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Winning and Honesty in Las Vegas

When Reuben told me about the text message he’d received, I didn’t want to play along.

It was from our friend John, who’d heard we were in Las Vegas and asked Reuben to put $20 down on black 36. Cheapskate that I am, I figured it was $20 we’d be throwing away, and then we’d probably opt to avoid the awkwardness of asking our friend for a reimbursement.

But then we had a good laugh. Having never played roulette before, Reuben stopped by a table to see how it would work, and discovered that #36 was actually red. So he texted John back with the report. John was not deterred.

Then, we figured, what the hell.

That night we walked down the Strip to check out the new Cosmopolitan hotel and casino and CityCenter, which had opened since the last time we visited Las Vegas. And, while it’s not at all relevant to the story at hand, I will say that I was absolutely awe-struck by the amazing chandeliers that graced the interior of the Cosmopolitan.

Continuing on, we were welcomed into the Aria by a statue of Buddha. I think we were supposed to rub his belly for luck. Not believing in such superstitions, I opted to pose with my bronzed twin instead.

And a strange twist to our luck was about to occur.

As we made our way through the casino, I spotted an empty roulette table and recalled our task. “Should we get this over with?” I asked Reuben. “Sure!” he agreed. So, very skeptically, we handed over a 20 and watched as the chips were placed on red 36 and the little white ball raced around the wheel.

It was beginning to slow down by the time I spotted the 36, and I still believed there was no way it would hit. But, just as that thought passed through my mind, another replaced it — maybe it would be a winner! And the ball bounced, and it bounced again — all around the 36. I threw my head back, “OH!” I thought, “we were so close!” But it wasn’t over yet. And when the ball finally settled on a spot, it chose the same number that John had chosen — red 36.

Now, as I already mentioned, we’d never played roulette before and I didn’t know the rules. I thought we’d doubled John’s money. But no — the dealer handed us chips worth SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS.

What?!?!?!?! I was astounded. Even the dealer couldn’t believe our luck, and insisted that our baby be named Roulette. “Roulette Schug.” Hmmm… maybe not such a good name for a boy.

Once the initial excitement subsided, a moral dilemma began to creep upon me. Did we have to tell John exactly how much he’d won? Did we have to tell him he’d won at all? It was prompted by the tiniest seed of jealousy. Why hadn’t we thought to add any money to the bet? Shouldn’t we get part of the winnings? After all, none of it could have happened without us.

But, of course, that wasn’t true. Without John’s prompting, we never would have put money down on red 36. And I never would have had a battle raging inside me — happiness for the sudden prosperity of dear friends versus a subtly boiling jealousy that I didn’t have the same amount of luck with my own bets.

In the end, honesty had to win out. There was really no question. At least not for us.

Reuben called John with the news, and he was just as shocked as we were. After all, there was no significance to the number 36 — he’d just had a random idea. A very lucky random idea.

For the rest of our trip, Reuben guarded John’s $700 in his wallet. And even though we didn’t return home from Vegas any richer in our own bank accounts, at least we know we didn’t lose our honesty.



New Orleans Double Vision: Part 3 — Uncle Lionel

On the day that I sat alone, eating my muffaletta, a band was playing in the open-air restaurant. I enjoyed the background music as I watched people on the street in front of me, but I didn’t really gaze at the band much until he appeared.

Uncle Lionel.

I didn’t realize his fame and legend at the time. All I knew was that out of nowhere a skinny old man appeared, dressed rather spiffy in his cream suit and wide-brimmed hat. He was holding a cane, which also doubled as trombone — the sound coming from his own vocal chords as he slid the “instrument” back and forth in front of his mouth. He sang and entertained, looking as comfortable on that stage as anyone I’d seen, all the while appearing as if a strong wind could blow him over.

That was sweet, I thought.

Then came open mic night at La Maison. Musicians had been rotating on and off the stage all evening, taking turns leading the make-shift band, waiting for their opportunity to find a space on the crowded platform. As the emcee announced a new addition to the medley, he suddenly stopped mid-sentence. “Sorry folks, but there’s a change of plans. A legend just walked in the door.” And up came Uncle Lionel, wearing the same dapper dress including the dark shades.

There was an air of awe and respect among the other musicians, while Uncle Lionel sang and commanded the stage as if it were his own home. Which it practically was. We later learned he’s been performing in New Orleans since World War 2. I was glad that Reuben had a chance to see the man I’d told him about, and I was excited to learn that I’d been in the presence of an icon.

But my encounters with Uncle Lionel didn’t stop at two. On our last full day in the city, I was walking through a courtyard near the French Market looking for a place to sit and enjoy my sweet tea. Just before I passed by two old men sitting on a park bench, one of them called out asking what I was drinking. “Sweet tea,” I replied. It was then that I noticed Uncle Lionel was old man #2, just sitting enjoying the air, unmistakably recognizable. “What’s that?” his friend asked me again. “Sweet tea,” I repeated with a smile. “Pee pee?” he retorted, and I wasn’t sure if he was mocking or teasing me. But I didn’t care. I may be a tourist, but I know Uncle Lionel when I see him.

New Orleans Double Vision: Part 1

When we told people that we were taking a vacation to New Orleans, the reaction was always the same — “Oh, you’ll love it, the food is incredible!” Now, I like a tasty meal as much as the next person, but I realized something definitively on this trip: I am not a gourmand. Or at least, I prefer to spend my money elsewhere.

We did have some yummy jambalaya, delicious fish, and exceptional crawfish étoufée. I learned what a muffaletta is. It’s this ———–>, and it was okay.

