Vegas “I Do’s” – Angels & Aftermath (Part 1 of 2)

Las-Vegas-weddings

ANGELS

Though I’ve been to Vegas many times, you throw a wedding (your own), Halloween, and a “visit from beyond” into the mix and, well, it’s one for the books.  “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”….except for this.

I remember working with a guy in my late teens that had recently gotten married in Vegas on Halloween. I also remember thinking that was the most horribly unromantic thing I’d ever heard of. In 2004 I got married the day before Halloween…in Vegas. Yes. Yes I did. And we had a BLAST!! Interesting how time and age, and planning a second wedding, changes your perspective on things.

In our own defense, my second (now 2nd “ex” though still a cherished friend) husband and I initially had more traditional if still casual plans for our nuptials. Both long term residents of Florida and “low maintenance” types, we explored our local options and ultimately put a deposit down on an outdoor, covered, picnic table laden spot at a nearby state park appropriately located along the Atlantic shoreline. Our chosen and secured venue offered corresponding access to the beach for a planned, barefoot vow exchange followed by a DJ, food, dancing, and drinks involving minimal cost and maximum fun. Alas, life does not always cooperate and my father’s diagnosis of a brain tumor, and his accompanying rapid decline, quickly converted the foreseen fun of planning our event into an overwhelming chore as my time and energy was clearly focused elsewhere. Not wishing to delay our “I Do’s” despite the situation (silver linings serving as a welcome and helpful life raft), some quick internet research provided an easy solution. For the “low, low price” of $475 (insert used car salesman voice *here*) we could secure a venue, a non-denominational minister, a video, and play our own music at a ceremony in Las Vegas. Tropicana Chapel, here we come!

Though I was from a loving family, my mother and siblings were only in an emotional and monetary position to provide a tentative “RSVP” due to my father’s failing health. As he ultimately passed away just weeks prior to my planned nuptials (his departure undoubtedly making the afterlife a much more entertaining and delightfully dorky place to be) they understandably passed on attending as we all still reeled from our loss.

My fiancé & I made our plans with no expectations regarding attendance but sent invitations to special friends near & far letting them know the ceremony locale had taken an unexpected turn. We made it clear to everyone that they were enthusiastically welcome but that their presence was requested without pressure due to the now increased expense required to join us on our special day. Imagine our delight when our wedding was attended by 22 friends from 5 states, far and beyond anything we expected or hoped for!

The wedding ceremony was brief, casual, and filled with laughter and love. Obviously, we kept things simple, opting for a single friend at each of our sides at the altar. Very early into the short ceremony our delightful officiant, whom we’d met just minutes beforehand, commented in front of the attendees that my husband’s “best man”, a very close, lesbian friend of ours, was “The best looking best man he had ever seen!”. Little did he know how much those words would haunt us as that “best (wo)man” shared his flattery with everyone within a 1,000 mile radius for the next five years! I will concede it was pretty unique and big props from someone that conducts hundreds of ceremonies a year so we’ll give her a pass.

Our personally tailored, non-traditional, “blink and you’ll miss it” ceremony ended with us singing to one another, alternately and off key, a song from “The Wedding Singer”, an 80’s based “rom-com” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. (For those that aren’t familiar consider yourself served!). As in the movie, Billy Idol’s voice came over the speaker system (this time in the Tropicana Wedding Chapel) to announce the song. Ironically, his introduction even mentions Las Vegas which, ironically, I didn’t even realize until I looked up the lyrics once again as I wrote this.

I wanna make you smile whenever you’re sad
Carry you around when your arthritis is bad
All I wanna do is grow old with you

I’ll get your medicine when your tummy aches
Build you a fire if the furnace breaks
Oh, it could be so nice, growing old with you

I’ll miss you
Kiss you
Give you my coat when you are cold

Need you
Feed you
Even let you hold the remote control

So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed when you’ve had too much to drink
Oh, I could be the man (one) who grows old with you
I wanna grow old with you

Upon completion of the ceremony my new husband and I bounced together back down the aisle, wearing huge smiles and big hearts, “Silly Little Love Songs” by Paul McCartney & Wings serenading our new status. As a collective, happy, hubabaloo, everyone present piled on to the party bus we had rented, shouting and laughing until we disembarked at our uber classy reception location, the “Big Dog Saloon”. The following hours were filled with shared food and ample drink, joyous toasts and spontaneous speeches. When it was my turn to speak I acknowledged my father and his absence, the first time I’d allowed myself to tearfully touch on his loss on such a joyous day, before pushing it aside to remain focused on the happy vs. the sad, knowing he would approve.

