Newport, RI & Boston

by Bob Sparrow

Marble House interior

Newport, RI – Our first port of call is Newport, and I have to say, I really didn’t know what to expect; I knew about Newport Beach, but not much about Newport, Rhode Island.  To fully understand the part of Newport we will be visiting, it helps to have an understanding of ‘The Gilded Age’ (roughly 1870s-1890s) when it was fashionable for high society of New York to get out of the hot city and show off their wealth by building an ostentatious  ‘second home’ in Newport, these second homes were called ‘cottages’ because their homes in New York took up a full city block!!  So, we opted for the ‘Newport Mansions Tour’ – it was fantastic!!!  We first visited the ‘Marble House’, built by William and Alva Vanderbilt in 1892.  It was called the Marble House because it contained 500,000 cubic feet of marble.  It had 50 rooms in the 125,000 square feet of the home and cost $11 million to build – that’s about $350 million in today’s dollars!  Its four acres sit right on the Newport coast and was used only about four to six weeks during the entire year!  Our tour took us through the entire house and grounds – we thought we had seen spectacular homes on the ‘left coast’ Newport, by comparison, those ARE cottages!  But, after visiting the Marble House, apparently I hadn’t seen anything yet!

The Breakers

Our next stop was ‘The Breakers’, so called because it sat right on the coast where the waves were constantly breaking.  It was just a short drive up the coast from the Marble House.  This home was built by William’s brother, Cornelius Vanderbilt, partly in an effort to ‘out do’ his brother’s place, which it does!  The Breakers has 136,000 gross square feet, where the five-story, 70-room house sits on 14 acres right on the cliffs overlooking Easton Bay.  The dining room alone is 2,400 square feet!    It was the largest, most opulent house in the Newport area upon its completion in 1895.  Truely mind-boggling to tour!

On the way back to the ship, our bus took us through the quaint little downtown of Newport and our guide relateed lots of interesting stories about life amongst the rich and . . .richer.  This was, and still is, an incredible place.

Margaritaville in Fanieul Hall closed!!! RIP Jimmy!

Boston – Our next port was the fabulous city of Boston, where we got off the ship and onto a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, where our bus driver could have just come off the set of Saturday Night Live – she was hilarious!  Our plan was to hit a few spots on the bus route, get off and walk part of the Freedom Trail, hop back on and see what else interested us.  We stayed on the bus longer than usual so we could hear more of the bus driver’s routine.  Apparently, everyone else had the same idea, after we made 8-10 stops and nobody got off the bus, the bus driver comes on the P.A. system and says, “Maybe you guys don’t understand the concept here, this is a hop on hop off bus, but nobody is hopping off!!!”.  Aside from the bus driver’s routine, the highlights along the way included, the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), Cheers, the famous TV show’s bar, Chinatown and lots of other attractions humorously described by our bus driver.  We got off at Boston Common and walked a bit of the Freedom Trail, discovered the Bean Town Pub, where we had to try the clam chowder (DELICIOUS!) and a Sam Adams beer (also pretty good!), then continued down to Faneuil Hall – a great indoor-outdoor marketplace.  We got back on the next bus and found that our new bus driver had a better sense of humor than our first one.  Where do they get these guys?!!  A very fun and funny journey through Bean Town.  Once back on the ship we talked to various shipmates about what they did in the city and realized we missed two interesting sites: 1) Fenway Park, home to baseball’s Boston Red Sox; it is the oldest ballpark in all of major league baseball, built in 1912.  Tours of this venerable ballpark take you into the old locker rooms, rooftop seating and up-close views of the ‘Green Monster’ (the left field wall).  2) The other tour we missed, but should have done, was a reenactment of the Boston Tea party where visitors got to witness a fully-dressed reenactment of the tea party and even got to throw a box of tea overboard.  At dinner back on the boat we shared a table with two couples from England who had attended the Tea Party reinactment and said they enjoyed it, but of course, were looking at it from an entirely different perspective than we Americans do.  Interesting!!

Lobster Update: Too busy to have lobster for lunch, and our dinner is back on the boat, but we’ve still got three more ‘Lobster Stops’ ahead of us.  Besides, isn’t Maine the state really known for Maine lobster?

Next post, Monday: The Emerald Princess & Bar Harbor, Maine


Start Spreadin’ the News

by Bob Sparrow

We’re leavin’ today . . .

