It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Vegas and Sharks

Well, hello there, good lookin’.

I’m back from the non-stop holidaying extravaganza! As, I suppose, we all are, regrettably. Oh well. #TheStruggleIsReal

My main man-panion XFE took some time off during the holidays so we ate many, many great, decadent, meaty things, and drank many a delicious wine and cocktail (mostly made with gins-of-the-world, a current XFE obsession), and just generally loafed around competing with the cat on who could be more sloth-like.

You know who else loafs (loaves?) around? Sharks! Those guys are totally lazy.

Employee of the month.
Sharks may be lazy, but starfish are apparently hard workers.

You see, I spent an inordinate amount of 2012 deathly afraid of sharks. I thought they were these ferocious, teeth-grinding, people-killing machines. But through scuba diving the last couple of years, I’ve actually discovered that they’re kinda wimpy, and not really all that scary. (Ssshhh. Don’t tell them I said that?)

Just to confirm this suspicion, we went diving in the shark tank at Mandalay Bay over Christmas.

shark marketing

Because….Christmas, y’all. In Vegas. So….of course.

We had been on an aquarium dive before. In October, we went up to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and did the Atlantic Coral Reef tank dive there. It was….meh. We had to arrange and pick up our own gear (wetsuits, masks, booties, flippers), we did not actually get to see any of the aquarium (entry tickets had to be purchased separately for around $35 per adult), and the tank, while certainly nice, was a bit small. Plus, there was only one or two flesh-tearing aquatic creatures about, so it lacked a bit of pizzazz. (Actually, I don’t remember seeing any sharks, but the National Aquarium website says there are some, so I guess there were.)

But Mandalay Bay, my sweeties, is in Las Vegas and they bring a whole showmanship to their tank dives.

First, they take you and up to four guests on a tour of the Shark Reef Aquarium, which features over 2,000 animals. Our guide, Janna, showed us around the 14 exhibits, including jelly fish, piranhas, and a Komodo dragon. And of course, the shark tank, formally known as the Shipwreck Exhibit. The 1.3 million gallon tank has around 30 sharks, including sandtiger sharks, a couple of types of reef sharks, zebra sharks, and a Galapagos shark. The tank also has stingrays, sea turtles, a moray eel, and some crazy-looking sawfish.

Then they give you all the backstage tour, including and explanation of the filtration system and a stroll along the feeding platform that runs all above the shark tank. It’s very James Bond-ish.

That's Janna, our handler on the left. That's a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.
That’s Janna, our handler on the left. That’s a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.

Then Janna whisked away our loved ones (in our case, XFE’s parents) to go back inside the main shark exhibit while you (the divers) get geared up in the locker rooms. And by geared up, I mean, wedge into the wetsuit and booties they provided and then shimmy into a 14-pound suit of chain mail. Yes. Chain mail. Because they want you to think there’s an element of danger here. Pretty crafty.

Once we were suitable geared up, the incredibly patient and kind team helped us wade into the small holding pool near the exhibit and we did a buoyancy check to make sure everything was working. We also had these ear pieces that were supposed to help us hear our diving guide but really just sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. They did help grab our attention when she (I think her name was April?) was trying to point out something to us.

Meanwhile, they have a videographer recording the whole thing: the divers gearing up (luckily, they don’t include audio so you don’t hear our grunts and cussing), getting in the water, and the view of us from inside the exhibit. In addition, the dive guide had a Go-Pro which she used to record us in the water.

(And I WOULD have posted clips from the final video except WordPress wants me to upgrade my blog plan to $100 a year in order to do that, to which I must say, “hellz no.” Sorry, kids. No MP4 videos on the scrub version of WordPress.)

And, as you can see by the bits of video I’ve posted, the sharks do not give a shit. They couldn’t have been less interested in us. I feel fairly certain there was a greater chance of one of us divers getting some sort of uncontrollable sushi craving all of a sudden and biting one of them than any of us even getting a tiny head nudge from any of the 30 sharks in that tank.

Here’s how the imaginary shark discussion goes in my mind:

Zebra Shark: “Ugh, these guys again.”

Sandtiger Shark: “I know, right?”

Zebra Shark: “I don’t know why they come down here and bother us if they’re not going to even bring us some tasty chum, like a fisherman’s hand or a small child or something. They’re really just wasting our time.”

Galapagos Shark: “And did you see that chick with the googly eyes? What’s her problem? Did you see how she was looking at me, all terrified and whatnot? As if. I can totally tell by that wetsuit that that girl has been eating way to much cheese and everybody knows I’m lactose intolerant.”

White-Tip Reef Shark: “Yeah, and did you see that one dude go right up to Larry’s face when he was trying to sleep? All he wants to do is take a little nap after swimming around in endless circles and what does that moron do? Swim right up and insist on getting his picture taken with him. Geeze.”

Sandtiger Shark: “Alright, I’m out of here. I’m going to go hide out at the top of this ship bow thing until they’re gone. By my limited edition shark Swatch watch, they’ll probably be in here about another 40 minutes, which gives me just enough time to watch an episode of Shark Tank OnDemand. Get it? See what I did there? Shark Tank? That’s comedy gold.”

End scene. 

