Hey Gang--Here it is, the long awaited official report from March Madness. I hope it is worth the wait. Enjoy! March Madness had finally arrived after several long months of anticipation. For the past few years, I’d been going to Vegas about 4 times a year, and now that I’ve moved to Nashville, driving out for a long weekend is out of the question. So I hadn’t been back to my favorite city since July of last year—it had been far too long. This was going to be my longest trip ever, as I usually just go for 3 or 4 nights. But since flying cross-country is such a pain in the ass, I decided to make it five nights so that the hassle would be worth it. Due to my play at the Las Vegas Club last summer, I was offered a casino rate of $30 per night for five nights in the North Tower, with all meals comped. So once again my quest to stay at the Monte Carlo—instead of downtown—went down in flames, as the Monte Carlo wanted about $119 per night. Once the hotel reservations were confirmed, I managed to get a bargain on my flight—nonstop both ways for $215. Sold! After that, all I had to do since the middle of December was just save up for my gambling bankroll. As the anticipation built, Dougie (Bazootch) wanted to go a little uptown, and offered to cover one night at the Mandalay Bay at the beginning of the trip. Hmmm… free room at Mandalay Bay, or $30 at the LV Club… What should I do??? That was even more of a no-brainer than doubling my eleven against a dealer six! Ok—so the trip was set—Wednesday night at Mandalay Bay, then we would change hotels and spend the following four nights downtown at the LV Club. The anticipation kept building, more and more plans were made, and more people from the travel2vegas board wanted to come out and have a meet. It turns out that LV Dawn was going to be out at the Mandalay Bay for the entire week on business, so we started emailing back and forth several weeks ago. Then, when I was feeling badly that my T-minus countdown got jacked up a day by leap year, Dawn offered me another night at the Mandalay Bay FREE, as she had tons of comps built up there from all of her travels. Talk about hitting the jackpot before getting on the plane, now I had 2 free nights at Mandalay Bay!! I managed to get some additional vacation time approved, and after a little bit of creative web surfing, I changed my flight on Southwest for only 20 cents extra—not the $200 they tried to extort from me over the phone. Whew! After all that, the trip was finally set for real. I still had to go to the office for a half day on Tuesday, but it’s not like I got much work done—just tying up loose ends and such, and answering all the emails from people wishing me Good Luck. Tuesday morning actually moved along at a fairly good clip—I hit the elevator at 2:01 pm and busted out with my best Reverend King voice--‘FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST, OH MY LORD I’M FREE AT LAST!!!’ I drove home as quickly as I could and my mom and sister were waiting for me when I got there, ready to take me to the airport. I changed out of my work clothes and put on a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and comfortable sneakers. I even grabbed a set of Mardi gras beads to wear. I had done the online check-in earlier that morning, so I had a coveted A-pass already, but I still needed to check my luggage. When I got to the airport about two hours before my flight, I was amazed to see a complete absence of people in line at the Southwest ticket counter. Yep, completely empty! That was a total shocker because it’s usually more crowded than a Calcutta street market. A minute and a half later I was on the way to the gate, hoping that my plane would be as empty as the check-in line. There was a small crowd at the gate, and for a minute I considered having a drink at the bar, but I opted to just sit instead. Why pay for a drink? My Vegas vacation was officially under way, so buying drinks was against my code. Too keyed up to read, I just people-watched, watched a little news, and daydreamed about hitting it big. About 20 minutes before our scheduled departure, there was still no plane at the gate. They finally announced that the flight was late due to all the snowstorms around the country, and that our plane was still on the ground in Cleveland, getting de-iced. As you can imagine, this did not make me very happy. I made friends with the lady sitting next to me in the waiting area, and we decided that if the plane ever got there, we’d sit together and she’d get the window while I would take the aisle, fold my arms, not smile, and hope that nobody would sit between us. She was a Las Vegas local, in Tennessee visiting her family, but called her husband at home telling him we’d be delayed. She offered to let me use her phone and call Dawn, as I was supposed to meet her at THEhotel at 8:30. I attempted the call and left a message on Dawn’s cell, but got cut off by an incoming call. Not wanting to be rude and ignoring it, I handed the phone back to my new friend and told her that somebody was calling. It was a wrong number—some lady was asking ‘Hey, you just called my cell, is this business related?’ They went back and forth for a few minutes, and it sounded kind of entertaining. When she finally hung up, she asked if I needed the phone again, but I told her no, I’d gotten most of my message out. She was looking at the incoming number before she put the phone back in her purse, and it had a New Jersey prefix. DOH! That wrong number was Dawn calling back… About that time they finally started boarding us, so I didn’t get to call her back. We finally took off a few minutes after 7 pm—I’d been at the airport since 3:00, so I was ready to get there. Nobody sat between us, but the flight was fairly crowded. It was easily the longest four hours of my life, as all of the flight attendants were men, and ours was wearing the worst cologne ever—it was much too strong, and it just screamed ‘Ask me about alternative lifestyles’. I could not get to Vegas soon enough. When we got on the plane, we opted for seats close to the front instead of taking seats on the right side for the view, so I didn’t get to see any of the Strip as we were landing. The flight attendants, attempting to be funny, said ‘Welcome to Fabulous Cleveland Ohio’ as we were taxiing to the gate, which got a huge round of boos from the cabin. I finally got off the plane and made my way to the baggage claim area. Of course, our luggage was on the furthest carousel from the terminal, but I couldn’t complain too much—my suitcase was one of the first ones to pop out. I scurried over to the cab line and waited maybe 30 seconds for a taxi. I told him to take me to THEhotel entrance at Mandalay Bay, not the original entrance out front. His English was fairly understandable, and said he knew where to drop me off. We drove down Tropicana and I got my first good view of The Strip at night, and I was delighted to finally be back in my favorite city. It didn’t take long to get to THEhotel, and I gave the cabbie a twenty-spot for the quick ride and pleasant conversation. The fare was only 12.50, so he unloaded my suitcase with much enthusiasm. The bellman took my bags and was kind enough to explain how to get them from THEhotel bell desk to my room at the original Mandalay Bay later on that evening. I trusted him and took my ticket, hoping that my underwear and such would indeed catch up to me at some point. I immediately found a house phone and called Dawn, making sure that she was in her room, as I had told her that I’d just come up and get her as soon as I got into town. That, and I needed to use the facilities really bad, too. Ok—here’s the scoop on THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. It’s that new tower in back that looks just like the original, but is still under construction up top. It’s connected to the original by a corridor next to the Sports Book, right by the Events Center. The interior is 100% different from the original, however. It’s all black and white, with a squarish post-modern euro-trash vibe to it. I didn’t like it much at all. Whatever marketing department came up with the concept should be canned for malpractice. Everything had names like THEcoffebar, THEcafe—even the paper next to the house phone said THEpad. Please. I suggest they just go ahead and change the name to THEbadidea. I finally made it to Dawn’s room on the 31st floor and knocked on the door. She answered with a drink in her hand (Nice!) and invited me in. I was introduced to her friend Pat and then given the grand tour. The plasma TV in the living room was very cool, as was the tub big enough to swim laps in. Also, they made me lay down on one of the beds to try it out—very nice, with a thick down comforter. I didn’t want to get up right away, and then I realized where I was! Dawn fixed me a nice vodka/orange/cranberry drink out of her personal stash, offered me some of her $16 cashews, and we sat down in the living room for a few minutes catching up and planning our attack. They told me that Dougie had stopped by earlier, but went down to the poker room, so we walked down there first. We found him with a big stack of chips and no desire to leave, so we headed up to my room to check it out. Dawn had checked me in earlier that day, and got a room in the Fiji wing with a north view. Let me tell you, she did us right! When I first walked in the door, the MGM Grand filled the window, but as I got closer to my bed, I could see right down the strip all the way to Treasure Island. It was by far the best view I’ve ever had. Unbelievable. I decided right then that regardless of sunlight or hangover, I would be sleeping with the curtains open! We even turned off all the lights in the room just to get the full effect. It was beautiful. The view from our room at Mandalay Bay I called the bell desk, and they assured me that they could get my luggage to me in about a half an hour—one of the bellman had to hike over to THEbelldesk and get my suitcase, and bring it back to my room. I had no complaints, as I’d just made half that walk myself. So the three of us just made ourselves comfortable and relaxed for a bit while waiting for my bags. I saw a suitcase and baseball cap in the closet already, so I figured that Dougie had already moved in. Dawn found the room service menu and was quite bummed that chocolate chip pancakes were available to me and not to her, so I invited her over for breakfast the next morning. We sat in the room chit-chatting for about 45 minutes waiting for the luggage to arrive. It didn’t take long before I could tell that I didn’t like Dawn’s friend Pat at all. She never shut up! And she made a point of reminding us that she doesn’t drink or gamble. Why in the HELL are you here then??? Oh my god, after 10 minutes I was ready to stab my own ear with THEpen I took from the house phone downstairs. Finally the luggage arrived and I tipped the guy a fiver for his trouble. I suggested that it was time to get down to the casino, as I’d been in Vegas for over two hours and hadn’t made a bet yet—and that was a record that couldn’t stand! Besides, if I had to listen to someone’s endless jabbering, I’d prefer it to be a stickman at the craps table, not this chick. Just as we opened the door to head back down to the elevator, the door from the room next to mine opened, and a very interesting girl walked out ahead of us. She was wearing noticeably low-cut pants, showing off her tattoo in the back, high heels, a small tank top, and oversized hoop earrings. I whispered to Dawn, ‘I think my neighbor just bought some companionship’. She didn’t believe me until the gal pulled out her cell phone, pushed a button and said “Ok, I’m done with Mandalay, which one was next? …Ok, give me about twenty, tell him to wait…” Ok!! First hooker sighting, right next door to my room! I wanted to say something funny, but everything I could come up with might’ve been too offensive for the ladies I was with, so I opted to just shut up and endure the uncomfortable silence in the elevator. But she knew that I knew… Dawn had told me that she wanted a craps lesson, so our first order of business was to find a dice table. The casino at Mandalay Bay is huge, but the craps tables are right near the main elevators. Unfortunately, on a Tuesday night at 11 pm, all they offered were $10 tables. Just like paying for drinks, it’s against my code to play craps with more than $5 on the line, so we decided to take our first of many walks along the Mandalay Mile, and we headed toward the Luxor. On the way over, I asked Dawn a question about her schedule in the morning, and before she could answer, her annoying friend chimed in with a ten-minute monologue about using her cell phone as an alarm clock. Seriously, I don’t think she took a breath the entire walk through the mall. All we could do was shake our heads and keep going. It’d been about a year since my last visit to the pyramid, and the casino is just as confusing as ever, but we found some craps tables without too much trouble. They were packed to the gills but we were able to squeeze in on the end, just behind the shooter. We both bought in for $100, while Pat decided to just watch from behind. Lucky us—we were standing next to another chatterbox that wanted to give lessons to the entire table. Everybody around the table just rolled their eyes, and I leaned over to Dawn and whispered that I think we might have found a soulmate for her friend Pat. Unfortunately, his mojo was