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.

If you must criticize, be constructive… not mean.

When I was in high school and college, I attended events where I competed in public speaking with a focus on pros, poetry, one-act play, and dramatic readings. As a teenager and young adult, it was difficult to receive written critiques stating areas of improvement I needed to make with my presentations. Though I was not confident in many areas of my life, I believed I was good at this and how dare someone correct me. I was in my element. One of my instructors shared with me why it was important, and I should take the constructive criticism to heart so that I could learn and improve. While it was a bitter pill to swallow for my young mind at the time, I discovered my teacher was correct, as were my critics. I reviewed their comments and worked to better my presentations in order to move forward on my academic path.

Fast forward almost four decades later where I work to promote to visitors in the hopes they will choose to come to my city. I share the quality of life message so people can see what a great place my community is to visit, work, and live. Forty years later I am still receiving criticism for the job I’m doing. However, much of it seems to be more mean than constructive.

For example, I took the photo above yesterday afternoon during a noon walk along the Concho River by my office. As an amateur photographer, I saw the clouds from my window and knew the reflections off the water would be incredible, so I snapped the photo with my cell phone. This is the original photo. NOT enhanced.

I admit I enhanced the photo I shared on social media, but only slightly. I increased the vibrant color because I didn’t think my cell phone captured the true colors I saw. I’ve done a comparison below to show the difference. The photo on the top is my original. The one below has the color enhancement. It was then shared on social media channels. 

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I recognize I could have left the photo alone and just posted the original, but I didn’t. The reaction? Overwhelmingly, people stated they loved it, loved our city, and loved living here. It was liked, loved, and shared by many and that continues to happen as of this writing.

While the positive comments were wonderful, much like my time as a teenager, I focused on the criticisms that included the following: “Holy Editing,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” and “The water never looks like this picture.”

Is the water blue? No. Again, my photographer’s eye knew the clouds would reflect off the water as would the blue sky. The reflective capture was what I was after.

The picture below was taken by me with my cell phone on a cloudless day. To me, it is still beautiful. I have shared many photos much like the bottom one before only to get similarly critical comments.

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The point of this post is to say criticism, while not always welcomed, is important. However, criticism with no construction around it, only the desire to complain about things on social media without offering a solution to the problem is not helpful. Social media has opened the door to more and more of this criticizing nature.

Having lived in 20 different cities and towns in my life, some places for only a few shorts months due to relocation and waiting to move into a permanent home, I’ve seen this consistently in many of these communities. Whether it was a letter to the editor, a public demonstration, or a social media post, no solution was offered, just criticism.

I jokingly said to a friend this morning that when I read these comments, I want to ask the person (but I don’t), “If you are being held hostage and unable to leave this town, please let us know so we can send someone in to rescue you so you can get away.”

What started out as an innocent photo of the beauty of the day turned into a moment for me to think about my life and the life lessons I have learned. To those who consistently feel the need to criticize the community in which you live, I make this suggestion. If you don’t have a solution to the problem, please consider refraining from your criticisms. If you feel your town isn’t clean enough, get a group of people together along with trash bags and start picking up garbage. If your taxes are too high, help find a way to improve your community so that businesses will move there and help relieve your tax burden. If you don’t like the leadership in your community, exercise your right to vote. And if none of those solutions works for you, explore other options.

The United States is large. According to World Population Review, as of 2018, there are 19,495 incorporated cities, towns, and villages in the United States. If you don’t find a good fit in the U.S., there are always other countries. This is the only life we get on this earth. Why choose to be miserable, unhappy, and critical all the time? Find some place where you can enjoy the life you have. But remember this phrase published in The Kansas Farmer, February 1917:

Some people are never satisfied anywhere. The grass always looks a little greener on the other side of the fence.

Whether you go or stay, feel free to criticize but also offer solutions to improve your life, the life of your neighbors, and the vibrancy and success of your community. 

Oh, The Places I’ve Been

This week, I have a very different view from my veranda, since I’m not sitting on my back porch today. Instead, it’s a photo from my hotel room window in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, as I’m in town for a conference. I’m at The Worthington Renaissance Hotel, which also happens to be where I started my career in the travel and tourism industry 26 years ago.

View of Sundance Square and Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I only had one thing that I knew for sure, apologies to Oprah for stealing her line. I wanted to be out of the house and on my own.

