Friday, February 16, 2018

Flashback Friday: Vegas to St. Louis for the 2017 Eclipse

Last year, on August 21, 2017, North America got to see a total solar eclipse.

My son made his first solo trip from Las Vegas to St. Louis to be in the path of totality for this rare celestial occurrence. 

Photo by Roger Lee

Last summer my son announced he wanted to find a place to see the solar eclipse in full totality. Since last year’s eclipse was the first one in 38 years and another won’t occur in North America until 2024, I agreed this was a great idea. Here in Las Vegas, you could only see the eclipse with special glasses, but there was a swath across the middle of the country where the eclipse would briefly turn day into night.    

I  thought about what a fun trip it would be for the two of us, but August turned out to be a rotten time for me to travel. Instead, I helped him plan his first trip alone. I mean, it was time. He’s over 18, and the world awaits.

After checking on air fare to several cities in the path of full totality, we settled on St. Louis, Missouri.

Next, we had to deal with a few age-related issues. Although he’s over 18, he’s under 21.

For transportation, we quickly settled on a combination of public transportation and Uber. Car rental was out of the question because he doesn’t drive, and even if he did you need to be at least 21 to rent a car.

His first hotel choice was a place that required guests to be over 21 (no exceptions, he was told by a very unhelpful hotel manager), but we found a much better deal on Airbnb -- $100 less per night. I also liked the Airbnb because I thought it was better for him to have a homier place to stay since he was new to the city and traveling alone. Plus, he could get some insight from the hosts about St. Louis.  

I asked him to write about his first trip, and here’s what he had to say.

My flight left at 0045 and arrived at 0830, with an hour layover in Minneapolis. The first leg of the flight was miserable. For the first 30 minutes, I couldn’t figure out how to recline my chair, and I was afraid to move around too much and accidentally bump into anyone. After a while I was able to figure out how to get that extra two degrees I so desperately needed. However, reclining the back of the seat moved the seat bottom forward, making the situation worse. Essentially it felt like holding the iron chair position for three hours and forty-five minutes.

He was not impressed with the Minneapolis airport.

Low drop ceilings, unnaturally humid, whole place smelled strongly of eggs, not in a good way. Rubbery, unseasoned, microwaved eggs. The men's bathroom had not been cleaned in 81 days according to the counter next to the door.

Next, onward to St. Louis.

My flight into St. Louis wasn't much better. They had a guy with just a crescent wrench and a pair of pliers fixing something on the plane right before takeoff, and the intercoms only emitted static. Very comforting when you're supposed to be flying 10,000 feet up and right before you take off they have to send in someone who looks more equipped to fix toilets, not airplanes. However, I lived with only minimal spinal cord injuries.

Upon arrival in St. Louis, he walked for what felt like a very long distance before finding the MetroLink train he needed. After successfully boarding his first public transportation of any kind (in any city), he was underway.

As the train ran along right beside the freeway, I was feeling pretty good. Then we got to our fist stop. A toothless woman, who was either old or had a drug problem (I would guess the latter), covered in what looked like a lot of surgery scars sat down across from me. She immediately began talking loudly on a cell phone about how stressed she was because she was trying to sell a bottle to Sarah, but Sarah didn’t show up. Or something like that. During her conversation, she stood up and sat down repeatedly. After a few rounds of musical chairs, she settled into what I would call an ambush crouch. I was very happy to get off the train and find myself in a nice university campus with bike cops and “no smoking outside” signs.

His Airbnb was in a historic home, circa 1895, and he was excited to see it. The hosts had agreed to let him drop his bags off before check-in time so he could go see the eclipse without his backpack. 

I walked to my Airbnb to drop off my bags, but I couldn't get into the door for the floor with the storage closet. (Turns out it was actually a push door with a very strong return spring, not a pull door with a sh*tty handle like I thought. Apparently fire code regulations about which way doors open weren't around in 1895). I had to get going, so I just took my bag with me and called an Uber so I could go get some food before heading out to see the eclipse.

He had lunch at a place called Cafe Ventana, one of the restaurants recommended in his Airbnb’s house manual. Then it was off to Jefferson Barracks Park for the eclipse viewing party.

