Leaving Las Vegas … Looking back on four days in the desert

As the Airbus 320, flying as Jet Blue Flight 611, made its way over the Utah mountains, banking towards lower Nevada, the lights down below finally came into view.

With every drop in descent, they grew brighter and brighter until right before landing when the city below became clear as day, even in the darkness of the hot desert night.

Las Vegas.

When the wheels touched down at McCarran International Airport, I had no idea what to expect from the next four days.

I was at the whim of myself, which is exactly what started this journey almost two weeks prior to landing.

• • •

It all began with a tweet, believe it or not.

“Taking a loaded squad out to Las Vegas July 20-23 for the BigFoot Live event,” read the words of @douglasrscott, boys basketball coach at Greens Farms Academy. “This crew = me being popular w/ scouting horde there #ctbb”

I quickly shot Coach Scott a text message asking why I wasn’t invited.

A tongue-in-cheek follow-up tweet asking if anybody had room in their carry on for me got me thinking.

Why couldn’t I go to Las Vegas?

To be honest, Vegas had never been a bucket list item for me.

If Kenny Rogers is “The Gambler” … If Darrell from Storage Wars is “The Gambler” … then I am the antithesis of that.

I lose money playing solitaire, so wasting money at any casino has never been high on my list of fun nights out.

But the more I thought about it – Las Vegas – the more I thought, “Why not?”

It might not be a bucket list moment, I figured, but as a full-blooded American male I should visit Sin City at least once, right?

I hopped online and booked my trip within minutes.

I was going to Las Vegas.

• • •

The Luxor, where I stayed for four days.

The first thing you notice is the heat. Sure, it’s a dry heat, but even at 11:36 p.m., PST, it was toasty hot.

I was staying at The Luxor, which is located on the south end of the infamous Las Vegas Strip – a stretch of land I would get to know very well a few nights later.

The second thing I noticed is taxis are expensive. More expensive than New York City, believe it or not.

Trying to make the trip as inexpensive as possible, I wasn’t renting a car until the final day. Uber, I found, was much cheaper and would be a key mode of transportation for me.

Checking into the hotel shortly before midnight was another big key to enjoying Las Vegas.

The team, its parents and its coach were all staying at The Luxor, so that’s where I chose to stay.

For those of you who don’t know Vegas, it’s the big pyramid hotel/casino nestled between Mandalay Bay and The Excalibur.

During day light hours, there was a long, twisting line of people waiting to check in and, sometimes, eight to 10 workers waiting to check them in.

At midnight, I was able to walk right up to the clerk and get pointed to my room.

Considering it was 3 a.m., Eastern Time, my body was ready for bed and nothing more.

• • •

Four members of the Greens Farms Academy boys basketball team joined forces for a summer AAU basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

Those who know me know I love basketball, especially at the high school and college level.

After all, four boys – four members of the GFA basketball team who joining forces to play on a make-shift AAU basketball team – were the big reason I flew almost coast to coast.

They had already played one game against an opponent from Houston while I was flying west on Thursday.

On Friday, at 8 a.m., they were to tip-off against a team from Montana and I would be there. After all, since my body was still on East Coast time, it was closer to 11 a.m.

And, they won again.

The game on Friday afternoon should have provided a different ending. After all, the “Dragons” as the team dubbed itself was squaring off against a team called the Las Vegas Prospects.

To put it simply, the Prospects are sponsored by Nike. They play in the EYBL, which stands for Elite Youth Basketball League.

This is big time AAU basketball, but our eight players – seven Connecticut bred and one out of New York – were more than worthy.

In fact, they were victorious, 57-53.

It gave them the No. 1 seed from their pool and a berth in the Sweet 16 of the tournament, where they would face a team from Chicago on Saturday.

Finally, after Friday’s second game, I was able to experience a little bit of Vegas.

I had made plans for Friday, to go see Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears in concert at the T. Mobile Arena.

The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

It would be my 103rd concert, albeit first west of the Mississippi River.

Tears for Fears didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed them.

Hall & Oates, however, was the opposite. They sounded like a bad karaoke band trying to sing Hall & Oates.

I left early.

The highlight of Friday night, though, was the fact T-Mobile Arena wasn’t that far from The Luxor so I was able to go on foot patrol to get there.

I made a dry run in the early afternoon, picking up my ticket from the will call window.

I only had to be outside for about 200-meters of time.

The Luxor and The Excalibur are connected through a series of hallways and conveyor belts. From The Excalibur, I only needed to walk 50 yards across a bridge – and below a rollercoaster – to get into New York, New York, which literally looks like New York, New York.

The T-Mobile Arena was located just behind New York, New York.

Before the show, I decided to grab a bite to eat at a little Irish Pub located within New York, New York.

The great thing about each and every casino in Las Vegas is each one is a city onto itself.