After sucking it up and getting back in the moment it was once again time to invade the party bus and head to our next, and final, destination. Through my research I’d discovered a new nightclub in the “Old Las Vegas”, Fremont Street vicinity, that was wholly appealing for our non-chi chi and still youthful crowd.

As we piled off our party bus for the last time, the driver no doubt screaming a silent “Hallelujah!” as he pulled away, we walked into the club with a minor state of shock. Though our posse was in “full swing” apparently, at least by Vegas standards, we were WAY ahead of the game as we surveyed our barren surroundings. “Cavernous” is the word to perfectly describe the place – an enormous warehouse type venue, all concrete, incredibly high ceilings, and vast empty space. That said, our mood and celebration were not deterred, collective policy always remaining it’s “Who you’re with not where you are”. Bonus – We clearly had our choice of comfortable seating available to secure as a group. Champagne glasses half full not empty, thank you!

At this point in the tale it’s important to remember that we were in Vegas the day before Halloween. Though our primary focus was obviously on our wedding festivities it was hardly a bland and boring landscape beyond. Kinky and questionable Halloween shenanigans were already in full swing throughout the tourist zones and gaining momentum and numbers the later it got. Whether mandated by city ordinance or not it seemed that we had missed the dress code memo that did not permit wearing more than 1 square yard of fabric, preferably made of latex or fur.  It is with this in mind that as everyone in our circle chattered, laughed, and clinked glasses, I alone noticed – with unintended and uncontested tunnel vision – a solo female walking slowly yet deliberately across our path. Dance music blared while the other stray, early bird revelers traveled in hedonistic packs around the massive space on a mission for mischief yet this woman traveled alone, unnoticed and ignored by everyone but me. To me, she silently commanded the room, an anomaly in this environment holding a spiritual spotlight.

She was dressed as an angel. Not just an angel but a modest angel, simultaneously making her both invisible and glaringly obvious. She wore a floor length, white gown and huge, beautiful, majestic, white, feathered wings. Her hair and makeup were unique in the fact that they were simple. Natural. “Angelic”. The halo perched over her head served as the beautiful bow that launched the soaring arrow of immediate, deep,  recognition and understanding into my heart. Involuntarily and almost violently I elbowed my new husband as he sat at my side, snapping him out of the shared conversation. Looking at me with surprise, unsure whether to be alarmed, concerned, or annoyed, I urgently motioned for him to follow my gaze. My new husband as my only witness, the angel still slowly crossing our path, I told him with uncontrollable tears and laughter, “THAT’S MY DAD!”.

Together we watched as she disappeared into the other end of the club. We never saw her again while we were there but I only needed to see her once.

Thank you, Dad, for coming to my wedding. The soul knows.

The Karaoke King

Frank Sinatra, you’ve been served!  I imagine this Father’s Day there may be a “sing off” going down inside the pearly gates where Rat Pack crowd cigar smoke doesn’t stink and carries with crooning over the clouds.

I put Google to work early this morning to do its stuff and after a few keystrokes it quickly served up the lyrics to “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.  Though appreciative of Sinatra’s music I am not a “fan” in regards to personal ownership of any of his tunes nor do I know any of them by heart.  My Dad, however, loved that song in particular and when occasions arose for him to dust off his Karaoke King crown it was one of his two favorite “go to’s”.  We played that song at his memorial and it amazed me how prolific the words were, perfect for his “swan song”.

My full family went on a short, Caribbean cruise together several years ago, generously gifted by my parents to celebrate my dad’s retirement together.  Predictably one of my dad’s favorite activities sailing with my mom on their umpteen cruises was the onboard karaoke.  I thought this was pretty hilarious.  My Dad doing karaoke – you MUST be kidding!  Can’t wait to tell my friends about this!  Ha, ha, ha, and blah, blah, blah.

Let me tell you what – he FLOORED them!  Yes, if there was no age limit, my Dad could truly have been the next American Idol!  Well, that and a makeover.  Sorry, Dad.  Your tragic wardrobe choices, most notably the shiny, silver Keds with the dark dress socks and plaid shorts, live on in infamy  But I digress.

I very begrudgingly went to see him “perform”.  Although I didn’t let my folks know that was the adjective I would have used I’m certain they were wise to it but appreciative of my attendance all the same.  I went into the lounge being used for this hokey pastime and took a seat.  The girls performing upon my arrival were tipsy, young, and giddy…..and just plain AWFUL, exactly the performance one would expect from cruise ship karaoke.  Painful to sit through.