And I must admit, I really enjoyed the beignets at Café du Monde. Although, I didn’t like the coffee with chicory as much as I’d hoped I would.

For Reuben and me, what we enjoyed most about New Orleans was the music.

When we lived in Seattle, one of our favorite things was to find venues with free (or cheap) live music, and we saw some great and diverse acts. In Portland, it’s a little more difficult, both because of the size of the city and relative size of the music scene, but also because now we have a child.

On vacation alone, in the birthplace of jazz, where nearly every venue has live music spilling out into the streets, we were giddy.

Our very first exposure to the New Orleans music scene happened at Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub. To be perfectly honest, there were only two reasons why we picked this place first:

1) It was the first non-dance club we passed on Bourbon Street after leaving our Bed-and-Breakfast.

2) There was a sign outside advertising $4 Hurricanes.

We hadn’t learned yet that you have to order the cheap to-go drinks from the window, so instead we went inside. Immediately, I was adorned with a string of beads, and we were escorted to the back of the dimly-lit pub, to a bench just one row back from the band. I was enthralled. There were antique decorations draped along almost every surface of the ancient brick walls. The rhythm of the music just a few feet away made it impossible for me to sit still, so I soaked it all in as I slapped my leg to the beat. In my other hand was a Hurricane, this one of the $11 variety. We hadn’t realized the drink would be so much more expensive inside the bar until after we ordered it, but this was one time when I felt that the experience was worth every penny.

Our stop at Fritzel’s began a theme of the vacation, for me anyway. I found that whenever I was really intrigued by a musician, that I would up seeing him again elsewhere, and completely unexpectedly.

First it was the trumpet player who was right in front of me as I drank my Hurricane. Maybe it was because he was among the first musicians I heard play in New Orleans. Maybe it was because he was so close that I couldn’t avoid watching him. Maybe it was because he was bald. Either way, I enjoyed listening to his trumpet blast throughout the small room.

Two days later at a Rotary dinner at Pat O’Brien’s (where, as an aside, a friendly waiter brought me the most amazing drink of fresh-squeezed lemonade, orange vodka, and triple sec) I saw him among the quintet serenading our event. It was almost uncomfortably crowded in the open courtyard, but I spotted him immediately.

The music that night wasn’t exactly my taste. At least, it didn’t make me want to dance in the same way I’d wanted to at Fritzel’s.  Still, I found it intriguing that in a city with as many talented musicians as New Orleans claims, that I would happen to see a repeat performance from one of them (as a tourist, no less) in a matter of days.

But that was just the beginning of my double vision experiences in NOLA.

Out of our Comfort Zones in New Orleans

In New Orleans, Reuben and I both tried things we’d never done before.

For him, it was holding an alligator.

The vicious creature was actually pretty soft.

For me, it was playing in a band.

Let me assure you, I have mad washboard skillz. That is, once I figured out how to hold the spoons the right way — hold the round part, not the handle!

Easter in Two Stadiums

Parties. Presents. Decorations. Months of anticipation.

Christmas gets so much hype. But for a Christian, Easter is the really big deal. Jesus was born, and Jesus died, but without his resurrection, we would have nothing to celebrate. And nothing to place our hope in.

A couple of months before Easter, our pastor delivered a sermon about how Christians should throw big parties. Basically, heaven’s gonna be a big party, we throw parties for other things here on Earth, so we should throw big parties for Jesus as foreshadowing to Heaven. Invite lots of people, have lots of good food and drink, and just celebrate. No need to preach, just be generous and party to the glory of God.

And then he announced that for Easter, Mars Hill would be throwing the biggest party a church in the Northwest has ever thrown: They were renting Qwest Field for Easter Sunday. Having been members of Mars Hill Church since 2005, and maintaining that membership during the years that we’ve searched fruitlessly for a new home church in Portland, and now eagerly anticipating the launch of a Mars Hill Church Portland campus, I knew we had to be a part of the celebration.

And I’m so thankful that we were. I could feel the energy building as we navigated the traffic surrounding the stadium, and then joined crowds of people climbing up the ramps to open seats in the third level (we were a bit later than planned, so the close-in seats were all filled, nonetheless we were happy to be under cover from the drizzle!). Once we found our seats and gazed down at the massive stage and row of baptism tanks, I felt like crying. It was overwhelming to worship God along with 17,500 others, and the scale and power of the service was truly moving. Pastor Mark belted out the message as if he’d forgotten he had a microphone. And there was no way to misinterpret the message: Jesus is God, and the only way to Heaven is to believe in him. At the end we sang as we watched hundreds of believers be baptized — some who’d been planning to for weeks, others who spontaneously borrowed sweats provided by the church and got dunked in the moment.

After the service we walked just next door to stadium #2, Safeco Field, stopping for a crowded yet delightful lunch at Pyramid Brewery with our church family.

The Mariners had offered special ticket pricing to those attending the Mars Hill Church service, and even invited Pastor Mark to throw the first pitch of the game. We used to enjoy attending baseball games when we lived in the Seattle area, so we joined in on the deal.

It was Eliana’s first major league sports event, and while she didn’t care so much about the baseball game, she thoroughly enjoyed the blue cotton candy. She also enjoyed climbing around the stadium chairs. That is, until I reached the limit of my anxiety about her falling down the cement steps and placed her in timeout at the very tip-top of the stadium. She loves timeout, so it didn’t ruin her Easter. In fact, we all enjoyed our Easter quite a lot.

Next year we plan to repeat the party theme, only this time we’ll be hosting our own party in Portland. And you’re all invited.

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