Monday, August 24, 2009

Vegas: December '07 II

Before we left for this trip, we decided that we were going to do something different this time. We were going to have a little competition between the four of us. When you’re sitting at the tables, it’s pretty commonplace to chat up the people around you when there are breaks in the action. It’s typical banter; where ya from and what do you do? The goal was to make up backgrounds about ourselves and tell them at the tables in an effort to get someone to call you a liar. It’s like Fight Club; “You’re gonna pick a fight with a total stranger, and you’re gonna lose.” Most people will go out of their way to avoid a fight, as the movie says. And most people will do anything to avoid calling you a liar.

The cover ID’s
Pat: Published author.
Trina: Owner of the second-largest organic tobacco farm in the Midwest.
Me: 2010 Olympic hopeful…in Curling.
Mom: You guys are stupid.

Of course, there’s a fine line between selling the cover enough to be believable, but still leaving enough question to prompt someone to call you out. And sitting around the dinner table, Pat was unconvinced that I would be able to pass inspection as an Olympic curler. Try me…

“How many guys to a team?”
“Five. Two shooters, two sweepers, and an anchor who is good at both.”
“Huh? Okay, how long is the alley?”
“It’s called a lane, and it’s 30 meters.”
“Alright…how heavy’s the puck?”
“It’s a stone, for the record, and it’s 10kg.”
“Dude, have you done this before?”

Armed with the cover IDs, we sat, and played. The first day was a bust. The only people we talked to was “That Guy” who left right after we sat down, and Phillipe, the Bahamian dealer at the Excalibur. Not to worry. If there’s one thing spy movies have taught me it’s that you don’t force a good cover ID. Just keep it handy for when the time comes…and it will come.

The second day found us taking a trip downtown to historic Freemont Street. I love seeing Freemont Street. It never gets old. You can spend the whole day there, but you don’t have to. You can see pretty much all of it inside of an hour or two. The other great part of it is all the gambling is cheap. In some cases, you can still play blackjack at $3 per hand. So we started with the oldest hotel in Vegas. Can’t remember the name of the place, but the address is 1 Freemont Street. Easy enough to remember, right?

We played a few hands there, breaking about even or so, and moved on the Binion’s to sit at a populated table and let the lying commence.

Sitting with several other people who were there before us and clearly there together, we started chatting during a shuffle. Pat and I were both starting to get excited when the “Where ya from?” question came out. We told them we were from Cincinnati, and asked them the same question, finding out they were from Seattle. Silence. So we tried again.

“What do you guys do?”
“I’m a this, I’m a that…yada yada yada.” Neither of us cared, we just wanted our window.
Silence. Nothing. Nada. No “what do you guys do?” Nothing.

Undaunted, we played a little while longer, then hopped a cab and took a trip back to the north end of the strip to Slots of Fun to have a big hotdog; a massive foot-long with chili and cheese, for $1.59. and he saw that it was good…

Into the Wynn we went. Ah, the Wynn. It’s just beautiful, inside and out. We stopped, had a cocktail, and walked the floor. The Wynn strikes the right balance of ambiance and comfort. It’s an impressive place to be, but you don’t feel uncomfortable sitting down to gamble. To that end, shall we get a few hands in?

Again, we sat at a table with two other people, and mid-shuffle start the “where ya from and what do you do” conversation. The computer programmer from Phoenix and the retail district manager from Newport were happy to tell us, and then silence. Nothing. No reciprocity, what so ever. Ask me what I do, damnit! Nothing. Hell with them…

So back to the hotel we went to get ready for dinner. It was to be our “dress to the nines” night, where we all got gussied up and pretended we were rich. What better way to do that then to spend a house payment on food and booze at Red Square? I’ve never seen such reckless abandon for ordering food and drinks. It was insane, but considering how empty the place was the week before Christmas, the waitress was happy to oblige. And what better way to pass the night all decked out then to sit at the tables in suits with hot women in dresses feeling like James Bond? That is of course, assuming 007 bet $5-10 a hand.

All right, last full day. The plan was to sit at every table we could, talk to as many people as possible, and use these back-stories…and we struck out EVERYWHERE! Not one person, not one dealer, not one pit boss, not one stinking cocktail waitress would take the bait. AGH! It just wasn’t to be. My Olympic dreams were dashed.

