I am a very traditional guy. I wear my britches up where they belong, I take off my hat at Mass, and I give you the vicarious thrill of my yearly trip to Nationals.
Ready to be vicariously thrilled?
Saturday, May 11 -
My wife and I caught the 6:30 AM flight from Milwaukee on Southwest and managed the boarding procedure perfectly so that there was an empty seat between both of our amply portioned frames. Landed just after 8:00 AM PDT and the captain was patting himself on the back for an early arrival... then came on the mic and said that since they were so early, the arrival gate was not available. So much for an extra 20 minutes of Las Vegas.
Headed over to the Car Rental Center to pick up our Mustang convertible (I must have hit the internet one random day at the right time, as I found a rate of $18 per weekend day, less a 10% promo code I had for Dollar; all in for two days for $57.) Except...
Except for the $500 security hold they wanted to place on the credit card. They were really pushy on the insurances (as it is a "high risk" vehicle, they tell me) which I declined; I don't know if the security hold (which coincidentally matches the insurance deductible that I told them that I have) was because I declined the insurance or not, but I knew I had three hotels and two other cars to rent over the next few days, and I didn't have that much available room. The result is that we used my wife's work AMEX to hold the car with the intent of going back to my credit card upon return. They were happy to do that for a $10 a day extra driver charge. But the $20 vs a tied up credit card for the rest of the trip was a frustrating but ultimately easy decision.
But that's not even the best part. When they rejiggered the transaction to my wife's name and credit card, the rate skyrocketed to $57 a day. I had made a trip to the restroom while my wife finished the transaction. When I met her at the car, she said "When you said $57, I thought it was total for two days... not per day before taxes".
Of course, now I am seeing red. I take the contract back to the Dollar counter (I have to wait in line AGAIN) and the clerk (a different one) was happy to make the correction, saying that sometimes the computer downloads the regular price instead of a promo. I less than friendily told her that there really isn't any excuse and that someone needs to either reprogram the computer or be super-100%-diligent if they know this is a bug. She wasn't impressed with that comment. I wasn't impressed that the whole time to get the car was almost 45 minutes. I've never had either of these problems at Alamo (where we normally rent). Then again, I've never seen a convertible for $16.20 a day at Alamo...
Still angry, we pulled out of the garage with our white Mustang, flipped the top down and noticed LAS VEGAS!!!! The mood changed considerably as we headed up the strip to our first stop - Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas.
I had made a reservation on-line for Mon Ami Gabi, but that was for inside seating only. When we made it to the restaurant, there was a "short" wait for patio seating so we decided to wait. I walked over to a Hangover slot, played max credits and won $196. I didn't even have a chance to lose it as our pager went right off.
I ordered a Cafe au Lait (it is a French restaurant, you know), and the waiter asked "large or small". I said large (money being no object when using a casino points). He brought my coffee in a bowl. An honest to God bowl. I felt like an idiot drinking it (and the bowl got mighty hot, too).
My boring ol' wife had a diet Coke... then again, she doesn't have a blog to populate. My skinny cinnamon pancake was pretty good (nothing spectacular) and my wife's hamburger (remember, no blog) was reported as being excellent.
After breakfast, we got the car and drove over to Terrible's (Side note; No sooner did we get home and it was announced that the property was being renamed Silver Sevens). If you recall my last trip to Las Vegas, I had downloaded the Cantor Gaming app for my Android for sports betting. It was an absolute train wreck to use... slow, boxy, lost connections, no chance to review bets before submission, etc. For this trip, I downloaded the William Hill sports app, and my trip to Terrible's was to set up my account and make my initial deposit.
It took a few moments because my account number and password were generated at a separate location, so while I waited, I dumped almost $100 in a bartop VP machine. I still had half of my Hangover winnings left, so I wasn't worried.
Once we got the account number and password, the clerk walked me through it, and let me tell you how VASTLY easier and better that the William Hill app is compared to Cantor Gaming. I will never again use Cantor's current app. No need to. The William Hill app was everything the Cantor app wasn't. I was very happy with the performance, just not happy with six days of results (I thought I knew baseball better than that!)
Next, my wife and I used a Groupon for the CSI Experience at the MGM Grand. We had done the trip on a Groupon a couple of years ago, but even though this was a repeat, my wife was very interested in another scene (there are three different scenes to choose from). I had no problem with it; the price was right and it killed an hour or so. On the way out to the car, it gave me a chance to give MGM the rest of the money I had won at Paris. I felt like I had robbed the Montagues to give to the Capulets. Or Hatfields/McCoys. Or FOX/MSNBC. Use your favorite analogy and put a coin in the tip jar.
The original plan was to get to The Mob Museum after the CSI Experience, but we instead decided to check into Harrah's and relax - maybe catch a nap - before the evening activities.
At the Harrah's check-in desk, I had considered doing the "$20 trick", but instead decided to do the "Very Pleasant Smile and Request Trick" and it worked like a charm. Even though it was a Saturday night, the clerk said that because it was a one-night stay, they could move us up. We got an Executive Suite on the 35th floor, overlooking the Quad and the south Strip!
