Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What Happened In Vegas, Ain't Staying In Vegas - Part I

I was given the opportunity to go to Las Vegas for a work function, and since I had never been to Vegas, I gladly accepted it. Now, don't go and start thinking that I'm something fancy. It wasn't an offer just for me, it was for me and 3 others. We would all fly up on Sunday, do our business, and then our wives would be flying up on Wednesday. So, the wifey and I started planning and noticed Tim Allen had a comedy show at The Mirage the Friday and Saturday that we'd be there. We both grew up in the 90s, so of course we watched Home Improvement. Now that we're adults, we're avid fans of his latest show, Last Man Standing (Dawn says it's like seeing into her future). We were going back and forth on whether we should buy the tickets, or wait till it was 100% confirmed. I decided to look at the seating chart one day, and stumbled upon 2 front row seats ... so we had to jump.

Like everything seems to do lately, a few days after we purchased the tickets, our involvement in the event was canceled.

We juggled the idea for a few days, do we try to get a refund for the tickets, or bite the bullet and use this as an excuse to finally visit Las Vegas. If you're too dumb to figure it out ... we bit the bullet and went to Vegas. Thanks to Dirt Mountain and the cost of our new backyard, we decided to keep to the Wednesday to Saturday plan, but fit as much into 3 days as we possibly could.

We had a $50 voucher for a hotel room, so we decided to go up to Charlotte on Tuesday night so we wouldn't have to wake up at 4 for our 7:20 flight. The next time we stepped out of a plane, we were at our connecting flight in Salt Lake City. We were actually very lucky flying in and out, because we only had an hour between landing and take off on our flights. But wait, within 5 minutes of landing we see the screen flash. Our flight has now been delayed 30 minutes. Lucky for us, it ended up changing again, and moved up 15 minutes. All in all, it was later than we were originally supposed to leave, but it wasn't a major delay so whatever.

I'm a window seat kind of guy. Although we usually load some movies onto a tablet to watch during our flights, I still like checking out the scenery and seeing the layout of the land. I got the shaft on the first flight, but did get the window seat from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas.

Since I'm a new golfer, I had to get a picture of this golf course we flew over.

As we were approaching the runway, we flew right by UNLV's football stadium.

My first glimpse of Las Vegas.

We decided to rent a car for our trip. We basically figured we'd end up spending just about the same on taxi fares as we would to rent a car per day, and there were a few places we wanted to go that were further off The Strip/Downtown. Renter-Be-Ware, if you rent a car at the Las Vegas airport be prepared to spend some time in the parking garage to be "checked out." I don't know if they do this at other airports, but it took us 25 minutes to leave the parking garage because they had to scan your car bar code, make sure it matched in the system, check your identification to make sure it matched, check the mileage, and apparently perform open heart surgery before printing out a receipt and letting you go. This wasn't a delay because there was so many people trying to leave either, we were the 7th car in line. Once we got to the front, we passed through in 2 minutes. Both lanes had the same stall, so I'm not sure what was taking everyone else so long, but yet 2 minutes for us. Like I said, I'm not sure if this is common with airport rental car check outs, but dang.

Although we try not to fall into the tourist traps, you can't go to Las Vegas and not get a picture of the welcome sign. You can, but then you'd be weird.

After leaving Charlotte at 7:20 EST, losing 3 hours, and landing at 11:20 WST, we were starving. First stop, Ceasars Palace for Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill.

As we sat down, I was looking over the drink menu and saw "Sam Adams Seasonal." I looked at the waiter and said, "Is it Winter Lager yet?" To which he says, "No, Octoberfest." Dawn shoots for that so I go for a regular Boston Lager. Hey, it might be noon, but 1 we're in Vegas and 2 it's 4 o'clock our time, so that's close enough.

For our first meal in Las Vegas, I went for the bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries. 

This was one of the best burgers I've ever eaten. It was the perfect medium (don't cook your home burgers any less than done) on the inside, the bacon was crispy, and the flavor was knockout. Not only was the burger great, the fries were addictively good.

She got the Pistachio Pesto Chicken Sandwich.

She ended up leaving a few bites of her sandwich behind, that she later said she regretted since it was so good.

