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.

The Quitter

She quit. She packed up her gear, walked out of the dugout, said something to the head coach and walked away from the field, not looking back, leaving behind eight teammates to ask, “What the hell just happened?”

She just quit.

It was the bottom of the fourth inning in a two-run game.

This is the story of Sara. (Not her real name). OK, it is her real name, but I’m not putting a last name or what team she played for, so I’m hiding her anonymity so future potential employers won’t know she’s a quitter who will walk away when it’s time to learn something, or won’t know she’s the worst kind of team player imaginable.

She is … or, well, was … a travel softball player and right away the coaching staff knew there would be some issues.

She was what some people would call soft.

She would ground out, she would pout.

She would strikeout, she would pout.

Because she lacked foot-speed, she got thrown out from right field. Her head was gone for good, at that point.

Sara was part of the team because the team needed her. Due to some early summer-season number issues, which had players on the roster doing internships, working and taking vacations, it was a struggle to field a team, so when somebody suggested a pitcher to the head coach, he welcomed her.

So, too, did the team.

Sara was shy and always stood away from the team. She had to be invited into the team’s inner circle, but by the third tournament of the season she was part of the team, one of three pitchers used in a regular rotation.

She was a slightly below average pitcher, pitching over head against some tough summer competition. She probably threw more balls than strikes. And, she was a really below average hitter.

But softball, like baseball, is a game where you’re going to fail more than you’re going to succeed.

Mentally, she was never able to embrace that, and her negative Nellie attitude was draining on a team that was struggling to find its first win of the summer.

On Sunday, the team was in the thick of a battle in a game it could win.

Then, in the fourth inning, with runners on second and third, Sara — her team’s starting pitcher — stepped to the plate with one out.

It was a defining moment in the game. It proved to be a defining moment in her young life.

The third base coach gave her the suicide squeeze sign — which for those of you who aren’t sports fans is a simple bunt that must be put into play because the runner at third base is racing home at full speed.

The pitcher delivered. The runner at third broke for home with the pitch. Sara swung and missed. Fortunately, the catcher dropped the ball and the runner was able scramble back to third base.

From third base the head coach bellowed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WE’RE SQUEEZING.”

Sara just looked dumbfounded.

“Do it again,” the coach ordered, giving the sign.

Then he added, “We’re squeezing.”

He told Sara. He told the defense. He world the world.

He was calling a suicide squeeze. Again.

The pitcher delivered. The runner at third broke for home with the pitch. Sara swung and missed. Again. Didn’t even pretend she was looking to bunt.

“SARA! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

The coach was angry. His coaching staff was stunned. She missed the sign twice and missed a verbal instruction that was as obvious as a sun in the sky.

When queried as to what she was thinking, Sara waved her hand at her coach and stepped back into the batter’s box.

The next pitch painted the outside corner. Strike three.

Sara stormed back to the dugout. Behind her teammates, behind her coaching staff, in the back of the dugout, she gathered her belongings and packed up her bag.

When the inning was over, Sara looked over the fence from outside the dugout and told the coach, “I quit.”

Then she walked off away from the field, nothing more than a quitter.

She left her team with eight players to finish out the game, which they lost 4-2.

The coaching staff was angry at Sara. The players were perplexed, but in the long run they all seemed to agree not having her around would be best for the team.

Me?

I was stunned.

If a kid doesn’t enjoy a sport, I understand the decision not to play anymore. But the only reputable way to do it is once the season is over and your commitment has been fulfilled.

I can even understand a kid quitting after a game, though it’s a choice I would never respect or understand.

But to walk away from a team sport  mid-game? Leaving behind eight people who embraced you as a teammate, allowed you to become one of them?

It’s inexcusable.

I could understand the anger coming from the coaching staff, but more than anything I felt sorry for Sara. I felt sad for her and her future.

If she quit a summer softball team because she screwed up something so badly, what else will she quit over the course of the rest of her life?

Every time she failed, she pouted and refused to show any self-confidence, or even a hint at wanting to learn from her failures and grow from it.

The world of sports is full of life lessons. Likewise, many successful lives, without a doubt, can be traced back to the world of sports.

And part of both are parental decisions that help make the difference between success and failure.

Sadly, Sara is a quitter and will likely remain that for the rest of her life.

And that doesn’t make me angry. Instead, it just makes me sad.

 

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.”

Monday in Manchester: The World Just Changed Again

An injured girl is helped from the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, on Monday, May 22, 2017. (AP photo)

Every tragedy seems to carry with it that one image that becomes iconic because it gets splashed across television screens worldwide, and in newspapers from Calcutta to California.

For Monday night’s terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert, of all places, the image is that of a teen-age girl being helped outside the venue (See above).

Her pants have been cut open, her knee has been wrapped up, blood streaming down her left arm.

But what grabs you – what hits you right in the heart – are the faces inside the photo.

The girl’s face. The face of another girl – a friend, perhaps? – behind her. To the left, a bystander looks stunned. Even the faces of the police woman helping this young lady seem stunned.

What the hell just happened?

My heart sunk when the news alert hit my Twitter account.

