Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Middle Leg...

Wednesday, 5/5/10: D-Day
I woke up around 6 a.m. staring at the ceiling. Well, woke up implies that at one time, I actually fell asleep, which I don’t think I did. Half a Monster late in the evening before really kept me from achieving a true level of sleep. I think it’s more accurate to say I snapped out of my sense of grogginess. In any event, I found myself looking at the ceiling. I was looking around the room and testing motor functions in all my limbs like a spy that just came off the high of being drugged and found himself in a room, not knowing where he is. What did I expect? Wake up and be blind in one eye? One leg gone? Can’t speak? Nope. I was 29 the day before, now I was 30. Screw it…let’s go play.

Of course mom and Pat weren’t up yet. Pat was awake for about 36 hours the day before, so I didn’t expect him to see this side of consciousness for a few hours. What to do…what to do? Then I had my first “ah-ha” moment of the day. Go wake up Josh and Karrie and make them go play! Yes, that’ll do nicely. So after a little coaxing, and by coaxing I mean irritating Josh until he was awake, we all made our way to the monorail to go way north on the strip to indulge several other Vegas traditions.

We got off the monorail at the Sahara, and slowly started our walk back towards the bulk of the strip. The Sahara is kind of a depressing place. Along with the Stratosphere, it’s as far north as you can currently stay on the strip, and being all the way down there is a lot like being on the Island of Misfit Toys. Or maybe the Land that Time Forgot? Or maybe The Island of Misfit Toys that Time Forgot With Drunken Kind of Scary People That You Don’t Really Want to be Around. Yeah…it’s the last one. Nevertheless, it was just a staging point to head down to what would be one of the most important stops of the day.

The Big Hotdog is a spectacle unto itself and not to be missed. Problem was, while our stomachs were telling us it was 12:00, the clocks said 9:00, and therefore, not open yet. So we occupied ourselves next door at Circus Circus. Now, if the Sahara and Stratosphere were on the Island of Misfit toys, Circus Circus probably ranks somewhere around the bastard step-child of the strip. You gotta see it because you’re there, like buying the obligatory Christmas gift, but you’re not all that happy about it. Talk about another depressing place. However, it did offer us the opportunity to convince Karrie to have her first try at playing Blackjack. It didn’t take, and 20 minutes late she walked out pissed and muttering that she just lost $50.

At 12:01 we were standing in line like vultures waiting for our hot dogs. Now, to recap, this thing is a quarter-pound monster with whatever condiments you want on it. I suggest the chili and cheese. Josh was the first to order, getting one for himself and Karrie. I was right behind him, right behind him, ordering Trina’s and mine. How long does it take to eat one of these you ask? About as long as it took for the guy to put two in buns and hand me a rootbeer. By the time I sat down, Josh had finished his and was thinking very seriously about getting another. Did I mention that they’re a quarter-pound and I was right behind him? What’s a guy to do? Eat another one, apparently. Oh well. Put a check in the box for tradition.

On to the Wynn, via Encore. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’m sure I’ll say it after this; these two places impress me every single time I’m in them. They’re immaculately clean, smell lovely, offer impressive décor, they’re just great. The only problem is, I’m not really rich enough to gamble there. No big deal, really. We were only there for drinks at Parasol Down, another tradition that earns a check in the box.

It was at this point that I was starting to get a little confused and honestly, a little annoyed. I’m a bit of a planner, so when things go awry, I get a little jumpy. Parasol Down in a favorite destination of my mom’s which is rare considering Vegas isn’t really her scene. Tired of waiting with empty glasses, we decided to head back to MGM and hit the pool. Come to find out upon our return that they were late because they were orchestrating arrivals of my friend, Aaron, and then my Aunt Cindy and her husband, Jay, all of whom made the trip to celebrate (and celebrate here having the meaning of party…hard) with us. As flattered as I was that they made the trip, it occurred to me that I actually might die tonight. I estimated a 47.2% chance.

We decided to pass the bulk of the afternoon at the pool, drinking, not eating, and sitting in the sun…all afternoon. Perhaps a bit of a rookie mistake, because the result ended up as several people in the party being sick through the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Of course, should that stop us from drinking martinis at Red Square (Vegas tradition #3 for the day)? Of course not. In fact, let’s have four! And about quarter after the third was when I realized “hmm…I haven’t eaten in a solid four hours. Guess I’m drinking my dinner tonight!” Never a good realization in Vegas.

