What Happened to Their Golden Ticket?

I recently completed a couple of weeks of business travel. My last stop was five days in Las Vegas, Nevada, for an international conference. As I always do when I hit the road, I took a huge number of photos of the trip, trying to capture the architecture of Vegas, both inside and out, and the various casinos that pattern the skyline in such a dramatic fashion.

One of my favorite spots was The Bellagio, a beautiful property, known for its famous Fountains of Bellagio experience, offered daily every 30 minutes in the afternoons and evenings.

While the fountain show was incredible, the inside of the hotel/casino was even more spectacular. On my first day, I walked over to the lobby and enjoying the beautiful fall colors before I even made it through the revolving doors. Like a pied piper, the decorations lead me to a fairy land of delight. I captured photo after photo of tiny characters living under toadstools and in trees, while animal characters slept on rocks by flowing rivers. The words of Roald Dahl, who wrote Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, came to mind while I was exploring the fantasy world The Bellagio had created, “If you want to view Paradise, simply look around and view it.” It truly was spectacular.

The city in the evening is stunning with the beautiful neon lighting up the night from Paris Las Vegas to the Hard Rock Cafe to Planet Hollywood. Day or night, you can view art at Caesar’s Palace or take a gondola ride at the Venetian. There truly seems to be something for everyone…well, it would seem.

Because I’d been trying to get 10,000 steps in per day, I walked a LOT along the streets of Sin City. In the pictures I’ve shared here and others I shared on social media posts, you might not notice the way I cropped some of them. I was purposeful with my cropping. I thought I’d done a good job of hiding something I didn’t want to share. However, in looking at my cropped photos, I found one I thought made a particular statement. If you look closely at the photo below I snapped in the middle of the day, you might notice something a little different from the rest. At the bottom of the iconic golden arches of McDonalds, a person is sleeping on the artificial grass. As someone who has a tough time falling asleep in the best of conditions, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could sleep in the desert heat with the daily noise surrounding them. Did this person come to Vegas looking for their golden ticket?

In the photo below of The Mirage and its lovely water feature, I was literally two feet away from a man sleeping on the concrete using a partially-full 12 pack of beer as a pillow. Steps away from him slept another man in the shade of a walking bridge and across from him was a man sleeping on the floor of an opulent glass elevator used to take people up one floor to the afore mentioned bridge. The irony of the advertisement for The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil wasn’t lost on me, nor was the beauty of the water and sky, knowing I was beside a man choosing a concrete sidewalk as his bed for the evening.

Right under the perfume bottle of Chanel and other celebrity fashion designers and restauranteurs scattered throughout the city was a dirty little secret. In the early morning hours, while most were sleeping after a long night of celebrating, gambling, and going to shows, the street sweepers and leaf-blowers were removing, not leaves, but the pamphlets, flyers, and baseball-style, escort cards from the night before, given out by the porn slappers and show pushers. I watched as the garbage was blown toward these individuals, either choosing to be homeless or forced into it by decisions made in their pasts. I was immediately saddened by the entire situation. Saddened, but, ashamedly, not enough to offer any assistance to those who most definitely appeared to be in need.

I know I have prejudices or biases toward people who “portray” themselves as homeless and I’m not too ashamed to admit it. Some of that comes from working in Austin a few years ago. On my commute to work, I saw a very pregnant looking woman holding a sign stating she was nine months pregnant. The first time I saw her, the light was green and I kept going. The next few weeks, I continued to see her. She was nine months pregnant for more than six months on the same corner. Her sign alone left a bad taste in my mouth, as I knew it wasn’t true.

Another man had a picture of his two-year-old son who was terminally ill with cancer. Throughout the four years I worked in the city, I saw this man with the same sign. The child’s age never changed, nor did his picture. Did the man even have a child? I have no idea but because he never made corrections to the sign, I found it hard to believe him. I hope, if he did have a son, that the young boy is okay.