Cheesepuff in a wetsuit
Cheesepuff in a wetsuit

All told, we were in the shark exhibit for around 45 minutes. It was pretty great. Unlike the National Aquarium where we were allowed to swim around on our own in pairs, we had to stick with our dive guide, but that was no big deal. We got to hunt in the sand for sharks’ teeth, get up close to a sleeping (resting?) reef shark, dodge sea turtles, and wave to the kids inside the exhibit.

When we got out, we unloaded our gear, hit the showers, and met our guests out by the aquarium store.

shark chompers

Even though I didn’t exactly test my mettle or stare down danger, I can’t say enough great things about the fine folks at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. It was first-class attentiveness from start to finish. The very thoughtful aquarium staff even had snacks and water set out for you in the locker rooms, which was a nice touch. They also gave us little glass vials of the shark teeth we’d collected (or, in my case, coral because I apparently cannot tell the difference underwater), and certificates to commemorate the day. And, about a week later, an awesome 15 minute video, which includes a very soothing-spa-music-soundtrack.

Maybe that’s why the sharks are so docile. Nonstop soothing spa music.

Totally Random Search Terms for November

Guess what time it is? Well, perhaps it is indeed Hammer Time, somewhere, say in like, an alternative universe where Aresenio Hall is still cool, Bill Cosby’s only major crime is wearing ugly sweaters, and baggy-crotched satiny pants are the thing. Oh wait. Those pants are actually back. Allegedly.

No, it’s time for Totally Random Search Terms that Brought Someone to thePoeLog this month! For those who don’t remember, here’s a couple of posts that explain it.

This month was particularly interesting for two reasons. 1) I got a ridiculous number of people who found the blog while trying to solve the mystery of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. Well, not the mystery of how that show exists, but rather, a murder mystery that was totally mentioned and glossed over on one of the episodes. Someone was beyond passionately curious about what had happened to gypsy Baby Pat’s baby sister. As far as I can tell, that episode isn’t in heavy rotation or anything, so I have no idea why so many people were looking for that information in November.

The other weird outlier falls into the category I call perverts. I, along with a lot of the Internet, I’m sure, get a lot of folks who – well, let’s just say, they’re not here to read about my excellent eggplant parmigiana. But this past month, there was someone/something looking diligently for any information/pictures of Indian women going to the bathroom. All kinds of “going to the bathroom” activities. But very specifically, Indian women. Or Indian aunties. Or Indian girls.

I just can’t. I don’t even. I can’t.

I can't even.

Anyway. That seems like an incredibly awkward transition to the work at hand here: a Q&A using a small sampling of Totally Random Search Terms that Brought Someone to thePoeLog in November.

What to pack for 18 day vacation? – First of all, that is awesome. I’m totally jealous. No idea where you’re going but an 18-day vacation sounds amazing. Unless you’re going to like, Stolipinova in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Apparently, that place is not very nice. And it is the home to a whole bunch of Romani, as in GYPSIES, which would make me kinda excited, but the whole rubbish-lined stinky streets thing does put me off. And the violence.

But back to your question. I have spent many a sleepless night fretting over what to pack for a trip, as you can see here, here and here. Hopefully, this post helped you out a bit as well.

My most recent strategy (and one I’ll use for my upcoming trip to Italy) has been to take everything I wore today, yesterday, and the day before, toss them in a suitcase, add toiletries, clean undies, and a blazer, and go. At least then I know I’m taking stuff I actually wear, instead of inspirational, Pinterest-inspired nonsense.

Are the American Pickers worried about hantavirus? – Ah yes, the hantavirus. I remember this threat from the Summer of Disease Outbreaks. The Wikipedia informs us:

Human infections of hantaviruses have almost entirely been linked to human contact with rodent excrement, but recent human-to-human transmission has been reported with the Andes virus in South America.

We still regularly watch American Pickers around these parts, and I have to agree: with all the disgusting foraging those guys do in really questionably conditions, they should indeed be worried about getting a disease carried by rodent excrement. They should also worry about collapsing piles of trash. That show, while enjoyable, gives me the heeby-jeebies. I can’t handle hoarders, even in the name of “collecting.” Makes me itchy.

Wikipedia also suggests some ways to prevent contact with the hantavirus. I find the last one particularly reassuring:

General prevention can be accomplished by disposing of rodent nests, sealing any cracks and holes in homes where mice or rats could get in, setting up traps, laying down poisons or using natural predators such as cats in the home.

Maybe the American Picker guys should bring a cat along on their trips. Kitty cats + foraging through junk = ratings gold.

Is Judge Loren Lake a little person? – First of all, it’s Lauren Lake. Not Loren. Second, hmmm, that’s kinda rude, dontcha think? I agree completely with calling into question her experience and qualifications as a judge, but I don’t know why her stature is under question.

Although, she does look a bit shrunken behind that ginormous “Paternity Court” bench.

Judge Lauren Lake on Paternity Court

Best Vegas hotel bathrooms. – I have spent a lot of time in many Vegas hotel bathrooms. Wait. That sounds weird.

I’ve stayed in a fair number of Vegas hotels, and many of them had very nice bathrooms. I have not, however, stayed at every hotel, so I don’t know if I can be considered an authority on them.

