“You’re pregnant, again?!”

“You two need to get cable.”

“You know what causes that, right?”

“What are you going to do?!”

And then sometimes you really do get the sincerely genuine, “Congratulations! Children are such a blessing!”

But most of the time it’s a comment accompanied with a look of pity. It probably has to do with the look of exhaustion I wear daily—it doesn’t really blend well with the Mac concealer.

Yes. I am pregnant with baby number four. Now that I’m etching past the 12 week mark and the first trimester of exhaustion and nausea, the reality of what I am about to embark upon is overwhelming. It wasn’t “supposed” to happen for another year. I needed to finish grad school. My oldest is just entering pre-k and is not even four years old yet. I thought I’d have more time to prepare…as best as one prepares for four small children.

It seems like the female reproductive system is such a commonly discussed topic among media outlets and politicians. I’ve read so many blogs that talk about what we should and should not talk about with one another. But as more people discover our news, I feel like I have to have some type of stance as to why I am choosing to be so open to life. I may not seem very convincing in person because I am just so tired. 

This week I had my new students read my short story, “The Liver Philosophy”. The moral of the story is to do what is right for you, even if no one else gets it. I had my students write a summary of what they felt it meant and quite a few of them wrote about some of their own choices that they are willing to be a “Liver” for. It was both insightful and inspiring. What moved me more is that I had forgotten to live out the very words I had once wrote!

I know that having a large family is not what everyone desires. I know that being open to “God’s will” is very open to interpretation. I also know that I am not one to judge other people’s choices, as long as they can respect mine.

I don’t know what I am going to do. My motto is that I tend to take life 50 minutes at a time. It’s the teacher in me. Every time the bell rings, a new class begins and anything and everything can change. It carries over into my home life. A meltdown one moment can lead to giggles the next.

Having my children so close together is hard. I’m really finally admitting it out loud. Maybe that’s one of the reasons you have to be open to God to have bigger families. You have to pray a lot for your sanity and you also have to admit that you need other people. It’s a hard thing to do when you have a lot of pride and you were once so independent, but then you look around and you see that you have a real family and real friends who live and celebrate this one life with you.

I sometimes question if I’m making the right choice, but then today happens. After a chaotic day, my three boys will be so sweet. And we do something random like “chase the sun”, which involves driving down an open highway to watch the gorgeous sunset while listening to The Postal Service. And they talk to one another like brothers do and say in an almost synchronized, rehearsed manner, “Good night, Sun,” to the melody of how we read, “Good Night Moon.” And I think, Yes. I can have another. I will survive thrive.

See you in February Baby Bou:)

The preamble to proposal

This was something I wrote a few months ago when Jon and I first returned from Oregon. It’s remarkable how things grow:)

MARRIAGE TALK

We have now talked about marrying one another more so than I have with any other suiter….combined.

This morning we discussed what weddings meant to both of us while nibbling on an egg and cheese omelet that he overcooked in one of my great grandma’s thirty-year-old pots. The subject first came up during our drive back from Oregon. We were rounding a curve outside of Astoria when he mentioned that his stepfather asked if I were the last girlfriend he was ever going to bring home. He said he replied that he, “hoped so.”

That was an emotional first for me. I respected the fact that he pointed out that we don’t know what the future brings, but that it would be a cruel joke of the universe if we weren’t to work out. However, I’ve never really had anyone say that they wanted to spend their life with me. Any doubt I had prior to that moment seemed to disappear and the hopefulness has yet to wear off.

Most of my doubts were caused by initial fear of our differences. But as I allowed myself to not necessarily be “right” and I remained as nonjudgmental as possible, he grew to be something I never expected.

Both of us have been exposed to  fast-paced marriage traditions. His mother met his stepfather online and then he moved from Germany after several meetings to marry her. Not only did I just witness the whirl wind romance with my sister Meggan, but it turns out my father’s parents met and wed fairly quick as well.

The kicker: the couple who introduced us only dated for a few months and then were married. Seven years later, they are still such a strong model of love that lasts. I know that he and I both take the commitment pretty seriously and I can’t even believe that the discussion resurfaced again as we cooked for the first time in my home.

While cooking turkey fajitas, he told me that my father had stopped by the shop that afternoon to pick something up. Ronnie, his uncle,  told him later that his “father-in-law” had stopped by. At first Jon was confused, but then once the connection was made, he laughed.

I reveled silently, as to not make any assumptions. Hmmm. Most guys would not even retell that story due to it’s nature. He could easily have not told me at all, but part of him wanted me to know that they joke on that level. I was about to tip my head to overanalyzation, when he made the comment that the thought of marrying me wasn’t scary.

What?

I knew the thought was mutual for me. I mean who wouldn’t want to marry me? Turns out, quite a few. But could it be that there is someone actually really right for me? Or was I just starting to like the idea that he felt that way?

Stop overanalyzing.

