Do you feel safe?

Cato @ Liberty links to a legislative proposal that wouldn’t be necessary in a reasonable world:

H.R. 2464, introduced yesterday, would prohibit the Transportation Security Administration from giving advance notice to security screeners when they are going to be covertly tested.

Does it need saying that tipping off screeners undermines the value of testing? Does TSA need a law to make it not do that?

I already had a low opinion of TSA, so this is more palm-to-the-forehead than surprise. Still, this is ridiculous. Can anyone think of a reason other than pure institutional – TSA and Congressional – incompetence for why the TSA situation is this way?

One more vacation entry

I didn’t find anything interesting today that I care to write about. Instead, I’ll just ease into the holiday weekend with a bit of vacation wrap-up. I won’t blabber about all the minute details, because they’re mostly interesting to me and Danielle alone. Instead, here are a few final observations, with multimedia accompaniment.

First up, we saw Penn & Teller at the Rio. I can’t recommend the show enough. Aside from being fantastically libertarian, they’re good showmen. I know what we saw was illusion, but it’s well-done illusion. And definitely sit in the front row, if you can get the tickets. Teller called me out to participate in a card trick. I got to keep the 9 of diamonds that I pulled from the deck, which both Penn and Teller signed after the show. And I heard Teller speak! Recommended.

Next, I promised a bit on George Takei. I recorded the Q&A panel he participated in (with Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols), so I have audio. Mr. Takei was engaging in his talk. I haven’t edited most of it for blog placement, since I don’t know who would be interested, but just for the sheer joy of it, you must listen to the three sing “God Bless America”. I only caught a bit of the song because it came at the end of the show, after controversial topics. The rest of the audio would explain it, but you don’t need it to enjoy the clip. Behold:

God Bless America

Personally, Mr. Takei was quite engaging when I had my photo-op. (So worth the $35…) It’s supposed to be wham-bam-thank-you, but he stopped to talk to me when I mentioned Artie Lange and the William Shatner roast. It was brief, but he was engaging and gracious when he didn’t have to be. I appreciated that, especially since I don’t care two bits about Star Trek.

At one point, I stood between Greg Evigan and Robert Culp. Star Trek conventions in Vegas rock. I also saw Felix Silla, who played Cousin Itt and Twiki (from Buck Rogers). If you’ve never been to a Star Trek convention, go. It’s a great experience. Did I mention that I don’t like Star Trek? Yeah? That’s how awesome the conventions are.

Everything in Vancouver was quite literal. Witness:

Signs like this will make you take notice:


And finally, because my sense of humor is still four-years-old:

Celebrities and juvenile humor. There’s no better way to spend a vacation.

Seattle Factoids

For anyone thinking of visiting Seattle, here are a few tidbits of knowledge I picked up:

  1. Mighty O donuts makes the greatest vegan donuts doughnuts the planet has ever known. In eight days, Danielle and I inhaled 2½ dozen doughnuts. Granted, I consumed more, but they were good. Like crack, even. Every time we were in our hotel room, they called our name. So. Good.
  2. The locals refer to the city as the People’s Republic of Seattle. I don’t know if this is meant affectionately, but you can imagine I’d never live there. It’s a wonderful place to visit, though.
  3. The common perception that it rains a lot is a myth. I lugged a rain jacket and umbrella across this continent based on this lie. Don’t believe it. We encountered zero drops of rain on our vacation, including more than five days spent in Seattle.
  4. I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I imagine it feels like Seattle. I’d never ridden on roads that slope at an 88° angle before, but now I know what it’s like.
  5. Not Seattle-specific, but taught by the aforementioned hills, I can report that the Saturn Vue is possibly the worst car ever designed. How can an automatic transmission require two feet to operate the pedals to avoid slamming into cars behind you? (Side note: The hills weren’t really 88° angles. The engineers at Saturn inspired that bit of exaggeration.)
  6. As a DC resident I was susceptible to Seattle’s hatred of jaywalking. I obeyed all the signals to avoid the $55 ticket, which police will apparently issue at 7am Sunday morning on an empty road.
  7. Mount Rainier is big.

