July 2001 A group of friends (Dustin and Rocky) and myself, made my second and their first trips to Vegas and Los Angeles. Flight: The flight was with US Airways, flying out of Knoxville on Saturday at 5pm courtesy of Priceline ($200 each). We flew through Charlotte, then onto Las Vegas where we arrived after 9pm. Car Rental: For this trip, we rented a standard car through Priceline ($13/day) at Alamo. Great price, bad service. We stood in line for over an hour trying to get our vehicle. It seems a lot of people got similar deals off of Priceline. Once we got to the counter, the paper work went smoothly. Declining pretty much all "extras" and insurance. Los Angeles: No sooner than we had the car and took a quick drive down Tropicana Avenue, we set off for Los Angeles. We all had been up most of the day, so heading toward L.A. at 11pm (2am eastern) for at least a five hour drive was a bit rough. We stopped in Barstow for a quick bite at Denny's and upon trying to get back onto the Interstate, somehow ended up going back towards Las Vegas. This was the point when we realized that California highways are MUCH worse than any in Tennessee, even with all of our roadwork. After getting turned back around and many rest breaks, we finally pulled into L.A. around 6am. We drove around; taking in some sights (mainly smog) until 8am. We stopped at a Super 8 just down from Dodgers Stadium, which we figured we could get a room and rest up before going to the Dodgers vs. Angels game that afternoon. WRONG. The desk clerk took great pleasure in telling us that there were no rooms available. So, off we went again taking in more sights. We really enjoyed seeing the Pacific Ocean, Beverly Hills, and the Whiskey on the Sunset Strip. Soon, we all got very tired and found a nice McDonald's parking lot to take a nap in. About noon, we headed to the ballpark. We enjoyed 3 innings of the game, a Gary Sheffield homerun into our stands in right field, and some nice sunburns, then headed back to the same Super 8 and got a room for the evening. We ordered up some pizza, caught the rest of the game, and slept until Monday morning. Then we headed back to Las Vegas. As a side note, I could not believe the Monday morning mess; I mean traffic in Los Angeles. Luckily, we were headed in the other direction. Las Vegas: Upon returning to Las Vegas, we checked into the Tropicana around noon (three hours ahead of time) and got a garden room on the ground floor. Upon going to the room, we found out that the elevator was out of order from the second floor casino to the first floor where the room was. So most of the week, we had to navigate the staircase. Tropicana Garden Room: Taking into consideration the room I stayed in at the Golden Nugget the year before, which I considered an above average room, this room was below average. The room that we had was on the ground floor by the Tropicana Avenue exit across from the MGM Grand. The room was your typical hotel room with two double beds, average bathroom, closet, table and two chairs, and a sliding glass door to the patio overlooking one of the pools. The room was extremely stuffy, and we had trouble working the air controls. Overall, it had a bad "feel" to it. Gambling: On the way back from Los Angeles, we saw billboards for the Sahara and their $1 black jack games. Well, we were sold! The first night, I was tired from all of the driving, so I turned in early. The boys borrowed the car and told me they were going to a strip club. Imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning and they weren't back. After I cleaned up, they come through the door with huge grins on their faces. They proceed to tell me that they spent all night at the Sahara playing black jack and that they both had won. Come to find out, Rocky had won over $300 and Dustin had won over $500. They entertained me with stories of how Dustin would double down on 12 and get some mean looks from the dealer and the players. The funny thing was though; he would get an 8 or 9 just about every time. After the boys luck at the Sahara tables, we decided to spend most of our time there. We really enjoyed the dealers at the Sahara as well as "Opie," a pit boss. We weren't sure what his name was, but after looking at this fellow for 2 seconds, you would think his name was Opie. Rocky got to talking to him one night while playing black jack and learned about Las Vegas and the inner workings of the casinos. Opie noticed how much Rocky was gambling and winning and offered to sign him up for their slot card. To bad Rocky declined the offer, not knowing what he was turning down. We thoroughly enjoyed our visits to the Sahara. One night, Dustin and I sat down to play keno at the Excalibur. We planned on playing one game each, mainly to just get a beer. After we had played our one game, and just sat there in the keno lounge, the waitress kept