Tag Archives: travel

thursday travelogue: las vegas: everything is possible but nothing is real.

Two Elvi and a Las Vegas signWelcome to fabulous Las Vegas
Give us your dreamers, your harlots and your sins
Las Vegas
Didn’t nobody tell you
The house will always win?
— “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas,” Brandon Flowers

Others have filed great recaps of the outstanding #simtech10 conference in Las Vegas, so I figured, as an urbanist, I could file my thoughts on our host city. No other place has such a pervasive and glitzy ad campaign, telling people that what happens there, stays there. It’s a casually well-crafted image.

And yet, leaving Las Vegas, I knew I would not miss the city. My friends from the conference I would — and do — miss tremendously, but Las Vegas is too loud, too brash, too in-your-face, too crowded … just too much. Every block on the strip involves running a gauntlet of card-slapping hired hands trying to push strip clubs and prostitution. Coupled with the slow-moving tourists and the overstimulation of sights and sounds, it resembles some kind of smoky, seedy video game.

Oh sure, I can recommend all kinds of things. Dollar drinks and the crazy karaoke characters at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Casino were a hoot. Our group dinner at Bradley Ogden in Caesar’s Palace was quite possibly the most delicious (and not coincidentally, most expensive) I’ve ever had. Our hotel, The Paris, was inexpensive and features the awesome Napoleon’s Dueling Piano Bar and fantastic Le Village Buffet, among other attractions.

Eiffel Tower, the Paris Hotel version

And yet one of my lasting impressions came from taking a 6 a.m. run with some friends, which seemed like being backstage at a carnival. People are still out drinking or stumbling in at that hour. You can see senior citizens sitting at slot machines — were they still there from the previous night or getting an early start? And cleaning crews attempt to take care of some of the profuse of refuse from the previous day’s carousing.

One thing the ads won’t show you is that, among the revelry, you can feel an undercurrent of sadness in Las Vegas. The unemployment rate is a staggering 15%, evidence of what happens when a boom goes bust. While the hustlers crowd the more unfortunate panhandlers off the strip, you can find people begging, busking or sleeping on overpasses and in the city’s less glamorous areas. And if you gaze at people mesmerized by slot machines for hours, blank expressions make you wonder if the machines sucked their souls along with their cash.

I started this entry with Las Vegas favorite son Brandon Flowers, but will paraphrase the band Living Colour for my succinct summation of the city: It’s a place where everything is possible but nothing is real. Decadence walks beside despair, splendor sits aside sorrow. The city runs rife with contradictions, of soaring reveries and dashed dreams. The one truth is that, ultimately, the house wins, and it’s mainly the city promoters laughing all the way to bank.

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thursday travelogue: viva vancouver, the girl next door.

If Seattle is the cool, cynical kid of the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver is the girl next door: effortlessly beautiful, usually unassuming and nursing a slight self-esteem complex. Sure, the Canadian city landed the 2010 Olympics, but some locals felt let down when the slick With Glowing Hearts Olympics ad didn’t use one of its many great homegrown artists but instead British band Doves. Come to think of it, complex is a great way to describe Vancouver.

The Olympic Countdown Clock is a regular tourist stop, but Vancouverites seem ambivelant about the 2010 games.

The Olympic Countdown Clock is a regular tourist stop, but Vancouverites seem ambivelant about the 2010 games.

Though the middle leg of my vacation, Vancouver is by no means a middling city. Any time you can stand on a busy beach and look one way to see a thriving city and the other to see snow-capped mountains, you’re somewhere special. (See this Facebook photo album for more images.)

Great seats, eh?

Great seats, eh?

I was also in Vancouver to see my very favo[u]rite band The Tragically Hip play live at the Orpheum Theatre. My friend Laura scored outstanding tickets from someone who had to unload a pair at the last minute. Was amazed when we got there and saw they were second row, right on the aisle! I had the next-closest thing to a front-row seat for lead singer Gordon Downie’s zany antics and the band’s magnificent musicianship. Close enough even my iPhone in low light could grab some superb shots.

Cheers to Granville Island!

Cheers to Granville Island!

We also spent an afternoon at Granville Island, a funky artsy community that features, among other things, the excellent Granville Island Brewery. I recalled seeing the area and brewery featured on a Travel Channel show and, while the brewery tours were long booked up, we did sample some of the local flavo[u]r.

The land is glorious and free.

The land is glorious and free.

In a previous entry, I chronicled our visit to the Guu Japanese restaurant, which is as much of a show as it is a meal. But so many places in Vancouver are full-sense experiences. Laura lives right near the culture-rich vein Robson Street and the city’s constantly pounding pulse throbs through the pavement. But she also lives a few blocks from English Bay and Stanley Park. The photo above comes from my walk around the seawall that circumnavigates the peninsula, one of many great views offered in this seaside city.

Like the green tea ice cream at Guu, Vancouver is full of unexpected flavo[u]rs.

Like the green tea ice cream at Guu, Vancouver is full of unexpected flavo(u)rs.


While I find most of its inhabitants thoughtful, modest and self-effacing, Vancouver is most certainly not vanilla in any way. It’s more like the green tea ice cream I enjoyed at Guu. It comes full of unexpected surprises, harbo[u]rs a variety of tastes and proves endlessly fulfilling.