One thing we did notice about Ramsay Pub & Grill, there were no salt and pepper shakers. Apparently when you season your food properly, you don't need to give your customers salt and pepper to add flavor to their meals.

After lunch, we walked down to MGM for CSI: The Experience. They have a little souvenir shop, but the attraction is 3 crime scenes that you have to solve the murder of. You're given a clipboard with questions, and you have to answer those questions from the crime scene, the lab, and other techniques. Once you've answered all the questions you take your answers and fill out a report to turn into Grissom. If you're right, and pick the correct killer, you graduate CSI school. Not to brag, but this guy was 100%. His wife ... 

Of course I'm not going to give you the details for the crime. That would jeopardize the case.

From MGM we walked back up to the Harley Davidson Cafe so I could get my Las Vegas shot glass. As we walked through, I had to get a picture of the back wall. It's chains that are painted like the flag with bikes on a track that takes them to the heavens.

After a little more site seeing we headed to our hotel to check in and change for dinner. We stayed at the Downtown Grand, and as I was planning the trip I figured we'd be pretty tired and not really want to go "out", so I found Pizza Rock directly across the street. Lucky for us, Pizza Rock was voted Best Pizza in Las Vegas 2015.

We ordered the 12" "The Butcher" which is their all meat pizza, and split it.

As pointed out to us by some apparent pizza snobs from "up yonder", it was a little greasy, but when you load it down with meats what do you expect? This pizza was absolutely amazing, and the combination of that and my Bad Beat Ace in the Hole Basil Pale Ale was killer.

During my planning of the trip, every place I looked for breakfast ideas ranked The Buffet at The Wynn very high on their list. We're not big buffet eaters (1 the food usually dries out, 2 people are disgusting, but 3 they always make the sneeze guards to block oompa loompas so I have to perform a ballerina move to get more bacon), but after seeing all the rave reviews we decided to give it a shot.

I turn on my GoPro, and we bebop through The Wynn and follow the signs to "Buffet". We turn by the Cashiers area, and head down the hall. I'm looking around, but mostly kind of watching the camera to make sure I'm not filming my feet, and then I hear a chuckle. I turn around and Dawn says, "Did you not see the sign?" I said no, and I just get a point towards this lovely beauty.

Great, so breakfast idea #1 is thrown out the window, now what do we do?

The Peppermill is pretty close to The Wynn, so we bumped it up a day on the agenda. The Peppermill actually has a lesson to learn as well. When you walk in and there's a wait, if the hostess says 10 minutes, it'll be 20. If she says 20, like was our case, it'll be 45. Now, you could say it was just a bad day, but a couple walked in and asked the wait, she told them 20-30 minutes and the husband turned around and said to his wife, "It'll be an hour." Clearly they've been here and understand the timing lingo.

We finally sit down, and the food was worth every minute of the wait. She went with the Chirizo and Eggs, and I had the walnut pancakes.

With the pancakes they give you syrup and butter ... all of it. All of the syrup and all of the butter.

These pancakes are so big, I couldn't even eat the entire first one, and they give you 3. To my defense, pancakes and waffles feel me up really fast even at home.

Now, the wait was irritating, and the service to get drinks was a little meh (I'll actually give them the benefit of the doubt on that one), but the food is absolutely amazing ... and a crap ton more than you could ever eat.

After enjoying my 4,000 calorie breakfast, I needed to do some walking so we went across the street to The Fashion Show. We didn't realize it until we walked out, but we ended up parking right in front of Trump.
(you know, the guy that has a pretty good shot right now of being the next President).

From there we went to The Linq's shops so we could go to Goorin Bros hat shop. We're hat people, and I don't mean "I'm wearing jeans, flip flops, and a t shirt so I want to wear a fedora with a skull stamped on it." I mean, a suit with a handmade wool fedora, or she'll wear a dress or something else nice with a woman's hat. Those other people are the ones that ruin it for the rest of us. If you're one of them, STOP IT!

Ok, back to the good stuff. We're Food Network-aholics, and one of our shows was Cupcake Wars. The main judge is Candace Nelson who's credited for her Sprinkles Cupcakes being the first cupcake only bakery.