Times Square

Actually, we left a week ago last Thursday for New York, New York, on our way to jump on a cruise that goes to . . . well, you’ll see.  But first, about our time in the Big Apple.  I have to be honest and say I really wasn’t looking forward to our day and a half there before our departure. I had been there several times on business several years ago and a couple of times to see my daughter, Stephanie, when she was enrolled in the American Musical & Dramatic Academy (AMDA), aspiring to get on Broadway.  The city is big, impersonal, messy, crowded, crime-infested – generally, not where I wanted to spend any time.  I was soooo wrong!  This city is electric and we found the people to be most friendly!!  A cab ride, with a friendly cab driver, brought us from JFK to our hotel, the Edition, which was ideally situated on Times Square – we were in the heart of the ‘city that never sleeps’.  After getting to our room on the 27th floor, which gave us an excellent view of what was going on below in Times Square, we cleaned up and headed out to nice Italian dinner at La Masseria – walking distance.  Great dinner, friendly server!

911 Memorial

Friday morning found us on a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus that started in Times Square and had stops at the Empire State Building, the Flatiron District, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy, Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, Battery Park, and the World Trade Center.  We sat in the seats on the exposed upper deck of the bus, and while we did get a little rain, it offered us a great view of all the aforementioned sights.  We ended up spending 3-4 hours at the 911 Memorial Museum – what an emotional experience!

Us, listening to ‘Sinatra’

After hopping off the bus for good in Times Square, on our way back to our room to freshen up before finding a place for dinner, we stopped at one of my favorite places in any city, an Irish Pub.  This one was named the Playwright Tavern on 49th Street.  Our thought was to have a quick beer before we go back to the room, clean up and find a place for dinner.  With an engaging bar tender, who was actually from Ireland, one Guinness led to another and before we knew it, we decided to stay there for dinner.  “Fish & Chips please!”  After dinner, I asked the bartender where the stairs at the end of the room led; he said it was more of the restaurant and another bar.  It’s an Irish Pub, of course there’s another bar!  So, I went upstairs and found a quaint restaurant setting and the other bar, where there was a guy singing Sinatra tunes, and he was really good.  I ask a server, who is standing next to me, if this was a patron who just got up to sing or the regular entertainment.  It was the regular entertainment, but he was anything but regular, he had an amazing voice.  I went down and got Linda and we spent the next couple of hours listening to this guy, his name is Kurt Decker, belt out Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel tunes.  He ended up not only singing to us, but talking to us during his break and explaining his love of Sinatra music.  An incredible evening!!!

The next morning, we Ubered over to Brooklyn and got on the Emerald Princess.  I have to say that Princess is not our favorite cruise line, the ships are nice, but the food is average at best – says the guy who dined on Guinness and fish and chips the night before!

On Saturday we board and just before sunset we set sail, or whatever it is those big ships do when they leave port, and got a stunning view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline as we head out on our adventure.

Leaving Manhattan (that’s not our boat!)

An item from ‘It’s a Small World’  Once out to sea, the casino opens and while Linda is playing the slots, I sat down at the bar to watch the Utah-USC game.  I notice the guy next to me is also rooting for Utah and I ask him if he’s from there.  He said he was not from there but went to school and played football at a small school there that I’d probably never heard of, Westminster College. I told him I that I also went there and played football.  We had a great time talking about familiar people and places and watching Utah kick a final-play field goal to beat USC.

As we head North, I’m really looking forward to having a nice lobster dinner!!!

On Thursday: Newport, RI and Boston


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Halloween and Christmas cohabitating

Halloween is quickly approaching and at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old person, it seems like the holiday has gotten much too complicated – and expensive.  The National Retailers Association estimates that more than $10.3 billion will be spent on the Halloween season this year.  Yes, somewhere along the line Halloween has gone from a holiday to a season. At my local Target the part of the store that hasn’t already been turned into a Christmas wonderland is dedicated to over-the-top Halloween displays.  There are strings of lights to put on the house, special Halloween gift bags and toys, a Pin the Tail on the Cat game and aisle after aisle of decorations and party favors.

My best friend Leslie and I dressed as ?????