as cold as the table, as the talker scored no love, and we scored no chips. Within an hour, both Dawn and I had lost our buy-ins. It was getting close to midnight, the table was cold, and Dawn had an early morning meeting so we decided to head back to the Bay. We said our goodnights at the entrance to the poker room, and just a few minutes later I managed to get a seat at the same 4-8 table that Dougie had been playing at all evening. We had a good group at the table, no real sharks, no real rubes, and it was a fun run of cards. At one point, I looked down and saw Ace-Four of spades, so I called to see a flop. Bam! I flopped the wheel when 2-3-5 rainbow came up. I was in early position, so I led off the betting with an “Oh yeah, I got the wheel” knowing nobody would believe me. My boy Dougie decided to be one of the callers, and I was a little ticked off when a four came on the turn, sabotaging my hand. I called it all the way down at that point, giving Dougie a large ration of smack talk for staying in with 10-6 and claiming my pot. I believe the term ‘Rat Bastard’ actually made an appearance and everybody at the table got a laugh at my expense. I guess Doug felt a little guilty about it, and offered to buy my breakfast later (Of course, it was with MY chips…). We were having a good time at the table, it was a fun group of guys all in town for March Madness. I could’ve played at the table all night, as I’d won a little bit of money and was really enjoying myself. Then this scruffy-looking idiot sat down and bought in for twenty dollars. Yep, twenty dollars at a 4-8 table. Nobody paid him much attention, and I looked down to see that I was holding pocket Aces. I was a little excited because it was a ‘half-kill’ pot and the limits were doubled, so I figured I should win a big one. The dealer was just finishing up as I was reaching for my chips to give it a raise, when he accidentally dealt one card too many and the extra card hit the two cards in the small blind. Well, the twenty-dollar angle-playing loser saw me reaching to raise and immediately started yelling “MISDEAL!!”. The small blind just pushed the extra card back and everyone else was in agreement that it should be the burn card. The dealer also declared that it was a burn card, but the jerkoff kept yelling for the floorperson to come over. After a few minutes of arguing back and forth, we got a ruling and it wasn’t in my favor—we had to muck all of the cards and re-deal. I was livid! I turned my aces over, tossed a few F-bombs at the idiot, and walked away to cool off. As I was leaving I heard Doug tell the guy that maybe he would enjoy the game more if he wasn’t playing with his rent money. Instant Karma made an appearance, and I was happy to hear that Doug busted the guy out of all of his chips on the very next hand. We both racked up at that point and headed for Raffles CafÃ© for some late-night munchies. As we were leaving the poker room, the guy started arguing with the dealer about something else, but we saw him get shut down so that gave us a grin. It was after two am when we sat down in the cafÃ©, and I had a decision to make. Normally my first meal in Vegas is always a shrimp cocktail, but Raffles wanted about ten bucks for their version. Instead, I opted for popcorn shrimp as an appetizer, and ham, eggs, hash browns, and toast for breakfast. Dougie had a ‘big salad’ and a club sandwich. The food was excellent, and of course we couldn’t finish it all. We made our way back up to the room and I went right to bed as I’d been up since I’d been up almost 24 hours straight by that time. Doug said he had to go back and ‘get his hat’. I asked him if that was a code phrase for something dirty, but he told me that he’d won a baseball cap for getting four-of-a-kind earlier, and had left it at the desk in the poker room. So he went back downstairs while I dozed in front of the window, my last view of the day being all of the lights of the strip. I’m sure I passed out with a smile on my face. Sometime later, although still dark outside, I heard Dougie crashing around in the room. I woke up and asked him where he’d been. Well, he told me that after he stopped by the poker room, he went by the Pai Gow tables and managed to make $1500 in less than an hour, so he was all kinds of excited! We stayed up laughing and talking for a little while, and I finally fell asleep again after saying ‘Dude, we better get some sleep, the sun is coming up’. I think I managed to snooze for about two more hours. Dougie was up and out of the room before seven am, being kind enough to go down to the poker room and get us signed up for the 10 am Limit Holdem tournament, and he also went to pick up the rental car, too. I called Dawn to make sure she was up and we made plans to meet for breakfast an hour later at the buffet. I got an oddball call from the front desk a few minutes later—they were asking if I was actually in the room, and if I knew who Doug Wilson was. Turns out that the room was reserved under my name and Dawn’s name on Tuesday night, and Doug had the reservation on Wednesday night. He was down at the front desk trying to explain it all and keep the same room so we didn’t have to check out and check back in. They got it all straightened out after a few minutes, so I got out of bed, showered up in the ultra-cool separate glass shower stall, and got dressed. I went down to the casino, but I had about 20 minutes before I was supposed to meet everyone for breakfast, so I found a rare $5 blackjack table and sat down. I bought in for a hundy, played through one shoe and cashed out with a $12.50 win, leaving just as a couple of kids on the tail-end of an all-nighter sat down and announced that they always stand on 16 and liked to split their tens. I wandered back over to the buffet and Dawn showed up just a minute later, and Dougie shortly thereafter. We had to hurry up and get in because Dawn had a class to go to in an hour, but of course we had to wait for her inconsiderate friend. We finally said ‘the hell with it’ and walked up to the invited guests cashier. Dawn had a $40 credit because of our room deal, and we wanted to use it to cover breakfast. Unfortunately, since Doug had done the front desk shuffle an hour earlier and put his name on the room, our food comp was no longer valid. We called the front desk to straighten it out, but they wouldn’t budge. Dawn finally gave up and just put breakfast on her expense account, even though we offered to pay. We got a table and ordered our juices and coffee and such, relieved that Pat didn’t show up. Of course as soon as we came back to the table with our plates, she strolled up, ruining all chances for a peaceful and enjoyable breakfast. The food was good, though. I had the typical bacon/eggs benedict/fruit breakfast, but also tried a ‘breakfast eggroll’ that was surprisingly tasty. One trip through the line was enough for me, so I didn’t get to sample a whole lot of different things. I got some of the mushrooms I used to love so much, but they were a little bland this time—cooked by themselves, not with the usual breakfast steaks. We didn’t stick around long, Dawn had a class to get to, and I wanted to get back over to the poker room. Dougie and I just grabbed a couple of chairs at an empty table and waited for the tournament to start. One of the hottest cocktail waitresses ever came over to ask if we wanted anything, but we were fine, so she asked if she could just hang out and talk to us because it was slow. Of course she could! We had a nice chat for about 10 minutes until she had to go make some more rounds. She came over to say hello every time we were in there for the rest of the week. The tournament started at 10:00 and was sold out—Thirty players only. I started out really well and raked a huge pot when I flopped four to a straight and made it on the turn, so after 2 sets of blinds had passed, I was the chip leader at my table. Then the unluckiest three hands I’ve ever had hit me right in a row. First hand, my pocket Queens were beat by pocket Jacks when a Jack fell on the river. The very next hand, I had pocket Kings sabotaged by a low-card straight from the blinds. On the third hand I had pocket Aces, and when another ace hit the river I went all-in but got knocked out by the guy at the other end of the table that made his flush with my third ace. So I went from chip leader to third person eliminated in three short hands. Ouch. So I sat at an empty table licking my wounds and nursing a black Russian that my new favorite cocktail waitress, Carmen, had brought me. I’d only been there a few minutes, cursing my sorry luck, when Dawn strolled up with a drink in her hand and a grin on her face. She told me that she skipped out of her meeting after a half an hour and was ready to relax, so we got out of the poker room and headed up to my room, drinks in hand. The maids hadn’t come around yet, but we just kicked the shoes off, turned on the ‘Shark Reef’ channel (one of the coolest features of the room) and chilled out for about an hour. Finally, around noon, we decided that we’d had enough lounging around and wanted to take another run at the craps table. The Man at the Bay was still keepin’ us down with his ten-dollar minimums, so we did the Mandalay Mile again and headed for the Luxor. The walk over was much more pleasant this time, and we stopped by the new Art of Shaving shop to check it out. They said they wanted $45 to shave my dome with a straight razor, so I politely declined. I was prepared to pay thirty, but forty-five seemed a bit steep for someone who hasn’t had a haircut in ten years. We found the $5 craps tables a few minutes later, and we both bought in for $100. Again we came in right behind the shooter at a full table, so it was going to be awhile before we saw the dice. The table was really choppy, and we couldn’t get any numbers to repeat, so we were bleeding off chips pretty steadily. I thought to myself that Dawn’s craps lessons were getting pretty expensive, but she was ok with grinding it out. I tried making a few bets for the dealers to change up the luck, but it did no good, they lost, too. About 45 minutes had passed, and we both had to reload once already. We didn’t leave because we were about to get the dice (and make it all back, of course). Well, just as it was my turn to shoot, the pit critter decides they’re not making enough money on the cold-ass tables, and tells everyone the limit is now $10. No problem, I thought, I’m grandfathered in at the lower limit, so I put a red chip on the line and get ready for the dice. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me shoot. They told us that we had to bump our bets up to ten bucks. I reminded them that I’ve been donating to the cold table for almost an hour, waiting for my turn to shoot, and even making bets for the dealers. But they wouldn’t budge. We just left our money on the line, so they couldn’t start the game, and we got the floor person to come over. Nope, no dice they told us—pay up or leave. They said “Sorry, we don’t make the rules” or some bullshit like that, so I was pretty ticked off. They refused to grandfather us in, or let me shoot. So I splashed all of my chips into the middle of the table and said “Color me up—you’ll never get another dime of my action!” After that, they asked Dawn for her chips to color up, but we just walked away, ignoring them—let ‘em get a refill. Pricks. Half the table left with us. After stopping at the cage, we wandered back to the Bay, looking at random slot machines and trying to keep ourselves entertained. We finally found a roulette table and sat down, and Dawn started placing her numbers. I didn’t play—I just watched and drank. She made a few points here and there and we had a good time just sitting there chit-chatting with the dealer and sipping free cocktails. Before long, out of the blue, Vegas Jer showed up from San Diego. He was just carrying his luggage through the casino and happened to see me, so he sat down and joined us for a few minutes and regaled us with tales of his travels so far that week. Let’s just say he was very happy to finally make it to Vegas. Dawn colored up for a small win, and we decided to head up to her palatial suite for a few drinks. She poured us some powerful fruity drinks to add to the buzz we already had going, and I got on her laptop and made a quick in-progress trip report check in to the T2V board. It wasn’t long before Dawn had another class to go to at 3pm, so we said goodbye and I took Jer up my the room to stash his bag. He was very impressed with our view, also. We made our way back down to the poker room and found Dougie, and got seats at his table. It was another fun poker game, and the guy who knocked me out of the tournament earlier that morning was actually sitting right next to me, so we had a lot of laughs. There was one sourpuss at the table who kept complaining that we were talking too much, but Dougie shut him down with his “playing with the rent money” line. It must’ve gotten to him, because he went on tilt, burned through two racks of chips, and asked for a table change. He was pretty much the whipping boy at the table—he just got on everyone’s bad side early, so everyone seemed to take a lot of pleasure in beating him out of pots. Seriously, it was nine against one and the guy just kept losing hand after hand. He finally got an opening at another table, but since he was about as popular as a yellow Jolly Rancher, nobody was sad to see him go--even