Sprinkles has the hands down, coolest plates and utensils ever. They're all made of wood. If you remember eating ice cream in elementary school and having that little wooden "spoon" to eat it with. That's what this was like, except with a fork, and no tongue splinters. 

She sprung for the Carrot Cupcake ...

while I did the Chocolate with coconut.

A quick check for the hardness/denseness like other Cupcake Wars judge, Florian Bellanger, and it was time to chow down on some amazing cupcakes.

We have a few cupcake shops around Greenville, and every now and again we'll pick some up. Every single time I end up having to scrap off 5lbs of icing, because I'm already sweet enough. I don't need an equal amount of icing to cupcake. These cupcakes were perfect in every way imaginable.

Don't worry, we couldn't go out of town and forget about our little guy. Sprinkles also offers doggiecakes, so we picked one up for him (see his reaction in Part II).

After a little mid-morning snack, we hopped back in the rental and drive over to Rolling Smoke Barbecue. One of my favorite shows to watch is BBQ Crawl that's hosted by fellow BBQ-Brethern, Diva Q. If you're not familiar, she's a competition BBQ cook, and during her travels tries all the good BBQ joints around ... the greatest job ever.

I did the Pulled Pork Plate with Mac and Cheese ...

she did her new vice of Loaded Potato, this version with chopped brisket.

I had to take the green onions off, because, well ... green onions on a pulled pork sandwich? That's just weird. Anyway, the food for both of us was amazing. I can understand why they're one of the best BBQ restaurants in Vegas.

In Thomas Rhett's new song "Die A Happy Man" he mentions that even if he never gets to see the Eiffel Tower at night, as long as he has his wife's hand in his hand, he'll be able to die a happy man. Well, we haven't seen the Eiffel Tower at night in Paris, but we have seen the Eiffel Tower at night at Paris casino, so that's kind of close.

The picture makes it hard to see, but Ramsay is on a big banner hanging from the Arc De Triomphe replica monument.

Our splurge dinner for this trip was to Gordon Ramsay Steak. While planning the trip, she said we didn't need to go and spend that much money, but I booked us a table anyway. I did confirm that it was ok before we actually went, and it was welcomed with very open arms.

For weeks all I heard about was, "I can't believe I'm going to get a real Gordon Ramsay Beef Wellington."

There was never a question what I was getting, the New York Strip. This even came with the bone in (which is technically referred to as the St Louis Strip in a lot of steakhouses) which just made the flavor boom even more.

I'm not going even try to count the number of "mmmmmms" and "oh my gah this is amazings." Part of the reason I can't count all of those, is because I was doing the same exact thing. Of course she said our beef wellingtons (the only ones she's ever had) couldn't hold a snowballs chance in hell against these. As far as mine, I'll say it's the best bone-in New York Strip I've ever had. I don't know if it beats my Omaha Steak New York Strip from Charlotte, but it doesn't lose to it either. I despise ties, so we'll just put it in another category so I don't have to pick.

I hate that I wasn't able to get a picture, but they bring out a cart with a sample of each of their steaks for you to choose from. It's like 10 of the most amazing cuts in a circle with a massive double ribeye with a foot long bone handle sticking out. I'm 99% sure I heard angels sing when the cart rolled out.

After dinner we went across the street to enjoy the Bellagio Fountains. It really ticks me off, but I forgot to charge the GoPro so we don't have any cool videos of it. If you go to Vegas, you have to stick around for a show. These things are amazing. We saw 3 or 4 songs throughout our trip and every single one was, wow.

Downtown Grand

Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill

Pizza Rock

The Peppermill

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Rolling Smoke Barbecue

Gordon Ramsay Steak

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dirt Mountain

I've created a drinking game for this post. Every time something gets completely flipped on me, take a drink.

Also, this is going to be a long detailed one, but it's the only way to get the full effect in there.

For 2 years now I've asked and begged to upgrade our "patio" to either a ground level deck or a hardscape stone patio with a cover. Now, I'm not that worried about the rain, but that South Carolina sun gets pretty hot on some of those Summer days. Between saving money, commission checks, and Christmas bonus we finally saved up enough money to really look into doing something back there. As we start talking about it, the wifey says she'd like to build up the lower side of our backyard and install a privacy fence so Rhett could play in the backyard and we wouldn't have to worry about him getting out.

