The Right Coast

July 18, 2004
Suburban life update
By Tom Smith
I have been left at home by my lovely wife Jeanne and declared a lump, while she takes the four boys shopping for pet supplies, shoes, Target miscellaney and who knows what else.  The lump remark is due to my refusal to endorse a family visit to the La Jolla tide pools today.  I am somewhat lumpish, it is true, but driving 45 minutes to an hour each way, competing with hordes of beamers and lexi for a parking spot, all so we can look at some f%^&*ing sea urchins just doesn't do it for me. 
The weekend, since sometime yesterday morning, has been a two day slumber party/birthday celebration extraveganza, with Patrick's three best friends staying the night.  They constructed a tiny hobo village with lincoln logs, went swimming, fought with water balloons, played with the birthday toys, played on the play station, fought with the foam swords, experimented with freezing water baloons, played with the lizards, examined the snake, and played with the dogs.  I made my signature chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, which they ate outside.  Last night was chile and hamburgers.  Now the house is strangely quiet and I have a weird urge to weep in gratitude.
The little hobo village was cute.  It featured  Turd Lake where the hobos relieved themselves and Sacrifice Lake where they could drown themselves if they got depressed.  Don't look at me;  I have no idea where this stuff comes from.  We have watched a couple of movies set in the Great Depression lately.  That's probably it.
Biscuit seems to be recovering from her wounds fairly well.  She had to have a second surgery when a patch of skin died and would no longer hold stitches.  The little gobbets of blood she is leaving around the house may be contributing to a certain amount of inter-familial tension, but she is such a brave dog and I try to clean up after her.  The family room carpet is trashed anyway.  What's a spot more or less?
We have a new lizard.  Word must have gotten around the reptile world, as we did not purchase this one, but rescued it.  It is an escaped or abandoned Australian bearded dragon, about a foot long.  Heidi, our excellent nanny, captured him as he scampered from the road into our iceplant.  Much appreciated by the boys, but smelly.  It must have somehow known our house was a sanctuary for his kind, the Big Rock Candy Mountain for the scaly.
The trip to Las Vegas ten days ago seems long past.  The Ritz-Carlton in Henderson had a family deal going for the fourth, and Jeanne decreed that we would spend the long weekend at a fancy resort.  And fancy it was.  When were ensconced in the elevator, which had its own chandelier, Patrick opined "This is the fanciest place I have even been in my life!"  William, age 8, allowed after returning from the facilities in our rooms, that "That was one quality toilet."  The first evening, there was a spectacular fireworks display, and a concert by some famous country singer whom we did not buy tickets to see.  We could watch the fireworks, though.  They were somethin'.  The next day we drove to the Hoover Dam and did the tour.  It really is a treat, if you are intrigued by those big fascist structures of the 1930's.  The guides stressed the dam was really a flood control structure, which made me wonder whether it justified its cost.  Is there anything that used to be flooded by the Colorado that was worth protecting?  Just asking.  It was 114 in the shade when we visited, but cool inside the dam.  We had ice cream at a coffee shop straight out of film set. 
The food at the Ritz was great, no big surprize, and the service first rate, except for one concierge who seemed to think she should reply to inquiries as if to questions from hostile counsel at a deposition.  You get some odd sorts in Vegas.  It is the end of many lines. 
On Monday, we went to the well known water park on the Vegas strip, and my democratic sentiments were challenged to the full.  It was packed.  I now know everything I ever need to about tattoos, piercings and obesity in America.  America is fat, and America doesn't give a shit.  It was a lot of fun, but I would recommend a few days of Cipro if you swallow any water.  And remember the simple rules of politeness, such as, if a large white guy with a shaved head and an Iron Cross tattooed on his neck cuts in front of you, just pretend you didn't notice.  The water park had a slide six stories tall, which begins as 25 foot nearly vertical drop, and then describes some conic section gradually to the horizontal.  You have to reach speeds of 40 mph or more, and the acceleration can't be much less than free fall.  I forget the name of the ride-- it is right next to Der Stutka, tastefully named after the dive bomber with which Hitler terrorized Europe.  I took my 12, 10 and 8 year old on the ride, and I was proud of their fearlessness, or at least their unwillingness to show fear.  A number of riders got to the top of the tower after a long wait in line, then turned around and walked down.  No one in line seemed to hold it against them.  I couldn't get much out of my kids about the experience.  I asked my 12 year old what he thought of it.
"Freaky," he said. 
"Do you want to do it again?" 
That evening we went to a Japanese restaurant reputed to have the best sushi in Vegas, at the Hyatt on Lake Las Vegas.  This was also to celebrate Patrick's birthday, being the family, as opposed to the kid party.  I'm no great expert, but it sure seemed like great sushi to me.  I ventured forth a little and had some raw eel in addition to varieties of tuna.  It was all great.  The service was a trifle slow, but otherwise excellent.  I hope no giant worms burst out of my head in weeks to come.
One bad thing happened on the trip.  We failed to properly close our door and someone slipped into our room and stole an expensive watch I had given Jeanne a couple of years ago on Valentine's day.  The Ritz has an elaborate security system which allows them to log each key that opens a door.  They were able to tell no employee had entered the room with a key during our short absence.  The security shift manager, who seemed like a New York detective who had had enough of the city, told us that we had probably been taken by a "door pusher."  Door pushers are thieves who walk down the halls of upscale hotels pushing on doors.  If one opens, they knock, and if no one is there, they quickly scan for things they can steal quickly.  Cheaper hotels have doors that slam and lock automatically, but the Ritz and other five star hotels consider slamming doors tacky.  The doors close quietly, but don't always latch all the way.  Hotels fight door pushers with "hall walkers," security agents who just walk the halls of the hotel checking doors.  On this weekend, however, the security people had their hands full with outside activities.  No doubt the savvy Vegas thieves saw their chance and took it.  We decided not to get upset about the watch.  It wasn't a child, or a dog or even a wedding ring.
So, overall, I can recommend the Ritz-Carlton on Lake Las Vegas in the summer, if you are looking for a place to just chill by the pool, eat great food, and maybe do a little shopping or gaming if you like that sort of thing.  Even at summer rates, it is tres spendy, but at least you get a really elegant experience for your money.  Next to the elevator, on a notepad thoughtfully provided by the hotel, I found this note scrawled in a child's handwriting:  "This place is second best to the Sant. Regis."  You might also want to check that out.