though he had left about $200 behind. I’ve got to give props to the Mandalay Bay poker room. They have an excellent setup and run a good game. There is always a seat at 4-8 Holdem, and the dealers are professionals. Although they don’t offer a ‘Bad Beat’ jackpot, they will pay off for big hands. For the most part the players there were about average—nobody really strong was fishing at the tables, but there were a few people lurking about with questionable social skills. Not really beginners there, either, but I noticed that everybody stayed with an Ace, no matter what the kicker or what their table position was. I had a bad beat that made everyone laugh—we were getting ready to leave, and Jer and I got involved in a hand. We were goofing off and talking smack, but I had the pocket Aces and he had the pocket Kings. The board was all rags, and then a King fell on the river to beat me. I could do nothing but laugh, and Jer offered to buy all my drinks that night since he raked the huge pot that I had built. Even though I took a beatin’ worse than Mitch Kramer after his little league game, it was a fun afternoon playing cards with the fellas. Pretty soon it was about 5pm, and we had a limo ride to think about. Dawn and Pat showed up, and we all kind of stood around just talking. We were supposed to meet everyone at Red Square at 6pm for drinks and appetizers, but the menu and prices didn’t appeal to us very much. So we wandered back over to the snack bar next to the Poker Room and Sports Book, and we all just ordered hotdogs and such to tide us over. As soon as we finished up, we made our way back to Red Square and found Doug, LV Terry, and 3Cats (Tammy). We stood around talking for a bit, but opted to go back to the casino to wait until our 7 pm pickup. Dougie had arranged for a limo ride to pick me up from the airport on Wednesday night, but since my plans changed at the last minute and I arrived on Tuesday, he kept the limo reserved for just a regular Strip ride that night, instead. We made our way to the front of the resort, already good and liquored up, and waited for our ‘smoove’ ride to show up. We didn’t have to wait long, when a long black limousine rolled up, and a gentleman in a tuxedo got out holding a sign that said ‘Hurricane Mikey’. I thought that was a nice touch, and it was cool to all pile into the limo while the heathens waited behind us in the taxi line. We hadn’t even made it out of the driveway when the corks from the champagne got popped and we started celebrating. We raised a toast to Vegas and the T2V Gang in absentia, and told Jim the driver to head down the Strip towards the north end. Of course, at the same time we had to press all the buttons and turn all the knobs in back just to see how everything worked. It was a nice night, so Terry and I put the windows down while we cruised up the Strip. Traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard was crawling, so we tried to make friends with all the people in cars next to us. We were sitting at the stoplight at Flamingo when a car with a couple of adolescent boys in the backseat pulled up next to us. They waved and rolled down their window, so I leaned out and yelled, “Hey—There’s naked chicks in here!!!” They started laughing, but mom and dad weren’t too pleased and made them roll their window back up. We were getting good and medicated, laughing, enjoying the sights, when about the time we passed the Venetian, somebody had the brilliant suggestion to head downtown. That idea met with unanimous approval, so once we passed the Stratosphere we just kept on going. We decided that we should really class up Fremont Street, and since we couldn’t drive down it, we decided that the best alternative would be to roll into the Golden Gate and have a quick shrimp cocktail. We had Jim pull up to the side entrance on Main Street, and we all tumbled out of the limo, enjoying the scene we were causing. Apparently, not too many folks ride a limo down to the Golden Gate. We went inside and were pretty bummed to see that the line at the deli counter was about 60 people long and snaked all the way back to the blackjack tables. I didn’t want to waste any of our precious limo time standing in line for a cheap shrimp cocktail, so I was ready to tell everyone that we should just forget it. But Tammy (3Cats) outflanked everybody and just jumped to the front of the line and ordered 6 shrimp cocktails, a bottle of water, and 2 cups of coffee. At first I think we were all a little shocked at her audacity, but the line wasn’t moving due to people waiting on their sandwiches, and the cashier was just standing there. She got a few dirty looks from people further back in line, but we were in and out of there in five minutes! Just as we finished up and walked outside, Jim pulled up from driving around the block a couple of times, and we all piled back in, laughing about what we just witnessed. I swear our group made more waves than Rosie O’Donnell cannonballin’ off the high dive! We didn’t make it to the next stoplight before LV Terry, the devil himself, cracked open the bottle of Patron Silver and started passing out shots. I’d already had two by the time we got to the Lady Luck, and but I didn’t catch Dougie, who’d had four by the time we got to the Stratosphere (Not bad for a tequila virgin). Since it was his first experience with tequila, Terry tried to make sure it was a memorable one. There was plenty of peer pressure to do shots, and the back of the limo had a good spring-break vibe going on. Traffic was fairly heavy on the Strip and we got stuck at the stoplight at Sahara, so we had the windows down waving bottles around at other cars. The couple in the SUV next to us rolled down the window and said “Hey—Happy St. Paddy’s Day!” So I flashed the bottle of Patron and yelled “It may be St Paddy’s day out there, but it’s Cinco de Mayo in HERE, baby!!!” We laughed our way up the Strip and of course traffic was stopped in front of Treasure Island due to the sirens putting on a show. Terry coaxed a very striking blonde with long legs and a too-small shirt out of the crowd and over to the limo, and she stuck her head inside and did a shot with us. Only in Vegas! A couple of members of our party were struggling with a full bladder, so Jim pulled into the TI so they could use the facilities. By this time the tequila was gone, so we figured it was a good time to make drunken phone calls. I dialed up Hoyaheel and Hoyahub, who were unable to join us this trip. It was 11pm on a school night when their phone rang, and as an added bonus, we found out that it startled Hoya so much that she dumped over a glass of water in their bed! I think we got bonus points for the long-distance sloppy drunk! Hoya actually thanked us for calling, but at the time I’m not so sure she meant it. Doug had another cell phone going and called Sammi in New York, so we passed the phones around and left incoherent rambling messages on her voice mail. I’m sure that made her day the next morning on the way to work. Pretty soon we were back on our way and headed to the far southern end of the Strip, as we needed photos at the famous ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign. Jim parked us in the turnaround area, but we weren’t the only other ones out there. Four hotties had the same plan, but didn’t bring along anyone to take a group photo for them. Of course we came to their rescue, and they even took some for us, and I also talked them into taking a picture with me, just so I’d have proof (I didn’t know if anyone would believe the word of five sloppy drunks…) Pictures were snapped and we piled back into the limo. Doug, Jer, Tammy, Terry, Dawn, and Mikey welcome you to Fabulous Las Vegas As we were heading north, we passed by a real dumpy looking little place on the right side of the road and somebody cracked “Hey look—a new ‘All Flannel’ specialty review called the Klon-Dykes opens this weekend—we should get some tickets…” I about peed myself laughing. Our time was almost up, so Jim needed to know where to drop us. We considered going back to Mandalay Bay, but we had him take us to the Orleans instead. I didn’t think any of us had ever been there before, but we heard it had decent gaming and outrageous waitresses, so we wanted to check it out. He pulled up to the door and we crawled out, barely able to stand. We settled up and left him a generous tip, and he gave everyone his business card. If you ever need limo services in Vegas, I can’t recommend Jim Ernst at Presidential Limo highly enough. Everything was top-notch. He turned us loose on the casino, and we immediately found the bar. Terry was in a shopping mood, so he bought the first round of mudslides, then the second round of margaritas. Dawn and I shuffled off to the craps table, and Tammy joined us shortly thereafter. The Orleans only offers 2x odds, but we were ok with being low-rollers at that point. I’d been on a consistent but slow losing streak, and Dawn hadn’t had much luck either. Luckily we had some decent shooters for about an hour and we both made back about a hundred dollars. Not only that, drinks kept magically appearing in my hand. I’d look over and see Terry at the bar grinning and nodding. My friends, you know how most people have one little angel on their shoulder, and one little devil on the other one? We’ve decided that Terry has two devils. He is definitely ‘Frank the Tank’ from Old School when Mama isn’t around… Anyhow, thanks to Terry, we consumed WAY more alcohol than we should’ve that night. Dawn had her same early class to go to, so she needed to get back to the hotel. I walked her out front and made sure she got into a cab ok, and we said goodnight. I then staggered back inside to find a bathroom and the rest of my drunken compadres. It was all kind of a blur after that, but I remember asking how we were going to get back to the Mandalay Bay. It turns out that Dougie, in his sloppy drunken state, had left his cell phone in the limo, so Tammy called Jim and he came back to deliver it, and then went above and beyond the call of duty and offered to take us all back to the Bay in his personal Caddy. What a guy! We made our way to the parking garage and we all squeezed into the car. And I mean squeezed! It was a fun way to end the evening, and we made it back to our home base without anyone getting sick or Jim getting a ticket. The drunken gang piled into Jim's Cadillac for the ride back to the Bay I have no idea what time it was when we got back to Mandalay Bay, but it was busy. When we were walking through the lobby, our attention was drawn to a couple of outrageously hot women, wearing extremely skimpy clothing and high heels, leaving not much to the imagination. We followed about 10 feet behind them, but then they stopped to make a phone call, so we kept walking, but every guy in there was looking in their direction. I figured we needed a little buffoonery, so as soon as they hung the phone up and started walking toward us, I said “Hey, can I get my picture taken with you two?” They just looked at me like I smelled bad (hey, I probably did at that point) and shot me down. Undaunted, I just turned to all the guys behind me and said “Sorry fellas, they’re not professionals, they’re just REGULAR sluts!” That got a lot of laughs, but the girls seemed like they had a lot of practice ignoring guys, so they were unfazed. Just as we were getting on the elevator to head up to the room, the doors opened and several more hotties disembarked, this time they were all dressed in lingerie. As you can imagine, that caused quite a stir also. God, I love Mandalay Bay. We went up to our room so that everyone could take stock of their bankrolls and use the facilities. And of course we wanted to enjoy the view, also. We were kind of at a loss as to what to do next, and I was ok with calling it a night, but Frank the Tank would have none of that. So Terry announced that it was time for our T2V poker tournament right then—we needed to find out who the king was! Nobody wanted to be the first man to call it quits, so we all agreed to head down to the poker room. As we were walking down the hallway, Terry told us “This is why I love the Travel2Vegas board so much—everybody loves Vegas as much as I do! My buddies would be pussing out right now, and here we are keeping it going! We’re gonna see the sun!!!” Unfortunately, the waiting list at the Mandalay poker room was about 15 people deep, so we decided to make the trek on over to the Pyramid. The list at the Luxor was even longer. We even offered to deal for ‘em so that they could open another table, but we ran into some weird rule about needing a Nevada Gaming License. Dougie’s Idaho fishing license just wouldn’t do… We were right next to Nefertiti’s Lounge, so Terry offered to buy a round since we couldn’t get into a poker game. Jer and Terry had martini’s, I had a tall black Russian, and I have no idea what Doug ordered. He was still suffering from the effects of the tequila, so all of his gibberish was slurred. We had a couple of drinks, and enjoyed watching the cover band and the girls out on the floor dancing by themselves. I believe Terry was telling anybody who would listen that we’d be streaking later, and pretty soon nobody was sitting near us. I’d finally hit the wall along with Dougie, but Terry and Jer wanted to find an Irish Pub since we missed St Paddy’s Day earlier that evening. They decided to walk over to NYNY, and I threw in the towel. Dougie and I headed back to the