Dinner that night was a voyage into Tapas. We walked the strip stopping here and there, and just having an appetizer wherever we stopped. Not really my idea of a dinner, but we did find our way to Mon Ami Gabi to watch the fountains at Bellagio from the patio. That event would prompt the next day’s happenings.

We were now in the precarious fourth day. We were leaving that afternoon, but with the time left in the day when we arrived, then the time left before we had to catch our flight, we were working on four days in Vegas. Untested territory. Undiscovered country. But, since we were there, one more good meal and maybe a few more minutes of blackjack awaited. So we headed back to Paris and Mon Ami Gabi.

As luck would have it, we were early, and they didn’t open for another half hour. Didn’t really matter since people were already queuing up to sit down. But with time to kill, why not play a few more hands. We’d already taken a bit of a beating, Pat especially. He’s not what I would consider to be a good gambler. More on this in a minute. But as if some odd twist of fate, the gods saw fit to send us on our way on a high note. Somehow, we sat down and couldn’t lose? By the time our table was ready, a whirlwind of cards had shown me about $150 in winnings. And with one last chance at stardom, I cast the “what do you do” lure. Everyone responded, but not one bite. ASK ME WHAT I DO FOR A LIVING, DAMIT! Nothing. We ate, and went to the airport.

Even the bad gamblers catch a break sometimes. Now, what makes a bad gambler? If you split face cards against, well, anything, are you a bad gambler? Maybe. If you don’t double down on an 11 against a dealer’s 6, are you a bad gambler? Possibly. If you don’t know basic strategy and are limping along at a blackjack table betting the table minimum, are you a bad gambler? Decidedly not. Well, you might be on your way, but you’re not there yet, so watch yourself. Chances are, you’re just inexperienced. Like I said, everyone was a beginner once. We were all once novice. Look around a casino. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, and none of it was built on people winning money. You can play perfect strategy, count every card in the deck, have a hit card with you, whatever, and still lose. Conversely, you can play like a numbskull, and still win. Do you know when to leave? Can you call a winning session over before you give it all back? Do you know when to cut your losses and be done, gracefully, without making a scene about how the casino jut brought in a closer because you were winning to much? Hey, if you don’t think these statements are made, just look around a casino once in a while. Do you know when to not reach back into your wallet for another hundred?

These are all lessons Pat has never bothered to learn. Too bad too, because he’s a lot of fun to play cards with, and he almost always brings good mojo to the table. But such is his cross to bear.

But Vegas is a funny place. I watched Pat plunk down more crisp $100’s then I care to count, and I saw dealers take away all his pretty chips more times then he’d care to count. And as if the city just wants us to come back again, we finished on an high note, taking back some profit. A hundred dollar profit can almost make you forget about the grand you lost in the past two days…almost.

Only in Vegas.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vegas: December '07

Ah, the stars had aligned again. Contrary to her statement that she really wasn’t all that interested in going to Vegas again, my mother had come to her senses, and we were headed west to America’s playground.

Now, in an effort to reconcile flight times, the right amount of time to stay, cross-referenced against hotel availability, squared and divided by price, we broke what has grown to be a de facto rule. See, figuring out the length of a stay is a delicate art. A ballet of factors, if you will. It all seems to come down to you’re desire to gamble, your ability to gamble, and your budget. High desire, high ability, high budget, stay a month if you want. Low desire, low ability, low budget, you probably picked the wrong vacation destination. In planning last trips, we’ve found that the trip runs best with three full days of activity; fly in early on a Monday, have the rest of the day, all day Tuesday and Wednesday, and come home Thursday. Works like a charm. But if some is good, more is better, not to mention flights and cost, so we ended up flying out Sunday afternoon, and not coming home until Thursday afternoon. Hmm…a previously untested addition of time at the front and back ends of the trip. We’d have to see how this played out.

If you’re considering a Vegas trip, and you’re not that concerned with the pool scene, consider December. Everything is decked out in Christmas garb, the tourist count is pretty low, you can find cheap gambling through the week, the travel and lodging is dirt-cheap as well, and you probably won’t need a reservation anywhere in town. But make no mistake about it, in spite of being in the middle of the desert, it’s not warm. In fact, there were days it was outright chilly. And being right of the cusp of heavy sweatshirt versus jacket can be a little frustrating. However, if that’s the biggest problem, bring it on.