Now you know.

The perfect time to visit Vancouver

Wonderful. Only I can hit Vancouver in the midst of a record heat wave. The newscasters were aflutter this morning with reports that the city might face record highs today. I can’t believe my poor luck. What will I ever do if the temperature continues to hover around an excruciating 85°F?

Must. Find. Ice.

Behold, Vegas Vacation 2006

Posting will be rare to non-existent for the next ten days. Danielle and I will be flying (without gels and liquids) to Las Vegas tonight, followed by time in Seattle and Vancouver. I haven’t had a real vacation in two years, so I’m looking forward to being away from computers. That belief should hold until we land in Vegas tonight, when the shakes kick in from withdrawal. But I don’t know how spotty my Internets access will be, as well as my down time. So, there it is.

I do promise to post pictures from the Star Trek convention, if I can. Everyone needs a little bit of George Takei in their life. I can’t wait to meet him.

Newsflash: Central planning creates inefficiency

Let me tell you why New Jersey sucks as a state. Driving through the state, as Danielle and I did yesterday, often requires refueling the car. It’s not a particularly strange concept, as mankind hasn’t yet figured out perpetual motion or cheap hydrogen fuel. It’s inevitable, really, so our stop on the New Jersey Turnpike yesterday was unsurprising. However, I’d forgotten that New Jersey is simple-minded.

Yesterday, we waited in line for full-service gas because full-service is the law. I haven’t used a full-service gas station since the last time I purchased gas in New Jersey. I won’t use a full-service gas station again until I’m in New Jersey again ever. If there’s a stupider law that affects everyday life, I’m not sure I can imagine what it might be.

Danielle and I discussed it as we waited in the twenty-plus minute line to have someone perform a menial task that I’m perfectly willing to perform on my own. I could only come up with two reasons why this would still be New Jersey law. Either politicians believe self-service pumps are too dangerous for untrained citizens to operate or they believe full-service will somehow lead to greater employment within the state. Considering I’ve been refueling my cars safely since 1989, I’m almost certain that safety can’t be the reason this law still exists. After a little research, safety was the reason legislators originally passed the full-service requirement. Gas is still a flammable liquid, of course, but technology has improved considerably from standards that existed early in the development of the car and refueling stations. Our friends and neighbors aren’t regularly setting themselves on fire or blowing up while pumping gas. The average Joe can handle it. Factor in the clearly untrained nature of New Jersey gas station attendants, as evidenced by the fine individual who pumped our gas shortly after taking a walk two car lengths away to smoke a cigarette, this reason is no longer valid.

So it must be socialism economics that perpetuates the practice. Sure, more attendants are needed to pump gas, but that cost gets passed to the customer. In my research I noticed a few links suggesting that full-service gas is still cheaper than it is in states that don’t prohibit self-service. That’s fine, but I don’t doubt that gas is more expensive than it needs to be. Regardless, I’ll discard the notion that it costs more. It’s a big item to dismiss, of course, but even if it made sense to do so, the environmental and productivity impact can’t be dismissed.

During our wait, we left our car running. So did every other driver in line. Every one of us wasted gas. We polluted the air for more than twenty minutes for no reason. Surely the danger from the cumulative toxins we all released yesterday is greater than the risk that one of us would set the place ablaze. Having seen the smog hanging over much of the Turnpike, who would deny this?

Of course, the economic impact of that wasted gas must surely be figured into the absolute cost of gasoline in New Jersey.

As for productivity, what else could every motorist in New Jersey have accomplished in the time wasted while waiting for full-service? Danielle and I wasted more than forty minutes combined. Multiply that by every family. On a Sunday afternoon, maybe that amounts to lost beer-drinking soymilk-drinking time. What about Monday thru Friday? What about commercial vehicle drivers? Surely this loss of efficiency should matter. It did to us.