In addition to the slots and table games there are a bevy of restaurants, bars, stores and other things to fill a day.

This particular bar had one of the best chicken pot pies I’ve ever had.

Thankfully, I didn’t vomit it up after Hall & Oates’ yak-job.

On the way back to The Luxor, I took my time checking out the different casinos.

The time change was catching up with me, though, and I was in bed before midnight – which I later found is when Las Vegas is really picking up.

• • •

Saturday meant another basketball game, against a team from Chicago.

It was the Round of 16, which meant if the boys lost their Las Vegas run would come to an end.

Instead, they again stepped up and won, advancing to Sunday’s final day of games.

I used most of Saturday – which was the hottest day of the trip — to stay local and explore the connected hotels.

First, I explored the rest of The Luxor before making my way over the Mandalay Bay.

Next door to The Luxor.

On the way I found a Guinness Store, complete with a Guinness bar. I was told it was one of just two in the entire world, with the other being located in Ireland.

I bought a t-shirt, saving myself $25 in lost gambling money.

After returning to The Luxor, I also decided to put my money where my devotion is.

I stopped by the Sports Book and put $20 down on the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series. If they win, I get $120 (plus by original $20) back.

I also decided to pick a National League team, opting for the Washington Nationals. They matched the Sox at 6-to-1 odds, meaning $120 would be coming my way.

Needless to say I’m rooting for a Red Sox-Nationals World Series.

I made it past midnight on Saturday, but not by much.

An 8 a.m. quarterfinal game awaited us the next morning.

• • •

Spring Valley High School, Las Vegas, Nev.

I didn’t get up early with the team and parents and arrived at Spring Valley High School by the end of the first half.

The boys were play a team based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and with two 6-foot-9 players they were the tallest team we had faced.

Again, it proved not to matter as the eight-man Dragons slayed another opponent, running their record to 5-0 in four days.

Not to switch sports terminology to those who got this far, but a curve ball was thrown into the tournament at this point.

AAU basketball being what it is – let’s face it, it’s about making money for the tournament organizers – the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games are sometimes held in one day.

Anybody who has played basketball knows three high-tempo games is a lot and injuries are more apt to happen on such days.

With departing flights scheduled to start at 1:40 that afternoon, Coach Scott decided to pull his team out of the tournament.

He brought his team to Vegas so players could be seen by college scouts and that mission had been accomplished. Two of the eight players would be heading off to college soon and Coach Scott wasn’t going to send them off injured.

With that final buzzer, so ended my basketball duties.

My final 36 hours in Vegas were all about me.

During a nap back at the hotel, I received a text from some parents saying they were going to visiting the Red Rock Canyon and go out for some Thai food.

I paused and opted not to answer, but it would be something different. After days of basketball and casinos, nature would be a nice break.

And I’d never had Thai food before.

Red Rock was beautiful. Not to be confused with Colorado’s Red Rocks musical venue, Vegas’ Red Rock is on the western side of town and was clearly visible from Spring Valley High School, which is why a journey there appealed to us.

A 13-mile loop gave us views we simply don’t get here on the East Coast.

I’m glad I went.

As for the Thai food, I was cautiously optimistic.

The restaurant itself – Lotus of Siam – didn’t look like much.

Located inside of a strip mall, it opened at 5 p.m., and by 5:15 it was packed.

And oh my was it good.

We sampled each other’s appetizers and wolfed down our meals.

From Duck to seafood to some sort of spaghetti-esque meal with seafood and chicken on my plate, we gobbled down nearly $200 worth of food which was worth every penny.

I even had a Thai beer.

That night I decided I was going to walk part of the Las Vegas Strip.

Around 9 p.m., I left the Luxor took a Uber up to The Venetian.

I got out and began my journey back, step by step, under the lights and sounds of the Las Vegas night.

• • •

I walked through the Venetian and into The Palazzo, which I must admit I’d never heard of.

Entering The Venetian Casino.

I found a bar and ordered a margarita. When I got the tab, it was $16.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and thank goodness that goes from the prices of alcohol.

I paid because … well what the hell, it’s Vegas … and once it was gone I was on the move again, back through the Venetian and outside to the strip where I had options galore.

There was Treasure Island to the right, Casino Royal or Harrah’s to the left.

I opted to cross the road and head to The Mirage, which wasn’t as advertised, but really stood there.

And the air conditioned inside told me I’d be stopping at most of the casinos on the strip to at least cool off.

The $16 margarita.

I had another drink and walk around the casino, checking out the games and those who were playing.

People who go to Las Vegas run the gamut of mankind, that’s for sure.

Old people, young people, families; people both foreign and domestic.

It was the kind of human mash-up that gives New York City it’s unique vibe and energy and you could feel a little of that energy in Vegas.

After leaving The Mirage, I walked to Caesar’s Palace and this is where I became a winner in Vegas.

