July 24, 2009

Welcome to Utah?

We have encountered the weirdest phenomenon here in Utah. A rash of unfriendly, aloof, unpleasant locals.

And this is weird because Utahans have a reputation for being warm and welcoming. Inside the national parks, the employees have been just great. But outside, it's been odd. Maybe because these are small towns -- but the volume of visitors has to be really high. And it's not your typical locals hating the hands that feed them like you find in the beach towns or the ski resorts. People in those places aren't known for being friendly. Utahans are.

We have had dismissive hotel clerks and rude waitresses and candy-shop owners who clearly aren't interested in our business. Lest you think we are uptight city folk, we'll let you be the judge.

Waitress to restaurant customer: Hold on, I only have two hands! Waitress to restaurant customers who have just been seated: Are you ready yet? At another spot -- Me: Are the bagels fresh? Her: I have no idea. At the candy store: Me: Do you sell candy by the piece or only by the pound? Owner: I prefer to sell it by the pound, but I guess I could sell you a piece. At the sporting goods shop, regarding rental equipment: Unless they close the canyon, no refunds and that's just the way it is.

Some of it is the delivery. And maybe we're overly sensitive. But we're a New Yorker and a Southern Californian; we're used to brusque. This was just unfriendly.

We haven't encountered any rude tourists. And I'm guessing the behavior of the localss isn't as obvious to the hordes of Europeans visiting because it's a cultural thing, and they don't know any better.

But it's too bad -- the personal experiences have almost overwhelmed all the great things we've seen and it doesn't make me want to recommend Utah for anything other than its sights.

Having said that, if you find yourself in Springdale, Utah, in the middle of Zion National Monument, go to the Pioneer Restaurant for an awesome, well-priced steak dinner and ask for Ashley as your waitress.

And skip the candy store.

July 22, 2009

Technological Mix-up

This is a bit odd: Great cellphone reception at the Grand Canyon, no Internet access. Zero cellphone access at Bryce Canyon (and in the surrounding towns) and free wi-fi in all the hotels.

Picking Pretty

I am blown away by Utah. Driving from the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon I saw some of the most amazing scenery I've ever encountered.

After touring Bryce, I found myself comparing it to the Grand Canyon. The GC is, in fact, quite majestic. It's lovely. But it's just ... oh, I can't even put my finger on it. But I feel "guilty" for not being as fascinated with it as I think I should be. Yup, it's pretty. You bet, it's pretty cool. Now what?

But Utah, oh my. With the colors and the hoodoos and the arches. Maybe it's slightly more accessible, right there on the the side of the road, as you drive past and it's up-close and more personal than that vast, gorgeous canyon.

It's sort of like Brad Pitt and George Clooney: There's no denying they're both handsome and sexy, but for most people, one stands out over the other.

There must be a more adequate way to describe this! I wonder if I post a photo of each, you'll be kind enough to help me out.

July 21, 2009

Raining Cats and Dogs

Liz and I left the 114 degree climes of Las Vegas on Monday morning about 10 a.m. on our way to the Grand Canyon. It was already hot and we weren't sorry to see the neon behind us. We were tooling around in our PT Cruiser and heading southeast (?). Driving past Hoover Dam was cool; I've never been. Lake Mead looked a bit weird. Not quite clean, although it may have been the way the sky was reflecting on the water.

We had heard the forecast of scattered thunderstorms, but didn't think much about it. About 50 miles into Arizona, the Emergency Broadcast System broke into our Classics radio station to warn about flash flooding at mile 28 and back to the Nevada border. We took note, and were glad we were clear of it.

Then we took a closer look at what was ahead: Huge thunderclouds in the middle, obvious rain coming down in shadow from the clouds in that weird Charlton Heston way; a major duststorm to our right and beautiful clear skies to our left. We weren't sure what awaited us. Liz oohed and aahed at the lightning and I, who don't like it, just hoped it stayed on the horizon. I'm a flincher and that's all I need at 75 mph, thunder claps.

But we drove right into an incredible storm. I can't believe how hard it rained. It was one of those summer downpours that comes down so hard, it usually lasts only about 20 minutes. But not this one. We drove through a horrendous storm for 100 miles. Fortunately there wasn't a lot of traffic, and I was able to drive slowly and hydroplaned once. At one point, though, I had to pull over. I absolutely couldn't see a thing -- and Liz had to guide me to the shoulder because I wasn't sure there was one. It was kind of hairy, actually.

When we finally got to the Grand Canyon, six-plus hours after we left Vegas, it was clear again. Temps had dropped to the 60s and we got to walk around the Canyon, which is just stunning. Liz had the foresight to sign us up for a Sunset tour and so we got on a bus that stopped at some amazing vistas and we had a knowledgeable tour guide giving us the scoop on all the stuff. He knew that sunset was at 7:43 and said he was certain of only one thing: Not that we would be able to see it with all the clouds, but that it would, indeed, set.