The trip almost ended before it began as Cincinnati and Dayton experienced their worst snowfalls of the season two days before we left. But would 18 inches of snow slow us down? Hell no! Well, hopefully no. Conditions were good enough to allow us safe passage to the neon-lit strip.

The captain’s announcement that we were on final approach to Las Vegas was totally drowned out by the familiar tones of Elvis in my own head. A little less conversation, a little more action please. It just crept up in there all by itself. Always a fortuitous omen. We touched down around 5 or so, and for the first time, we were arriving with the sun setting and nearly out of sight, not that it really mattered. The vibe only got stronger as we looked out across the strip from the windows of the monorail taking us from the gate to the terminal. It was bound to be a good trip. On to baggage claim, taxis, and New York, New York!

We were in, settled, and unwound from a day of being on a plane, and realized “Hey, it’s like, 10 back home…and we’re all starving.” So we ambled across the overpass above the strip connecting New York, New York with the MGM grand, and found our way to Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill in the MGM.

Every single time I have been in the MGM Grand, I’ve been impressed. This place has been there for decades, in the same spot, defying the passing of time and new construction on the Las Vegas strip. Bellagio, Venitan, Palazzo, Wynn, and Encore are all brand new and impressive, but the MGM still hangs tough. Huge casino? Check. Killer pool? Check. Beautiful blend of old Vegas glitz with new Vegas luxuries? Check. Fine dining? How about world-class? Didn’t I mention Wolfgang Puck? And by the way, putting “Bar and Grill” after a name like “Wolfgang Puck” seems to sound a lot like “Secret Decoder Ring” and “Tiffany’s”. But the food was fantastic and nicely affordable, so clearly he knows what he’s doing.

Back across the street we went to “hoist a mug of ale” or whatever, in the most Irish pub I’ve ever seen, Nine Fine Irishmen. Now, Irish food- it sucks. Traditional Irish beer- it sucks. Irish music- kinda sucks. So why would we ever go there? Because Pat is so Irish that if you cut him, he bleeds pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers. Yeah, he’s magically delicious. But I’ve now been in the city for several hours and haven’t even paused at a table yet. It was time to do work.

Maybe the tables were all more expensive then we were willing to play. Or maybe they were all working on continuous shuffle machines. Or maybe both. Or maybe neither? For whatever reason, the gambling vibe just didn’t feel good in New York, New York, so we went across the street to Excalibur. Yeah, it’s gaudy, but there were plenty of spots open at $5 tables that were still being dealt from a shoe. So we sat down and met my favorite gambler ever; the guy who thinks he’s a pro.

If you’ve never played cards with this guy, take heart. He exists in all walks of life. He’s the guy that, whatever you do, whatever you know, it’s just wrong because it’s not what he’d have done. Now, apply this to a situation that’s supposed to be fun with some cards, chips, and free drinks, and you have him in a casino. This guy can be spotted quickly, and corrective action taken.

1. He’s sitting at a $5 table with every denomination of chips except $5, and he’s betting $25-50 a hand trying to look like a baller. Or he just keeps the other denominations out for show while he bets the 5’s.
2. He’s wearing dark sunglasses like he’s playing poker…or the Unabomber…or the Unabomber playing poker.
3. He snorts with contempt when you do something that he wouldn’t do.
3b. He tells you clearly why you shouldn’t have done what you did.
4. He is actually a 60+ year-old she. Crotchety old ladies are almost reason enough to find another table…no kidding.

Retaliatory options:
Sit down at the table, keeping your head down, and playing solid basic strategy conceding to the fact that they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing. Not appealing.
Just don’t sit down. However, this only works if you spot them before you take your seat. I will sooner empty my wallet on the table in a losing effort then be run-off by this person. Hmm...a sound rationale, when there's nothing else open, you're stuck.
Assuming you have already sat down, play two or three hands like a knucklehead. Now, I don’t mean hit when the dealer’s showing bust. But don’t play according to Hoyle. Double down on a soft 18, or just one time, split 10’s. If it doesn’t work, play dumb. If it does work, cheer, rant, rave, high-five anyone in reach, maybe do the moonwalk, whatever. They’ll leave…guaranteed.

