Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Here Are Five Good Reasons Why The 9/11 Museum Made Me Angry

I set up a blog back in 2013.

The name of my blog is “Here Are Five Good Reasons Why…”  My last entry was over three years ago, and was called “Here Are Five Good Reasons Why Aruba Is Awesome.”

That should give you some idea of what a serious blog it was - back when I was actually writing it.

I’m not entirely sure why I stopped writing it, but at the same time, I stopped working on the novel I was writing as well.  Laziness?  Severe writer’s block? Lack of ideas?  Maybe a combination of all of those.

Well, this week I was inspired to write again.  And, since this blog is already set up….

This weekend, my husband and I visited NYC. We used to go every summer, to see a Yankees/Red Sox game.  We haven’t done that in ages.

The main reasons for this visit were to see a show (The Fab Faux at the Beacon Theater – I could easily think of five good reasons to see them whenever and wherever they play) and to see some friends (again – there are at least five good reasons to see these folks, they’re pretty great).

But we also decided to visit the 9/11 memorial and museum. 

To say it’s moving is the understatement of the century.  I won’t say everyone should see it.  I saw a lot of young kids there, with their parents, and I am not convinced it’s appropriate for most kids.  I would also imagine that, if you lost a relative, a spouse, a close friend, on 9/11, you might not want to relive that horror.  And, of course, if you’re one of those idiots who thinks 9/11 (or Sandy Hook, for that matter) was a “hoax”….don’t bother going.  You have no heart or soul, no brain, so the experience would be wasted on you.

I wasn’t really sure how I would react to the experience.  Outside of the museum there are two bronze memorials built on the original site of the two towers.  The memorials are reflecting pools, each over an acre in size, with manmade waterfalls.  Engraved on them are the names of every single person who lost their life that day, at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and at Shanksville, PA, as well as the six people killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. 


The first thing I felt looking at and touching these was an immense and overwhelming sadness.  I would imagine this is the normal reaction of visitors.
But this is my blog, and the blog is called “Here Are Five Good Reasons Why…”
So here are five good reasons why the 9/11 memorial and museum made me angry.  In fact, it made me very angry.  Furious, in fact.

Obviously, the fact that it exists should be enough to elicit anger.  9/11/01 was the darkest day in the history of the USA, or at least the darkest of my lifetime.  We were attacked by terrorists.  They killed almost 3,000 people.  That thing that happened in other countries, to other people, had happened here.  Life would never be the same for any of us.

I mentioned those striking bronze memorials.  If you can believe it, we witnessed a number of people taking “selfies” in front of those memorials.  Those who didn’t take “selfies” had others take their photos.  Standing in front of those reflecting pools, with the names of the victims engraved on them. 

Many of these people were smiling, even laughing, in much the same way one might smile and pose in front of a famous building, or a well-known statue.  It made me sick.

As you probably guessed, the museum itself is dedicated to the victims and survivors of the attacks.  There are tons of artifacts and photos.  None of it is light or entertaining.  It’s all pretty somber.  And maybe the most subdued exhibit is the room containing photographs of every single person who died that day (and in 1993).  Just looking at those photos made me so angry and filled with sadness, I could barely stand it.

But that wasn’t quite enough.  I managed to locate the photo of Susan Leigh Blair.  I knew Sue.  She was a client of mine, back in the late 90’s.  We worked on several large accounts together, and had lunch more than once.  We had the same off the wall sense of humor, which helped when we were stressed. 

At the same time that I moved from one insurance company to another, Sue, who had worked for a large insurance broker in Boston, made a change, too.  She left the insurance industry and moved home to New York state.  She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but she didn’t think it would involve insurance anymore.  She moved in with her family, to decide what she wanted to do.  We promised to stay in touch.  We didn’t.  Typical, it happens all the time.

I didn’t know Sue had died until months later, when a mutual acquaintance mentioned that there was going to be a memorial mass for her in Boston.  That was when I learned that she had returned to the insurance industry, and had taken a job with Marsh McLennan in Manhattan.  At One World Trade Center.  She was newly engaged to be married.  But she didn’t make it out of the building.

So, yeah, that made me angry, too.  Angry that she had returned to insurance, and had lost her life because of it.  Angry that she had just gotten engaged.  Just angry that she had died, along with all of those other innocent people.

So there are four good reasons.

You want to know the fifth?  The fifth is the reason I am writing this.  It’s a little more complicated.

