Hey Everybody. I wrote this awhile back, but my buddies suggested I post it on here. It's a bit lengthy, but I hope you enjoy. A quick trip to Vegas My friend Eddie B. had been pestering me for almost 2 months to meet him in Las Vegas for the weekend after Labor Day. It seems that he had a wedding to go to in the Bay area, and had a layover in Vegas on the return flight. On a whim, he found out that it wouldn’t matter to the airlines if his layover were for 2 hours or 2 DAYS. He arranged for the two-day layover thinking that his hopelessly-addicted-to-Vegas buddies would be up for another trek to Sin City. Now, Derek and I were just there 3 months previously, and I took a beating to the tune of almost $1800, so I was in no hurry to return to the scene of the carnage. I was fully prepared to wait until March Madness to get my fix. Derek was also playing his “I’m poor” card, but deep down, we knew we’d probably end up there somehow. Eddie plied all manner of coercion in the weeks leading up to it, but finally we relented when he offered to cover the hotel room. We wanted the Luxor, but he countered with the Imperial Palace. No problem, as long as it wasn’t the Shitosphere, we were happy. Free room in Vegas, baby, we’re there. Thursday morning came early, and I had to drive Eddie to Sky Harbor for his 7:00 am flight to Oakland. The entire 15-minute drive he was seeking reassurance that we’d meet him at the sports book at the Venerial Palace on Sunday morning, a half hour before kickoff (it was also the first weekend of NFL, so that tilted our decision to go, too). For some reason, he thought we’d back out and leave him to wander the Strip unsupervised for 48 hours. Not a chance. We were on board and excited to be heading back. Saturday was about the longest day ever, just waiting to go. Derek and I hung out, drank a few beers, shot some pool, and watched a little college football. We decided to head on back to my house that evening and leave straight from there around 3:00 am. We were driving, and figured we’d get to Vegas by 8 o’clock in the morning. Well, around 9 that night, we finally hit the sack for a nap, but it was impossible to sleep. At midnight, I said the heck with it, took a shower and dressed, and rolled Derek off my couch. I told him if we left now, we’d have some extra time to stop at the Hilton, pay homage to the King, and maybe put a dent in the buffet before we met Eddie. So off we went, heading out of Phoenix, a CD player full of Elvis tunes, with visions of cocktail waitresses dancing in our heads. It seems that we have a ritual every time we drive to Las Vegas. As soon as we hit the road, the first song that gets played is “Viva Las Vegas” as loud as we can stand it, with the added bonus of it drowning out our singing. Then we take it out and listen to Jimmy Buffett until we hit Hoover Dam. As soon as we cross the Nevada state line, Jimmy comes out and Elvis goes back in. And he stays in until we park at our hotel. Don’t ask me why, but it works for us. There’s nothing like coming over the hill from Henderson, getting our first glimpse of the wondrous valley below, and having Elvis providing the soundtrack. Nope, nothing like it at all. It’s the middle of the night as we stop in Kingman, top off the tank, and grab a few “energy” drinks. Mountain Dew for me, Red Bull for Derek. Not that we weren’t wired enough, but we’ve only got 2 days, so we want our alert status set at Defcon-1. We’re shooting for sensory overload. About 20 minutes outside of Kingman, Derek swears he can see the light from the Luxor off in the distance. I can’t, but I pretend I can, just because it’s fun. A few minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I see a faint beam off in the distance. Yep, that’s it. As long as I try not to look directly at it, I can see it, clear as day. The odometer tells me we are more than 70 miles away, yet we can still see our first landmark. We’ll call it a good omen. It’s the only one we have, but a good one nevertheless. We hit the Tropicana exit a little after 6 am, and head for the LV Hilton. Eddie and I had stayed there about a year and a half earlier, and really liked the buffet and the quarter Elvis slots they had in the Race Book. For some reason they had the volume on the Elvis slots turned WAY up last time we were there, and we got a kick out of hitting the “Play Elvis” reel. And we always came away winners whenever we played it. Granted, I’ve always hated slot machines, but this one is special. Well, we got to the Hilton, and ended up parking a half-mile away in the self parking lot. No valet at this hour. And this is a HUGE hotel. But, after sitting in the truck for 6 hours, the walk did us some good. We got to the Sports Book, excuse me, Race Book and looked for