We got a pretty nice sunset, but not the spectacular canyon colors we had hoped for. But we weren't terribly disappointed.

Liz booked us a room at the Bright Angel Lodge, a series of cabins along the rim of the canyon. We're about 15 yards from the edge, I'd guess (although at this point, if I were telling the story to Paul, he'd say: "You have no idea how far 15 yards is, do you?") *It's actually more like 100 feet. She got up at 5:30 a.m. to go on three-hour hike. I had the idea of sleeping a bit later and still enjoying the morning light in the Canyon, but apparently people who stay here don't sleep. They talk loudly and are out (and in and out and in) the door between 5 and 6:30. I finally got up, cleaned up our stuff and was outside and it was still just 7:45 a.m.

It's pretty here; it's peaceful; it's nice nature for a city girl. Next stop: Bryce Canyon.

Vegas, Baby

One year to the weekend, coincidentally, I am back in Vegas. With a journalist, even. My friend Liz and I are taking a road trip. She has flown in from New York and we are spending two days in Vegas on our way to touring several Western National Parks. Vegas has not been immune from the financial crisis, and hotel rates were very cheap this July. Except for Saturday, July 18. I don't know why this is. But when the Stratsophere is charging upward of $125 a night on Saturday and $29 on Sunday, something is afoot.

So, our options slightly limited, we opted for the Golden Nugget. I've probably been to Vegas, what? two dozen times? and I've never been Downtown, much less stayed there. And for those of you who think the clientele in fancy Vegas -- Caesar's, Paris, Mandalay -- is downmarket, well you ain't seen nothin' till you've been down on Fremont street and in and out of the downtown casinos.

The Nugget is a lovely hotel. It's four-star, clean, spacious and comfortable. Our first night there, with the blackout curtains drawn, we slept something like 10 hours. It was gorgeous.

The people -- well that's a whole 'nother thing. It's actually kind of sad: The saggy, hard-looking and overweight showgirl types who have bad teeth and don't look a day under 50, although they probably are about 30. The dealers and cocktail waitresses who look like they're just trying to get through a shift. Hey, I know work isn't glamorous. And that kind of work really isn't. But there's usually an illusion about it. But not Downtown.

The upside of downtown for tourists is cheap tables and penny slots. (Although we discovered that coins seem to have gone out of fashion; now you play with -- and for -- tickets on the machines. Quieter, but not more fun.)
I played a few hands of blackjack at an empty $5 table and won about $35. It was a thrill. Liz, it turns out, has no idea how to play blackjack, and the whole thing amazed her. We played a little video poker (she doesn't know how to do that, either) and I taught her how to play video blackjack while we sat at some casino bar drinking our 99 cent margaritas and $2 Coronas. For those of you who saw "The Hangover" we definitely had the opposite experience. Were there two tamer people in town? (OK, two tamer people who weren't holding up "Repent Sinners" signs?)

I'm always excited when I get to Vegas and then after 36 hours, max, I'm ready to hit the road. The neon, especially downtown, is thrilling. The Fremont Street Experience is weird. The 114 degree temperatures I could do without. No matter who I go with, we always have grand plans, and end up shopping and eating and ready to bail on the place as soon as we can.

But Vegas was just the beginning ... now on to the Grand Canyon.

Making Lemonade

I've been going through the stages of job-loss grief and have reached, I think, acceptance. I have no job. I have no immediate prospects for a job. What is it they say when the going gets tough? Exactly. So we're showing just how tough we are and we're going. I'm currently on a road trip (more in the next post) with an ex-Paris friend (as opposed to an ex-friend from Paris) and when this two week vacation ends, Paul and I are heading for Paris.

It's time to take a different perspective. Instead of thinking of all the things missing I'm doing my best to think of all the things I do have. Like time. And friends in France who will swap apartments with me. And the flexibility to disappear for five weeks at a time with Paul.

In the last few weeks I've happily ridden the coasters (OK just the one) at Six Flags in St Louis, enjoyed happy hour in an Irish bar while watching soccer, walked along the beach as often as I could, enjoyed concerts in the park and now I'm writing, contentedly, mere feet from the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Life is a state of mind, as much as anything. And I suppose it's true that oftentimes, other peoples' lives seem more appealing. I once asked someone not to help me change my life, but to deal with the one I have. And that's the best vision I can come up with.

So we're dealing -- and enjoying. In the last 12 months we've spent extended time in China and Hong Kong. Now we're going back to Europe. Keep an eye out for Adventures in Paris ... coming your way in August.