I had dropped $20 in the slots at The Luxor earlier in the trip.

But sitting and playing black jack I decided to call it quits when I was $13 up.

That way, I figured, I could say I left Las Vegas having lost just $7 in gambling.

Not bad, I figured.

But it was also while walking around Caesar’s that I witnessed another Las Vegas first – the hooker picking up a man at a bar.

She was in her 20s, he was in her 60s and, as odd as it sounds, it was a pleasure to watch them work the back and forth before heading off together.

There were a lot of young woman walking all over Las Vegas, most of them in packs.

This was the only time I saw a pro in her natural habitat, though, going after her prey and successfully taking them down.

With that, it was time to head to the Bellagio.

• • •

The Bellagio.

If I had my druthers – not to mention the money – I would have stayed at The Bellagio. To me, it’s the cream of the Vegas crop and it looks like it.

I wish I had spent more time checking it out, but I could feel myself growing tired and I was just a little over halfway back to The Luxor.

On the way out, though, I was caught up in the crowd standing by the water that sits in front of the facility and once the song “Hey Big Spender” started, I was treated to the infamous Bellagio water show, which was a lot of fun and brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.

I continued south, hitting a few more casinos in the process.

The Aria and the Monte Carlo were connected without going outdoors and once I realized New York, New York was on the horizon I got my second wind for the finishing lick to The Luxor.

I got turned around in The Excalibur for the second time (casinos are made to confuse people, thus keeping them inside, you know?) but before long I was back on the conveyor belts heading home.

Once I got into The Luxor I found a bar and ordered a rum and coke and some water.

I glanced at the pedometer app on my cell phone and realized I had walked more than 20,000 steps that day.

That’s more than 10 miles to you and me.

It was after two in the morning – which meant people back home in the east would be waking up soon.

I drunk texted a friend back home in Maine who I knew would be asleep, but would laugh when she woke up. (She later responded with “Yay”).

Then, hooker-free (not even hit on … am I that old and ugly?) I made my way back to my room.

I ordered a late check out for $30 more and found myself falling asleep with sore feet shortly before 3 a.m.

The last day in Vegas would come soon enough.

• • •

Again, to cut cost, I took the cheapest flight home and that would be the infamous red-eye, which was schedule to pull away from the gate at 11:56 p.m., Monday night.

That left me all day to find something to do.

I had budgeted a rent-a-car into my trip for Monday and was fortunate enough to get a Jeep for only $49. (They had no small cars left, but gave me a bigger model for the puny cost).

I returned to the hotel, packed up and checked out, hitting the streets of Vegas with no set schedule and only a mini-plan of what I wanted to do.

The first thing was to swing by the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Keeping up with my basketball theme of this trip, I was a huge UNLV fan back in the day when they were good and winning (and losing) an NCAA title.

The Thomas and Mack Center – the place where UNLV played – wasn’t far from The Luxor, so I drove into the parking lot and took a picture of the place Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon once called home.

I then found the school bookstore and bought a t-shirt.

Then I set my GPS for The Hoover Dam.

Why?

Well, why not?

When you have a day to kill in Vegas and not much money left in your pocket or on the credit cards you need free things to do and such a man-made treasure was only 45 minutes away.

Before getting to the damn dam, I was pleased to find out that bridge that runs high over the dam and offers a spectacular view was named after former NFL star Pat Tillman, who left the league to join the armed forces and was killed by friendly in Afghanistan while protecting our country.

I even drove over the dam and into Arizona (technically another state I can cross off my list).

Growing ever more hungry, I decided to find a nice hole-in-the-wall palce instead of a chain restaurant.

I found it in the Boulder Dam Brewing Co. in Boulder City, Nev.

I ordered a Shandy (half-lemonade, half beer) along with some outstanding beer-battered mushrooms and not-so-great Philly Cheesesteak.

Some local talker who had bellied up to the bar proceeded to tell me how he special ordered his Toyota truck (“Cement is the official color,” he said) and was soon to retire from the national park service for which he walks.

With a full belly, I was soon on my way back to Vegas (another $20 poorer since I bought a Boulder City Brewing Company t-shirt), arriving by 7 p.m.

I still had five hours to kill and there was a movie theater on the way to the airport, so I pulled in and shelled out $12 to see Dunkirk.

I give it two thumbs up with the realization that anything that has Kenneth Branagh in it is usually really good.

After returning the rent-a-car, I took the shuttle to the airport and, in my heart, wished I didn’t have to leave.

There was so much more left to see in the valley of Las Vegas.

That means one thing: I’ll have to go back and finish the job.

You can bet on it.

Celebrating 100: I’ve Got The Music In Me

Bryan Adams in concert, the author’s 100th show. (Photo by John Nash)

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

I have always loved music. I can’t carry a tune from here to the shower, and can’t play any instrument worth a potato, but do I love the music from those who can.