I immediately took a seat on the most uncomfortable couch ever (the only real bad part of the suite) and fell asleep for a half hour before my wife woke me with "Are you just going to sleep Las Vegas away"?
Yielding to the relationship's power broker, we decided to head out... somewhere. We tried to get to the Strip (Side note; you can't get there from the Carnival Tower). After walking approximately forever in the 98 degree mid-day sun, we saw Serendipity 3 and I decided that I wanted a Frozen Hot Chocolate. Between the Vegas Message Boards and the Five Hundy by Midnight Facebook group, I've seen raves about it. I, however, was not impressed. It was a large, $12 soupy shake. Meh. My wife chose the Apple Crisp a la Mode, which was fantastic, and which made my Frozen Hot Chocolate seem even more weak.
In the first of a trend for the week, they couldn't get our Caesers Total Rewards cards to work to use Reward Credits (aka "slot points") for payment, so they wanted me to use my gambling money. No dice (Get it? Gambling money? Dice?) I told them, and that I would head to the rewards desk to get it straightened out. The waiter said "Let me try one more time" and he got it to work. This would happen two more times on the trip, making me wonder if there are some restaurants that are feigning computer issues as a way to take less and less Reward Credits for payments. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but three times at three different properties seems too much for a coincidence in six days.
We went back to Harrah's so I could lose the money that I had tried losing at Paris. Success! After a brief trip to the airport to pick-up a couple of friends (though they weren't going to hang around with us Saturday night) my wife and I got dressed and headed back to Paris Las Vegas, this time to Gordon Ramsay Steak.
I have not seen a bad review for Gordon Ramsay Steak, and you won't get one here, either. I used the iPad to see that they carried John Smith's Extra Smooth beer (which a very good English mate loves, but I'd never seen it in the States) and the wife a Cosmopolitan. We didn't have an appetizer, but the bread selection was so good that we asked for a second plate.
For dinner, the wait staff parades what is affectionately known as The Wheel of Meat (Side note; I don't know if that's what its really called, but it was cool). I had the bone-in ribeye, which was everything I want in a steak. Usually, even at the uppity steak houses, I will get at least some onions, and maybe a sauce or Gorgonzola on the side. But I wanted to let the meat speak for itself, and it spoke volumes. I give two thumbs halfway up, as that was all I could manage while they were cutting a fantastic steak.
Ever since my wife started watching a bunch of untrained clowns bollocks up Beef Wellington by the dozen each week on Hell's Kitchen, she had wanted to try it. And in the end, her dinner didn't live up to her hype. She said it wasn't bad, it just wasn't great. She tried my ribeye and said that she immediately knew she picked the wrong dinner.
I had also heard great things about the Sticky Toffee Pudding and the French Press coffee service, but we were both stuffed... I think it was the mid-day trip to Serendipity 3 cost us dessert here. Speaking of dessert, we did see Hell's Kitchen winner Christina from last season... she looked to be in charge of the dessert station. She was very busy, but didn't look like she was earning a quarter of a million dollars.
This trip was the fourth time my wife and I did Vegas together, and three previous times we were thwarted in seeing the Mirage volcano. The first time, we had to decide between the TI Siren show versus the volcano, and the Sirens won (in a show that was postponed by high winds... too late to get to the Mirage). Once we got stuck in traffic and missed the last volcano show. And once we got there and was told the last show was cancelled.
This time, however, we got there about 2 minutes before the show. My wife sprang from the car and raced to the viewing spot. The show started right away. I thought the flames added an awful lot of heat to an evening that still was over 90 degrees.
When the show ended, we turned around and saw our Mustang right where we left it. We asked the valet for the keys so we could take it right away, and the valet insisted on driving the 20 feet to us... and in doing so backed into the car that was pulled in behind it. My wife was mentally preparing her resume (expecting to be fired for using the company card and expecting Dollar to charge about $5000 for repairs). But I took a quick look at it, and could not see even a scratch on the car. From that point, however, my wife told me to forget that she even has a work credit card!
Evening came and morning followed, the first day.
Sunday, May 12 -
My lovely wife (and mother of her kids) suggested that we invite bowling buddies Shoulda Brought the Invasion and Smokey Bear (who I had picked up from the airport the day before) to Mother's Day breakfast at eat. (and I can't explain enough how difficult it is to use a proper name that does not have a capital letter but has a period at the end of it. I've spent way too much time this evening trying different ways to list the name of the restaurant. But if they are so pretentious that eat. is a good idea to them, then that is how they will be identified. I hope, Dear Readers, that you figure out the name of this restaurant.)
As for the food, my wife and I each had the hand-breaded Chicken Fried Steak, which was perfect.
Shoulda Brought the Invasion's Banana Fosters French Toast, however, was quite mushy in the center, and there were some service hiccoughs. But it didn't affect my food, and though the temps would rise to 100 degrees this day, in the morning it was about 75 degrees on the outdoor, shady patio. A wonderful way to start the day.