After a long walk from the Uber drop-off point, I got to the music and food trucks and found a hillside to sit on for a while. 

I eventually found a spot right next to the stage, where two photographer dudes (PMT Photographyfrom Boston were taking pictures of the sun. I asked one man about his camera and we talked for a minute before I went back to the tree I had staked out. I relaxed until the eclipse was at about 75% then I moved out into the clearing next to the photographer. A random group of people gathered--a dude with a lot of tattoos, a guy and his girlfriend, me, and the photographers. We all watched the eclipse together.

 Here’s Cameron’s video of the eclipse.

I headed back to Cafe Ventana for a cup of coffee and to contemplate what I was going to do next. I sat down in one of their giant, wonderfully comfortable leather chairs and looked down to discover I had no watch on my wrist. Immediately, I opened the Uber app and got a hold of the driver, who turned right back around and brought me my watch. That driver was one of the nicest people I’ve met.

After some deliberation, I decided to go to Pi Pizzaria. It was the best pizza I’ve had in my life. I looked out the front windows while I was eating, and I saw a sedan drive past with a dude sitting on the front passenger quarter panel, smoking a cigarette and pointing forwards. I wish I could have gotten a picture.

My room wasn’t quite ready yet, so I dropped off my left-over pizza at the Airbnb’s fridge and walked over to the Cathedral Basilica. I wandered around their mosaic museum for a while, then went back upstairs to take pictures of the mosaics on the ceiling, but mass started so I had to leave. Lucikly, my room was ready by the time I got back.

My modest room had a Murphy bed, a desk, and a wardrobe. It felt like I was in a Mark Twain novel.

Back at the Airbnb, he took a shower and watched some YouTube before falling hard asleep. I woke him up when I called at 8 p.m., and he was too groggy to chat for long.

His plans for the next day included renting a bike to explore Forest Park and spending some time at the St. Louis Arch before catching an afternoon flight back home. But, as happens when you travel, his plans changed.

I woke up at 0630 the next day to heavy rain. I was a little worried it might affect my flight back home, but the weather cleared up. It did screw up my bike rental plans, though. So, Plan B. I went to see the Arch.

At the ticket trailer outside the Arch, they told me the only tickets available were for 1700. I'd be long gone by then. Still cautiously optimistic, I went into the Arch’s underground visitor center/gift shop. A greeter asked me if I was there for a ride to the top. I explained that I couldn’t get a ticket, and he said since I was early, I might be able to still get on since I’d shown up right after they opened. So I talked to the ticket lady inside, who called the boss, who apparently said “no.” Plan C was to go to the Arch’s museum, but it was under construction. So I bought a horrendously overpriced umbrella in the gift shop and walked outside to see that the rain had stopped for the most part. For a moment I thought about throwing the umbrella in the Mississippi River, but decided against it since it was still raining a little bit.

Next, he returned to the comfy chairs at Cafe Ventana and came up with Plan D: visit the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.

I took about 500 pictures there, so about 200 in focus. I hung out there as late as I could, and I still didn’t get to see everything in as much detail as I would have liked.

When it was time to leave, I walked around Forest Park for about fifteen minutes before attempting to call Uber. That’s when my phone decided to have no service, even after a restart. Luckily, public WiFi is everywhere now, so I was still able to get an Uber to the airport.   

When the hubby and I picked him up later that day, he was tired and happy to be home. Returning home after an adventure is one of the best parts of a trip. You’re tired but full of things to share. When you travel solo, you also feel a sense of victory at having successfully made it there and back. It’s one of my favorite feelings.

Did you get to see the eclipse in 2017? Have you ever been to St. Louis?

Photos in St. Louis and video clip by Cameron

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Work Out Like a Mermaid

Trying to keep your New Year’s fitness resolution? AquaMermaid classes put you in a mermaid tail and are a fun way to get a killer workout.

Anna Yatsko, AquaMermaid Instructor and former Silverton Aquarium Mermaid, making mermaiding look easy

If you’re diligently trying to stick to a fitness plan for 2018, let me give you a suggestion for any flabby middle parts you’re working on: take AquaMermaid classes. Yes, you get to wear a tail (a.k.a stylish monofin), not only to stay true to being a mermaid, but also because that tail is the key to really working your core. Between the tail holding your legs together and the resistance of the water, your abdominal muscles are in for a wake-up call.