For as long as I can remember, a radio, a record player, a cassette player, a CD player, an iPod, and Spotify have always been one of my closest friends.

And live music?

It has become a pretty big part of my life over the past 10 years.

On Thursday night, I walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena and watched Bryan Adams in concert.

It was the 100th concert of my life, a milestone moment that nobody but me truly cares about, but that’s OK.

Music is personal. Music is memories.

It was probably early in 2016 when I hit my 75th concert – seeing The Ballroom Thieves for the second time, at Stage One in Fairfield, Connecticut – that I realized my 100th show was fast approaching.

I wondered back then who would it be. Phish or the Barenaked Ladies, perhaps? I’ve seen them both seven times each, as they lead the pack of the bands I’ve seen the most.

Or, would it be somebody more obscure, or unique?

It wound up being Bryan Adams.

Somebody mentioned to me in passing that it was too bad it couldn’t be somebody better, but the more I thought about it that more I realized that I was alright with Adams being my milestone 100th.

And here’s why:

One of the reasons I love music so much – and sometimes hate it, I suppose – is because of its uncanny ability to take us back in time, to a place we will never forget.

More often than not, it’s a happy time. But it can also take us to places we don’t want to go, too.

That’s the power music has over all of us, and why we join together as one – as an audience – to see our performers do what they do best.

During the sixth song of my 100th show, that’s what Adams did to me … he took me back in time in an instant.

“Oh, thinkin’ about all our younger years
There was only you and me
We were young and wild and free

Now nothin’ can take you away from me
We’ve been down that road before
But that’s over now
You keep me comin’ back for more

Baby, you’re all that I want
When you’re lyin’ here in my arms
I’m findin’ it hard to believe
We’re in heaven.”

All of a sudden I was 19 again. Young and wild and free, and I was dancing with the girl of my dreams at her prom.

Just like that I could remember everything about that relationship and what it meant to me at that time of my life. I could remember her face, her beauty, every essence of her being — her eyes, her smell, her touch.

It all came back through a single song.

And it happens a lot.

When I hear America sing “Sister Goldenhair,” I think of standing in my sister’s bedroom at 9 or 10 years old, listening to that song and her trying to get me to guess the title.

When I hear Nazereth sing “Love Hurts” or ELO sing “Telephone Line” I think of middle school dances where a force field of nerves and teacher’s prying eyes would keep the boys and girls, stiff-armed, slow dancing two feet from each other.

When I hear “Hotel California” by the Eagles, of “If” by Bread, or “Baby Come Back” by Player, I think of the girl that got away.

When I hear “Careless Whisper” by George Michael or “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf, I think of a girl who was taken from us far too soon.

It’s the music, I tell you. It’s inside of us and the fastest way to our emotions.

It’s makes us dance. It makes us cry.

Sometimes at the same time.

I remember my first concert like it was yesterday, even if it was 34 years ago.

It was my senior year of high school and a friend, Pat Ross, had a ticket to Duran Duran at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, two hours south from where I lived.

The band Duran Duran played the Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday night. (Photo by John Nash)

I ended up going with him and everything fell into place. It was the perfect evening. The lights, the music, the energy from the crowd. I even met a girl that night – Valerie from Brunswick – and went home knowing my life had changed a bit from that one show.

Later that school year, I saw Aerosmith in concert at the Bangor Auditorium.

Talk about “Sweet Emotion.”

In 1999, my affection for live music and attending concerts went to the next level. I started photographing the bands as they performed.

The Barenaked Ladies came to Manchester, NH, and I put in a request for a photo pass to shoot them while they performed.

Three songs. That’s all they give you, you know. Then they usually kick you out of the building, unless you have a ticket.

(For the record, Bryan Adams was one song. “Do What You Gotta Do” – which has a run time of 2 minutes, XX seconds. I banged out 159 shots, of which nine different ones were useable).

But back to BNL. As I developed the film from that night’s show, and saw my images come to life, I realized I had a new hobby.

Concert photographer. Soon after, I shot Green Day. And so began a new chapter of my life.

Before 2013, I had seen one show at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It was, of course, the Barenaked Ladies.

I had gone to the Eastern Connecticut area to see a baseball game, but stopped by The Sun to kill some time before the first pitch, and realized the Ladies were playing.

I had already seen them twice, yet instead of going to the baseball game, I shelled out $35 for a ticket and went to the show.

Three years later, I was shooting my first show at the Sun when a lady naked “Pink” emerged from the sky and started performing.

Pink

Pink in concert at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Photo by John Nash)

Since that night in 2013, I’ve shot 62 different shows at Mohegan Sun, and have even started writing reviews of the shows I’ve attended.

People ask me what my favorite concerts have been and once you’ve hit 100, you’d think it’d be hard to pin-point a top five.

