Saturday, March 24, 2007

The driven snow

I am a lousy driver. Terrible. I don't even try to pretend otherwise. We make a (half)-joke about it around our house; Miles would probably insist on driving us instead of me even if his feet were gnawed off by lynxes. I'm not really sure why I'm so bad other than, as my father told me my entire teenage life, my head is always in the clouds. It's why I can't listen to books on tape - a funny-looking person will walk across the street and I'll spend the next 15 minutes thinking about him and next thing I know, I have no idea what the author is talking about. I'm the one who drove my dad's Mercedes through a fence around the corner of our house eight days after I got my license. That was the start of a brilliant career.

So imagine everyone's surprise when it turns out that I could really handle a Ski-doo snowmachine through the tundra! It was rocky for all of us at first, inching along at 15 or 20 mph for a while, but by the time Miles, our friend/innkeeper Karen and I were through with our 65-mile roundtrip jaunt, I was booking at 50+ mph in some spots and even FLYING over bumps just for effect. (Random Vegas connection: Ski-doos are manufactured by Bombardier, the same folks who built the parts-shedding Las Vegas Monorail. Nothing fell off on our trip.)

It wasn't just exhilarating -- and, for some reason, body-tiring -- but sensationally beautiful. In the winter, the massive rivers north of Anchorage are like wide open, white highways of thick ice. It was mind-bending to imagine that in a couple of months, the rivers will be back. I did have a close call with a wooden post, but otherwise we came through it all intact. We drove out 30 miles to a little cabin where a family out of Deliverance lives and served us up a delicious little meal of burgers, though we're not real sure what sort of meat it was. The house could only be reached by boat, snowmobile or small planes that land on the frozen river. The family out there even had a foster son, a teenager. I'm trying to imagine how the caseworker even got to this place for the home visit. No threat of the kid going bad out here, tho.

Sadly, we've worn out our camera battery and didn't bring the charger. So the Nikon did not cooperate when we saw two majestic bald eagles perched on a branch along the route. Our guide, Craig, from Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours, told Miles to take the battery out of the camera and put it somewhere warm -- a pant pocket or something -- and it would get a little charge back. He was right, so we got just these couple of shots shown here.

The other bad news is that despite nearly a week in Alaska, somehow the ubiquitous moose have eluded us. We've seen loads of moose tracks -- or at least that's what they tell us they are -- but no moose. Another thing we haven't -- and won't -- see... igloos! Except in today's newspaper, where this appeared, appropriately:

Today's a quiet day after Thurs and Fri were big-adventure days. Sunday, we fly to Juneau so I can see the state capitol, one of my obsessions. Hopefully we can put that battery somewhere, uh, warm, so we can get enough juice to snap my image there. Yes, I'm a dork.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

...But it's a DRY cold...except all this snow...

Today was probably the highlight of our Alaskan adventure: We rode on dog sleds and then hopped into a Cessna to fly around Mount McKinley. It was quite cold out -- high in the mid-20s and, in fact, we clocked -5 F while we were up there in the air. We wore those long johns I still can't remember why we Las Vegans own in the first place.

The top picture is me and Miles in flight, which is remarkable because Miles hates to fly and really, really had to psyche himself up for the ride. But the folks at Talkeetna Air Taxi were so comforting and encouraging, and he rolled with it. We were so glad we did, however, to be able to snap such sensational views as this one to your right. That wing you see is our plane. Also joining us was Karen Harris, the proprietor of the Garden Gate B&B where we're staying and an old friend of mine.

It was quite a beautiful -- and chilly -- flight, and we heard from our pilot, Danielle, that global warming is very much in evidence up here in shrinking glaciers and such. Hard to imagine as you look out at all that snow and ice -- rivers so frozen over they appear to be made of marshmallow Fluff. But surely they know of which they speak.

Earlier in the day, we went to Dream a Dream Dog Farm in Willow, where Iditarod veteran Vern Halter explained the ins and outs of professional and competitive dog sledding. Then Vern and one of his handlers took each of us on an 8-mile dog-mushing jaunt through the frozen wilderness. To your left is Miles on his dog sled. Each sled had 10 big dogs. One of my dogs was pregnant. Vern was so great that I'm bringing him on The Petcast in a few weeks to discuss the whole business of raising and training these dogs. There was no question in my mind that these dogs, while being asked to work hard, clearly enjoy their work and are not tortured or prodded into pulling the haul.