When I listen to my heart, and more than just the accelerated beating pace when he touches me with his any part of his being, I feel a sense of security that I have longed for. He has seen my whole family, my whole history, my whole self, and yet he embraces the future.

Maybe we just both wanted to find one another. He had once said over the phone, “could this be it?”.

I was starting to reflect the possibility with each passing day. I felt more vibrant, yet I no longer had this drive. Most people would say the drive is what was to make me. But what they never saw behind closed doors was that same force drove me to self destruction.

With him, I face my insecurities and welcome the challenges in a much more peaceful manner. And I say to myself that as long as we can move forward through a few phases of our life, then maybe this can lead to our mystery ceremony.

Tradition versus Elise.

I am open-minded and accepting, but I am still a Cajun. And a Cancer at that! Home and family is a big part of me. So when it comes to ceremonies, I still want to be a part of what everyone else has done. But then there is a part of me that says “Change it up!”

While I sat in St. Joseph’s church (which is now just two blocks away from my house) for Meggan’s wedding rehearsal, my father made the comment that he wouldn’t have to worry about this hoo-rah for me, because I would probably have everyone outside, barefoot in a field somewhere.

I laughed because I saw its plausibility, but then told him I couldn’t specifically say because I did not know who my groom would be. He replied that he would, “probably be some moon martian just like you.”

Moon martian. Great.

So maybe I should embark upon something out of this world. It’s funny that finding something steadily comfortable is what will take me to such great heights.

But I wouldn’t make any bets yet. It’s still the honeymoon. And we’re still just talking jibberish over omelets. I would be lying though, if I said I wouldn’t be terribly hurt if these thoughts ever got scrambled.

Faith, my dear. Faith.

God speaks through a wasp

I sat on this random pew in the hallway near the receptionist’s office at the Jesuit Spirituality Center. I was here on a women’s day retreat with my mother and aunt. The first lecture talked about acceptance and how to cultivate happiness. I had just finished my first week of teaching curriculum and some of the presenter’s questions were really hitting home.

Do I let other people take away my happiness? Because I think happiness comes from outside situations based on my own agenda? Do I react with anger based on my own  fear and insecurity?

Hmmmm. When I yelled at my kids this week because they weren’t paying attention, was it really because I was scared shitless that I would not be able to teach them the material?

YES!

So after the first presentation, we were instructed to walk throughout the campus grounds silently. No talking to Mom or Carla. I walked to the cafeteria to get a cup of coffee then I strolled through the library. Out of all of the literature there, I was attracted to “Living Catholic, the Catechism.” For 10 years I have studies almost every other religion except for the one I lived the first 18 years of my life. Based upon my current set of situations, now more than ever I felt I had to explore this religion through a matured pair of eyes.

I carried the book to that pew. I read through the first few chapters, when suddenly I heard this loud buzzing sound. I looked up to the front door, which was surrounded by large, uncovered windows, to see see a huge yellow jacket wasp flying repeatedly into the window. I thought it was on the outside of the window and was just a distraction from the moment, so I started to read again.

A few sentences later and the buzzing seemed to get louder and louder–demanding my attention. So I started to watch the wasp and realized he was actually on the inside of the window and he was trying to escape I watched him jump from pane to pane. Scratching. Buzzing. Trying to escape.

I felt I could do something to help out this little fellow. I got up and opened the door. I thought maybe he would feel the breeze and follow the wind to his escape. But he just kept flying into the glass.

Other retreaters were entering the door I was holding open-they just thought I was being nice. I was just patiently waiting to see if the wasp would get my gesture. He didn’t.

I went back to my pew while the wasp stayed in the same place. It made me wonder, how often when I wanted to escape was God holding the door open and I refused to follow the breeze? How often did I just bang myself against the glass? Like the wasp, maybe I just wasn’t ready for the escape at the moment.

I walked back to the retreat room with the sound of the buzzing in my ear. He may not be ready for the wind, but I think I’m ready for the current.

Through the Redwoods to Eureka!

The Redwoods are big. It’s almost a redundant statement because anyone who has been there knows it’s an understatement…just like the Grand Canyon.

My friend Sarah had written on my Facebook page that driving through the Redwoods Forest is a humbling experience. She was right on several levels.

To witness vast, living nature makes you feel like a single spec of existence. You realize how tiny you are in an infinite universe. Plus, it feels so still and all-knowing. It made me realize how often I run in unnecessary circles and waste potential energy by replacing productivity with worry.

We drove through scenic California mountains and ventured through one of the tackiest, yet must-see, tourist spots: a Redwood tree you can drive through. It’s $5 to go through the park, which is located in a 700 population village.

I bought some Redwood incense from the gift shop, along with a Viewfinder for my godchild Ellah. It had pictures from major American signature spots, most of which I saw on this trip. Plus, I had one of those small, blue, optical gadgets as a child and I used to look at Disney stories on it. Who needs modern HD, when an imagination and still frames can get you that simply excited?