We started having a few companies come out and give us estimates on the deck/patio, and one of those companies did retaining walls as well. While he was here I told him what we were thinking about doing, and the price he dropped was well beyond what we imagined it would be. Perfect, yard job gets pushed back and my deck/patio will become a reality.

My dad knows everybody, so one day he gives me a call and says, "Hey, I have this guy that says he can do that retaining wall for ya'll." Grrrrr, I agree because there's no way he's going to be even close to the ball park after what the first guy said. Well he looked at it and says, "oh yeah, this isn't bad. I have a guy that does grading, so have him come out to remove the stones, and then I can do the wall for a little over the cost of material." Well poo, there goes my deck/patio.

My dad and I removed the massive evergreen bushes, and found these massive boulders hiding inside. We were like, great, those are taking up room that we won't have to spend extra money on dirt to have to fill. Wow, this project is actually going to end up being a little less than we were expecting.

Yeah, wrong. Apparently to install a fence, you need room for the post to actually go down into the ground so it'll actually stand up. Wait, no problem, the grader can pull those out, dig that area out, and bury the boulders down in the hole ... still less dirt we'll have to pay for.

I was able to work from home the day he came, so as I'm working away I hear this massive boom and the entire house shakes (it almost knocked some pilsner glasses off my shelves in the man cave). I go to investigate and realize the boulders are the size of Rhode Island.

Once the boulders are out, he digs their burial site, and we're introduced to Dirt Mountain. Now, you look at the picture and you're like, "That's a lot of dirt, but it's not THAT bad." Note, the tractor in the background that you can barely see ... plus, I'm 6'1 and it's taller than me at it's highest point, and approximately 40 feet long and 10 feet wide.

From picture 1 to here, I still don't know where all that dirt came from ...

All tucked away and ready to go bye bye.

With grading finished, we reached back out to wall installer guy. Have him come out to look at it and give us an official quote. Once he sees it he says something along the lines of, "Oh, well you still need a footer put down, and I don't do that. You'll have to find someone else to install a footer for you." (If you'd like, you can scroll back up to the original conversation and see if he ever said that we'd need a 3rd guy involved ... I'll wait)

After hearing that, I refused to use him. I'm not saying his work may not have been good, but if anything happened we didn't want it to turn into a "the footer was bad", "no the wall faltered" pissing contest. We wanted 1 person to do the job, and if anything happened there'd be no question who to contact.

A bit of a side bar, for our 1st anniversary Dawn bought me a Palmetto Tree. I've always loved the trees, but I wasn't spending that kind of money for one. So, she got me one for our anniversary and there's no gift I could ever buy to top that. Ok, so back to the tree. South Carolina had an unusually cold winter this past year, and not knowing that I needed to do anything special, my beloved tree didn't make it. Since we had this project going on in the backyard, we had to remove our side gate. While it was down, I called the tree company and told them now would be a better time than ever to replace the tree, since they'd be able to use their backhoe, and not have to remove and install another thousand pound tree.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Cocky 2.

We had 5 or 6 companies come out and give us quotes on the wall, with each quote the price gradually went higher and higher, and the time that they could install it was further and further out on the calendar. After 2 weeks of Dirt Mountain Dawn started getting very aggravated with it. She emailed me at work one day and was beyond frustrated. I told her, "During this process just remember the most important thing." She responded and asked what that was so I said that, "This was ALL your idea."

A coworker came up one day and said she had a small retaining wall built at her lake house and gave me his contact information if I'd like to give him a call. Long story short, once he got to the house and we started talking, he's known my wife for years and we'd even met on a few occasions. The price was still well beyond what Mr. No Grading and No Footer Installer Guy was saying (you know, the price that we said, "ok, we'll go ahead and do this", but Dirt Mountain wasn't getting any smaller. Plus, he has an irrigation background, so he mentioned using the excess dirt and building up that back corner of the yard so it'd be more level and the water would flow out the back of our yard and not into our neighbors yard.

We bit the bullet and went with friend irrigation guy, and he started the next week (also part of why we went with him). Each day we watched the progress on our security cameras, but the wall was just out of view, so as soon as we got home and gave everyone kisses ... we'd run out back to see where it was at.