Will write more later. We're tired. Tomorrow we go snowmachining. Not snowmobiling... that's apparently the passe term.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Men's Names, Marriage and Good Morning America

We're getting a lot of attention today for a piece I did for today's USA Today on men who change their names after marriage. Even got a call from a producer from Good Morning America, which wants to do a segment on the topic tomorrow. They were looking for some of my sources, but seeing how I'm on my honeymoon, I don't have much of it with me.

The producer didn't give me her name or number, but I did realize that I was receiving lots of email from folks about the piece, including from other men who had changed their names. So Miles found a number for the GMA newsroom (since the ABC switchboard kept putting me into some sort of viewer-voicemail hell) and we worked out that it was Liz Sintay.

Liz was so overjoyed by my callback. "Your wife must know how great you are!" she said, or something like that.

"Actually, it's my husband."

"Oh! Either way!"

So, Liz, if you're doing anything on THAT topic, let me know!

The Congresswoman Sends Her Love

We awaken in a lovely suite at the Garden Gate B&B in Palmer, Alaska, with views of glaciers and a gas fireplace and the sense that everything is perfect. We are together, we are happy, we are marveling over our beautiful Tiffany Atlas wedding bands.

And then, a little more icing: A voice message left this morning by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. She was calling in from her Washington D.C. office to congratulate us on our wedding and to say that she had read my piece in CityLife all about our difficult search for a rabbi.

The conclusion of that piece, of course, was that we discovered Rabbi Mel Hecht, who performed his first same-sex wedding on Sunday for us and spoke movingly during the ceremony about the epiphany that he had about the equality of gay and straight relationships.

The congresswoman told us in the message that she "wasn't surprised in the least" that Rabbi Hecht had done the ceremony and that "if you had called to ask me, he is the one I would have told you to get in touch with." I hadn't even considered asking the congresswoman for such advice, but she always has seemed to us to be a full-service representative!

Berkley concluded her exuberant (Berkley and exuberant are redundant terms, actually) message by saying she would be sending a donation to Temple Beth Am in our honor to show the rabbi her support for his decision to officiate our marriage.

Berkley, who has appeared for us at several fundraisers for the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and came on "The Strip" podcast in February 2006 to speak openly about her cosmetic surgery among other matters, is a fascinatingly genuine politician in these days of phonies.

I do wonder, though, if Berkley's position on legalizing same-sex marriage has changed. In 2004, I quizzed her about it while we were standing around at the Democratic caucuses and she said she supported full rights for same-sex couples but not "marriage." I imagine that's a political hair-splitting thing that's sort of unlike her and that, sooner or later -- perhaps already -- she'd come over to the full-on marriage-rights side.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Signs of Spring in Alaska

So it's about 25 degrees for a high here in Anchorage and looks very much like this picture, which I ripped from somewhere else, of course. This is apparently a signal to every Walmart and Sears in town to dump the winter gear and explain to us that it's almost spring, dumbasses. We arrived as prepared as two fellows from the desert could be - we even had long johns, and I cannot recall why on earth we would have ever bought or worn them before - but we assumed we'd find some ear muffs and maybe a nice sweater or two up here. No dice. Will have to borrow some from the innkeeper at the Garden Gate B&B in Palmer, where we're staying.

Oh, did I mention that the innkeeper is an old, old friend, Karen Harris, who gave up a journalism career in Minneapolis to open a B&B in Alaska, a lifelong dream. I can't wait to see how that worked out for her.

We're now chilling at the Dark Horse Coffee Shop in Anchorage. It's cute, although Miles complains that his mocha-machiatto-whatever is a little too heavy on the whipped cream, light on the juice. Oh well. My hot chocolate looked sumptuous, but isn't really. Oh well again.

We had lunch at terrific trendy eatery called the Snow City Cafe that a college-campus feel to it. I had the "crabby omlette." Yum. And we're likely to go to some brew pub for dinner where Karen has advised they have the best salmon chowder in, uh, history or something.

I am forbidden on this trip from working, which is difficult when there are a few good stories up here I could so easily string for the Times. In the center of the state, the mayor is following a middle school social studies class' advice to repopulate and giving away 26 large land plots. The results have been fascinating. Plus, there's a dog-beating scandal in the Iditarod, which is wrapping up now.

OH! And one last thing I did today. I made Miles stop and let me browse a tourist trap called the Ulu Factory. Why? Because for years now I've been using the word "ulu" in Scrabble and I've never known what it meant. I just thought it was a clever way to dump unwanted vowels.

Guatemala and dolphins?

