Category : travels

Tornado Alley

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something. Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part ten; “Tornado Alley”.

From Bourbon Missouri we drove right into Tornado Alley, an area hit by tornado’s every year. One of the cities we passed by was Joplin. About a year earlier, this city was hit by a massive tornado. About 8000 houses were destroyed, a whopping 25% of the city was wiped off the earth.

Because of past year’s events, I wanted to see Joplin for myself. How does a city look after such disaster? The answer: Not good.

Tornado Joplin 1Above you see one of the neighborhoods. There’re almost no houses left and look at that tree…

Tornado Joplin 2

I’ve never been in Pompeii, but I guess both cities are remarkably the same these days. For example, this is what’s used to be a house. The devastation of this house en the entire neighborhood was so complete, it hard to imagine how Joplin looked before the disaster happened.

Speaking of disaster, the next (and final) stop of our USA trip was Norman Oklahoma. Since I’m a huge IMAX fan, I watched a movie in the brand-new Moore IMAX theater. This building is amazing, the screen is huge and the sound system is massive. However, less than a year after I visited this IMAX theater, a tornado hit this building and the surrounding neighborhood. Oklahoma truly is Tornado Alley.

Moore IMAX before and after tornado

My final stop: Oklahoma

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest
Part 6: The most beautiful road of the world
Part 7: The color of luck
Part 8: Willow Creek Church
Part 9: Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part nine; “Bald Eagle”.

My next stop is St. Louis, gateway to the west. The city is well known for it’s Gateway Arch, a monument I had to visit while being in the city (see photo below). But St. Louis wasn’t my reason for visiting Missouri. Instead, I headed for Bourbon, a (very) small town located about an hour’s drive south-west of the city.

And in Bourbon, it happened. A dear friend took us to his family farm which was located somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We had kayaks, huge quads, a BBQ and we went clay pigeon shooting. It was awesome! At one moment, I took one of the kayaks and went off alone. After a while, I rested my paddle, leaned back and enjoyed the scenery.

From behind, I saw something big getting closer… a bird, a huge bird. It flew less then ten meters above the water surface and came closer and closer. It didn’t take too long to recognize the bird, it’s a bald eagle. A real bald eagle!

Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera so you have to take my word for it. However, I did find a photo (by Bill Thompson) who looks quite similar to what I saw. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen!

My next stop: Tornado Alley

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest
Part 6: The most beautiful road of the world
Part 7: The color of luck
Part 8: Willow Creek Church

Willow Creek Church

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part eight; “Willow Creek Church”.

Chicago was the next stop on my road trip. Well… Technically I didn’t use a car to get there so it’s not really part of the road trip (I flew from Las Vegas to the Windy City). But for simplicity’s sake, let’s just forget about that.

Ready to move on? Okay, let’s go.

I didn’t visit Chicago to see The Bean’ (see my photo below) or the rest of Chicagoland. Instead, I was in town for a backstage experience of Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, which is a suburb of Chicago.

Willow Creek Church is a large and arguably one of the most influential churches in the States. Everything there is massive. For example, what to think of a 7000 seats auditorium? And they don’t use it for just 1 weekend service. Instead, they have 3. One at Saturday and two at Sunday. When I was there, Bill Hybels introduced John Ortberg, both great speakers.

When John Ortberg spoke, I was in the control room. At Willow, this room is huge (way bigger than what I’m used to). Before the service, during the rehearsals, I walked around the auditorium and checked out the camera crew. Afterwards, they held a production meeting, which was very interesting as well.

As a bonus, the director gave me a tour through the entire building, including the fly wall, the so called ‘bridges’ (from which lights are hung – see photo below), and the workshop.

Needless to say, I had a great time and learned a lot. Thanks Willow, for this great experience!

My next stop: Missouri

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest
Part 6: The most beautiful road of the world
Part 7: The color of luck

The color of luck

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part seven; “The color of luck”.

In Las Vegas, I met Dave. He told me everything in Vegas is done for a reason. For example, the Chinese color of luck is red, which is something you should remember in case you ever want to start your own casino.

