Saturday, March 15, 2014

LAS VEGAS Random Notes

          This is a delayed follow up to my post about my first time in Las Vegas. The past week has been quite busy due to a couple of résumé writing workshops, researching dialysis companies about education and job opportunities, and the sad internment of a relative. The first part of this entry can be found here:
          Just about everybody and anybody I know has gone to Vegas but not me until a couple of weeks ago, so immense gratitude is in order for Uncle Oscar and Auntie Ditas De Las Penas, along with Eduardo Tay and Elizabeth Tay, who after all these years of inviting me, I finally relented.
          There were 8 of us sharing the accommodations and I'm not used to being in that situation anymore, having lived by myself for most of my life. The trick for me was to get things started early (like using the toilet), get out of the way and let them do their thing, then follow the leader afterwards, doing what they wanted to do and following where they wanted to go. It felt nice not having to make any decisions on what to do next.
          Regarding the accommodations? I'm not used to staying in such luxurious surroundings since I live a pretty Spartan lifestyle.

          The dry air of Las Vegas made my skin dry and made me itch for a few days. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. 

 One thing that Pechanga does better than the casinos of Las Vegas is that their air scrubbers seem to decrease the smell of cigarette smoke better.
I was finally able to make use of my 3 year old AREC bag. I first tried a suitcase(too big), then backpack (too small) and found the gym bag to be in the Goldilocks zone (just right). 

          I might be one of those rare people who goes to a casino, doesn't really win, and still goes back home with a net gain, because I only gamble a little bit, walk around to explore the place, play a little bit more, then it's time to go home. The net gain is usually a result of "balato" or cash gifts shared by relatives from their winnings (thank you all, for your generosity). Due to my meanderings, sometimes I fail to gamble the balato away.
          My relatives also found ways to save. Due to their experience travelling, they already knew ways to cut on expenses like bringing home cooked food (kulma, tinola, adobo, daing na bangus, etc.)and not ordering anything from the hotel room. And of course the free accommodations helped a lot.
          Canadian cousin Harold pretty much recouped all the money he spent shopping for pasalubongs (presents to take home) by winning a few hundred bucks at the baccarat table. What a lucky guy, eh? :-) 

Lest one thinks I'm gallivanting on the government's dime while collecting unemployment benefits, lets me assure you that this trip was courtesy of Uncle Oscar and Auntie Ditas who won the free hotel accommodations through a raffle. I have to admit that I'm not used to that kind of luxury because I live an almost Spartan lifestyle (like I mentioned earlier). Remember the American Express ad where the spokesperson said "membership has its privileges"? Well, unemployment has its advantages as well in the form of free time. I did have to reschedule my résumé writing workshops though. I haven't minimized my job searching, but I had to jump at what may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. The irony of the situation is that I finally made it to Las Vegas at a time when my earnings have stopped due to being jobless.
          To travel light, I brought casual multi-purpose clothes that can be worn in public during the day and evening,  then worn again in the early morning for working out, before being considered dirty laundry. Another way of travelling lightly but in a different way, was to limit my fluid intake before the road trip so don't have to pee on the road. Otherwise, woe is me with the small bladder!
          About the way I gamble - I limited myself to pennies, ventured to quarters sometimes, and even tried a dollar once hoping for a "big" one time jackpot. Perhaps next time I get the opportunity, I'll head directly to the video poker machine where I can at least make some choices rather than making the slot machine make all the choices. 
On our last night in Las Vegas, I woke up at 2 a.m. Tuesday and couldn't go back to sleep, and remembering our GPS/Hooters misadventure from the day before,  I downloaded NavFree USA, a free GPS app to see if it worked on my tablet PC without an internet or data connection. Surprisingly, other than being a battery hog, the app worked very well when I tested it on the road while on the way home. 

After the Pechanga and Las Vegas trips, I still don't consider myself a gambler, although at LV at least I knew what to expect in the casino already because I've downloaded a few casino game apps and have been practicing at home without losing any money.
Although I can say that I may never go to Pechanga again, I may want to return to Las Vegas because there are more things to see and experience.

          Having said all that, it took me a few days to recover and get my balance again after our alleged or imagined debauchery in Las Vegas. 

Good memories :-)
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Saturday, March 8, 2014

What Happens in Vegas ...