Nick had the idea to set up Louis with the doors open and us jam out Remy’s song. After a short debate, we decided to film it as well. He grabbed his djembe and I played guitar and sang. Random cars drove by and waved as if we were rock stars. Or maybe they just admired that we were living life.

We drove through more terrain for hours until we reached Eureka. It was one of the last cities in California. We ate at Hana’s sushi restaurant. I cannot even describe how fresh the fish was. I know I live on the Gulf Coast, but I feel like I’ve been lied to. The Rainbow Roll had the most delicious salmon and tuna. I washed it down with Happy Hour saki and then we hit the road again.

We didn’t realize we still had another six or so hours to Portland.

We were slightly discouraged until we saw the Pacific Ocean. Nick was driving at the moment and pulled off the exit. My nerves started to intensify as we parked. At first I walked slowly onto the sand to take in the open view. The sun was starting to set, there were people tossing frisbees to their dogs, and a few couples were snuggling on the sand.

I inhaled the salty, fresh air and was about to sigh a refreshing exhale when Nick took off running and said “Beat ya to the ocean.”

We were a half mile away from water and I took off in a sprint. The young chap didn’t stand a chance.

The water was colder than a snow-cone on a hot summer’s day. I’ve heard the Pacific was cold, but compared to the Gulf it’s Arctic.

I waded in the water, reveling in my small victory, searching for stones to take back to my other godchild Malorie. I triumphed in my search and even discovered a crab claw to bring back for my fellow Cancer, Aaron.

For a split second, we thought about camping out on the beach, but my buddy Ben had scored us a room at the Ace Hotel in Portland and I didn’t want his ambition to be a waste.

So on we drove through windy roads. I have to admit, I did get queesy quite often. I had to lay back in the passenger seat and close my eyes in order to deter the puking sensation.

We finally crossed the Oregon border after darkness prevailed throughout the sky. We pulled up to a gas station in order to fill the tank and were astonished to find a guy walk up to our car and ask how much we wanted to purchase. Nick told him not to worry about it, but then we were told it was illegal to pump your own gas in the state of Oregon.

What?

I thought we had left the weird laws in Oklahoma.

Evidently, it’s supposed to create more jobs and it stops drive-0ffs.

We snacked on popcorn as we made the trek to downtown Portland. We didn’t arrive until 3 a.m. I thought the streets seemed pretty bare considering the size of the city.

We walked into this freshly renovated, rather trendy building. It was classically chic and very purposefully put together. We were handed a real, old-school skeleton key and told our room was on the second floor.

I had so much adrenaline rushing through me as I creaked up the stairs. Ben, one of my dearest friends, works at the Ace in NYC. He was originally supposed to take part of this roadtrip with me. As I peaked around the lounge and hallways, I felt his presence.

It had been months since I had seen my pal, but as I opened the door to my room, I felt like he had set the stage for me. Everything was clean, precise and unique. The detail to how the magazines, brochures, and products were placed made you feel how the staff cared about the experience of this hotel. It had Ben written all over it.

I felt so connected to him at that moment, that while Nick passed out, I stayed up and wrote an email to him. I then began to type uncontrollably. I had only been in Portland for a few hours, but there was an energy here that awakened a part of my soul.

By the time I closed my Mac, the sun was coming up. I nestled myself into a ball and hugged my pillow as I fell asleep with a smile across my face. This wasn’t a sweet dream. This was a sweet reality.

Surprise in Sonoma Valley

Driving through California for the first time is a venture just in itself. You could probably ride through the coast and be satisfied with just the view.

We stopped for a restroom/sandwich break and realized we were in the Sonoma Valley. We checked our iPhone’s for local vineyards and saw a handful within a one mile radius. We figured it wouldn’t time wasted to taste some wine.

We tried to follow the maps on the iPhone, but it was of no use. However, we ended up on this highway stretch and out of nowhere vineyard after vineyard appeared like little grape surprises.

It was just about 4:45 p.m. and we prayed the little wooden taste rooms didn’t close.

We made it in the Family Vineyards as the official last tasters of the day. Evidently those winos like to be out by five so they can enjoy the rest of their beautiful afternoons (I can hardly blame them).

We tried a Sirah, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir. I’m a red girl. All of the bottles were way more expensive than I thought. The women behind  counter were very helpful. I wish I could remember her name because she really was a doll. She didn’t charge us for any of the tasting and didn’t force us to buy anything.

What they did do, however, was talk us into staying in Santa Rosa. They told us it wasn’t too far from the Redwoods or the coast. Plus, the vineyards opened relatively early, so we our taste buds could scope out the selection in the morning.

We drove through the quaint downtown and fell in love with its appeal. This was definitely our stop for the night.

