While I wonâ€™t pretend that my TR is as anticipated as those from the T2V Pantheon, I hope that some of you are entertained by this! I didnâ€™t take any notes, so it took me a while to piece my memories together. First, a warning: As this is my sole literary outlet, I can get wordyâ€¦ The trip was in the works for a long time, as a means to indoctrinate three of my Vegas Virgin buddies to the ways of Sin City. We had been planning to go for several years, but something always managed to get in the way. This time, we all committed. My buddies (JB, Knickfan, and Verde) are all 30 and single. Iâ€™m the family guy in the group, married with a young daughter. Wednesday, March 16th I was booked on a NWA flight from Detroit, cashing in a bunch of FF miles, arriving in Vegas mid-afternoon. The other guys were to arrive late Wednesday night. Since the guys arenâ€™t big gamblers, I was looking forward to several hours of gaming before they showed up. Before leaving the house, my wife half-jokingly said to me, â€œRemember, what happens in Vegas does NOT stay in Vegas!â€ as she handed me a few extra pictures of our little girl to keep in my wallet. As youâ€™ll see, she didnâ€™t have a whole lot to worry about. This trip became like a â€œbizarroâ€ trip for me. You know, like Bizarro Superman and Bizarro Seinfeld. Everything that I became accustomed to on Vegas trips was quite different this time. A lot of it was attributed to a nice little stomach virus that stayed with me for most of the trip. As a result: NORMAL TRIP: Drunken foolishness. BIZARRO TRIP: Another ginger ale, please. I scored an exit row seat for the flight, which was nice. However, upon boarding, I saw that I wasnâ€™t in an exit row at all. They had switched planes on us, but kept the original seating assignments. Strike one! As the passengers filed on, I spotted a co-worker in the queue. Canâ€™t stand this guy. You know the type: Thinks heâ€™s buddy-buddy with you, but every conversation with him is an excruciating ordeal. If he sits anywhere near me, my flight will be miserable. Fortunately, he heads toward the back, and I avoid eye contact. Ball one, just off the corner! We push away from the gate, andâ€¦ stop. And wait. The pilot comes on the P.A. and says that the auxiliary engine is blown, so they canâ€™t start the main engine. Great. To make matters worse, the aux. engine controls the cabin cooling system, so itâ€™s sweltering in there. We wait for an hour and a half while they â€œjump-startâ€ the plane. Does that sound safe? Strike two! The flight was uneventful, and we touched down about 1 Â½ hours late. As soon as we land, I get a call on my cell phone from Knickfan. Apparently, Verde is sick, and wonâ€™t be making the trip. Are you kidding me?! I think my eyeballs would have to be falling out before I skipped a Vegas trip! So, weâ€™re down to three; a big, sweeping curveball freezes me and I go down lookingâ€¦ Anyway, due to the long trip and shaky stomach, I hadnâ€™t eaten anything in hoursâ€”turned out to be over 10 hours (!)â€”and had a nasty headache starting. I was anxious to get to the Strip (naturally), so I decided to forgo any food until I checked in at the Excalibur. Big mistake. After shuffling my hooves through the taxi line with the rest of the cattle (avoiding the annoying co-worker again), I finally managed to get to the Castle at about 4:00. And I had a substantial migraine. Fantastic. Check-in was a breeze, though the self-serve kiosks were not working. Asked for 2 queens with a nice view, 3 keys, and late check-out on Saturday (taking the red-eye back), and received a room in Tower 1 facing the Tropicana, 5th floor. I had already paid for the â€œdeluxe roomâ€ for an extra $10/nightâ€”Iâ€™m not sure what that got me, but the room was bigger than I was expecting. Tried to tip the cute, smiling clerk, but she refused to take it. Got to the room, threw down my bags, and hurried to get some grub. A nice sandwich sounded good, so I headed to Greenbergâ€™s Deli at NYNY. Ordered a Vinnieâ€™s Deluxe (or something like that), which was turkey, pastrami, and brisket on rye with spicy mustard. Eh. It was OK, but