I think my favorite of all-time was Phish at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It was the first time I had ever seen the band and the energy created at such a magical venue was intense and enveloping. That single show is a big reason why I keep going back.

Seeing Prince meant a lot to me, too. I was a big fan of his when I was growing up and he was one helluva performer. I only wish I had the chance to shoot him (Photographers weren’t allowed … typical Prince).

Bruce Springsteen was another show that stands out. I’ve heard how good he is live, but you just don’t understand how good he and the E Street Band really are until you see it for yourself.

Hour photo/John Nash – The legendary Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was at the XL Center on Wednesday night.

The first time I saw Bob Segar stands out, too, as does seeing Sting perform.

I think that’s my top five with my first Duran, Duran show coming in a close sixth.

The worst I’ve ever seen are much easier – Jackson Browne and Avril Lavigne.

I saw Browne at the Oakdale Theater and his setlist that night was a major disappointment that left most of the crowd sitting on its hands.

And, Lavigne, who I saw at the Foxwoods Casino’s Grand Theater, was closing her tour that night and she short-shifted the crowd with a 12-song set list that lasted a little more than hour.

One thing I’ll never be accused of, though, is being a fair-weather concert-goer.

I don’t just pick and choose the bands I want to see. I try to get to as many shows as I can, which is why I’ve seen Jay Z, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Kid Rock, Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Paramour, The Killers, Hunter Hayes, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett, Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga.

I try to embrace the music, no matter the performer, and rate the show on the effect it has on the crowd and myself.

Sometimes I get surprised by how good a band is – O.A.R. and Twenty One Pilots, quickly come to mind – while sometimes I walk away with less than I expected.

I’ve seen a lot, too.

Mosh pits. Drunken fools being carried away by security. A girl breaking off her engagement and giving back her ring, with the man storming off and leaving her alone. People throwing up or urinating against a fence (outdoor venues are fun). And, of course, boobs …. But not as much as when I was younger. That’s not as much of a thing anymore.

What will I see and who will I see in the future?

Good question.

All I know for sure is as I sit there letting the music in, I hear the word of Friedrich Nietzsche ring true: Without music, life would be a mistake.”

Happy Mother’s Day To One Brave Lady

My mother, Marion Brown, being cool on a trip to Connecticut.

I was about an hour away from having a doctor stick a knife into me and splice open my skin when the nerves started getting the better of me.

This was just about three years ago and, in the larger scheme of things, going under the knife for an umbilical hernia was rather minor surgery and I would be home in a matter of hours.

To calm my nerves, though, I only had to think of one person.

My mother.

Marion Brown.

I was closing in on 50 years of age when I had this surgery and came through it was flying colors, I suppose.

But to make sure I don’t sound like a little boy crying for his mommy when he was scared, I decided today – Mother’s Day – is the perfect day to share that story.

The reason I thought of my mother is because more than a decade earlier she bravely faced major surgery – open heart surgery for a valve replacement.

How could I be scared of a three-inch incision next to my belly button when my mother had survived – and thrived – after something much more serious?

But it also made me think of my mother in a different light.

Brave?

Yes, brave.

It dawned on me that my mother had shown many different levels of bravery over the course of her own whole life.

Knowledge of that left me rather staggered and stunned.

My mother was a brave woman.

She was born in Watford, England, and it was just today that I realized that her bravery might have started there and then.

During World War II, her father, my grandfather, was one of 11 brothers who went off to fight for the allied forces in defense of their country, against the epitome of history’s most-evil figure.

God blessed our family as all 11 brothers came home safe and sound.

My mother remembers racing into bomb shelters, or hiding under stairs during the war. She remembers seeing the red skies over London, just 16 miles away, as the city burned from one of the Nazi forces steady bombing runs.

Our children are growing up worried that the cable will go out, or the Internet gets bogged down and streaming videos start to lag.

My mother was hiding in bomb shelters hoping her father would come home from the war.

The times they have a changed.

In the mid-1960s, she and my dad hopped up on a ship and left their entire family behind – save for a sister, my aunt – for a new life in the United States.

That’s bravery, right there.

She knew one person on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but she decided to head off into the great unknown, leaving everything she knew behind.

I left Bangor, Maine, in the fall of 1998, moving three hours south to Dover, N.H., and I had a small (albeit left unsaid) concern about being alone from the only home I had ever known.

My mother wound up having three kids – none of us perfect, each of us testing her in our own vastly different ways.

My mother with her first born.

She loved us all, though, (some more than others, right favorite middle-sister Michelle? Ha) and says she’s proud of where we all have ended up in life.

It is us, though, that should be proud of her.

She made a life for us, making sure we never went without, even if that meant months of government cheese and powdered eggs during our darker times.