We tried to search for reasonable hotels and found a deal on hotels.com for Fountaingrove Inn. It was $99 for a night, but once we walked into the lobby, we knew why.

The structure was built with large stone, so it almost seemed like you were in a castle. The lobby had two long red couches facing one another and the accents had a modern appeal. While we checked in, we noted there was a sale on wine bottles in the adjacent restaurant.

Why not indulge?

We lugged the luggage to our second floor room and were both quite impressed with the style. This was by far the nicest place we stayed the entire trip. It felt like we were little kids that were about to get in trouble for sneaking in or something.

We were ready to drink, so we skipped changing to go to the restaurant. We both felt super underdressed as soon as we walked through the doors. I really thought the music was going to stop.

Eventually we were served, not with the best service because I think this woman thought we were going to stiff her or something. One of the things I learned working in the restaurant business is to never underestimate who you are waiting on. Some people who rarely eat out will tip extra if you give them impeccable service because they are splurging. The ritzier people normally wine and dine often so they keep a standard 18%. And as for young people…you never know who is or has been a server and can empathize with your position, so they tip a lot.

Life moral story? Never underestimate anyone, because you rarely know a stranger’s background story.

We ended up drinking a bottle and a half of cabernet and decided a trip to the hot tub would be the best compliment. (After we had a chocolate dessert that we shared with the hostess and another server)

We hung out and chatted with people in the hot tub and pool until around 10p.m. There was a young guy who was backpacking his way through all of the National Parks. He worked for Chevron in Baton Rouge, LA for  a while before deciding to go back for medical school in the Caribbean.

Then there was a couple around the age of 30 from California who were touring wine country after a friend’s wedding. We talked for a while about how young people get married these days. That’s one thing I’ve loved about the west and the bigger cities I’ve visited. People my age aren’t married and it’s not because they aren’t ready to stop partying. They are actually working on their life goals and want to have things aligned before they commit to someone else. It is so refreshing to feel young-because I am!

I started to get a little queazy from the mixture of red wine and extreme heat, so I headed back to the room and watched t.v. in my comfy hotel bed.

Ahh the life.

Randomness at Stanford University

We drove through the California Hills with the intention of  sleeping in Fresno to wake in the morning to visit Yosemite National Park. I’m not sure if it was the natural high from the djembe experience, but when we arrived to Fresno, I was still too charged to stop.

We knew we had a few hours before the sun set and Yosemite was only an hour away. If we just drove through it, we could drive until late night and make it near San Francisco, which would allow us more time to see the Redwoods.

The golden hills illuminated the road as we wound up mountains and inched closer and closer to Yosemite. The speed limits dropped and time trudged on. We were determined.

We passed campsites and called, praying for a miracle that possibly someone did not show up for their reservation and then we could fulfill our Yosemitic-destiny. No such luck. You normally have to reserve spots at least six months in advance and the hotels are ridiculously expensive.

The sun was falling just as fast our spirits.

We found our selves in the Sierra National Forest…a few miles before Yosemite’s entrance. There were a few empty camp spots that were submerged under water, mud and muck. Louis off-roaded well, and we contemplated if we should risk getting caught. The fines are normally $500 and neither of us had that kind of money left at this juncture in the trip.

We decided to turn around and head to Palo Alto to sleep at Nick’s childhood friend’s place at Stanford University.

I was disappointed. Yosemite had been calling my name for a while. But at that moment I realized maybe the yearning was to spark Derek to have his own adventure. When I go to Yosemite, I want to spend at least a week there. I can’t just pass through.

We stopped at a gas station and ended up getting my favorite beef jerky on the journey so far. It was $15, but DELICIOUS. It was made from local cows and was somewhat organic. I’m a fan of softer jerky. This had the texture and thickness of fruit roll-ups. Perfect.

So I drove on for hours under a full moon, which lulled a harmonious vibe through me.

I called my former Rok Haus co-worker Kristin, who had biked the Pacific coast last summer. We talked about all of the outdoor things we will do when I return. It was quite motivating.

We made it to Stanford around 1a.m. Although the campus was dark, it was still gorgeous.

Andrew lived in a co-ed house (they don’t really call them dorms there). He was a kitchen manager and had a private room. We double-checked before we got there to make sure it was cool if a female could sleep over. That was no problem whatsoever.

The scene reminded me of the old Pauly Shore movie, Son-In-Law, where there are both guys and girls walking throughout the halls in towels. Except, these intellectual students were studying for finals, instead of partying their tails off.

We didn’t want to keep Andrew up long, since he had so much studying to do, so we crashed and planned to leave early.

We woke the next morning for breakfast in the downstairs kitchen. On Sundays, there is a gourmet chef who prepares brunch. This was unlike any school cafeteria I visited. The food was exquisite and fresh. The homemade waffles even had a Stanford label grilled into it.

Stanford is a pretty progressive campus and used many green products, such as Tater ware–utensils made from potatoes. I discovered at some point in Portland later on that Whole Foods uses these as well.