Of the one’s I have enjoyed, I’d probably pick the Cosmopolitan, which I think definitely had the best hotel bathrobe I’ve ever experienced. I also really liked the lady silhouette wallpaper in the separate toilet area. Very chic. Oh, and the Venetian. That bathroom was amazing. And I haven’t written about it, but the Wynn had gorgeous bathrooms as well, if memory serves.

Luckily, there are other folks who have waded through the Strip powder rooms and come up with lists. I especially like this one from RefinedGuy.com. My favorite in his list is the Ivory Tower Suite bathroom at the Palms. I. Die.

Palms bathroom Las

Things to put on Facebook. – Well, if my feed is any indication, what people choose to put on Facebook are their idiotic rants about politics, race in America, immigration and guns, along with pictures of the same sunsets we all saw on our way home that day, and children in apple orchards/pumpkin patches/Christmas tree farms and the family pets. The truly surprising part is that it’s the exact same group of people posting in both of those categories. Sunsets and race in America. Same person. Weird.

You know, the first rule in writing is to know your audience. There’s no easier place to know your audience than on Facebook. They’re your family and friends. You should have a pretty good idea of their tolerance level for political rants and/or cutesy stuff. But at the end of the day, Facebook is social, so be social. Whatever that means to you. For most people, it means, don’t be annoying or provoke people into fighting with you. That’s not “social.”

And, we’re all adults. If we’re fed up with your “prescription for what’s wrong with America,” we’ll unfriend or block your posts. No biggie. I do it all the time.

So post whatever you want. Maybe even some nonsense on Indian women pooping in Vegas bathrooms while on an 18-day vacation.

Hotel Crashing: The Cosmopolitan Vegas

If you can’t tell from my scattered posting, work is handing me my ass this week. I mean it, I’m slammed. It’s enough to make me daydream about luxurious bathrobes. And the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas has the best bathrobe I’ve ever used, hands down.

We went to the Cosmopolitan last Christmas. They were gearing up for their big New Year’s Eve Grand Opening, so it was pretty quiet. But the place is just gorgeous. Cool and hip, dripping in crystal chandeliers and shiny laquer. You can pretty much see your reflection in every surface.

This year, we were offered two free nights because we had signed up for their player’s card. So, when we went to Vegas for Christmas with XFE’s folks, we stayed a couple of nights at the Cosmo.

We stayed in one of their Terrace Suites on the 33rd floor. It was amazing! Comfortable and chic, furnished like a real home, with cool art books and stylish accents such as ceramic horn bookends.

Decorator details at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

The suite had a sitting area, a bedroom, a huge, open bathroom, and a tiny kitchenette type situation. Kinda like a glorified wet bar, with a microwave, sink, fridge.

Mini kitchen in the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

And the terrace was gorgeous! Great view of City Center and the Cosmo pool below.

Suite view at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Terrace Suite at the Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

The bathroom was stocked with Bigelow beauty products, which were very nice. There was a large jacuzzi tub, big enough for two, and an adjoining shower with a stone bench so you could get your steam on.

Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Bathroom, Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Another cute feature was the wall paper in the separate toilet area – it was this contemporary graphic design. Only when you got closer, (or spend a lot of time in there) you notice that the design is made out of curvy ladies!

Wallpaper in the Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Wallpaper in the Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

The bed was fantastic — super comfortable, with nice linens and adjustable lighting within easy reach.

Bed in the Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

The entire suite could be controlled from your TV – temperature, lighting, room service,  reservations for dinner, anything.

Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

But my favorite part, hands down, were the bathrobes. Since I have a large, multi-colored cat, I literally get dressed two minutes before going out the door. So I spend a lot of time in my bathrobe while getting ready. And, I always judge a hotel by whether or not they have a bathrobe, and if so, whether it’s a good one or just a cheap, worn out terry cloth robe.

The Cosmo had the best most luxurious robe ever. They were this sort of combed waffle weave, but a really nice, flat weave. I’m sure you’re thinking I’m crazy right now, but I loved it so much, I actually wanted to take it home. But at $149, I ended up leaving it on the hanger.

I did take down the name and tried to look it up on the Internet, but no luck. I found the product line (Bellazure) and the manufacturer (Sorbel West), but none of the robes on their website looked like the ones at the Cosmo.

Guess that means we’ll have to make a return trip to the Cosmopolitan sometime soon.

Sitting area in the Terrace Suite, Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Bah Humbug. Bring on the New Year’s Champagne

Christmas is finally, FINALLY over. Thank Amazon.com, JCrew, and the other retail gods.

Toons yawn
“Man, I’m exhausted. Did you see those sales at Petco?”

 

Bummed Toons
“Wait. There are gifts? What the hell are you complaining about then?”

See, I have what I call “white sheep syndrome.” It’s like a form of survivor’s guilt: I escaped soul-crushing poverty but doing so came at a definite cost. To save myself, I had to leave other people behind and not look back. Specifically, my sister.

My sister has been under- or unemployed for a really, really long time now. Not because she’s lazy (she’s an incredibly hard worker); or because she voted for Obama (I don’t think she’s ever even voted); or because she wants to get government assistance instead of working; or wants to avoid paying taxes.

No, she’s been under- and unemployed because she made different choices than I did. She’s had a combination of bad luck, trusted the wrong people at times and mostly, put other people first. She’s taken on family responsibilities that others (including myself) have walked away from.