room, but first we made a stop at the sundries shop next to the elevators for a couple of bottles of water. I waited outside while Dougie made the purchases. While I was standing there, a cute little blonde in hoochie clothes walked by and a guy yelled to her “HEY—Are you working?” She turned around to go talk to him and they had about 15 seconds of negotiations. I just clapped my hands once and announced to anyone who was listening “Ok! Business transaction!” She ran into the store, bought a bottle of water and a jimmy hat, and then they got onto the elevator together. Me? I just got on the elevator with Doug. The rest of my evening wasn’t nearly as good as that other guy’s. As drunk and as tired as I was, I hit the bed hard. When I woke up the next day, it was bright as hell and getting warm in the room. I looked at my watch on the nightstand and freaked out for a second, thinking it was almost 1pm. Then I realized it was only 6:45 am and my watch was upside down. Whew! I remembered that the poker tournament sign-up started in 15 minutes, so we had to get up. I yelled at Doug to wake up, and he jerked straight up and said “I’m in!” It took him a second to get his bearings, but we got up, put on the baseball caps and flip-flops and shuffled on down to the poker room. It was Thursday morning, the first day of March Madness. The sports book was already full, and the line to sign up for the tournament went out into the casino. We waited in line for about 10 minutes before they announced that the poker tournament was sold out. I didn’t mind—I was too tired to care. Dougie went off to hit the Pai Gow tables, and I went back up to the room. I dozed for about 15 minutes when Dawn called, asking if I wanted to meet her for breakfast at Raffles. I told her I needed time to get moving, so we decided on meeting up at 8:30. While I was drying off from my shower, Vegas Jer showed up from his all-nighter with Terry, and I asked him where they went. “I remember getting a cab and going downtown” “And then?” “I remember coming back here” “Anything else?” “Nope.” “You want some breakfast?” “Ok.” He was a wreck, still wearing the same clothes he had on when he found us at the roulette table the day before. Hey, sometimes you chase the buzz, and sometimes the buzz chases you—It looked like the buzz had definitely caught him. A few minutes later we were downstairs at Raffles. Dawn had another comp, so we didn’t have to wait in line. We all ordered omelets, hash browns, sourdough toast, and coffee, and it was excellent. Of course the portions were huge and we couldn’t finish them. Since everyone was hungover and tired, it was a very subdued conversation over breakfast. Even Pat was relatively quiet, and she didn’t even go out with us the night before. After breakfast, I said goodbye to Dawn for the day, Jer went up to the room, and I went to find Dougie at the Pai Gow Poker tables. He was at a $25 table, holding his own with a nice sized stack of chips in front of him, so I sat down to watch. I’ve never played the game before, but Doug seemed to do pretty well. He said the secret was betting big because there are so many ties, and walking right after a win. He also told me that he’d never lost more than 3 hands in a row. Well I watched him for a few minutes, and saw him win a couple of $600 hands. He then went BIG, bet a thousand and won. Brother-man got so excited that he actually licked the yellow chip and stuck it to his forehead! We were all pretty grossed out by that display, but then we figured that he was ok since the people handling the thousand-dollar chips at Mandalay Bay probably had a better class of germs than say, the folks handling the nickel chips down at the Plaza… I figured that I could play the game, so I bought in and immediately lost six hands in a row. There went a quick $150! Stupid game—I decided to stick to craps, blackjack, and American-style poker, none of this kung fu shit. Dougie colored up, I did not, and we headed back up to the room. We turned the Shark Reef channel back on while Jer and I dozed for an hour, and Doug started packing for our move. We’d arranged for a late checkout, but we were still out of the room by noon. Thursday was move-downtown day, and we also had some errands to run. We said goodbye to the Mandalay Bay, got our super-cool Intrepid from the valet, and headed down the Strip, enjoying the good weather and the excellent scenery. The first order of business was to visit the Nick Kallos School of Casino Dealing. Since I’m getting laid off later this summer, I decided that I would semi-retire from the brokerage business for a year or two, and maybe go to Vegas and deal the cards until I figured out my next move. So I’ve been doing a little research, and I’ve discovered that out of all the dealer schools out there, Nick had the best operation going. We found the school without too much trouble; it’s in a seedy little office building just off of Sahara and Maryland Parkway. Now I had thought that the Golden Gate was a speakeasy, but you should see this joint! It was definitely all business, with as many tables packed into the room as they could squeeze in. It looked like a casino that you’re not supposed to visit, but it was hopping. In fact, just as we got there, they had just finished packing up the cameras and lights—they were shooting another segment for the Travel Channel. We walked in to the middle of the place, obviously lost, when Nick Kallos, the man himself, walked up and introduced himself. He told the table he was sitting at to keep on going, and that he’d be in his office. He then invited us back and asked us to have a seat. I was totally digging the funky yellow leather chairs and the seventies kitsch—it was kind of what I imagined the producer’s office at a porno studio would look like. He was very gracious and no-nonsense, and answered every question we had—and we had a bunch. Basically he told me that you only needed one game to get started in a casino, and since the demand is high, anyone who can smile, speak English, and protect the game can make a decent living in Vegas. We went over pricing and the games they offered, and I decided that I’d start with blackjack and craps, which they’d teach me both for $400, then I’d take the poker course which is $500 by itself and is much more demanding. I figured the best money is in poker for the next few years, so it’d be a good investment. We talked with him in his office for about 15 minutes, then he had to get going—he didn’t seem like the type of guy who sat still for very long, but he told us to look around, talk to other students, ask questions of the teachers, etc. We hung out there for a little while longer, watching the drills and lessons, and I think all three of us were pretty impressed with the whole experience. We walked out of there pretty excited about the whole thing, and Jer summed it up best when he said, “You know what I liked most about that place? It was kind of seedy, and I felt a little dirty going there!” Doug and I agreed with him, and I’m looking forward to enrollment this fall. We got back on the road and found a CVS Pharmacy down the street and stopped in to load up on supplies for our next four days downtown. We bought a cooler, a case of bottled water and coke, and some munchies. Dougie scored a few cans of Arizona Iced Tea that he can’t get in Idaho, and I found a couple of cold bottles of Diet Coke with lime that I’ve become addicted to. We made our way downtown to the LV Club, turned the car over to the valet, and lugged our bags inside. It was still earlier than ‘official’ check-in time, but there was a line at the front desk anyways. While we were standing there in line, a guy walked up to me and asked me “Hey, are you Mikey?” I answered that I was, and SteveB introduced himself. I then introduced him to Jer and Doug, and he regaled us with tales of his trip thus far while we waited to get checked in. When we got to the front of the line, he told us that he’d find us later, and then disappeared into the casino. The gal at the front desk said we could go ahead and check in, and she was kind enough to waive the room deposit due to my booking through VIP services. They still wanted me to pay for the room upfront, which I’d never had to do before, but it was only $150, so I peeled a few bills off of my pimp-roll that I was carrying and she gave me the keys. She reminded us to use up all comps possible this weekend, as the new ownership coming in the next week might not honor them. Before we finished, I asked her to hold a room on the same floor for Eddie and Derek, who would be arriving later, and she was kind enough to do so. I had room 1031, Doug and Jer had room 1019, and Eddie and Derek would get room 1018, all in the north tower. We made our way to the elevators, and as we walked through the sports bar, I saw a group of guys at a table out of the corner of my eye, and I noticed one of them point to us and say to his buddies “Hey—That’s Hurricane Mikey!” I waved to them and gave them a “What’s up, fellas?!?” as we walked into the elevator alcove. Doug and Jer asked me who that was but I said “Man, I have no idea, but I’m a f*cking ROCK STAR in this place!!!” The rooms were very nice—some of the best downtown, with air-conditioning systems powerful enough to chill a Chicago meat locker. I had another pretty good view from this room, too, so that was a bonus! The view from my room at the LV Club We dumped the bags and headed back down to the casino. We split up at that point, and I didn’t see those guys for the rest of the afternoon. I went to the cage to cash some travelers checks, and came to an ethical crossroads. I gave the guy 4 checks—three hundreds and one fifty, and he said, “Ok, four hundred dollars, how do you want it”. I thought about it for a split second, but told him that there were only $350 worth of travelers checks in front of him. He thanked me for my honesty, and I hoped that the gambling gods would notice and reward me in kind. I went straight to the craps table, and SteveB wandered by and joined me. A few minutes later, a big Texan walked up and introduced himself as Chris, also known as ‘CAP’ on the T2V board. The mystery guys from the sports bar also came by, and I found out it was ‘V-Dice’, otherwise known as Bob, who had recognized me earlier. It was an enjoyable visit, but the table was cold as ice. Four times in a row, I got the dice, set a point, then sevened out! It was by far my worst day at the craps table ever! Nobody could hit a damn thing. I think I donated about $250 before I wised up and left. The gambling gods must not have noticed my earlier trip to the cage. Since there was not a single quarter Elvis machine in the Mandalay Bay, Luxor, or the Orleans—the only places I’d gambled thus far on the trip, I went to try and get The King to sing a few tunes for me, and maybe finally win that progressive jackpot that was over a million bucks. But Elvis was not in a giving mood, and he took my $50 faster than I could say ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Steve B sat at the machine next to me, made a quick hundred, and immediately cashed out. At least the black Russians and mudslides kept coming at a steady pace, or else the whole afternoon would have been a total loss. I found an empty seat at a $5 single-deck blackjack table with Steve and Chris a little while later, and bought in for $200. It wasn’t the luckiest table I’d ever sat at, and I was down a hundy pretty quickly. Steve B, in addition to being a maniac sports bettor, is an excellent card counter and was coaching me on my bets on the second hand of every deck, and I managed to make a few bucks back. Nobody in the pit seemed to mind that we’d bet $10 or $15 on the first hand, then either $5 or $100 on the second one. One time the count was deeply negative, so I only bet $5 and of course got the blackjack. A few hands later the count was extremely positive, so we each had a hundred bucks in the circle. The dealer had an Ace for an up-card, and Steve said, “I know you’re usually not supposed to do this, but with as many big cards in the deck as there are, it’s time to take insurance” We did, the dealer turned over a Jack, and disaster was averted. That was the first time I’d ever taken insurance, and luckily it worked! The third baseman decided to color up and leave, and Chris wanted his seat, so he pushed his chips over to claim it. About two hands later he started freaking out saying that somebody stole a hundred bucks from him. He got the pit involved and they actually said they’d check the surveillance tape for him. They came back about twenty minutes later and told him that the guy who left accidentally colored up Chris’s chips when he pushed them over to the seat. Apparently, Chris had his chips in front of the seat before the guy turned all of his own chips in to the dealer, and mistakenly took four of Chris’s green ones. They couldn’t really do anything except take a statement since it was an accident, but Chris was sick about it and we felt bad for him. He spent the rest of the evening telling everyone who sat down that he was giving away hundreds! It was getting close to 6 pm, and all of my friends from Phoenix were due to show up at any time, so I played one more hand. Steve said the rest of the deck was ‘insanely positive’ and to make a big bet. Another hundred went into the circle, and I was dealt a twenty against the dealer’s 6. I liked my chances of ending on a positive note, and everybody