She knew nothing about sports, but she would make it a point to go to my games in Little League and in high school. Or, sould be sit there beside me in the living room watching an NCAA college basketball game.

She went through a divorce and made it a point to never bad mouth our father, and when she remarried, she opened her home and her heart to two other children.

She quit smoking (after I moved out of the house, which she claims to be the reason she was able to quit) and along with my step father she became a home owner.

They owned their own business, showing us children first-hand what hard work was all about.

And, after she got all five of us kids out of the house, she started to travel to see many different places she wanted to see.

As proud as she was to be our mother, I sense a deeper pride in becoming the grandmother of our own children.

My mother, left, and step-father along with my son.

I can only hope they brave the future she faced her own so many years ago.

The last year as been tough on my mother as a variety of different maladies and infections have chipped away at her health.

Yet she keeps fighting back, refusing to give in.

There’s that bravery thing again.

She’s even proud (brave?) enough to admit she’s a Donald Trump supporter.

I’m not perfect and this proves that neither is she.

But I remain proud of my mother, one of the bravest woman I know.

And I love her and thank her for everything she’s done for me over the past 51 years and one week.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Stay strong. Stay brave.

Better Late Than Never: Thank You, Mr. Murphy

Mike Murphy and one of his “angels” from a long ago time. (Photo stolen from Dawn Norton’s facebook page)

I was sitting at the corner of the bar minding my own business when I felt him grab my arm.

“C’mon, John,” Mike Murphy said in his Irish brogue. “I need you.”

The next thing I knew I was standing on the edge of a bar fight with two men awash in alcohol-induced machismo verbally comparing sizes while threatening to throw punches.

This was Mr. Murphy’s Irish pub, not a boxing ring or a college frat house, and from his side of the bar he saw what was happening and cut it off before anything got out of control. I was just along for the ride because if punches were thrown I was likely going to be useless.

But, I’d like to think, Mr. Murphy knew my loyalty to his establishment and if somebody was going to have his back, he knew I was somebody he could trust.

I’ll drink to that, as I am right now as I write this — A toast to a long, lost friend who is now lost for all of time.

Word came today that Mike Murphy had passed away and that news, alone, is sad to hear.

Mike was a nice guy. He had his flaws — who of us doesn’t? — but he had bought me more than my fair share of beers over the seven or so years where I was a regular at his bar in Dover, New Hampshire.

With word of his passing, I also think back to those long ago times and the group Mike Murphy brought together as regulars in his little bar.

I started going there because I was smitten with a bartender — Katherine, was her name, if my memory serves me correctly — and her artwork still hangs in my apartment all these years later, a going away gift for me when she moved on to bigger and better things.

I started going there because of her, but I stayed because of everybody else.

The regular bartender became my roommate, the regular customers became my friends and family. And I loved them deeply and still care for them so much even today.

I would list them all here, but I know i’d leave people out and I don’t want to do that. If you are reading this, then you know who you are.

As individuals, we were all special people. As a group, it was like we were meant to be together as friends at this time of our collective lives.

I’ve had three vastly different sets of close friends in my life, all of which spark a flame inside my heart when I think of them.

My school-aged friends growing up were a part of my formative years. My young adult friends helped me make legendary memories while traversing the world between being a kid and being an adult.

And my New Hampshire friends — my grown up friends — were always there with a hug, a smile, a beer. Sometimes all three.

It didn’t matter the night. Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday. When you walked into Mike Murphy’s bar you were going to see somebody you knew and wanted to catch up with, sitting there, having a beer, or playing pool.

Some nights you would see Mike. Other nights you would not.

But going out was like going home.

The regulars at Mr. Murphy’s pub welcomed me at a time when I had first moved away from home and was, if truth needs to be told, the perfect elixir to the touch of loneliness which was an everyday occurrence in my life.

The friendships spilled outside of the bar, too. That’s why they all rang so true. And, I suppose, that’s what made them all so special.

We shared many different aspects of our lives together. Highs, lows, laughter, tears.

And the occasional hangover.

Yet we kept going back, to be together once again.

We sang together, we danced together.

We drank together, we grew together.

Over time, some of us grew apart and we went our separate ways as different roads and goals led us away from Dover, led us away from Mike Murphy and that special, magical place he created.

Tonight, we are all back together, at least in spirit.

Mike is gone and as word spreads of his passing we mourn knowing that, but we also embrace the memories his death brings forth.

Our friend Joel, in a Facebook post, summed up our loss the best, I think.

“Damn, so sad,” Joel wrote in a comment under a post that shared the sad news with us. “He provided the setting that allowed me to meet so many of my friends. Thanks for everything Mike.”

That’s so true. He provided the setting for all of us to come together and create a time we are surely never to forget.

God speed, Mr. Murphy.

And thank you so much for that bar, that time, and those people you brought together.