Dave works at the Encore casino in Las Vegas. Together with the adjacent Wynn, which is owned by the same organization, this is one of the most luxurious hotels and casino’s in the world (with a combined price tag of about five billion dollars). One day, I strolled around the casino floor, where almost no people were present. Actually, the ratio of staff to customers was about 3 – 1, which means there’re way more staffers than customers. This was also true for the game Dave was responsible for.

He supervises a game – of which I don’t know the name of – but it involves a long table, some dice, five staffers and by the time I walked by, just a single customer. The supervisor wasn’t too busy supervising, since the other four employees needed something to do as well. This allowed me to ask him the one obvious question: “Why are there so many employees present at this table?” The supervisor, Dave, told me it’s a money issue. Over a million dollars was present on the table… sigh.

After that, our conversation continued for about an hour. Dave allowed me to ask him anything, like what happens when the power goes out (there’s an entire protocol for that), how much money he ever saw someone win on a single day (over 10 million dollars), or lose (over 4 million) and I asked if he ever met a celebrity (he met Ben Affleck just a short while ago). While this was all fun, the most interesting part of the conversation came when I started to ask questions about the architecture and design of the casino. I learned about the bold vision of Steve Wynn (the owner) for the Wynn and Encore casino’s and why casino’s are built the way they’re built. Also, Dave told me about the impact of the economic crisis (the Encore opened in 2008, just a few months after the crisis broke out). Then, our conversion shifted to China.

The Chinese elite continues to have deep pockets, which is why Steve Wynn – the owner of the casino – wants to attract as many people from China as possible. Therefore, Dave pointed out, the Encore casino has lots of ‘little’ details to appeal to the Chinese. Everything inside is done for a reason. For example, the Chinese color of luck is red… so, take a guess which color is most abundant inside the casino (hint: Check out the photos below). This ‘little’ detail is one of the reasons why the Encore is the most popular destination for Chinese gamblers in Las Vegas, which keeps the casino afloat during the economic crisis and gave me a reason to write about it. Thanks Dave!

The Encore is a true red casino. Most notably, it has a red floor and red chandeliers. These chandeliers are extremely expensive, they cost tens of thousands of dollars a piece.

Does this feel Chinese to you? To me, it does.

There’s more of the outdoor inside the Encore than at any other casino in Vegas. For example, check out these beautiful skylights.

My next stop: Chicago

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest
Part 6: The most beautiful road of the world

The most beautiful road of the world

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today, it’s time for part six; “The most beautiful road of the world”.

Highway nr. 1 in California is a beautiful road… In fact, it’s a very beautiful road. But it’s not the most beautiful road. Based on my ‘experience’, that honor goes to a road which runs through Death Valley“Which road exactly?”, you might ask? Well, pick any small road which runs from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, as long as you avoid taking the highway, the I-15.

The next question probably will be: “Benjamin, why is this road so beautiful?” I’m glad you ask. I guess it has something to do with the expectations game. I didn’t know what to expect (how beautiful is a desert?), which made it easy to meet and even exceed this expectation. In addition, the scenery was incredible and completely different from anything I’ve ever seen before. The views were simply breathtaking.

“So, what about the road itself? After all, it’s the most beautiful road of the world.” Well, that’s easy to answer. The roads are the best I ever drove on. This is something car companies figured out a long time ago. They use the exact same road for car tests. I know this because we saw some super-secret-test-cars ourselves.

“And… what about the X-factor?” Ah, I see where you’re going. Everything that’s ‘the most’, has something special. An X-factor. This is also true for Death Valley. Besides incredible scenery, breathtaking views, magnificent rock formations, awesome roads and even a ghost town (see photo below), Death Valley has something else. It’s the hottest place on earth. Several times, we left our car to experience the heat ourselves. One time, it was 49 degrees celsius (120 degrees fahrenheit)… that’s what I call an X-factor.

But even without an X-factor, Death Valley is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen.

My next stop: Las Vegas

Previous posts

Part 1: Exceeded expectations
Part 2: Google vs. Apple
Part 3: Look left! … No, look right!
Part 4: Johnny Depp
Part 5: Big, bigger, biggest