Halloween costumes used to be cobbled together from things found around the house – a sheet with holes in it for a ghost or towels pinned around the neck for a Superman cape.  If you were really lucky you had a grandparent with a glass eye so you could borrow their patch for a pirate costume.  The occasional kid bought a plastic mask at the five and dime but that was thought to be phony and close to cheating.  The fun of Halloween was using our imagination to come up with the cleverest costume.  We proudly marched in our school parades and vied for the prize for best costume.   Yep – they gave out one award.  We didn’t get a ribbon just for participating. On Halloween night, we were let loose in the neighborhood with a battle plan that would have made an Army general proud.  We plotted out which houses to avoid – those that gave out hard candy or fruit – and which to hit first.  The lady around the corner was always our starting point because she made delicious popcorn balls.  Then we progressed to the homes that dished out divinity, brownies, and fudge.  We never gave a thought about eating food that had been prepared by someone we didn’t know.  The majority of treats we collected on Halloween were home-made, lovingly wrapped up in waxed paper or aluminum foil, and they were scrumptious.

Adults are increasingly participating in this holiday that was once the domain of children.  I suppose we should have seen this coming.  People are in need of an escape these days.  What better way to suppress your anger about politics, the economy, and the state of the world than to dress up like Barbie or Spiderman?  Still, it seems like this should be a holiday for children, not another excuse for mom and dad to dress up and act goofy.

But the real change over the decades is that many kids no longer trick-or-treat.  Now the trend is to have home parties.    I know that there are risks to roaming the neighborhood and that the world is full of scary people, but I still find it sad that kids miss the fun of going house to house.  Because no matter how great the favors are from Target, it can’t be as much fun as plotting routes, knocking on strangers’ doors and being rewarded with popcorn balls.

Nothing better than sneaking a Snickers bar

I live in a community that is mostly comprised of older people and I miss seeing young kids come around each year.  I miss asking them about their costumes and providing the appropriate response when they twirl in their princess dress or growl in their werewolf mask.  I still buy Snickers bars each Halloween in hopes that someone will come by, but inevitably they end up in my freezer.  I’ve discovered that frozen Snickers bars are really good with coffee. Consequently, my post-Halloween ritual is to spend extra time at the gym.  Halloween – and my metabolism – are both different these days.

You Probably Missed Columbus Day

by Bob Sparrow

“Please get out of the way, I’m discovering America”

As a kid, I remember celebrating Columbus Day because, we were told that Christopher Columbus, not his real name, came from Italy and discovered America.  We later learned that:

  • Although he was Italian, he came from Spain at the behest of, and funding from, Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella,
  • He didn’t even land in the U.S., on that first voyage, he only got as far as Guanahani, an island in the Bahamas between Haiti and Dominican Republic. Incidentally, he did make a subsequent voyage to the New World but still didn’t get to the U.S. as he ended up further south, in Central and South America.
  • He didn’t discover anything, except the millions of people who already lived in what was then called the ‘New World’ when he got there. He did make four trips to the ‘New World’ over the next 10 years, trying to find a route from Europe to Asia.  When he landed in the New World, he thought he was in India, and thus called the natives ‘Indians’ – an inaccurate name that stuck.

For Californians, Columbus Day has come and gone . . . forever!  As California and Delaware are the only two states in the nation that have dispensed with the Columbus Day holiday entirely.  So, if you were confused about what to celebrate on the 2nd Monday of this month, perhaps the following will help.

The first celebration of Columbus Day came in 1792, a mere 300 years after the original voyage by Christopher and his gang.  But the day wasn’t made a legal holiday until 100 years after that, in 1892.

The history of why we even have a Columbus Day or why it was eliminated, is interesting when juxtaposed with its replacement in some states, Indigenous Peoples Day.  The push to honor Columbus came from a president, Benjaman Harrison, who was trying to help build the esteem of a minority people here in the U.S.  Yes, at the time, Italians were very much discriminated against here.  Monikers like Dago and Wop were used similarly to the ‘n’ word today.  So, establishing a ‘day’ to honor Columbus was as much a day to honor the minority Italians.  But today, some people, like those in charge of holidays in California and Delaware, look to Columbus as the person to blame for opening the doors for colonizers whose arrival led to the forceful taking of land and set the stage for widespread death and loss of the Indigenous ways of life.  Perhaps that’s a bit of a heavy burden to put on one man’s shoulders since Indigenous tribes spent a lot of time killing each other and taking each other’s land.  Tribes like the Comanche and Apache were among the most violent and dreaded tribes in Native America.  So, maybe neither Columbus nor the Indigenous Peoples deserve a holiday, or maybe they both do!