I don’t have a problem, generally, with new players at a table. In fact, I’ll take a novice doing their best against “That Guy”. Everyone who’s played was a new player at one point. And the fact of the matter is, if you’re sitting at a $5 table, you have to expect a more novice-level of play. If that’s a problem for you and your $15-25 a hand bet, go to a more expensive table so I don’t have to take grief from my friends for splitting 2’s against a dealer’s 6 in an effort to get you to leave.

The guy we sat down with was quickly labeled, “That Guy”. Pat, being the jovial guy he is, strolled up to the table and says “Hi there. Mind if we join you?” The guy just grunted and shrugged, the universal sign of “Do I have a choice?” With a silent glance of understanding, we were about to take this dude down. Three blackjacks a piece in, followed him busting three times, prompting his choice statement “well, I guess the cards are just running different now huh? I seemed to be winning a lot a few minutes ago.” And he left. It was a moral and financial victory for the night.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Season 9 Stars

Today is a sacred and holy day in my year. All right, that’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s a pretty cool day, nonetheless. Today is the day when the people at ABC see fit to announce who will be participating on the newest season of Dancing With the Stars. It is, indeed, a happy day to be sure. So let’s see who we’ve got to look forward to…

Mya: We haven’t seen much of Mya since she released “Return of the Ex” a while ago. But she should follow in the vein of Lil’ Kim who was unjustly ousted, and Mario, who did some damage a few seasons back. I’ll look for pretty good things from her.

Macy Gray: Wow. Just, wow. She has always seemed like such a kook that I wouldn’t expect her to be around too long. Of course, Cloris Leechman put something of a dent in that theory, so who knows?

Aaron Carter: Ugh. With big brother, Nick binging on cocaine and slapping debutante girlfriends around, I figure he’s just a few years behind him. However, young teens who’s presentation is sexually androgynous, i.e. Cody Linley, and boy-banders have done well here in the past.

Melissa Joan Hart: I think she’s still on a “look how much weight I lost” kick from earlier this year, and looking for some publicity to get some new projects going. We’ll have to see if Sabrina, the Teenage Witch can do some work. Hell, she managed to be a teenage witch until she was 30, so maybe she can.

Debi Mazar: Proof that you don’t need to be attractive in presentation or personality to have a job in Hollywood. She’s got one of those voices that makes me want to stick sharp things in my eyes like Fran Drescher, Erkel, or Janice from Friends. She better be awesome because I doubt she has the following to get random votes.

Joanna Krupa: Probably one of the hottest women on the planet…and that is not just an opinion, Maxim says so. Trust Maxim. Maxim is good and wise. Randomly hot women with few other credentials are known to go very far and even win this thing. Just ask Stacy Keibler and Brooke Burke.

Kathy Ireland: See also-Joanna Krupa argument.

Kelly Osbourne: I would think that she would be the type to not take this at all seriously, and shun the show as a statement against conformity. But the show has gained enough popularity that I would think they could find someone else who would take their participation seriously enough to try.

Donny Osmond: The Osmond family has done well in this arena before, even if they did manage to hang around three weeks longer then they should have.

Chuck Liddell: The Iceman danceth. I wouldn’t have expected to see an MMA star in the mix, but what the hell? If he can’t beat you on the dance floor, he’ll beat you somewhere.

Louie Vito: Who?

Natalie Coughlin: Olympians have done very, very well in this show historically. I can see her having some staying power.

Michael Irvin: The all-pro turned cocaine and hooker addict turned born again Christian might be able to hang in for a while. Football players have strong track records here. Just ask Warren Sapp, Emmitt Smith, or Jerry Rice to name a few.

Tom DeLay: I have never heard of this guy in my life? He’s a former republican majority leader, which means pretty much nothing to me other then he used to do something political and now he doesn’t anymore. Actually, now he probably does something else political. See how much I care?

Mark Dacascos: The Chairman, himself! He’s a martial artist, an actor, and the host of Iron Chef America, Mark Dacascos. I am expecting him to be a serious contender in this season. A history of martial arts has taught him grace, conditioning, and respect. Not to mention, for a little guy he has an impressive presence.

Look for the first episode September 21st.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Vegas: July '06 II

So we’re hanging out in Rumjungle, and I’m not really doing anything more then taking up space. Actually, I was just about to get up and leave, when I caught a familiar face at the end of the bar to my left, less then eight feet away. I don’t mean familiar like someone I knew and was glad to see there. I mean familiar like a face I’ve seen many times before.

