It was a strange sensation flying into a nearly empty McCarran 2:30 am and then picking up a discarded Wednesday Las Vegas Review-Journal and seeing my name prominently mentioned in a front-page article on traffic gridlock. I don't know what was odder - arriving four hours late and wondering if it was even worth it to check into a hotel for the night or reading of my exploits on racing a DUECE bus down the Strip during a trip three weeks earlier? Either way, it's welcome to Las Vegas - where surprises wait around every corner. I opted to check into the Plaza ($29) instead of trying to stay up for the night. By the time I caught the CAT 109 downtown and checked in, it was nearly 4:00 am. I tried to get to sleep, but couldn't, as it was really 6:00 am my (CST) time. Plus, I could see the daylight creeping through the drapes of my North Tower (these rooms are superior than the South Tower) room. I might as well get up and eat breakfast. On my way down to Careful Kittys at the El Co, I ran into a down-and- alcoholic. Since I was solo, I offered to buy him breakfast. He readily accepted and we had a interesting conversation over bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast. Later that morning, I bussed it to the Hilton ($199/four nites) where I was able to check in by noon. I hadn't been at the Hilton for a couple years and it still remains one my favorite hotels. It's location is more peaceful than the Strip or downtown, it has grass around the property, the pool area is nice, the beds are comfortable, there is a marble-type desk that goes the full length of the window (great for sitting) and the rooms offer some of the best views in town. We (my son joined me later that day) were in the 27th floor of the Central Tower and could see the Las Vegas Country Club and Wynn golf courses, the south Strip and McCarran airport. The McCarran part may not excite most people, but I'm an airport and plane buff. Usually, my son and I do some kind of adventure, such as hiking a mountain, doing extreme camping, canyoning, etc. Since this trip was kind of the spur of the moment affair, all we planned to do was gamble, eat and relax. And, it was nice to just to take it easy for a change. I spent many an hour soaking up that wonderful Vegas sun and heat at the Hilton pool while reading Mike Konik's book "The Smart Money". Konik's no Ken Van Vechten (take that anyway you want), but he knows the Vegas scene like few others. It details his years as a key player inside one of the most successful sports betting operations in history. If you have any interest in sports gambling, this is a fascinating read. I was an eye-opener for me. Other than the very last day, when I got a rental car, we either took the CAT (eschewing the DEUCE, though) or walked. For $2.50 a day, you can go anywhere in town. It worked out fine. For example, I was invited to a friend's house for a BBQ Thursday night. It was a snap getting to the residential area he lived at by taking the CAT. Other than BBQ, we did our usual gig of buffeting it up all over town. For those interested, here is my take on the $35 Bellagio Gourmet Buffet versus the $35 Rio Seafood Buffet: It's no contest. Bellagio wins by a landslide. We hit the Rio up Friday, using the $10 off coupon in the Harrahs' book. The Bellagio was done Saturday with gambling comps. I will post a review of both in the Restaurant Thread. On Sunday, we made are traditional trip out to Green Valley for the buffet. Best buffet crabs leg in town are at the GVR. The key is to take the cold ones (not the hot ones) and hand them to the elderly black woman that is the shrimp/crab spice maven. She's throws them on her grill and cooks them with tomatoes, garlic, onion, hot peppers, parsley. Outstanding. Be sure to take some bread to soak up the juices. A big regret I have is never being able to take to leftover crabs shells and drippings with me. It's a shame to see them thrown out when such a wonderful stock for bisque could be had. The only other buffet we had was Hilton for lunch and Terribles for breakfast. The Hilton is a servicable buffet, but lacks the nuances of the more upscales joints. Terribles is weak for lunch or dinner, but had do you screw breakfast up when all you want is an omelet or something simple. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by freshly-made waffles. Can't beat the price either - $2.50 each with the 2-1 coupon. The other plus is we use this as a breakfast stop on way to catch late morning flight. It's always a highlight to meet T2Vers and this trip was no exception. I had the pleasure of hooking up with "Imp884". She (Lisa) was with her husband John, a genuine Hilton high roller. Since John won a $50,000 jackpot on the high-limit slots last year, the Hilton treats them like a king and queen. Meeting them though, you would never know it. John and Lisa are very down-to-earth, humble folk. Lisa said they even feel uncomfortable in the suites the Hilton insists on putting them up in. They're definitely the type of people you love to see win big. Speaking of gambling, I think I learned something about myself. My favorite gaming moments came when I was at the Wynn outdoor tables playing. Compared to the grinding it took to play the matchplays (and get some of them redeemed at players clubs), I felt oddly at peace playing the higher stakes at the Wynn. And, I'm a frugal guy. Maybe it was the sense of relaxation of being in one spot playing the green chips instead of going from casino to casino throwing your MPs down and hoping to win that extra $5 or $10. Sure, gambling is gambling, but there is a different feel to the matchplay game than the Wynn experience. While playing craps at the Wynn's outdoor table, there was someone who had $25,000 worth of place bets out, plus his own pass line bets of about $10,000. And, this guy was hot as a pistol too. He had to pick up a quick $60,000-70,000 before he left. On my way to the airport to pick up a car on Sunday, I stopped at HR to try their outdoor tables. Even though REHAB was going on, I had no problem getting in. I simply walked past the regular admission area and went directly to the pool where I told security I wanted to gamble. They waved me right in. That place was packed with 20-somethings in every form of swimwear imaginable. The best way to describe it was one big-ass party with tons of booze, loud music and the young hip crowd. In fact, it was so crowded and the music so damn loud that I left after 10 minutes. As a 49-year old, this wasn't my scene, but 25-20 years ago, it sure would have been. Not much else to report on other than being able to surprise a very good friend of mine from my hometown. I found out from his traveling partners that they were going to be in Vegas the same time I was. When they got in a cab, one of the guys secretly called me and said they would be at the Bellagio at a certain time. Just as their cab showed up, I popped up and did he ever do a double-take. You know, that look that says 'what are doing here'. The flight back to Midway was uneventful, though I've noticed planes are able to fly over Summerlin's airspace now, as opposed to taking a left turn upon take-off. What's nice about this is if you are sitting on the right side of the plane, you get a view of Vegas while taking off and also while making the right turn. Anyway, this was trip No. 4 for the year with three more yet to come. Vegas, we'll see you in August.