The U.S. is still confused over the holiday, aside from California and Delaware ignoring Columbus, Maine, New Mexico, Vermont and the District of Columbia still view the 2nd Monday in October an official holiday, but have renamed it Indigenous Peoples’ DaySixteen other states still celebrate the 2nd Monday in October as Columbus Day.  So, on yet another subject, we are a nation divided.  However, my fellow Californians may have found that, no matter what it is called, our government will still take the opportunity for a day off, as banks, post offices and all other government agencies are CLOSED.

Yes, I know that the holiday, whatever you called it, has passed this year, but now you will hopefully be prepared next year when the second Monday of October rolls around and you’ll have the appropriate decoration adorning your home.  Clearly Columbus wasn’t perfect, but neither were the indigenous people.  If foreigners or native Americans didn’t fight for land, then we’d all still be living, on top of each other, in the ‘Fertile Crescent’, and things aren’t looking so good over there right now.

 Columbus’ real name?  Cristoforo Columbo – I think he had a television series in the ‘70s.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I was listening to a late-night talk show a couple of weeks ago when the host said, “Diane Feinstein died today.  How could they tell?”  The audience, primarily composed of young people, roared with laughter.  Of course, given her recent cognitive and physical health issues, their perception of her was of an older, feeble woman.  But I remember someone quite different.  Back in 1978 I was working in the financial district of San Francisco when George Moscone and Harvey Milk were assassinated.  This was long before shootings became an everyday occurrence, so everyone in the community was shocked.  Diane Feinstein was the president of the Board of Supervisors, so she became the acting mayor that day.  She immediately took charge of the situation; she was a steady hand on the tiller, bringing calm and order to the ensuing days and weeks.

Feinstein at Stanford

Feinstein was well-suited to the task; she had plenty of experience in navigating rough waters.  She was the daughter of a prominent surgeon and she and her two sisters enjoyed the privileges of an upper-class lifestyle. But unbeknownst to anyone outside the family, her mother, Betty, suffered from an undiagnosed brain disorder and was prone to angry — even violent — outbursts. She once tried to drown one of the girls in the bathtub. Feinstein later said that she and her sisters lived on tenterhooks throughout their childhood.  Feinstein eventually graduated from Stanford with a degree in History and began work at a non-profit foundation. She also married during this time and had a daughter, but the marriage was short-lived.  In 1960 Governor Pat Brown appointed her to the California Women’s Parole Board, on which she served until 1966.

A lost bet

In 1969 she was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a position she held until her ascension to mayor that sad day in 1978. Prior to becoming mayor, her most flamboyant act was to appear at the opening of Pier 39 in a bathing suit.  As Board president she had been dismayed by the lack of progress on the project.  The developer assured her it would open on time, to which she replied, “If it opens on schedule, I’ll wear a bikini to the ribbon cutting.”  To her chagrin, the project did open on schedule, although only half of the attractions and restaurants were completed.  So, her compromise was to wear a one-piece suit to the ceremonies.


The cable car restoration

Just a few months after the Pier 39 opening the assassinations took place and Feinstein was all business. She was the first woman and the first Jewish person to hold the position.  The all-male power structure in The City didn’t know quite what to make of her, but she forged ahead.  In 1979 she won the mayoral race by a slim majority and began to systematically work on improving the quality of life in the city.  Her accomplishments were significant.  In 1979 the historic cable car system in San Francisco, so symbolic of the city, was shut down for repairs.  By 1982 the system had to stop operations entirely.  Feinstein lobbied vigorously for Federal money and raised private funds to restore the system.  She instituted the modern Fleet Week, a celebration of Navy shipbuilding and Blue Angel air shows.  She and her husband, Richard Blum, donated a herd of twelve bison to Golden Gate Park to keep the “bison tradition” alive.  By the time she ran for reelection in 1983 she garnered 80% of the vote.

After leaving the mayor’s office she ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1990, and then in 1992 became the first of two women (Barbara Boxer being the other) elected as Senator from California.  She had a long – too long – career in the Senate.  Which brings me to my point.  The younger people who laughed at the late-night host’s joke about her only think of her as old and doddering.  They would not recognize the Diane Feinstein I remember when she was vital and accomplished.  The truth is, she stayed on stage too long.  One wishes that if she lacked the ability to retire, that someone close to her would have persuaded her to do so.  The same can be said for a lot of politicians.  I wish more would take the position of Mitt Romney, who said the following when he announced that he would not run for re-election: “I spent my last 25 years in public service of one kind or another. At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid 80s. Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders.”  Romney realizes that it’s not always a good thing to leave them laughing.