So, all I can think about during the holidays is my sister, and others like her who are having a really, really bad time this year. And when I think about that (and that’s all I can think about, basically), I don’t really give a shit about any gift I get or give. Because every pretty wrapped thing is just that….a thing. It doesn’t employ my sister and no gift or bauble gives me any peace of mind.

As you can probably guess, I’m not a lot of fun around Christmas. Luckily, my life-love XFE and his family tolerate me for a few days.

Tongue Toons
“When you’re out of town, it’s a party up in here. I get buzzed on catnip and try tp see how far out I can stick my tongue.”

But there are a few other factors that make it a weird experience. First of all, Vegas at Christmas is a lot colder than most people imagine. That’s because most people go to Vegas in the spring, summer or fall. But as anyone who was there for the RnR earlier this month can attest: Vegas gets cold. Sure, it’s not exactly snow-on-the-ground cold, but it’s definitely not lounging by the pool weather.

Another reason Christmas in Vegas is so weird is because, of course, XFE’s parents don’t live on the Strip. They live in an actual neighborhood, with normal houses. So when you tell folks you’re going to Vegas, they think of the Bellagio or something. What they should be thinking about are stucco houses with xeriscaping.

XFE and I do spend a couple of nights in a hotel on the Strip every year and have a couple’s dinner away from the family. And that’s where another weird aspect to Vegas Christmas comes in: Everything is a lot less crowded. It’s not empty or anything, but there are definitely a lot fewer people. And all the people that are there are mostly people from religions that don’t celebrate Christmas, like Buddhists for example. There are a LOT of Asian people in Vegas over the Christmas.

But one of the most unusual and fun Vegas Christmas traditions I’ve been exposed to over the past few years is Christmas Bingo! Every Christmas, XFE’s family goes to one of the casinos and pays bingo. In previous year’s XFE and his sister have won, but this year, I won $50! Which is awesome. I think I’ll send it to my sister.

Now, let’s move on to the next holiday: New Years! Which I hate a lot less than Christmas. Here’s hoping for a better year for everyone.

Toons on throne
“I actually have some thoughts on ringing in the New Year involving scratching posts and cat treats. Do you mind if I share them with you while you’re in the tub?”

To Quote the Brilliant Britney: Oops, I Did It Again

WARNING: This post contains gratuitous cat shots to make up for my idiocy.

Awesome. I’m on the plane on the way to Vegas and I thought I’d write a couple of last blog posts about Vieques. I still want to give a review of the W Vieques and our best meal on the island (which was not Sol Food, although Sol was very good and my co-food-critic-for-life XFE vehemently disputes the two out of four tires rating that Sol got.) 

So with tiny child feet kicking the back of my chair for the last two hours (a dad travelling with two small girls is sitting right behind me. Poor him, but more importantly, poor me), I pulled out my trusty little netbook to organize photos and write a couple of posts.

 

FIVE HOURS. Further cementing (as if I needed it) that I do not want children.

 

But since I’m an idiot, I don’t have the pictures I need downloaded yet on my netbook. That’s OK, I think as yet another smaller child cries behind me, I have plenty of time to download the pictures. There’s at least two more hours of this awesome flight left. Then, since I’m an even bigger idiot, I realize, I don’t have my camera on me.

That’s right….me, a so-called ‘blogger’ is on her way to Christmas with XFE’s family in Vegas WITHOUT my camera. 

XFE is going to bust my chops soooo hard on this one. Classic Poe move.  I really soy sauced this one.

So, dear readers, I will try to post over the next couple of days. And they will include some photos. After all, I have quite the folder filled with photos of Petunia. She’s always a winner.

I'm ready to go to Vegas.

Plus, there’s whatever images I can somehow manage to capture with my camera phone. Or XFE’s iPhone which takes way better pictures than my camera anyway. Oooooh, or maybe I’ll give in to all the post-Christmas shopping frenzy and buy a new camera! There’s an idea…..

What do you mean I'm NOT going to Vegas? You are dead to me.

 Anyway, I guess we’ll leave those last couple of Vieques posts until next week. Consider it the Poe Log Christmas gift to all of you.

I’m sure you were getting sick of hearing about Vieques anyway. I know Toonie is.

 

I am sick of hearing it. Can someone please come get me out of this drawer?

 

Race Recap: LV Rock N Roll Wreck

Disclaimer: This is a very long, very thorough account of my Las Vegas RnR experience. I promise I won’t stop being your friend if you don’t want to read all of it. Seriously. You can skip it. I’ll be ok.

pre race creeping
Pre-race creeping at the Cosmopolitan.

If you like the crush and sweat of other runners, bottlenecks galore, and wearing yourself out by weaving around crowds of walkers, then the Las Vegas Rock N Roll marathon and half-marathon is the event for you.

First the positives (it’s a short list): Let me say first off that running on the Las Vegas Strip at night is amazeballs. I ran the race with a friend of mine from Texas and her trainer, and we were all very excited and pumped up. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have that whole Strip closed down and lit up so you could run it for a couple of hours.