The various exhibits and artifacts include a lot of footage of news coverage.  It’s fascinating to watch.  But I began to notice something that filled me with rage.

In all of the coverage, we saw people from all walks of life.  We saw black, brown and white, men and women, old and young.  We saw blue collar and white collar workers.  We saw businessmen and businesswomen, and we saw fire fighters and other first responders.  We saw American born citizens and citizens and other people who were from other countries.

And none of it mattered.  Everyone helped each other. 

Would that be the reaction today?  The way this country is divided into so many “us” and “them” factions?  The way so much hatred and division is not only accepted, but pretty much celebrated and encouraged?

I watched a video in which President Bush called on people to stop their harassment of “our Muslim neighbors and friends.”  He called them neighbors and friends.  He defended them, and he defended their religion.

Can you even begin to imagine what the current president might have said, had he been in the same position?  Would he have defended them?  Their religion?  Or would he have called them “animals?”  Would he have called for their immediate expulsion from the country?  I like to think he would react the same way President Bush did.  But I can’t believe he would have.

This country is a mess.  There is so much hatred and racism, so much prejudice and animosity, I truly do not know whether we can ever recover from it.

The horror of 9/11, in so many ways, brought out the best in the American people. 

This administration has brought out, and continues to bring out, the worst.

It sucks, and it’s not right, and it’s not fair to the good people who are still out there. 

It made me so angry to think about what we were just 16 short years ago, and what we are now, I couldn’t stand it. 

So much has been taken away from us by a man who never should have been elected, and by the unethical and selfish people he’s appointed to help him run (ruin?) the country.  It’s just not fair.

And now they’re determined to do everything they can to take away our health care, to take away our right to protest, to take away more of our incomes to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, to take away every single thing that makes us Americans, that makes the country great.  It’s disgusting.

I want him to go to jail.  I want his entire family to go to jail.  I want him impeached.  I want him publicly humiliated.  And I want the same thing for every single member of his administration.

I will admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of President Bush.  But you know what?  He looked pretty damn “presidential” when he was calling for people to come together and not let hate win out over love.

Damn it.  I want my country back. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Here Are Five Reasons Why Aruba is Awesome

One of the “ABC” islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), Aruba is located about 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, and is part of the so-called Dutch Caribbean.

It’s about 20 miles across and six miles wide, with a dry climate.  Its location outside of the “hurricane belt” makes it an immensely popular vacation destination, particularly with South Americans and Americans from the East Coast.

Mike and I first visited Aruba in 2001, and it was love at first sight. Since then, we’ve been back over a dozen times. 

Whenever the subject of Aruba comes up with people, at least in my experience, those who have been seem to fall into one of two groups.  They either love it, and go back on a regular basis, and are able to discuss in detail their favorite restaurants and shopping areas…or they’ve been once, and it was “nice.”  These folks have no particular plans to return.

Why does Aruba seem to elicit these two very different responses?  My guess is that the negative (well, okay, not really negative, more like neutral) responses often stem from the fact that Aruba is seen as being very “Americanized.”  English is taught in the schools, and Arubans know that tourism is their bread and butter, and treat visitors accordingly.  Likewise, it is easy to find Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and even Hooters on Aruba.

But why do so many people profess such a strong love for the tiny island?  Well, since I am one of those people, and since this is my blog, I guess it’s up to me to try to explain why, at least for me, Aruba holds the attraction that it does.

So, then...Here Are Five Good Reasons Why Aruba is Awesome!

1.  The Aruban People Are Awesome

They really are. They are undoubtedly the friendliest, most genuinely nice people I have ever met. Almost without exception, they go out of their way to welcome you to their island, to make sure you have a great time, to try to help you in any way they can.  They are the main reason why, when I step off the plane in Aruba, I usually turn to Mike and say, “we’re home!”

One story about the Aruban people, and then we’ll move on to reason number two.  A couple of years ago, a group of us were there in March, and one day there were heavy rains most of the day.  We had a reservation at Madame Janette, one of several favorite dining spots on the island, that evening.  When we got there, we had to be moved almost as soon as we sat down, because the thatched roof above us was leaking.  We were moved, and at some point during dinner, one of our party had to use the ladies room.  When she came back, she was pretty shaken up.  Apparently, there was about six inches of water on the floor in the rest rooms.  By the time we were ready to leave – after yet another wonderful dinner there – the rain was still coming down, and the entire parking lot was flooded.  The staff waited by the door, and when we were leaving, took our keys, found our car, and drove it right up to the front entrance so we could get in relatively easily.  As we were leaving, we noticed a group of Americans sitting at the bar laughing and talking to the staff.  We found out later that the staff personally drove every one of them back to their hotels that night.