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thursday travelogue: 5 things to do in seattle.

One of my dream jobs would be traveler/host on the Globe Trekker TV show (formerly Lonely Planet). Since I’m neither telegenic nor glib, I’m left just babbling about my vacation travels everywhere else. But with any luck maybe, just maybe, I can share a few ideas for travelers once a while through a new occasional feature, the Thursday Travelogue. This edition from my recent trip offers 5 things worth doing in the Seattle area.

1. Catch a Mariners game at lovely new Safeco Field.

The crowd gets hyped as Ichiro comes to bat.

The crowd gets hyped as Ichiro comes to bat.

The star-crossed Seattle Mariners have been my favorite team since my youth, which says I’m either loyal or a glutton for punishment. Gone is the cement colossus Kingdome, replaced by the beautiful Safeco Field. Oh, and the M’s are actually playing well. When we saw them, they put on a late offensive explosion, and held off a last-minute Arizona rally, for a 7-3 win. You’re sure to see a lot of Japanese tourists there rooting for Ichiro. And avoid the garlic fries.

2. Take a hike.

Worth the walk.

Worth the walk.

Seattle sits near a bounty of natural beauty, including the Cascade Mountains. Hikes from easy to very challenging are a short drive from the city. My Seattle host Laura, a hiker and mountaineer of some distinction, took it easy on me as we just tackled a 5+ mile hike of Ollalie State Park Twin Falls. A lot of it was up, but the view was worth it.

3. Check out the underground.

The sound's laid down by the underground.

The sound's laid down by the underground.

The Seattle Underground, that is. Tales of the old city, of vice and vanity, of corruption and creativity. The guides tend to be very funny as well. Bonus: The creation of the tour helped spur preservation and redevelopment of Pioneer Square and other downtown areas.

4. Go sea kayaking.

Ready to row.

Ready to row.

If you like water sports, Seattle has them too. Laura and I stopped by the Northwest Outdoor Center to rent some kayaks and take to the waters of Lake Union. Other than almost being killed by an enormous barge, it was a great time.

5. Enjoy the music.

Carson and Tess Henley, a pair to watch.

Carson and Tess Henley, a pair to watch.

No, it’s not grunge any more, but a little bit of everything. Homegrown talent springs up everywhere, and the biggest names always set down in Seattle. I caught Goodybag, a funk/soul band that trotted out a few topical Michael Jackson covers, and the sibling duo Carson and Tess Henley (above) who have some serious vocal skills plus good looks, and could be poised for big things. But then even the street musicians in Seattle are amazing! And there are great record stores, such as Easy Street Records, whose sidewalk sale enabled me to score 15 CDs for just $18 bucks! A gift that keeps on giving.

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hockey lessons for winning work.

Game on!

Game on!

Maybe I read too much about management, but I couldn’t help but look for lessons this weekend while on the road with the Oswego State women’s ice hockey team (I’m a faculty mentor). Sports is a zero-sum game — if we win, it means you lose — while higher ed is (ideally) about fashioning win-win opportunities. Nonetheless, here are some thoughts.

Hierarchy. We have a head coach, assistant coach, three co-captains and 25 players. Chances are the head coach communicates directly with any individual player. Mistakes are ironed out quickly through direct interaction. No memo from the president to the provost to the dean to the department chair to the faculty. There are drawbacks to a 1:25 supervisor ratio, especially in terms of individualized attention, but communication is clean, clear, results-oriented.

Resource management: The coach has to field a starting goalie, two defenders and three forwards. Rotation is four lines of forwards, three lines of defenders and you hope you can keep your two backup goalies on the bench. You may have a speed line, a big line, or mix and match, plus penalty-kill lines and power-play lines. Staffing is flexible and sometimes lineups (project teams) vary; if you’re a player down due to penalty, you’ll want to put out your best defensive forwards and may have to mix up the pairings. Everyone brings different skills to the mix, and determining successful chemistry of various lines is a difficult art.

Motivation: One game this weekend saw the backup goalie get a start to stay fresh and one forward kept out of the lineup to send a message. Sometimes such positive and negative reinforcements can bite you if all your players don’t respond the way you’d like. But then doesn’t this happen with office project teams?

Reacting/responding: The two games were against Chatham University, and Oswego dominated Saturday’s contest in a 5-1 win. But the home team came out hungry and energized on Sunday, traded blows and capitalized on enough Laker mistakes to win a 4-3 overtime thriller (well, the Chatham fans were thrilled anyway). The Lakers didn’t assume the win — and played better overall (51-25 shot advantage) — but Chatham responded and took advantage of chances. Like in the business world, games are sometimes about how you capitalize on opportunities. Now it’s up to Oswego to respond this week in practice and try to win a two-game series hosting Cortland this weekend to stay in the playoff chase.

Certainly there’s plenty to take away here. The more hierarchy in an organization, the slower and more muddled the communication. As we all try to do more with less, resource management — figuring out the strengths of members of work teams, and how to maximize skills — becomes increasingly important. It’s paramount to find the right motivation to keep workers moving forward in these challenging times. And with the speed of technology, reacting/responding decisively and quickly can be the difference between failure and success.

There are many other life lessons one learns while traveling with 25 female student-athletes, but that would make for a really long blog entry.

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