Blurry Encore

AND we ran past the pawn shop where Pawn Stars is filmed! I was so pumped I forgot to take a picture (yes, I had my camera with me. Check out all the awesome blurry pics! You. Are. Welcome.) I looked to Chumley, but no dice.

Another bonus: I signed up for the runner tracker thingy which sent my half-marathon-cheerleader-extraordinaire XFE texts on how I was doing throughout the race. It worked like a charm and XFE was out there cheering me on at mile 12, which was a HUGE morale booster. I’m always loathe to ask people to come out to the race because I just never know how my pacing is going to go or where I’ll be when and it’s so boring just standing around, so having this sort of thing available was a big stress reliever for me, and probably for him as well. I highly recommend signing up for that service if it’s available.

Final positive point, the course is nice and flat and fast. Fast, that is, if there weren’t 44,000 other people on it.

Blurry Paris

But therein lies the rub. It’s just too crowded.

This became abundantly evident when we strolled to the starting area and tried to locate the gear check. I know from previous endeavors that it will be very, very cold while you are waiting for your start (it was a wave start, which means corrals or groups of people start every three minutes or so). Then, you will start running and become very, very hot and sweaty. But when you stop running, it will become very, very cold again very quickly, and it is miserable. So I wanted to bring another top and jacket to change into after the race and check it, especially since the temperatures at start time was in the low 40s and dropping.

The problem was, we could not for the life of us find the gear check. It was nowhere near the start line. It was actually inside the Mandalay Bay. There were no signs indicating where the gear check was until, basically, right in front of the door to the auditorium. Nothing outside or in the finishing area. We had to ask several different people to locate it.

And the only way to get to the finishing area and then into the hotel itself and then to the elusive gear check was to go through the teeny tiny chute between the corral barriers. That tiny opening was surging with people going different directions. It was a pretty scary 10 minutes while we tried to push through without losing each other.

We finally checked our gear and located a corral close to the one we had signed up for.

You know you want this
I call this, “Stretch it oooouuuuuttt.”

The marathon started at 4:00. Those poor suckers start their race by running out into a boring industrial neighborhood. Then, they have to merge with the half-marathoners, who began at 5:30 (my corral crossed the start line about 30 minutes later so around 6). This merge system is unfair to the poor marathoners on so, so many levels.

Finally starting

For one thing, nobody seems to respect the corral system. Corrals are organized by your expected finish time. For example, when I signed up three months ago (pre-foot injury), I predicted I would finish in 2 hours 15 minutes. I was assigned to corral 20. But when the day got here, I correctly predicted that my finish time might be a bit closer to 2 hours 30 minutes, so I moved back several corrals to corral 23. Why do this? Well, you do it so that faster people wouldn’t have to worry about running headlong into your slow ass. You’re back with the other heavy-footed plodders.

Now, most marathoners, are much, much faster than us lowly halfers. So when you have somebody going much faster running straight into a virtual human wall of much slower half marathoners, well, tempers tend to flare. There was a separate lane for marathoners, but it was separated by cones. Yes, you read that right: CONES. The race organizers did have people on bikes riding along the course and “encouraging” half marathoners to run on the right side of the road and keep a left lane open for the marathoners. Yeah, that didn’t really work out so great. Let’s just say, there were more of us than them (I think the halfers outnumbered the full marathoners by about 6 to 1. Ah, here’s the stat: 6000 vs. 38000)

Runners on Strip
XFE got some great shots for me. Can you see me in there? No? Try harder dammit!

And here’s when the other issue arises: there were WALKERS in this race. Yes, a race billed as the “World’s Largest Nighttime Running Event,” had walkers. People who are consciously choosing to walk 13.1 miles. And, since they are very nice people who raise a lot of money for a very good cause, they started in the first several corrals. Which means that they were in the way of about 38,000 runners that started after them. Also: unlike runners, who will fall back and run in a line behind each other (me and my cohorts did this many times), walkers like to walk in large chatty groups, arms linked straight across the race route, waving their blinky neon-lit gloves at the bands and the few straggling and probably lost gamblers who stumbled upon the race while on their way to a different and undoubtedly luckier casino. For us runners, it’s basically like the old playground game Red Rover. Except the school yard kids are old people in neon orange vests announcing that they are participating on behalf of Team Challenge.

Runners 2
What about now? You see me, right? What? Are you sure you’re trying?

The real challenge was getting around them. So basically, what us half-marathoners were to the marathoners, the walkers were to us (that should be an SAT question). I kept having to remind myself that they were good, charitable people who really care a lot about healthy colons (the race and fundraising are on the part of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation) and do not deserve to be throttled by my shoe strings (the only likely weapon I had on me at the time).

A couple of other issues: they ran out of water at some stations especially in the last half, which is unfathomable in a race of this size. There also didn’t seem to be too many medics. I saw people puking all over the place, including inside the Mandalay Bay, which was a freaking war zone after the race.

runners 3
I’m RIGHT there! On the left! Ugh. I give up.

About the end of the race, after crossing the finish line, I was quickly handed my medal (glow in the dark, VERY cool) and started moving with the crowd towards what I thought would be water, food, mylar heating blankets. I did get a mylar blanket (the table appeared unstaffed and another runner was just throwing them in the air behind him so I managed to catch one out of the air). I also saw an unmanned table with flats of water bottles, so I grabbed one of those as well and continued with my crowd surge strategy.