nowhere near NY deli quality. Something about the pastrami was weird. And the headache? Getting worse. Feeling like there was no way that I could enjoy myself with this headache, I went back to the room to lie down for a while. Here I was, in Vegas, alone, and Iâ€™m in bed in the middle of the day. Nice. But I had no choice. Fortunately, I fell asleep for a while and felt much better afterwards. Headed downstairs at about 9:00. According to my watch, I had wasted about 4 hours of precious Vegas time. Gotta make up for it. I walked over to NYNY, then to the bridge over LV Blvd. I always stop on one of these pedestrian bridges on my first evening in Vegas to take in the view. Gorgeous, as always. Back inside to NYNY to play some .25 WoF, per my wifeâ€™s request. Ten minutes and one $40 bottle of water later, I headed back to the Excalibur sportsbook to check out the lines on Thursdayâ€™s NCAA tourney games. Placed 10 bets at $20 each, glad that I would be able to miss the long lines in the morning. OK, letâ€™s go underdogs! Excalibur review: Very smoky. Confusing casino layout, though I got the hang of it by the second day. Interesting mix of people. Decent table limits, though the 6/5 blackjack fungus continues to spread. I didnâ€™t notice too many kids, surprisingly. The room was clean and plenty large, even for two queen beds and a rollaway. Bathroom was clean, no tub but a large shower. $10 to the housekeeping staff kept us swimming in extra towels and amenities. I wasnâ€™t looking forward to staying at the Castle, butâ€¦ NORMAL TRIP: I hate the Excalibur. Place gives me the willies. BIZARRO TRIP: I like the Excalibur! Who knew? JB and Knickfan finally show up at around 12:30. I meet them at the valet, and we head to the room to drop their bags. Weâ€™re all hungry, so we head to the Sherwood Forest CafÃ© for a bite. I had the BBQ burger, which was quite good and perfectly cooked. I was pleasantly surprised. The guys marveled at how the cafÃ© reminded them of â€œSwingersâ€. After fueling up, I was reminded of the problem that I had anticipated with this tripâ€”the guys arenâ€™t very good with decisions. I asked what they wanted to do, and they responded that since I knew the city, theyâ€™ll follow my lead. ME: â€œOK, letâ€™s walk to Mandalay Bay. We can check out the Luxor on the way, and stop wherever we see something good. Thereâ€™s bound to be some nice scenery, if you know what I mean.â€ THEM: â€œNah, weâ€™re tired. Letâ€™s just stay here.â€ OK, fine. We walk to the sportsbook so the guys can get the lines for tomorrow. I lead them over to the tables, but neither one wants to play anything. Or go anywhere. Or get a drink. They decide to call it a night to prepare for the long day of hoops tomorrow. I decide, regretfully, that maybe I should just turn in as well, since we wanted to be up at 7:00 to get to the sportsbook. NORMAL TRIP: My first night in Vegas lasts until the sun comes up. BIZARRO TRIP: Iâ€™m in bed by 1:30 after taking a 3-hour nap. And this would be the latest that I would be out the entire time. Thursday, March 17th â€“ St. Pattyâ€™s Day After a few hours of lying there listening to JB saw down a redwood forest, Knickfan and I were up, showered, and ready to hit the sportsbook as they opened at 7:00. A quick call to my Irish dad to wish him a â€œTop Oâ€™ the Morningâ€, and weâ€™re off. By the way, for you non-Celts reading this: The appropriate response to â€œTop oâ€™ the morning to youâ€ is â€œand the rest of the day to you!â€ Down to the book. I look around for a place for us to sit while Knickfan places his betsâ€”forget it. The Excalibur book is set up with long tables with about 6 chairs at each table. At nearly every table, there was one guy sitting there with 5 chairs leaning forward against the table. This really burns me up, the whole â€œsaving seatsâ€ business. Itâ€™s not cool on a school bus, itâ€™s not cool at church on Christmas, and itâ€™s not cool at a Vegas sportsbook. When the games started at 9:30, my suspicions were confirmed. Mysteriously, these jackholes start emerging from the surrounding casino like wolves from a forest, swooping down on