Big D in DC

Went down to the Mall on Wednesday to hear the Dalai Lama's public address. You don't get to be disappointed when you have an opportunity to him speak, but in this case the address was all about Tibet and the occassion of receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, not  spirituality. He could have read from the phone book though, and you still would have felt your soul moving toward enlightment just from being in his general vacinity. 

Good crowd. Nice mix of ages and a wonderful presence of folks in Tibetan garb, including plenty of monks in their Redskin colors. Security including Capitol Police with automatic weapons was a bit of a bummer, but it came with the venue.

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Travel in America - C is for Casinos

These days it is hard to travel anywhere in America and not sleep within an hour or so of a casino. There are exceptions of course: Texas most particularly, Maryland south to Georgia too, Ohio and Utah and others I suppose, but it certainly seems that the rule is that you can gamble if you want too. Even the states without casinos tend to have lotteries, keno, pull tabs, OTC or tracks featuring various sorts of animal racing with pari-mutual betting.

As an investor, it seems to me that a smart buy would be whoever makes slot machines. Everyone is making and buying “casino-quality” poker chips these days. At one time it seemed as if the accumulated weight of old National Geographics was what threatened the stability of the planate. Now it is clearly those 11.5-gram poker chips being bought up by all of those folks watching the endless reruns of the World Series of Pokers. But, poker chips, decks of cards, or even gaming tables would have to be too small a part of any corporation’s overall business to be significantly reflected on the bottom line, but slot machines get rotated out and changed so often that slots should be a good business for someone, plus there simply are so many of them out there and the number grows all of the time. Lots of places that call themselves casinos only have slots. Casinos themselves should be a good business too. MGM-Mirage and Mandalay Bay Group have been very good to me over the last couple of years, but I still haven’t found that slot machine play.

Everyone knows about Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City, but I was surprised by how nice St. Charles on the western fringe of St. Louis was. In Missouri the law limits players to buying $500 worth of chips every two hours in what has to a fruitless effort to control compulsive gambling. You can still lose $6000 a day if you want to hang around for 22 hours and 1 minute. The permanently anchored riverboats on the St. Louis waterfront are less appealing, but St. Charles has a pleasant Vegas quality.

Tunica, Mississippi on the other hand is Las Vegas east. The casinos are spread out more than Vegas, or even more than AC for that matter, but they are all very elegant and very hospitable.

Harrah’s on the edge of the French Quarter in the Big Easy may be the only place left in America were the Black Jack dealer stands on 16, yet another reason to visit that extraordinary city, at least in the fair weather months.

There are now 8 casinos within an hour’s drive east of San Diego, Sey Cuan, more or less in El Cajon, being my venue of choice. If you’re in central California doing the Sideways tour, there is perfectly acceptable casino just outside Solvang, within a 15 minute drive of the Hitching Post.

Last month I played Texas Hold’um at the Tulalap Casino just north of Seattle and was told by one of the players that he had collected souvenir chips from 46 casinos and card rooms in the greater Seattle area.

There are 4 or 5 casinos in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota, and some north of Lansing in Michigan.

Most of New England doesn’t have casinos, but the two huge venues in Connecticut put slots and table games within an easy drive of most New Englanders.

There is a fairly shabby Seminole casino in Immokalee south of Ft Myers, Florida, but it has some of the loosest Texas Hold’um tables that you could ever want to find. If my game ever gets good enough to go pro, I am definitely starting there.

The tribes of New Mexico would look to be generating enough gambling revenue to buy back all of the land, or at least all of the politicians they could possibly want, but the sad thing of course is that they have been pissing away their earnings on very expensive and largely pointless D.C. lobbying efforts.

I can’t decide whether all of this is good or bad. People throwing away money is always bad, but at the same time it is always so. I remember a guy I sat next to at dinner recently trying to tell me that anti-smoking campaigns weren’t necessarily good things if people who quit smoking became obese or used their newly found spendable income to drink to excess. To the extent that that logic is valid, I suppose it applies to gambling as well. If there aren’t casinos there are always plenty of other foolish ways to throw away one’s money.

Too, each of us who gambles imagines that we are better than the crowd and that new money is always welcome in the game. However that may be, the fact is that today when traveling in America, C is for Casinos.

Travel in America: B is for Boston

When I first thought of this I wanted B to be for Badlands, my favorite golf course in Las Vegas, but for the last twelve months B can’t be for anything but Boston even though my visits there never took me inside Fenway and I’ve never seen the Patriots play. I was in Boston for a week last summer and again for six days in January without doing any of the sports things that dominated Boston’s mythic year, but had great visits anyway. Never been whale watching there either.

Boston is the quintessential East Coast city. Museums and shops, history and architecture, and clubs and bars surround you on every side. It’s also a deadly serious food town, and one of the very best places in America for just walking around. Combine the two, as in walking around the North End with a canolli from Mick’s in your hand, and you’re close enough to ecstasy to get yourself in trouble. I’m told it’s a great music town, but as with Austin I can’t say from personal experience. You can’t gamble in Massachusetts, but Connecticut casinos are just an hour and a half or so away.

It was hot in July and snowing in January, but that’s part of the Boston experience too.

Travel in America: A is for Austin

Haven’t posted in quite a while, been doing a lot of traveling working a new gig which has soaked up most of what little creative energy I have. That, and being in a blue funk since November. No one was more stunned by the election results than me. I had been all over this country and hadn’t seen more than a handful of Bush people anywhere, but mostly I was visiting campuses and campuses pretty much anywhere are these islands of blue even if the sea around is red.