Fast forward almost a decade after high school and college graduation. I was the mother of a 15-month old baby and a stay-at-home mom when my life took a turn. Without going into the personal details and dragging people into this conversation without being asked, I suddenly needed a job. I landed a provisional position with American Airlines, but due to the fact I had a little one at home and needed insurance, I worked there for only a few months until I was able to find something offering benefits. A job opened in the hotel, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For almost three decades, I’ve worked in some capacity in the hospitality industry. If you ask some of my closest friends and colleagues who know me well, they would probably tell you I’m not really that hospitable. In fact, one of my least favorite things to do in the world is networking with total strangers. Pretty odd for someone who’s made hospitality their chosen career.

That said, unlike many people I know, I have no problem getting in front of an audience of 500 and giving a speech or singing on a stage in front of a crowd. But throw me into a room with people I’ve never met and I want to go over to the corner and blend in with the indoor tree shrubbery until the evening or sneak out, grab my camera and photograph the area instead of talking to people.

The Thru Truss Bridge near the tiny town of Burkett. Snapped this on the way to my conference.

I took theatre classes in high school and college so I became pretty good at playing roles. I’ve applied those principles throughout my life in order to get through times that were hard for me. If I play the part, I win and others win. I can talk to them as VP of my organization and wear that hat and then as soon as I’m done and away from them, I’m just the woman who lives in the country and takes pictures of the backyard antics. It’s worked well for me for 26 years.

When I took the job at the hotel all those years ago, I had no idea at the time I would be working in the travel and tourism industry, helping market communities so that others might be inspired to visit them. Me? The play-acting introvert! I do love what I do but the creative part of me has a greater comfort level than the people person I am required to be in order to be successful.

While desperately needing to find a job in order to take care of my family was the original reason, I’m thankful every day for getting into this industry. As a young girl in a family with few additional funds available to spend on such lavish things as vacations, my career path has lead to many travel opportunities. I’ve visited 33 states in the U.S. and five countries. Not all have been affiliated with my job, rather they have been the benefit of having a job in travel and tourism. I’ve learned about some interesting place through work and then wanted to visit. Those places were added to a bucket list and I’ve slowly checked them off.

While in Fort Worth, I was privileged to visit the Whiskey Ranch.

Surveys I’ve seen state the average American only visits 12 states and three countries in their lifetime. Travel isn’t for everyone but I can’t imagine not having gone to any of these places, meeting the people, tasting the food, and experiencing the cities and towns.

Someone once said, “Travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer.” For me, no truer statement has ever been made.

As I begin my 27th year in the hospitality, travel and tourism industry, I am extremely thankful for that forced opportunity all those years ago requiring me to find employment. It brought me to where I am today. I am also grateful for the places I’ve been and look forward to seeing more of this beautiful, blue planet we all call home.

I highly recommend you make time to travel. It doesn’t even need to be overnight. Go on a day trip to some place you’ve never been and check out the people, places and things that give it personality. You’ll be amazed at the benefit you’ll get from the places you go.

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

The sun is rising so I must begin my day. Enjoy the views from your veranda!

The Buck Stops Here

The game cam caught this big guy in the backyard enjoying the corn we put out in our feeder. We occasionally see them during the day from the back porch but not often so it’s great to have eyes at night through another lens.

In seeing the buck and other deer on the game cam and on a camping trip we took over Labor Day weekend, it got me thinking about a phrase involving the buck from decades ago.

When President Harry S. Truman added the plaque to his desk at the Whitehouse that read “the buck stops here,” I wonder how many read it and took the words to heart?

In watching or reading the news these days, it seems we never fail to learn that someone has blamed others for their lack of success, their lack of commitment, their inability to keep their word, etc. From elected officials and celebrities to law breakers and company CEO’s and even others we see every day at work or elsewhere, no one seems to want to accept what happens because of their actions or the lack thereof.

Who wants to admit their failures and bad decisions? I certainly don’t but it’s really more of an internal battle for me rather than a worry about the consequences. I have certainly had to deal with decisions I didn’t like but I survived, far better than I thought I would.

It makes us feel uncomfortable to admit a decision was ours and we fear people will judge us for it. It seems easier to run away or cast blame on others, creating a smoke screen, rather than own up to something that didn’t work out the way we thought it would.

It’s easy to own our successes but owning our failures, not so much. If we can overcome the fear of the consequences we could face, we can get through it. And, yes, some of those fears might become reality, depending on what we’ve done. People might judge us, we might lose a friend, we might not get reelected, but we will know that the buck stopped with us.

Once we do own it, we give ourselves a chance to show our leadership, our courage and our ability to honor the word we gave in the first place. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll better understand how applying “the buck stops here” to our lives could be one of the most important things we ever do.