Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Surreal for the Holidays

Season of Miracles
With the 2015 Christmas and New Year holidays approaching at breakneck speed, J and L decided to visit with L's sister, Beth (she has been in our blogs before) and her husband Dean, just before Christmas in Las Vegas. It had to be before the festive day of the 25th itself since that is the date when local family and friends descend on the abode of the intrepid duo for a celebration of why Christmas is so special - lots of laughter, giving, and tons of food which everyone enjoys but later complain that the pounds magically appeared around the waist.
Laureen and Beth - being sisters

It is the season of magic - isn't it?

It was also the first holiday season without J's mother, Anne,  so we both decided to splurge a bit by staying at the Bellagio on Las Vegas Blvd. Anne would have loved the place - like her - lots of class.

View from 25066

The Resort was opened on October 15th, 1998 by the Mirage Resorts Corporation, owned by Steve Wynn at a cost of 1.6 billion dollars. The opening ceremony with dignitaries from around the world cost over 88 million dollars in celebration - that is a huge and expensive party!

Steve had done it right - immediately the fabulous resort was determined as a must stay by travelers the globe over. With 3,015 rooms on 36 floors - different towers house the rooms and each room tastefully decorated with grace and taste. Of course, there are plenty of upscale restaurants such as Lago, Jasmine, Picasso just to name a few), shops (Rolex, Fendi, Gucci, again just to name a few), theaters, musical venues, pools, fitness rooms, conference centers, and anything else a guest or organization would require or dream of. And yes, there are thousands of square feet of casino for those interested in bucking the tiger of the house (the tiger generally bites rather hard).

Nice hallway to the conference centers
Even the Penguins wear formal attire
What do you stuff in that stocking?
Through the years the Bellagio has been listed as one of the Leading Hotels in the World as well as the AAA Five Diamond Award 15 years in a row plus numerous other awards which would take an entire blog to write about. Combine all of the above with the famous Fountains of Bellagio, the Conservatory, Botanical Gardens and the Gallery of Fine Arts and it is easy why this resort was the one chosen by J and L. - now it should be understood, we do not work for Mr. Wynn as public relations but then . . .Steve, you know . . . J used the Wynn as a backdrop for his last novel Soft Target - sorry about blowing a lot of it up though (it was fiction okay).

Pg. 242 -  Wynn Explodes
A wonderful couple of days planned with family and fun in Vegas but which suddenly turned into something J and L had not imagined nor would have ever wanted to.


The evening of the 20th of December J and L dressed for a night on the town in their room on the 25th floor overlooking the fountains listening on channel 22 to the choreographed music to the waters below and smiled at each other. Looking sharp and relaxed it was time to hit the Strip for a drink, some shopping and a great and probably expensive dinner - that's just Vegas.

 Enjoy the moment.
Selfie or not - we were having fun

Walking across the bridge that stretches across Las Vegas Blvd. J and L snapped photos like the thousands of other explorers and visitors and stopped in at the Hexx on the east side of the boulevard for an adult beverage before heading into the Paris Hotel to wander and take in all the beautiful holiday decorations within the resort and picking up a few things here and there for family back home. Leaving the Paris Hotel and planning to walk leisurely about the Strip for an hour or so before dinner L wanted to walk the long way back in front of the Paris Hotel but J insisted they take the pedestrian bridge across Las Vegas Blvd. to Caesar's  Palace where there were some interesting sounding restaurants that may be worth inspecting - it was at this time that a police vehicle sped by below with red lights and sirens.

The ideal evening of fun and exploring stopped.

30 Minutes earlier
Where the Monster drove onto the sidewalk committing murder

From the walkway suspended over the boulevard J and L stood astonished, amazed and saddened by dozens and dozens of police units, ambulances and fire vehicles tearing down from all directions and stopping in front of the Paris Hotel.

Within minutes Las Vegas Boulevard was blocked off north and south in front of the Paris Hotel and the Bellagio and more emergency units were arriving by the second. L, through text messages tried to find out what was going on and Beth did her best with updates but since the scene was so fresh all accounts were fluid and sometimes contradictory - a drunk driver, an explosion, the Miss Universe was canceled because shots were fired, it was a gang related firefight in front of the Paris Hotel - and on and on went the updates from Beth and passerby's on the street.

No one knew what was happening except the authorities who kept showing up in record numbers.