I share this with you as a reflection on myself and us as a nation. I recently watched as the border in my home state of Texas has been dealing with immigration challenges. Thousands of Haitians were under a bridge in the town of Del Rio. I have friends who protested a similar situation about the way people were being treated under the Trump administration and other friends who remained silent. The same friends who protested the treatment under President Trump have said nothing under President Biden and those who were quiet under President Trump are now being vocal under President Biden. Instead of focusing on how to fix the situation, we’re focusing on whether there is a D or an R in front of the leadership’s name. Much like my photos, we’re cropping out the situation to focus on something totally different.

I’m unsure about the way things need to be addressed with the homeless and those who are trying to get into the U.S., but I recognize something needs to be done. I am guilty of casting my eyes in the other direction. In Las Vegas, a stranger passed me as we both looked at a man sleeping on the sidewalk. He asked me, “Is he okay?” I responded, “Not sure.” We then both passed the man, not stopping to find out for sure. When I went by that same spot a few hours later, the man was gone. My hope is he found food, water, and shelter, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

On my final night in Las Vegas, I saw the Statue of Liberty at New York, New York and it gave me pause. I was surrounded by buildings that cost millions and millions of dollars to construct. The city was lit up like a Christmas tree. Visitors were everywhere and we were walking past those living on the streets, as if they didn’t exist. A song came to my head by the singer Christine Lavin. It’s called Somebody’s Baby. Part of the lyrics are “That’s when I saw her all dirty and ragged, drinking a bottle of wine. I turned my head, walked right on by, but one thing stayed in my mind. She once was Somebodys Baby. Someone bounced her on his knee. Do you think he has any idea, what his little girl has turned out to be?”

The Bellagio decorations of tiny fairies living under toadstools and animals sleeping on rocks offered a vast contrast to those living on sidewalks and sleeping under bridges.

I will admit to enjoying my time in Las Vegas, much like people enjoy their time in my city when they are visiting. However, the memory of those I saw on the streets the five days I was there are heavy on my heart. We have some of those same people here, as do most cities and towns across this great nation. Many are known to suffer from mental illness, but we sweep that thought away and choose not to address it as a nation as much as I believe we should. It is uncomfortable and we are a people who like and are accustomed to our comforts.

Perhaps it’s time for us to come together to address these needs as a united voice and not a D or an R or even those who are unaffiliated. As I shared earlier, I’m unsure how but the blame game has got to stop. It is rampant and we are not seeking to understand. We don’t seem to want to understand. How nice would it be for us to find a solution. We should seek to, as Roald Dahl wrote, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” How can we provide the good deed? I’m open to suggestions and to ALL of us listening to each other to find the answers.

Have we forgotten?

In February of 2019, I was fortunate enough to fly to New York City for a work trip. I admittedly had trepidations prior to my visit, which is really unlike me when I travel. I had never been to a city this large and the vastness of it all intimidated me a bit. While I’ve lived in a few large cities, I’m really more of a country girl and prefer the wide open spaces. I suppose I also watch too many crime shows that take place in NYC and was nervous I’d get mugged or worse while walking around by myself. New Yorkers are also not portrayed in the nicest ways so I went with preconceived notions running around in my head.

View from my hotel room at the Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza.

The trip was magical, especially for an amateur photographer. I clocked over 30 miles on my Fitbit between appointments and, after my work day was done, I took hundreds of pictures with my Nikon and my cell phone. I didn’t want to miss anything. I wanted to experience it all.

While I would have loved to see a Broadway show, the one thing I knew I had to experience when I arrived in the city happened on my last day.

On February 7, 2019, a little before dusk, I took an Uber two miles to the memorial site and museum dedicated to those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. When I arrived, I walked around the dedication to those lost on that horrific day 20 years ago. Decisions made by those trapped due to the location of the airplanes flying into the buildings were even more impactful when I saw the vastness of the area and could see for myself the height of the adjacent One World Trade Center next door to the memorial. It was apparent for me that I was standing not only on a memorial site but also on an unconventional cemetery dedicated to 2,977 individuals, some who died there and others who lost their lives in Shanksville, PA, and Washington, D.C.

When I entered the 9/11 Museum, I saw the familiar remnants of the building and reminders of that day. The steel beams, the staircase, and the remains of the Ladder 3 Fire Truck left an image in my mind I will not soon forget.

