Friday, December 29, 2006

Bonanza Steakhouse

Every Christmas holiday I travel down to Lincoln, Illinois to meet up with Mike Loeffleholz, my old roommate from Wolcott avenue and my best friend from college.

Coming out of small high schools in central Illinois, we both chose to spurn our commitments to four year colleges so we could get immediate stage time at a highly respected two year private college. As a theater school, Lincoln College has a great reputation. I went there because they gave me a scholarship and because I felt I had a good chance of getting cast in their mainstage productions immediately.

It was there that I met Mike. I've known him for 15 years now. In those years we've done numerous plays and improv shows together. He's now living in LA, but his family lives in Lincoln, so we still manage to keep up our Christmas holiday tradition.

We seem to always go to the Bonanza Steakhouse at the edge of town and we partake in some truly mediocre, unsatisfactory and barely edible entrees.

But, of course, it's not about the food. It's about getting together and reconnecting. Mike's wife Melissa, his 15 month daughter, Gracie and my girlfriend Jeannie joined us this time around.

Afterward we wandered over to Lincoln College and met up with our friend and former director Jerry Dellinger.

The rest of the day is confusing. Neither Mike or I really understand what is going on, but we've been told the school is giving us (and a list of other alumni) an award. We're not sure what it's for and we're not sure why. We just know that....well....we don't really understand any of it.

We went to the school and filmed an interview for our vague and ambiguous award. The interview lasted three hours and we're none the wiser about our enigmatic achievement.

As always though, it was great to see Mike and Melissa and Gracie. If ever there was anyone who deserved some kind of award, for some kind of achievement, in some kind of city, at some kind of time, in some sort of fashion. in some kind of year....

...ahh, you get the picture.
After going to Lincoln, Jeannie and I drove over to my parents in Decatur.
Jeannie tried to model her new coat for my brother, but he wouldn't have any of it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back home

Visiting family and friends is nice, but it's always so great to get back home.

This type of traveling (holiday traveling) is much more stressful than normal traveling.


Christmas was a success. Gifts were exchanged and the house was destroyed with boxes and wrapping paper.

The day after Christmas, I went to a movie with my brother.

We saw Rocky Balboa. I liked it. It was much better than I thought it was going to be. Sylvester Stallone is chiseled. It's amazing. The guy is in his 60's. I hope I look that good when I'm in my 60's.


What am I saying?!? I wish I looked that good now.

My sister Melissa and I were driving around Decatur running errands and I noticed there were piles of branches in front of every home. It was strange. She explained to me that those piles were all a result of the ice storm that hit Decatur three weeks ago.

The same storm that knocked the power out of most of the town for 5 days also knocked the limbs off most of the trees in towns. With the piles of branches in front of every home, it looks like Decatur's in some sort of "forest war". It looks like there are tree limb bunkers protecting every house.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Planes, trains and automobiles.

Oh brother!

What a day.

Jeannie's staying in San Antonio so that she can spend Christmas day with her family. My objective was to get to Decatur, Illinois to spend Christmas day with my family.

And, I chose to do all my traveling on Christmas Eve. This has all the makings of a John Hughes movie.

Immediately upon arrival, the American Airlines kiosk announces that I need to speak to a flight agent before I can check in. I close my eyes and drop my head. Anytime you read that, message, something bad is about to happen. I stand in the long line and await the bad news. Once I reach the desk the American Airlines agent tells me that my 11:00am flight will be leaving at 2:30pm. It will arrive in Chicago at 4:59. My Amtrak train is set to depart at 5:15. I'm never going to make it.

She tells me that there's a possibility that the flight may leave early. "Keep your fingers crossed," she sings to me.

I don't.

I head to the food court and find a TV that's broadcasting ESPN so I can watch the NFL pregame. A security guard wanders by and I ask him if I can switch the TV to FOX. I know there's no way that I'll be able to catch the Bears/Lions game, but I figure that since I'm in San Antonio I'll be able to watch the Saints/Giants game. Last season, because of Katrina, the Saints were temporarily relocated to San Antonio so there are a lot of fans down here.


The security guard calls the main desk and they converse for awhile about whether or not I can change the channel. Another person of authority joins us and we have officially become a "confab". After an incredibly lengthy discussion, it is determined that none of the security guards, TSA agents or airport workers can change the channel. Apparently, there are sports bars on the premises and those businesses have instated rules that disallow athletic events from being shown on the "general area" TV's.


If, however, I want to step up on a chair and turn the channel myself, I would not be stopped.

"So, I can go ahead and change the channel?" I ask.