Beautiful view, marred by tragedy

Of course, as J and L made their way slowly to the front of the Bellagio listening as best they could to all the rumors floating around about terrorists, gang violence and such one thing was clear - this evening had turned from celebration to mourning.

First Responders
The simple and terrible truth was that a thirty-two year old homeless woman (per the most recent news and police chatter) was upset at the world because of her failures and decided to take it out on a group of pedestrians in front of the Paris Hotel with her car. Those innocents were there celebrating one of the most cherished holidays in the world and she was there to bring misery - she did - killing one and injuring more than thirty who will probably survive the physical trauma but not the emotional.

This creature, this monster was a terrorist on this 20th of December - she may not plead a jihad against the civilized world but she did bring hours and hours of terror into a beautiful night in Las Vegas.

Evil was her name and she did it with her three year old daughter strapped into the back seat - how much more evil could she be?

After an hour or so J and L were able to make their way back to their room on the 25th floor of the Bellagio and look down on the flashing lights of dozens of emergency vehicles instead of the festive romp of fountains displaying holiday cheer.

A fancy and relaxing dinner forgotten - news viewing and window peering were the headlines of the rest of the evening.

As they sadly watched the action below a thought entered their minds - if L hadn't wanted to shop, if J hadn't insisted on walking across the bridge of the boulevard instead of walking in front of the Paris Hotel, this blog may have had a different ending.

There is always the dawning of a new day!
L had taken J's photo at the exact spot the monster had decided to drive her vehicle at thirty miles per hour into a group of tourists (and then back up and do it again) only thirty minutes earlier. And then, a turn to the left instead of the right would have put J and L in line with the demented woman's vehicle which struck the crowd of thirty plus only four minutes earlier - the time it took to walk there after leaving the Paris Hotel.

Surreal - yes! It is a magical time of the year - at least for these bloggers.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Under the Sea

What lies beneath those beautiful blue Caribbean waters, just offshore from the warm white sand beaches?  Much, as it turns out, for those willing to venture beyond the sunbathers and the tropical drinks, to venture under the sea.

Cruising through the Caribbean Islands is an adventure every soul should have at least once in their lifetime. Breathing in deeply the clean ocean kissed breezes will restore your spirit, if only for a brief respite from this weary world. But there is an appeal much deeper for those who depart ship and shore. Much deeper. Well, at least a dozen feet or so. So put on your fins, grab your snorkel and let's go!

We started our morning like any back home: grab a cup of hot, black coffee, the newspaper, and discuss what the day had in store for us. Today's conversation took place not in our living room as we readied ourselves for our workdays, but on the veranda of our rented flat in Turks and Caicos. Yes, it would still be a work day as we helped prepare for the commencement exercises of a university with which we are affiliated, but perhaps there was time to take in a morning swim. Perhaps. If we timed it just right.
So quickly grabbing our gear, we headed to a spot off Grace Bay known as Bight and without hesitation, dove right in. Growing up in Hawaii, snorkeling was almost second nature to L, but even spoiled by those beautiful waters, there were pleasant surprises in store this morning. 

Armed with a waterproof camera and with an hour of free time, we swam away from the shore toward a small reef. This is part of a larger system of reefs which protect the bay and the island chain.

We were prepared to see the variety of coral and small fishes that met our gaze as we floated near the surface of the warm waters of the bay, but were struck by the clarity of the water which allowed us to see what we estimated to be more than five fathoms below the surface.

We dove and floated and explored, discovering small schools of tiny silver fish and bigger blue fish. There were purple corals, and purple fish; yellow corals and schools of bright yellow fish.

It was serene and beautiful. Simple, but beautiful and easy to lose track of time.  But the day was warming and we knew we should be jumping out and getting ready for the day. Just five more minutes. Five more minutes...

Then, right below us, casually swimming below us, was a sea turtle. No hurry, no fear, just swimming right up close to nibble a little breakfast and see who had come to visit his neighborhood. We were in awe of the grace and curiosity of this beautiful creature.

And a bit jealous how the turtle seemed to take in the environment so naturally unlike us with fins, mask and snorkel.

Puffer fish, and then whatever this creature looking at me and heading out our direction meant it was time to go home.

The debate of was it an eel or something more sinister, if anything could be more sinister than a lurking eel ready to take a bite of nosy humans.