Seeing the smiling faces of those lost that day through photos on a seemingly never-ending wall and hearing the recordings of their voices from messages left on phones or answering machines, struck me with a grief I was not prepared for and I had the desire to run away. I didn’t KNOW these people but I DID know them as my fellow American citizens and people from across the globe who innocently started their day that quickly ended in unforeseen tragedy and loss.

When you’re young and learning about history in school, you tend to read the few paragraphs in your assigned text book and move on without much feeling. I’m sure I was that way when I learned about World War One, the holocaust, and the Vietnam War. Being married to a Vietnam Veteran for 22 years opened my eyes to the true impact on someone who lived it. The same can be said for those in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, who were there and saw things unfold before their eyes. I only saw it on the screen and know the impact it had on me.

Twenty years later, many people seem to have the desire to sweep that tragic day under the rug, but I believe it is imperative we continue to honor this day, those lost, and those who will suffer for years to come. In the words of Spanish philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” which was later paraphrased by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

So many young people living today have no memory of that time, as they were very young or they were not yet born and the anniversary of 9/11 is the only time they learn of the tragedies of that fateful day in America. People read the names, share the stories of their own loved ones, and bells are rung to signify the times of those four horrible incidents in our history, when planes were taken over by terrorists hell-bent on destroying the U.S.A. A field in the Pennsylvania countryside memorializes the heroes who lost their lives while bravely taking on these evil people, so that more tragedy did not take place in our nation’s capital.

For those of you who CAN remember, do you recollect that day? What about September 12? We seemed to all become ONE America. Certainly, flying an American flag in our front yards was an easy way to show our patriotism, but we did it. We did it because we were unsure what else to do. Many young people enlisted, many wrote songs, and still others vowed to not take their lives for granted and do good things.

Sadly, I have not felt that we are acting like it. I have seen, read, and heard more divided conversations today than I can remember in my 57 years on this earth. We are BETTER than this but we seem to have a my way or the highway mentality. I ask you, where does that get you?

Years ago, I took the Stephen Covey course, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of those habits stands out for me today. It is seek first to understand, then to be understood. We all fall short of that philosophy, but I beckon us to do better, to be better. Because we disagree on a topic doesn’t mean one side is wrong and the other side is right. Seldom are things black and white. We all have life events that affect our thinking. Putting everyone in the same category because we choose to do something or not to do something is wrong and unfair, in my humble opinion.

Today, I am struggling with people putting me in a specific category who know nothing about my situation. Sadly, I haven’t said anything to those individuals because I have seen their responses on social media about similar topics and I truly believe they will judge me because they are not willing to listen to my side of the story, so I remain quiet.

A few years ago, I heard former Mayor Rudy Giuliani say, “America was at its best that day.” While I know we can’t always stop tragedies like the one that happened two decades ago on what started out as a beautiful September morning, we can and should come together as Americans without having to rely on a tragedy to make it so.

One of the photos I took in Central Park in New York City struck me that day and is a continued reminder for me of the tragedies that fell upon our country 20 years ago. I have no idea who the gentleman was that is standing with his back to me on a rock in the park, but seeing him look towards the skyline, I wondered who stood there on September 11, 2001, and what were they thinking?

I pray it doesn’t take another incident like 9/11 to remind us of how little time we have on this earth. I have said this before and I try to make it my mantra for life. “This is the only life we’re blessed to have. I want to get out and explore and know I really lived.”

I encourage you to live your dash. I remind you to never forget.

The Way I See It – Election 2020

The following have been my Presidents, whether I voted for them or not, since I was of legal age to vote.

President Ronald Reagan (R)
President George H.W. Bush (R)
President Bill Clinton (D)
President George W. Bush (R)
President Barack Obama (D)
President Donald Trump (R)
President ??? (R or D)

I don’t know what the outcome of this year’s vote will be, but whoever it is, they will be my President.

That said, because I voted, I have the RIGHT to disagree with how they are running our country. I have the RIGHT to stand up when I disagree. I have the RIGHT to protest when I disagree.

