Over the years your bodies become walking autobiographies, telling friends and strangers alike of the minor and major stresses of your lives. (Marilyn Ferguson)
Long time, no blog. It’s been a hellacious start to 2014: in mid-January I spent a full week at the marathon that is the Television Critics Association press tour for Fan Voice, during which I contracted a cold. The next day after coming home, I underwent a skin cancer biopsy that I’m still waiting on the results for. And by that point, the cold had turned into two weeks of bronchitis. Being physically ill while also struggling with the mental stress of possibly having an even more serious illness, well, it’s added up to a few weeks of near total radio silence. I’m still not one hundred percent, if I’m honest. Maybe about seventy-five.
Yet the world keeps spinning, and I’ve reached the point where I honestly can’t take any more time off no matter how I’m feeling. And at least I had the opportunity to make my comeback in a big way. I’m two days removed from a quick trip back to Las Vegas, where I was once again reunited with my close friend Criss Angel and his team, to launch their new live show, Criss Angel MAGICjam.
I’ve honestly been feeling pretty beaten down over the last few weeks, so it was a relief to be invited back and spend two days with some of my favorite people in the world. I’ve already spoken about my admiration for them professionally, but what I needed right now was my friends, and that’s exactly what I got. Criss has become one of my closest friends, and he always looks out for me, plus I have to thank him for calling me out during a live show again. (When your two favorite people in the world – Criss Angel and Adam Levine – have both called you out during a live performance twice, you’re living a pretty charmed life.)
I got to chat with a number of familiar faces, including Criss’s apprentice and my friend Krystyn Lambert, Criss’s production designer John Farrell, half the MAGICjam cast, the people who work in the show’s gift shop, and most of the Luxor security detail. There’s a really comforting feeling which occurs when you show up somewhere and everyone knows your name. It really is just like Cheers. And that’s going to be important later.
At the premiere night afterparty, I had the pleasure of getting to know another of Criss’s friends, comedy magician Nathan Burton (who you may have seen in the BeLIEve episode “Ship Appearance”). This is how cool these people are: when I offhandedly said that I had no idea what I was going to do on Wednesday before the next MAGICjam show, my friend Al – part of Criss’s security team – mentioned that Nathan had an afternoon show, and Nathan graciously set me up with a ticket. It was so sweet of these guys to again take care of me, and it unknowingly set me on course for a great adventure.
One of the reasons I love hanging out with Criss is that he always inspires me to push my limits. He does things that I would never dream of even attempting, and especially now, he’s on stage with basically one arm when almost everyone else wouldn’t be. When I realized Nathan works out of Planet Hollywood (ironically, the same theater where I used to see Steve Wyrick), I knew I’d set myself up for a challenge – to get there before 3:30, catch the show from 4:00 to 5:15, and then make it back to the Luxor by 6:30, walking the whole thing on legs that we already know don’t function well, while recovering from bronchitis.
I should’ve followed everyone’s advice (literally everyone, including Nathan’s mother) and just gotten a taxi. However, I didn’t quite feel comfortable getting in a car with someone I didn’t know, and being inspired, I thought I could handle it. To quote Jeremy Clarkson, how hard could it be?
Actually, it was pretty hard. Here’s how my day went:
- 11:00 PM Tuesday: Get back to hotel room after MAGICjam premiere afterparty.
- 1:00 AM Wednesday: Finally get to bed, but not before remembering I booked a ticket for CSI: The Experience at MGM Grand at 2:00. Frantically check website, see that it shows break in attraction schedule between 10 AM and 2 PM, so if I want half a chance of using this ticket, I have to get up in the morning.
- 8:00 AM: Get out of bed. Head down to Luxor buffet for a quick breakfast.
- 10:00 AM: Leave Luxor to walk to MGM Grand. This involves walking through Luxor, through Excalibur, across to New York-New York, then taking a bridge to MGM and going through MGM to get to CSI, which is next to the Las Vegas Monorail station.