stood with two cards. The dealer turned over a jack to make 16, and then drew a 5 to make 21. We were floored. The pit boss was standing right there watching and even said, “I thought you had that one, fellas” We asked him if the dealer could show us the rest of the deck, and he agreed. She fanned it out across the table, and there was not a single card left in the deck below 9. Unbelievable. I colored up for what was left of my chips (Card counting be damned, I still lost a bundle) and went to find a house phone. Eddie hadn’t checked in yet, but Tammie (CU Girl), her husband Nate, and her brother Ken were there, according to the operator. I called their room and they said they’d meet me in a few minutes down in the sports book. We hooked up and told some stories about our adventures so far, and Steve B came by to say hello. We just hung out for a couple of minutes, then Eddie B called and said they had finally made it, so a few minutes later we met up with them by the elevators on their way to the rooms to dump their luggage. Now that my ‘homeys’ were in town, the first order of business was to head to the Golden Gate to get a shrimp cocktail dinner! There I was with my Gang of Six, (Me, Eddie B, Derek, Tammie, Nate, and Ken), standing in line at the Gate. I don’t think I could’ve been happier at that moment. It’s like a whole new trip was just getting underway! I was craving a hotdog and a shrimp cocktail, so I ordered one of each. But the Gate has stopped grilling their dogs, and now steams them instead. So when the gal handed me this pale sickly looking tube-steak on a torn-up bun, I had to refuse it. It looked pretty bad, so I told her to give me a roast-beef and Swiss on wheat instead. She wasn’t happy about it, but she made the switch. I ordered a Michelob draft to go along with it, and I was set. We managed to get two tables next to each other and our whole group got to sit together. We toasted friendship and good times and enjoyed the piano music that makes the Golden Gate special. As a bonus, we had a view of the front desk, so we got to see what type of folks stayed in the hotel. It was a real eye-opener! Before we finished dinner, Dawn and Pat came strolling through the door, having just finished a marathon bus ride from the Tropicana and dinner at the Center Stage. We finished up and decided to hit the casino. I decided that craps was not my game that night, so Eddie, Derek, and I went to find a blackjack table, while everyone else went in search of luck on the machines. Unfortunately, Dawn had Pat in tow, so I didn’t get to hang out with her hardly at all that night, and before I knew it, it was getting pretty late. They came by the table to say goodbye, as they had to catch a cab back to Mandalay Bay and they both had an early flight back to New Jersey in the morning. (She told me later that she had made sure they weren’t sitting together on the flight home, but the helpful skycap noticed and put them together—apparently her luck was no good at all that week!). I really enjoyed hanging out with Dawn that week—she’s a sweetie. Anyhow, our gambling that night wasn’t much to speak of, and Eddie and Derek took off to make their fortune, and I went to bed around 1 am, exhausted and beaten. I kept the curtains open and enjoyed the view of the strip in the distance for a few minutes before I passed out. I awoke early the next morning, sticky, broke, and confused, so it took a few minutes to get it together and crawl out of bed and into the shower. A half hour later I was freshly shaved and had clean clothes on, so I was ready to face the day! I called Dougie, but he’d just gone to bed about an hour earlier, so he wanted no part of our morning plans, so I wandered down to Eddie and Derek’s room to wake them up. They were still in bed, but gave me the run-down of their activities after we split up. It seems that Derek lost his ass, and Eddie was actually up a couple hundred dollars. I told them to go that I’d be down in the casino and just to find me when they were ready to go get some breakfast. I went to the cage to cash some more travelers checks, and the same guy was there again. This time he told me that tomorrow morning he expected me to be turning in black and purple chips, not cashing travelers checks. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. I sat down at a $5 blackjack table and actually made about $75 before the fellas showed up. They were both pretty hungry, and since Binion’s coffee shop wasn’t available, I told them that we’d be going someplace different for breakfast. We got Eddie’s car out of the valet, and headed for the Strip. Our destination was the Peppermill, across from the Stardust. I’d heard so many good things about this place that I had to give it a try. We arrived a few minutes later and told the hostess that we needed a table for three, non-smoking. She said it would be about 15 minutes, so we decided to wait in the Fireside Lounge. Oh my God—what a cool place this was. It just exuded the spirit of Vegas in the seventies, but not so much cheese that it felt weird. I swear it felt like being inside of a slot machine, with all of the neon and such. The bartender was extremely cool, and hooked us up with some very well made drinks. I had a tall Kahlua and coffee (with whipped cream, of course), Eddie just had regular coffee, and Derek had the coolest Bloody Mary that I’d ever seen. I need to tell you about the Bloody Marys at the Peppermill. Derek is quite the connoisseur, and he gave it an enthusiastic two-thumbs-up. They come spicy, in a HUGE hurricane glass, with a stalk of celery, a cherry tomato, and a cucumber wedge. Salad in a glass! And they use good booze, too, not the cheap stuff from the well. I bought the first round, but for the life of me, I can’t remember how much they cost. We just sat at the bar playing video poker and sipping our drinks until we were called for our table. The menu at the Peppermill is fairly extensive, but we were hungry for breakfast food. Eddie and I both ordered the big pancake combo that came with 2 pancakes, 2 strips of bacon, 2 sausage links, and 2 eggs. Derek ordered some kind of huge omelet. While waiting for our meals, we noticed a very cool touch that I’d not seen in any other breakfast joint in Vegas—they had a very striking young lady wearing high heels and a cocktail dress with a slit all the way up the side carrying a tray full of those monster bloody marys, mimosas, and screwdrivers through the restaurant, delivering them to anyone who asked. We got a kick out of that, so of course, Derek ordered another. We also got a kick out of the multi-colored confetti sugar for our coffee, which I’d heard about but had never seen before. Our meals arrived and they were excellent. There was just no way to finish them, however. Trust me, you won’t leave that place hungry. After breakfast, we decided to go back to the lounge for another round of drinks and take some pictures. While there I lost about $80 playing video poker. Eddie did about the same. The Fireside Lounge at the Peppermill We rolled out of the Peppermill and up the Strip, and decided that we should go over to the Orleans. Eddie and Derek had never been there, but after I told them about our adventures there on Wednesday night, they wanted to go check it out. When we were pulling into the parking lot, we saw a woman walking along the sidewalk with a very large caboose and very small shorts straining to cover it. Somebody was going to get lucky that day! We parked the car and went inside, and just wandered around for a bit. All of the tables were pretty full, so Eddie suggested that we each put $20 in the dollar Wheel of Fortune machine, since the jackpot was over $5 Million. We played it for about a half an hour, hit a few bonus spins, and actually cashed out at $303, so we each got a hundy back, and tipped the cashier three bucks. I was a little excited; that was the first money I’d won in a very long time. After getting our hands on that cash, we made our way back towards the table games. Eddie and I got seats together on a $10 double deck blackjack game, while Derek wandered over to another table and sat down. It was a fun table, although I couldn’t win anything. The Orleans does blackjack a little differently than other casinos. They have no mirror on the table, so if the dealer has a ten, they won’t check for a blackjack—they only check if an Ace is showing. I thought it was a ripoff, but the dealer said if there is an Ace below, they’ll give you all of your split and/or double down bets back, so it doesn’t really change the house edge adversely, except that it burns through more cards faster, thus, more hands per hour get dealt. It really didn’t matter, I suppose, but I lost my Wheel of Fortune winnings after a couple of hours. Since my trip out to the dealers school the day before, I was asking all the dealers about their pay and working at the casinos and such. The Orleans BJ dealers all told me they got around $7 per hour plus tips, which averaged between $90 and $140 per day. Even with my drunken math, I figured it wasn’t a bad living in such a cheap place. We headed back downtown after several hours, glad that we’d given the Orleans a try. I don’t think their gambling is all that great for the player, but then again, they still hadn’t succumbed to the pressure of putting 6/5 blackjack in there yet, so that was a point in their favor. I think Eddie wanted to play some video poker or Let-It-Ride, but Derek and I were a little tired and needed a break so we just went up to my room to drink bottled water and watch basketball on the TV. We dozed in front of the games for a couple of hours until it was time to get ready for the T2V craps meet. After a quick shower and a clean Hawaiian shirt, we headed back downstairs. We ran into a few of the gang and said we’d all meet up around 5:30 at the craps table. Dougie told me that Jer left him a note in the room saying he had a family emergency and had to head back to San Diego early. A little while later we found Eddie B feeding quarters to the Elvis machine, so Derek and I sat down to join him. Derek sat at a machine by himself, but I just pulled another stool up to Eddie’s machine and put $40 in on top of his credits. Eddie would push the credit button, and I’d pull the handle, hoping for a big payoff. It wasn’t working too well for us, but Derek kept hitting the ‘Play Elvis’ bonus round time after time and racking up the credits. Steve B wandered by to watch, and saw our sorry luck but saw Derek hit the bonus spin for a hundred credits 3 times in about five minutes. He stood behind Derek, waved his hands in the air, and in a mystical voice said, “Wow dude, you and Elvis are on the same plane…” I responded with “Well as long as he’s not on the same plane as Buddy Holly I think he’ll be ok!” I think Eddie shot beer out of his nose laughing, and on that note, we finished chasing the jackpot. My gang from Phoenix didn’t want to play craps (I believe Eddie’s exact words were “I hate that f*cking game”) and they don’t generally read the Vegas message boards, so they didn’t really want to hang around for a meet, so they took off and Steve and I made our way to the craps tables. Two more of my Phoenix buddies, Ed W and Greg, finally showed up, but didn’t stay long because Greg doesn’t play craps, so they went to try their luck at the blackjack tables. I shot the dice for a few minutes before 3Cats, V-Dice, Bazootch, Tsmodie, and CAP showed up. Neon or Dfense never made it, which was probably lucky for them, as the table was pretty choppy and cold. We were a little surprised at the low turnout, but we drank enough to make up for it. CAP, of course, was providing the yard-long mudslides, which somehow we managed not to dump over this time. 3Cats was the only one who made any money at the table—she turned $40 into about $80, but the rest of us lost to varying degrees. After about an hour, we split up and went our separate ways—I found my way to a blackjack table next to a cutie from Wisconsin, her name was Andrea, and even though we didn’t win much, we had a great time goofing off at the table and drinking the free booze. Of course, my favorite waitress Dora was working that night, and she kept my glasses full. I was tired of drinking beer and black Russians, so she suggested I have a dreamsicle. Talk about candy in a glass—it tasted just like the old ice cream bars. So I sat at the table for a couple hours getting bombed on those, while working my mojo with Andrea. Unfortunately my mojo was tapped, because I could get no good cards from the dealer, and Andrea had several other sloppy drunks to choose from. I wandered the casino for a bit and found Tammy (3Cats). We were both getting hungry, so I offered to use on of my comps at the Upper Deck to get some late-night munchies. While we were standing in line at the cage to cash our chips in, Steve walked by, so I invited him to join us. He counter-offered with dinner at the Main Street Station brewpub, saying that the Upper Deck was dogfood. I couldn’t disagree with that, I’ve never liked the place—I only eat there when it’s free. But Steve had a Boyd Gaming Gold Dining card that said that he and his guests could eat free at any restaurant in any Boyd casino, so we took him up on his generous offer. I’d never even set foot in the Main Street Station before, so I was quite impressed when we got there. Maybe I wasn’t expecting much, but I thought it was every bit as nice as the Golden Nugget, and