I do not have the RIGHT to loot, threaten, or seek out violence against others because they voted differently. I do not have the RIGHT to threaten them or damage their property. I do not have the RIGHT to threaten my elected officials.

YOU have the RIGHT to disagree with me…because we live in the United States of America, no matter now divided the vote.

I will STILL respect the office of the President, even if I DON’T respect who’s sitting in the seat.

That is all!

There’s Always Room for Hope

This morning as my husband and were drinking our coffee while mindlessly listening to the latest updates regarding COVID 19, we had a brief discussion of what items we might need from the grocery store. He had been a few days ago, along with other seniors who had the good fortune to go into the stores earlier than others.

I mentioned we could use some more oatmeal. His simple five-word comment threw me for a loop, “They were out of oats.” His statement was simply matter of fact. No grandiose delivery. No academy award winning moment. Just a simple phrase.

Sitting at my work computer at home during my self-quarantining because of international flights almost two weeks ago, I’ve continually read above COVID 19 and its rapid spread across our world. By the way, I have had no symptoms. Two months ago, I admittedly was not concerned. I am not too proud to say that, but I have no doubt others will deny their lack of concern so as not to be accused of being part of the problem rather than the solution.

How quickly things change.

Two weeks ago when I was working with other colleagues to market to Canadian media to promote travel to Texas, my colleagues and I turned from marketing to somewhat jokingly discussing options of how we could get home should they cancel flights. An epic road trip in a rental van was our solution, should we need to make a quick decision if flights cancelled. There’s nothing like the possibility of being stuck in another country to bring you back to reality pretty quickly, especially when you are told daily in emails that events in your community are being cancelled. We all made it home on our flights with no real issues, at least so far, and returned to our towns and cities to face our new reality.

Which brings me back to this morning…

In my life, I’ve seen gas shortages, weather catastrophes, and 9/11. All were frightening in their own way at the time, particularly the latter. While I felt sick for those affected, these events always felt at arm’s length. It was like looking into a snow globe and watching someone else’s reality take place. Not today.

A simple five-word phrase this morning over coffee, hit me in the face. “They were out of oats.” That phrase could have just as easily been, “They were out of disinfectant,” “They were out of apples.”

In my life, I’ve taken for granted something as simple as having oats for breakfast and believing it wouldn’t be an issue. What grocery store runs out of oats? In our current reality, ours does and so do other stores across the nation. It’s surreal.

It’s surreal that within just a few weeks, we can no longer dine in restaurants, only get takeout or order delivery. And, hopefully, people will do that. Events can no longer be held. Meetings of 10 or more are prohibited. Las Vegas hotels are closed for the first time since they opened. Let that sink in.

The industry I’ve loved and worked in for nearly 25 years is bleeding out. Colleagues are losing jobs. Housekeepers and wait staff are trying to figure out how to keep a roof over their heads, feed their children, and pay their utilities. Airports are empty. Vacations have stopped. Business people are no longer taking meetings. Everything that “starts with a visit” is at a standstill.

I write this out of my own nervousness but also to put the words on paper so that I can get them out of my head. I need to focus on being a productive person and help my industry, rather than allow the negative thoughts to consume me. I thought of one of my favorite quotes by Admiral Jim Stockdale this morning.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
― Jim Stockdale

As I recognize we may be out of oats today, people may have lost jobs today, the world looks like a scary place today, I also know this is our current reality. It is not permanent. We WILL survive this after we get through our five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That will involve tears, fear, laughter, prayer, and hope. No matter how full we are with our thoughts, there’s always room for hope. Hope is the jello of feelings. Yes, I wrote that. Don’t judge me right now. 🙂

So today, I work from my makeshift desk, looking out the window as the sun comes up. The mesquite trees are leafing out and the old timers would say there’s no longer going to be a freeze, meaning the temperatures will get warmer and people will want to breathe the fresh, warm air. I see the first hummingbird of the season, flittering around the multiple feeders to drink the sweet nectar and, hopefully, bring back friends to join it. Life is still good. Hope is in the air!