There’s no place like Las Vegas. It’s glitzy, and plastic, and neon, and fun.
We went to Vegas for New Year’s in 2013 to celebrate my bonus son’s 21st birthday (“bonus son” = stepson, with a more positive connotation; it means I’m “bonus mom”). It had always been a plan since he was a small boy. It was a blended family trip, with my husband and me, my bonus son and his college roommate, my bonus son’s real mom and her fiancé (now husband), and my 16-year old son.
What to do on New Year’s Eve in Vegas when you’re celebrating a milestone birthday?
We figured that watching the fireworks from the bar in one of the tallest buildings was the way to go (minus the 16 year-old, of course). The fireworks on New Year’s in Vegas are truly spectacular; click here for this year’s show summary. There’s still time for you to get there! 🙂
The fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas are deployed from the top of a half-dozen hotels and can be seen from everywhere on the strip. We chose the roof bar at The Palms because the Grill-Meister had been there for a work event a few months earlier, and it was indeed an experience. Getting through the security there was more stringent than the security at the airport. We didn’t know what bottle service was (click here if you are just as naive), but it was the only option. The music was SUPER LOUD, and the patrons were rowdy. The evening was a fun learning experience, something to remember for a special birthday, and not something we need to do again.
If I was in Vegas for New Year’s this year, I’d go to the Golden Nugget. It is owned by Tilman Fertitta, a Galveston native and the man Forbes Magazine called “the world’s richest restauranteur” in 2012. Along with other entertainment options, across the Golden Nugget, he imports a top-notch jazz group from Houston each year.
During the rest of the week, we did all the typical campy Vegas things:
A magic show: Criss Angel Believe – NOT RECOMMENDED; we don’t believe. In spite of being associated with Cirque du Soleil, this show didn’t live up to the hype. The reviews on TripAdvisor bear this out, including mine, in which I said it was “flashy but fluffy”.
A music show: Blue Man Group. This show was fantastic. There was never a dull moment, and everyone in our party, ranging from 16 to 50+, was equally enthralled. It is a captivating, interactive, all-ages experience, and very, very funny. There is also a fair amount of “hmmm, that makes you think” social commentary that goes down easy (isn’t preachy). The crowd’s energy adds to the fun, and the audience participation component is delightful, simply and invigorating. Don’t miss this if you go to Vegas – take your family, take a date, or go alone. You won’t be sorry.
This show is worth your time and money
The fun begins before the show
Walking the strip. The people-watching is wonderful.
Staying at the Bellagio. It’s like a cruise ship; it has everything: restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries, gambling, dancing fountains, and more.
Checking out the other hotels. It’s like a tour of over-the-topness.
Gambling. Didn’t spend much, didn’t lose much, didn’t win much. It’s not my thing.
Overall, New Year’s Eve in Vegas was great, but once was enough. This year, we’ll be with family in Albuquerque, traveling there from our cabin in central Colorado.
Need more Vegas? Click here to read my Vegas haikus, from a different birthday trip – my mother-in-law’s 80th.
My brother and I used to joke that if we wrote a book together, its title would be Surviving the Perfect Childhood. Its theme would be dealing with the real world after emerging from the tranquil, untroubled, near-paradise of our early lives. Growing up, Steve and I were as close as any brother and sister I’ve ever known, born 3 years and 3 months apart, each of us earnestly filling our older sibling / younger sibling roles.
I was his guide and teacher and he was my adorable little brother.
We lived on the beach in Gilchrist, Texas from the time I was 10 and Steve was 7, and in the summer, we’d swim almost every day, body-surfing in the Gulf, doing cannonballs and having swimming races with our cousins and neighborhood friends in the canal behind our house.
Steve laughed harder than anyone when a blue crab clamped onto my toe in the canal and wouldn’t let go, but then was angry at everyone else for laughing. We were like that – pushing each other to the limits as siblings will, but intensely protective. We were best friends. In the winters, we played indoor games of Scrabble and Monopoly with our parents, and spent hours playing make-believe in a long-running “city”, a collection of buildings made of Legos populated with tiny glass animals who had fascinating made-up lives. My avatar was a tiny glass squirrel named “Squirrelly”; his was a raccoon named “Racky”. (Not one of our most creative outputs.)
I taught Steve how to dance, gave him advice about girls and dating, and felt my own heart break when his youthful romances didn’t last. Boyfriends in my teen years always befriended Steve, and he joined me on many a date. He was a fun, funny person. We were fun together.
“Kim-n-Steve” was one word, a blended name for us that everyone used.
Steve and I had a nickname for each other: Boj. Pronounced bōj. It was a salutation, a pet name and a word that communicated a variety of emotions depending on how it was uttered, like “dude” is now. If we hadn’t seen each other for a while, “Boj!” was the excited greeting. If there was bad news to share in response to “How are you?”, it started with “Oh, Boj”, all long and drawn out, in a low voice and dripping with meaning.
There are so many stories from those halcyon days – the time Steve put green food coloring in Mom’s toothpaste and the time we had a kangaroo court in response to our stance that we were underpaid for pulling weeds. The kitten named Pretty Kitty who turned out to be a massive tomcat, and our heartbreak when he was run over by a drunk tourist. Our pet baby chicken also grew to be enormous, a vicious gangsta rooster who only loved Steve (and who I had to fend off with a pitchfork). All those times after I left for college when Steve got into normal high-spirited high school scrapes and called me for help: “Boj, something very bad happened.”