I could almost think it was just a quirky feature of New Jersey and it added flavor to our culture. A few minutes after we left the gas station, we crossed the state line. The first service area off I-95 had a gas station. It had a few customers, each scattered among the various self-service pumps. No one was on fire. No one was spilling gas on the ground. Everything was fine, operating as smoothly as New Jersey. The only difference? The gas station had no lines. I don’t wonder why.

Other thoughts: Marginal Revolution from Nov. ’03, and NRO, from Sept. ’03

“Sloane’s a genius! I mean…an evil, horrible genius, but still…he’s a genius…”

I’d planned to write about this at the end of last week, but realized in time that I couldn’t write anything until after the fact. Danielle and I drove to New York City for the weekend to attend our friend Will’s “thirty-plus-two” birthday party. Or, rather, to attend his surprise “thirty-plus-two” birthday party. Will reads my blog, so writing about it ahead of time would’ve ruined the surprise, I think. Hunches… I have them. But that didn’t occur to me until I set myself before my computer to write about the then-pending, now-passed weekend. Sometimes I’m smart and dense at the same time, which explains why I paid for my flight to Vegas on United because I couldn’t use my USAirways miles even though I then entered my USAirways frequent flier number with my purchased ticket. Can you tell why I love movies and books and TV shows and all things with an ending that I block out until it arrives? I don’t suspend disbelief so much as I suspend comprehension. So I barely caught myself before I made the big mistake of broadcasting “Will’s having a surprise birthday party!” But now it’s done, the surprise having remained intact until the end, so I can write what I was going to write on Friday.

We hadn’t been to New York since November of 2003, so this was a chance to get back and enjoy the city. And with Danielle involved, any trip to New York requires Broadway. She prefers musicals to plays, while I prefer plays to musicals. Mostly, I think that’s because she’s loved Broadway forever, while I’ve only begun to appreciate theatre in the last five years or so. I enjoy it, but I need to work my way up to Les Miserables or something else like that. Give me a story told in prose and I’ll love the process more. There’s only one way I can enjoy “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and that’s (unfortunately) not on Broadway. So, mostly I prefer plays.

The last three times we’ve been to New York we’ve seen a show. We saw Rent because it’s well-reviewed and a less-traditional style of musical. Think more rock and less Jazz Hands. I even listen to the original cast recording now, appreciating the story more every time I listen. It doesn’t hurt that Danielle and I are BFFs (best friends forever) with one of the original cast members. And by BFF, I mean he’s Danielle’s friend’s husband’s best friend and we went to a baby shower at his apartment one time and talked to him for a few minutes. As you’ll soon discover, official BFF status is easy to achieve with Danielle and me.

After Rent, we saw The Violet Hour because I wanted to see a play instead of a musical. I’d seen Side Man at the Kennedy Center in D.C. before, so I knew I liked plays. When Danielle and I searched for suitable plays to enjoy, we settled on The Violet Hour for the same reason I chose to see Side Man: the star(s) of the play is (are) famous. The minimum is one, but the more the merrier.

In the case of Side Man, Andrew McCarthy and Michael XXXXXXXXX starred. I was born in 1973, so the core formative years for my movie appreciation occurred from 1982-1987. Those years meant the Brat Pack of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and the coup de grace, St. Elmo’s Fire. I was always partial to the characters Andrew McCarthy played because he was always the outsider of the Brat Pack, the one who fit in but only on the periphery. That would’ve been me if I’d tried harder to be popular. And, really, who doesn’t absolutely heart Mannequin? I thought so.

The play we chose for the next visit had to meet the same standard, of course, and The Violet Hour fit that. It starred Scott Foley, who played Noel Crane on Felicity. (I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m really just a 12-year-old girl. You thought I was kidding?) Plus, Scott Foley was married to Jennifer Garner. Really, need I say more? Any time I can be one degree of separation from Jennifer Garner with someone in the room, I’m gonna pass that up? Ummm, no. So we saw The Violet Hour and loved it, despite the tepid reaction it received from our BFF.