Finish self portrait
That dude on the right seems quite scared of me. As well he should be.

Then, about 100 feet in, the surging crowd just came to a halt. I assumed we were picking up goodie bags with food. I was just stopped. In a crush of sweaty, disgusting, shivering people, myself included. Finally, out of the corner of my eye, I sensed some movement on the perimeters of the crowd, so I decided to forget the food and just get out of this crowd. I pushed my way over to the edge and shuffled along. When I looked back to try to figure out what had caused the ridiculous jam I had just been stuck in for about 15 minutes, I saw that there were about 5 or 6 lines for getting your picture taken with your medal. WTF?? Right inside the finish line?? How about some damn signage so people who don’t want a stupid picture can get on with their lives??

Blurry self portrait
OK, you definitely see me now, right? Just look how fast I’m going! Everything’s a blur I’m so fast!

Again, all I wanted to do at this point was find some room so I could stretch after my run. But no. There was no room to be had. I made my way back into the gear check area so I could pick up my phone and try to text my fellow racers (I got separated from them around mile 10 because my metatarsal problems had flared up in a MAJOR way. Several walking breaks, which was mildly disappointing, but not surprising, since I knew this might be an issue).

And Holy Running Hell, the whole place looked like a triage area. There was trash and spilled drinks and food everywhere, runners laying on the floor stretching as far as the eye could see. People zombied out, or puking into their mylars. It was crazy! So naturally, I wanted to get my stuff and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Except ‘quick’ was not the order of the day by any means. Again, a HUGE bottleneck developed as thousands of people jammed into the halls of the Mandalay and tried to make their way to the shuttles, the taxi stand out front, or the tram to the Luxor or Excalibur. To add to the fun, the new Cirque de Soleil Michael Jackson tribute show “Immortal” (opening weekend, naturally) was letting out at the exact same time that me and my crew and about a bazillion of our closest, sweatiest friends were crammed into the exit hallway. I felt so bad for those poor people.

While all this crushing and pushing was going on, people were dropping like flies (understandably since it stunk so badly). Passing out and puking against columns. INDOORS! It was insane, chaotic, disgusting and overall horribly disorganized. We took the tram to the Excalibur to try to catch a cab, but the line was just way, way too long, so we ended up just walking back to the Cosmopolitan where my friend was staying.

facebook crowd pic

I have no idea how long it took us to get out of that hell-zone from start to finish, but we were all so traumatized we just sat around the room stretching and looking at each other. We didn’t take any after pictures. They ordered some pizza from a restaurant downstairs, but at that point, I was just too exhausted and smelled too gross, so I met XFE downstairs and made our way back to the Venetian (we walked). It was hours after the race and I saw other runners just making their way back as well.

Vegas sign runner
Chasing Vegas. Literally.

Apparently there have been quite a few complaints along the lines of what I just described.

“It was tough. We didn’t know where to go and there wasn’t anybody guiding us,” says racer Mary Murphy.

“There was a lot of chaos on the way back to the hotel,” adds Murphy’s daughter Kelli.

The photos, snapped with cell phones, show thousands of people pouring into Mandalay Bay hallways unable to move. People report being stuck for nearly an hour with numerous people vomiting and passing out.

“We had heard that lots of people collapsed,” says racer Christie McMorris. “Inside the hotel was horrible.”

Yeah, that’s about right.

Last year, when the race was run in the morning, the race was capped at 28,000 runners. The switch to a nighttime race almost doubled the participation. And next year, the organizers are aiming for 60,000. Good luck to them. I will definitely not be amongst them.

But for anyone else doing it in the future, a few tips:

  1. Avoid gear check. Just catch pneumonia in your sweaty, wet clothes instead.
  2. Avoid going inside the hotel at all. I know you’re cold and it’s nice and warm in there, but I’m telling you, you don’t want to do it.
  3. Bring your own water and bring enough for the entire race and after. And don’t share with anybody, otherwise you might be getting water from a fire hydrant and a trash can. (Yep, that happened, according to some reports.)
  4. Get the hell away from the finishing area as fast as you can. I recommend walking fast and never looking back.
  5. Have food ready for after the race. Because there’s a good chance you won’t find any at the finishing area.
  6. Be really, really fast so you can be in one of the early corrals and done before the chaos begins.

I promise to be more positive tomorrow. I had a fantastic post-race day, including awesome food, some shoe shopping, and a massage. All’s well that ends well.

Hotel Crashing: The Venetian, Las Vegas

Did you know that the Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Venetian in Vegas? If you’re staying at the hotel, you definitely do. Because it’s everywhere. The music in the elevators? Phantom. The music in the lobby? Phantom. The welcoming card in the bedroom? Phantom.

We’ve stayed in quite a few places in Vegas. But this was my first time at the Venetian.

It was, well, very Italian. And full of marble. And frescoes. The Venetian is very beautiful and classy. No doubt about it. The lobby is gorgeous, complete with fountains, wide marble avenues and columns, and an accordion player in a striped shirt and straw boater.

The outside was all dressed up for the holidays, with a really cool clear glass bulb LED Christmas tree out front and an ice skating rink.