the chairs that were saved by the guy in their group that drew the shortest straw. Fine. We hadnâ€™t planned to stay there the whole day, anyway. Weâ€™ll find another place to go. I run upstairs to grab coffee and a bagel at CafÃ© Expresso. Tasty Hawaiian coffeeâ€”not Maui resort good, but passable. The $2.50 bagel was mediocre. Itâ€™s so hard to find a good bagel west of the Mississippi. JB decides that he wants to play Let It Ride. Not usually my game, but Iâ€™d like to sit and play for a while and itâ€™s more fun with friends at the table. We sit down at what would become my own personal ATM for the trip: LIR Table #4. We buy in for $100, and after 20 minutes Iâ€™ve doubled it. I tread water for a long time after that, finally cashing in for $225. Not bad. And the tourney games were about to start. We wandered over to a big screen we saw through the casino. It was at the Excalibur poker room, and it became our go-to place to check out the action. We could sit just outside the area and watch 3 games as well as the poker action, and also play some VP during the breaks. It was 9/5 Jacks or Better. By the way, Iâ€™m a big fan of TITO. Much cleaner and easier. And this trip, I was able to play for days on a single $20 bill. Play for a while, cash out the ticket and save for later. I ended up with a ticket worth $75 after 3 daysâ€™ worth of play, which I promptly blew in a slot machine trying to hit a jackpot on Saturday. After the first game, we walked to Mandalay Bay. I really like the MB sportsbookâ€”always a great atmosphere in there. Everyone was getting hungry, so I suggested Red, White, and Blue for breakfast, mainly because of the large TVâ€™s mounted in each corner of the place. In my opinion, breakfast restaurants can be graded on a pass/fail basis. If my eggs are cooked as I requested (typically over medium, which I concede is tricky), you pass. RW&B? Failed. But everything other than the eggs was very good, especially the garlic-roasted home fries and outstanding sourdough toast. Knickfan is a big movie buff. As such, it shouldnâ€™t have been a surprise when the following exchange took place: KF: Are there any movie theaters around here? ME: Uh, I think that the Orleans has one. Why? KF: Well, I thought Iâ€™d take in a flick in between the basketball games. I like to check out theaters in different cities. ME. <long pause> Youâ€™re kidding, right? Only he wasnâ€™t kidding. So Knickfan wanders off to find a theaterâ€”he ended up at the UA theaters next to MGM Grandâ€”and JB and I head back to the tables. LIR Table #4, to be exact. $100 buy-in, $200 cash-out. Knickfan returns, and we grab a cab and head downtown. Some friends of ours are in town and playing in a Hold â€˜Em tourney at the Plaza at 4:00, so we made plans to meet them there. This was my first visit to the Plaza, and I loved the â€œold Vegasâ€ feel to the place, complete with bad lounge singers performing for the geriatric set. Unfortunately, the lounge act also had to contend with our drunk buddies, who were laughing uproariously at them. Apparently, we had just missed an Elvis impersonator whose performance was William Hung-esque. I wouldâ€™ve liked to have seen that. JB decides to enter the tourney as well, and I take Knickfan out to the FSE to walk around. Itâ€™s not as crazy as I expected for St. Pattyâ€™s Day, but itâ€™s still only 4:00 or so. Knickfan is nearly lured into Glitter Gulch. I told him that Iâ€™d go inside with him, but there are better strip clubs to be found in this town. KF: These places are probably pretty expensive, right? ME: Sure, but it depends on what you want. If you buy a dozen lapdances, it will add up in a hurry. Most places have a cover or a 2-drink minimum. KF: Hmmm. Maybe if I start winning some bets. ME: Tell you what. First drink and dance are on me. KF: Nah, thatâ€™s OK. We found a vendor selling Guinness cans, and my Irish blood let out a little hurrah! Knickfan had never had Guinness before, so I bought him one. Minutes later, we duck into Fitzgeraldâ€™s so that he can use the restroom, and he comes back without his Guinness: He dumped it. On St. Patrickâ€™s Day. In the bathroom