the Elvis slots. Not only had they moved them to a remote corner, they turned the volume all the way back down. It was drowned out by those God-awful ‘WHEEL – OF- FORTUNE’ machines, obviously designed for the hard of hearing, blue haired, Matlock-watching Winnebago captains we left in the dust back on highway 93. (Time for a rant here. I have been to the LV Hilton a few times, and they have a policy that just KILLS me with frustration. They have one of the largest sports books in captivity, yet they cram all the football games over in one corner with seating for maybe 40 people, while 20 or so chain-smoking old grumps sit and watch horse racing on 10 of the largest TVs in the world in a room meant to accommodate about 500 people. They did this for the NCAA tournament too. I mean, who is in charge here?? I mean, come on, open up the room! Everyone here is coming to watch football! Put the games on! I will NEVER go back to the Hilton to watch a sporting event). Well, we sit down and put about $40 into the Elvis machine, he throws us a few bones, but within 15 or 20 minutes it’s all gone, and I’m getting a bad vibe from the place. A guy who’s obviously been up all night stumbles by thinking he knows me and offers me tips on how to play the slot machine. In return, I offer him tips on personal hygiene. He doesn’t take the hint. I swear, he smells like he bathed in Thunderbird and rinsed with Mad Dog. “Toothbrush? I don’t need no stinking toothbrush!” I decide to find another machine. Derek goes to check out the sign at the buffet entrance. Oops. It’s Sunday, forgot. Brunch opens an hour later, and since they serve champagne, they’ve got to extract a couple extra bucks for the privilege. No thanks. We sit at the bar in back and order a bloody mary. No windows are open in the sports/race book, there is nothing on TV but “The Sports Reporters” and I’m feeling like its time to get out of the Hilton. Derek suggests we just get some McDonalds or something and just hang at the IP till Eddie shows up. I go one better and suggest we go to the airport and pick him up. Not knowing what flight he’s on, I decide to call Southwest Airlines and find out what time flights from Oakland are arriving in Vegas this morning. Lesson learned here. NEVER pull out a cell phone and make a call from a Sports Book. Man, they brought the heat down like I’d thrown a snowball at the President. Of course, I wasn’t actually “in” the sports book, and it was still closed, but since I was the closest thing to a lawbreaker in there that morning, I got the attention of everyone within a hundred yards that was packing a walkie-talkie. Haven’t been there a half hour and I’m already down 40 bucks and have been tossed out of my first casino. Had I been counting cards at least, I would’ve felt much better about it. And straight from the “Insult-to-Injury” category, smart-assed Derek reminds me that we had to pay for our bloody marys. We make our way up to the Imperial Palace, leaving the luggage in the truck. Once we figured out how to escape the labyrinth that is the IP parking garage, we found ourselves in the back of the casino. It’s not as bad as I’d heard, and actually, it smelled kind of like Binion’s Horseshoe, so it had that going for it. We made our way up to the Sports book, and it was already crowded. There would’ve been no way to find Eddie in there. Too many people, too crowded, and not your traditional layout, either. We both did a few parlays for the early games, and I took the Rams to beat the Eagles by 3 in the late game. We wandered a bit, trying to get the lay of the casino and then headed off to McCarran by way of the Golden Arches. Now, you must remember, this was the weekend before September 11th, so it was no problem to go to the gates without a ticket. However, there is one detail about this airport I’d never seen at any other. There is a parking meter in every space. You pay in advance and hope whatever flight you’re waiting for isn’t delayed. So bring quarters, or at least dollar bills. They have change machines, but sometime they’re hard to find. I saw a few tow trucks lurking about, so whatever nazi’s are in charge of the cell phone rule, they probably got their fingers in this pie, too. We made it to the gate with about 20 minutes to spare before Eddie’s flight arrived. Remember, he thought he’d have to cab it over to the hotel and find us later, so when he stepped off the plane and heard us yell “Hey Soul!” (Our standard greeting in crowded places as to find one another—kind of like the family whistle in Almost Famous), he was happier than if Miss September would’ve been there waiting for him with a box of Ethel M’s finest. He said when he was landing he was thinking to himself “How cool would it be if Mikey and Derek were already there waiting for me so I didn’t have to take a cab…” Well, after a quick pit stop, we made our way to baggage claim to fetch his golf clubs and duffel bag. He was quite impressed with our Hilton story. We drove back to the IP, stood in line for about 5 minutes to check in. The room wasn’t ready yet, but they offered to take our bags and not charge us for Derek’s rollaway bed. (Somebody had to take it. Eddie was paying for the room, and I drove up there, so Derek got the short straw). We went upstairs to watch a little football, but couldn’t find a seat anywhere. We decided to go to Caesar’s Palace and try to find a spot to watch the games there. We crossed the street and got on the people mover thingy. At the end of it, there was a locked door. No kidding. Apparently they were remodeling or something, but it was a tram to nowhere. Weird. No signs or anything. It really torqued off the older couples in front of us because we had to walk down 2 flights of stairs) and around to the front entrance (“Someone could get injured!” What about the CHILDREN?!??” Puh-leaze). They immediately went to complain while we scurried off to find a seat in front of a TV. Sports book was completely full. Standing room only. We finally found 3 seats together in a lounge, but had to pay for drinks and hotdogs there, too, and only got 2 games. After about an hour of this, we went to another bar up near the front of the casino, had two rounds, and resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going to see any quality football this day. Only one thing left to do. Time to play some blackjack! We wandered the casino a bit looking for a $5 table, or heck, even a $10 one. They were rare indeed this day. I eventually found myself at 3rd base of a $10 table, and was playing perfect basic strategy, and progressive betting. Soon I was up about $150 (a first in Caesar’s, for me) and Eddie and Derek come wandering by looking for a game. No seats available at our table, but since I’m up, and a couple of the people there are a bit annoying, I decide to split 10s against the dealer’s 8 on the last deal of the shoe (I still won the hand—dealer busted). Whaddya know, Eddie and Derek now had seats at my table. We didn’t play long, so we decided to wander down the strip looking for lunch. We made our way to the Flamingo and had lunch at Lindy’s. Once they finally decided who would be our waiter, our service was good. Pastrami on rye, with potato salad and a pickle—just perfect. After lunch we made our way over to O’Shea’s to pay more homage to the King. Whenever we play Elvis, we each put $20 in with the agreement to share the winnings. And of course if we ever hit the progressive, we will immediately take a limo out to Pahrump for the afternoon to see what all the fuss is about. We did ok. Our $60 turned into about a hundred, and all the underage girls with fake ID’s got a kick out of watching us dirty old thirty-something’s carrying on the way we do. See, it takes 3 of us to play one Elvis machine. One to feed it, one to stroke it, and one of us to read out loud from the flyer some Filipino kid just handed me on the walk over. Highest of high comedy. After a few hours of Elvis slots and five-dollar blackjack, we decide to head back and relax a little bit. Back at the Imperial palace, we get our room. We’re on the 10th floor, I believe, with an awesome view of a parking lot and dumpster. Hey free room--can’t complain too much. Derek’s bed shows up in less than 5 minutes and we spend a couple of hours dozing in front of a football game. Rams push. I get my $44 back. The parlays? Well, at least I got my $44 back. Soon, evening is upon us and we are looking forward to our usual Vegas nighttime activity. Daytime is spent on the Strip, but the nights belong to Freemont Street. We’re cleaned up, shaved, and dressed. I check the treasury. I’m up almost a hundred for the day, plus I still have my “push” ticket to cash in. Forty-four bucks is cab fare and dinner tonight, plus my Rams still won the game. It feels like a win to me! After a quick stop in the sports book to make a withdrawal, we head down to the cab stand for a ride downtown. Since I offered to pay, I have to ride in front. Oh my god, this was the cab ride from hell. This clown wouldn’t shut up. We can’t get a word in edgewise. Usually when this happens, the tried and true method is to ask them where the best “gentlemen’s clubs” are, like we are first timers. Then at least, he’s talking about something interesting. But this guy wouldn’t fall for it, he just kept droning and droning. We finally made it to Binion’s, and just as we were getting out, the nastiest hooker I’d ever seen tries to get in the cab while I’m paying. Toothless Oriental woman about 40 years old, going on 80, weighs about 92 lbs, and has a nice prison tattoo on her chest. Eddie and Derek are standing on the sidewalk laughing hysterically while the cabbie is yelling at her and I’m trapped in the middle. Too distracted by the whole scene, they forget to take a picture. Only in Vegas. We giggle our way into the Horseshoe and find a table. Not much luck, as I’m down about 50 bucks in a hurry. Derek doesn’t like the 2 deck game, as he prefers a 6 deck shoe, less time wasted shuffling, he says (Hey, who am I to argue? Last trip, brother man was down to his last $20 and inside of 3 hours turned it into almost $2000. Talk about buying the lumberyard with a toothpick. It was the greatest comeback I witnessed since the Music City Miracle. Even the heavy from the Asian gaming room couldn’t break him. But that’s a story for another time. He was very proud of his purple chips, though). We get a few beers in us and head over to one of our favorite places for dinner, the Golden Gate. Man, what can I say about this place? Ambiance of a speakeasy, and the greatest cheap meal in the city. I love the Golden Gate. I get the same meal every time. Shrimp cocktail, a French dip, and an Old Milwaukee draught. This time, there are a few more choices on the beer tap, but I got to go with tradition. There is no better place to fuel a night of gambling downtown I feel, and my buddies concur. This is a must-do for any trip to Vegas. After leaving the Golden Gate we head over to the Golden Nugget. This is a great place, but I’ve never won a dime at blackjack or craps in here. I did win a hundred once as several buddies and I were there on St Patrick’s day the year before, walking by a roulette table noticed that it had hit red 12 times in a row. So 17 people put $100 on black. It hit. That’s the only money I’ve ever won at the Golden Nugget. But this time it’s going to be different. I buy in at a blackjack table for a hundred. It’s gone in 20 minutes. I buy in at another one. I get dealt 3 twenties in a row. I lose each one. The Nugget does not want me here. We take our beers and walk outside. About that time another “only in Vegas” moment happens. It’s relatively busy on the street, but coming toward us there is obvious commotion. These three chicks, decked out in skintight gold jumpsuits, boots, and sunglasses come strutting down the street with a security escort. Bud Girls? Victoria’s Secret Angels? Someone tells us they are the “Attitude Girls”. What purpose they serve, we have no idea, but Eddie breaks out with his “Crocodile Hunter” accent and tells us “we must follow them, learn of their habitat, perhaps observe their mating habits”. So Eddie follows them across the street, and one of them actually chats with him for a bit while Derek and I hang back and prepare to laugh at what we’re sure can only end badly for Eddie, but will be fun to watch. Unfortunately, he underplayed his hand, because this girl seemed genuinely interested in him, but alas…it was not to be. Meanwhile I got to listen to another Vegas tradition. Derek is truly amazed that you can leave a casino with a beer in your hand and walk around with it. This is beyond his ability to comprehend, so each time it happens, I’m reminded what a cool policy this is. I decide to head back to Binion’s to play some craps, and they go back to the Nugget. I find a $5 table with 10x odds and buy in for $200. I’m at the end of the table, and a middle-aged couple from Texas and their two twenty-something daughters join me. (Nope, not the Prez). Well, we get this table started. I start the roll, and hold for about 10 minutes. The table is warming up. Everyone at my end has quality rolls. I usually just play $5 pass line with 2 or 3x odds, and come bets with odds. But once I start winning, I’ll throw down a couple of sucker bets—Hard sixes and eights, the occasional yo, even a 3 way for insurance. I know, it’s stupid, but I was on a streak so we were enjoying it. Besides, I always make my sucker bets 2-ways, so the dealers don’t think I’m a stiff. We won our fair share of them, too. The thing was, our end of the table had the hot shooters, and the other end was ice cold. Twice around taught us to come down on the bets when it got to that side. Heck I even played The Dark Side for the first time. And I was cleaning up. I learned some great new lingo—The boys at the Horseshoe know all the good ones. My favorites were “Continental Breakfast” (2 rolls, no coffee!) and the Australian Yo--whenever a 3 was rolled (Eleven down under). I had a great time at this table, had a few great rolls and a lot of laughs. Played over 3 hours and won back my two hundy that was lost across the street, plus another 3. Once the table cooled off, I started to wander about looking for Eddie and Derek. Not two