2.  The Beaches Are Awesome

There are several beaches on Aruba, but the main ones are Palm Beach, where all of the high-rise hotels are located, and Eagle Beach, where the so-called “low-rise” hotels are located.  The two are very different in atmosphere. 

Palm Beach, where we stay, has calmer water, and is much more crowded.  Depending on where you’re staying, getting a “palapa” for the day (one of those thatched umbrella-like huts you see in the photos) can be an adventure involving getting up at the crack of dawn and waiting in a line.  Once you do get one, you’re usually sitting within 2-3 feet of the family at the next palapa.  This can be annoying, or it can be wildly entertaining.  Often it is a mix of the two extremes.  The people-watching on Palm Beach is endlessly fascinating.

Eagle Beach, on the other hand, is very quiet and considerably less crowded.  There is a much stronger surf there as well, if that’s your thing.  A great place to relax with a book and a couple of beers.  I highly recommend the Balashi, which is brewed right on the island.

Sunset on Eagle Beach

3.  The Restaurants Are Awesome

For such a small island, there are a disproportionately large number of restaurants.  Some, like the afore-mentioned Burger King, are obviously geared towards families with young kids.  Some specialize in local Caribbean cuisine.  Some are gourmet restaurants.  Some are casual.

We definitely have our favorites, among them Madame Janette, which I mentioned earlier.  MJ’s, as we call it, features a lovely outdoor setting, great food, and the island’s best Cosmopolitans.

Carte Blanche, featuring one seating a night, is a one-of-a-kind experience, and does not come cheaply.  Still, we wouldn’t miss it on a trip to Aruba.  You arrive between 7:00 and 7:30, and are seated at a u-shaped, 14-seat bar, facing the cooking area.  Chef Dennis van Daatselaar and sommelier Glen Bonset prepare and serve a 5 course dinner while chatting with the group in an intimate setting not unlike a private dinner party.  If you opt for the wine pairing, Glen will match up each of your dishes with an appropriate wine.  The food is wonderful, and the evening flies by.  This place books six months ahead of time, and reservations are an absolute must.

Linda’s Pancakes, a casual indoor/outdoor cafĂ© located in a strip mall next to a gas station, features Dutch pancakes (gluten free version available).  These are large, light, airy pancakes, which are topped with your choice of fruits, veggies, cheeses, meats, or even booze.  I opt for half strawberries, half bananas, with whipped cream on the side.  Mike’s gluten free pancake is topped with ham, gouda cheese and bacon.  These pancakes are to die for.  And ask for the Dutch coffee, which is much stronger than the American coffee.

I could go on and on, but I won’t, because I’m getting hungry just typing this.

Breakfast at Linda's

4.  Those Colorful Frozen Cocktails Are Awesome

Who doesn’t love a frozen cocktail?  The Caribbean is known for them, and there is just nothing like sipping one at a beach bar, or while sitting by the pool.

I try to sample a few different concoctions on each trip.  I’ve had blue drinks, and pink drinks and drinks that look like sunsets.  I’ve had Pina Coladas and Raspberry Mudslides.  But my favorite frozen cocktail is the Brown Lady.  You can get a Brown Lady pretty much anywhere on the island.  They’re made with vodka, Bailey’s, and coconut cream, and they are yummy!

Those are Brown Ladies in my hands....both of them.

5.  Doing Nothing is Awesome

I am generally not the sort of person who can sit around for long.  After a while, I remember 23 different things I need to do.  And Mike is the same way.  But I always tell Mike that Aruba is the only place I ever see him really relax.

In fact, in Aruba, we have pretty much mastered the art of relaxation.  Time moves more slowly.  We don’t “have to” do much of anything, aside from arriving on time for a couple of the harder to get dinner reservations.  

In Aruba, my day pretty much consists of a walk along the beach, coffee and bagel on the balcony, an hour in the Lazy River at our timeshare, and then several hours of uninterrupted reading, people-watching and occasional dips in the pool or ocean. A nap, a shower, a nice dinner and an hour at the casino…then it’s time to call it a night.  The next morning, it begins again.  And I love every second of it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Here Are Five Good Reasons Why Las Vegas is Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before

Despite my somewhat “hippie” image, I’m a big fan of “Sin City.”  In fact, I’ve been to Las Vegas something like 15 times.  At one time, we went every year for a week.  Somewhere along the line, we decided a week is way too long to spend in Vegas, but we still go pretty much every year, and we still love it.