Doing my best to be casual, which of course means I was not casual in the least, I kept trying to steal glances until my curiosity overwhelmed me, and I just had to lean over and look. Confirming my theory of who my bar mate was, he suddenly looked at me, grabbed his chest, and jumped back like he’d seen a ghost. I guess that’s the kind of thing I deserved considering my non-casual nature I spite of myself, from a jokester like Jim Carrey. Kind enough to laugh off my star struck interrogative glances, he smiled, shook my hand, introduced himself and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy. Dude, what do you think, I’ve been living in a cave for the last ten years? Or are you really just that cool and even-keeled about the enormity of your success? I think he really was that cool.

The rest of the night passed without incident. But for the second night, there would be no sleep had, as my father’s snoring likely woke our entire floor.

For the third day in a row, I found myself hanging out killing time on the strip. Still not the most fun thing to do when you’re solo. But everyone was all set to be out for the day by about noon, so the pool was calling. No sooner did the stroke of noon hit, then I was out asleep, dead to the world for about five hours. Two nights “sleeping” on a foldout cot listening to Grizzly bears argue had finally caught up to me.

By the time I got up, dinner plans were in the works. That night, the plan was to go to Mon Ami Gabi with something like a party of 12 or so. By this time, I knew a fair number of people that were in our group, but these guys were all knew. Of course, I came to find out that only one of the four new people joining us were docs. Everyone else was just friends with the right people, and since it was all on the company, why not bring them all along?

If you’ve never eaten at Mon Ami Gabi, it’s something that is really worth trying. The food is good. It’s not Michelin-rated good, but good nonetheless. It’s not terribly expensive, at probably around $25-30 a person. And it has, bar none, the best outdoor seating of any restaurant I’ve been at on the strip. Did I say bar none? Well it’s worth repeating. Bar none. Al fresco eating is a pretty slim market on the blazing heat of the Vegas strip, but when you’re on a cobblestone patio looking right across the street at the Bellagio fountains, it doesn’t really matter what the competition has to offer. It just doesn’t get better.

The next morning, I found myself packing to get ready to make the trip home when there was a knock at the door. Still sleepy, and rather confused, I opened it to find my dad standing there beaming like a child with a plate of food in his hand. “Here, I grubbed you. Gotta run back.” He actually went to a lecture where they were offering breakfast, waited in a buffet line, stole food, ran it up to me, and then ran back to catch the end of the seminar. It was cold buffet food, but the circumstances were all too funny, and I appreciated the effort.

With a little less then an hour before we had to leave for the airport, dad decides he’s going to sit and gamble. It was Friday in the early afternoon, so the prices on the tables were already higher then I felt like dealing with at $10-15 tables all over, and not a $5 to be found. Undaunted, he wanted to play, so he found at $10 table with a continuous shuffle machine, and sat down. I hate those machines, but tolerating them is becoming a necessary evil in just about any casino anywhere. With a seat open next to him, he beckoned me to sit down and play. I touched the chair to pull it out, and something about it just felt all wrong. I have no idea why? I have no idea what it was? But for some reason, sitting down right then, right there just didn’t seem like a good idea. Probably a good thing I didn’t sit down as dad lost $100 on 11 hands never winning a single one.

It was a different kind of trip, no doubt about it. It was fun, but probably not one that I would want to make again. Walking the strip by yourself in the middle of the afternoon, sitting at a table solo, or hanging out alone by the pool is just not my thing. I know there are people who would kill for that kind of down time, but the fact of the matter is that if you’re looking for down time, you’re in the wrong city.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Vegas: July '06

It was about the be the third time in a year that I was going to make the trip back to the sacred ground known as the Las Vegas strip. But my dad was going out for a conference/convention for work, and he had a ton of frequent flyer miles, so what the hell? I wasn’t paying for it, and neither was he, so bring it on. Besides, this would be my first visit to the area in the summer months for poolside enjoyment since I was 21.

We left Cincinnati around 10 a.m., flew direct, met the people dad was “conventioning” with, and made our way to the hotel. Something just didn’t feel quite the same as times I’d had arrived in visits past. I didn’t have the same buzz. I wasn’t singing Elvis to myself. Probably not a good sign. The best gamblers in the world will tell you that vibes, feelings, hairs standing on the back of your neck are just myths. I’m compelled to disagree. By about 11:30 Vegas time, we were at the pool running up an absolutely retarded tab. Vivacious, rum-based concoctions were flowing like water down a mountain. It was 1:15 before I realized that I still hadn’t eaten anything that day, and as far as my stomach was concerned, it was just after 4.