So I wrote a piece on the current concerns in the US government over possible fraud in the Guatemalan adoption process for USA Today. Guatemala is No. 2 in terms of the number of kids they adopt out to American parents and the system seems wide open for fraud that may include baby-selling and other duplicitous practices. Serious stuff. I have a particular interest in international adoption and have written about it quite a lot over the years.

One PR flak for the Mirage was so moved, sort of, that she wrote me. To say that seeing my piece in USAT on this reminded her to remind me that I really ought to consider a story on the Dolphin Habitat in Vegas.


Poor Atlantic City...

It is simply astonishing that Atlantic City, being as it is so much closer to tribal casinos and other major cities than Vegas, is only now waking up to the notion that it needs to be more than a gambling center to survive. Sort of more proof that Trump really isn't that much of a visionary at all.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Anyone out there who is married knows what's packed into that "Wow."

Wow, we stood up in front of all those people and said some unbearably intimate things and exchanged rings and kissed and are now married. Wow that the rabbi's speech was largely about how our evident devotion forced him to realize as he prepared for his first gay wedding that same-sex and straight relationships are equal in every important way. Wow that the SkyVilla at the Palms was the perfect setting for a totally non-cliche Vegas wedding. Wow that all the nifty little details we threw in -- my mother singing, the poker chips, laminates and yarmulkes with our names on it, the slideshow of pictures, the blown-up photo of us for everyone to sign the matting of -- all came off perfectly. Wow that we received such generous gifts, saw so many wonderful people in one place and actually had the chance to chat with pretty much everyone.

And wow, we're now in a hotel room in Anchorage about to take on our big week on our honeymoon! It's already so beautiful -- and s0 cold. Flying usually makes Miles cranky, but this time he grinned and grinned even as our suitcase took excruciatingly long to arrive.

Married life agrees with us!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dear Bloomies Bride:

This just came via email...maybe it's for Miles?

Dear Bloomies Bride:

Congratulations on your soon-to-be wedded bliss!

NATALIE is so thoughtful. This person purchased a special gift just for you (listed below) from We know you've been carefully watching your registry, hoping it would come your way, so check out your updated list.

But we must confess, your order will be fashionably late, since it's out of stock at the moment. You can expect your Order # 000213907644-311620116 to ship on the date listed below, way over to the right.

Shipment 1
Registry address of STEVEN and MILES

Gift Options
Gift Box:No
Gift Receipt:Yes
Gift Message:
We wish you much happiness together!

Love, Natalie, Chris, Kyle and Ryan

VendorProduct DescriptionQuantityEstimated Ship DateStatus
Lauren Ralph LaurenMarina Stripe Dinner Plate, 10205/02/2007BACKORDERED

Some advice for the future: hold onto this message for reference until your gift arrives. We'll be in touch with any updates.

We're really sorry for this little bump in the road. We hate to disappoint you because you're one of our favorite customers (and we don't say that to just anyone).

Warning: legal notice ahead: This is not a receipt or a negotiable document, nor does it signify that the above order has been completed.

If you have any questions in the meantime, our customer service pages are full of answers. Visit Help Center and get the inside scoop on Shipping Policies, Returns, your Order Status, Credit Services, and Gift Cards.

Yours truly,
The Registry at Bloomingdale's Customer Service

Easy Like Sunday Morning...

...or Going To The Chapel... whichever. It feels somehow just any old Sunday. Miles is reading the paper in the recliner, I'm in bed on the laptop. There is a surreal zen that has come over us as we plod to the altar hours?!?!

There isn't really much to do. We don't know which suite we're having our wedding in nor what time we'll be able to get into it yet, so until that the speed of the day is unclear. There is virtually nothing left to do except that Miles must go to pick up the cake and we need to go over the checklist again to make sure we've got all the things we need. We've got some terrific little details planned.

Yesterday was pretty great, seeing our family for dinner at Aureole at Mandalay Bay, one of my very favorite restaurants ever. They took amazing care of us, especially my mom who has a list of food allergies and Miles' stepdad, a vegetarian. It was such a great meal that my parents and sister and bro-in-law decided to miss the first 20 minutes of Barry Manilow to stay and enjoy dessert.

Mostly, though, I'm stunned at how confident and happy I feel. The nervousness has all been about executing the plans, it turns out. Now that it all is unfolding with minimal blips (my oldest sister's a no-show because her son is really sick, and that's a bummer), I realize that despite the fact that I've been married before and that that was a disastrous mistake, I have no real fear that I might be making another mistake. I have learned, I have grown and I am a pretty different man since that last time out in 1999.

And we go. Wish us luck!