... doesn't necessarily stay in Vegas, especially when things don't happen like the Hangover movies. Having a few days off from work, I was finally able to make it to Sin City, thanks to a timely invitation from my Uncle and Aunt, which coincided with a visit by a cousin from Canada whom I haven't seen since 1989. Wait...I've been off all day every day since the first week of October 2013 so any time is a good time for me! Unemployment does have its advantages in the form of being available to go anywhere albeit on someone else's dime. You know I don't get out much and since this is my first time to make it to Las Vegas, which is a reasonable progression after having gone to Pechanga in early January, I just had to share it with you. I'm sorry that I'll have to defy the oft quoted TV ad slogan "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. First things first. No, I don't mean the gambling but how I got the invitation. My uncle and aunt won a raffle for a 2 day/2 night stay at Wyndham Grand Desert Resort which is a time share, and my Uncle decided to take advantage of it while my Canadian cousin was in town with his son. The roster included Uncle Oscar, Auntie Ditas, Uncle Ed, Auntie Beth, cousin Harold, a.k.a. Jojo, his son Paolo, and I. We were a group who communicated in English, Tagalog, and Tausug, and sometimes a combination of all three at once, and not to forget Paolo who also speaks a little French.
Barstow Rest Stop
We departed Cerritos about 9:00 a.m. Sunday and pretty soon we hit our first rest stop...a mile away from home to have breakfast at McDonalds. Then we settled in the van and the real road trip began. In a couple of hours, we arrived at the next rest stop which was Barstow, where we saw a lot of people also on their way to Nevada or going back home after a weekend of sin and debauchery. Jojo bought some souvenirs and Auntie Ditas bought a funny t-shirt which said: RETIRED -  NO PHONE, NO ADDRESS, NO BUSINESS,NO MONEY, TOO OLD TO STEAL, TOO LAZY TO WORK. Wow, kinda sounds like me! We also contributed $2.00 each to buy lottery tickets perchance to win big in the Mega Millions or Super Lotto. It was the last opportunity to play the lottery in California before we crossed over to Nevada.
Pretty soon we were on the road again surrounded by desert, but in a little while we could see Las Vegas in the distance. The van exited the freeway upon reaching the city and we began looking for our hotel. Uncle Oscar likes to fly off the seat of his pants so he didn't exactly get definitive directions and to add to that, the GPS he had wasn't working well. Cousin Jojo managed to get it up and running and in a few short blocks we made it to the hotel. While Uncle Oscar and Auntie Ditas checked in, I turned on my tablet PC to look for a wi-fi connection. There was one but I couldn't connect. We were later able to do so after asking for the password. The Wyndham Grand Desert resort comprised of 3 buildings and we drove a few hundred feet away to find ours, then went up to our room on the 12th floor. Our living room quarters had 2 rooms but I immediately had first dibs on the living room couch. We settled in and hung around the room, then had a late lunch/early dinner.
Outside Bellagio