When friends say they’ve never been, and wonder if they’d enjoy it, my stock answer is, “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” figuring, it’s pretty hard to argue with that statement.  And if they do go, and end up hating it – well, don’t blame me.  I never said you’d like it.  I said, “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”  And I was right – right?

If you’ve never been, you might be asking yourself, “Well, what does that mean?  WHY is Vegas like nothing I’ve ever seen before?”

And, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I am more than happy to give you “Five Good Reasons Why Las Vegas is Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before.”

1.  There Are Fancy Resort/Casinos Everywhere!

Yeah, there are.  If you want proof, just take a look out the window of the plane as you’re landing at McCarron.  If you’re arriving after dark, there’s enough neon out there to elicit gasps from most of the passengers, even those who visit all the time.

There are something like a hundred resort/casinos in and around the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. 

The Strip

Even if you’ve never gambled in your life, chances are there is something for you to see at a Las Vegas casino.  The Bellagio has a pretty decent art museum.  The Venetian has a branch of the world-renown Madame Tussauds wax museum – not to mention its own rendering of St. Mark’s Square, including gondolas.  The Mirage has a dolphin habitat and display of beautiful lions and tigers, some on the endangered species list.  New York, New York has a simulated “NYC” feel to it, right down to the newspaper stands with graffiti on them and the steam escaping from the man hole covers.  Paris has, well, Paris (cobbled sidewalks lead to small cafes and bakeries…as well as plenty of souvenir shops).  Main Street Station has a piece of the Berlin Wall…inside the men’s room.  Caesars Palace has gladiators (each one buffer than the last), The Coliseum (which, rather than hosting executions and other public spectacles, hosts the likes of Celine Dion and Elton John), Trojan horses, and even Cleopatra’s Barge (um, it’s a nightclub).  Virtually all of them have a hotel attached, and feature an all-you-can-eat buffet, some (Wynn, Mirage, Bellagio) better than others.  Just about all of the larger casino hotels have a wedding chapel.  Many boast upscale restaurants, most with celebrity chef owners.

The list goes on forever.

2.  There’s Enough Food to Feed A Mid-Sized Country

As alluded to in #1., there are a LOT of eating establishments in Vegas.  And, as someone who loves to eat, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have my favorites.

When Mike and I first visited Vegas (1993), we ate at buffets pretty much every day.  But, given time to allow our tastes to mature (not to mention our finances), for the most part, we tend to stay away these days.  (That being said, I do have a soft spot for both the Wynn buffet, and the Paris buffet.)

But even without buffets, the dining choices in Vegas can make your head spin.

Do you like authentic Thai food?  Then you need to grab a cab and ask them to take you to Lotus of Siam.  Hailed by many as the best Thai restaurant in the country, this place is on our must-do list every trip.  Located in a slightly grimy looking strip mall on East Sahara, the place is so popular that they make it a point to tell you to make sure you arrive within five minutes of the time of your reservation – otherwise, your table can, and probably will, be given away.  There are articles and discussions all over the Internet about what to order, but among our “go-to” dishes are the Nam kao Tod (crispy rice with sour minced sausage) and Nam Prik Ong, a red chili dip served with vegetables for dipping.  The panang here is also amazing.

Their website ( ) has photos of a lot of their dishes.  This meal is a highlight every time.

There is a restaurant in NYC called Rao’s.  It’s famous for being so beloved that it is literally impossible to get a table there, because the regulars eat there virtually every night.  Never fear – Rao’s has a Las Vegas branch, located in Caesars Palace.  And if the original is better than this place – all I can say is, “wow!”  When we were there last month, I had the Ravioli Purses.  These are pasta filled with Bartlett pear, ricotta cheese, brown butter, sage, and dried cranberries.  I wasn’t entirely sure when I ordered this, but after the first bite, I knew I’d made the right choice.  Absolutely amazing. 

And I didn’t even mention the huge, delicious meatballs!