Christmas Tree at the Venetian

Check out went fast and seemed easy (XFE was in charge). Cab lines were a bit ridiculous on Saturday and Sunday, but fine by Monday and Tuesday.

It’s an all-suite hotel and the rooms are large and in charge. It had a nice foyer when you walk in, two queen sized beds, a sunken living room, two queen sized beds, and a ginormous bathroom.

Sitting area at the Venetian

Beds at the Venetian, Las Vegas

Seriously, the bathroom made the place. It had a separate shower and fantastic large tub that filled up very quickly – I used that thing every day. It also had a little dressing table with a light up makeup mirror. But Venetian, what’s up with the cheap toiletries? And it would be alright by me if you upgraded the towels a bit.

Bathroom at the Venetian, Las Vegas

venetian dressing table

That was a pretty common theme – overall it seemed like the Venetian was once quite luxurious, but is getting a bit dated. XFE and I tend to like clean, modern design, so for us, the opulent European castle bit is not really our thing. Which isn’t to say it’s not a nice room.

Other oddities: no fridge in the room, which is weird. Plus, no free water or wifi, despite the “resort” fee. Yes, the gym was included and that’s becoming rare in Vegas.

Living room at the Venetian, Las Vegas

And they REALLY don’t want you to order room service. We called room service twice and were informed both times that it would be an hour wait. And we had no room service menu in our room, a fact which wasn’t remedy, despite the fact we both mentioned it when we called.

That might be because they have so many great restaurants at the Venetian, including Grand Lux Cafe, CUT and SUSHISAMBA. The only place we ate was at Bouchon and like I said yesterday, it was meh.

My biggest complaint might be how huge it was. I got lost more than once trying to find the damn elevators. I ended up just following the sound of the Phantom soundtrack, and always ended up in the right place.

I really like the casino. They had all the newest slot machines and my old favorites (like Goldfish). It was large but still felt intimate and well-maintained.

It’s also connected to the newer Palazzo and all the wonderful shopping there. And there’s the Canyon Ranch Spa, which I went to the day after the marathon and was nice. Not great, but nice.

The Venetian really is a great, one-stop place. You really didn’t even need to leave the property, it had everything you could want. Good shopping, a decent spa, nice casino, interesting shows, world-class restaurants.

It’s also a great location, right in the heart of the Strip and right next to the Wynn and the Encore.

So, totally serviceable and a nice choice, but with so many other, newer (more modern) options in Vegas, I probably won’t be staying at the Venetian again. In fact, we’re planning on staying at the Cosmopolitan a couple of nights at Christmas, so expect another Hotel Crashing then.

Canal at the Venetian, Las Vegas

Las Vegas: Exactly Like Venice

I’ll go ahead and kill the suspense: Yes, I actually finished the Las Vegas Rock N Roll half. No, I did not die. Or puke. Or crap myself. And I did it in 2 hours, 23 minutes, which is four minutes better than my previous half marathon also called, “When Chicago Froze Over in May.”

Finish self portrait

So, success all around. For the most part. I do have some serious bitching to do about the whole enterprise. But let’s not jump ahead. You have a whole week of Vegas recaps ahead of you.  Just know there will be a bit of snark sometime in the next couple of days. As if you couldn’t guess that running with 44,000 other people was rife with some disorganization.

 

Inside the bay
Anybody know where we can get a cab?

 

My ½ marathon cheerleader for life XFE and I arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday morning. We met with XFE mere for some scuba mask shopping and lunch (That’s right! I finished my online scuba classes. I’m half-certified! Fishes better watch their shit. I’m on my way!)

We checked in to the Venetian, which I had never stayed at before. It’s humongous! Seriously large. Like, an airport or something. I’ll do a full hotel review tomorrow.

We were in the Venezia tower, kinda close to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, which is where we ate lunch. Except, they were only serving brunch. Which was kind of a bummer, because this marks the THIRD time I’ve had brunch at Bouchon (what can I say? It’s very popular on the Vegas Bachelorette Party circuit). Also: the service was pretty disjointed this time, and considering how expensive a place it is, it was disappointing. So I won’t be going to Bouchon again anytime soon. I figure three times is probably enough anyway.

XFE walked his mom out and went to go gamble away our hard-earned cash (ok, fine,  his hard-earned cash) while I went to pick up my race packet and check out the Expo. Luckily, it was at the Sands Convention Center which is adjacent to the Palazzo, which is adjacent to the Venetian. Basically, I didn’t have to go outside. And since it was like 30 degrees and windy in Vegas that day, I was glad of that.

Expo sold out sign

I can sum it up in one word: MOBBED. From the minute I was walking toward the entrance until I made my way out the door about 45 minutes later, ever single step was slowed by other people. And for a bunch of runners, people were moving like slow cattle. It was a slight foreshadowing of the actual event.

Expo corral line

The Expo seemed really cool. There were a ton of vendors and booths with just about every kind of runner paraphernalia you could possibly imagined, but since it was so packed, I just got my stuff, cruised through and left.

swag

It’s a bummer because it’s definitely one of the largest expos I’ve ever been too and I’m sure I would have bought some stuff, but even if I had wanted to buy something, for some reason, they had a central cashier area, so you had to bring whatever you wanted to buy over to this central cashier area and get in a long, long, long line to pay for it. Uh, no thanks.