Andrew gave us a tour before we left. The first thing I smelt were Eucalyptus trees in the dorm parking lot. I would assume these kids need all of the natural relaxing herbs they can get due to the high-pressure nature of the institution.

I was really taken aback by the structures, monuments and sheer epic feeling of the whole environment. There is a church on campus that was dedicated to the Stanford’s son who had passed away. For a moment I felt I was in Rome. That feeling was intensified too when you saw the statues in front of the university art museum.

As we made our way back to the parking lot, we saw a sidewalk that was chalked with silly faces and flowers. I guess some students were releasing their finals-frustration. We decided Stanford needed to know that some Cajuns were there, so we chalked UL Lafayette with a fleur-de-lis. It was classy.

We wished Andrew well on his finals and thanked him for the hospitality. We set our eyes on driving to the Redwoods and hit the highway.

My Ben Harper Experience

I couldn’t stop thinking of that djembe. I have wanted a drum for a while. Not because I’m even half decent at keeping a rhythm, but sometimes you just need something productive to bang on.

I found the perfect little companion at the Folk Music store in Claremont. It was only $100, and at that size normally they run for at least $150.

We were headed that direction anyway, so it only made sense to stop and see if it was still at the shop. To my delight, it was.

I call this a serendiptous purchase. It happened once at an Artwalk at home. I saw this turquoise ring that fit perfectly on my ring finger. I wanted it badly, but thought patience was the route to take. So I walked around for hours and went back at the end of the night. It was there waiting for me. I have worn it almost everyday since.

This same feeling arrived to me when I saw the djembe still there. It has this deep soulful sound when you beat the middle of it, yet the “ping” when you hit the side of the rim keeps you yearning for the next strike.

I grabbed a $9 tambourine before I went to the counter and I couldn’t wait to start my Partridge family.

Nick had found a smaller drum and a small Ben Harper pin and as we were both checking out we started small talk with the cashier. The reason the drums were so cheap did have to do with the recession, so I felt better about stimulating the economy.

However, the most interesting point is when the conversation turned to Ben Harper. There was a lot of memorabilia and albums available, even on vinyl. But there really wasn’t any other artists featured there.

Turns out, the store was opened by his grandparents. He grew up in the store. His grandparents passed away (God bless their souls) a few years ago and now he and his family run it.

So I saw my Ben Harper in New Mexico and the first drum I ever buy is from Ben Harper’s store.

It still gets a little weird.

Nick and I left on cloud nine and as we were driving on I-5 North, I asked him to plug in my iphone. Somehow, he managed to accidentally call my friend Val.

I was ecstatic to hear her voice and learn that she was with our friend Beth (or as I like to call her Viv–I’m Liv…come to think of it Val and I are Sly and Slick…I have too many nicknames). We all know one another through weird coincidences, which we don’t believe are coincidences at all. But alas, I digress.

I told them the story and they laughed because they had literally just bought the new Ben Harper c.d. and were listening to it for the first time at that very moment.

Somehow we are all connected through Ben Harper. It’s like 6 degrees of separation. Is Kevin Bacon going to show up?

If I end up meeting Ben on this trip, I would not at all be surprised. I just like how I have followed signs through this whole trip and I’m starting to notice when I am in the right place at the right time. I kind of ignore the rest…so my theory is always right.

I’ll end with a few quotes from some of Ben Harper’s songs. I find them appropriate for what I’ve learned thus far:

“I knew a girl. Her name was truth. She was a horrible liar.” -Diamonds on the Inside

“So before you knock it, try it first. For you’ll see it’s a blessing and it’s not a curse.” – Burn one down

“And it’s so hard to do and so easy to say. But sometimes, sometimes, you just have to walk away.” -Walk Away

Claremont, California

We had made plans to get up early and run, but that plan ended before it started.

Instead, I struggled to the coffee pot, showered and then we headed to Claremont with Aunt Linda and Uncle Steve.

There’s a spot called The Village where four colleges meet that is absolutely gorgeous. It is filled with lush greenery and landscape that is almost stereotypical California.

We went to Rhino records, a used vinyl shop. We scrolled through used and new CDs and books for over an hour. I bought The Ultimate Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a collection of five novels), a book of new poems by Charles Bukowski, a Coldwar Kids album, and a happy little Buddha hood ornament that Nick and I now call Sid (short for Siddhartha).

The guy behind the register turned out to be originally from Texas. We made the association after he checked my id. Reference: businesses have checked my id almost every time I have used my credit card. It’s kind of reassuring to know they take this identity theft thing kind of seriously.

Back to the guy. He asked how long it had been since I left Louisiana, because he didn’t find I had an accent. I have gotten this quite a few times on this trip from people who have checked my id. To which I normally reply, “You haven’t heard me once I’ve had a few drinks.” But seriously, I know my accent comes out every time I cross the Acadia Parish border to go home or when I’m on the phone with my Mom.