A Couch Potato’s Family Weekend

by Bob Sparrow

(I feel obligated to tell you upfront that, as you’ll read in the short blog that follows, I had lots of family in for the weekend and had very little time to write anything, so if you have something better to do, I’d skip this and go do it.)

The Three 49er Amigos

This special family weekend started last Wednesday with my flight from Santa Ana to Phoenix to help my sister (you remember Suzanne!) drive to our house for a Ryder Cup / delayed family reunion since she had to miss the last one in July due to Al’s passing.  She couldn’t fly over because Dash, The Wonder Dog, is unable to fly due to his heart condition.  So, she (and Dash) picked me up at the airport and brought me to her house.  That evening we had a great dinner at her club, Desert Highlands, came back to her house and watched a great PBS special on folk music that featured the Kingston Trio, the Limelighters, the Brothers Four and several others.  It was great tv for this old folk singer!

We left early Thursday morning taking the ‘scenic’ route out of town.  The scenic route included such towns as Wickenburg, Aguila, Salome and Brenda – towns that you have to see to believe, but don’t blink or you’ll miss them – it was well worth the 15 minutes extra that it costs us in time.

Suz’s objective in coming over for this weekend, aside from spending time with family, was to be together to watch:

  • Golf’s Ryder Cup
  • The USC – Colorado football game
  • The Utah – Oregon State football game
  • The 49ers – Cardinals football game

Hard copies of all our blogs!

Our brother Jack and his wife, Sharon, arrived on Friday, and Dana, Addison and Mac came down for dinner – a great gathering, only spoiled by the Utes getting a beat down from Oregon State. Ugggg!!  The ‘goose egg’ earned by the American Ryder Cup team on Friday, also added to our . . . alcohol consumption!  That evening a great surprise was provided by Suzanne, when she gave me an early 80th birthday gift, a three-binder hard copy collection of all of our blogs since the very beginning.  The letter that she wrote to me that accompanied them was heart-felt and amazing!!!!

Saturday morning started with a USC win over Colorado in what turned out to be a pretty good game.  In true ‘couch potato’ form, we rarely got to our feet as we watch various college football games and tried to root our American golfers on, but they were doing little to retain the ‘Cup’ as they fell behind Europe 10.5 to 5.5 points with only Sunday’s matches remaining.

Sis, with a ‘shirt for all seasons’

Sunday had daughter, Stephanie, grandkids Dylan and Emma as well as son, Jeff and wife, Pam, who was carrying ‘our new granddaughter in the oven’, over to watch a Viking win, a 49er win and a Ryder Cup comeback that fell short.  But it was some great family time together.

It was an awesome family weekend and if you’re reading this on Monday morning, I’m driving Suzanne and Dash back to Scottsdale and will fly home in the afternoon.

Great family time – not so great blog!  Maybe better next time . . . maybe not!



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

For the past ten years Alan and I had an ongoing discussion about our house.  He loved it and never wanted to move.  I sought out smaller homes with less maintenance.  I told him that if he died before me, I would sell the house the very next day.  Not because I don’t love it – God knows I do – but the maintenance is a killer.  Fast forward to reality.  Shortly after Alan got sick, I decided that I don’t really want to sell the house.  We bought the lot twenty-five years ago and built our dream house. Now, it is a place of comfort for me.  But lest I give you the impression that it’s all sunshine and unicorns, I need to point out that I was right about the maintenance.  I have become the female equivalent of Tim “Tool Time” Allen.

First, two days after Alan died, the air conditioner went out.  This is not a good thing during the hottest July on record. The first technician told me that our condensation line was blocked, and the only fix was to run a new line over the roof.  Ka-ching! Luckily our regular guy was assigned a few days later to do the work and he determined the line could be blown out with nitrogen.  So… first home crisis averted.  Five days later I drove two miles to the UPS store to mail some documents and picked up a flange and bolt in my tire.  For those of you who are thinking, “Hey, cars have nothing to do with houses”, you are wrong.  Cars are house-adjacent. First of all, they are under the roof so that counts.  Second, the only time you love spending money on them is when they’re new.  After that it’s just a long string of “un-fun” money: oil changes, major tune-ups, tires. Just as with a house, once the rosy glow of the purchase is over, it’s just a lot of maintenance.  Anyway, I got the tire patched and went on my way.