"I'm advising against it. But, if you feel you must, we will not stop you," the original security guard says.

Then, they all stand and stare at me. I was going to sit down and forget the whole thing, but they all seemed to be waiting to watch me change the channel.

I felt like I had to oblige them. I pulled a chair up next to the TV and stepped up.

I reached forward to push the buttons and shifted forward to get a better look at whatever button I was getting ready to push. I didn't realize the TV was on a swivel and it lurched forward, taking me with it.

My momentum was being pulled from me so I grabbed the TV with both hands and held on. For a brief moment, until I stabilized myself, I was dangling above my chair, hanging from the TV.

"Don't touch him," the security guard barked to the other people. "He did this of his own free will."

Another guy mumbled, "We advised him against it."

Once my feet were firmly back on the chair and I regained my balance, I changed the channel and sat back down on my chair. The TV however, was not in the best of shapes. Even though I swung on it for less than two seconds, I think I must have pulled it off it's brackets. The TV swayed from one side to the next as we watched.

From behind me, I heard one guy say, "What's the matter with the freakin' TV?"

Another guy replied, "That idiot over there was swinging from it."

"Why?" the first guy asked.

"I don't know," the second guy replied. "But the security guards just stood there watching him do it. Nobody did anything to stop him."

I was embarrassed. I wanted to leave, but I also really wanted to watch the game. By the end of the first quarter, the decision was made for me. My flight wasn't leaving early. It was being bumped back to 4:30.

I went to the desk and they switched me to another flight. It was leaving at 2:45. I was going to miss my train.

I call Amtrak and they switch me to a 7:00pm train. If I miss that one, there would be no other trains for me to catch.

My flight leaves San Antonio and arrives at O'Hare at 5:30. I take a second to snap a couple picture of the decorations....




...and head toward the taxi line to catch a cab. Just as I begin to leave the terminal I realize that I'm not going to be able to go to my apartment to pick up my Christmas gifts for my family. Most of my gifts were already down in Decatur or in my suitcase, but there were 3 gifts that I'd left at home. I didn't want to carry them all the way down to San Antonio, so I'd left them there.


I scurry around and find replacement gifts. When I get home, I'm going to have to return the original gifts now.

The cab drops me off in front of the Amtrak station with fifteen minutes to spare. I get on the train and am amazed to discover that there are only two other people in my car. Every one else is stationed in the front four cars because they're going all the way to St. Louis. I feel like a VIP.

Right outside Bloomington the train pulls off to an unused track. They come on the intercom and inform us that we will be sitting there for 45 minutes as we wait for a freight train to pass.

I'm too exhausted to be upset. I just want to get to my parents house.

At 11:15, the train stops at Lincoln and I step off. I stumble to my parents car and they drive the 30 minutes to Decatur.

I unload my luggage and bags of gifts and walk into my parents home. I put my bags away and fill a cup up with ice water. I sit down on the coach and turn on sportscenter so I can see the highlights of the days football games.

It's 12:01. Merry Christmas.

San Antonio...day 2

When you go to southern Texas in the middle of December, you expect it to be kind of warm. And it was...for awhile.

Friday, Jeannie, her mom and I went to eat at my favorite hamburger place...Whataburger!!!

They slap butter on both buns and toast them. Soooo gooood.

After that, we went to La Cantera Mall so we could finish our shopping. It was 70 degrees. Everyone was wearing shorts and flip-flops, but they kept commenting on how unusually chilly the weather was. They didn't know what was coming. By nightfall, the rains fell and the temperature dropped to 45. Texans don't like cold weather.

Friday evening, we went to the Melting Pot for fondue.

I've never had fondue before. It was fun, but a little messy. Maybe we just didn't know how to do it correctly.

Saturday afternoon Jeannie's whole family loaded into the car and drove to the outer skirts of San Antonio for a birthday party for one of Jeannie's little relatives. He was turning two so the party took place at a ...well...I don't know how to describe it. It wasn't Chucky Cheese or a Showbiz Pizza, but a generic version of both of those places combined. It also had a vague pirate theme.

It was fun. It was also nice to meet a few more of Jeannie's family. I've visited San Antonio half a dozen times, but still haven't met everyone yet. The pirate/pizza/birthday party let me meet a few more. Throughout the meal, Jeannie's relatives would stop and say things like, "Don't mess with Texas" and "Now that you've visited Texas, you're never going to want to live anywhere else."

Unfortunately, at the time they were saying that, the weather in Chicago was 5 degrees warmer than it was in Texas.