Several more hours of enjoyment passed, and before I knew it, we had run up a $600 bar tab buying whatever sounded good for whoever walked by. Apparently, I’m in the wrong line of work? But it was time to take our leave, get changed, and gather again for dinner.

Just before we arrived Planet Hollywood had bought out the Aladdin, where we were staying, and the corporation was in the process of making the changes in décor, gaming, and unfortunately, restaurants. I say unfortunately, because the place we ate that night was called Elements, and it was absolutely amazing. In spite of my best efforts, I can’t find it in Planet Hollywood or anywhere else on the strip. But we packed it in early for the night because whatever semblance of a conference that was going on was starting the next day.

The bulk of the next day, I was on my own. And I never thought that I would say this, but Vegas, by yourself, when you’re not an obsessive gambler, between the hours of 9-3:30 or 4, can be really dull. Yeah, I know. I can’t believe I just said it either? But I hate gambling by myself, and the pool scene was kind of dead. On a side note, for as cool a room as we had and as nice as the hotel was, their pool deck is somewhat lacking. About an hour at the tables yielded a few bucks, but I just can’t sit by myself at a table for any substantial amount of time. Thankfully, around 4, everyone was done with whatever business was being conducted, and the party was set to resume.

That night would mark a triumphant return to Red Square to do battle with the Russkie. We had a party of roughly 20, and totally monopolized the center of the restaurant. And in an effort to help dad’s business, (why not, if not for the company, I wouldn’t be there) I moved from table to table, striking up conversations and helping with drink orders. Cool job you have here, dad. So what do you actually do again? Apparently, spend a stupid amount of money on food and booze in an effort to get people to like you.

In the corner of the restaurant, easily missed if you weren’t looking for it, was the “vodka locker” for the “Red Square Vodka Experience”. Yeah, that’s what it’s actually called on the bill. What you do is go into a small, very cold room with coats and hats on, and drink vodka that starts at $200 a bottle from all over Mother Russia. Gotta tell ya, $200 vodka chilled to 25 degrees tastes an awful lot like $30 vodka chilled to 25 degrees. For all we know, it was just Smirnoff or Absolut.

Next door to Red Square is Rumjungle, a danceclub/bar and they might even have a restaurant in there too? So we stepped next door, when all I really wanted to do was go back to the room. All the people we were with were all together too happy to be out in Vegas, cutting loose, away from spouses or responsibility, and it was just becoming less and less my scene. I just wasn’t into it.

What better way to get into it then to have a brush with greatness?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vegas: February 2006 II

Our last day came and went pretty much without incident. There wasn’t a ton going on. We walked the strip, had a look inside Bellagio and Wynn, two things we didn’t do in our last visit because of all the crazy winning. We didn’t even spend that much time at the tables. Ultimately, we were pretty much spent.

Our flight was scheduled to be leave around noon the next day. A short layover in Denver, and we would be back home that night. That was the plan, at least until breakfast that morning. Apparently, Pat wasn’t satiated yet. He still had an itch that needed to be scratched, and with the rest of our party leaving later that day, it would be just the four of us, if we could juggle our lodging for one more night, and our travel the next day.

Trina and I are planners. If our flight leaves at 12, we’re at the airport at 10 or 10:30, getting through security, making sure everything’s in place, grab a drink, and if we have to wait 40 minutes to board the plane, so be it. My folks? Not so much. Stroll in whenever they want, walk right to the plane as they’re making the final boarding call, and if they miss it, what the hell? We’ll catch the next one.

Them: you guys wanna stay another day?
Us: Umm…sure. Why not.
Them: Okay. We’ll finish breakfast and go back to the rooms and see what we can work out.

Them: Umm…well, this hotel is booked for the night, so let’s see what else we can find.
Us: Uh…okay. What about the flight?
Them: Oh yeah, forgot about that. We’ll call them too.

Them: Well, since we bought this trip as a package, we can’t extend it
Us: Okay. Then let’s hustle up and get to the airport. Our flight’s out in just over 90 minutes.
Them: What’s the rush? We can work this thing out. Just relax.
Us: Teeth grinding.

