Des Moines

We were in Des Moines on business today and with our spare time went to the Iowa State Capitol. We took a guided tour. The more I see of that building the more impressed I am with its magnificence. It is a fine palace of democracy for a small state.

I didn’t get any photos this time around, but still have some from my visit two years ago.

We’ve also taken a liking to Graziano Bros, an Italian grocery that makes delicious sausages. So when we’re in Des Moines we stock up on sausages, pasta, and basil pesto.

Downtown Honolulu

Honolulu is what we expected of a city but not what we expected of Hawaii. Waikiki, where we are staying for a couple of days has a funny 1960s look. It’s filled with blah-looking high-rise hotels. After the flash of Las Vegas, Waikiki is dull to look at.

Waikiki is also seedy, like a Bourbon Street-by-the-sea. Yesterday evening we saw a man puking over the porch onto the street from his table at a Mexican restaurant. Classy. Then the guy in the room above ours was wringing his bathing suit out onto our patio were we sat. Also classy. He had that greasy middle-aged surfer look which is pretty common around Waikiki. I think there are a lot of old slackers in Hawaii, people who liked their beach vacation so much they never went home.

A woman seated next to a statue face a modern-style public building.
Lore and Queen Lil

Downtown Honolulu is much more polished with its glass high-rise office towers and its historic districts have more character than Waikiki. The Hawaii State Capitol is a very impressive modern building and the district around it includes buildings from the old Kingdom of Hawaii (‘Iolani Palace and Ai’iolani Hale). Chinatown is a few blocks away. There were only a few visitors around the State Capitol. All of the tourists were screwing around in Waikiki when they could have seen this cool building.

Steve Wynn and his neighbors

The great adventure has begun. We got in last night and stayed in a super-cheap room at Circus Circus. This was way of offsetting the expense of flying in to Las Vegas a night earlier. The super-cheap room is in a motel-like complex. Our next door neighbors had the door propped open. They were hang-drying laundry all over their room. Circus Circus has a bad reputation for room break-ins. Security guards on bicycles were very visible but the security precaution signs posted everywhere were a little unsettling.

Two brown glass hotel buildings with recurved roofs are seen from an elevated pedestrian walkway.
Wynn-Encore Las Vegas
Our night at Circus Circus had the unintended effect of making the Wynn (and its adjacent sequel hotel, the Encore) seem even more extravagant and out of our league. Everything at the Wynn is expensive. There is nothing in the building as provincial as a self-service laundry or vending machine. People are here to be seen and be seen spending money. The clientele is better dressed than elsewhere; in other words, few tee shirts and flip-flops. Either there are fewer under-dressed Americans here or they have been shamed by Steve Wynn’s visionary taste into dandifying themselves.

Brightly colored parasol-shaped lamps decorate the ceiling of a hotel solarium.
Interior of the Wynn Las Vegas
Speaking of Steve Wynn, he is everywhere. I hear his voice while holding on the telephone. He also hosts the in-room orientation video. He has neither a nice voice nor a good screen presence but his hotel is beautiful. You might say the least tasteful thing about the hotel is this cult of personality.

An Italianate hotel tower rises from behind one of its outdoor patios.
Palazzo
Next door to the Wynn is the Palazzo, which is an extension of the Venetian. It is another high-end leviathan of the new Las Vegas. Being from the East Coast my family pronounces it like “Plotso”, making it sound more low-rent than it is. Anyway, while walking through the casino we happened upon a war table. That’s right: war. The card game we played as a kid, where the high card wins. Except in casino war you don’t get to collect the cards you win, and in case of a tie you have to double your bet. My brother played a couple of cards and won $10.00.

Syracuse

Last week’s trip to Syracuse was not just a visit to my uncle but a chance to show America’s vast rust reserves and spare industrial capacity to my fiancee.

A modern office tower on a block of Victorian buildings.
A modern office tower on a block of Victorian buildings.

During my trip last year, my uncle took me on the “Urban Renewal” and “Family Heritage” itineraries. This time Lore and I took the “Faded but Beautiful Downtown” tour. As in a lot of declining cities in the Northeast, the bright side of stagnation is that some of the cool old buildings are still standing. In fact, the more modern buildings that are sprinkled around look a little out of place. The most stunning of the old buildings is the flamboyantly Art Deco stainless steel Niagara Mohawk Building. It’s like the Chrysler Building had a baby.

A male teacher demonstrates an interactive classroom projection screen.
A teacher demonstrates an interactive classroom projection screen.

The occasion of the visit was my uncle’s retirement dinner. He was still working while we visited, and when we picked him up at work he showed around his school. The school had installed an interactive white board in his classroom. A computer image is projected on a touch screen. My uncle demonstrated. It was very high-tech and impressive. He reminded me of Tom Cruise in “Minority Report”.

A seated lady watches as a man opens a wine bottle on a patio table set with bread and grapes.
A seated lady watches as a man opens a wine bottle on a patio table set with bread and grapes.

We took a quick spin around the Syracuse University campus before joining Dave and Nicky for a tasting at a wine shop. A man let us sample Portuguese wines, which were more palatable than the horseshit in his sales pitch. Flavor won out and a vinho verde accompanied the usual tasteful dinner associated with these visits.

On our last day– we’ll call it the “North Side Commerce” itinerary– we shopped at Syracuse’s big farmers market. My uncle bought some artisanal pasta he’s fond of and gave us some to bring home. It was very good; almost as good as the Hofmann Snappy Grillers I like to bring home from Syracuse. We ate a late breakfast at Stella’s Diner, where people wait a long time for tasty food in gluttonously large portions that invoke the law of diminishing returns. And then on to the Carousel Center, a massive challenger to the Mall of America that looks more and more like a Borg cube as it devours the north side of the city.

My travel notes wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our miserable airline experience. I would rather not travel than deal again with the Delta employees at JFK and La Guardia airports.

Gateway Arch

When I left Mississippi in May 2006, I stopped in Saint Louis for lunch on my way to Iowa. The arch is more interesting up close than from a distance. The steel arch was very striking in the bright sun and against the clear blue sky.

Back in Mississippi from the Great Smokies

I got back to Mississippi early Sunday morning. I go back to work on Wednesday.

The assessment? I did well on my assignment and impressed a lot of people. I received a lot of nice compliments from both the folks who worked for me and the folks I worked with, but it was very stressful and I’m glad there was an end to it. I came away from it learning two important things: one, that I can be a supervisor and do it well; two, that I’m not in a big hurry to move up into that position.

Now I’m going back into the routine. It’s hot and humid and the sun is scorching me (in the shade of the east Tennessee forests I put on my sunglasses maybe half a dozen times in seven weeks). I’d like this to be my last summer in Mississippi if possible, and if I don’t have to work another winter here that’d be just fine too. The detail in Tennessee snapped me out of the trance (read: rut) I’ve been in since I moved to the Coast, and I’m ready to move on to somewhere better.

Photos from seven weeks in the Great Smoky Mountains: