Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami watch

Well, I was going to post part II of my Las Vegas trip today but instead I'm on tsumani alert. Just to get this out of the way:

We're fine. We live outside of the evacuation zone. The waves probably won't be that high but, even if they are, Pearl Harbor will dampen the effect before they get to us. No worries.

Last night Zac and I were over at Pearl Harbor, bowling with friends as a send-off for one of Zac's coworkers who is going to the mainland for a few months of training. (Before reporting back to Hawaii to be assigned to a ship.) After we got done bowling Zac and I decided to go over to the pool hall on Pearl. It was nice and vacant so I was able to work on bettering my poor pool skills without sharks hovering over the table, wanting the table for their next game.

As we entered the hall, we noticed on the big-screen tv turned to CNN that a earthquake had hit Chile. Though the ticker on the bottom of the screen mentioned a tsunami warning for areas around Chile, it didn't occur to Zac or me that perhaps that earthquake would cause a tsunami for us. We played a few games and headed home.

Around 4:30 this morning (Hawaii time) my phone rang, which startled the hell out of me and rattled me out of my deep sleep. You know something's wrong if you get a phone call from certain people between 11pm and 6am. Turns out Megan's fine, the family is fine, she was just calling to let me know that we were in trouble. Because I knew about the earthquake in Chile from the night before, I wasn't surprised when Megan said that Hawaii is under a tsunami watch, but it took my clouded brain a second to understand what she was saying. After I assured her that we had tsunami sirens to warn us if something came along, I tried to go back to sleep. About 30 minutes later a Hawaii friend of mine called me too, to let me know that there were going to be sirens going off at 6am and evacuations for the coastal areas.

Now I realized that maybe I should get up and out of bed, if only because now my mind was racing through possibilities. I headed downstairs and turned on the news. Of course all of the local news stations are all over this. I think they're being incredibly restrained, truthfully. I know often times local news stations like to sensationalize the news of the day but this morning they are doing a good job of being informative but not hysterical. The gist of the news is this: the tsunami will reach the Big Island around 11:00 Hawaii time, Oahu a short time later - maybe a half-hour (which is rather remarkable when you think about the distance between islands); there will be some sort of decent-sized waves, perhaps 6ft based on current estimates; people in evacuation zones will need to leave their homes for higher ground.

I called my parents and my sister to keep them abreast of what's going on out here, just so they won't worry (as much). At this point it's just wait-and-see. The waves won't get here for another 4.5 hours, so at some point I'm going to go a little mad if I keep watching the news coverage. That's the tough part about a story like this - there is little new news to report so it's just the same info over and over. Zac suggested we should toss in a movie, but it seems strange to watch "Guys and Dolls" while people are already lined up six deep at the gas station behind our house.

If anything interesting happens, I'll be sure to let you guys know. For now I'm going to make a pot of coffee and enjoy the breakfast that Zac just cooked up for us. You'll just have to wait for the second-half recap of Las Vegas.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A weekend in Sin City, with miminal sin

I met up with my Mom and Sister in Las Vegas last weekend. We all flew in on a Thursday and headed home on Sunday. The trip was mainly funded by my parents. The trip was my Dad's idea - he thought his girls needed some time to hang out with one another. Of course, he proposed this idea a couple years ago but it took a long time to find a weekend that all three of us could be there at the same time. My schedule is a lot more flexible than my Mom's or Megan's - I don't have an office-job or a two-year-old or church activities or coaching or anything, really. I waited until they both had a free weekend and then let Megan book most of the trip, since she had the strongest opinions of where we should stay. We stayed at the Paris hotel/casino, which turned out to be a good location in terms of the Las Vegas strip and walking around sightseeing.

One of the things I believe about Las Vegas, more than most other vacation destinations, is that the people that you travel with really dictate what kind of a trip you're going to have. I've been to Las Vegas once before, in April of 2006. On that trip I was with three female friends all about my age and all single. (Well, one of us wasn't exactly single, but she enjoyed flirting with the guys we met regardless.) Needless to say, that trip was a little more wild than this trip with my mother and my 20-weeks-along pregnant sister. But I enjoyed both trips equally, if for completely different reasons.

We had a room on the strip side of the hotel, meaning our view was the replica Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio. The three of us were mesmerized by the fountains in front of the Bellagio. I could sit there and watch them all day. I'm not sure why they're so fascinating, but I appreciate the artistry and engineering that combine to make the water perform in sync with the music. And, honestly, how can you not smile when it's nighttime, the strip is lit up like electricity is going out of style, and columns of water are swaying in rhythm to Frank Sinatra's "Luck Be A Lady"? (Disclosure: I have a soft spot for "Guys and Dolls", the musical my high school performed my senior year. I wasn't in it - I never had the nerve to try out, a lasting regret - but I had many friends who were in theater and they were just terrific, especially in that production.)