not nearly as crowded. We made our way over to the brewpub, and I realized how hungry I was—I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast at the Peppermill that morning. The menu looked excellent, and even though I wanted to try a microbrew, I’d been drinking nonstop all day, so I opted for a coke. Kudos to the MSS for being a Coke oasis in a Pepsi desert! Not only do they offer Coke, they serve it in huge 32 ounce glasses. And they bring them to you two at a time! Oh yes, I am now a fan of the Main Street Station. Since I was so hungry, I ordered a bowl of clam chowder and a filet mignon sandwich with onion rings. Steve had a club sandwich, and Tammy ordered a T-bone steak and a couple of double margaritas on the rocks. The food was excellent, and the mushrooms they served on my sandwich were good enough to order in a separate bowl and eat as a meal. We sat in the pub and talked for about an hour, but Steve said he wanted to go on craps tilt and play with all the crazy Hawaiians that seemed to fill the place. I was pretty much finished gambling for the day, as my losing streak had continued for far too long. Tammy took off for the nickel slots, but Steve talked me into standing at the $10 craps table with him. Of course I had no intention of playing, but when the dice came around to our side, he put a couple of chips on the line in front of me and told me to make him some money. My first roll was actually fairly decent—A crazy-assed Hawaiian guy had bought the 4 and 10 for $200 each and I hit them both twice, one time each the hard way, so he was cheering for me with like I was his favorite jockey. Steve was a little more subdued, as he’d placed everything across the inside, and I was having trouble getting those numbers for him. I sevened out before we could make any real money, and Steve took a shot. He didn’t fare much better, but he kept putting more chips into play, telling everyone that he was on ‘Craps Tilt’. Once the dice got to the other end of the table, the Hawaiian guy next to me put his entire stack, about $2500 on the Don’t Pass line. I thought he was coloring up, but he said it was a bet. The number was 8, so I couldn’t watch, but apparently the guy with the dice had a reputation as a bad shooter. He sevened out after about three tosses, and the Big Kahuna doubled up his rail. He was grinning, but only after his huge sigh of relief. It was getting late, the table was cold, but Steve kept fighting. At one point I think he was down about $1500, but we started making a little bit of a comeback. He was placing, and I was doing come bets, and between us we started getting a few wins. It took forever, though. At some point Tammy came by and told us she was heading home, having won a little bit of money for the evening. Finally, after a few hours of grinding away, we’d gotten Steve back to even. I didn’t feel like standing there anymore, so I left Steve and his bankroll at the table, and I sat down at the dollar Wheel of Fortune machine. I put $40 into it and played it down to two bucks when I finally hit the bonus wheel. I spun and it landed on $50, so I cashed out for $52 and headed for the LV Club. I wandered through the LV Club casino looking for any of my buddies, but I didn’t see any of them. I decided to get a nightcap and run $20 through the video poker machines at the bar before I hit the sack. I was sipping a black Russian, talking to the off-duty waitress who was sitting next to me, when I hit a full house that brought me up to $25, so I cashed out and headed for the cage. I was upstairs in bed about five minutes later. I was wiped out. I slept in a little later the next morning, and after a shower and clean clothes, I went down to the casino for a little early-morning blackjack. I was doing pretty well, and turned $100 into about $250. I had the pit boss check my play, and they told me that I had about 14 hours of play at $50 per hand since Thursday. They told me they’d comp my room at that point, so that made my little win that morning seem even better. Eddie B and Derek made an appearance a few minutes later, along with Dougie, and we were trying to decide where to eat breakfast when Steve showed up again, insisting that he treat us to the Main Street Station buffet. Nobody was going to turn that down, so we all wandered back over to the MSS. Steve had to talk to his host about getting comps for 5 people, but they gave it without a problem. Besides the free meal, we got to walk right to the front of the line and get seated immediately. We had the waiter bring a couple of pitcher of iced tea for us, and we hit the buffet pretty hard. On the weekends they had a huge selection of regular breakfast items, made-to-order omelets, a Chinese sections, a Mexican section, Pizza, a carving station, desserts, plus fruit and bakery stuff. We had a great conversation over breakfast, and everyone hit the line twice. Eddie and Derek really liked the waffles, Doug was grooving on the spicy Hungarian sausage, and I enjoyed pepperoni pizza with my eggs benedict! Over breakfast, Dougie amazed us with all of the details of his huge 6-digit win at the NYNY Pai Gow tables two years earlier. It was an enjoyable meal and we gave Steve a big ‘thank you’ for bringing us there—not only was it free, the food was excellent. After breakfast we headed back to the Las Vegas Club. Steve went to the sports book, Derek, Eddie, and I headed for the casino, and Dougie went over to the Plaza to play some cards. We found Tammie, Nate and Ken shortly thereafter and we decided that we needed to make a run at the $5 Million Wheel of Fortune progressive. So the six of us headed back over to the Main Street Station, hoping to become not-quite-millionaires. Eddie and I sat down in front of the machine and fed it six twenty-dollar bills. He would push the button, and I would spin the reels. After just a few minutes we landed on the bonus wheel and everyone insisted that I hit the spinner with my forehead. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe I just had no depth perception, but I misjudged it and bounced my head off of the front of the machine before hitting the spin button. I damn near crashed right through the front of the thing! Everybody was cracking up Derek told me I gotta call ‘Glass’ when I do that or it won’t count. It landed on 40 credits, so we were happy. A couple of minutes later we got another bonus spin, but I declined the head-butt that time and asked Eddie to push it since he had the hot hand that week. Eddie hit the button and we all went absolutely nuts when it landed on $1000!! Even the crazy drunken Hawaiians at the craps tables stopped their games to see what all the commotion was about. After we calmed down a little bit we decided to play it down to $900, then we’d each get $150 back, but then we kept hitting spins and played it up to almost $1300. We decided that we’d go up to $1500 or down to $1200 before cashing out. It got down to $1201 and we were going to hit the button, but then we realized we didn’t want to take a chance on getting a W2G, so we played one more time, didn’t hit anything, then cashed out for $1199. We pushed the change button, but got two rounds of drinks before a slot attendant showed up. We seriously sat there for over half an hour waiting to get paid. She finally showed up and paid the last hundred in tens, hoping for a tip, but there was no way she was getting one. We waited so long to get our cash, plus we had to split it up six ways, so we kept it all. After we pocketed our winnings, we decided we should pee on the Berlin wall in the mens room, and get players cards for the MSS. That took about ten minutes, and then we all played video poker at the same bank of machines. I managed to squeak out a $5 win, and then cashed out for $25 worth of quarters. After that we made our way to the 100% payback machines by the cage that turned our buckets of quarters into cash. Steve B demonstrating the proper technique when one visits the Berlin Wall We had a few hours to kill before having to get ready for dinner that night, so we all walked over to the California. Our plan was to do the same six-pronged attack on the Jeopardy quarter machines, since the progressive on it was over $4 million. We put another $120 in the machine, but after about ten minutes we were extremely bored with it. We managed to get back up to 480 credits and cashed out even. It was the general consensus that dollar slots were much more fun. Eddie mentioned that we hadn’t played craps together yet, so we wanted to get at least one game in before the weekend ended, so we made our way down to the craps pit. Derek opted to watch for a while, but Eddie and I bought in for a hundred each. We both got to shoot twice, and we managed to lose about a hundred bucks each. Eddie got pissed and walked away, but Derek took his place on the rail. The dice were a little more kind this time around, and I had a decent roll that made us both about $80. The next shooter was another Mr. Point-Seven-Out guy, so we colored up and left. Tammie, Nate, Ken, and Eddie had disappeared by then, so we found a $15 double-deck blackjack game. Derek took third base, and I sat next to him. My first hand was a blackjack, so I was doing the happy dance thinking I finally got the lucky seat. Well, it was not to be, because I lost the next 10 hands in a row and my $200 buy-in evaporated. I didn’t much care for the Cal’s double deck game, as it was really single-deck-plus-maybe-five-cards penetration. I got up to leave and told Derek that we needed to meet up for dinner by 6pm—two hours away—because we had reservations for 7pm. He said he’d meet us back at the hotel later, as he was winning and wanted to ride the streak a little longer. I crossed the street back to the LV Club, and just went up to my room to relax and watch some basketball before dinner. I hopped in the shower around 5:30, then at 6pm I walked over to Eddie’s room. He said he hadn’t seen or heard from Derek. We left him a note saying that we’d wait down in the Keno Lounge until 6:15 for him. We went downstairs and found Doug, Tammie, Nate, and Ken waiting, but no Derek. We checked the casino for him, and Eddie even walked back over to the California to see if he was there. Nope, no sign of him there, either, so we called the room on the house phone. There was no answer, so Derek had truly gone Chuck Norris on us. We waited until 6:20 and said the hell with it, if he wanted to join us, he could cab it up to NYNY. Eddie and I headed up to the parking garage, while everyone else headed for the valet to ride with Doug in the rental car. We took the freeway and made it to Tropicana in about ten minutes. Unfortunately, the Strip was completely gridlocked, so we sat at the left turn light for an additional ten minutes. At least we were stuck behind a mini-van taxi that had a Crazy Girls advertisement on the back, so we had a hilarious conversation about that while we waited. Just before it was our turn to get through the light the oncoming traffic got a green light, and a daredevil on a sportbike decided to show off. He gunned the throttle, jumped out in front of everyone, raised the front end, and did a wheelie all the way down Tropicana. Just another Saturday night in Vegas, I suppose. We finally dropped the car at the valet and tried to find our way to Gallagher’s. This was our first visit ever to the New York New York, and I can say that I wasn’t impressed. The casino has a layout worse than the Rio, and the walkways are narrow and crowded. Yeah, that’s actually the part of New York they could have left out… We looked at the table games, and of course the limits were high, and all of the blackjack tables we saw paid 6/5. We finally found the entrance to Gallagher’s and told the hostess that our party would be late. They said just to come back when everyone showed up. We decided to have a drink so we sat down across the way at the bar at Chin Chin, ordered a couple of beers, and people-watched for awhile. We saw a bachelorette party strolling through, and the guest of honor was carrying a well-endowed inflatable man. I’m sure the folks who had the bad sense to be walking through the casino with kids in tow were good and offended. The Bachelorette and her date at the NYNY After two rounds of beer, we finally saw the rest of our gang making their way through the crowd, and they had Derek with them. Apparently, he’d been waiting outside at the valet the whole time, thinking we’d left him behind. Of course, we were also about 45 minutes late for our dinner reservation due to Doug driving the Strip the whole way instead of the freeway, so the hosts made us wait another half an hour in retaliation. Our table was finally ready, and they made us walk to the back dining room through a side entrance by a service door. It was an extremely crowded and loud room, with all the ambiance of a high-school cafeteria. Seriously, it was the loudest restaurant I’ve ever been in. It was impossible to have a conversation without yelling. Imagine Buca de Beppo times ten—not exactly what we expected in a supposedly ‘nice’ steakhouse. We ordered drinks and wine for dinner while we looked over the menu, and they brought some warm sourdough bread with frozen butter to nibble on. I ordered some clam chowder, and a couple folks ordered salads. Eddie’s wild mushroom salad looked really good, but Derek got some ridiculous ‘lazy chef’ looking thing—just a huge wedge of lettuce, with random vegetables scattered