of the Fitz. And admitted it to me. If he was spotted by another Irishman in there, heâ€™s lucky he escaped without a shillelagh upside the noggin. Heading into the Horseshoe to watch some more NCAA action, I remembered the T2V meet at the MSS brewpub scheduled for that evening. While Iâ€™m a relative newbie to T2V, I thought it would be neat to meet some of the luminaries and pay my respects to MM2. But Knickfan is not very social and wanted no part of it, and I didnâ€™t want to desert him. Maybe next time. Based on the reports of those that attended, it sounds like I missed a hell of a time! I kept an eye out for the T2V crew everywhere we went, but never did run into anyone that I recognized from pictures. Back to the Castle to freshen up. JB and Knickfan wanted to eat at a buffet that night, so I suggested hitting the Aladdin buffet and then checking out the scene in that area. They both wanted to see Caesars Palace, and I wanted to show them Bellagio. On the way, we see a couple of guys on the Strip holding up signs that said â€œPETE ROSE HEREâ€. Being big baseball fans, we wandered over to them. There was a small tent set up on the sidewalk, and inside was a folding table occupied by none other than Charlie Hustle himself! We waved and he smiled and nodded. Memo to Pete: Shilling autographs on the Las Vegas Strip is probably not the best way to convince the baseball powers-that-be that you belong in the Hall of Fame. But at least I got my celebrity encounter for the trip. Aladdin Spice Market Buffet: My stomach virus was acting up, so I didnâ€™t get my $23.99 worth by any means. However, I can report that everything I did eat was very good. The Middle Eastern station was a pleasant surprise, as I have very high standards when it comes to Middle Eastern food. I didnâ€™t have any seafood, but my friends indicated that it was very fresh and tasty. In short, Iâ€™d recommend this buffet. After we ate, we headed north towards Paris and Ballyâ€™s. The guys really liked Paris, but they were starting to complain of fatigue. Mind you, itâ€™s about 9:00 on St. Patrickâ€™s Day. We strolled down the cobblestone street to the Ballyâ€™s entryway, and toured my former home base. They had a pretty cool setup on the lower level on the way to the sportsbook, with four separate seating areas with large monitors outside of the book for people to watch the action. As I led us out through the Ballyâ€™s walkway to the Strip, destination Bellagio, the guys decided that theyâ€™d had enough and wanted to return to Excalibur. I protested, but they insisted. So, we cross LV Blvd. and head south. It was a quiet walk back. As we near NYNY, I can hear some live music outside. Itâ€™s a St. Pattyâ€™s Day party sponsored by Nine Fine Irishmen. Perfect! I feign ignorance and walk up the Brooklyn Bridge, with the guys following. It looked like they had a podium set up to charge cover, but no one was manning it and we walked right past. Inside, it was hopping. I was slowly moving through the crowd, enjoying the Irish music, when a probably-intoxicated and quite attractive girl comes up to me and slides her hand up my chest to my shoulder. HER: Excuse me. Are you Italian? ME: No, Iâ€™m not. HER: What are you? ME: Iâ€™m mostly Lebanese, with a little Irish. HER: Wowâ€¦ Lebanese guys are good looking! ME: Thanks, but Iâ€™m married. HER: Ohâ€¦ Well, send your relatives my way, OK? Inside, Iâ€™m reveling in the fact that Iâ€™ve still got it, at least with drunk girls in Vegas. Itâ€™s at this point that I realize that she has a wingman (wing-woman?), and I further realize that Iâ€™m in Vegas with two single friends. And one of them actually IS Italian. The guys slipped past me when the girl stopped me, and theyâ€™re quite far away in the crowd. I call for them, but they donâ€™t respond. ME: Hang on, let me grab my friends and weâ€™ll get a drink, OK? HER: Yeah! WOOOOO! I catch up to the guys, and give them the story. If youâ€™ve been paying attention to my ramblings, you can probably guess that theyâ€™re not interested. ME: Back there, two hot girls, they want to party with us, letâ€™s go. THEM: Nah, thatâ€™s OK. Letâ€™s