We then walked a few doors over to Legend’s American Grill. The food was great, but the portions were epicly unnecessary. I guess if we were to stereotype the cause of American obesity, this place puts Supersize Me to shame. I think all four of us could have split one burger and the gigantic potato-fries and been just fine. I’m glad I stuck with a Caesar salad, which could have fed Shrek.

We walked through a few more shops: a Tibetan import store where we got incense and a Folk music store where we almost bought djembes.

I realized while we walked past these adorable boutiques that I have never really window shopped, where you walk on sidewalks and looked at store displays. We don’t really have that at home in Lafayette or Rayne. We were mall shoppers. You drive your car to a place and then go into a store. If there was nothing at the mall, you got back in your car and drove to another store.

I like walking outside. You get to breathe fresh air.

We did end up getting back into the car to go to a strip mall. But this was a mall that was built for you to stroll outside instead of inside. Like an inside out mall.

We went to the Bass Pro Shop first and I bought my very first tent. It was on sale for $30, so I couldn’t pass it up. I bought a$25 pair of jeans and a Northface fleece too. I didn’t realize how chilly it was this time of year in the Northwest. (Yet again, should have done more research).

We had another relaxing night of dinner and a movie–Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The next day were to wake and drive to Yosemite. Or at least that’s what we thought before we went to sleep.

Vegas. Day 2

SO I woke up and tried to remove the stick from my derriere and thought to myself, “I’m in Vegas, let’s have some fun.”

Fun turned into us eating breakfast at McDonald’s because that was the cheapest place in our hotel. For $3 I got coffee, a parfait and apples. Not too bad.

We didn’t wake until after noon, so we showered and decided to go meet Nick’s uncle Edgar at the Gold Coast. Casinos really do crack me up. These people just sit there and pull handles or poke at buttons while these multi-colored bright lights shine on their faces and all you hear are clanks and bells and bad karaoke. You smell stale cigarettes, desperation and bulky buffets.

Oh yeah, didn’t I say I was supposed to remove the stick?

Well, we walked through the casino to one of the little bars where this jazz band was playing. They were actually pretty good. Of course there were Sinatra covers followed by salsa music. Uncle Edgar stuck out from the crowd, his white hair and regal demeanor commanding attention.

Nick and I watched him guide his dance partner–we assumed it to be Clara–around the wood-grain floor. He looked so happy. They all did.

It made me wonder about retirement. So many of the couples here seemed to be celebrating the end of their life in style. Edgar had told us about how the majority of them meet once a week for dancing and most of them frequent the shows and casinos around town. I’m used to elderly people in South Louisiana who retire with their grandkids. It was refreshing to see older people push it until the end.

Me, Nick, Edgar and his partner, who did in fact turn out to be Clara, went to the Cortez Room for dinner right at 5 p.m. I thought it was going to be one of those buffet lines, but it turned out to be a very hoity-toity spot.

We started with wine and bread. Nick ordered a 22 oz. Prime Rib and I the pistachio-crusted salmon. The food was exquisite but the company was better.

IMG_0064

IMG_0065

Clara and I talked about her time when she was younger and she lived in Germany for two months. She was originally from Tyler, Texas, but had moved to California. She had been all over the world. We talked about hopes and dreams and the future. For some reason, I was spot-on with my jokes and quick wit. We couldn’t stop laughing. She ended up introducing me to her friends and I took her number down so I could call her if I was ever in Vegas again.

IMG_0066

We all hugged at the end of the meal and sadly parted ways. Nick and I headed back to the Excalibur to wait for Derek to get in. I played video poker while Nick watched a soccer game in one of the bars. There were actually very talented singers performing classic karaoke favorites as the background music.

IMG_0079

Finally Derek arrived. We hugged and he looked around with a hint of disdain on his face. I empathized his expression and we laughed about the irony of us both being there. The three of us decided to stroll through the Strip, but not before getting those annoyingly big daquiris from Dick’s.

So for anyone who has never been to a Dick’s Last Resort, it’s a restaurant where the servers get paid to be complete assholes. The guy who checked our id’s made a comment about Louisiana being white trash. We laughed about it, but thought of how many people from home would have probably hit him, which made it even funnier.

We wandered around looking for something to do. Nick’s goal was to see the dealertainers at the Emperial Palace. The blackjack dealers are impersonators and transition from singing to dealing.

We found our way there, paid $11 for a pack of Camel lights and watched Nick lose $40 to Toby Keith. The Tina Turner-a-like was actually damn good. It was pretty dealertaining.

IMG_0068

We then walked to this other Irish casino where more karaoke prevailed. The first girl we hear was from Louisiana and singing my anthem, “Bobby Mcgee”. She turned out to be from Marksville but now lives in Vegas.