Bellagio Lobby
Then it was time to finally cruise the famous Las Vegas Strip. Down the street we went, made a u-turn and proceeded the opposite way, until we reached the Bellagio and parked there. We entered the building, took a few pictures in the lobby, then went outside to watch the dancing fountains. Afterwards we went to the casino where things became more interesting. As I said before after our Pechanga trip with the same group minus the Canadians, I am not a gambler, but it's nice to try playing the slots and video poker especially now that I know what to expect, having been oriented by my Uncle and his daughter to the games while in Pechanga. We went our separate ways sitting at our own machines of choice. I first played penny slots but was having no luck, so I switched from one machine to the next. I stayed put at one which was making me lose lesser, and pretty soon was joined at the next machine by a very attractive young woman. I acknowledged her presence but we didn't talk and just kept on playing. She left shortly and Uncle Ed came by and told me she might have been a hooker looking for a customer. Due to my naivete, I never even thought about that possibility even though I knew that hookers abound the city, Nevada being a state with legalized prostitution. My question is: why a possible hooker would be scouting me on the slot machine or perhaps it was a slut machine, and not only that but why she would do that to someone playing penny slots instead of someone playing bigger stakes, thus possibly having more moolah to spend, even perhaps for her services. It defies logic, thus the reason why there is a doubt that she was really a lady of the night. And if she was, then I'm flattered that she even thought of me as a possible "john". After an hour or so of gambling, we returned to the hotel minus the very attractive young woman.
The next morning, I was up bright and early ready to explore the strip with cousin Jojo. Unfortunately he had a trying night because Paolo was coughing so he was catching up on sleep. I bid Auntie Ditas goodbye and told her I would be back in about an hour. I started jogging towards the strip and reached it in about 6 minutes, so I estimated to distance from the hotel to be about 6/10ths of a mile (I later found out via car GPS that it was 1/2 mile, so close enough). I turned left from Harmon Street and jogged all the way to Mandalay Bay then turned back. Little did I know until I checked the map while writing this blog that I had reached the end of the strip on that side. That made for a 40 minute turnaround which was not bad for someone who doesn't run anymore. I actually tacked on another 5 minutes at the end.
We had breakfast upon my return then went looking for a Filipino grocery store at another part of the city to buy food. We searched for the store on the GPS and failed to find it, so we resorted to a paper map and made it there. After shopping, we again relied on the GPS to guide us back to the hotel and this is where another misadventure happened. The GPS sent us down the street where the University of Nevada - Las Vegas was located which happened to have a lot of traffic, then proceeded to send us to Duke Ellington Way. When we turned left on that street, we ended up right smack-dab in front of... wait for it... HOOTERS! The GPS with the female voice must have had a male mind! Not that the men in the van minded it too much, but the situation was too funny. least four letters matched. What a hoot! At least the GPS didn't take us here: (beware: adults only link), which Google says is only about an hour away from Las Vegas. Maybe I should check that device to make sure it didn't miss by a letter: HPS (Hooters Positioning System). Anyway, we made it back to the hotel after recognizing a street without the benefit of the GPS. Aunties Ditas and Beth stayed behind with Paolo, while the guys headed for Hooters, well actually the Las Vegas Outlet Mall, but on the drive there and back, we again passed Hooters. We scouted the mall, went back to the hotel to have lunch of freshly cooked tinola soup, then all of us went back to the Outlet Mall so Jojo could shop for pasalubong (gifts) to bring back to Canada.

After all the shopping, we drove back to the Las Vegas Strip and went to Hooters, no, I meant Harrah's Casino. No time to waste as Auntie Ditas had been itching all day to hit the slot machines where she apparently had a history of doing quite well in that particular casino. We claimed our own machines while Jojo went searching for the baccarat tables which he also played the previous night at the Bellagio with much luck. More on that later. I took a few spins at slots betting quarters but was having no luck so I switched to video poker in which I did better. After a bet of a dollar made it all the way up to $15, I walked away because as Kenny Rogers said "you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em". I went exploring inside the casino then went outside where I saw the minions from the movie Despicable Me. Paolo happened to have seen them the night before and was asking about them. I looked for Jojo to tell him about it and saw him at a baccarat table, but I let him be, not wanting to spoil his luck. When I saw him again later, I told him about the minions and he was able to take photos of Paolo with them (for tips of course), thus making the kid's  trip memorable (in addition to finding a black car from the movie CARS which he wanted to have so much, in the Disney Store at the outlet mall). I played more poker and subsequently gave $5 back to the casino. By the time we left Harrah's that evening , no misguided hooker had seated herself beside me. Maybe the one from the night before passed it along to her social network (Assbook), that I wasn't a potential customer. Back at the hotel, we had a late dinner of kulma, rice, and toast.
Gambling at Harrah's Casino

Early next morning, Jojo and I made our way to the compact hotel gym. We both mounted treadmills but mine didn't work so I settled for the recumbent bike. After 20 minutes I found a working treadmill and did another 30 minutes there. Wow, that's 2 days in a row of running! Then it was back to the room to shower, change, and check out, but not before learning some sad news that a relative had passed away suddenly the night before. So with utter disbelief and heavy hearts, we headed back to L.A. and after a brief stop at Whiskey Pete's for a last chance at winning (or losing for that matter),where I bet a whole dollar on slots instead of the usual penny but no dice as usual, we were back in Cerritos about 3:30 p.m. Thus ended three wonderful first time days in Sin City. No riches in winnings, but brought back some wealth of experience.
Final gambling stop at Whiskey Pete's

Since this is too long already: EPILOGUE TO FOLLOW.

As promised, here is the second part of this post:

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Walking with Weights (again) Plus Some Jogging (again)

          The past couple of months, I've been walking consistently with the Long Beach Area Walking Club at Signal Hill every Saturday morning at 7 a.m. I started using my weighted backpack again, the first time with a 15 pound barbell plate. I've been doing this to slow me down and equalize my pace with the rest of the group because I was getting bored and lonely walking alone up front. The following week, I added an extra 5 pounds and that made a huge difference in the intensity of the walk. In short, the extra 5 pounds kicked my butt and I even got chicked on the way up Stanley St. hill by two ladies. Nobody has ever passed me going uphill, ever.
          What do the weights do exactly other than slow me down? They help me resist the temptation to run so I don't injure myself, while still getting a workout intensity similar to running. As an added benefit, I can socialize with the other walkers by matching their pace.

