Sunday, July 6, 2008

I'm Back!

The digital age is a wonderful thing, but it is not without its hazards. Ever since I launched this blog in early March, I have made it a point to produce new entries for every weekday(and often at least one weekend day as well), on the notion that maintaining the discipline of daily publishing would keep my writing skills and thought processes sharp. I've enjoyed the "work", but last week, my daily streak came to an end. I knew I would be missing a few days at the keyboard, but I dared not write about it in advance because the internet is a VERY public forum, and I didn't want to give any potential thieves the opportunity to plan a heist at my home while I was out of town. It's no big deal - just another hazard we all have to think about in the world today!

Now, with that preamble taken care of, I can tell you all about my latest adventure in the city of Lost Wages (or is that, in my case, the city of Lost Severance?)!

Now I know you're asking... an unemployed guy going on vacation in Las Vegas? Look - I planned this trip in January, a month BEFORE my job was eliminated. The airfare was paid for, I had already saved money for hotel and gambling, and I needed something to look forward to as I looked for my next career. There was nothing short of a new job offer that was going to get me to cancel the trip, so off we went with Lori and Randy Bernstein for five days and four nights of sin! I will share details by way of a list of likes... and a list of dislikes.

I liked (in no particular order):

  • Discovering new things after perhaps a dozen trips to Las Vegas over a 20-year period… in this case, what it’s like to visit a casino for “locals”. We visited the Red Rock Casino, in Summerlin, about 10 miles northwest of the Strip, and found a resort that would have been the envy of the Strip if it was there. Beautiful casino… beautiful restaurants, a cheap and delicious buffet, along with a 16-screen movie theater, a bowling alley and a member’s club that was far more generous than anything either MGM-Mirage or Harrah’s would ever think about offering.

  • Downtown Las Vegas on the 4th of July. Walking around at 10 o’clock at night in 100-degree weather with an interesting mix of drunk locals and drunk tourists, watching faux-patriotic America tributes on the overhead Fremont Street Experience screens, while 70-year-old women in bright green halter tops traipsed around with their breasts dangling to their belly buttons.

  • Lucking out in both directions and having an empty seat between myself and the Missus on both plane flights. Almost made air travel seem civil again.

  • Going to the pool for a dip, then sitting on a chaise lounge and drying off in 15 minutes or less under the broiling Nevada sun.

  • Hash House a Go Go. You won’t find this restaurant in the tourist magazines, because it's a good 20 minute drive west of the Strip. We found it on the Food Network or the Travel Channel. This breakfast place has pancakes that are literally larger than an average dinner plate. One pancake can feed two people! Yum!

  • Traveling with friends. There’s a caveat to this one. Traveling with friends can be great IF you and your friends are willing to be flexible, and willing to go off and do their own thing. Thankfully, Lori and Randy Bernstein are a wonderful couple for us to travel with. We managed to enjoy each others’ company and share many expenses – Plus - as an added bonus, Randy is a great blackjack coach!

  • Multi-hand Deuces Wild draw poker. Nothing beats playing 50 hands at once… especially when you've drawn three 2's in a Deuces Wild game! I even finished ahead while playing it!

  • Margaritaville. The weather is here… wish you were beautiful. ‘Nuf said!

  • Bette Midler. The Divine Miss M is still belting out her great voice and telling really funny (if old) dirty jokes at the age of 62. God bless her!

  • The 6.99 Steak Dinner special at Ellis Island. I had read about this, one of the most notorious cheap food specials left in Las Vegas, for years – but I never had the nerve to actually try it! For 7 bucks, I enjoyed a 10-ounce sirloin, baked potato, green beans, salad and a 20-ounce homebrewed light beer. As I enjoyed my dinner, I was serenaded by the city’s most popular karaoke bar about 25 feet away. Definitely a must-do experience at least once (and perhaps just once) in your life!

  • The blackjack dealers at Paris, where we stayed this trip. They were - without exception - friendly and eager to help... rooting us on to beat the casino!

I was NOT crazy about:

  • Tipping everyone for everything. Forget gambling… tipping is the biggest industry in Las Vegas. I don’t mind tipping for good service, but sometimes workers conspire to hold you up for money. When we checked out of the hotel, I called for a bellman to come to my room and deliver my bags directly to my rental car. When he arrived, the bellman told me he was not allowed to leave the hotel, so my bags would be delivered to the bell desk, where another bellman would then deliver my luggage to my car. Yes, I tipped twice… Which bellman was I going to screw over?

  • Trying to get comps. When one spends four days churning out literally thousands of dollars worth of bets at a casino, he should be able to expect more than $7.28 worth of comps for his trouble. Now that Las Vegas (well, the Strip, anyway) has become a two-player town (Harrah’s and MGM-Mirage own almost everything) , it is nearly impossible to even get a lousy free buffet!

  • Having my minivan spat upon by a drunk teenager in a wife-beater, sporting gang tats and carrying a 16-ounce Bud. He was crossing the street downtown against my green light and apparently didn’t appreciate my little horn toot. I didn’t appreciate his DNA soiling my car window. No matter. The spit evaporated in about a minute.

  • Having a “low tire pressure” sensor come on in my rented minivan, even though none of the tires looked low at all. The missus insisted on trading in the van for another, even though I was willing to fuggedaboudit.

  • Sticking on a soft 18 against a 6, rather than doubling down as I should have. The move, an ill attempt to protect my bankroll, instead cost me more than a hundred bucks. STUPID ME! Textbook blackjack play exists for a reason!

  • Hitting on 16 (although I do).

  • Staying on 17 against a 10 (although I do).
  • The Economy Taking Its Toll. Las Vegas was jammed with visitors over the holiday weekend, but business was noticably off compared to last year, when we also visited for July 4th. Our first two days in town, it was almost quiet in the casinos, and there were notably few table games even open. Traffic on the strip moved at the speed limit, which is NOT a good thing for Vegas. And the most telling sign of the lagging times was at the World Gaming Expo at the Rio resort, home of the World Series of Poker. We stumbled on this free "convention of vices" last year... A convention hall full of poker vendors giving away free playing cards, magazines, coupons for lap dances, alcohol, energy drinks, magazines, poker chips, baseball caps - any and everything related to the world of poker and all FREE! We eagerly planned to go back this year, but we were in and out in less than 15 minutes - and with NONE of the freebies we grabbed last year. There were, at most, one quarter of the vendors we saw in 2007, and the ones that were there were giving away almost nothing. I walked out with 3 magazines and a sample size bottle of sunscreen - and none of it came home with me. Companies that were hoping for exposure last year are now presumably just hoping to survive - if they are still around at all.

All in all, it was another memorable Las Vegas trip! I wish I could say when the next one will be, though... Even if the new job comes through, who knows when fuel prices will drop low enough for me to consider buying tickets to fly out west again! Vegas used to be about 225 dollars round trip, but you'd be pressed to find a fare for less than 450 bucks these days - That's a hell of a lot of money to put up when you've gotta plan to lose even more in the casino!


ccarl said...

Great recap, John.

I thought I had talked the Mrs. into a summer trip to Vegas, but it fell through. Now, with the business climate and economy what it is, I'm not sure when my next trip out there will be.

KDWN is hiring, but I'm not sure I want to live there. That area has to run out of water at some point...

Jen Richer said...

I love Hash House a-go-go! We have one in san diego too! Its right up there with in-and-out on our must-visit-when-Jen's-in-town list!