- 11:15 AM: Having finished solving two cases at CSI: The Experience and going through its gift shop, I’m faced with a dilemma. Stay at MGM and close to Monorail station for three hours with nothing to do, or walk back to Luxor for lunch I’ve already paid for and have to walk all the way back. I choose the latter option.
- 11:45 PM: Get back to Luxor. Head back to buffet for lunch despite having had breakfast maybe two hours earlier.
- 1:00 PM: Leave Luxor buffet. Wisely head upstairs to hotel room for a quick refresh. I’m already covered in sweat.
- 1:30 PM: Leave Luxor for the second time to trek back to MGM Grand. Board Monorail that will take me one stop north to Bally’s. In order to get to Planet Hollywood, I have to walk through Bally’s, through Paris Las Vegas, and cross the street. Once I get inside, finding the theater requires going through half of the Miracle Mile Shops, as it’s (of course) all the way in the back.
- 2:40 PM: Finally get to the Planet Hollywood theater. Check the time. Realize that it just took me an hour and I have just about an hour to get out of here and get back to Luxor later. Begin to worry.
- 3:00-5:15 PM: It’s a double feature at Planet Hollywood: Nathan’s opening act is Armando Vera, another member of the MAGICjam ensemble. Awesome show, but you’ve never seen me leave a building as quickly as I do then. I only stop for maybe a minute to take a precautionary painkiller, because I know I’m going to need it.
- 5:30 PM: After getting lost once, emerge onto street outside Planet Hollywood. Look the other way up the block and can see MGM marquee. Consider that it may be faster walking directly to MGM rather than going south to Bally’s and walking back to Monorail. Decide to go for it.
- 6:05 PM: Having walked several blocks up Las Vegas Boulevard to MGM, and then made the whole trek from MGM back to Luxor, I arrive at the Criss Angel BeLIEve gift shop exhausted and with my blood sugar dropping. However, I’ve just accomplished more walking than I’ve ever done in the four years since I had my surgeries, and I made it back early.
- 10:00 PM: Talking backstage with Nathan after MAGICjam, he tells me that I should’ve just come over to Luxor with him and his fiancee. I mentally beat my head into the wall.
- 10:15 PM: Oh, by the way, I’ve been backstage so long that they’ve actually locked up the interior of the theater and have to come back to let me out.
I wouldn’t recommend what I did to anybody (in fact, I think I scared the bartender in the showroom when I walked up and told him, “I need the biggest soda that you have” to keep myself from passing out), but for me, to walk that much in my condition is a serious accomplishment, especially when you consider that I did it with only quick pit stops for food and minimal breaks. Once I was on the go from one location to another, I didn’t stop. And that’s not something I’m supposed to be able to do. I don’t think I would’ve even had the courage to try it if seeing Criss take the stage with his own injury hadn’t inspired me.
In fact, this whole trip was a benchmark for me. Prior to getting on a plane Tuesday afternoon, I hadn’t flown in four years, in part due to my surgery and in part due to the fact that my last two flights saw me threatened by a fellow passenger and interrogated by UK Customs, respectively. And the longest I’d traveled alone was spending that week in one hotel for TCA. A hotel that I never had to leave, that I was dropped off at and picked up from, and my family came to visit in the middle of that week. So to tackle Las Vegas on my own, well, that was more than a little nervewracking.
But that’s where my friends come in. What made all the difference was knowing that I was surrounded by people that I knew, who cared about me and would keep me safe. It’s hard to be nervous when you’re friendly with the Luxor security staff and know you can find them if you need to. And when your brain is racing a mile a minute worrying about if you’ve got cancer, it means a lot to be sitting at the bar maybe five feet from one of your best friends and biggest inspirations, knowing that he invited you here.
I’m still dealing with bronchitis. I won’t know for another week and a half if I have cancer. And I definitely messed up my bad knee a little bit doing all that walking. Yet I pushed well past my limits and I succeeded. And the last time I saw Criss on Wednesday night, the last thing he said to me was that he loves me, exactly the words of support I needed to hear right now. If I’m going to go down, at least I’m going to go down fighting and in the best company.