Knowing that we were coming to New York for the birthday party, Danielle and I knew we had to see a show. Spamalot and Avenue Q were our first choices because we’d decided on a musical-play-musical-play rotation, but tickets for those two were either sold-out or the available seats were bad. Then we remembered that The Paris Letter was headed to off-Broadway after it’s successful run in Los Angeles. We didn’t know anything about the show other than it’s stars, which is really all anyone needs to know, right. As I’ve written, it is for us.

And how does The Paris Letter rank on the star scale? Wow. Wow. The L.A. cast, which we hoped would be moving with the show to New York as we’d read, included Neil Patrick Harris, who played Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. More importantly, it starred Neil Patrick Harris getting naked. Even as a heterosexual male, anyone who tells me that, given the chance to see Neil Patrick Harris naked, they’d say no, I reply with this: liar. I don’t want to see it; I have to see it. That’s reality. It just is.

Of course, Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t the only star worth seeing who might be moving to the New York cast. Far bigger on the critical Fame Importance to Tony&#153 scale was Ron Rifkin, better known to the world as Arvin Sloane on Alias. Not only does Ron Rifkin offer that one degree of separation to Jennifer Garner criteria, he is an Alias cast member. AN ALIAS CAST MEMBER, PEOPLE! You know Alias, The Greatest Television Show E
ver&#153. I mean, duh. Talk about the easiest ticket purchase in the history of ticket purchases.

The moment we confirmed that the show would be playing in New York last weekend, we bought tickets. The cast hadn’t been confirmed, but we hoped. And our trip coincided with the show opening for previews. If Ron Rifkin or Neil Patrick Harris moved with the show to New York, little chance existed that we’d see an understudy. If we saw Neil Patrick Harris or Ron Rifkin’s understudy, Bitter Time&#153 would last until 2037. That would be bad. Very, very bad. But we were lucky smart because we bought tickets to preview weekend. Problem averted, if Neil Patrick Harris and/or Ron Rifkin followed the play to New York.

In April I saw this announcement:

Ron Rifkin of ABC’s “Alias” and a Tony winner for his role in the long-running Broadway revival of “Cabaret” will star in the New York premiere of “The Paris Letter,” Jon Robin Baitz’s play about friendship, family and secrets.

The play will open June 9 off-Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre. Preview performances begin May 13.

Rifkin, 65, is a veteran of Baitz’s plays, having appeared off-Broadway in both “The Substance of Fire” (as well as in the film version) and “Three Hotels.”

In “The Paris Letter,” which will be directed by Doug Hughes, Rifkin portrays an investment counselor confronting his past actions. Also in the cast are John Glover, Daniel Eric Gold, Lee Pace and Michele Pawk.

Rifkin starred in the world premiere of “The Paris Letter,” which was done last December in a different production in California.

I admit I was a little bummed when I read that Neil Patrick Harris would not move with the show to New York, but the key actor, Ron Rifkin, remained. I was ecstatic at the prospect of seeing an actor from Alias on the stage. I mean, really, it’s Alias, The Greatest Television Show Ever&#153! The only task left was to learn what the play is about. Here’s the summary:

The Paris Letter is about sex, power and money. Wall Street powerhouse Sandy Sonenberg finds his personal and professional life threatened by the unraveling secrets of his past. A tragic game of financial and moral betrayal is played out over four decades and between two friends at the cost of family, friendship, love and marriage.

The story is much deeper than that simple description, but I won’t give it away. The play is exceptional. The writing is fantastic. The story moves along well, with details unravelling at just the right pace. All five actors delivered superb performances. There were a few minor blips in the process, but the play is in previews, so that makes sense. I actually appreciated that, because it gives the same feel as a concert. If I want perfection, I’ll listen to the cd. I recommend it.