          So it got me thinking about getting one of those weighted vests again but every time I shop around for it, the cost deters me from getting one. You will not find a 20 pound weighted vest for less than $40, and that's money I can't spare while being jobless. One of the people I walk with, Paul, suggested sand and more particularly, wet sand which is very dense and heavy, instead of the barbell plates which I'm afraid might rip my backpack any day soon. I pondered this for a few weeks not knowing how much a bag of sand might cost at a building supplies store. I checked out the Home Depot website and it showed a 50 pound bag of all-purpose sand for $2.44. So a few days ago, I finally went to Home Depot and was surprised to see how many types of sand there was other than the all-purpose type. Well, I picked up the cheapest one even though it was more than I needed because it didn't come any smaller. I'm planning on replacing the weight plates with sand as soon as I can find a separate bag to divide it and to find a way to accurately measure 20 pounds, which I hope will fit in the backpack and adhere to its shape in contrast to the weight plates which bounce around while I'm walking.

          Fearing that my backpack was about to rip due to the weight plates, I have been walking without it the past two weeks. I've been able to do some short jogs again (after injuring my left thigh trying to run full stride) and besides I found somebody with the walking group who could keep up with my pace. On the first day of March when rainstorms were hitting the Los Angeles/Long Beach area, I monitored the weather forecast and upon awakening that Saturday morning seeing no rain, I decided to show up at Signal Hill, not knowing who else was going to be there. The girl who was able to keep up with me wasn't there and I was relieved to see another walker who braved the weather. Well we lucked out because the rain, wind, and thunder didn't come till afternoon. The significant thing that happened on this walk was that I was able to jog uphill and downhill for 55 minutes non-stop, and that was the most I have done in the past several months, which was mostly on flat terrain. My initial plan was 30 minutes, but I kept adding 5 more minutes until I figured 55 minutes was enough. The rest of the way, I walked and jogged until I completed an hour and a half. At least I found a good excuse for running so slowly: going uphill, then using recovery as an excuse for running slowly downhill. Also I figured, if Obama and Biden can jog that slowly around the White House, I could do as well up and down hills.

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Losing Internet Connection Plus the Need for Instant Gratification

          My internet connection felt sluggish a couple of days ago so I turned off the modem for about 30 seconds like I have done countless times before (powercycling in tech speak), then turned it back on. The internet light never turned on and after half an hour of waiting, I finally called tech support. Edgar tested the line on their end and it looked fine. He had me power cycle the modem again, change the cable, and try another phone jack, to no avail. He started writing a ticket for it so the phone company can check the phone line the next day, but he encountered a problem on his end. He said they were going to troubleshoot the problem further and get back to me as soon as it is fixed. The phone call lasted an hour. In the meantime, I started to get anxious while felt like withdrawal symptoms from not being able to get my internet fix. I even considered asking some neighbors if I could connect to their wi-fi temporarily for the night until the DSL provider fixed the problem.

          After a couple hours without resolution and to wait for the effects of the wine to wear off, I finally decided to head to Walmart to check out how much a new DSL modem costs. I figured something must be wrong with my 2004 vintage modem or worst it was at its last legs and ready to give up the ghost. Walmart didn't have a plain DSL modem but only had a combination modem and wireless router. So I walked over to Radioshack a couple of hundred feet away, but they were already closed. Back to Walmart I went and checked the price of the modem/router on a scanner. I was shocked to find out it was $90.00 plus tax! I didn't have too many options considering I had to have my internet fix for the night. I was still hoping my old modem would start pulling the internet from the phone company's line. Sure enough, when I returned home, the internet light on the modem was lit. I opened a browser and some websites just to make sure, and reconnected my VoIP Magicjack phone. I was back in business and felt immediate relief. I imagine that's how a heroin addict would feel after shooting up. So first thing the next morning, I'll was back at Walmart returning the product. Whew, saved myself $98.00! The addiction must have been really bad because I hardly leave the house past 6 p.m. and there I was at Walmart at 9 p.m. Well, I jumped the gun because what I wanted was instant gratification. I got back home from Walmart with my credit card a little lighter and after apologizing to the cashier for returning the product. It remained unopened.

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