We spent Thursday afternoon relaxing and catching up. We booked massages at the spa in the hotel and let the masseurs work out some of the kinks the flights had introduced to our bodies. We even went down to the casino to play some Blackjack, or "21" as Mom insists on calling it. My sister can usually win money playing blackjack and I usually break even so blackjack is our game of choice. Really, the only other casino game I know how to play at all is roulette and, as I mentioned about the trip to Lake Tahoe, roulette is a giant wheel of evil. I wasn't sure what mom was going to do while we gambled since mom never gambles save spending $1 on a lottery ticket every now and again when the pot gets big. That's her equivalent of living life on the edge.

So it was quite to my surprise when Mom sat down at the single-deck blackjack table with Megan and me. I figured she'd watch for awhile and then retire to the room to catch up on some leisurely reading. But no. Mom sat down, cashed $100 in chips and joined in. Luckily we had a great dealer who was willing to teach and have a good time. Megan and I lost our daily gambling budget, but Mom came out $20 or $30 ahead. Megan and I were delighted for her, not so much for ourselves. We also made some Canadian friends while we sat at the table. They were barely 21 and when the dealer asked them for ID, they tossed out Ontario drivers' licenses. We told them we were from Minnesota. They smiled and told us Minnesota was "Canada light." They aren't far off, actually. Though they were a little inebriated, they were more amusing than irritating. I think one of them was trying to hit on Megan, but apparently he missed the wedding ring and pregnant tummy on her. It was funny to watch though.

Friday we walked one half of the strip, went back to the spa for manicures and pedicures and then went to our first show, La Reve, at the Wynn hotel/casino. We had wanted to go see Cirque du Soleil's "O", but tickets to that show were sold out. I was surprised. I could foresee Cher, or Celine Dion or Elton John or the like being sold out, but "O" isn't a new show and could (in theory) be performed for many years to come. The aforementioned performers will expire, at some point. Their shows, I mean. Their
shows. Not the performers. Although I suppose they will expire too at some point. (On that note, I saw that Don Rickles is still performing a show and he's in his 80s . . .)

We hopped a cab down to the Encore (next to the Wynn) to get some supper before the show. We settled on a restaurant that was mostly empty in the Encore. Apparently our desire to eat supper at an entirely appropriate Midwestern-time of 5:30 is unusual for Las Vegas. Our waiter approached our table and offered us something to drink. As he handed us the wine list he asked us, "Would you like some Pellegrino or Fiji?" I shrugged, looked at Mom, since Megan's pregnant and can't drink, and asked her if she was going to be drinking any wine that night. She didn't recognize the wines he offered us either. We discussed it briefly and I told our waiter that we would have to look at the wine list for a few minutes before deciding. Our waiter looked a little confused and then said slowly, "I think you may have misunderstood me. I was offering you water."

Cue uproarious laughter from Megan, Mom and me as we realized that he had rattled off names of bottled water.

"We'll have regular water, thank you," we informed the waiter. I guess that's what happens when you grow up somewhere (like Minneapolis) where the tap water is so clean and tasty that you don't ever drink bottled water. We were just three unsophisticated, tap-water bumpkins. We laughed for a good long while after that. I have no idea what the waiter must have thought of us at that point. I explained to him later on, as a peace offering of sorts, that we didn't drink bottled water and as a result were unaware of the brand names he had thrown out. (Now if he would have mentioned something like Aquafina, I might have caught that. But even that seemed a little low-class for this restaurant.)

After eating our supper we headed to the show, which was pretty good. It was a Cirque-style show, with water elements like "O". There were aerial acrobatics and strong men and lots of diving into water from ridiculous heights. And synchronized swimming - quite a bit of that. I've never seen synchronized swimming in person, and I'm quite sure these performers had access to some sort of breathing apparatus under the water, but it was still impressive. I did still have to giggle though, thinking of that old Saturday Night Live skit with Martin Short, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest, which is one of my favorite SNL skits of all time.

After La Reve we headed back to our hotel and crawled into bed, because it was almost 11 and we were beat. (Again, this was a different trip than my 2006 trip.) We watched a little Olympics and the called it a night. The next day would bring more walking and another show.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Coming back from IA

One of Zac's co-workers returned from six months in Iraq the other day. He's actually been gone longer than that, since he had to spend three months on the mainland going though training before he left. Everyone here was looking forward to having him home, no one more so than his wife, with whom I'm good friends. She asked me if I would like to join her at the gate to welcome him home. I declined at first thinking that their first moments together again should just be the two of them. She insisted that it was okay, and that she wanted me there. I realized at that point I could also play the role of 'photographer' for them, so I agreed to accompany her. Zac also came to the gate, representing their office.