We then walked to the Bellagio to wait for the fountain display. This was by far the nicest casino we went to. The colors were soothing and it seemed so classy. I tried to put $10 in a machine that I thought was the one that was going to help me make it rich, but it turned out to be broken and I had to get a clerk to give me my $10 back. We walked through the lobby that had the most amazing glass artwork, and then made it outside for the infamous fountain show.

IMG_0073

IMG_0075

IMG_0078

My stomach started to hurt, probably from the mixture of salmon, Jack Daniels, and 190. Derek wasn’t feeling the Strip either, so we got some water and cheez its from Walgreens and went back to hotel room.

I really can’t capture the essence of the conversation that took place between the three of us, but I will say the discussion was our whole purpose of going to Vegas.

Derek and I have devised a plan to put together a documentary geared towards third graders through middle schoolers that presents both the history of Cajun culture and current day youth who still live it. When kids think of history, they think of really old people who dance at Randoll’s (a local Cajun restaurant in Lafayette). But there is a whole generation of young Cajuns who live out the culture everyday.

We are now working on a proposal to find funds to go to Canada to do some research and also document some of these college students who are participating in pertinent events to Cajun culture, such as the Festival d’été de Val-d’Or in Quebec City and Congres Mondial Acadien in New Brunswick.

We will have to work fast, but I haven’t been so motivated in quite some time. This is the perfect project for both of us and we are both needing something of this caliber in our lives…appropriately devised at the Excalibur.

We finally all feel asleep after 3a.m. and Derek was headed to Yosemite by 7a.m. Nick and I were going to get massages before we left, but opted to head straight to California. Our time was up in Vegas. We didn’t win money to cover the trip like we had hoped, but the information exchanged at this site will bring us the ingenuity to fund our lives. Or so I hope.

Vegas wasn’t what I expected, but it was what I needed. And so it follows the theme of the trip.

The journey continues to Nevada

We started our venture towards Nevada with breakfast at Brandy’s. Evidently Guy from the road house diner show on Food Network did a story on it in Flagstaff. I had the most delicious vegetable omelet…I mean chunks of fresh broccoli, mushrooms and tomatoes. I couldn’t resist the oats pancake that had this savory apple cinnamon mush on top of it. An English muffin was included, but damn I had no room left in my tummy.

IMG_0057

I’m glad we filled up though because there was nothing but rolling desert hills after Flagstaff. The wind is horrible for your car too. There is nothing to block it and it becomes somewhat of a challenge to stay straight at times. Louis has these sun visors on the windows and the shaking becomes an annoyance quite often;  almost as aggravating as Tammy’s voice…but not quite.

We noticed the front bumper of Louis had come off on the passenger side when we had arrived in Flagstaff. At first, I thought someone had hit me in a parking lot. But we soon realized it was from the viscous wind (turns out my theory that Louis could fly was wrong).

We stopped at this rinky-dink gas station/restaurant about an hour from the Hoover Dam to grab some water (because it got HOT in the desert) and check on Louis’ bumper. I remembered I had some duct tape in my glove compartment from my second mother, Tammye (not our Tom Tom).

IMG_0058

For graduation she gave me this bag full of important items with a note explaining their meaning. It included duct tape and two packs of gum, well because MacGeyver used it. I’m glad we had it, because it has held my bumper together for three states.

An interesting note about the little shop where we rigged my Element. There was a license for prostitution dated in the early 1900’s next to the bathroom. Next to it was a picture of this woman bathing in an old barrel. I haven’t really formed an opinion of this observation, but I found it intriguing. Is it good that the whores bathed? Is that what you paid for? Who knows. I didn’t have the heart to ask either.

So onward. We drove for hours in the desert… some more. There was construction outside of the Dam and it took much longer than anticipated to see Hoover. It was worth the wait though. This human construction is amazing. Lake Mead is crystal clear too. It’s the best indication of the natural scene one can expect the further West you drive.

There is also a massive bridge that is going up too. It has architectural wonder…not like the bridges on I-10 that I’m used too. Imagine being able to say you saw the construction of the Golden Gate. It’s that kind of epic. (I would have pictures, but once again, technological woes plague me).

So we crossed the Dam and the state border into Nevada. Vegas was only a blink away.

While I was over this human construct, Derek, a fellow journalist/colleague of mine called. He was on his way to Yosemite. A whimsical, transcendental journey he decided to take a few months ago in order to get out of his shell and test his manhood.

We actually discussed the trip one night at Shaker’s, downtown Lafayette, when I played an acoustic gig. During my break, we kicked back a few and talked life and dreams. He’s an editor for a local weekly newspaper in St. Martinville. We took quite a few classes in college together, including Feature Writing with Buckman, one of the most militant journalism professors known to man (this class was also one that motivated me to quit my job and go back to school full-time and one of the pieces written that semester landed me my initial job as a staff writer for The Vermilion).