All it said was an explosion rocked the Manchester Arena after an Ariana Grande concert.

Ariana Grande in concert at Mohegan Sun Arena in February of 2017. (Photo by John Nash)

Terrorism. Period.

We knew. We all knew. It took a couple of hours, but we all knew what was coming.

Yet another piece of shit in this world’s Us vs. Them battle decided to attack.

Only instead of flying planes into a building filled with some of the greediest, money-loving adults on the planet, this one decided to attack our children.

Our children.

OUR FUCKING CHILDREN!!!!!

This is the world we now live. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Our children are now terrorist targets. As if sending them to school here in the United States isn’t dangerous enough.

When terrorists opened fire and blew things up at the Bataclan theater in Paris, raining terror down on an Eagles of Death Metal concert, it shocked the world.

It was the next salvo in attacking soft targets and adults everywhere went into the next concert with their eyes wide open.

I know I did.

I’ve been blessed to see 98 concerts in my life and have never felt unsafe inside a venue. Walking in and walking out, though, you realize how easy it would be to pull off an attack like Mondays.

On Feb. 17 of this year, I walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena, to take photos of Ariana Grande.

I got a first-hand look at her audience and, for the most, they were children. They were little kids no doubt going to their first-ever concert. They were teenagers who idolized Grande for her ability to sing and act and dance. They were college-aged fans who undoubtedly watched Grande grow from a child actor on Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” or “Sam and Kat” into the actress who wowed a nation in a live performance of “Grease.”

They were people just like 18-year-old Georgina Callander, a person who could “light up a room,” according to friends. She was the first victim identified out of the 22 who were killed.

Georgina Callander, left, and Ariana Grande with a friend at a previous concert. (Photo via Instagram)

Who would attack this crowd? And why?

Why?

Because they can.

In the wee hours of the Manchester morning, Grande took to Twitter to send a message to her fans: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so sorry. i don’t have words.”

None of us do.

This is a broken world and the hatred is too strong, coming at us from too many angles.

It’s wrong. Just wrong.

And now our children are dying.

We are left with lasting images that will remind us of the carnage that occurred, wondering when it will end even as we fear what is coming next.

An American Tragedy: A Fallen Star is Dead

Former NFL player Aaron Hernandez listens during his murder trial at the Bristol County Superior Court in Fall River, Mass., Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Hernandez is accused in the June 17, 2013, killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancée’s sister. (AP Photo/Dominick Reuter, Pool)

Like every other New England Patriots fan — well, let’s make that NFL fan, why don’t we – I woke up to the news this morning that Aaron Hernandez was dead.

Hanged in his prison cell.

Just like that a former star is gone.

He was just 27.

I knew what was coming next. As I bounced around social media and the World Wide Web this morning, I would find a lot of hatred pointed in his direction.

After all, he blew an opportunity 99 percent of us can only dream about – success, money, adoration – and was found guilty of blowing it all by killing a man.

Me?

To be honest, I don’t feel any hatred.

I feel sadness.

Aaron Hernandez was a convicted murderer, yes, and he also killed his golden goose.

But he was also a son, a brother, a father.

As much as people hated him, he was also loved.

So I’m sad to hear this news this morning. For his family. For this whole damn story.

When I moved to Connecticut nearly 10 years ago, Aaron Hernandez was a senior in high school.

I was never a fan. He was a helluva football player, though. The colleges were calling. The NFL scouts was watching. The girls were flocking.

The world was his oyster.

His world was his downfall.

The word I’ve heard a lot today – just heard it on ESPN, in fact – was that Aaron Hernandez wanted to be a gangster more than he wanted to be a football star.

As such, his posse of hangers on weren’t ideal choices and trouble also seemed to follow the talented tight end at many turns.

His father died when he was 16 and things changed, people say.

Instead of going to play football at Connecticut, he opted to go to Florida, a national power.

Warning signals were fired almost immediately.

In 2007, Hernandez was in a restaurant drinking – despite being just 17 – and tried to leave without paying. He threw a punch that landed on a restaurant employee, rupturing the employee’s eardrum.

Later that fall, Hernandez was linked to a shooting of three people in Gainesville.

It was a sign of things to come.

Despite being drafted by the New England Patriots, Hernandez couldn’t escape his darker side.

In 2012 and 13, Hernandez was linked to three more shootings.

One of them – the murder of a man named Odin Lloyd – would begin Hernandez’s downfall.

He would be found guilty and sentenced to live in prison without parole.

Just days ago, he was found not guilty in another shooting.

And now he’s gone.

His story is over, but this story, for now, is just beginning.

People are offering up their opinions – some just flat-out emotional, others with some thought and conviction, others just spouting off at the mouth because they have their own hatred built into their own lives.

Today, the New England Patriots visit the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl championship.

A day of joy has been tinged with some mourning, some anger, some hatred.

Me?

Well, to me the whole story is just sad.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Hernandez family today. Same to Lloyd’s family and the families of any other victims would might have been wronged by the poor choices of a man who made some mistakes.

It’s the end of another American tragedy.

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.

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.