coming back to us and loading us up on drinks, even though we weren't playing! Dining: With our room at the Tropicana, we decided to eat there most of the time. We ate at the Island Buffet 2 or 3 times and enjoyed the food and the service. Calypsos offered up some nice meals at different times of the day, but the service was found to be lacking. I even had my traditional banana split, this time at Calypsos, but I wondered why the strawberry ice cream was such a strange shade of red. We also enjoyed the food at the Pyramid Cafe at Luxor, but found the service to be very slow. The waiter even messed up our orders. To my surprise, we enjoyed the Excalibur Buffet. The setup inside the buffet is terrible, but we really enjoyed the food. As I remembered how good the food and service was the year before, we stopped at the Carson Street Cafe inside the Golden Nugget (mainly for me to get my banana split fix.) What a difference a year makes. The food was still good, but the service was horrible. We must have gotten there at a shift change or something, because the service was extremely slow. Also, the banana split was a lot smaller than the one I had the year before. This experience really dampened our visit to the downtown area, and promptly left. Entertainment: Being a bunch of cheapskates, we really didn't do a lot of things. We did walk up and down the strip enjoying the scenery. We stopped in many hotels taking in their scenery as well. We stopped by the Hilton to go to the Star Trek Experience, but decided we weren't willing to pay the price to get in. When we were visiting Fremont Street, the boys paid a visit to the Glitter Gulch girls. This was during the day and admission was free, except for a 2-drink minimum. I stayed outside and waited on them. Once they came out, they wished they hadn't gone inside. The 2-drink minimum cost them $10, and they said the women inside looked old. I just had to laugh. We hit up the free slot pull almost daily outside the Tropicana, winning free tickets to the Rick Thomas magic show and the Folies Bergere show. Neither of which we wanted to go see. Tipping: Boy did we ever. Of course we took care of the valets and the bellman at the Tropicana, but I believe we went over and above at the Sahara. While at the Sahara, we would toss the waitresses a buck for a beer or mixed drink. It did make me mad when you would see people playing at the $1 tables, but playing $5-10 a hand, then stiff the waitress on a tip. For the dealers, I went with my philosophy of tipping and the guys went with theirs. If I get a black jack or a good hit and the dealer busts, I put a dollar in front of my bet for the next hand and play for the dealer. Dustin and Rocky though, tipped only if the dealer interacted with the table a lot and they were winning. In hindsight, their way may have been better, but I believe in karma; and when your playing black jack, you need all the good karma you can get. All of the dealers and waitresses really appreciate it when we tipped them. We noticed that service and friendliness increased for US (notice I didn't say everyone) while we were there. It's just a guess, but I believe we tipped well over $50 a night, all together, while sitting at the Sahara tables. Comps: Well, I did sign up for the Tropicana slot club. I played just long enough on the last day to get the free T-shirt. Other than that, we got nothing. Once again, to bad Rocky didn't sign up for the Sahara card. Returning home: Now this was an adventure. We returned the rental car about 9pm and our flight was due to depart at 1am. At the airport, we laid around the terminal, read some magazines, and mainly people watched. About midnight, we found out that our flight was at least an hour behind schedule. This was bad, because we had to fly into Pittsburgh and only had an hour layover. We finally got onto the plane and took off about 3am. No sooner than we sat down, all three of us were out like a light. When we arrived in Pittsburgh, we had 25 minutes to get across the airport to catch our flight. In retrospect, we should have contacted an US Airways agent and got a nice golf cart ride to our gate, but we were too groggy to know any better. We walked as fast as we could go to get to the other side of the airport. No sooner than we got to the terminal in which our flight was departing, they announce over the intercom that our flight is now leaving. Rocky turns to me and says, "what does that mean?" In which my response was, "we RUN!!" As we ran down the terminal to the gate, this got the attention of an agent at another gate, who asked us if that was our flight as we ran by. With a quick "Yeah" she got on the phone and stopped the plane for us. Kudos to her. Overall, we had fun. The boys walked away from Las Vegas with winnings in their pockets and an urge to return as soon as possible. Which we did in February 2002.