Project for a New American Year

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I didn’t really plan it that way, but January just wound up being a busy and altogether pretty great way to kick off a new year. After a couple weeks of work, dad and I flew down to Las Vegas for CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Only E3 ranks higher in the list of tradeshows I’ve ever wanted to visit, so this was very exciting. Not only do we get to go to Vegas, but I’m going to be seeing all sorts of techy gadgets before most of them are anywhere near a store. That said, we spent only an afternoon at the show, but we saw some incredible, paper-thin TVs (some of which are already out, though not in the sizes they were showing), Intel’s new processor at work on a Minority Report-esque display, all sorts of new set-top boxes integrating computer-based media collections and DVRs, and so much stuff that it’s hard to even recall it all. I specifically remember being impressed with a TV that could make any 2D video 3D just by crunching some serious numbers. Convincingly 3D. It was pretty incredible. And of course I remember Panasonic had their ‘green’ room with all the things they were producing to help reduce energy and water consumption. One of the things the spokesman was talking about were compact-fluorescent bulbs, and my dad stumped him when he asked whether exchanging CO2 for mercury (which is in every CFL bulb) was such a great idea. I tend to think it’s not. But listen to me geeking out on you; at least now that’s out of the way.

When we go to Vegas, we usually stay at the MGM, which I like just fine, though I’ve never really stayed anywhere else. One bonus I was to discover this time, though I don’t especially like slots, was the Majestic Lions. I just had great luck with them. I never kept track of the first couple days, but I can only remember one time where I cashed out less than I put in. On our last full day in Vegas, while my dad was taking a nap, I put in $100 to one of the lions. It was teasing me and teasing me, the lions would always be off the line just a hair. One time I would’ve won had I bet the max, which is a very frustrating feeling. Still, I kept betting though my supply was dwindling. 12 dollars left out of that hundred and I spun. Sure enough, it was teasing me – three lions (which, if they were all on the line, would mean I’d win the progressive jackpot of $1115 or so) but one was just off the line for the umpteenth time. Oh well, this was one time I wouldn’t be winning. I went to spin again. Nothing happened. The reels didn’t spin. Then I noticed that my machine was making a lot of noise. I looked up to see my light flashing. Huh? A closer look at the screen and I realized it wasn’t teasing me at all. I had just won the jackpot!

Yeah, that was pretty exciting. And then very awkward as I sat and sat waiting for somebody to come and pay me, all the while the lights and sounds are going and I’m sitting in the machine with nothing to do but grin stupidly. Somewhere between five and ten minutes later, the attendant came and paid me that wonderful sum of money and confided to me that the machines usually pay out right after they’ve paid. I thanked her but thought to myself that she was a good casino employee. Yes, sir, please throw all the money you’ve just won back into the casino. I had twelve credits left, so I figured I’d play those out and go tell my dad the good news. Two more spins and bam, I won two hundred dollars. I spent the last six credits and cashed out my nice even $200, then woke my dad up and took him for sushi. You wouldn’t think it, but I had better sushi that day in the desert than I’ve ever had anywhere. After sushi we wandered around a bit then sat at the blackjack table. When this game goes well, it’s a great time. You sit back, win some hands, lose a couple, chat and joke with the others at the table and the dealer while the waitress brings drinks. We played until the wee hours of the morning and both walked away well ahead which only makes it that much better.

Finally, we took a drive down to Lake Havasu in Arizona to look at real estate in the housing bust’s ground zero. The town itself was not particularly nice and there were definitely plenty of empty or half-started lots, but the best part was the drive through the countryside of Nevada and Arizona. Early in the morning following our return home to Saskatoon, I was on another flight to Chicago. Littelfuse, the company that had bought my old employer, Startco, was looking for someone to work in their Chicago office that knew the Startco products pretty well and could start working on sales in the US. It was an exciting prospect, and as an added bonus they flew me down to Chicago to have a look around the city and at apartments for the weekend before a round-robin of interviews all day Monday. So I landed in Chicago, grabbed my rental car, and let my iPhone point the way to the hotel which was located nice and close to Littelfuse HQ. After settling into the hotel it was already mid-afternoon. I hopped on the train into town, which took about an hour. The train took an hour. I realized right away that I would have to live somewhere that was close enough to work to keep the commute reasonable (half an hour or less) and somewhere close enough to the city that I wouldn’t make excuses not to go in. And of course, it would have to be somewhere along the transit lines so I could easily get to work or town without driving and parking. But I digress. I went for dinner in Greektown, which was a bit disappointing in the food and size departments and walked around a little before heading home. It sure was cold.

The next day I took the opportunity to really explore Chicago. I took the train downtown and strolled all over the place, recognizing landmarks like the House of Blues, the Trump tower, the round building from that Wilco album, and all the more obvious ones like the John Hancock building and the Sears tower. I know it was Saturday but until I found my way to the Miracle Mile I felt like I was in a ghost town. In fact, I felt like I was in the movie Hancock. Just empty, deserted, and windy. It was unaccountably eerie. On the mile, I did what any good Chicagoer would do. I shopped and walked, made my way from end to end, and then came back to go visit downtown proper once more and of course the Sears Tower. Nicole has a friend that manages a club in Chicago and I was supposed to meet him later in the evening but Google Maps steered me wrong, to a street of the same name in a suburb near the hotel. Not thinking that suburbs would have streets of the same names, in fact not thinking at all, I grabbed the train back to the airport (from which I had to get an airport shuttle to and from the hotel), realizing too late that I had googled poorly. So I stayed in again which wasn’t so bad a thing after such a long day and in fact a long week. Sunday, I took the car for a spin to Littelfuse (I had to make sure I knew the way, of course). On the way, I very accidentally passed the first ever McDonalds chain and ate at their not-so-successful competitor, which was actually a fun and very Americana moment. I drove into the city which was pretty smooth on a Sunday and toured the two-level downtown streets before making a stop at the Adler planetarium which was pretty cool and had the added bonus of offering a nice panorama of downtown Chicago. Then, the man who would essentially be my boss took me out to a nice dinner at a French restaurant.

Finally, Monday was dedicated to interview upon interview. Certainly you can’t blame them – they had spent plenty to fly me out and meet me, they should definitely get their money’s worth out of me. I think I had eight interviews that day, from people I’d met plenty of times in Saskatoon to people I’d never met including their CEO. While up until this point I was feeling like Chicago might be a bad idea, I was really struck by how much I really felt like I clicked with the people interviewing me. They were all good people which was very much how I’d felt at Startco. And, if I may say so, I think the interviews went pretty well although I felt like I’d perhaps talked the CEO’s ear off in my excitement. Some eight interviews and a couple aptitude and personality tests later, I was done with one evening left in Chicago. So I drove straight into town to see some improve and grab a bite. The drive in was actually not TOO terrible even in rush hour. An hour and a half if I recall, though if you were doing that daily you’d go nuts. I got my tickets for Second City and was treated to an exceptional performance of old and current cast because, luckily for me, I managed to be there for one of the cast’s going away show. And then before I knew it, I was on a long flight home. That wasn’t the last trip in January, but it was the last one to the States. One week later, I was off to visit my sister in Puerto Vallarta. But that is a story for another time...

Las Vegas Photos
Chicago Photos

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