The highlight of the day was the gameroom. They had the largest "claw" game I've ever seen.

Now, I've never put money into one of those "claw" things and won anything before, but the rest of the games were really lame so I did it anyway. And...I won!!!

Problem is, I HATE stuffed animals. So does Jeannie. So I gave the cat to Jeannie's little cousin Angela. When we went to bed the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees and there were warnings that rain was going to turn to sleet or possibly...possibly....snow.

SNOW!!

In South Texas?!?

How is that possible? I'll admit, while the majority of the reason I ventured to San Antonio was to visit Jeannie and her family for the holidays, a huge reason why I went was to get out of the cold weather. Mission FAILED.

As I lay in my bed listening to the rain, I pray that the inclimate weather won't hinder my traveling on Sunday. I have a tight trip ahead of me.
San Antonio - Chicago
O'Hare - Union Station
Chicago - Lincoln
Lincoln - Decatur

This has kind of turned into a stressful Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Remember the Alamo!

I'm in San Antonio visiting my girlfriend Jeannie's family for Christmas.





I arrived here at 2:00 and Jeannie's brother and father picked me up at the airport. Jeannie was arriving on a much later flight, so I spent the day with her relatives.





They immediately took me to eat....





and then to the Alamo....

I've come to visit Jeannie and her family here in San Antonio six times in the last two and a half years. At some point in every trip, I ask them to take me to the Alamo. So this time, they got it out of the way immediately.


I don't know why I love the Alamo so much. When I was in Charlottesville, I didn't go to Thomas Jefferson's house every visit. I don't go to Lincoln's grave every time I go to Springfield. But the Alamo....I love the Alamo. They have a miniature model of what it looked like back when it was being attacked in 1836. I stand at stare at that diorama for hours.


Jeannie's flight was supposed to leave Chicago at 7:00, but because of the weather she didn't leave until after 9:00. She was so sad. She was so excited to come home to see her family that she went to the airport early. She wound up sitting in the airport for seven hours waiting for her flight to leave.
She sent me this picture in a text message.
She was not happy.


Friday, we're doing lots and lots of shopping so I can get caught up with my Christmas gifts. I'm sure we'll also stop by and see the Alamo again.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gifts

Tuesday night Jeannie and I exchanged gifts. Here's what she got me
It's a Samsung Blackjack smartphone. It's soooooo nice. It's essentially a tiny computer. I'm not longer going to have to lug my laptop around with me when I travel. Best gift ever!!!



Wednesday night, we went to see Frank's Home at the Goodman. I really liked it. Peter Weller was in it and I thought he was fantastic. It makes me want to travel around and look at all Frank Lloyd Wright's houses in Chicago.


It also made me want to be in a play. It's been awhile since I've been in one. I'm starting to get the itch.


Monday, December 18, 2006

'Tis the season

I've been back in Chicago for a the past few days and the weather has been outstanding.

It's been nice to be home for an extended amount of time. The Bears almost gave me a heart attack yesterday, but aside from that, it's been pretty relaxing.


I need to take advantage of the break and get some writing done. It's been a month since I sat down and wrote something substantial. That's a little too long of a break for me. I need to get started on a new project soon.


Since I don't have anything exciting to add about my last few days here in Chicago, I'll add some photos from previous trips I made this year. Today's pictures are all from our excursion in Maine.

In July, Brett Lyons, my girlfriend Jeannie and I traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine to perform at the world famous ImprovAcadia theater.

During the day, we....

Hiked up mountains:

Kayaked:

Somehow, Brett screwed up his kayak and ended up kayaking like this the whole trip. It looked like he was laying down and paddling.
Played miniature golf:

Played regular golf:

Went fishing:


Six hours and these were the biggest fish we caught. We caught a dozen of them, but none were big enough to keep.

And, ate lobster:

Lots of lobster:

Way too much lobster:

This is actually Crab, stuffed inside of lobster!


But, my favorite times were when Jeannie, Brett and I just hung around. We took these pictures at an awful Mexican restaurant. The food was terrible and we were really bored, but these photos turned out to be my favorite of the trip.




We made a video of our voyage to Maine.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Last day in Vegas.

Wednesday was easily my favorite day in Vegas.

Instead of playing the morning poker tournament, I filled up my gigantic bathtub with steaming hot water and soaked in it for 90 minutes while I read the newspaper.

I checked out of my room and went downstairs to meet Jason, Brett and Padraic. Turns out, Padraic tied for the morning championship.