I got to see the AquaMermaids in action back in October, when their Las Vegas operation came online at the Municipal Pool on Bonanza in Downtown Las Vegas.

I had recruited a volunteer mermaid to come with me as my appointed Person in a Swimsuit, but she cancelled at the last minute. I briefly contemplated putting on the tail myself and getting in the water, then I remembered that I never appear in a swimsuit in public. (Also, it’s very difficult to take pictures while swimming and my Nikon isn’t waterproof. Any excuse will do to keep me out of the water, honestly.)

Although I have a strict no-swimwear policy, I’ll admit that when I met everyone at AquaMermaid, I wished I’d brought a suit. Their merpeople come in all shapes and sizes, and everyone was welcoming. 

A local vlogger, Jacob Orth of the YouTube channel Jacob’s Life in Las Vegas, was also at the class I attended. Unlike me, he was brave enough to put on the tail and get in the water. As it turned out, the biggest tail they had was bright pink, but Jacob was such a good sport that he appeared not to mind at all. Watching him get lessons really illustrated what a workout this is: he’s a very fit individual, and he was definitely working hard.
Jacob Orth getting instructions from AquaMermaid founder Marielle Chartier Henault

In an interview with the RJ, AquaMermaid’s founder, Marielle Chartier Henault, said that there’s a swim test before people can participate. Based on what I saw, that’s a good idea. The fun factor could easily convince you to overlook the physical demands of the class. While it becomes immediately obvious that mermaiding works your core, it’s worth noting that this activity will work your entire body plus provides what looked like butt-kicking cardio workout (or should I say tail kicking?).
AquaMermaids in action

Anna Yatsko, AquaMermaid Instructor 

Classes for kids and adults currently are offered on Saturdays, and you can sign up online. Single classes are listed on the website, but ask about monthly subscriptions if you’d like to make putting on the tail a regular thing. They also do parties for kids and adults.

Would you like to try swimming like a mermaid?
All pictures by Terrisa Meeks. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Flight of the EB-66C

On September 26, 2017, the first RC model of a Vietnam Era EB-66C made its maiden flight on the dry lake bed in Eldorado Valley, Nevada. The model’s flight was the culmination of nearly two years of work by a volunteer team of 13 people, a labor of love created in tribute to the veterans who flew the actual planes in wartime.

The first thing you notice about the EB-66C model is its size. Second, it's incredibly detailed.

On launch day, I walked up to the model as Tony Accurso, John Morgan, and their team were busily working on last-minute preparations. This 1/8 scale model has a wing span close to ten feet and a body length of nine and half feet--it's big. Every part of the model is astonishingly detailed, especially the cockpit. The team had only photographs to go on and used them to make a 3D printing of the cockpit, which was then hand painted. It even includes tiny maps of Southeast Asia. Tony and John led the team who built the model, and they describe themselves as “a little obsessive.”

With the launch imminent, it was an all-hands-on-deck moment. While the team worked on the final adjustments, USAF pilot and retired Lt. Colonel Robert Stamm looked on. He flew reconnaissance missions in the EB-66C in Vietnam, and he and his wife were both there to see the model take flight. He commented on how accurate the model was.

When the model was ready, the team positioned it for takeoff on the lake bed. “Everybody step back,” Tony told the assembled group. “I don’t want to be distracted by the cameras clicking.” 
All of us dutifully retreated, and the EB-66C taxied along before lifting itself into the air. The desert mountains in the background had just started catching light, and the solar array in the distance almost looked like a lake.


Tony became fascinated with the EB-66C when he saw the 1988 movie “Bat*21,” which was based on actual events.  In the movie, the main character (Lt. Colonel Iceal "Gene" Hambleton, played by Gene Hackman) is the sole survivor when his plane is shot down in North Vietnamese territory. A massive operation takes place to rescue him. It was a film (and an airplane) that stuck with Tony as a young airman--and remained with him.

