that which is already lost.“

Right now my ex doesn’t mind the drunk texts. It makes him feel good about himself that I’m hanging on. But there will be a day, in a week or a month or a year, that he will not be so nice about it. Moral of the story, he doesn’t need to know how I feel anymore. Drunk or not, my texts need to be sent elsewhere.

Reason #1 Why Guy Friends Are Essential

August 6, 2009 2 comments

I received the following email (word-for-word) yesterday from a guy friend. I had, only an hour earlier, expressed my frustration to him about the online dating service I joined a week ago.

“LESS SPORTS, MORE SKIN.

OK.  At least a little less sports (or lead with something else) and you probably should put your body type up.  Also, a less frumpy head to toe picture would probably help.  Your profile reads “nice, sweet, friendly, heavy set softball player who will make a really good friend. Great target for dorks, scumbags and 50 year old men”

OK, it’s not really that bad, but I am trying to make a point.  Sun dress, flip flops, no hat.  (Or Jeans, t-shirt, no hat) That’s what the fellas need to know.”

What girlfriend would have ever looked up my profile and said “MORE SKIN.”

Within three hours of removing all “frumpy” photos of me in a baseball hat, and adding a few full body shots, I had been contacted by 5 men, two of who would qualify as very decent.

Post-critique, I am officially on an online dating roll. And now I know to never navigate the online dating waters without consulting one of my boys.

Categories: Guy Friends, Online Dating