But now I’m sort of hitting my stride workwise and funkwise, so thought that maybe my travels might work as fodder for a series of travel bites. This is the first of what I hope to be a complete alphabetic tour of spots that I have checked out for business and pleasure over the past eighteen months.

Have to say that I cannot imagine that the Fates would ever be so unkind as to require that I live in Texas, but if it were to happen, I could almost make it work in Austin. Austin may be in Texas but you can spend a week there, even when the legislature is in session, and see precious few cowboy hats. I go down every couple of years for an annual 6-10 day program of lectures and workshops on Mayan hieroglyphs at UT, a kind of fantasy baseball camp for geeks. Everyone who is anyone in the field is there, and amateur glyphers get to rub elbows and interact with the best and brightest.

The event is timed for UT Easter break, as are Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) film and music festivals. Sooo even for geeks there is plenty to do in Austin in the spring. One year I did a golf school before the Maya meetings. This year I did the lectures, but blew off the workshops and instead went to nine movies in three days. The film festival is great, but most people only think of music when they think of SXSW. The music was just starting the day I left, so I can’t say.

Austin is a serious food town. It has truly wonderful Tex-Mex and barbeque, and quite fine seafood and sushi too, and it’s Texas so there are always steaks to be found. Great bars and clubs, including Ginger Man on 4th near Lavaca with 83 beers on tap. Never quite know what the weather will be this time of year, but Austin in the spring is definitely worth the gamble.

When I first thought of doing this series A was going to be for Athena (as in the 44-foot statue in Nashville’s Parthenon repro), but I’ll handle that under N, or maybe V for Vanderbilt. Just now I am trying not to think too far in advance. I am starting this without knowing what I will do beyond the first four or five pieces.
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life is good

It may just be the extraordinary weather we are experiencing, but life seems very good these days.

I have been home for a week or so. Actually did a presentation locally at AU, my alma mater, last week. Thursday I take off for Orlando for the annual AmerLibraryAssn meeting. The work is fun and the pace is easy to deal with.

Next month is the law librarians' meeting in Boston and then out to CA to visit family and spend some time tracing part of the route of Fremont's second expedition for a paper I'm supposed to present at a symposium this fall.

I can barely bring myself to write the words, but it may turn out that being laid off in 2002 from a job that I loved and expected to have forever was a good thing for me after all. It certainly wasn't the intention of those who let me go (may they rot in Hell), but frustrating their intentions isn't the worst part of the present situation either.

Frequent flyer blues

This month has been unusual in my recent experience. I don't hate it yet, in fact I still feel as though I am stealing money. I love being on campuses, I love talking with librarians, and I love talking about the early history of the Republic, but I have spent a lot of time recently in coach seats of bargain airlines.

Naples Florida, Fayetteville AR, Phoenix & Tuscon, Chester VT, Memphis TN and Jonesboro AR, Philadelphia, and now off early tomorrow for Provo UT to talk about John C. Fremont and Brigham Young with the good folks at BYU, and that's just March. Each comma in the first sentence marks a stay of a few days back in DC. Talk about March Madness!

My head is so firmly stuck in the 19th C., I am trying to decide whether to vote for Fremont or Buchanan in November, but maybe that's just jetlag.

Cold Mountain

Move over Burmese Harp, Fires on the Plain, and Deer Hunter. Make room for another great anti-war movie.

Despite the fact that Nicole Kidman disappoints in a role she was wrong for to begin with, I really liked this movie. I think it is one of the best movies I have seen in years, and a hell of an anti-war statement.

I had a grandfather (of the great-great variety) at the battle of the Crater. His was one of the units that rushed in to plug away at Federals trapped in their big hole. He stuck it out in the Petersburg lines throughout that last terrible winter of the war, and survived the weary retreat to Appomattox. I had some trouble with the Confederate deserter as hero in the book, but somehow I had nothing but empathy for that same character in the movie. They kept some of the weak gimmicks from the book (the saw and the bull for instance, not to mention the nearly immaculate conception at the end), but overall it was an extraordinary adaptation for the screen of a very problematic book.

The love story/stories work for me and the price of war on all levels is constantly in you face. I am appalled that Master and Commander was nominated for Best Movie, and this film wasn’t.

Heart breaker

At Bobbsie’s funeral (July 21 entry), I said that I would buy an Advent calendar for myself this year. I did.

But, we received a handmade Advent calendar from her artsy-craftsy sister in Saturday’s mail. Behind each door is a different picture of Bobbsie.

I dunno.

Eductation really is a lifelong process, if you let it be

I was standing in line this morning at my local Suntrust Bank at the corner of 18th and Columbia. I could look out the window and see a branch of the BanCommercio de El Salvador across Columbia Rd., and a branch of the BanAgricola de El Salvador down 18th. As I listened to each of the three tellers in front of me and both of the managers seated behind me converse with customers in Spanish, I wondered if I was the laziest guy in DC or just one of the top twelve.

How hard can it be to learn to speak Spanish? The opportunities for virtual immersion are all around us in this town. There at least two Spanish language TV stations available without cable, and God-knows how many Spanish radio stations. Every time you turn around you’re stumbling over some stack of Spanish-language newspapers. Yet it eludes me totally.
The only reason I managed to pass Intermediate Spanish at AU was because I had this former Cuban attorney stuck teaching Spanish to dolts like me who felt that people had a tough enough time in this world as it was without his adding to their problems by giving them bad grades. He took me aside once and said, “Mr. Utsukushiyama, if you decide to take any further Spanish courses here at AU, you must take them from me. Otherwise, I will have a great deal of difficulty explaining to one of my fellow instructors how you passed this one.”