minutes later I heard a familiar voice singing “That’s alright mama…” and another familiar voice laughing. I turn the corner and my buddies are just blitzed out of their mind, but winning lots of quarters on the Elvis machine. It was a good trip to the cashiers’ cage for all three of us. We got back to the Imperial Palace about 3 am, guzzled a bottle of water each, and took some of Derek’s private stash of migraine/hangover prevention horse pills. I was out within 15 minutes. I woke up last the next morning, listening to those two out on the balcony trying to spit on the garbage truck below. (Doesn’t take much to entertain this crew). For some reason, it was extremely funny at the time. We showered up and got dressed and decided to head to Mandalay Bay for the breakfast buffet. Even though I actually drove to Las Vegas, I was fully prepared to leave the truck in the parking garage for the entire visit and take cabs everywhere. It’s a crappy place to drive, and usually I’m liquored up. But they would have none of it. Didn’t want to spend the money on a cab. It’s just up the street, blah blah blah. I finally relented and agreed to drive under protest. Now my truck isn’t very big. It’s a bright red Nissan Frontier with a king cab, and it’s only 6 months old, so I don’t want to be driving it around here in Las Vegas. But that doesn’t matter to them. They want to save 8 dollars. Derek, being the “little brother” of our group, sits sideways in the jump seat in back, while Eddie’s golf clubs ride in the bed. Well, I’m bitching and moaning about having to drive as we make our way through this maze of a garage. I cut a right turn too close, and BAM, I scrape into one of those yellow poles they got planted everywhere. I’m mad now. Nobody says a word till we get to the parking garage at Mandalay. Upon inspection, it’s not that bad, just a big yellow scrape on the flared part of the wheel well. Derek, ever helpful, offers to drive around and look for a red pole to drive into to cover it back up again. We take cabs from that point on. On this I won’t argue. We make our way past the Rumjungle and Red Square and such, through the massive casino and find our way to the buffet. This one is one of our favorites. Only about 12 bucks at the time, and there was no line. I didn’t pay for mine, compliments of Derek and Eddie. Cab fare, they tell me. I’m still mad about my truck, but they’re doing their best to make me laugh about it. The food there was really good, and the marinated mushrooms that came with the breakfast steaks were quite the hit at our table. We each had a couple of plates full to nurse our mini-hangovers while we people watched. Definitely more characters downtown, but nothing entertains like the nouveau-rich. The only place I’ve seen with more poseurs would have to be the Hard Rock, but this place runs a close second. After breakfast we wander the casino a bit, play a little craps, but it was a choppy table, so we left about even. We then took the tram over to our favorite casino, the Luxor. I don’t know what it is about that place, but it’s our favorite hotel, and we’ve always had good time gambling there. We sat down at a blackjack table but I couldn’t get any cards. Derek and Eddie were doing well, so I headed to the nearest crap table. I bought in for $200, as I usually do, and played for about 2 hours basically breaking even. Had a lot of fun, but we couldn’t get it going. I took a bathroom break and tried to find my buddies, but only saw the back of Derek’s head at a blackjack table. A few minutes later, I was back at the table, coloring back in, making another run at it. A few higher rollers than me were on the table this time. One guy was placing every number with black chips. I really felt sorry for him at one point. Three times in a row, right after the point, seven out. Ouch. $640 each time. A lesser man would’ve taken it as a sign, but he still had a rack full of chips. The dice finally came to me, and I got on a great roll. He made a lot of his money back, and I held the dice long enough to make a couple hundred for myself. He kept pressing, and when I hit the 10 three times in 5 rolls, he kept yelling “We’re goin’ to the Rhino tonight! We’re goin’ to the Rhino tonight!” When I finally left the table after almost 5 hours total, I realized I’d made over $600 making my little five dollar bets. My feet were killing me, too. I found the fellas not long after that, and we tried to decide what to do. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon, but I didn’t want to go home. I was up almost $500 for the trip. But Derek had to work the next morning back in Phoenix. We tried to get him to want to stay an extra day, but he figured they’d be a little angry at him back at his office if he called in sick, since everyone knew we were in Vegas. He insisted that we leave (I think he was on a losing streak). I offered to let him drive my truck back to Phoenix, and I’d fly home with Eddie the next day. No dice. He wouldn’t do it. Eddie even offered to change his plane ticket to leave that night, go to the airport and check in and then give his boarding pass to Derek (Southwest Airlines, with the plastic boarding cards), and then ride home with me the next day. Nope. Derek would have none of our schemes to stay in Vegas a day longer. We were beaten by Derek’s strength of will. He wanted to go home. I had to go. Eddie had the room for one more night and his flight was to leave early the next morning. We drove back to the IP, and packed our gear. Eddie of course pointed out that we didn’t have to leave right away, since I was doing the driving, Derek could sleep all the way home. Brilliant. I suggested that we play a couple more hours then we’d leave around 7 or so. Everyone seemed to be in agreement. We got on the world’s slowest elevators, and headed back down to the casino. There were 3 or 4 other guys in the elevator with us, and on the way down it stopped on the 5th floor and the door opened. Outside were three older women, obviously dolled up for the evening, but they were heading in the opposite direction. One of them spoke up and said “Oh my, look at all these men going down, and us not with them to enjoy it”. Just as the doors were closing, Eddie made a great comment, which I can’t repeat here, but suffice it to say we were all were laughing, and they were all were blushing. We made our way to the $3 craps table, and noticed how incredibly hot all of the cocktail waitresses were in this place. I mean, everyone raves about the Rio, Mandalay, and Venetian, but this place had them all beat. It was unreal. It was hard to concentrate on my game. And the service was impeccable. I never had an empty bottle, even when I switched to water. For this reason alone, I’d give the Imperial Palace a thumbs up. Well, as luck would have it, the table was ice cold. Couldn’t hit a thing. Derek and Ed went off to play some more Elvis slots, and I stayed there and emptied my wallet one Benjamin at a time. I was playing by myself at one point, and rolled craps five times out of seven throws. It was ugly. Before I knew it, I had lost $400. Almost all my winnings were gone. I dug out one more hundy and said, “That’s it, no more!” Well, some new blood showed up at the table and between the two of us we got things rolling again. We both hit a few points, made a little noise, and the people started to come join us. Within a half hour the table was full. It was my greatest craps comeback, ever. One guy rolled for 20 minutes. I rolled for 15. I hit 4 hard eights in a row! Stick said he’d never seen that happen before. People were cheering and such and before long it was 3 deep around the table, people just watching the action. It was the most fun I’d ever had at a craps table. Derek and Eddie came back to watch and were amazed at my rack of chips. The dealers were happy because they made HUGE tips that night. And then I heard the thing I’d never heard before, in all my trips to Vegas—“Michael, your play is good, is there anything we could do for you?” First thing I could think of was “Yeah, tell me the name of the Junior High you find all your cocktail waitresses at.” I thought the boxman was going to fall over and die he was laughing so hard. He must’ve repeated that line a dozen times to anyone who would listen before I left. It really was funny at the time. But unfortunately, I was on my way home, and their offer of room and dinner comps were unable to be used. The pit boss told it would be no problem as the next time I came to visit, my trip was on him. Very cool. Only in Vegas. Derek and I left Eddie behind and got on the road at 7 pm that Monday evening. It was a long drive that I didn’t want to make. I was tired, wired, and ready for more, but unfortunately, we had other commitments. Derek snoozed most of the way home, and I pulled into his driveway at midnight on the nose. Twenty minutes later I was home in my own bed, almost $700 richer after all expenses for the trip. Only in Vegas. Post Script: The next morning, I awoke to my phone ringing. Derek told me they sent him home from work, as all the markets were closed, and we were under attack. I turned on the news just in time to see the World Trade Center collapse. We figured Eddie was stranded in Vegas as the airports were shut down and a few hours later, Highway 93 across Hoover Dam was closed. He actually made it back early, as he was lucky enough to get a rental car and get across the dam about a half hour before they closed it. It was a somber ending to a great trip.