get out of here. Too crowded. NORMAL TRIP: Iâ€™m embarrassed by my friends having too much fun. BIZARRO TRIP: Iâ€™m embarrassed by my friends not having much fun at all. Back to Excalibur. The guys are ready to hit the sack. They headed up to the room; I stayed downstairs to play for a while. Hit the BJ tables and found a seat at a $15 table. Up and down for a while, cashed out down $20 or so. At about 11:00, my fatigue was getting the best of me, so I went up to the room and crashed. Still didnâ€™t get much sleep due to JBâ€™s sonorous snoring. Friday, March 18th Iâ€™m the first one up. After another stop at CafÃ© Expresso, I head down to the sportsbook to wait for the guys. I pass the time at a Wheel of Fortune machine just outside of the book. A few minutes later, I sense someone watching me. I turn around to see a group of four senior citizens in the aisle, three men standing and one lady in a wheelchair. They smile, and I smile back. One of the men comes up to me. MAN: We just want to see you spin the big wheel on top! ME: <laughing> Well, Iâ€™d like to see that myselfâ€¦ MAN: <runs back to group> He says that he wants to see that too! <group laugh> Just a cute little moment. When I finally got to spin, I landed on a measly 30 credits. I was hoping for a big one in part to see how they would react! They sauntered off. Todayâ€™s plan was to hit the ESPN Zone for the UNC-Oakland game. Oakland U. is just a few miles from us at home in Michigan, and weâ€™re hoping they can at least stay in the game for a while. JB and I head back to out favorite LIR table. We actually talk Knickfan into sitting down for a while with us. He buys in for $40, hits a couple of hands, cashes out with $80, and never sits at another table the rest of the trip. Meanwhile, our dealer is just struggling. Missed payouts, wrong payouts, pushing back the 2nd bet when weâ€™re on the first go-round, long pauses. Either he needs some sleep, or heâ€™s on some incredible stuff. After each mistake, he looks down and shakes his head, as if to clear the cobwebs. Poor guy was driving us nuts. But I still eked out a small win. ESPN Zone was wild. There was a minimum charge of $10 per person, per hour, during the tourney. I had no problem with this, as it allowed tables to open up throughout the day. Oakland battled back from a 37-point deficit to push the 28-point spread. Those oddsmakers never cease to amaze me. And I was rallying on my sports bets, after having a dismal Thursday. I would finish 5-4-1 on my 10 bets, netting me a win of $10. After lunch, Knickfan decides heâ€™s going to go see ANOTHER movie. Unreal. JB and I head back to Excalibur to watch the afternoon games and play some VP. For the evening, we had tickets to see Norm MacDonald at the House of Blues. Fantastic show. Norm was absolutely hilariousâ€”Iâ€™m a big fan of his kind of humor. He had two opening actsâ€”the second guy (Craig Gass) was pretty funny and did some great impersonations. The first guy was brutal. He must have been somebodyâ€™s nephew or something, because he had no business being on stage. He took all kinds of abuse from the audience, and didnâ€™t handle the heckling well. Norm had a great perspective on it, though. Paraphrasing: â€œSee, this guy is on stage trying to make you laugh. In nearly all other walks of life, if someone is trying to do something, and fails, the natural human response is pity. You feel sorry for him. But in comedy, the response is â€˜F*** you, you c***sucker!!â€™â€ After the show, the MC announces that there will be an afterparty for all ticket holders, with live music and mingling with the comics. You donâ€™t need me to tell you whether the guys wanted to stick around. An hour later, however, Iâ€™m asked whether thereâ€™s any place we can go and just hang out, maybe with a live band. You mean like the place we just left? I give up. JB heads back to the tables, and Knickfan and I head over to NYNY to look for a place to hang out. Heâ€™s not interested in any of the bars there, so I suggest the MC brewpub. We walk there, and Knickfan isnâ€™t interested because itâ€™s too much like a nightclub in there. He