The Unwritten Bucket List Loses Another Item

The view from left field at Charlotte Sports Park, spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by John Nash)

Before I ever loved basketball – before I even truly knew what love was, in fact – I loved baseball.

It was 1975. I was 9. And it was beautiful, even after it broke my heart.

The Boston Red Sox went to the World Series that summer and captured my heart my heart while doing so.

My first favorite player was Doug Griffin, a little-known second baseman who played on a team that included a host of quick-hitting one-namers — Yaz. Rico. Pudge. Rooster. Louis.

The team featured two pitchers that season – one who gave me my first autograph (Jim Willoughby) and one who gave me my first double-entendre schoolboy giggle (Dick Pole).

As the 1970s rolled by players like Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Bill Lee, and Butch Hobson would just continue to grow in stature to a young boy growing up in Maine, which was as much Red Sox country as downtown Boston.

I loved just two sports in my life … baseball and basketball. Basketball would be the girl with the great body and all the right moves and we were connected by affection for one another … but baseball, that first love, is something you never forget.

All these years since 1975 – and that’s 41 and counting – I’ve seen baseball games played far and wide at all kinds of different levels.

I’ve seen a 10-year-old national championship game in Florida. I’ve seen a college no-hitter in a conference championship game. I’ve been to dozens of Minor League Baseball games. And, I’ve sat in the nosebleeds at a World Series in New York City in 2015.

But I had never been to a spring training game.

Until Monday.

That’s when I trekked to Port Charlotte, Fla., to the Charlotte Sports Park – home of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Single-A farm team and site of the parent squad’s annual spring training pilgrimage.

I joined an old friend of mine and we watched the Pittsburgh Pirates hold off the Rays by a 5-4 count.

We saw players we knew – Evan Longoria of Rays and David Freese of the Pirates – both stood at third base not more than 10 yards from us when the game began.

By the time it was over we had seen a plethora of players take the field, grab a bat and throw off the mound.

We drank beer, ate a steak and cheese, circled the stadium and watched baseball at a leisurely pace under a gorgeous Florida sunshine.

Like baseball itself, it was almost perfect.

If I’m going to watch a sport on television, I’d pick basketball. College basketball to be specific.

But if you’re going to give me a ticket to go to a game, I’m likely to pick baseball.

I’m old school that way.

I like to sit back, relax, let the game unfold, while people watching and eaves dropping and talking to the people around me. (One of my Facebook friends is a woman I met when I trekked to Pittsburgh to watch the Red Sox play the Pirates in a three-game series a few summers ago at PNC Park).

To this day, baseball is pretty much the same it was when I was nine.

Nine innings. Four balls. Three strikes. No clock ticking down.

You throw the ball. The ball is hit. You field the ball.

Watching from the stands with 5,000 people was just what I needed on my first Monday in Florida, this latest work-ation that I find myself undertaking in the spring of 2017.

Would a Red Sox game have been better? Not necessarily. If the scheduled had fit better, I would have tried, but it didn’t, so that’s OK, too.

I don’t have a bucket list of things I want to do before I die. But I do have a mental list and I’d say attending a spring training game was on there somewhere.

Not anymore.

The played baseball on Monday in Port Charlotte and I was there to see it.

Mentally, she’s checked off.

Don’t run and hide: Join me on our bully pulpits

President Donald Trump, the man who people are letting divide the country.

President Donald Trump, the man who people are letting divide the country.

I was called a bully the other day.

Anybody that knows me — truly knows me — would laugh at that as much as I did considering over the course of my life I’ve loved and accepted everybody that has come and gone.

My only “fight” was in fourth grade with a kid named Joe Vachon, both of us urged on by our blood-lust filled peers, and we danced around in a circle at recess, and threw one punch each.

Once we connected fists and felt the pain, the fight was over. We were friends again.

Yet here I am, now in my 50s, still friendly and accepting of everybody, and I get called a bully because of one Facebook post.

Here’s what happened: On Monday, I shared a story from CNN on my Facebook page. The CNN headline was, “Trump: Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

It was such a stupid, asinine statement from the guy less than half our country elected President that in the comment section of the post, I opined, “Nobody knew? Well except for the countless presidents who did everything they could to find a way to give everybody in the United States healthcare — and that’s people far smarter than you, sir. When one finally did – even with a few flaws – you were the blowhard who came in saying you were going to blow it all up. Not so easy, is it, “Mr.” President … Go ahead and fix it, if you can, and find a way to make it better. Just quit being an embarrassing human being that is destroying America and start taking steps to fulfill your ultimate promise of making the country better.”

Just a flat-out reaction to a stupid statement with a touch – barely, but it was there – of support at the end.

Later in the day came a comment from a Facebook friend, a man I respect and love on a personal level.

“Keep acting like a school yard Bully John. GOOD BYE.”

I checked. He had un-friended me on Facebook. Again.