People argue that having a slight buzz loosens you up for big runs on the Blackjack tables. Two Ruskies, fine. Four Ruskies, not fine. Four Ruskies, several Bloody Mary’s, and a cheap cigar, way not fine, genuinely unhappy, walking a fine line to be a violent puking threat. Of course this is all in hindsight, which I would argue with anyone is far better then 20/20. But screw it. It’s my 30th birthday, and I’m in one of my favorite places in the known universe with a huge contingent of my favorite people. Let’s play cards-es! By the way, when you decide it’s time to play “card-es” , you’re already making poor decisions. Mandalay Bay is, in my opinion, regularly too expensive to gamble at. But next door at the Luxor, tables are cheaper and they have a pit totally designated for single-deck Blackjack. So we worked our way over to the pyramid.

This place was, for a time, one of the most impressive places on the strip. That was in the early 90’s. Then it fell into a bit of a lull, almost qualifying it for the Island of Misfit Toys. In the past few years, they have had an impressive overhaul to bring in some new blood and offer something other then just being gimmicky. Now, I can say I am honestly impressed with it again. Also, if that wasn’t enough, they offered us an impressive show of customer service. With no $10 tables to be found that would accommodate five people at once, and a $15 table sitting empty, a pit boss waved us over, making the usual casual banter common with tourists. We explained that we were all there for my birthday, and were trying to find a table where we could all sit together. Without a second thought, he took us to the empty $15 table, flipped it to $10, invited us to sit, play, and enjoy. Good form. Good form I say!

There’s a new trend sweeping Vegas lately. That trend is to put Go-Go Dancers on little stages or platforms right behind the dealers in Blackjack pits. This serves several functions; first, men most often dominate Blackjack tables, so it attracts them to those tables where the stakes are a little higher. Second, it’s a fabulous marketing tool to get those players to pay less, little, or even no attention to their cards. Casino visionaries clearly had my friend Aaron in mind when they hatched this idea. Third, it would seem their goal is to get everyone in the casino divorced. Wives can get irritated enough when their husbands are losing money. But losing it because they’re not paying attention to what they’re doing due to a girl shaking her bon-bon? Not good.

I have absolutely no idea how long we were there? None. Everyone sat down and bought in for right around $100, and shockingly, Pat was the first to reach back into his wallet for seconds. They rotated dealers in typical fashion, each one being as fun as the last. We were all drinking gambling, winning more then not, and having a grand old time. Well, everyone except Josh.

Josh has a bit of an affinity for Blackjack. He’s fundamentally sound in his play. He doesn’t offer advice without a request. He’s aggressive, but smart. He knows when to pocket winnings and leave, and he wins more often then he loses. So to be at first base, playing exactly the way you should, and having Pat just to your left betting foolish amounts of money and basically playing like a retard and winning while you lose will make anyone want to kill the guy next to him. So after getting hammered for his buy-in, then losing another $50 or so that I spotted him to keep him at the table for general table karma, I couldn’t get a word out of him when we all decided to pack it in and Pat cashed in for a pretty, lavender chip worth $500. Oh, and by the way, that chip and his change no sooner hit the table then my mother snatched it away from Pat, insuring that he didn’t play “just one more big hand”.

It was a loooooooong walk back to MGM. Ironic, I realize because it’s only caddie-corner from Luxor. I guess a lot of booze will inhibit the speed at which you walk? I read that somewhere once. I’m pretty sure I ran into some walls, stumbled into a men’s room…maybe two, thanked God there was an overpass across the strip from New York, New York to MGM, and eventually made it safely (safely having the meaning of not vomiting) and into our room. My wife, realizing that I was a puking risk, did everything she could to keep me awake enough to get to the bathroom in case such execution came to pass. A cold shower, bottle of water, and 45 minutes of sitting straight up in bed to to prohibit spinning later, I finally drifted off to sleep.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's Better Then Being in Vegas for Your 30th?

Nothing!

Well, that’s not all together true. There is absolutely no one that’s going to card you at this point, and that hurts a little bit. But if that’s as bad as it gets, then you had (are having or will have) a great trip. Here’s how mine went.

Monday, 5/3/10
After working all day, and by working I mean counting the minutes until I could leave, I was relaxing at home, casually packing my bags, thinking about what we would do and how grand it would be. Josh (franchise player for team Vegas Rules) and Karrie (unrestricted free-agent on her first trip to Sin City…hoping to sign to a long-term deal) made it in from Pennsylvania and to our place a little after 8. The idea of getting up at 4 a.m. to make a flight out of Dayton by 6 would have compelled most people to take it easy, maybe have an early nightcap, and turn in early. Not this squad. We stayed up chatting like tweenage girls about what we were going to do first, second, third….32nd, whatever.

Historically, the night before a Vegas trip has a very specific ritual; pack, eat pizza, tidy up the house, watch the movie Casino, not necessarily in that order. We broke with tradition a bit eating beef stew, relaxing on the couch, and trying to teach Karrie the ins and outs of playing Blackjack. It didn’t seem to take. Lack of interest may have played a role there. No interest in Blackjack? Hmm…well that won’t get you “franchise player” status, but a long-term deal could still be on the table.

