Las Vegas, Nevada: Before I begin with the Tales from Late Last Night, here is a special announcement: Leo wanted to shave his head, and is now sporting a very short crew cut.
Leo, age 7
Why does he suddenly look about ten years old?
BACK TO THE REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG: Y’all know it is that time of year again – My Birthday + Jimmy Buffett. For the past two or three decades you can basically set your watch and know Jimmy and I will meet-up somewhere mid-October. Las Vegas. Fenway Park. Hollywood Bowl. Red Rocks. San Diego. Half of me believes it is because Jimmy Buffett wants to sing to me for my birthday… but since Jimmy has no idea I even exist, the other half of me knows Jimmy is just out to make money. A lot of money.
This year, Jimmy Buffett celebrated my birthday with a concert for me at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. We invited old (did I say OLD?… I mean since 1984-lived-with-them-in-Taiwan-and-are-the-godparents-to-their-children OLD) friends, Tamra and Steve, to join us… with the special added attraction that it was also Steve’s birthday. They said yes.
Tamra & Steve
We flew down together Friday mid-day and snapped silly goof-ball photos of each other to send to our children.
We had rooms at the Bellagio Hotel – smack-dab in the middle of the ridiculously glitzy Las Vegas Strip.
From our room
on Italy’s Lake Como we had a view all the way to Paris. Beautiful!
My portable traveling companions
In just a few moments, we were unpacked, settled-in, and met our friends in the hotel lobby to explore the always-amazing flower display in the hotel’s lobby conservatory.
The Bellagio Hotel changes the flower displays in the conservatory with the seasons, and they always celebrate the four seasons, Christmas, and Lunar (Chinese) New Year. The conservatory is filled with fresh plants and flowers, and the characters are created using natural (and dyed) seeds and flowers (ala Rose Parade floats) and fabrics. We could not exactly determine the theme to the Autumn display this year. It was Indian, yet featured Western woodland scenes. Let’s just call it “fantastic” and leave it at that.
696 pound pumpkin
His eyes and mouth move
We went to Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse, in the Four Seasons Hotel, for dinner Friday night. We had a very good time, maybe not-so-great food (steaks not cooked to order and cold sides), but they did bring us three free desserts to celebrate our birthdays.
The fountains at the Bellagio Hotel at night
After dinner, we walked back to the Bellagio Hotel for a nightcap and met a fun young couple, Tina and Marcus, from Germany. Randomly enough, Tamra and Steve’s daughter, our godchild, Natalie, had just been in Munich to attend Oktoberfest. Randomly enough, the couple we met ran a chicken concession at the Oktoberfest in Munich.
And then, in the way-less-than-six degrees of separation scenario, Tamra showed Marcus and Tina a photo of Natalie at Oktoberfest a few weeks ago. The above photo was taken in front of the couple’s chicken restaurant – where Natalie ate dinner. (Natalie is second from the left.)
What are the chances? We should have bought a lottery ticket, or played craps or something. But we didn’t, we went to bed.
Dave, still re-habbing from meniscus surgery, and Steve, always exercising, hit the streets in the morning, pleasing their Apple watch or Fitbit or Garmin. I resisted, knowing my step-count would be well over 15,000 by the end of the day. (And it was.)
We met later and walked to the Aria Hotel to have lunch at Todd English’s Pub… which is no-longer associated with Todd English, but is still a pub and still using nearly the near-exact menu and decor. Tricked us. Happily, the food is still good. After lunch we walked through the Crystal Shops, where there is not one shop you would most-likely find in your typical suburban mall. Gucci. Louis Vuitton. Cartier. Hermes. No one is shopping here, so I can’t exactly explain why this mall exists, but it is still fun to window shop.
Tamra really pulled-one over on Steve this afternoon. Tamra and I went into Cartier jewelers. Dave and Steve waited outside on a bench. Ten minutes later, we walked out of Cartier – Tamra carrying the iconic red Cartier shopping bag. We thought Steve was going to choke… but the charming Tamra had convinced a sales clerk to aid in her prank, and the clerk had happily supplied her with a Cartier catalog – in a shopping bag – to trick her husband into thinking she had done a little shopping!
Then we walked to the Venetian Hotel Grand Canal Shops to see the gondolas in the “canal” and to visit St. Mark’s Square.
Almost like Venice
But gelato is always a good idea.
PS: The Oregon Ducks football team lost to Washington State this afternoon.
Now it was time to walk back to The Bellagio Hotel for a rest and get dressed for our BIG NIGHT – Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band (on their Son of a Son of a Sailor Tour) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
But NOT YET (Parrothead joke).
Wolfgang Puck has a little restaurant directly outside the entrance to the Grand Garden Arena in the MGM Grand Hotel. Every single time we go to a Jimmy Buffett concert at the MGM, we eat the most amazing truffled potato chips (house-made) with blue cheese. It is tradition. (OMG, Lenny loves this dish.) A girl is going to need some fuel to dance the next three hours away in Margarativille.
Brothers and Parrotheads, posing with Tamra nd DT
Attending a Buffett concert in Las Vegas is quite an adventure in itself. Though I am the median age of attendees, fans really go all-out in costumes, hats, and party-attire of all description. It is a party. Alcohol-fueled, and everyone knows every word to every song, the meaning of the song, why the song was written, who the song was written about and… well, you get the gist.
