Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Month That Was - August 2006: Late as usual. But this time my excuse is all the articles that are now available for whiling away those long, boring afternoons at work, including the previously promised write up on Turks and Caicos. The rest are referenced in the posts or you can check the sidebar. On with the show...

Vegas Without A Second Thought
IKEA Invasion
Crystal Football
Lost Cargo, Found Doorstop
Adios Deadwood (Sort of)
HBO, No End in Sight
Vegas Without A Second Thought: I don't even think twice about going to Vegas anymore. This time it was for a couple of days, mostly because I had a winning football bet that I had to collect on from last year. (I had to head home before the bet resolved, and you only have a year from that time to collect your payout.)

I flew out midday on Sunday and back Tuesday. Took only a carry-on so I didn't have to wait the 45 minutes it often takes Northwest to get your bags to the carousel. Sunday afternoon there was no line for a cab, saving another possible 20 minutes. I even managed to secure sweet exit row seating both ways. Could not have been simpler.

I checked into a new property called Signature which is a luxury property associated with MGM Grand. As you no doubt expect, you can read a full review over at Hotel Chatter.

Like I was saying, a Vegas trip is dead easy for me now. I don't feel any need to investigate or explore too much, unless there is something new since my last visit. I know what I want to do and I know where I can go to do it.

This trip was about perfect. Sunday evening I snagged a quick bite to eat at Sensi in the Bellagio (since I could not get near Olives), followed by a profitable blackjack session at the Monte Carlo on the way back.

The next morning was spent at the MGM pool, then a late afternoon low-stakes poker session at Excalibur, which I ended in the red. I only really played three bad hands -- one was an outright bad beat when my opponent caught a straight on the river, one was because I was stupid enough to try to bluff someone who turned out to be the most aggressive player at the table, and the third was not really a mistake -- I played out a marginal hand because the pot was so fat I thought it was worth the extra risk.

After that I headed up to Caesar's to cash in my winning ticket. It was such an old ticket that it took them a while so I had to deal with a couple of drunken idiots who had bets on the Dodgers game and decided they were going to tell me how to bet the upcoming football season. They had "guaranteed winners" and were going to give them to me just because they "like me". They were also getting belligerent with the staff in the sports book, demanding free drinks. It was one of those borderline situations where they haven't quite gone far enough to get themselves kicked out, but security was hovering around anticipating a confrontation.

Luckily, I was able to get my winnings and disappear into Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill for some dinner before things got ugly.

After that, I did something that I have been meaning to do ever since I started going to Vegas: visit the downtown area. It's a cab ride to get there, about $17 each way, and I would have to judge that it is not worth it. Most of the activity is centered on a blocked off area of Fremont Street. It is, as you can imagine, casinos and crap shops up one end and down the other. With the exception of the Golden Nugget, most of the casinos are of the low end variety; the type that have been displaced on The Strip by all the ritzy properties.

The other main attraction downtown is something called the Fremont Street Experience, which is an enormous electric sign that acts as a canopy over Fremont Street covering several blocks. Every hour they play about a five minute animation on it that seems to cover the whole sky if you are standing on Fremont. Cute and impressive, but not worth $30+ in cab fare. It might be worth it to gamble downtown if you were looking for very advantageous blackjack rules (single-decks, bonus payouts, etc.) and probably very loose video poker. As it stands, though, I'll likely pass on a downtown visit in the future.

I checked out Tuesday morning and didn't have to leave for the airport until about 4PM. I thought about doing some more gaming, but instead, I chose to while away the afternoon at the spa in THEhotel, alternately soaking in the hot tub, reading, saunaing, writing, eating the tasty snacks they layout. A sweet place to chill for a few hours.

And that was it, a relatively low-key but superbly enjoyable weekend in Vegas. What could be better?
IKEA Invasion: Yes, that's right, I went to IKEA.

See, I have been ham-fistedly working on my bedroom. I managed to get it painted -- an experience which, by the way, I found greatly disappointing. After all the years of technological advancement we have seen, there is still, apparently, no better way to paint a room than move all the furniture, tape all the borders, cover everything with a tarp, pour paint into a tray and then apply it with a clumsy roller. Has this process changed in the last 50 years? Is there not a better way, or do people really enjoy doing it like that? If entire houses can be made modular, why can wall panels be made so that you can remove them one at a time, take them outside, spray them quickly and efficiently using high tech paint that dries in 15 minutes, then just snap them back into place. You could mess with the colors pretty much at will. Ah well, nobody listens.

But I digress.

I needed to pick up some new chests-of-drawers so I headed to the big new IKEA compound in Canton (probably 25-30 miles west of Detroit). The place is mind-blowingly large. It is roughly the size of a big casino in Vegas (this is how I measure size) and like a casino, you are guided on a path to make your way through the store, partly because you could get lost so easily, but mostly because they want to make sure you pass everything on display, just in case you see a slot machine you want to, I mean, you see some household item you didn't know you wanted to buy.

Stupidly I got there at about Noon on Saturday and it was a zoo. I drove around for a solid ten minutes to find a parking space. I eventually found the chests I wanted, but I realized I had to do some measurements before I could safely buy them. So I headed back home to get the measuring done, telling myself I'd go back that evening when there wouldn't be such a crowd. Wrong. The place was still packed at 7pm. Incredible -- especially for the worst economy in the nation.

The most interesting thing was to see all the solid middle-class families standing around and talking in the aisle and at the cafeteria (did I mention IKEA has it's own cafeteria?). If you are ever in the mood to people watch, find a comfy chair in an IKEA store. It's like the place instantly became the social hub suburbanite homeowners, kind of like a post-modern counterpart to Main Street U.S.A. I find that fascinating. I don't particularly ever want to go back, but I find it fascinating.
Crystal Football: I've been biting my nails over the prospect of restarting my football column come the last week of October-ish, but I am committed to doing it for one more year. To help get myself back in the swing I wrote up a two-part season preview (Part 1, Part 2). If you're a fan, do check it out.
Lost Cargo, Found Doorstop: I was subscribed to a magazine called Cargo. It was a decent rag. Pretty much wall to wall stuff. Any and all sorts of stuff. By "stuff" I mean toys, gadgets -- "kit" for those of you in the U.K. And clothes to some extent, but not the kind of stuff you would find in fashion magazines; the kind of clothes you actually wear. It was decent to flip through once a month, and worth the price, considering I only paid a couple of bucks for the subscription from Well, Cargo didn't make it, they ceased publication and in its place, subscribers are now getting the equivalent copies of GQ.

Have you ever looked at a GQ? It weighs about 15 pounds. The first 100 pages are ads (not exaggerating). In fact I would guess 70%-80% is ads. The photography is unabashedly soft core porn and is equally split between men and women, suggesting that their demographic skews exceptionally gay.

In contrast, the articles, such as they are, are designed to seem deep and important. To that end they are angled towards Timely and Relevant Issues; the kinds of issues that merit Capitalization. The political edge is uniformly, snarkily, and superciliously leftish, which is to say it's just like the rest of the magazine: fashionably correct.

I think I'll let this one expire. All I wanted was to read about some toys.
Adios, Deadwood (Sort Of): So Deadwood finally ends its run as a television series. If you haven't been following, creator David Milch had planned on a fourth season to complete the story of the town of Deadwood, moving from barbarism to civilization, and HBO smacked him down. The compromise was that Milch would be allowed two two-hour movies to finish up rather than an entire fourth season which would have amounted to between 10-11 hours.

That is a shame, but perhaps not the biggest shame possible. For the movies to work, Milch will obviously have to cut every last second of fat from the planned fourth season plot. We can only hope he doesn't have to cut anything absolutely critical. Maybe he can convince HBO to extend the movies to two-and-a-half hours thus giving himself almost half the time he was planning on. Maybe I'll just record both movies and watch them an hour at a time, for old time's sake.

Deadwood obviously didn't get the ratings it needed. That's to be expected. Do you really think people will flock to a TV show in which the characters do not speak in a constant stream of ironic snarkiness, instead speaking in complete and well formed sentences -- even poetic soliloquies? Not gonna happen. But as sad as it is that Milch couldn't finish his story on his own terms, you would have to have no sense of perspective not to appreciate that Deadwood was made at all. Never would have happened in the three network, pre-VCR world of my childhood.

The series (pseudo) finale was a triumph as excepted. In the end, George Hearst never got his comeuppance. The camp had pulled together and was close to reaching solid moral ground, even to the point of guilting Hearst about his murderous ways. Yet, to avoid probable destruction, they ended up coercing the widow of one of Hearst's victims into a compromise with Hearst himself and worse, even the law-upholding residents of the camp had to tacitly condone the murder of an innocent. Hearst left smiling at the impotence of the camp authorities and gleefully headed off to his next conquest. The camp had to settle for a simple survival as a salve for their blackened consciences.

The bad guy won. Not just a pyrrhic victory. He won and will suffer no ill consequences. As beautifully done as it was, how are you going to sell that to the general viewing audience?

An Emmy should have gone to Gerald McRaney for his portrayal of Hearst. It's a long way from Major Dad.
HBO, No End in Sight: With Deadwood ending, The Wire going into what will likely be it's last season, The Sopranos finishing up in early 2007, I though I might finally cut the cord with HBO. That's now doubtful.

First off, I would be remiss if I didn't admit to that I have come to like Entourage. I started watching it about half way through the season, mostly because it came on immediately after Deadwood, and I kind of got attached.

It is nothing special, just a decent light-and-fluffy sitcom. There have been many comparisons between Entourage and Sex and the City and they are apt for the most part. In this case you have four men instead of four women, and you have El Lay instead of The City. The sex obsessed men are in their twenties, whereas the sex obsessed women were closing in on forty. And the men aren't nearly as crude as the women were. What that says about the gender wars I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.

The big advantage Entourage has is The Piven. It features Jeremy Piven in a role he was born for, which is worth the price of admission. I also like the Kevin Dillon character, Johnny Drama.

Anyway, Entourage would not be enough to keep me subscribed to HBO on its own, but there are two upcoming projects that might end up being fascinating.

True Blood is a horror/fantasy project based on the "Southern Vampire" series of novels by Charlaine Harris. In this series, a blood substitute is discovered that eliminates the need for vampires to drink human blood. In turn they come out of the closet, so to speak, and try to integrate into modern society. The series is to be headed by Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under, who has apparently moved on from the dead to the undead.

According to Ball: "It's not Gothic...It's contemporary rural America, white trashy, very funny and really scary." Sounds like fun.

The other upcoming show of interest is John from Cincinnati, this one from Deadwood creator David Milch. Here's the canned description:

"The dysfunctional Yost family of Imperial Beach--patriarch Mitch, a former surfing star who can now levitate (slightly), married to the aggressively unhappy Cissy, parents of the drug-addicted, dissolute Butchie, also a former surfing champ and the father himself to the talented but resentful skateboarder Shaun--find their lives disrupted by the arrival of the dim but wealthy John From Cincinnati, a boarding savant who's come to take lessons from Butchie, and Barry Cunningham from Azusa, whose personal connection to the Yost family has him returning to Imperial Beach to avenge a wrong done to him, by them, 23 years ago."

I love the "levitate (slightly)" thing.

Looks like I'm gonna have to stick with HBO at least until I can get a good read on these two new series.

{Me looks back at the HBO graphic on the TV and says, "I wish I could quit you."}