It's quite a thing to go to the gate to meet someone, nowadays. I remember being a kid and going to meet people out at the gates at MSP all the time. The metal detectors were all the way down at the beginning of each concourse, and you didn't need a ticket to go through them. It was common to be standing there with a big sign when they came off the plane. After 9/11 everything changed. Yes, security is probably better now, but the airport experience is much worse off. Once upon a time you could go with your friend to MSP, have them check in and then the two of you could proceed into the terminal and sit down and have a last meal together at one of the restaurants. Now you have to wave at them as they go through the security gate and grab your own Cinnabon on the way home by yourself. There's no waiting out delays with them, no excited kids with their faces pressed up against the glass watching the plane pull into the gate. Now you're stuck meeting people in the baggage claim, which is lame. People are always very happy to be getting off the stuffy, cramped plane. That's when you want to hug them. No one is happy at the baggage claim. Ever - no joy allowed. The baggage claim is not the right place to warmly great someone.

All this was in the back of my mind as my friend, Zac and I headed to the USO at HNL (Honolulu's airport code) to sign in. I was delighted at the prospect of actually going to the gate to receive someone home. After we got our paperwork from the USO, we headed up to the airline that the husband was coming in on. They "checked us in" and gave us pseudo-boarding passes. We went through security and headed to his arrival gate. And waited. And waited. Thanks to the snow in the Chicago area his flight had been delayed, but thankfully not cancelled. At that time I was really glad that Zac and I had gone with her because I believe she would have been bouncing off the walls if she had been sitting there by herself for 90 minutes.

Well, not quite by herself. There was another wife waiting for her Navy sailor to be coming home on the same flight. She, and her three daughters, were anxious for Daddy to be home. After watching the three girls, ages six, four and two I'd guess, I could see where the mom was desperately ticking off minutes until his arrival. Those girls had energy to spare. (While we waited the two-year-old managed to set off a type of fire-alarm by opening a defibrillator case on the wall - apparently the same little girl had set off a fire alarm in an elevator the day before. I laughed, because they weren't my kids.) The girls were dressed up in their best red, white and blue dresses and had each made a "welcome home" sign. We talked to the girls and their mother off and on, especially as the arrival grew closer.

The arrival gate was actually fairly full of people who would be embarking the plane once it was fueled and cleaned up for it's return trip to Chicago. Many people made comments about how they were happy for our family member's/friend's service and safe return. Everyone in the waiting area seemed pretty excited when the plane finally taxied up to the gate. (Mostly, I think, everyone wanted to see the little girls tackle their dad.) As each person came off of the plane we watched, waiting to see the camouflage-clad sailors. My friend's husband appeared first and was closely followed by the other sailor. There was a smattering of applause as the girls shrieked, "Daddy!" in unison. My friend hugged her husband while the other sailor embraced his family. I took photos. Eventually my friend let Zac and I hug her husband, but I wouldn't have blamed her if she hadn't let go of him for quite a long while.

The four of us (and the other disembarked passengers) headed over to the baggage claim. When we walked through the doors, a whole host of Navy sailors were there to greet their comrades. There were noisemakers and applause and leis and hugs and a huge banner that read "welcome home". I took more pictures. It was a pretty fantastic event. I can't imagine what it's like for the Army and Marine families when their people come home. That must be one heckuva welcome.

It's quite possible that at some point Zac's name is going to get called to go on an IA (Individual Augment) to Iraq of Afghanistan. I'm not really looking forward to that. And in about 18 months he'll probably be assigned to a ship, meaning semi-regular deployments to sea for 4-8 months at a time. I'm not really looking forward to that either. But then again, why would I? Shocking as it may sound, not only do I love my husband, but I like him too. When he's not around life is not nearly as much fun.

But it's nice to know that if he does go on an IA, or when he goes on those deployments at sea, that there's a nice, established means of celebrating and appreciating him when he gets back. Besides me hugging and kissing him, that is. Sometime the line that I get fed about the Navy being a family gets a little hokey and a little propaganda-ish, but sometimes it is actually accurate. And on those days it's kind of neat.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Overheard at the Commissary

I decided to swing by the Commissary (grocery store for military members) on the way home from watching the Super Bowl today. I figured that hardly any one would be there so soon after the finish of game. I was right, and got a prime parking spot near the exit. Score! I wish the Super Bowl happened more often. Grocery shopping would be a delight.

As I walked up and down the almost people-free aisles, I realized that I could easily hear people's conversations. There wasn't the hum of a couple hundred people as background noise. As I studied the V8 Fusion selections on the shelf, a dad and his young son walked behind me. They were talking as they approached me and then I heard the child say, "It's kind of like when you fell off the wagon, Dad!" I could tell the dad almost choked and he darted a panicked look at me. "You mean, when I fell 'out of' the wagon," he corrected. "When we were playing I fell 'out of' the wagon." I couldn't help it, but I smirked. The kid repeated earnestly, "Yeah, Dad, when you fell off the wagon."

The dad shot me a embarrassed smile and just shook his head in resignation.

Language is a fun thing.