As an unexpected bonus, our seats were on the left side of the theatre, so we had a specific viewpoint of the play. We could see the actors as they lined up on their mark before entering the scene. We could see the workers behind the doors whenever a new prop moved to the stage. Normally, I would’ve thought this would detract from the play, but it didn’t. I’ve never been in community theater or high school plays or anything like that. I don’t know the inner workings of how a play is staged. Seeing how it happens fascinated me. Short of “martian walks on stage”, it couldn’t have been cooler. And Ron Rifkin faced our direction for most of the play. It was the best of all possible scenarios.

When the show ended, we clapped with everyone else. Unlike everyone else, we knew our fun was only beginning. Being the theatre junkie that she is, Danielle knew to wait outside the stage door after the show for the chance to meet the cast Ron Rifkin. Rather than explain all of the details, I’ll send you here, where Danielle has written an excellent review of our waiting outside the theatre. (We also had a special bonus based on our seat location, which she also explains.) The short version is that Ron Rifkin was the third cast member to leave the theatre, about 45 minutes after the play ended. This is what happened when he left the theatre:

Danielle: “Mr. Rifkin? Would you mind signing an autograph?”

Ron Rifkin: “Of course not. I’d be happy to. Oh, please tell me you didn’t wait all this time for me. I feel like I’ve wasted your time!”

Danielle: “Oh, no you didn’t! We had to wait, because it’s YOU!”

Ron Rifkin: (taking my Alias dvd with Arvin Sloane on the label) “Which season is this?”

Me: “Season three.”

Ron Rifkin: “Which season is your favorite?”

Me: “Season two, probably.”

Ron Rifkin: “Why?”

Me: “Because of Lena Olin.”

Ron Rifkin: “Oh, so you have the hots for Lena Olin?”

Me: “I think she added an interesting dynamic to the show. Though, this season is great because it’s getting back to the series, with Rambaldi and cliff-hanger endings.”

Ron Rifkin: “This guy [points Jon Robin Baitz, who wrote The Paris Letter] wrote last week’s episode of Alias.”

Me: (Turning to face Mr. Baitz) “I loved last week’s episode. It was well-written.”

Jon Robin Baitz: “Thank you.”

Me: (Turning back to face Ron Rifkin) “I don’t understand why ABC thinks that viewers can’t handle the episodes that aren’t self-contained. And keep Rambaldi involved in the show!”

Ron Rifkin: “ABC despises Rambaldi.”

At this point, I’ve descended into Basement of the Science Building mode. I’m as geeked out as I can get. I am fucking chatting about Alias with Arvin Sloane Ron Rifkin! I can die now.

Me: “Why?”

Ron Rifkin: “They think it’s too weird.”

Me: “But the show is over-the-top. It’s supposed to be larger-than-life. It’s a big comic book!”

Ron Rifkin: “I know.”

Later, in a George Costanza “Jerk Store” moment, I would come up with this: Right, because a 500-year-old manuscript of advanced technology and prophecy is weird, but plane crash survivors stranded on a tropical island with polar bears and monsters is normal. We’re the fans and we decide if it’s too weird. Deal with it.

At this point, they have to leave, so we say our goodbyes, with the additional encounter mentioned by Danielle. We’re BFFs with Ron Rifkin now, of course. I suspect that Danielle and I will be having Thanksgiving dinner this year with the Rifkins. No doubt, it will be a festive time enjoyed by all.

That is why we decide on the play based on the star(s) involved.

Where the hell is the damn dam tour?

I’m back from Vegas, exhausted and poor, but happy. The weekend held so many experiences that it’d take hours to write each one in sufficient depth. Besides being too exhausted to commit that much energy, I have no doubt that most of it would only be exciting to me. Vegas stories fall into the classic “you had to be there” category because, at its core, every Vegas trip is really just an exaggerated road trip. I’m going to laugh hysterically at the memory of these stories for years, but I understand that because you weren’t there, I’ll laugh harder at them than you. So I’ll sell the punch line early for each vignette. Once sold, I’ll stop.

