Observations: Let me know if I can help

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

The New York New York Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, complete with a too-tall Chrysler Building and a too-short Empire State Building, along with miniature Brooklyn Bridge, is a massive hotel and an example in how money means nothing (yet everything) in Las Vegas. It was cool to see but I prefer the real thing: Midtown shown with the Empire State Building dominating the foreground and the beautiful but shorter Chrysler building a few buildings off to the left of it. Mitch Traphagen photos.

The New York New York Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, complete with a too-tall Chrysler Building and a too-short Empire State Building, along with miniature Brooklyn Bridge, is a massive hotel and an example in how money means nothing (yet everything) in Las Vegas. It was cool to see but I prefer the real thing: Midtown shown with the Empire State Building dominating the foreground and the beautiful but shorter Chrysler building a few buildings off to the left of it. Mitch Traphagen photos.

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Whether driving down freeways or walking down jetways, we can get around this spinning blue ball we call home like only a few generations previous could not possibly have imagined. With that said, Las Vegas is still one heck of a long ways from Tampa, particularly when flying through Fort Lauderdale to get there.

“Let me know if I can help with anything.” Those words are always so easy to say but do we actually mean them? I got to find out recently when a friend that I had seen only once — about a month ago — in the past 20 years sent a text actually putting my words to the test. Could I help? Sure. Could I help in Las Vegas? Well, that’s a bit more, but what the heck. I did offer, right? Time to find out if I can walk the talk. Or fly it, as the case may be.

I was scheduled to take off on vacation, of sorts, to the Midwest and to New York City. So I left a bit early and found myself in Vegas, which, incidentally, is on an entirely different planet than anywhere else. It is a city where money means everything and nothing. You can’t get a towel or a chair to sit on by a pool without providing some green in tips. But at the same time, the outrageous ostentatious nature of the place shows that blowing billions of dollars on the weirdest crap means absolutely nothing. I stayed at the MGM Grand. Directly across the street was New York New York. That hotel was a fake skyline of New York City, complete with a Chrysler Building on one end and an Empire State Building on the other. The entire thing was connected into a massive hotel and casino. Even my hotel, one of the classic, older establishments of the Las Vegas Strip, had more restaurants and bars than I cared to count. There are no limits in Las Vegas; nothing is too much.

On the plus side, the people were nice — even the young woman who saw me sitting alone in a hotel bar and twice approached to ask me if everything was okay, without asking for anything else. My Midwestern sensibility was touched by her compassion so, as I left the bar, I told her I would buy her a drink (more than a day’s wage in many countries around the world — Vegas isn’t always cheap). That’s when her two children, ages 17 and 18, appeared.

“No,” she replied, “but my kids would love to go to the buffet!”

I smiled, pulled out a $20 and handed it to her daughter.

“It’s $20 each,” she said somewhat sheepishly.

I pulled out my last $20 and handed it to her son.

She noticed that I had very little left in my wallet (I hadn’t planned to even be in Las Vegas, remember?) and seemed genuinely concerned and on the verge of returning the money. I assured her I would be fine and bid the three of them a good night.

If that was a scam, it sure was an odd one. But on the other hand, it didn’t occur to me until the next day to ask why teenage children would want to go to a buffet at 3 a.m.

From there, several hours later, I found myself in a small town in southern Iowa. There is no possible way to get further away from Las Vegas. The only hotel there was not the MGM Grand but rather a clean, utilitarian Super 8 next to a bunch of farm implements. There was no hotel bar (not the worst thing). I was able to spend some valuable time with a close friend and one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.

From there, Minneapolis. From my downtown hotel room, I could see the lights and some of the fans at the new Target Field baseball stadium that someone shoehorned into that downtown. The stadium is beautiful, amazing and doesn’t have a bad seat. It was fun even seeing it from my hotel window, stretched out on a big reclining chair.

From there, New York City. My flight to the Big Apple was one of those nasty too-early-in-the-morning flights — so I just returned my rental car at midnight and spent the night in the airport. That was all fine and good until I boarded my flight — an airplane apparently built for infants because that was the approximate legroom provided in my “preferred seat.” When the woman in front reclined her seat (c’mon, no one needs to recline their seat on a flight of less than three hours), the top of her head was not only within four inches of my face, the seat rammed my knee so hard that I walked with a limp for the next 48 hours. So the night in the airport and the flight did little to cheer my spirits when I landed at JFK and had to make my way across the city to my hotel.

But once I emerged from the world’s most extensive subway system, suddenly there it was: the real New York City skyline, or at least as much as I could take in from my vantage point in Midtown.

Yeah, I know, a lot of people love to hate New York but I’ve been to several of the world’s great cities and none are greater than New York City. It is a wholly American city, with more U.S. flags flying than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. It is a place of which we should be proud; it is the embodiment of American wealth and power. And people are so incredibly kind, it almost causes pause. With warm weather still in place, the city was choked with tourists. Despite the fact that they would frequently stop in the middle of crowded sidewalks to take photos of the spouses and children in front of this landmark or that, it was an extremely rare sight to see a native walk in front of the camera, instead they would pause and wait, or walk around to avoid ruining the shot.

After a few days there, all felt right with the world again. Before long, it was time to fly the last leg, which was also an apt description for what I was on. On my JetBlue flight to Tampa, I had more legroom than the previous five flights combined. And then I landed in the greatest airport in the world …Tampa International. Sure, Tampa has some problems but that airport isn’t one of them. Walking down that jetway is the best way to go home. It truly is a fantastic airport.

Yet as much as I like it, if any of y’all need help in, say … Los Angeles or Indianapolis — I’d prefer to stay off the jetway for a while. Shoot me an email, and I’ll be happy to help.

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