Cashier lines

I did, however, get a photo with a showgirl, so that was a win.

Showgirl

Today’s the Day. Well, Maybe Not THE Day, But A Day. Nevermind.

In a little bit here, I’ll be partaking in this:

Where hopefully I’m not doing this:

And definitely hope I’m not doing this:

Blech.

I know I’ll feel and look like this:

But that’s ok, because after I finish, I’m going to do this:

And maybe some shopping.

Time to get the show on the road.

Fighting for Equal Potty Access for All Since 2011

Apparently, this week is all “lookie what came into my inbox” week at the PoeLog (week name trademark: pending).

But seriously: Look what came into my inbox from the fine organizers of the Las Vegas Rock N Roll Race Series (I’m training for the half-marathon). Right between a cleverly titled Yelp round up of the best taco places in DC (“Nacho Average Taco” in case you were wondering) and an Urban Daddy promo of a new restaurant called “Meatballs.”

(Sidetrack: I wonder if there’s any correlation whatsoever between the sheer number of food-related content I receive in my inbox and my continuous, daily struggle to pummel the treadmill with my increasingly heavy-footed gait?

(Sidetrack explained: Why yes, I’m a little frustrated with the number on the scale these days. How can I have gained five pounds when I run All. The. Time. I don’t expect to lose weight. That has never happened in my multi-year history of running. But how can I have gained it? And if even one person pipes up in the comment section with, “Oh, you’ve probably gained muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat,” I will go on a rampage. A pound is a pound. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pound of muscle or a pound of fat. They both weigh a pound.)) End of rant.

Anyone still with me here? Wow. You are persistent.

Anyway, the item I wish to draw attention to is this one (all emphasis mine)

Brooks VIP Porta Potty for a Super-Deluxe Start

Take your pre-race potty break in luxury with the Brooks VIP Porta Potty. As a thank you for choosing Brooks and Moving Comfort gear, Brooks is setting up tricked out toilets on race day at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and 1/2 Marathon starting line.

Enjoy a spacious, climate-controlled restroom with running water, flushing toilets, and some Run Happy® surprises. To claim your VIP access you must do ONE of the following:

Head to a participating retailer October 31 – December 1, 2011, and purchase $100 in Brooks or Moving Comfort apparel or Brooks shoes. Offer valid at listed locations only (see list online).

– OR –

Come to the Health & Fitness Expo presented by Power Balance on December 2-3 and purchase $150 in official Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon merchandise, Brooks apparel or running shoes, or Moving Comfort apparel.

You’ll receive a special sticker for your race bib that gives you access to the Brooks VIP Porta Potty staffed by Brooks employees and volunteers from participating Las Vegas-area retailers.

Please note: Passes are available while supplies last. To maximize your enjoyment, the total number admitted is capped. The Brooks VIP Porta Potty will be available on race day from 2:00 to 5:45 p.m., and we strongly recommend arriving early.

Holy Club Honey Bucket (that’s the name of a popular porta potty company for those of you who don’t know. Don’t ask me how I know that). Is this now “a thing?” And is it only for the Las Vegas Rock n Roll ½ (which I’m currently training for)?

Wait, is there a BUTLER??

Alas, no it is not. I looked on my Twitter feed and there was a tweet from my favorite local running store touting their Brooks VIP Porta Potty for this weekend’s Marine Corp Marathon. Apparently, this is, indeed, “a thing.”

Now, my first instinct, like any girl who enjoys the finer things in life, is hellz yeah. I want to “potty like a rock star” and “take my pre-race potty break in luxury.” I want to sit in a “spacious, climate-controlled restroom with running water and flushing toilets.” And I’m beyond intrigued by what “Run Happy® surprises” might be mine for the taking. Are we talking special toilet paper here? I’m very suspicious of surprises in general (I mean, it could be an unpleasant surprise) but still, incredibly curious.

Plus, I need that access! Have you seen the porta-potties at a race? They’re not very nice. And there are a lot of people waiting to use them. And, I have the World’s Smallest Bladder®, so the idea of instant and frequent bathroom access is quite attractive to me.

Plus, plus, I need new running shoes at some point before the race and if I am spending the money anyways, I might as well get a “special sticker giving me access to the Brooks VIP Porta Potty staffed by Brooks employees and volunteers” – (sidenote: eeeewww. That has to be the suckiest volunteer job ever. Can you imagine showing up on race day, ready to hand out water or cheer on racers and finding out that instead, you’ll be manning the porta potty? Uuuuuh, no thanks.)

But after quickly perusing the list of participating retailers and determining that I could not buy my shoes here in DC in the next month or so (which I desperately need to do) and get my sticker for the RnR event, I became righteously indignant.

Suddenly, I became one of the great unwashed masses, denied entry into the best bathroom. Instead, I’ll have to slum it with all the other runners at the non-exclusive porta potty. No Run Happy® surprises for me.

And so, my fellow LVRNR runners, I suggest that we mobilize. We have to show those elitist that we’re not going to take any of their crap (PUN: INTENDED). We must start a (bowel) movement that will be heard across the country.

We must Occupy the Brooks VIP Porta Party.

Let’s take a (toilet) seat for democracy. We are the 99% and we have to go to the bathroom.