It was mine and Jason's turn to buy lunch, so we chose the buffet at the new and glorious Wynn. The Wynn is the newest and snazziest casino restort on the strip. Everywhere you turn, there's some lavishly decorated spectacle to look at. If there wasn't a casino smack dab in the middle of it, you'd think you were in a museum or opera house. It's pretty freaking amazing.

We arrived at the buffet and it looked pretty spectacular. I initially declared that I thought the place would receive the title as "my favorite buffet". But, that was short sighted. And, it was only after I'd eaten a plate of salad. The salad was pretty spectacular, but the rest of the selections disappointed.

I'm sure it's not surprising that Jason yelled at me for eating a whole plate of salad. Just to make Jason mad, I almost only ate salad. Then I realized that would be a waste of $21.99 and changed my mind.

After lunch we ventured across the street to the old Frontier casino. I love the old casinos. The Frontier used to be owned by Howard Hughes and was the site of Elvis' first concert. The place reeks with history. Literally. There's a moldy, musty smell that permeates the entire building.

We walked over to the Frontier because we'd heard they had $3 Blackjack(they didn't). We stayed because of another obsession Brett and I have, BINGO!

Every two hours, they have a 60 minute session of eleven different Bingo games. Brett and I were in heaven. Jason and Padraic joined us for the 3pm session, but left to go back to the poker room as soon as it was completed. Brett and I stayed there the rest of the day!

The Bingo room was a sight to behold. Brett and I were the only people there under 50. Most everyone looked like they'd already died there. All the old people were using the computerized tracking Bingo machines, so no would ever really know if they'd croaked in the middle of the session. And, if they did die, those numbers would still keep rolling. The decaying remains would be cleared up after after the session was complete.

The other distinction between us and the other Bingo players us was that we weren't smokers. People were going through whole packs of cigarettes in one 60 minute session. I swear I saw this woman eating her cigarrettes like carrot sticks.

Between sessions we went back to the casino floor and played Single-Deck Blackjack and Pai Gow. Brett also played the $.01 "Deal or No Deal" slot machine and won $60.

It was great. I was in heaven. This was the type of day I love in Vegas. Pai Gow, Blackjack and Bingo in a dark, old casino.

At the end of the day, I won a nice chunk of change at the Pai Gow table. I also experienced a thrill that not many other people got to feel that day. Sure, Brett and Padraic have their Mandalay Bay Poker tournament championships and Jason came home with a hefty wad of cash. But, can any of them say they are a Frontier champion? A Frontier BINGO Champion?

I can.
7:00 pm session. 9th game. Single Bingo. The dream is still alive.

***Brett won a game of Bingo later on in the night, but there is no photographic image or scorecard to document his victory. So, I remain Bingo champion.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

If it weren't for bad luck...

...I'd have no luck at all. Seriously!

I had a good run in poker yesterday, but lost all my winnings at craps. Then, just before bed, I stopped to talk to Jason Chin and decided to sit down next to him and play relaxing game of hold 'em.
Didn't happen.
The hold 'em happened, but it was anything but relaxing. There were two guys at the table who were showboating and acting like idiots. I decided to take them on. And....I lost.

Sooooo, for the most part, this was not a successful gambling venture. But, I had a ton of fun. Next trip to Vegas, no more craps. I'll go back to grinding it out at the poker tables. It's a little mundane and not as thrilling. But, it's a lot safer. I'm not a great poker player, but I'm no slouch. If I concentrate and don't get mad at the people at my table, I can usually cash in some decent stacks of chips.
I just have to be smarter.

For lunch, we headed over to one of my favorite hotels, The Rio. I love this place. It's a nice hotel, fun casino and the people who work there are super nice.

Also, they have the Masquerade in the Sky, which is a parade, hanging from the ceiling.



We, of course, partook in the Rio's fantastic buffet.

If it's possible to break your stomach, I may have done it. At the least, it's sprained.


I was only yelled at twice by Jason for my buffet startagies. I was scolded for getting pizza and for not using the full capacity of my plate.

Here's what Jason's plate looks like.
In his view, if I can actually see the plate, I have failed.

There's usually a lot of space on my plate. I like to take a small sample of all the different foods. I'm less about quantity and more about variety.

The big news of the day was this:
Brett won the morning tournament at the Mandalay Bay.




You can see, we're all very happy for him.





He also placed fifth in the evening tournament and won $700 playing Pai Gow. He's having quite a nice excursion.

Jason's number hit on Roulette while we were at the Rio and he walked away with $140 from that. He also was cleaning up at Poker when I got knocked out last night.

Padraic and I? Well, we're enjoying the weather and the food. And, of course, the parades from the ceiling.