I can see the pool again!

Next, a tree next to our pool obviously got ahold of some steroids because it grew exponentially over a two-week period of time. I watched our pool guy have to duck under a huge limb just to sweep the pool, not to mention the debris the tree dropped in his pristine waters.  So, I had a tree trimmer come over to cut off the offending limb.  The pool guy thanked me the next week.  So did the bank account of the tree guy.  The following Monday I watched our landscapers as they “worked” in our yard.  I’ve never paid much attention to them because Alan loved taking care of the landscaping. But on that Monday, I watched one crew member use a blower in the front yard while the second guy sat in the truck on his phone for 20 minutes.  When the first guy moved with his blower to the back yard, the second guy got out of the truck, strapped on a blower, and proceeded to re-blow what the first guy had just blown.  Clearly, something had to change, and I wasn’t hopeful that it would be their work ethic, so I fired them.  I hired a new landscaper, but that landscaper doesn’t work with the irrigation controller the old company used so I had to buy a new one.  Ka-ching!

The very definition of “unfun” money

The following week an icon on the refrigerator began to flash and I discovered it needed a new air filter.  Another day, another technician.  He also told me the panel on my oven needs to be replaced.  The price is the cost of a small car.  I’m waiting on that one.  The next day I went out to our patio and saw that the cushions on the furniture were fraying.  No use having a patio if you can’t sit out there. Not exactly home maintenance, but close enough. I called the Cushion King to get them recovered. I think he is a “king” because of his vast holdings. During this time I noticed that the air pressure in the tire that was patched was consistently lower than the other three.  After consulting my son-in-law, who knows a lot about cars, he told me I was borderline for needing new tires and for peace of mind I should just go ahead and get new shoes for the car.  Ka-ching, Ka- ching!

I’ve discovered that animal husbandry is also part of home maintenance. In the past two months I have had to dispose of two dead birds that did Kamikaze maneuvers into our windows.  I’ve picked two scorpions up off the bathroom floor. But the real challenge was, for the first time in 23 years, a Colorado River Toad appeared in our yard – in the dog run, no less.  These toads are very dangerous for animals, as their primary defense system is glands that produce a poison potent enough to kill a dog.  I wasn’t going to let that toad anywhere near Dash the Wonder Dog, so I got a shovel under him and hurled him over the wall.  I like to think of it as my version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Finally, last Wednesday I went to take a shower and there was no hot water.  The water heater is less than two years old so I couldn’t believe it had already given up the ghost.  After five minutes the water finally got hot, at which point I remembered that the water heater is connected to a circulation timer gizmo (not sure that’s exactly what it’s called).  Sure enough, a power outage the previous day had knocked out the timer and the programming.  I was not about to call another tradesman.  So I did what any reasonable person would do: I looked up how to program it on YouTube.  Admittedly it took three attempts to figure out the timer, the on/off programming, and the mode, but I did it! Plumbers must hate YouTube.

Who knows what is next?  I do know this: it will be something and that something will be expensive. In all the years we’ve lived here we’ve never had this many issues in so short a period of time. I’ve had thoughts that Alan is orchestrating this to prove to me that I can take care of this house.  I have reflected that we were both right – the house is a keeper, and the maintenance is a killer.  But I’m going to keep plugging away.  I’m not going to trade it in for a smaller version unless that house comes with a built-in handyman who can make a mean margarita.

Wanna Go to Vegas?

by Bob Sparrow

South Point Hotel & Casino

It was Monday, mid-morning, work was slow, the guests we had coming for dinner on Tuesday had canceled due to illness and I knew the answer to the question before I asked it, so I wanted to make sure I was ready when I said, “Hey, Linda, wanna go to Vegas?”  Without missing a beat, she said, “I can be ready in an hour.” She was ready in half an hour!  I had just filled the car with gas the day before, so off to Vegas we went.  Linda had called for reservations at our favorite hotel, South Point, but had rooms only for Tuesday night, but nothing for Monday.  She called around and discovered that this time of year was ‘convention time’, so not only were most of the hotels filled, but those that weren’t were charging exorbitant rates, but I assumed the ‘Ms Bargin Hunter’ would find us a place.