Years later, retired vets Tony and John discovered there were no RC models of the EB-66C. An 18-month project was born, and it was completed entirely with donated time and funds. The team decided not to accept corporate funding because it wasn’t in tune with the mission they’d given themselves: to honor the men who had flown the plane.

The entire model plane world followed the build, but they weren’t the only ones interested in the storied airplane. Tony contacted the B-66 Association and found Vietnam vets like Lt. Colonel Stamm. I heard about the flight from friends of mine, Diane Ciz and her husband, retired Major George Ciz, who flew 144 missions as an EWO (Electronic Warfare Officer).  
Retired Lt. Colonel Robert Stamm in background. He was an EB-66C pilot during Vietnam.
“You lost a wheel,” someone said right after the takeoff, but Tony was too busy steering the plane through the sky to say anything.

Tony said he had to remember to fly the model just like the real plane, with a long, shallow climb. The real EB-66C was not a powerhouse of speed, and neither was the model. It was, however, an incredible sight.

The plane slowly circled around us twice, then bounced down in a touch and go, soared back up into the sky, and made one more loop before setting back down roughly, skidding a little before coming to a stop. After the dust settled, the team walked out to retrieve the plane, which was sitting slightly askew because of its missing wheel, but that was the only damage.

The flight was a success and truly met its mission to be a tribute to those who served on the EB-66C. 

 You can see the entire video of the flight here:

Special thanks to Tony Accurso for allowing me to be there for the flight and to George and Diane Ciz for letting me know about the EB-66C model project.

Kudos to the team who put the EB-66C together: 
Tony Accurso, Evelyn Accurso, John Morgan, Brenda Morgan, Kirby Morgan, Wade Joos, Birger de la Pena, Scott Ramirez, James Klassen,  Chris Wolfe, Chad Veich, Gary Gioia, and Karen Gioia. 

All pictures by Terrisa Meeks. I'll be posting more pictures from the flight on my Flickr page soon.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Newest Game in Las Vegas: O.J. Sightings

I’m surprised someone hasn’t created an app yet to track sightings of O.J. Simpson, who was recently released from prison and is now living near the Red Rock Country Club.

Allegedly, O.J. Simpson wants to move to Florida, but while he’s trying to get that figured out, he’s taken up residence in Summerlin. While I commend O.J. on his taste in neighborhoods, I have to say it was bizarre to see him strolling around the Tivoli Village Farmers Market last Saturday. I totally forgot to buy half the things I needed.

He’s just as gracious as you’ve heard. When I first saw him, I spotted him because of the small group of people standing around him taking pictures. I recognized O.J. immediately. While I could’ve easily walked right up to him and asked for a photo, I didn’t... because: a) I was raised not to bother celebrities in public, regardless of how infamous they might be; and b) it just felt wrong. 

Instead, I snapped a pic from a distance--but he had seen me and smiled and waved for my picture. And yes, I smiled and waved back. He’s charming, even from a distance and even if you know all about his history.

Now, the new game in town seems to be who can spot O.J. while he’s out and about. If I had spent nine years in a prison in Northern Nevada, I would be outside every chance I got, no matter how many people took pictures of me. Apparently O.J. feels the same way because social media and local news have had a steady stream of O.J. Sightings. Apparently he likes Grape Street up in DTS and Wahoo’s over at Boca Park. Considering how many great restaurants Summerlin has, I imagine he’ll find plenty of places to try.

I’ve heard from at least one person who plans to go out this weekend in pursuit of an O.J. Sighting. I don’t think he'll have to look too hard.

Summerlin and Brentwood could be cousins, ambiance-wise, which makes me wonder if that’s part of the reason O.J. seems to feels so comfortable here. We even have a Rockingham Drive. (Random Factoid: Simpson’s L.A. home on Rockingham Avenue--the house we all saw on TV--was demolished in 1998.)