Here goes…


I know budget airlines are all the rage, but please, if an airline wants to try the budget route, they must have a think on it first. To get to Vegas, I flew a combination of United and Ted. I haven’t flown United in years because Southwest is usually the cheapest alternative to everywhere I travel, but United had the best combination of price and schedule. Every trip flight this weekend revealed that United changed since my last experience. I don’t remember them ever trying to be a budget airline/Southwest, so their new endeavor surprised me. I did give it chance, but I hate it.

United/Ted somehow believes that I want to be treated like a cow in a herd. I don’t. When I board the plane, I want logic and convenience. Airlines such as United used to offer that, but it’s gone. The boarding process felt like Southwest without any thought process. Southwest’s boarding process is tedious, but somehow it almost always works. No matter when I board the plane, there is always a seat in the front, middle, and back of the plane on the aisle. Wherever I feel like sitting for the flight, I have the choice. I’m sure there’s a theory for why it works, but I don’t know it. It’s probably the same personal motivation people have for sitting in the same seat in a classroom or meeting. Seat assignments aren’t necessary, as anyone who’s taken a class in college knows. The seating just works itself out. It’s the “private market” at its finest. Until United/Ted implemented it.

When the easy check-in machine printed my boarding pass, I read my seat number printed on the ticket, along with my Seating Group. It should’ve been simple. Instead I learned the torture of the Seating Group. Rather than group seating by row number, United/Ted uses some bizarre combination of check-in time, seat price, frequent flyer status, and astrological sign. There is no logical purpose to this beyond a cheap, stupid imitation of Southwest.

My journey’s most glaring proof of this idiocy occurred Sunday night as I caught the red-eye from LAX back to D.C. At 11:30 pm, I don’t want to stand around until it’s necessary for me to board. I want to sit in the terminal, not scrunched up with people. I don’t like people that much, so the normal procedure is good. But my seat was in the next-to-last row, which meant I needed to board first. Except United/Ted disagreed. I was in the next to last group to board, even though I’d checked in five hours earlier in Vegas. That meant that everyone in the front and middle of the plane boarded first, standing in the aisle, blocking the line on the walkway back to the terminal for those of us in the back. Brilliant strategy.

Unfortunately, in an effort to be witty and hip, like Southwest, the flight attendants also tell jokes. Upon landing in Vegas, the stewardess commented about the casinos on the right side of the plane as we taxied to our gate. She opined this:

If you look out the windows on the right, you’ll see the casinos where you lost your money the last time you were here. (pause) Now, if you look out the windows on the right, you’ll see the 3 or 4 casinos being built with the money you’re going to lose here this weekend.

That’s not funny. She thought she was being amusing, but all she did was wave her little have-shitty-luck fairy dust over everyone. I’m superstitious with a healthy bit of intellectual skepticism, but I attribute every bad beat of the weekend to her. I even questioned my decision to wear my 2005 Phillies spring training t-shirt on Saturday because the Phightin’s had lost every time I’ve worn it. I gambled on the Phillies Saturday, so I wanted to eliminate every disadvantage I could. I wore the t-shirt, which is where the skepticism came in, but the game was much tighter at the end than it should’ve been, which is where the losing ways of the t-shirt still lingered. I credit the gambling with breaking the curse of the t-shirt, but it took my effort and thought. There was no way to counter that stewardess’ waitress’ comment, though. My last 24 hours in Vegas proved that her torpedo hit its mark. After her comment, the only bet I’d win is the one that says my dollars will fly elsewhere in the future.


Cousin Eddie: I haven’t seen a beatin’ like that since somebody stuck a banana in my pants and turned a monkey loose.

