Monday, July 25, 2011

If a home sells in Henderson, does anyone notice it?

Mrs. Hall furrowed her brow and studied the listings for Henderson, NV. "The prices are still unbelievable in this area. It's not as close as I would have liked, but the neighborhood is clean and neat. Are you game?" Mr. Hall finished tying his new two-toned oxfords and stood up. "Let's fire up the engines."
The poor little rental had but a measly 2000 miles on it when the Halls picked it up in Seattle, WA; it could be reasonably argued that the engine was scarcely broken in. Such was not the case by now- the odometer was still smoking from the previous day's run when Mr. Hall pulled it under the hotel canopy. Mrs. Hall emerged, ipad, map and charging cables in hand, ready to navigate.
"Apparently Del Webb owns the entire southwest side of Henderson," muttered Mrs. H. The area was as scrubbed clean as Disneyland- there wasn't a flower or a stone fence out of place. The streets were eerily quiet. Though there were a number of gated communities, several were not, affording the Halls an opportunity to view several listings up close. "I like it," started Mr. Hall. "Looks safe and neat." "I think it looks like something out of 'The Stepford Wives.' " confided Mrs. Hall. "Besides, I'd really like to be closer to town. A little edginess sort of appeals to me." It was clear they were separated by some difference of opinion. "Wait a minute- what's that?" he said. Pulled up in front of one of the sale properties was a silver pickup towing a trailer. On the trailer was a massive bright gold figure of Buddha. "Wow. Is that moving in or out?" wondered Mr. Hall aloud. "If it's moving in, there may be some hope for this place yet!" laughed Mrs. H.
Stopping at a local shopping center, they checked out the nearby services, broke for lunch and reevaluated their choices. "What do you want to do?" asked Mrs. Hall. "I want to ride the monorails and hit the slots. What do you want to do?" sighed Mr. Hall "I want to shop for that white dress I need for the big meeting in Oriskany. Wanna forget houses for now and just play?" He nodded gleefully and radioed in a request for flight deviation. A short hour later, they were boarding the monorail.
Walking through the shops, they encountered several wedding parties. Mrs. Hall recalled reading that approximately 315 weddings a day take place in Las Vegas. While some of the wedding parties were clearly less formal than others, there was no doubt, a wedding in Vegas would be a memorable one.
Clinking their glasses together at the cafe overlooking the garden at the Bellagio, they considered how much had changed in the two years since their last visit. Vegas was jammed, even in the off-season, but apparently still not immune to the effects of the recent Great Recession. On the face of things, the Bellagio looked the same, but looking closely one could see that the old casino was somewhat toned down; the little extras that one came to expect were more pedestrian compared to before. The waitstaff there seemed almost petulant.
The only exception was the Wynn, which seemed even more luxurious than ever. Mrs. Hall wiled away the time betting the ponies at Arlington Park in the sport book arena. (Betting hunch bets is always a risky business, and even though she would have dearly loved to win with $2 down on Homeboykris to Show, the horse sat down and took a nap somewhere around the first turn.) Mr. Hall made a killing on the slots in the afternoon and he sprang for her white dress at the fashion mall across the street.
The Halls could feel themselves falling under the spell of the town. "I love it out here," sighed Mr. Hall and Mrs. Hall had to agree. The weather was gorgeous, the shopping phenomenal and the atmosphere electric. They watched the dancing fountains from the rental as they sat caught in traffic one evening. They leaned over the railing at the Palazzo to watch the boiling volcanoes spewing "lava" in front of the Mirage while strolling the strip.
On their last evening in Vegas, Mrs. Hall confessed that it had been nearly 20 years since she'd had a lobster dinner. Mr. Hall vowed to remedy that immediately. They chose a quiet little steakhouse in the Forum Shops (to accommodate Mr. Hall's palate as well) and for a few very enjoyable hours savored their last meal in town.
Early the next morning, they returned the little rental- fairly dusty and 2500 miles older- to the airport and flew off. Mrs. Hall fell asleep smiling, lost in a reflective fog, as they flew over the jewel of the desert. Mr. Hall leaned back as far as was possible in the crowded quarters of the airplane, and managed to develop a cramp. "I hate flying commercial," he grumbled. Past pilots can be a trial to fly with on a good day, and corporate ones can be the worst.
The airline was late getting into O'Hare and the Halls missed their connecting flight. The editors of the Monitor, being cognizant of the sensibilities of the Gentle Reader, have opted not to repeat Mr. Hall's commentary on the state of the airline industry at this time, but it's safe to say he offered not only a toasty editorial, but some fairly ripe suggestions for the CEOs as well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Viva Las Vegas