While it’s incorrect that the Las Vegas jury or judge had any “payback” in mind with the robbery verdict, O.J.’s incarceration for robbery was related to the murders, if you think about it. While he was acquitted of the criminal charges, he was found liable in a civil lawsuit and was ordered to turn over assets to go toward the $33.5 million the Brown and Goldman families were awarded. O.J. and his pals hid his assets to avoid turning them over. He claimed the items he was “recovering” here in Vegas were stolen from him, which is obviously debatable considering his scheme to hide property. Pursuing legal actions to get the items back would have subjected them to the dreaded turnover order. Had he not been trying to avoid the order, he probably wouldn’t have had a reason to rob anyone. 

And if he would have taken the plea deal he was offered for the robbery, he would have been sentenced to about 30 months.

He could have been out working on his golf game a whole lot sooner.

Would you take a picture with O.J? Leave your answer in the comments.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Restaurants List Updated

I've updated my list of local Las Vegas restaurants with ten new entries, including Andre's Bistro and Marche Bacchus. Check out my list of restaurants to see all of my current favorites.

Marche Bacchus at Desert Shores
What are your favorite local Las Vegas restaurants? Leave your suggestion in the comments!

Photo by Terrisa Meeks

Friday, October 13, 2017

Photo Friday in Las Vegas: Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

I was downtown today and stopped at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health to take photos of its signature twisty Frank Gehry design, including inside its incredible event center.


All photos by Terrisa Meeks

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Las Vegas Farmers Markets

Visit a farmers market and you’ll never want to buy tasteless grocery store produce again (I’m looking at you, tomatoes).

I believe the old truism, “Food is medicine,” and as a result I’ve been spending more time at farmers markets lately. Eating more fruits and veggies is a good idea no matter where you buy them, but if you want produce at the peak of its taste and nutritional value, farmers markets are the way to go.
Tivoli Village Farmers Market
You can find farmers markets throughout the week at a variety of places in the Las Vegas valley. While most of the produce comes from California, you’ll find locally produced honey, eggs, herbs, and micro-greens. These markets are small in comparison to what you’ll find in greener areas, so if you're looking for something on the scale of a farmers market in California or Oregon, dial down your expectations. 

Since we’re in the desert, much of the food at our farmers markets comes from further away than the locavore’s gold standard of being produced within 100 miles--but the 400 miles between Vegas and Fresno is far less than the miles most produce travels before hitting the grocery store shelves. It’s also been allowed to ripen before being picked, which is why it all tastes so good.

Summertime’s bounty of fruits has just passed us, but we’ll soon see apples and citrus (as my favorite fruit vendor told me a couple of weeks ago). Can’t wait. My family is so excited to find out what fresh apples taste like.

Another way to get fresh produce is to pick it yourself at Gilcrease Orchard, or sign up for a CSA, which is a subscription-type service from a community farm. You can pick up local eggs and honey on weekends at The Farm, which is also an animal rescue, and you can check with the Vegas Roots Community Garden to see what they have for sale.

I have to warn you: if you start shopping at farmers markets and local farms/gardens, be prepared to work it into your weekly schedule. Grocery store produce will start tasting like cardboard in comparison. Trust me. I tried to make pico de gallo with grocery store tomatoes, and it just made me sad. They were tasteless, watery, sorry excuses for tomatoes. Once your taste buds get used to fruits and veggies with actual flavor, there’s no going back.

*  *  *

Here’s my current list of Las Vegas farmers markets. Keep in mind that hours and locations may change, and weather is a factor for most markets. Some markets may also close for winter and/or winter holidays. If you have corrections or additions, please leave them in the comments:

Tivoli Village Farmers & Makers Market, Saturdays, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Las Vegas Farmers Market at Downtown Summerlin,  Saturdays, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Las Vegas Farmers Market at Floyd Lamb Park, 1st and 3rd Saturdays, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
fresh52 at Solista Park in Henderson, 2nd and 4th Saturday, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
fresh52 at Sansone Park Place (9480 S. Eastern), Sundays, 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Las Vegas Farmers Market at Bruce Trent Park, Wednesdays, 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Las Vegas Farmers Market at Gardens Park, Thursdays, 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Henderson Farmers Market on Water Street, Thursdays, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
The District Farmers Market - open seasonally on Thursdays, 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Downtown 3rd Intuitive Forager Farmers Market - Old Bus Station at 300 N. Casino Center, Fridays, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Do you shop at any of the Las Vegas farmers markets?