During my first 24 hours in Vegas, I crushed the Blackjack tables. I lost my small bets and won my big bets. If I wagered $50 on the hand, the dealer would hit me a seven after dealing me a fourteen facing a face card. My streak was sick. I couldn’t lose. Every time I sat at a table, I doubled my initial stake within twenty minutes. It didn’t matter who sat at the table or how many people. I rocked. And then…

Clark Griswold: Twenty.
Marty: Twenty. It’s a push!
Clark Griswold: Hey, its a tie! I didn’t lose!
Marty: That’s it, Griswold! Now you’re freakin’ dead!

I played the $5 single-deck table, doubling my bet with every hand and returning to the minimum with every minimum. There’s nothing illegal about the strategy, and it won’t make anyone rich, but it’s a perfect strategy with a good bankroll to sustain it. Vegas casinos know this, so they set the table maximums at a sufficient level low enough to bust almost everyone on a bad streak. I hit that bad streak. I lost (a loss or a push) nine consecutive hands before busting my stake for the round. My actual loss wasn’t huge, but I’d built a 125% return on my stake before the streak hit. I could’ve left the table before the streak, but it came so suddenly that I missed the signs. When the sign hit, I tilted mentally. It’s a lesson I mastered the rest of the weekend, but I tilted at the sign.

What was the sign? I put my original table stake on a hand after a string of losses. The dealer flipped the cards around the table. (Casinos deal single-deck Blackjack face down to limit card counting.) I pulled Blackjack, with a payout of 6-to-5. Except the dealer pulled Blackjack, as well. With her Ten face up and her Ace face down, I couldn’t purchase insurance, which I would have done if the Ace came out as the up card. Instead of doubling my money, I pushed. When that happens, get. up. immediately. I didn’t and I lost the rest of the weekend.

I turned my luck into small gains with diligence, but then my own version of Vegas Vacation’s Marty showed up at the table to take it away. She pummelled me so badly that I sat down, ordered a bottle of water, and busted out before my water arrived. Tipping the waitress with the last dollar chip is not funny, not funny, not funny. Every gambler should learn that when his “Marty” shows up, he must leave the table. It’s not hard. Just stand up, push the chair back, and walk away. I wish I’d made the connection before; it would’ve saved
me from paying so much for a tiny bottle of water.


Craps Experiment 2005 was a bust. Unlike Mr. Papagiorgio, I threw three 7s on my first roll after the come out roll. After, not on, which means I lost. And lost. And lost. I’m convinced they made me play with loaded dice. I’ll play again, but sheesh, at least buy me dinner first.


I saw this Blackjack scenario, not once, not twice, but three times this weekend. I swear I wish I was making this up. That’s a lie, actually, because it was so awesome that I took actual glee in the bizarre reality of it. Consider:

Lois: I’m upset because you never listen to me. This is Atlantic City all over again.
[Lois and Peter at Blackjack table]
Dealer: You’ve got 20!
Peter: Hit me.
Lois: Peter, don’t.
Peter: Hit me.
Dealer: 21!
Peter: Hit me.
Lois: Peter.
Peter: Hit me.
Dealer: That’s 30.
Peter: Hit me.

I love quoting movies and TV shows during life’s random correlations, so I quoted that the rest of the weekend after the first time it happened. That I got to use it two more times made my head hurt in the same way it would if I’d finished a slushee in 30 seconds. Wow. Just wow. Vegas really is the land of dreams.

(For the record, the dealer didn’t give the next card once the players hit 21, but still… have you ever seen someone try to hit on 21? I didn’t think so.)


That was the weekend. I can’t wait to go back. I can’t afford to go back, but I still can’t wait.

History is important

In the spring of ’99, I went to Europe by myself for the first time. I wanted to see Germany, so three days in Berlin became the foundation of my trip. Looking at a map of Europe, I could see the options for countries surrounding Germany were simple enough. I could return to France, Italy, or Austria, but I didn’t want to do that. I first traveled to Europe the previous spring, so I was still in consumption mode for new countries. Those big three didn’t fit that requirement, so they were immediately excluded. I looked north and noticed Denmark and Scandinavia, but I was still poor at the time, so I struck those from consideration, as well. A simple maxim is that Europe gets more expensive as the traveler moves north. That left one alternative: look east.