Thomas Keller owns The French Laundry, the Napa Valley institution often called one of the best restaurants in the world.  The Venetian in Vegas boasts an outpost of Keller’s Bouchon, a lovely French bistro with it’s own charms.  And, at least for me, one of those charms is most certainly the Bouchon French Toast (bread pudding style, made with brioche and layers of apples and custard),  which I have for breakfast whenever I visit.

I could go on and on.  Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy are represented in Vegas, as are Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck.  Emeril Lagasse has a few places here (my favorite being Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand), as does Jose Andres (I love China Poblano).  Giada de Laurentiis just opened a place, and so did Guy Fieri.  If you have a “thing” for celebrity chefs, this is the place for you.

Bouchon's French Toast

3.  If You Have Naturally Curly Hair…

…Like I do, then, trust me, you’re going to love the weather in Vegas. 

Yes, it’s hot as hell a lot of the time (during the summer, it hits 100 on a regular basis, and I once walked down the strip in August in 112 degree heat).  But you know that saying, “it’s a dry heat?”  Well – it really is.  There is very little humidity in Vegas.  And for us curly haired girls, what that means is that there are very few “bad hair days.”  In fact, off hand, I can’t recall ever having one in Vegas.

And there is a LOT to be said for that.

4.  The People Watching is World Class

If you’ve read my blog about the subway, then you know I love people watching.  And Las Vegas takes the art of people watching to a whole new level.

In one morning stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard South (aka The Strip), you can easily encounter “working girls,” people still partying at 8:00 AM (sometimes WITH those “working girls”), Mabel and Irving from Middle America, their mouths agape as they walk along the sidewalk in their fanny packs, members of a bachelor or bachelorette party, businessmen in town for a convention (again, sometimes with those….you get the picture)…you name it, you’ll probably see it at some point during your visit.

And when you walk into one of those glittering casinos, you’ll be transported to a world where people watching could be an Olympic sport.  Glamorous couples dressed to the nines play slot machines next to down-and-out folks in rags, turning their pockets inside out in hopes of finding one more quarter.  Hefty ladies in polyester walk along the carpet next to punks with pink hair and leather jackets  It’s a veritable goldmine of diversity!

5.  The Gambling is Pretty Good, Too

Okay, some of you might be saying to yourselves, “well, okay, but does she actually do any gambling out there?” 

Yes.  Yes, she does.

Both my husband and I like to gamble.  We’re not “high rollers,” by any stretch of the imagination, but we do like to play.  I’ve been a Video Poker player for over 20 years, and Mike loves Blackjack, Roulette and Craps.

And, while we can drive a couple of hours to Connecticut to play, the games there just do not compare to what you can find in Vegas.  Without boring those of you who either already know a bit about the subject, or don’t care at all about the subject, one video poker machine is not necessarily the same as another.  They all have what is called a “pay schedule,” which can vary even from one machine to the one right next to it.  And some pay schedules are more player-friendly than others (in other words, one machine might be much easier to win money on that another).

The Holy Grail of video poker players is something called “9/6 Jacks.”  While this game is difficult, if not impossible, to find on the East Coast, it is somewhat easy to find in Vegas, if you know where to look.  I personally prefer a game called “Double Bonus.”  While I can find the not-so-profitable “9/6” and sometimes “9/7” versions of this particular game at my local gambling spots, the best version, “10/7,” is just not available.  I know exactly where to find it in Vegas, and I head downtown to play at Main Street Station at least once or twice every trip.  (All of this is very much just scraping the surface of the wonderful world of video poker.  This blog is not a gambling blog.  Just Google these terms if you are interested in learning more.  You’ll get hits galore.)

Likewise, Vegas is where Mike can find single or double deck Blackjack (in other words, the dealer uses one or two decks instead of the usual six or even more).  He can also find better craps games and better roulette games in Vegas.  (I don’t play any of these games, so I don’t pretend to be able to explain much about them.)

While we both came home “losers” on our recent trip, that is a fairly rare occurrence.  Generally at least one of us returns with a profit, albeit a small one.  And neither of us ever loses a lot of money. So, even though there are casinos everywhere these days, for the most part, there is still no comparison between them and the Vegas casinos, as far as “bang for your buck” goes.

And in Vegas, they are more than happy to reward you for your play.  Free rooms, free food, free shows, they are all there for the taking if you play enough.  (We don’t – but we know plenty of people who do.)

My Personal Nirvana

So there you have it, five pretty good, and pretty diverse, reasons to visit Vegas.  And I didn’t even get to the shows, some of which are amazing!