around on the plate. I guess it was supposed to be trendy, but it was just stupid looking and pretty basic. He picked the whole thing up with his fork and waved it around for everyone to see and make fun of. The steaks were fairly expensive—Tammie, Nate, and I ordered the Porterhouse, which was about $36, Eddie and Doug both ordered the filet for about the same price, and Derek ordered the King Cut Prime Rib. I have no idea what Ken ordered. The sides were ala Carte, about $6.50 each, and we all ordered sautÃ©ed mushrooms or the Yukon Gold garlic mashed potatoes. Eddie ordered a side of ‘Giant Asparagus’, which was offered at ‘market price’ on the menu. Hmmm… I had an excellent Santa Barbara Pinot Noir by the glass, Derek and Eddie shared a bottle of Cabernet, while everyone else stuck to iced tea or beer. The service was a little slow, but when the steaks finally came, they were excellent! We were all awestruck by the size of the prime rib Derek ordered—it was served on a frickin’ turkey platter! We all joked that he should get it free if he could finish it within an hour. Seriously, the thing was a monster—it must’ve weighed over three and a half pounds. And my Porterhouse was pretty big, too. Everyone loved their steaks, although Doug’s was a little undercooked—it was pretty red in the middle and he asked for medium-well. He ate most of it, but the waitress took it off the bill, anyways. That was nice of them. Derek certainly got his money’s worth, because he finished his entire meal. Derek and his side of beef As our meal was winding down, there was a lot of yelling and commotion at the table behind us, we turned around to see what all the fuss was about, and we saw all eight guys in the party stand up and take their shirts off, high-five each other, and then sit back down to continue eating. Nice—we were having a hundred-dollar dinner in the fraternity house. Thankfully some other diners complained and the manager came out and asked them to come out and put their clothes back on. We finished our steaks, and I was feeling pretty full, but Eddie wanted to try dessert. I didn’t want to leave him hanging when everyone else declined, so I got in on it, also. We ordered some sort of warm-toffee cake with ice cream that was fantastic. When it arrived, it seriously looked like slabs of meatloaf with gravy and mashed potatoes, but it was cake with liquid toffee drizzled over it and vanilla bean ice cream on the side. It was so good that we both finished every bit of it. Even with Dougie’s free steak the bill came to almost $500 for the seven of us, so we took a few minutes to pass it around and settle up. When we finally collected enough money, we waddled out of there to look for the cigar lounge. Derek decided to hang with Eddie and me while everyone else took off with Doug to head back downtown. We hit the restroom, and then walked around for a bit. We never found the cigar lounge, but a nice girl on a pay phone tried to wave us over with a business proposition. Since we had just spent so much cash on dinner, none of us felt like dropping another three bills on dessert, so we just kept walking. We decided to get out of the NYNY, and Derek suggested the Monte Carlo. We didn’t have our walking shoes on, so we just went to valet and picked up the car. Just as we got back on the Strip we realized we had been within easy walking distance, but the exit driveway forced us to turn south, so we just went back downtown, instead. Once we got back to our home base at the LV Club and managed to get three seats at a $5 table. My new friend Andrea made an appearance and joined us for a while, too. It was a decent table except for a complete drunken idiot at first base. After every hand he’d look around the table and ask where everyone was from, so after the third time we just kept making stuff up, each time more ridiculous. Finally after about an hour it was no longer fun, it was just annoying. So when he inevitably asked again, I snapped back with “Listen jackass, I’ve told you a dozen times in the past hour—I live under that craps table over there, so don’t ask me again!” The table got a laugh and he finally shut up. I wasn’t doing to well, so I colored up and went to use the facilities. While I was waiting for the custodian to change the paper towels so I could dry my hands, he was telling me about some drunk who was tearing up the bathroom earlier that week and had to be arrested. I hung out and chatted with him for a few minutes because I figured that people who wear rubber gloves for a living usually have the best stories. When I came out of the bathroom, Eddie, Derek, and Andrea had left the table, so I just wandered aimlessly about the casino for a couple of hours. I played a little VP and made another run at the Elvis jackpot, but I was unsuccessful. I sat back down at the blackjack table again, and Andrea joined me a few minutes later—she didn’t play, but sat there talking to me and smoking while Dora kept bringing us the dreamsicles. We had an enjoyable time, although I couldn’t close the deal and lost about a hundred bucks to the house while trying. I realized that I had no luck on my side that night—I was Clark, with no Ellen to lick my wounds, so I headed off to bed, alone. Although I was having an absolute blast this trip, there was a tinge of a downer to it that hit me that night as I tried to fall asleep—I hadn’t seen Ed W again since Friday night, my old roommate Brian had to cancel at the last minute (hence the room to myself), and I’d been on a fairly consistent losing streak for the entire week—at no point was my cash flow ever in the positive. However, on the plus side, I’d been having the time of my life, laughing my ass off with friends, and having one-in-a-million experiences for five days straight. I guess I was striving for perfection. We didn’t hit it, but I think we came pretty close. When I woke up the next morning, I called down to Eddie and Derek’s room. They decided to head back to Phoenix early, so they were already packing. I told them to come find me in the casino before they left, and I headed down to the cage to cash in the rest of my travelers checks. I also went to the front desk to get my comped room refunded. I found a seat at first base of a sit-down $5 blackjack table. Before I got my first hand, I saw Andrea come walking in from Fremont Street wearing the same clothes as the night before and her hair was all messed up. I couldn’t be certain, but it sure looked like somebody was doing the ‘Walk of Shame’ back to her room at that early hour. I waved to her and she just shook her head and kept walking. Oh yeah, we had confirmation. It seemed like I had finally found a decent blackjack table, because I actually started winning. I cut the deck first and the dealer busted on both hands. Everyone else at the table insisted that I keep doing all of the cutting, and on the next deck I got two blackjacks! The deck after that I drew two multiple-card 21s!!! So my progressive betting was helping to build my stack, and pretty soon I was getting paid off in green chips. Derek and Eddie came down to say goodbye a little while later, and told me that Tammie and her gang had already left. We said our goodbyes and also confirmed plans for my Memorial weekend trip out to Phoenix. They took off, and I got back to the game, a little bummed that my buddies were gone. But the streak continued for another hour or so, and I colored up for a $450 win! I wasn’t really hungry—I was still kind of full from dinner the night before, but I was putting down a few Kahlua & coffees for breakfast while I tried for the Elvis progressive again. Again I didn’t win it. After another $50 loss I saw an open craps table so I went over to play. I’d been shooting for about five minutes when I heard a voice behind me ask, “Hey, is there a spot open at that craps table?” I turned around to see Ed W and Greg for the first time since Friday night! Greg just watched, but Eddie bought in for a couple hundred and the table immediately warmed up. We took turns shooting, making a little money here and there and explaining the game to Greg. After about a half an hour he’d seen enough and told us he was heading back to Phoenix now that the morning traffic across the dam had likely thinned out. Eddie was staying until Monday just like me, so he said he’d hang out with me all day downtown. He brought me up to speed on his weekend—he did a drunken bachelor party limo ride the night before, and dropped a few hundy on the UNLV coeds over at DÃ©jÃ vu before ending up at Studio 54 around 3 am. It sounded to me like he had a pretty good weekend going. We ended up making about a hundred each before the table headed south, and we both colored up with a small profit. We were undecided as to what to do next, so we just sat and had a drink and caught up for awhile. He told me that he and Greg both had big wins for the weekend, and I told him about all the travelers checks I’d cashed. Before too long, we decided to play some more blackjack, and we found two empty seats at a $10 single deck game with Andrea and her outrageously hot friend Julie (Every guy at the Las Vegas Club that week knew who Julie was…) This table was to be my downfall. I sat at first base, and Ed sat next to me. We had a pleasant conversation with the girls and gave Andrea a little needling about her walk of shame that morning but she insisted that she had just slept in her clothes and had gotten up to go to Starbucks when I saw her earlier. Uh huh… Anyhow, I kept getting more 14s than R Kelly, and Eddie kept getting 20s and 21s. I was on a steady downward spiral, ten bucks at a time, and Eddie kept pressing his wins. Before long he had almost $1200 worth of green chips stacked in front of him, and I’d given over $300 back, busting every other hand. It was ridiculous. He played it down to an even thousand in profit and I walked away about $400 lighter for my trouble. I swear, it happens every time—if there are hot girls at the blackjack table, it’s a lead-pipe lock that I’m going to lose. Next time I’m going to find the ugliest skanks in the casino and sit with them! It was late afternoon and we were both feeling kind of hungry, so I had the pit boss write me up a dinner comp for two in the Upper Deck (Where was Steve B when I needed him???) Of course, I’d gotten full RFB comps, but this was the only meal I had at the LV Club during my four-day visit. For those people that haven’t eaten at the Upper Deck, I will reiterate my previous rating of two thumbs down. The service is substandard, the food is of poor quality and not prepared well, and the restaurant always seems to be a mess. We ordered some spring rolls for an appetizer, and they were overcooked on the outside, (too dark, but not quite burned), and cold in the middle. I sent mine back. And the dipping sauce prepared earlier in the day had congealed into an orange gelatin with the same surface tension as a block of Spam. Our first dinner choices were unavailable, so I settled on a bacon cheeseburger, but I can’t remember what Eddie ordered. My burger was cooked just like my spring rolls, overdone on the outside and almost raw in the middle. I got tired of fighting it and just ate dang thing. There is no place in Vegas where the maxim ‘You get what you pay for’ is more true than the Upper Deck CafÃ©. Avoid it if you can. After dinner, Eddie was feeling a little beat because of his previous night’s activities, so offered him the use of the other bed in my room for a nap. So we went back up to my room and dozed in front of the TV for a couple of hours. I tried to call Dougie and invite him to come play some poker with us later, but I couldn’t get hold of him. The phone rang after we’d had a couple hours worth of power nap, and it was Eddie’s bachelor friend up at the Frontier telling us he was having dinner with some of the other guys, but we should meet up with him around 11pm that night up at his end of town. That sounded like a good idea, so we got up and decided to head over to the Plaza for a few hours of poker beforehand. A few minutes later we were signing in at the desk in the Plaza’s new poker ‘room’. Basically it was a roped off area of the casino with about 12 tables going. It wasn’t a bad set-up at all, and I have to hand it to the Plaza, the place didn’t smell like urine or old people anymore. I was still a little tired when Eddie and I got seated at the same 4-8 table. The first pot I was involved in I misread the board and accidentally mucked my cards. Had I just turned them over, it would’ve been a split pot. I smacked myself in the face and put my glasses on, vowing to pay more attention. I folded a lot of hands at first, just watching the other players at the table. They all seemed to have average skills—maybe just a little loose, although one guy had a ridiculously obvious tell that I picked up on within the first half hour. Whenever he had his hand made, he’d bet or raise with both hands, but whenever he was on a draw, he only bet with one hand. Luckily I got to use this information to my advantage twice. I was up about $40 when I was sitting in middle position and looked down to see the 7 and 8 of diamonds. I decided that so many callers were at the table, I’d pay whatever I needed to see a flop. Of course, I had to call two bets cold by the time it got to me, and the betting actually got capped. I can’t say I was happy about that, but in for a penny, in for a pound. Seven players paid $16 each to see the flop, which came