As we headed to Vegas, I was excited about placing a ‘real’ bet on the Monday Night game, since my brother and I place ‘pretend’ bets on both college and pro games every week – this year we’re making some ‘pretend’ money.  It was the Bills against the Jets, I liked the Bills to cover and the over, but called Jack on the way out and asked him to ‘research’ it and call me back with what he found.  We were about an hour out of Vegas when he called back, “parley Buffalo to the over”, he said; we were on the same page.  This was going to be fun!!!  We stopped at South Pointe to place the bet and watch the game, plus had a gourmet dinner of a hot dog and a beer. Jack & I were definitely on the same page, but we were in the wrong book!  Jets won and the score was under.  After the game we head further down the strip to Circus Circus, the only hotel with vacancies and a reasonable rate.

Circus Circus made my list

Recommendation #1: Don’t ever stay at Circus Circus.  It is very tired, the circus left town years ago; after waiting 40 minutes to check in, we had to walk across the street into a low-rise, low-rent building with no elevators to our second floor room.  Our room was possibly where they kept the elephants before bringing them across the street to the ‘Big Top’ during Circus Circus’ hey day.  We played some slots (they still had the kind with handles!). then retired for the evening.

On Tuesday morning we could not get out of Circus Circus fast enough, although we felt like we were abandoning the cockroaches that we had befriended there.  So far, our ‘spur of the moment’ get-away had included a hot dog dinner, a bad room at a bad hotel and $200+ in gambling debt.  A Denny’s down the street seemed like the appropriate place to stop for a gormet breakfast!

Checking into South Point felt like checking into the Ritz.  I found a craps table and had great fun and very nice winnings before we noticed a show in the South Point theater featuring The Bronx Wanderers, and thought how bad can they be after our Circus Circus experience, so we bought tickets.

Recommendation #2: If you ever get a chance to see The Bronx Wanderers – do it!!!  They are a father (Vinny Adinolfi, 65 years old) and son (Vinny Jr, 35 years old) band, both play the guitar, keyboard and are lead singers; they also have a great saxophone player and the group has awesome harmony.  They do rock and roll classics from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and do it very well – they killed Bohemian Rapsody!!  Vinny, the dad, was a successful record producer in New York and worked with, and had great stories about, most of the popular recording stars of the day.  We finished the evening with a nice dinner at the Silverado Steak House, gambled a bit more and retired to a much nicer room.

While this spur-of-the-moment escapade started out as a disaster, it ended with me thinking I just might ask Linda again, “Wanna go to Vegas?”






It’s been twenty-two years since “that day”.  September 11 is a date that remains indelibly imprinted in the minds of those of us who watched it unfold. I can still remember almost every minute of “that day” – watching the aftermath of the first plane crash and listening to the TV announcers speculate that it was an errant private plane.  Shortly, of course, we knew it wasn’t an errant plane, but a deliberate attack.  It is still difficult to think about the people who perished that day – people who left home for work on a bright, blue-sky Tuesday morning and never returned.  The very notion of that was – is – frightening.  I don’t think we can collectively sleep quite as soundly ever again.  We learned on “that day” that there are people in the world who wish us harm.  My brothers and I grew up benefiting from the goodwill America garnered from the Second World War.  The notion of being hated was unthinkable.  But September 11 showed us that we can no longer assume that we are perceived as the “world’s good guys”. Now we live in the shadow of “that day” and the impact it has on us continues, especially when we travel.  Before September 11 we could book a flight at the last minute, run through the airport to our gate, and hope the door didn’t hit us on the rear as we boarded our flight.  Now we have to get to the airport hours early, remove our shoes as we enter a security check, and limit the amount of shampoo we carry.

Socially, it brought on a lot of change too. In fact, I’m not sure we yet fully understand the toll that it took on us. Surely our national mindset was altered after watching all of the carnage and grief of “that day”. In the immediate aftermath of September 11 we managed to put our differences aside, but that fraternity has since dissipated.  Contentious elections, warring political extremes and social media have altered how we behave.  The COVID-19 pandemic placed even more strain on our psyche, and it shows no sign of abating.  Just this morning I read about people arguing over vaccines and mask mandates at a local forum.

As someone who recently experienced loss, I have a new appreciation for all of the September 11 families, who, without warning, lost a loved one on “that day”.  None of us can truly understand the void they were left with when their loved one perished so suddenly and in such a violent manner.  But I do know this: we all suffer some residual grief from those attacks.  The losses and changes from the pandemic have only added to it.  So many people now are short-tempered and it’s showing up in our everyday encounters.  Last week the local news reported that 81% of Arizonans have been the recipient of road rage.  That is a huge number, but based on my personal observation I suspect it is correct.