When the warbling, drunken, trio’s song blessedly came to a close the Cruise Director called out a man’s name whose companions apparently had signed him up without his knowledge because he adamantly refused to do it while his friends caused a jolly scene, egging him on to no avail.  Dad was next in line and offered to go ahead.  Problem solved.

Here we go.  Keep a straight face.  I know I can do it.

He. Was. AMAZING!

“And nowwwwwwwwww……the time is near……”

BEAUTIFUL!!  He sounded BEAUTIFUL!

All of the sudden the attending crew member broke out these slowly spinning, multi-colored spotlights on him.  Ambiance, why thank you.

The room got quiet.  He sang like a tenor angel.

His first round of the chorus, “I did it myyyyyyyyyyy waaaaaaay.”, had the audience erupting in applause & whistles.  He was a supahstah!  As he continued singing there were occasional whoops and whistles, and even one loud & enthusiastic “YEAHHHHHH, BOB!” from the back of the room (they had introduced him by his first name before he began.).

As the song and my papa songbird came to a close, I kid you not, he got a heartfelt standing ovation from everyone in the room.  There was no denying – it wasn’t just me – he was incredible.  I have never been so proud of my father as I was at that moment and I will never forget it.  It is, without a doubt, something that will make me smile in 30 years as it does now while I remember and write.

The following day I participated in some additional cruise ship fodder, some type of trivia game where I was paired with an older couple who looked to be around their 60’s.  As we chatted casually they mentioned how they were just in that same lounge the day before and I said I was too, to see my Dad sing karaoke.  Turns out that’s why they had been there too.  The woman asked what my Dad sang and I said, “My Way” and she exclaimed, “FRANK?  Your Dad is FRANK???” and began acting like a wrinkled school girl!

Again, I smile even bigger now.  I wonder if there’s groupies in heaven?

And now, the end is near

And so I face the final curtain

My friend, I’ll say it clear

I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full

I’ve traveled each and every highway

But more, much more than this

I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few

But then again, too few to mention

I did what I had to do

And saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course

Each careful step along the byway

And more, much more than this

I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew

When I bit off more than I could chew

But through it all, when there was doubt

I ate it up and spit it out

I faced it all and I stood tall

And did it my way

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried

I’ve had my fill my share of losing

And now, as tears subside

I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that

And may I say – not in a shy way

Oh no, oh no, not me

I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got

If not himself, then he has naught

To say the things he truly feels

And not the words of one who kneels

The record shows I took the blows

And did it my way

Yes, it was my way

(My favorite picture of my dad, sitting inside a giant bubble maker that he made)

An African Boy Named Bob

Racism, poverty, oppression, thou hast an enemy and thy name is BOB!

Trust in today’s shift from this blog’s primary focus on humor and travel to indulge in  unapologetic “heartwarming”.  Warm fuzzies guaranteed – stick around!  Travel is still involved though not my own, this lesson not involving fiascos or mischief but instead honor, example, & kindness. For all seeking menu alternatives to the cold & unappetizing chunks of distressing news and disheartening stories offered up by the servers at the shark frenzy buffet, I serve up this infinitely more appetizing & refreshing tale!  And it goes a lil’ somethin’ like this:

The first of the two “Bob’s” in our story is my father.  He passed away in 2004, a (young) senior, Caucasian man hailing from a small & un-heard of town in Indiana.  He left a beautiful wake positive marks, memories, & respect with all whom he crossed paths with.  He was a good father and a good man.  He made me and countless others laugh in eye rolling and, frequently, embarrassing ways and instilled in me an annoyed, frustrated, yet ultimately appreciated skill regarding mischievous, laughter filled, sarcasm & sparring.  His wardrobe choices bordered on tragic, his vibrant and passionate personality and melodic, deep, & talented singing voice never lost on those who encountered it.  A product of a poverty stricken upbringing, he was raised across the street from train tracks with his parents, a brother, and five sisters in a three bedroom, 1 bath household.  With purpose and determination, he embraced education, both personally & professionally, and became known as a standout in his mathematical career and, mostly privately and always humbly, as a man who strove to improve the lives of others through providing inspiration and opportunities otherwise unavailable.

Twenty some years ago my parents together realized a dream as they set off on an eagerly anticipated African safari.  During their trip my parents found themselves so deeply touched and impressed by their young, local, male, tour guide that my father took it upon himself to rally with their other, newly met, tour companions.  Without direct solicitation but merely through intentionally casual conversation relaying a dream, my father managed to gather significant funds from the other travelers in their group to help this young man begin his own safari/guide outfit in Africa, one that he had wistfully indicated was his dream.  Little did he know that this casual conversation with an American tourist would open a door to a new and better life of independence and financial freedom.