Tuesday, 5/4/10
Up with the sun. Actually, a little before the sun. Stupid nature calling. But it occurred to me as I stumbled to the bathroom that it was a little after 5, and I never heard Josh and Karrie get up. So in a panic, I tear into the spare bedroom to get them up in what would be a vain attempt to make their flight, only to realize that they were long gone, I slept through the whole thing, and I’m an idiot. Oh well.

A quick layover in Chicago led to what felt like the longest flight to Vegas I’ve ever made. I’ve flown direct, I’ve had layovers, I’ve had lousy layovers, and this one seemed to hurt the worse. The travel time is all generally, barring a major stop somewhere, but 45 minutes at the beginning then almost four hours on the second leg just sucked. I’ll have to remember that for next time out.

We arrived in Vegas and got checked in just in time to make a quick run through ‘wichcraft for a sandwich to get some juice for the rest of the evening. It was only about 4 in Vegas when we arrived, so the whole city was just getting warmed up. So a quick roast beef sandwich was the ideal rejuvenation to head across the street to kickoff the trip in a traditional fashion…a drink at Nine Fine Irishmen. I dutifully choked down a pint of Guinness, wishing I hadn’t, but knowing that it was requisite for the trip, then headed out to the casino floor to see what there was to see. And by see what there was to see, I mean gamble.

Over the course of my last trip west, I started to learn craps. Since there were no Blackjack tables that would accommodate us, why not find a table and throw some dice? Only problem was neither Pat nor Josh had a great deal of experience, if any at all, with the game. Solution to the problem? Just do what I tell you and you’ll learn on the fly. Ordinarily, this is a TERRIBLE method of gambling. But unlike other games, what you do or don’t do playing craps won’t affect anyone else’s bets. Perfect. The ladies took their leave to walk around the casino while Pat, Josh, and I settled in to play.

We played for probably 45 minutes or so, Pat and Josh trying to absorb whatever they could. Pat, God bless his Irish soul, lost just about everything he bought in for, by outkicking his coverage and making bets he didn’t understand which were all low-percentage with a high payoff. Josh won a little, making his first craps experience a positive one, particularly when he made passes on three different point numbers. I won about $75 or so, suggesting positive mojo for the rest of the trip, and discovered that playing the come line doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you could just as easily, and more quickly make place bets. Gonna have to put that piece of knowledge to work later in the trip.

Now a choice had to be made; call it an early night and party hard tomorrow, or walk the strip, take in some sights, do some more gambling, and rely on energy drinks to party hard tomorrow? If you can’t figure out what the right choice is, you’ve never been to Vegas.

Walking the strip at sunset it a really cool time to be out. The sky fades from reddish to purplish to black, and the lights on everything surrounding you just get more and more prominent as time wears on. We made our way north walking as though we had purpose, but not really knowing where we were going. Of course, in the back of our minds, we knew we were heading for O’Shea’s, another staple of every single Vegas trip.

There are a number of reasons I like gambling at O’Shea’s. First, historically, I’ve had very good luck there. Second, they don’t have continuous shuffle machines. Third, they mix good drinks. (Sidenote: Vegas is the only place in the world where my drink of choice automatically becomes Bloody Mary’s. No idea why?) Fourth, they have a lot of Blackjack tables. Fifth, it’s cheap to play there. As I’ve always said in blogs passed, I don’t mind betting $15+ a hand, but I don’t want to have to. Ultimately, it’s just very user-friendly. So all things considered, after playing for a good solid hour, drinking their booze, buying three totally overpriced cigars, and still walking out $60 to the good, that makes a good night so far as I’m concerned. Also, this particular gambling session cemented why my stepfather is quite possibly the worst gambler I’ve ever seen. In the middle of a run of cards that was mediocre at best, mom decided she was done for the night, and gave Pat the signal that it was time to pack it in. A day of traveling will take it out of anyone. But down about $40 for the session with $60 left in front of him, upon hearing it was time to go, Pat feels it’s in his best interests to just bet the rest of what he has on the next hand. Did I mention the cards were only barely mediocre at this point? And what happens? Of course he lost. While Josh and I, the resident gamblers on scene where confused as to why he didn’t just cash out and leave, Mom was confounded by this decision and let him know about it.

We didn’t stay much longer, cashing out for a small profit. The four of us took our time walking back to MGM, which isn’t exactly close to O’Shea’s. But it gave us time to laugh and joke and talk about what we wanted to do over the rest of the trip. Also, it gave us the opportunity to stop and watch a few shows, courtesy of the Bellagio fountains as well as watch Josh pretend he wasn’t drunk as he tripped over a trash can while walking in a straight line. Good times. Tomorrow would be better.