Them: Ah, I see. There’s a convention this weekend! That’s why we can’t get another room anywhere.
Us: Alright, then let’s REALLY hurry to the airport and just go home.
Them: Nah, we’ll get it figured out.

Them: Alright, we can get one room for all 4 of us at Excalibur for tonight, but a flight is hard to come by.
Us: Then what’s the point? Let’s get a cab right now!
Them: Nah.
Us: Guys, checkout time was literally 5 minutes ago.
Them: So?

Them: Well, we might have a flight, but let’s see if we can find something cheaper.
Us: Are you kidding me? You’re splitting hairs when our original flight leaves in 20 minutes?
Them: Don’t worry…they won’t leave without us.
Us: Actually, I don’t recall what happen next because I think I hyperventilated and passed out.

By noon, I think I had come to, the flight was gone, checkout time was an hour ago, with a convention in town, there was almost no where to stay, and it looked like we would be hitchhiking home. Sweet. But I guess while I was unconscious, they had secured travel and lodging. We would all share a room at Excalibur…for $200 for the night (that place usually charges about $40 a night for the record), and we’d be taking a one-way flight home the next day…for $400 a person. So ultimately, staying one more day cost more then the first four days of the trip. What the hell…it wasn’t our money.

The dynamic had changed, and it was actually a really nice day. We relaxed, laughed, joked, mostly about me passing out, ate, drank, and were merry. And finally, we found our way to the Flamingo. It was getting late, and this would probably be the last time we gambled on the trip. But it was a Friday night, and everything was packed. Finally finding a table with two open spots, Pat and I sat down to play while mom and Trina looked around.

The table was full, but for the most part they were friendly. I few times I caught a dirty look here or there for the way I was playing, but I play for me. I’m sorry if what I do offends the delicate sensibilities of other people at the table, but my money is my money, and I’ll play how I want and do what’s best for my bankroll.

Anyway, some time had passed, and we were both up for the venture. I decide I’m going to cash out, and Pat hits me with the “let’s play one more hand” routine. And he also added the “go ahead, bet a big one” pitch. Anyone who’s ever been in a casino for more then a minute should know better. But, I was up to $150 and only bought in for $50, so what the hell? I pushed out three green chips for a $75 bet, still the biggest single bet I’ve ever made. Out come the cards, and I get a five. Well how about you just smack me in the face now and get it over with?! The next cards come out and the dealer paints my five with a six. I retract my previous statement. Oh yeah, and she’s got a six showing as well. Oh man. Ordinarily, what to do next isn’t even a conversation. That’s a double down in your sleep. But with $75 on the table, and really not feeling great about putting out the rest of my cash, I hesitated.

“You see mom anywhere?,” I inquire?
“How about Trina?”
“DOUBLE DOWN” I declare as I slam my other $75 out on the table. And the table cheers in agreement.

With a grin and a nod, the kind-hearted dealer obliges with a nine. Sweet. I’m showing 20 against a bust card, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself. Until, of course, she turns her hole-card and shows what card? A five, of course. Bitch. The collective sigh from the table can be heard throughout a room of previously screaming people. Then totally losing all control of my faculties, intelligence, etiquette, and tact, not to mention manners, I look her right in the face and say “I swear to God if you pull a 10 out of that deck, I’m going to turn this table over.” Yeah, don’t EVER do that. Then, with a trembling hand, she draws the next card from the shoe and reveals a seven. 20 beats 17 all day, and it was at that point I decided it was best to get out of there, leaving nothing but tread marks and a puff of smoke that looks like me where I was sitting before I was escorted out by big scary guys names Guido.

I left with six times the amount a sat down with. Any gambler in the world would call that a good night.

We made our way back to Excalibur, where we finished the night, and the trip by watching a hypnotist. It was cool. Cool enough anyway. It was fun to see once, but not really worth seeing again. Then we retired to the matchbox of a room that the four of us would pass the next few hours in until it was time to leave. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but sharing a bed with your girlfriend (we wouldn’t be engaged for another three months) in the same room as your parents…just weird.

I have no idea if I was up or down for the trip? If I ended up down, it couldn’t have been much. I would have felt a loss, and I just didn’t have that feeling. I didn’t feel like I needed to do everything I could to leave the city as quickly as I possibly could, not that it mattered…I’d still be fighting to get back.