J concluded that it was merely another fish, while L contended that the creature which gave her such a start was clearly an eel - whatever it was will remain a mystery since it ducked down into the reef not to be seen again.

Swimming in the water with such clarity that sightseeing the undersea world was as easy as stepping onto the warm sands of the Bight. A good start to what would be a very busy day but the thoughts and images of what we saw gave us the determination to carry on with much more mundane duties for the remainder of the day.

Of course, there was always tomorrow and the next - why only work when visiting the Turks and Caicos? There is too much to see and so little time - so we made every hour count.

Sleep? We'd rather explore and sleep later - take advantage of the now! No one knows how many sunsets we are granted. Not a philosophical discussion just reality.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Prayers for San Bernardino

The victims - the loss for us all - the Heroes
"Try to relax, everyone, try to relax, I'll take a bullet before you do, that's for damn sure. Just be cool, OK?"

Those words from a brave police officer as he escorted terrified civilians to safety during the horrendous Islamic Terrorist attack at the San Bernardino Regional Center on Wednesday the 2nd of December. No mention of the assassins' names will be printed here since that would only bring recognition to two purely evil individuals who may have believed they got a ticket to Heaven but undoubtedly are feeling the heat of Hell at this moment for the mass murder of innocents.

Or at least we can pray that is their end reward.

A Good way to end a bad terrorist!
The police officer - probably didn't know he was being videotaped and would simply shrug his shoulders and respond if asked about the heroic deed: "It's all in a days work."

Being an ex-deputy sheriff and former member of SWAT - J knows all too well the diligence and duty that goes along with wearing a badge. Those years working for the Riverside Sheriff's Department were special with friends made, lives saved and the satisfaction of realizing his badge, like all those who wear them, is the thin line between civilization and anarchy.

Are there sometimes rotten apples - bad cops - yes there are just like there are bad attorneys, bad teachers, bad business people, bad judges, and bad politicians (probably more of those than all the others put together) but this blog isn't about the aberrations within respectable careers.

This is about the men and women who each day don their respective uniforms, kiss their loved ones good bye not knowing if they will be coming home after their shift. It's not morbid but simply a reality these law enforcement personnel live with on a daily basis.

A routine day - no - but maybe . . . 
It's about the overwhelming good people doing what they are supposed to do every day.

When J was a 'copper' on the streets he would say that most of the time the job of a police officer is 97% routine and 3% stark raving terror.

That is what the fine officers - SWAT and regular patrol and detectives -faced around eleven in the morning on the 2nd in San Bernardino, California. They got dressed, said good bye to their loved ones and went off to a day at work. Hours later they would be involved in one of the largest terrorist killings in United States history.

Terrified = Terrorism

Common patrol routes turned into racing toward 'shots fired' - a training session ended in speeding toward those shots fired as 'civilians down' crossed the radios - sunny weather turned into tears from heaven as the death and casualty toll climbed minute by minute.

Not a regular day at the office for any of them - nor for the poor innocent people who were simply trying to enjoy a Holiday party at work with friends and co-workers. They to had gotten dressed in the morning, said good bye to their loved ones and went off for their normal, or thought to be, day. Horribly fourteen of these wonderful people never will return home to the comfort of their loved ones.

Some will return home but scarred anyway

It was a day which fate - that sometimes cruel master - had decided to reduce the human population by means of a couple of monsters.

The heroes on that fateful day were the police officers, the civilians who obeyed the frantic but professional order given by those police officers, and the citizens who lost their lives.

Like 45 year old Shannon Johnson who was in the building when the shooting started and ducked beneath a table for safety and then put his arm around a female co-worker and said "I got you", shielding her body from the onslaught of bullets coming their way. Mr. Johnson died - his co-worker lived because of him.

Hero - Shannon Johnson and his girlfriend at a happier time
The people who perished on Wednesday were heroes - they didn't start their day believing they would be but as they were tragically and gruesomely shot there was one other person not being shot. In a sadly rational way they too were willing to take a bullet so someone else could survive.

We can pray that there will be no more mass killings but that would be naive when humans with hard held fanatical beliefs are allowed to roam this globe. Humanity must see that these individuals should not be thought of as human with a moral understanding of what it is to be truly human - one with empathy, sympathy and the knowledge of right from wrong. This is not what they believe - only pain and suffering is their desire.

It's okay to pray
It's not about gun control but about understanding the enemy at large and then doing the right thing.

Eliminating them.