My first trip to Europe included nearly two weeks in Slovenia. The thought of going east was an easy consideration. The former communist block was still in its democratic infancy, having been set free into capitalism less than a decade earlier. Looking at my map, I saw the Czech Republic. I knew Prague was a tourist favorite, so I looked into that briefly and realized it would be a perfect fit for my trip. I scheduled three days of Prague into my itinerary.

The largest expense on my European vacations, because I choose to stay in youth hostels, is always the airfare. At $500 with a budget of barely $1,000, the final destination would have to be cheap and simple. I would need a visa to go further east, so I looked to Poland, a neighbor of both Germany and the Czech Republic. I knew of Warsaw, but Krakow intrigued me more. Because of the guidebook information, it seemed like a perfect fit for my needs. It was cheap, full of history, and cheap. Three days in Krakow completed the plan. The triangle formed by Berlin, Krakow, and Prague had an additional benefit. Since each journey is a perfect 8-hour overnight train ride, my itinerary eliminated two extra hostel stays. I anticipated my trip with the specific focus of Berlin and Prague. It was impossible for me to fathom that what I’d witness during my stay in Krakow would be the most lasting memory.

Auschwitz and Birkenau are situated in the tiny Polish town of Oswiecim, about an hour outside of Krakow. Auschwitz-Birkenau are separate camps approximately 2 miles apart. They’re sometimes referred to as Auschwitz I and II, respectively. The sign that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” is on the entrance gate to Auschwitz, the more famous of the two camps. Auschwitz is the more famous camp, seen in news reels and photos. Dr. Josef Mengele’s experiments were done on prisoners at Auschwitz. The camp has a feeling of being closed in because the buildings are large and close together. The true scope is difficult to grasp without walking around and seeing such atrocities as the tiny prison cells and the “Black Wall” where executions took place.

The scale of horror at Birkenau is obvious from every spot in the camp. It covers an immense area of land, fenced in with a railroad track leading through the front gate, continuing to the rear of the camp. On both sides of the tracks were barracks. A few still remain on each side, but most were burned when the Nazis retreated from the camps. The outlines of the destroyed barracks remain, wrapped symmetrically around the still standing chimneys. I walked through a few of the barracks still standing, but stood motionless before the door of one particular barrack. An immense feeling of dread enveloped me at the door. I tried to walk in, but was physically unable to move forward. That was the first moment in my life when I knew that there is more to our world than just what we see. Some remark that they feel a sense of holiness in churches such as Assisi. The feeling I had was the opposite.

At the conclusion of the tracks, the crematoriums remain, although one rests in a pile of rubble leftover from a prisoner uprising. A lake rests off to the side of the crematorium where the human ashes were dumped.

I had planned to spend one day exploring the two camps, but the intensity of seeing Auschwitz forced me to break it into two separate days. I didn’t want to dwell in the horror for that long, but the camps are still emotionally exhausting. Seeing the efficiency with which the Nazis encased the murder of millions of people is stunning in its inexplicable evil. That anyone survived the death camps is a testament to the human spirit. So that no one forgets the horrors, guided tours are still offered by camp survivors.

Rather than provide any more details, I’ll let my pictures tell the rest of the story.

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On January 27, 1945, Russian troops liberated the death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The camps were liberated nearly thirty years before I was born. I don’t have any family members even remotely associated with the history of Auschwitz or Birkenau. I’m just some guy with a story. My only real connection is my humanity, the same connection shared by everyone. The world has changed in numerous ways in 60
years, but some of our problems have remained the same, the core of evil changing only its appearance. As we strive to push freedom’s light into every dark corner of our world, we must remember that the struggle isn’t over. But we can overcome even the most horrific imaginings of the human mind.