out Queen, 5, 6, two spades. Ok—I had the outside straight draw, so I was a little happier about my hand. Again I called two bets and again it got raised. The turn brought the nine and I was doing the happy-naked-muppet-dance in my head. It was checked to me, and I checked it, believing that somebody after me would bet. They did, I raised, and two people folded. There were four players left for the river and I was praying for a rag—no spades, or no 5, 6, 9, 10, or Jack. A two of clubs came out on the river and I led off the betting. I got two callers and somebody actually raised me. I had the nuts, so I re-raised. Mr. Raiser had 3 queens, but I showed the straight and raked a HUGE pot—over $200. It turned out that there were pocket Aces cracked, along with 2 flush draws that didn’t quite make it. Man, what a hand! I hadn’t even finished stacking my chips when I got a full house on the very next hand to win another good pot. I won the third hand in a row with a pair of tens, but it was a really small pot. I figured I should ride the streak and on the very next hand I had complete rags, but raised. Everybody folded and I stole the blinds. It was easily the best four hands in a row I’d ever had. In the middle of that streak, CAP came over from the 2-4 table bragging about the four-of-a-kind he just got, so the T2V gang was representing in the poker room! My cards cooled off substantially after that, but I was enjoying the table. I had a fairly good read on some of the players and thought I could make a little money there. Ed wanted to go back up to the Frontier and meet his buddy, but I wanted to ride my streak a bit, so I stayed behind. We made plans to meet up for breakfast in the morning before heading to the airport. After Eddie left, I got a run of second-best cards and gave back about $100 in winnings in less than a half an hour. I figured I should walk with my table image and my chip stack still intact, so I wished everyone good luck, thanked them for the good game, and headed to the cage with my racks full of nifty blue chips. It was only about 11:30 when I got back over to the LV Club, so I decided to play a little more blackjack. I should’ve just gone to bed, as I lost another $150 within an hour. I finally gave up and decided that my gambling for the trip was over. I said goodnight to Dora and headed up to my room. I wasn’t tired at all, but I needed to start organizing all of my clothes and such and start packing. I watched the local news, enjoyed the Fremont Street scenery below and the lights of the Strip in the distance while I gathered all of my belongings into smaller and smaller piles. It was about 2 am when I finally went to bed for my last night in Vegas. All of the activities from the past week finally started to catch up to me, and the exhaustion put me down for the count. I don’t think I moved for at least six hours. I woke up Monday morning to my phone ringing. It was Dougie, who’d been missing in action for the past 24 hours. He said he’d spent his entire Sunday playing poker on the Strip. He’d done pretty well, and offered to buy my breakfast at the Main Street Station buffet if I was interested. It sure beat the alternative at the LVC, so I told him to give me a couple of minutes to get dressed. I tried calling Ed a couple times to invite him to join us, but his phone was busy every time we called. I checked out of the room and dragged my bags downstairs. For whatever reason, we drove the two blocks to the MSS, and actually had the car valet parked. We attempted to get a line pass from the players club, but they declined (hey, we had to ask). So we just got in line with the rest of the low-rollers. We didn’t have to wait long, and when we got to the front, we noticed that we could add a steak to our breakfast for only $2. Since breakfast during the week was only about six bucks, we jumped on the offer. The weekday buffet isn’t nearly as extensive as the weekend offerings—just breakfast, fruit, pastry, and pizza. No other stations were opened. The omelet guy was making the steaks, so I stood in line for them while Dougie loaded up his first round (Hey, he was paying, so I had to do my part). I got our steaks and my custom-made omelet and picked up a few other breakfast items. I enjoyed it all except for the biscuits and gravy—we get the good stuff down south, so theirs left a little to be desired. And you know how they say ‘Tougher than a 2-dollar steak?’ well, I have to say that ours were pretty darn good. They were cooked perfectly and more tender than I expected. It was actually the highlight of the meal. There weren’t enough selections available to justify a second plate, and I didn’t want to tempt fate since I would be riding on an airplane all afternoon, so I called it quits after just one trip through the buffet. After breakfast, we still had about an hour and a half to kill, so we decided to make back all of our losses at the blackjack table. The LV Club was pretty dead at that hour on a Monday morning, so we figured that getting a table would be no problem. Before we did that, Dougie needed to walk down to the Fremont to settle up his accounts there, but I didn’t want to make that walk. All week I made a conscious effort to not to go near Binion’s Horseshoe. I spent all of my downtown time within the Golden Gate, LV Club, Plaza, and MSS circle. I figured that walking down towards Binion’s would be like visiting the grave of an old friend, and I just wasn’t ready for that. I stayed behind to check my email and such from the new Internet terminals at the snack bar. The first email I got was from LV Terry, from his work address. All it said was “Dude, the cocktail service SUCKS here!” It didn’t sound like he was enjoying his Monday morning back in the real world. Dougie came back a few minutes later, and I dug into the reserves to play a little blackjack. We sat at a table that had gone from $3 limits, to $25, then back down to $10 when we asked the pit boss to open another table (they only had 2 tables going up to that point, one $5 table that was full, and a $25 game where everyone was grandfathered in at three bucks). We sat down, bought in for $200 and I’ve got to tell you that it was the worst table I’d been at all week. There was a drunken old lady at first base, chain-smoking, playing two spots, repeating herself like Mr. ‘Where-are-you-from’ the other day, and taking all day to add up her cards. The pit crew told me she’d been at that table nonstop since 5pm the night before. She had ashes all over everything and trash scattered everywhere. She was a mess, but apparently had about $5000 in markers out, so they kept her playing, much to the annoyance of the other players. Unfortunately, I either pushed or lost on every single hand—that’s right, not a single win, and burned through $150 in less than 15 minutes. Finally I noticed that on the first deal of the deck, not a single ace or face card came out, so I dug into the pocket for another $50 and put a hundred bucks in the circle. I was dealt a suited jack/king for a twenty, and the dealer had a three showing. Again, I felt pretty confident that I’d end the trip on a winning note, and when she turned over a jack to make 13, I was relieved. I just needed one of the nines or tens that the deck was full of, but no, the next card out was an eight to complete the weeklong kick-in-the-balls I’d gotten from the tables. I had never been so damn mad at a hand of blackjack in my life. I literally wanted to give the table the Duran Duran treatment and send it flying! I somehow managed to restrain myself and I walked away, swearing, and not really under my breath, either. After that episode, I was done with the tables, but since we still had a little time Doug hung around to eke out a few more wins. I found another dollar Wheel of Fortune machine and sat down to calm myself. I dropped forty bucks in it, played it down to ten and got a bonus spin. The wheel landed on $50 for me, so I cashed out right away and took my $60 ticket to the cage. Doug walked up while I was in line, and our Vegas trip officially ended right then. We got the car out of the Valet one last time, and we headed for the freeway. I showed him the ‘tunnel route’, which is a great way to get TO the airport, but it adds about 5 miles to the trip. It’s not worth taking from the airport unless you’re staying on the northwest end of the strip or downtown. Dougie’s flight wasn’t for another six hours or so, so he dropped me off and headed back to Mandalay Bay to do some shopping for his kids. McCarran was a zoo, of course, and I stood in line for about 25 minutes before I could check my bags. I got another A-pass, so that eased the pain a little bit. I had awhile before my flight, so I walked down to the gate where Eddie’s flight to Phoenix was leaving from, but he wasn’t there. I waited around for about twenty minutes but he never showed, so I went back to my gate and leaned up against the window in the ‘A’ line. They announced that our flight was completely full, and it looked to me like it was full of a whole bunch of angry Kentucky fans. We boarded about twenty minutes late and sat on the ground not moving for another half an hour due to the fact that nobody could locate our pilots. That’s two late flights on Southwest in a week—that hasn’t happened before. We finally got underway and I tried to relax for the long flight home and put the trip in perspective. Although it was a financially losing trip from a gambling standpoint, it was an extremely rewarding trip from a personal standpoint. I had a week of complete buffoonery and good times with my best friends in my favorite city. I’d paid for two meals and zero hotel rooms in six days. I’d met some fantastic people and made some fond memories that will last a lifetime. I tried a couple of new casinos and a couple of new restaurants, which I absolutely loved. I squeezed every last drop of Vegas experience out of my time there, and I lived to tell about it. I made a lot of people laugh, myself included, and I reaffirmed the fact that Las Vegas is the Greatest City in the World. I made it home by 9 pm that night, feeling like Evel Knievel after jumping the Caesar’s Palace fountains, and looking like Keith Richards after a six-month stadium tour. My money clip had barely enough small bills in it to be effective, and my luggage smelled like the carpet at the Westward Ho. I kicked off my shoes and collapsed into bed with a satisfied smile on my face. I had a good time. Mikey Final Thoughts: Â· I didn’t make a single sports bet the entire week. Unbelievable. Â· I think I’ve lost my appetite for the Golden Gate shrimp cocktails. Yeah, they’re only 99-cents, but they shouldn’t taste like the harbor water at Marina Del Rey. Â· Mandalay Bay is awesome, but everything there is ridiculously overpriced. The food, the sundries shop, the women… The poker room, however, is my new favorite. Â· THEhotel doesn’t live up to the hype. Â· No Binion’s chili this time. That is one tradition I really missed. Â· A limo ride up and down the strip is a fantastic way to spend the evening with friends. Â· The Las Vegas Club has really tightened up on comps. They told Doug that he was rated at $23 per hand—Sorry, so close though! Now who really bets $23 per hand??? Â· I love the Peppermill. I will definitely be going back, if only to sit in the lounge and drink. But the breakfast was great, too. Â· I think I’ve had my fill of March Madness. It was just way to crowded and there were too many lines and all of the table minimums were jacked up. If I’m not living there next year, I’ll wait to until the WSOP to make my spring trip. Â· Not having Binions really affects the blackjack competition downtown. It was impossible to get an open table to play with all of your buddies, and low limits were few and far between. That being said, the single deck 3:2 game with $5 minimums at the LV Club is one of the best games around, if you can get a seat. Â· You know how most casinos cool down a blackjack table by bringing in the closer from the Asian gaming room? The LV Club does the opposite. When you’re losing and want to leave, they bring in the Hottest. Dealer. Ever. to keep you at the table. Next time you’re downtown, take a look at Mai from Vietnam. Good Lord. Â· One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen: Me and Eddie B were at the front of the LV Club, when out on Fremont Street there was a huge commotion. It seems like a bunch of hippies and dirt-bags had organized an Anti-War, Anti-Bush, Anti-America protest. We went outside to watch and everyone was yelling at them to get a job and such, calling them commies, and basically letting them know what losers they were, when somebody bumped Eddie’s arm. He was holding a couple of black chips in his hand and one of them got knocked out and went rolling through the hippie procession. So he was stumbling along chasing it, running into people and trying to catch up before somebody snagged it. He finally saved it about twenty yards away. Even the motorcycle cop sitting there was laughing at him. I swear it was like watching a little kid chase a chicken. Â· We saw more hookers this week than ever before. One guy even walked a couple through the casino at the LV Club on Sunday morning, which was a hit with everyone at the craps tables. Â· Due to my employment situation, I have no idea when my next trip to Vegas will be. Everything is up in the air at this point. Â· Six days in Vegas is too long. Five would be better.