The boulders actually ended up having to come all the way out.

And just like that, Dirty Mountain is nothing more than an extra large ant hill.

One day while talking with the installer, I asked what it'd take to build up the other side of our yard where our neighbor up top's run off water has created a gully over time. In comparison to the job we were already doing, it wasn't that much more and we figured we might as well do it now while the yard is messed up and then we can worry about fixing the grass situation once instead of doing it again next year.

I don't have a before picture for this side, but just imagine about a 1 foot deep gully that basically just held water.

I had this bright idea that I wanted to use black and red mulch to see if I could give the base a little Gamecock look. Although the shadow is hiding it some, I think it turned out pretty well.
(Yes, I'll allow you to steal my idea if your team's colors are black and dark red.)

After the project ended up costing a lot more than we had expected, we decided to wait before we bought any sod, and with it getting late in the year, there wasn't any Bermuda grass seed. We found out that it was the perfect time for Rye grass, and that it was a "cold weather grass", so picked some of that up and put it out. Little did I know, it would grow in a neon green and we'd have a disco looking backyard. Oh well, at least it's green and not dirt.

The last day that the wall builder was working, September 3rd, we had a fence company come out and give us a new quote. Since he built up the back corner, it was actually going to be a shorter and cheaper fence. I signed the papers and the guy told me, "It'll be about 3-4 weeks, but you have about a 7 foot drop off so I'll tell them it's a safety hazard and see if we can get someone out here sooner." We didn't really want to wait 3-4 weeks, but they were coming in well cheaper than any others and we weren't sure if anyone else could really do it any sooner anyway. This was on a Friday, and the following Monday I had a call with the planning lady to iron out to final details.

On week 3 I called to just check on things and to make sure everything was still planned to happen this week or the next. The same lady that I spoke to the first time said, "We're still waiting on the materials to come in, but everything in still set for Oct 12th." If you'd like to go back to see the date that I signed the papers and was given a 3-4 week lead time, I'll wait.

From our original conversation, the 3-4 week lead time had magically jumped to 6 weeks. When I asked the lady about it drastic change my answer was, "Well I can't remember every conversation I have with every customer, but we still don't have the product in yet." I explained that I could remember the conversation we had, and that if I would have heard a 6 week lead time, that we would have at least had a few other quotes done. This all created a back and forth battle with the company to receive any updates. I would call and email and wouldn't hear anything back. Then in the midst of the waiting period, South Carolina was hit with the heaviest rain its had in hundreds of years. The entire state was covered from 3 days of massive rain which lead to major flooding and devastation. Luckily, the upstate wasn't hit as hard as the rest of the state, so we weren't affected as much.

The week of the 12th, I called and spoke to the lady and she said that guy would be in shortly to schedule the job and that we were the priority, so she'd call as soon as it was set. That was on Tuesday. I called back on Wednesday after not hearing anything, no answer and no call back from my message. I called on Thursday, no answer and no call back from my message. I called on Friday, no answer and no call back from my message. Now, I'm not asking you to do back flips, I'm just asking for the answer that you promised me on Tuesday. Dawn decides she's had enough (I had grown numb from the experience after dealing with the wall and fence now for 2 months), so she called every 15 minutes for 4 hours straight. Even then, no answer, so she sent a nasty email. Ok, it wasn't nasty, but basically laid the process we went through out and finished it with, I better get a call today to either tell me the exact day my fence will be installed or a call back telling me when my reimbursement check will be in mail. 

So the manager guy called her shortly after the email was sent, and told her that it'd be installed the next Friday. Yes, a full 7 weeks after the paperwork was signed. After all the waiting they made us do, and the lack of communication, once the job was completed we, uummm, kind of played the same game back at them before we paid the rest of the cost. The lady called 2-3 times, sent 3-4 emails, none of which I answered, of course. I finally decided 3 weeks was long enough, so we cut the check and paid them off.

So, are you wasted yet?

After all of the headaches, set backs, and nasty phone calls and emails, our backyard is finally finished. Well, until next year when we install a new patio with cooking, dinning, and fire pit ...