The first time this man de-friended me on Facebook, I was upset. This time, not so much. This time I was much more flabbergasted.

Bully?

I wasn’t the one who ordered ICE Agents to storm through neighborhoods in caravans, jumping out, guns drawn and scaring the hell out of children and mothers and grandmothers, in search of illegal immigrants who might or might not have done something wrong.

I wasn’t the one overseeing a country where custom agents accost travels on a domestic San Francisco-to-New York flight, demanding to see people’s paperwork to prove they were Americans who deserved to fly across what was once the land of the free.

I’m not the one shitting all over journalists world-wide who are doing their job, taking the term “Fake news” that was started to combat all the non-reputable websites and blogs who were printing out-right lies against both parties, and turning it on to main stream media like the New York Times, the LA Times, CNN — who were writing and reporting things that our leader didn’t like.

So how am I the bully?

Because I called Donald Trump a blow hard? (He is! There can be no argument about it. Even his supporters would have to admit his characteristics are that of a self-serving blowhard. It’s an adjective that, to me, can’t be argued). Just like I’m fat because I weigh too much.

Because I called him an embarrassment to the United States, because some of the things he has try to pull off (immigration ban, Russia, grabbing pussies, insert many other proofs of not-so-Presidential actions here that the world has laughed at)?

When I post political opinions to my Facebook page, I try to limit myself to one a day. After all, Facebook has become a deluge for hatred and divisiveness in this country, but the positives still outweigh the negatives – barely – in terms of keeping up with old friends.

I’m proud to say that I have not de-friended anybody over any post regarding the election of this president, because I do love the fact that, as Americans, we can support different sides and ideas, and yet still somehow work together for what’s best for our country.

Some people, I guess, can’t handle that type of America – Where we argue and debate and support what we believe in.

They want it their way, the only way, period .. and I guess if you don’t support their way of thinking you’re nothing but a bully.

And that saddens me.

I have friends and family who support Trump and I love them all. I have friends who lean so far to the left, I’m afraid they’re going to fall into the Pacific Ocean, but I love them as people with all my heart.

And, I’m a liberal-leaning independent who sees things differently – Nashist, I call it – and there are times I have defended Trump (not many, but I have) while also laughing at his comically frustrating first 40 days.

Trump the President doesn’t scare me. Not one single iota. Those powerful men he surrounded himself — after his broken promise to drain the swamp – are what scares me.

From what I see, they are the bullies in this world.

But if one man wants to call me a bully for standing up for what I believe in, then I’ll carry that banner proud.

Because when I see something that I feel is wrong, I will have the courage to point it out. When I support something or somebody, I’ll proudly stand before anybody who has the guts to listen to me argue my point.

I will not run and hide, head in the sand, from those who have a different opinion than me. Join me in the fight. Tell me why you support what you do. Don’t run away and be scared of the other side.

To the contrary, I will give them their own bully pulpit to try and out-shout me in our arguments.

When we’re tired and hoarse, then we can climb down, embrace and headed to the local bar for a beer.

That’s the kind of America I want.

I fear, though, that it’s gone forever.

Happy Anniversary To Us

• • •

Four years ago — well, four years and one day ago, to be exact — The October Weekend was reborn.

I was sitting around, feeling old, and wanting to write, so I moved off my couch, sat down at my computer chair, and still feeling old, I started to write.

Over the past 1,424 days — well, 1,425 days to be exact — I’ve sat down with “The October Weekend” and spilled my guts about things both personal and random.

The results have produced 169 posts — this one is 170 — and 28,502 people have taken the time to read my words.

Some of you are loyal readers who read everything I post (Thanks Mom, thanks Dad) … Others are regular returnees who are trying to figure out what’s going on in my mind (Is that you, Liz?) … some of you randomly find me through Google or word of mouth … and most of you get bored too easily and perhaps click here to lull yourself to sleep late at night.

Better me than porn, I suppose.

I didn’t know exactly what life “The October Weekend” would take when I started. I haven’t posted nearly as much as I wanted to when I first hit “publish” on my very first post back on Feb. 22, 2013.

But, alas, like a good friend who is always there for me, this space has allowed me to spit out my thoughts on a variety of topics that have popped into my head, touched my heart, or simply pissed me off.

I’ve publicly backed a loser for President — though most of us know the real loser appears to have wound up in office — and reminisced about friends and loved ones from long ago.

I’ve also told stories both sad and motivational about people I don’t know, but whose tales came to my attention, made me want to know more and allowed me to share their story with you.

Just like I was clueless to the future of all this white space when I first sat down four years (and one day) ago, I remain in the dark as I move forward.

When I feel the urge, I’ll sit down and write.

That still is what “The October Weekend” means to me. A place to express my feelings, my emotions, my memories and more.

Feel free to keep enjoying the ride.