Our togetherness extended into summer jobs. Steve and I worked at many of the same places through high school and early college – the lumber yard, where I was a cashier and estimator and he worked in the yard, loading orders into customers’ cars and sometimes driving the forklift;; a fancy, quirky 12-seat restaurant where I was a waitress and he was a dishwasher; a duck-hunting lodge, also a waitress and dishwasher; the Candy Factory on The Strand in Galveston, where I worked the candy side and he was an ice cream server and soda jerk. We car-pooled and money-pooled, and talked and laughed and listened to music during our daily commute. We debated the meaning of life, the meaning of Rush lyrics and the relative merits of each other’s dates. Listening to my complaints about one potential boyfriend, Steve said something so profound with his hilarious, slow and earnest delivery, leaning forward to emphasize his point: “Boj, there’s something wrong with everybody.” That became a mantra for us and still makes me laugh. It was also our joint commitment to give people a chance even though they might on the surface not seem like a good fit.
Steve chose the same college I did and remained in the Austin / San Marcos area, whereas I landed in Houston to lead out my grown-up life. He married a marvelous woman and was the first to have children. Like my son, his two daughters feel like an inseparable part of me. His wife became my sister and I love her with all my heart. Our four children (Steve’s daughters, my son and my “bonus son”/stepson) are very close. Steve and I also remained close for years, although distance, busy-ness and different lifestyles led us to seek and confide in other best friends as we hit our 30s and 40s.
Somewhere along the way, we lost Squirrelly and Racky, both literally and figuratively.
I didn’t receive many gifts from Steve over the years; in our relationship, I was the gifter and he was the teller of funny stories. One of the last times I saw him, we spent a weekend together in Austin, just the two of us. Newly divorced, he was figuring out who he was going to be. I was still the sage older sister; he was still the questioning younger brother. We walked around in trendy So-Co, went to music stores, visited his guitar-playing, Whole Foods-working friend and recalled our wacky childhood. We were grown up, we were different, but we were still somehow Kim-n-Steve. As I left, he put a CD he had recorded for me into the glove compartment in my car: “You’ll really like this, Boj.” But I forgot about it as I drove home, back to my corporate job and my garden and my grocery list and my sons and husband. That CD was a rare gift from Steve, but it wasn’t time for me to open it yet. Back at home, I went online and found tiny squirrel and raccoon figurines, and sent them to Steve in memory of our childhood and our great weekend.
Steve died on October 7, 2013.
I was in Las Vegas on a business trip when I heard the news. I spent the night before my early flight out the next day looking at the strip and remembering our perfect childhood. A part of my heart is permanently broken, and yet I know that it is so much bigger than it ever would have been if we hadn’t been siblings.
I drove to the Austin area for the family gathering, funeral / celebration of Steve’s life and to help with the distribution of his belongings. Looking in my glove compartment for a tire gauge before setting out, I found the CD Steve had given me and popped it into the CD player, so grateful to have this tangible connection to him. The band is Los Lonely Boys, and the first song on the CD is Heaven. One of the main lines in this truly beautiful and moving song is “How far is heaven?” Steve was talking to me through those lyrics as I listened to the song over and over on the drive. And he was laughing with me, too; he knows just how far heaven is, and I don’t.
How far is heaven? Steve now knows, and I’ll have to wait.
One final footnote: the Squirrelly and Racky figurines were displayed in a prominent place in Steve’s apartment, and they were the only things of his that I needed to have. I often feel close to him again now – when I listen to Heaven or any of the other music he shared with me over the years, when I see those figurines, now proudly displayed at my office, when I spend time with his beautiful and smart daughters, when I reminisce with my dad about our wacky times at the beach, when I’m with any of his friends or our family who are sharing their own Me-n-Steve Stories.
Lyrics to “Heaven” follow; at the end of this post is a recording of it on YouTube by Los Lonely Boys. I hope you take a minute to read and watch/listen. The song and lyrics are really inspiring; illustrative of the very human need for solace, and the belief that there is a better place.
Save me from this prison Lord, help me get away ‘Cause only you can save me now from this misery
I’ve been lost in my own place and I’m getting’ weary How far is heaven? And I know that I need to change my ways of livin’ How far is heaven? Lord, can you tell me?
I’ve been locked up way too long in this crazy world. How far is heaven? And I just keep on prayin’, Lord And just keep on livin’. How far is heaven?
Lord, can you tell me? How far is heaven? ‘Cause I just got to know how far, yeah? How far is heaven? Lord, can you tell me?
[Spanish:] Tú que estás en alto cielo, Échame tu bendición [English translation: [You, who are in high heaven, Send me down your blessing]
‘Cause I know there’s a better place than this place I’m livin’. How far is heaven? And I just got to have some faith And just keep on giving. How far is heaven? Yeah, Lord, can you tell me? How far is heaven? ‘Cause I just gotta know how far, yeah? How far is heaven? Yeah, Lord, can you tell me? how far is heaven? ‘Cause I just gotta know how far? I just wanna know how far?
This little memoir is dedicated to everyone who loved Steve, and has the same bigger-but-now-broken heart because of his presence in your life. I didn’t include your names or your pictures, because your stories are your own to tell.
November update: I’ve added a quiet little poem in honor of my brother’s 49th birthday. Click here to read it.
Las Vegas is a city you can’t quite love but can’t quite hate. It pushes tacky so far that it almost becomes charming. We spent a hot 3 July days there fulfilling a long-time birthday wish of a deserving octogenarian, and I was haiku-inspired.
1 of 3: The City
Proudly tacky, glittering
Crowded, loud, still fun
2 of 3: The Bellagio
Fine cuisine, slot machines
3 of 3: The Birthday Girl
Special party at eighty
Up next: eighty-one