The other was Ethics and Sustainable Practice in Environmental Science (or something like that) with Griff, one of the most laid-back, make you reevaluate your current life situation and start a revolution, professors. Somewhere in the middle of these classes, we also took a trip to D.C. for a Society of Professional Journalists national conference where we witnessed Woodward and Bernstein (guys who broke Watergate scandal) and Ken Paulson (editor of USA Today) relate some of the most important professional words of wisdom and motivating philosophies to bring TRUE journalism back to the original roots. Like Paulson said, bring reporters back to Superman and Clark Kent; respectable souls who just want to give the public the TRUTH.

Enough of my backstory/rant. Derek and I had pertinent professional history and both of us are contemplating our future. It was no coincidence to me that he would try to make it to Vegas the next night for us to hang out and discuss our current situations.

Nick and I made it to Vegas around 4p.m. to our destination–The Excalibur. It was a castle on the Strip. I have to say, it was the most appropriate place for me to stay. The movement of Vegas, however, was not what I was in the mood for that first night.

As soon as we walked through the doors with our luggage, staff members in suits were asking us if we had checked in, if we were a couple, and if we got our free gifts. Between the third degree, the lights and constant bells/casino sounds, I felt like I was tripping on mushrooms and had turned into Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas…except without any of the perks.

My mind was swirling and we had to wait in line to check in. I didn’t think it would be very busy on a Tuesday, but this is another one of those cities that does not sleep or rest. There was some confusion between Expedia and the hotel because we arrived a day later than our original reservation. I had to wait on the line for 20 minutes trying to get Expedia to fax the hotel a copy of our itinerary.

Tip: try to stay on track to avoid these types of hassles. And if you can print out your confirmations, do so. Evidently emails on your iPhone aren’t as valid.

Oh yeah, we got haggled by a clerk named Catrina who talked us into giving her $40 cash, which was refundable, once we went on a tour of one of their new properties. In exchange for free breakfast and two hours of our time, we would get free Criss Angel Cirque du Soleil tickets.

Another tip: When you are from Louisiana and a woman named Katrina tries to sale you something, run away fast…there’s a storm brewing.

We changed, ate salads at the MGM casino and then drive to a ritzy retirement home to visit Nick’s 94-year-old great uncle Edgar, a Costa Rican native and a complete Casanova.

We sat and talked for two hours. Nick had only met him once before when he was real young, so Edgar told him a lot of tall tales about their family history. It was kind of like Big Fish. His stories were captivating and his presence, mesmerizing. And I think everything was very true.

He told us of his deceased wife, who he still sighs at the thought of, and his current female companions, who he smiles of. The best line of the century was when he was comparing a current comrade with his wife, who he says the resemblance is uncanny.

“I told her, ‘I wish I would have counted the freckles on my wife’s body. Because if I counted yours, they would be the same!”

He invited us to dinner the next night at the Gold Coast, the casino he still goes dancing every Wednesday. We bid farewell for the night and then decided drinks were necessary.

We found tickets for a free drink at the hotel bar and figured thrifty was the way to go. I had won $15 on our first dollar (which turned out to be the only money I spent on gambling). I used it to get a double bourbon and water. The bartender, who evidently doesn’t get tipped when given coupons (I appreciate my former life as a server and practice good tipping karma). He ended up hooking us up with Jack Daniels instead of well. The drink was stout too. It looked like Coca Cola without the fizz.

We sipped as we walked the Strip. The lights and architecture are a beauty, but when you look around at the people, it loses its valor. The drink was “mamazing” and I was giggly by the time we hit the Bellagio. We waited for the fountain show, but it was already 12:30 and it turns out they stop the display at midnight. I guess it saves cost or energy.

I had an idea at one point that if Vegas could use the energy of people pulling the handles into electricity, they could save a lot of money.

Anyways, Nick’s favorite part of us walking back to the hotel after me drinking a strong adult beverage, was when we passed a man pushing a baby stroller with a toddler, who was completely passed out (like drunk/exhausted passed out—but the kid wasn’t really drunk…at least I hope not). I accidentally yelled “Oh My GOD!”, then realized I said that out loud and clasped my hand over my mouth and followed with a statement behind giggles, “I mean, I’m not judging”.

But I mean come on people. I was already shocked as to how many families and children were on the strip or in casinos in general. If you are going to spend money on a family vacation, shouldn’t you take those kids somewhere more beneficial? To each his own I guess. And I guess I am judging. But there are provocative pictures of both men and women everywhere. It’s not exactly a wholesome environment fit for children. People are constantly passing around cards for personal strippers–even to parents with strollers. This ain’t Disneyland and they shouldn’t see the Australian Thunder from Down Under.

We made it back to the room and I brushed my teeth in judgment, talked to Jesus and Buddha and passed out. I needed a good rest after this exposure. Maybe I’d get off my white horse and join the party the next night.  Or just lighten up.