Crossing over the mountains at the south end of Death Valley, Mrs. Hall expected the temps to be somewhat higher. When they had crossed it two years ago, the Giant Thermometer in Baker CA was reading just under 108 degrees. However, the heat wave in the Midwest seemed to be draining their steam from the west coast; the temp gauge on the dashboard of the little rental recorded a measly 85 degrees (at altitude 3912 ft). Locals could be seen pulling their sweaters out of mothballs, preparing to bear up.
The Gentle Reader will remember their middle school teachers telling them that no matter how colorfully the states are designated in their primers, real geography does not provide such visual cues. That lesson does not apply coming in on Route 15. Visible from nearly ten miles away, the legal line between the Golden State and the Silver State is an easily discernible division; a solid wall of gambling establishments defines the difference between a CA zip code and one in NV.
Pulling into the Las Vegas city limits, Mrs. Hall could see Mr. Hall's resolve wavering between duty and diversion. She quickly gathered a list of addresses and real estate listings, so to better utilize their time searching for a home, and promised that if they looked at just the western portion of town today, they could go out playing tonight. It is common knowledge that out off the five or six major frustrations in life, househunting ranks pretty high up on the list. Weaving through one disappointing neighborhood after another can tend to take a toll, so leaving off the last remaining homes on the list, Mrs. Hall suggested they take a break. "We're up on the north side anyway; why not slide by Gold and Silver Pawn Shop and see what we can see?" Mr. Hall was already pulling in the parking lot by the time she had finished her sentence. One of Mr. Hall's favorite shows on the History Channel is "Pawn Stars", so she knew it was a cinch he'd be bucked up by the prospect of perusing their showcases and checking out items from the show.
"You've never seen Fremont Street, have you?" asked Mr. Hall. Mrs. Hall had only been on the big main strip in Vegas and was unfamiliar with the casinos of older days. "Com'n- let's mush on down and mingle with the seamier side of the strip." Much had been done to try to revitalize an area that was on the verge of descending into the urban decay endemic in North Las Vegas. An overhead canopy was the most obvious upgrade, used for nightly lazer shows and much too much loud advertising. But the city was determined to hang on to this little slice of history; and while it may cater to a somewhat less well-heeled crowd than is generally seen outside the Bellagio, the street cleaners everywhere and the family safe street entertainers made it clear the Las Vegas Jaycees were doing their level best to make the old girl as appealing as possible.
The public appeared to be responsive. A woman forsook her walker to cling to a reincarnated Elvis; twentysomethings drank mystery drinks from oversized footballs. Strollers were everywhere, and the Golden Nugget had what Mrs. Hall considered the most enticing outdoor pool on the strip; guests staying at that old standby were treated to a three story high water tube that curled around and actually went through a tank filled with sharks. "A coy metaphor or perhaps a summary of the whole Vegas experience?" asked Mrs. Hall, as she stood fascinated, watching the children slide through the saltwater aquarium.
As they wandered out back onto the street, there was one attraction Mrs. Hall could not take her eyes off of. High above the crowds, a continuous stream of screaming tourists whizzed by on a zipline overhead. "That's for me!" she said, and Mr. Hall shook his head. Before he could even begin to go into an argument, she was in line and strapping on the five point harness. "Here's the camera- I'll wave to you from the top!" The following video is below, for the Gentle Reader's enjoyment.

"That was amazing!!" gasped Mrs. Hall, as she extricated herself from the ropes. Dashing past the hucksters trying to sell her expensive photographic evidence of her adventure, she rejoined Mr. Hall on the street.
"I think that's enough excitement for one day." Mr. Hall was tiring and it was time to look around for dinner. "We'll hit the main drag tomorrow." But he could barely catch her attention, she was so busy showing off the wristband proof of her flying abilities to other passerbys.
Next episode: Wynn-ing ways. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Getting our just deserts