doesnâ€™t want to walk to Bellagioâ€”Iâ€™m thinking the Fontana Lounge would be coolâ€”so my next idea is the Island Bar at MB. Nope, too crowded. If youâ€™re frustrated reading this, imagine how I felt living it. The bar that we finally stop at is the Burger Bar in Mandalay Place. Not much of a hotspot, but those burgers were top notch! I had the Angus burger with provolone and caramelized onions. Delicious. Knickfanâ€™s turkey burger was good as well, and the sweet potato fries were as killer as the talent walking past us towards MB. Too bad that nobody wanted to go and ogle. After eating, we find JB at Excalibur and the guys call it a night. As for me, I hit the VP bar for one last run, calling it quits at about 1:00. Saturday, March 19th Same drill as in previous mornings. JB and I are back at LIR Table #4. We squeeze into a full table, and on my first hand Iâ€™m dealt A-A-10. Not bad. I let my bets ride, of course, and the dealer flips over another A. I ask the table if any aces are in play, and get no response. The final cardâ€”a 10. Not the quad aces I wanted, but Iâ€™ll take a boat any day. Nice little payoff to start the session, and I end up coloring up +$500. Since I havenâ€™t cashed in any of my chips, I now have a nice little stack of black chips in my pocket. Felt pretty good. I considered going to a higher-limit table to color up to a $1K chip, just to say Iâ€™ve been in possession of one! NORMAL TRIP: Vegas sucked me dry again. BIZARRO TRIP: Whoâ€™s the big winner? Iâ€™m the big winner! We then moved to a craps table. I had never played craps before, but wanted to learn. JB knows the ropes, so he gave me the rundown. I mostly played the pass line with 2x odds, throwing out some hardways and yoâ€™s just to feel like I belonged there. It ended up a $30 lesson, so not too bad. Iâ€™ll definitely roll â€˜em again. After breakfast at the Sherwood Forest CafÃ© (again, not bad at all), JB starts hinting that heâ€™d like to go get a cab. Some initiative! Great! Where to? Well, apparently JB was seduced by the adult establishments that we passed in a cab going down Industrial Rd., and he wants to visit a massage parlor. I couldnâ€™t help him there, so I suggested just asking the cabbie to take him to a decent place. And cross your fingers. JB returned about 40 minutes later. He said that the cabbie took him to a place near the Rioâ€”he didnâ€™t remember the name. He asked for a $75 â€œVIP massageâ€, and he says that his â€œmasseuseâ€ was quite attractive and wearing very little. Everyone must leave happy from the VIP massage, since JB tipped an additional $75. He did seem quite relaxed when he came back to the hotelâ€¦ Excalibur offered a 6 p.m. checkout for an additional $50. Since we were all taking red-eye flights on Saturday night, we took advantage of it. It was well worth it to be able to return to the room and refresh in mid-afternoon before the flight, or else I wouldâ€™ve been miserable. I wasnâ€™t feeling well the entire day, and having the room available was a lifesaver. It was about 2:00 when I finally snapped: KNICKFAN: So, is there anywhere that we can go around here to watch the games and get some lunch? ME: <arms spread, eyes wide> Are you serious?? Weâ€™ve been to a bunch of places already that would be fine! Look around you! There are probably a hundred TVs in this casino alone, and most of them are near places that serve food! What do you want?!?! KF: You know, some place a little quieter where we can just hang out. ME: Youâ€™re in the wrong town for that, man. I canâ€™t help you. KF: OK, this is fine where weâ€™re at. We spent the remainder of the day hanging out at the Excalibur, watching hoops and playing a few games here and there. My net win for the weekend was about $900, and it was a phenomenal feeling to cash in all of those chips at once! The flight home was miserable, even though I did get an exit row seat for some extra legroom. Security was a breeze at the D gates late on a Saturday night. NORMAL TRIP: Melancholy hits as soon as I get to the airport. BIZARRO TRIP: Canâ€™t wait to get home to my little girl. And toss a giant wad of cash to her mommy.