I have heard Jimmy Buffett sing countless times now. Last year, in Eugene, was the worst-ever experience. The fans did not sing. They did not stand. Jimmy left the stage without singing several of his “must sing” playlist. Jimmy made-up for last year tonight, by performing one of the best shows I have ever witnessed. He was ON FIRE. Jimmy, age 71, was laughing, joking, jumping around like a kid, and generally having more fun than anyone (17,000 people) in the room.
This was our first time to attend a Jimmy Buffett concert where he had an opening act. Boz Scaggs played for nearly one hour before Jimmy came on stage, and there were a few songs by Caroline Jones, who has been with Jimmy for most of this tour.
We had wonderful seats, just up from the stage, making it easy to see everything and everyone.
The video below is of the last few moments of Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band playing One Particular Harbor. Lisa loves this song, and I especially love the vocals of the uber-talented Nadirah Shakoor, (one of the two Reeferettes) who powerfully brings the song home at the end.
Always barefoot, Mr. Buffett is a very entertaining showman. Jimmy usually plays with 12-17 band members, and the core group – The Coral Reefers – have been playing together for decades – yet usually still make it all look like magic. (I know they can all play the songs in their sleep.) The tall man to Jimmy’s right is Mac McAnally – Country Music Association Musician of the Year, eight years in a row. Mac joined the Coral Reefers in 1994, and has written many songs for Jimmy Buffett.
Happily, Jimmy sang Trip Around the Sun – a perfect song for anyone celebrating a birthday. Film producer, Frank Marshall, who is in a serious bromance with Mr. Buffett, played guitar (DT swears it wasn’t plugged-in) during Margaritaville. There was also a loving tribute to costume and wardrobe designer Helen Hiatt. She has been with Jimmy’s band for 28 years and is retiring after tonight (the last night of the tour). Ms. Hiatt won an Emmy for costume design while working with Cher. She has also previously worked with Prince.
After the amazing show, we walked back to The Bellagio and fell into our beds. Tamra and I walked nine miles today – all without exercising. (Steve and Dave walked many more miles.)
Today was Steve’s actual birthday. He wanted to have brunch in the Eiffel Tower. But since we were not in Paris, we did the next best thing and had lunch in the restaurant about half-way-up the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. We had a table at the window, facing the fountains across the street at the Bellagio Hotel (where we were staying). The view was spectacular of the famous strip as well.
I ordered the prix fixe brunch – a spinach and mushroom tart in puff pastry, with smoked salmon on a crispy potato waffle.
Oh, we were living large in Las Vegas! The restaurant also served a bottle of champagne with teeny carafes of orange, pineapple, and cranberry juices – a make-it-yourself mimosa bar.
The dessert that arrived with my meal was a frozen strawberry soufflé – with a creamy vanilla center. The Birthday Boy received a chocolate mousse-type treat. We shared the desserts.
Steve wanted to get more steps (and we all needed more steps) after the delicious indulgent of brunch. Our friends had never been to the Forum Shops in Caesar’s Palace, so we left Paris and walked to Rome. The Forum Shops attached to the Caesar’s Palace Hotel, must be the fanciest shopping center in America. It features a three-story bank of curved escalators and acres of marble. We walked up and down every floor, but only entered a few shops. Yes, this shopping center also houses luxury and designer brands, but also has the usual mall mainstays: Victoria Secret, H&M, Nike, Tommy Bahama, etc. Several restaurants dot the halls, and the ceiling is painted blue with white clouds, to give the shopper the feeling of being out of doors – especially since the lighting changes from day to nighttime every hour. Plus, out of doors in Rome… as a small replica of the Trevi Fountain is the center focus of the shopping center. You gotta love Las Vegas!
No one bought a thing, but we added many miles to our fitbits.
After a nice rest (and some needlepointing!), we took the tram (free trams run behind most hotels on the strip and it is a good way to get around, though many steps are still required to get from your hotel room to the tram station!) from our hotel to the Aria Hotel, where Steve chose to dine at Javier’s – a fabulous Mexican restaurant.
We all had wonderful meals – enchiladas with mole sauce, stuffed poblanos, salads, and they brought the Birthday Boy a perfect Leche Flan! We sang Happy Birthday, and celebrated another Trip Around the Sun with Steve.
Of course, we WALKED back to the Bellagio Hotel and caught another pretty “fountain show” – where music is piped throughout the resort as the water sprays and splays in beat to the music… this time a number from Annie.
We did not call it a night, but stopped by a roulette table. After three days in Vegas with little-or-no gaming, it was time to make a little money.
We watched the roulette table for a while, as it had been quite some time since we had played the game. After we had refreshed our memory, bets were placed at a $15 table. I won $160 when Dave’s birthday (26) came up… and we all kept winning a bit. I even doubled my money by placing $25 on BLACK to win. It is fun to win a little money in Las Vegas, when you know the odds are not in your favor. We really were having fun, but it is best to make an exit when you are ahead. Time to call it a night.
I took my winnings and ran directly to a small gift shop opposite the hotel elevators to buy (with cash!) a cute little unicorn dress that had caught my eye the other day. Pretty sure our Little Ballerina, Lucy, needs a unicorn tutu. Lucy is going to look adorable in this get-up… but… if her Momma feels it is too tacky for her ballet class, it can also serve as a Halloween costume. Amazingly enough, it was suddenly on sale! And it wasn’t even MY birthday any longer. What a lucky day.
A great weekend with great friends. Another year older. So many wonderful memories were made, so many wonderful meals, and one of the best Jimmy Buffett concerts I have ever attended. Happy Birthday, indeed!
We are all back in Portland now.
Until my next update, I remain, your happy correspondent.