And now we move on to Bob #2.

Fast forward eight years after my father’s passing and 15+ years after the trip in reference, the “safari group” continued to remain in occassional touch, primarily over the holidays.  On this long after holiday season, I received a phone call from my mother to share the most amazing information she had just received from someone within the group.  The news was that a message had been received down the internet pipeline from this long-ago man with a dream, a resident of Tanzania, Africa.  The man now had a son…..and the son’s name is BOB.

Yes, there is an African boy in Tanzania named BOB, after my father.

We all hope to leave a legacy.  Some type of positive mark, memory, or difference in this world after we are gone and I cannot think of a better one.  I am filled with pride, joy, gratitude, and appreciation for being raised by a man with such heart, values, and kindness.  I am quite certain that when this son introduces himself in his native country that it is met with question and that the answer always involves my father in the most wonderful of ways.

A favorite quote of mine goes, “Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”.  Helen Keller said that, not Bob….but he could have.

DAD
Bob in his safari hat, ready for adventure!

 

 

 

Once Upon A New Year’s Eve

My First Apartment
The year was 1995 and with not too distant visions of Miami Vice episodes playing in my head, and the nightclubs and neon of a big city calling to my then naïve but desperately intrigued 20-something self, I packed up everything without knowing a soul and moved to Miami.  At my father’s insistence, he manned the wheel on the slow move from Virginia, navigating my modest worldly possessions down I-95 until we pulled in to a gas station in the early evening of that New Year’s Eve, my first official stop in my new neighborhood. Much to my father’s alarm, the parking lot had a noticeable number of suspicious, motely looking characters congregating in the shadows of the brightly lit gas station logo, conveniently located mere blocks from my new abode. As I reached to open my door my dad’s arm shot out and blocked my exit. With a look of grave concern reserved only for fathers of female offspring he said, “I don’t know if this was such a good idea.”, clearly not implying our choice of gas stations but rather my decision to move to South Beach.  With understanding but difficult restraint, I remained in the clunky moving truck that had been my prison for the past three days (did I mention my Dad drove *slowly*?). After a quick fill up he silently drove the few blocks to my new apartment, located on a main strip of this art deco wonderland above a sushi restaurant. While he was no doubt making an interpersonal wager as to whether he would first be picking me up to move back to Virginia or filing a missing person report I enthusiastically jumped out. I WAS HERE!

After unloading into my tiny, studio apartment with a scenic view of the back alley I was ready to hit the ground running. It was NEW YEAR’S EVE and time to celebrate! Of course, he was as enthusiastic about this as he was about the questionable characters that we shared the gas station parking lot with but this time it fell on deaf ears. A presto-change-o and a hug with a promise to be safe and I practically took the door off the hinges as I ran out to explore my new stomping grounds.

My first stop was the landmark 11th Street Diner, an enticing (and still loved) concoction of aluminum, art murals, signed celebrity photos, a 24 hour menu, and cheap booze. From there it was a whirlwind night spent bathing in pumping bass and showering in a spray of colorful lights.

The next day was a blur of hangover induced slumber on the couch amongst a forest of moving boxes. Foggy, brief interactions with my father occurred throughout the day as he navigated and inspected his daughter’s new territory, occasionally returning with observations & tidbits. After mostly relaying his findings with skepticism and caution he BURST into the apartment with as much enthusiasm as I had burst out of it the previous night. With an unforgettable combination of excitement and joy on his face it was quickly apparent that South Beach had, at least in one regard, just gained a new fan as he exclaimed, “I JUST SAW THREE TOPLESS WOMEN ON THE BEACH!”.

Hey, whatever it takes.

For first timers visiting South Beach (Note: Only visitor’s call it “SoBe” so avoid that for “cool points” when speaking with locals) do be sure to pay a visit to the 11th Street Diner for a casual, fun, unique & tasty experience.  If you’re young be prepared to disco nap – the night time party doesn’t truly get started until around midnight.  If your clubbing days are behind you then bring your spanx and grab a seat in the Florida sunshine on Ocean Drive.  Order a delicious, refreshing, minty mojito, perfected at Mango’s,  long served there before it became “a thing” due to both the drink and the establishment’s Cuban roots.  The people watching from there is as good as the view from the beach and is equally, if not more, beautiful.