Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas! and we count our blessings

Driving to the airport in Seattle. We only realized later that those are cars covered in snow.

De-icing one plane while another takes off behind.

Not sure I'd want this job but I'm glad someone is doing it.

We hope each and every one of you have had a wonderful day filled with love and laughter and good will. For those far from home, we hope that you were able to have contact with your loved ones and share the holiday spirit with them, even if long distance.

We've had a busy couple of days and I can't believe that Christmas has flown right past me and is about done. We've had a gastronomical Rich-directed tour of famous chefs' restaurants and have remained in various stages of 'stuffed beyond belief.' From sandwiches at Tom Colicchio's 'wichcraft to dinner at Michael Mina's Nob Hill Tavern to lunch at Mario Batalli's tavern to desserts from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery to dinner tonight at Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier, we have been delighted and amazed. It's true--these guys (and their cooks, since we doubt that any of them were actually on site) are talented individuals.

Today, we caught a glimpse of another side of Las Vegas. This morning we took a cab to The Shade Tree homeless shelter where we joined a group of volunteers in serving a Christmas lunch to the residents. I was impressed with the shelter and all it provides to the community but saddened to think that there are so many people who don't have a place to live. At this time, there are 270 women and children at The Shade Tree. It contains an emergency shelter on the first floor, a 60-90 day residence on the second floor, and a transitional living program on the third floor, where women and their children may stay for up to two years while they get back on their feet, get education and training and apply for jobs. We were glad to help in some small way by serving meals, but it definitely felt like there was so much more that needed to be done. Some of the women were elderly and some were obviously struggling with mental health issues, the littlest kids seemed to be happy and playful but the teenagers seemed embarrassed and depressed. I didn't really have time to interact with anyone more than to wish them well and to exchange a few pleasantries because we were rushing around to make sure everyone got fed, but I would have liked to have had more time to really visit and hear their stories. We were touched by the number of people who came up to us and gave us a personal "thank you" for coming out on Christmas. It certainly didn't feel like we deserved any kind of recognition for such a minor effort. (Later, I commented that the cost of the big fancy chandeliers at the Wynn Hotel could have probably fed all those people for a year).

The Shade Tree is an impressive place. Due to confidentiality, we did not take any photos that would show the residents. Some of them are women fleeing abusive situations and their whereabouts could not be compromised.

One of the coolest things about The Shade Tree (that all my animal loving friends will be SO thrilled about) is that residents may bring their pets with them. There's a separate building for the animals, including nice cages (similar to those in a pet store) and "cuddle rooms" where moms and kids can go to play with their pets. There's an outside exercise area and the animal shelter was so clean and non-smelly. We saw dogs, cats, a bird and some fish--all seemed content and well cared for. Dog owners can also walk their dogs around the property. We were told that sometimes women will stay in abusive relationships because they are afraid to leave their pets behind, or that the abuser will threaten to harm the pet if the woman leaves. So this takes that issue out of the equation. And it only adds to the stress of becoming homeless if you don't have anyone to help with your animals. I thought this was such a great idea!

For several blocks around The Shade Tree, there are other programs such as The Salvation Army and Catholic Social Services. We decided to walk to the downtown area instead of taking a cab back and this is some of what we saw. I could not get over the numbers of people living in tents along the street.

This man allowed Rich to take his photo.

Downtown Las Vegas was pretty deserted on Christmas Day.

We walked around downtown for a bit and then went to grab a cab back to the casino area. A man opened the cab door for us and wiped off the window with a rag. Rich gave him some money while the cabbie loudly protested that he was "just a bum" and was causing problems. The cab driver was an interesting guy who just wanted to argue with us about everything! Rich said he wanted to give him a tip that "it's probably not a good idea to initiate discussions with your riders about politics and then tell them what's wrong with their thinking."

Most of the day was spent walking around (so at least we got some exercise!) and taking in the excessiveness of the hotels and casinos. What a weird disconnect from the experience we'd had earlier. It started raining and we took the monorail back to our hotel, had a little nap, and went to dinner.

The girls called today and we are all excited about meeting up in Phoenix on Saturday. Ally has pink-eye and Susan thinks she is getting it, too; Sarah and Elle have both been sick and are on antibiotics, so we are hoping that no one will get cross contaminated and will all be well by the weekend!


Bubbe said...

What an experience! I loved the animal shelter idea- might be something to suggest here in S.A. They're building a huge homeless/services complex- a place where people can get just about any kind of help they need from medical to social services, etc. But I don't know if they thought of the animals! I hope everyone is well by the time you get together. Have a wonderful holiday!

Suzassippi said...

I can't get over the row of tents. You are right, though, about being pleased about Noah's for the animals. We learned that after Katrina, too, and now how animal shelters set up with other evacuation sites.

Too funny about Rich and the cab driver. LOL Enjoy eating your way across the rest of the states for your trip!

Gigi said...

Yeah, I was totally impressed with the shelter for the people and for the animals. I read an article in the paper here today that 48 homeless individuals died in 2008, which is actually down a little bit from previous years. There seems to be a pretty strong advocate community working on the issue and raising awareness.