Lifting a middle finger on our roadways, or getting angry at a store clerk, or making demeaning comments on social media is not a sustainable construct for our society. So, what do we do?  I don’t think we throw up our hands and say it’s too large of a problem to solve.  My suggestion is we each try to make a small dent in the problem. If we acknowledge that we all have all experienced trauma since “that day”, then we should treat everyone we meet as we treat someone in grief: with kindness. 

Today the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is airing a documentary featuring first-person accounts of the attacks and their aftermath.  One of the survivors said in her interview, “It’s important that we remember the kindness, and that we take care of ourselves and other people, as we did that day.”

Kindness.  What a wonderful legacy of “that day”.

Hero . . . Gone

by Bob Sparrow

Jimmy Buffett

I originally had a rather banal blog on some history and suggestions around Labor Day, ready to be posted Monday, when, on Saturday morning, I got a text from my three kids and a call from several friends, wishing me condolences for the passing of Jimmy Buffett.  What?!!  I’m shocked!!!  He died from lymphoma at the age of 76.    My love and history of all things Margaritaville are well known.

I was introduced to Jimmy in the early 80s by my dearly departed best friend, Navy pilot, Don Klapperich.  After he retired from the Navy, he went to work in Saudi Arabia, teaching the Saudi Air Force how to be fighter pilots.  Prior to cell phones and even the internet, the way we communicated with each other over such a distance was through cassette tapes that we would mail to one another (Yes, cassette tape were quite the rage).  I was, of course, familiar with some of Jimmy’s earlier popular songs, Come Monday, Cheeseburger in Paradise and Margaritaville as well as his hit in 1973 that couldn’t be played on the radio at the time, Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw, but Don had sent me a cassette with a song called, Somewhere Over China.  It’s not a particularly great song and not a hit for Jimmy, but for some reason the lyrics resonated with me.  Don, had sent me other Buffett songs, but I really didn’t pay much attention until after this song, so I went back and listened more carefully to the lyrics of Jimmy’s songs.  They were funny and philosophical and while I was never a ‘beach bum’, they touched my ‘wanderlust’ soul.  I then didn’t want to wait for Don to send me more Buffett songs from Saudi Arabia, so I started buying all of Buffett’s CDs that I could get my hands on – new and old.


I had become a ‘Parrothead’, and so got tickets for the next Jimmy Buffett concert when he came to Orange County, for his concert at a large, outdoor venue, Irvine Meadows.  I forget who it was that told me that to get the full experience of a Jimmy Buffett concert, get to the concert parking lot early . ..  real early.  I did.  Holy Parrothead!!  Four hours before the concert, the parking lot was full of people dressed in all kinds of beach, parrot and pirate gear along with flat bed trucks with grass shacks and sand on the back, serving up bottomless margaritas.  I’d never seen so many men with cocoanut bras in my life!!!  It was truly the best and biggest concert party I had ever attended.  The concert was fun-filled with lots of audience participation as everyone was feeling no pain after a four-hour warm-up in the parking lot.  I saw Jimmy several other times, back in Irvine Meadows, when I took the kids when they were old enough to appreciate the parking lot party, in Las Vegas and even in Michigan where I encouraged my fellow workers there to become Parrotheads.

My Margaritaville flag at half-staff

Aside from writing most of his hit songs, Jimmy performed a lot of duets with many great country stars like Zak Brown, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, George Strait, Clint Black, as well as his well-known hit with Alan Jackson, It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.  But Jimmy was far from a ‘one trick pony’, he diversified and open his first Margaritaville restaurant and bar in Key West, Florida, which I visited years ago.  There are now 23 Margaritaville Hotels, restaurants and casinos with locations in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean.  He also developed a Margaritaville tequila as well as my favorite beer, Landshark; there is a Broadway play ‘Escape to Margaritaville’; he had his own recond company and he was a best-selling author.  His networth was north of one billion dollars.

A Pirate Looks at Forty is another iconic Buffett song, as this pirate looks back on 40 years of pure joyful entertainment that Jimmy provided me.  My flag with ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’ banner flies at half-staff this week. .  Rest in Peace Jimmy, you created a better world.  Fins up!