"Yes, but it's a dry heat!" assured Mr. Hall. Mrs. Hall had heard this reply so many times her head was starting to hurt. Having enjoyed the trip down the west coast so far, they slingshotted around San Diego and were now heading back up north and east to the high desert. Somewhere in the not-so-distant future Mr. Hall was thinking about retirement, and it was time to do some scouting for a new locale. Palm Springs and Las Vegas had come up on the short list, so Mr. Hall had filed his flight plan and was making the necessary adjustments.
The Halls had come in late to that desert mecca. A few suggestions from the GPS and some calculated guesswork dropped them in the vicinity of Palm Desert and some delightful restaurants. Closing their eyes and choosing one (always a risky venture while driving...) they pulled into "Shame on the Moon" to sup and reevaluate the situation. There was a 35 minute wait but since the bar was open, they opted to dine there. The bartender appeared out of nowhere and effortlessly brought them some wonderful light fare. Pausing a bit, as she blotted her face with the napkin, Mrs. Hall surveyed the room. "Did you notice something?" she asked Mr. Hall. He was deeply engrossed in the meal and did not reply. "I mean, did you notice that we are by far, wait staff excepted, the youngest patrons of this establishment by at least 25 years?" Mr. Hall looked up, around and nodded an assent. She called over the vapor of a bartender. "Am I mistaken, or is Palm Springs the Elephants' Graveyard? Is everyone here about this age?" He smiled and continued to wipe out glasses. "And can I ask you something else?" she continued. "I'm ashamed to say I don't recognize that bottle. Can you tell me what it is?" He pulled it out. "It's ginger-flavored cognac" he replied and Mrs. Hall pulled a face. A drink like that can pretty much sum up a crowd, she thought. She leaned over and confided to the barkeep, "I keep Hennessey in my hip flask 'cause it's hard to get cognac at the ballpark." He smiled and said, "You're a girl after my own heart."
The next morning they set themselves to their task. Armed with several real estate listings and a neighborhood map, they wound around the parks and side streets, rubbernecking and snooping and generally causing concern in the senior community. A lot of the areas were gated, and while Mrs. Hall's charms were considerable, she was only able to convince about half of the guards to let them roam about unescorted. Frustrated with what was rapidly becoming a futile search, Mr. Hall called off the plan and suggested they just check out what he knew would appeal to Mrs. Hall; the vintage/retro resale shops in the trendy oh-so-midcentury modern part of old Palm Springs.
It turned out to be a enjoyable respite. A quick lunch at the local coffee emporium, lots of envious drooling over Eames era furnishings and Mrs. Hall was remarkably docile. "Well, I may not have found the perfect home for you, but I did find the perfect accessory. Check this out!" There in the window was a huge, whited over, 737 model aircraft, probably rescued from some old travel agency long ago. Mr. Hall inspected it closely for any remaining signs of livery, but all that was left were a few chip marks revealing some cerulean blue and orange. "Probably an old Southwest jet-" he guessed. The owner was willing to haggle and Mrs. Hall equally willing to waver, but it Mr. H. remained steadfast in his belief that the treasure would not fit in the overhead compartment on the ride home and that they would have to pass.
Waving goodbye to the old movie stars homes and the stunning architecture, they continued on up to Barstow. A short detour took them past the former home of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Mr. Hall stopped shortly to revisit Sunset Chapel in Apple Valley to pay his respects. The Halls would have dearly loved to re-indulge in one of Emma Jean's Hollandburger delights, brimming over with greasy ortega chili laden goodness, but unfortunately, the old Route 66 treasure had already closed for the day. They ended up dining in Barstow instead, at a singularly forgettable restaurant. Mr. Hall paused to attempt digestion and pout, when Mrs. H. reminded him about the train yard. "That's right- I almost forgot!" For about the next hour or so, Mr. Hall stood in the shadow of the old Harvey Hotel over looking twenty or more rail lines; the trains whizzed by, to and fro in the rising moonlight. Mr. Hall was serenely happy, while Mrs. Hall reclined as much as the rental's carseat would allow, trying to survive the effects of their recent repast. The hotel was close at hand, and the next day came mercifully fast. Next episode: High desert, but low temps. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meetin' and eatin'

The Santa Ana sun shone in the hotel room early. Mrs. Hall gave her brother Leo Pranitis, Jr., prominent businessman and charming host, a call and the next thing they knew, the Halls were at his doorstep. (Editor's note: The kidding and reacquainting got out of hand rather quickly- so quickly in fact, that the editorial staff was unable to snap any shots. You can watch Leo as he looks today in this fascinating interview from Dentistry Today.

The coffee and the conversation flowed free and fast- Mr. Hall could barely keep up- but since Lee had so little time that morning, they unfortunately had to keep it short. "You're going right past where Sydney works- you should stop in and see her too!" he said, as he waved good bye. They swung by the shopping plaza where Sydney Pranitis, his daughter, worked. It had been years since the Halls had seen her, and Mrs. Hall was afraid that time had perhaps dimmed her memory, but Sydney could not be fooled; she spotted her immediately. A few quick hugs, a chat and some more goodbyes (Sydney was, after all, technically still at work!) and the Halls hit the road.
Escondido was the home of Mr. Hall's adopted family, the Pierces, and Elaine, her son, Eric, and his daughter Tabitha, met them with open arms. They had just enough time to wash up, check the oil and straighten their hats, when the whole clan headed over to his sister Eileen and her husband Matt Harbin's home. It had been nearly five years since they had been together, and it wasn't long after they had arrived, that Mrs. Hall recalled nicknaming them the "Harbin Hurricanes". "What an astonishing family this is!" remarked Mrs. H. as the children dashed about to their various sports. The Harbins were kind enough to offer to put the Halls up for a few days for some well needed rest, and they didn't need to offer twice. The bedroom where they bunked was filled to the brim with awards, trophies and certificates for their daughter Kristen; just one of the resident "hurricanes". The entire family seemed to be forces of nature, and each one more interesting than the next.
Nothing makes meat taste better than an open fire, and at night Grillmaster Matt fired up the charpit and dished up some king sized cuts. "After eating on the road for so long, nothing beats homecookin', sighed Mr. Hall, between mouthfuls. Even though she was stuffed clean up to the gills, Mrs. Hall still managed to embarrass herself amongst the youngsters on the tennis court after dinner.
Before they left, Elaine and the Halls drove up to Rosecrans National Cemetery, where her husband and Mr. Hall's adoptive father Robert Pierce is inurned, to pay their respects. Rosecrans Cemetery overlooks the bay, the Naval base and the stunning Coronado Bridge, and a more peaceful and well-tended resting place could not be found.
The Halls would have loved to stay and play some more, but the working part of their vacation was looming head and now they had to go. Several rounds of hugs, kisses and blessings went around, and then went around again, and finally, tearing themselves away, they hit the road. Next episode; Palm Springs eternal. Stay tuned!

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