From there, we had some time to kill so we drove to Main Street Station for some craps (wow, the bad sevens were flying) and some Treasure Chest video poker. Each time you get four of a kind, you get to select a Treasure Chest for the winning amount. I had two four-baggers, however each Treasure Chest chosen was the lowest amount (140 quarters). Also at Main Street Station, when you use your players card and hit four of a kind, you get a scratch off ticket with an additional amount. Both scratch-offs of mine were $2 each.
My wife and I had to catch an early-afternoon flight to Reno (and Shoulda Brought the Invasion and Smokey Bear were going to use the Mustang for the day) however on the trip to McCarran, we somehow got sidetracked to Count's Kustoms. As a man who can usually get a car started, this held no interest to me. But Smokey Bear is a geek about this kind of stuff (which is OK, actually, because we all have our own geek phases in Las Vegas, like this and this and this, for example. Not me of course. I geek out on this in Las Vegas).
After a brief, uneventful flight into Reno (well, a little eventful. Some serious turbulance was happening both on the way up and the way down), I contacted my Bowling Uncle UJ and Ain't B (who are also in town to bowl the respective Open and Women's National bowling tournaments) for a dinner meet-up. I had suggested Rosie's Cafe at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks (Side note; There is legendary debate in Reno about the true origin and "proper" preparation of the Awful-Awful. So much so that Food Wars on the Travel Channel pitted the one from Rosie's Cafe with the one at the Nugget Diner in downtown Reno. Though the Nugget Diner's version "won" the Food War, I'd had their's a couple of times and wanted to try the Rosie's Cafe version. An Awful-Awful is a lot of hamburger on a fresh bun. The Nugget Diner is one big patty, fried, on an onion bun with Russian dressing. Rosie's Cafe's version is two flame-broiled patties on a bun baked in-house).
My aunt and uncle weren't interested (Ha! Fooled you!) but they suggested dinner at the cafe at the Western Village Casino in Sparks, which is owned by the Peppermill group. The cafe does serve a lot of decent food, pretty cheaply (I had a 1/2# burger for $7.99). The star of the trip out to Sparks, though, was finding $3 blackjack, double-deck, double on anything, double after split, dealer stays S17. Allowed me to bet progression-style at $10 to start and make a few bucks before dinner.
After dinner, we kissed them goodbye, my wife went back to our room at Harrah's Reno to watch the Survivor Finale (Just, just don't. I tried. I don't get it either) while I went to the National Bowling Stadium to watch some other friends compete and to check in my group. I handled the paperwork for a second team, so I walked to the Silver Legacy to give them their packet of coupons and promo items. I turned a $10 match play coupon into $40 on one machine, then took it to a Blazin' 7s machine for a $200 hit. Made almost $260 with no risk. Nice, eh?
Evening came and morning followed, the second day.
Monday, May 13 -
My lovely wife and I start with a hearty breakfast at the Hash House A Go Go at Harrah's Reno. Since I don't eat eggs, there aren't a lot of options for me, so I go with a solid standby - the blackberry granola pancake and a side of bacon. My wife has something, too, and we use a $10 off coupon that was in the coupon book given to all bowlers, so the combined price is less than $20.
Since both my wife and I recognize that there won't be much time for gambling today, we do our bender in the morning instead of the usual evening binge.
I start with some dollar video poker, and I may as well have shredded that Benjamin... It would have taken the same amount of time. I then head to a double-deck blackjack table, and over the course of an hour, I am down another hundy... all this by 9:00 AM! I pull out another C and immediately get 88 vs a 6. One card is another 8. I split and the next card is a 3. I double. I've got $40 on the table, and three hands over 17 against a dealer 6... 5... 10. Shoot. Now down $240 when I see my wife stroll by, and she pulls me off the table before I can lose the other $60.
She reminds me that there is a bowlers coupon for a $5 Field bet match play in craps, and a $5 Ace (coupon serves as a match play and an Ace) for blackjack.
Not happy with hemorrhaging money this morning, I sheepishly say that maybe she should play the coupons and I will wait until later. We go to the craps table and nobody is shooting. Well, you need a shooter to place a Field bet, and you need a Pass Line bet to shoot. My wife looks at me.
I sigh and throw my last $60 on the felt.
23 rolls later, my $60 has colored-up to $275... Almost even for the day (for the record, in the midst of that run, both my wife and I lose our Field match plays).
With a "Starting the Day Over" bankroll, I go all-Clark Griswold on that same blackjack dealer (who has moved one table over) with my $5 Ace. I put my nickel on the spot, and with my coupon Ace, I am dealt... an Ace! I immediately put $10 on the spot to split the Ace, and the floor supervisor comes over, almost like she was sweating the action. Apparently nobody that she know of has been dealt an Ace with a coupon Ace on the table. Eventually, she rules that I do have $10 in bets on the spot, and two legitimate Aces on the table, so she has the dealer give me...
A pair of Kings. Whoopie!
I take my $20 in winnings and run up to the hotel room before I get a chance to lose it. It seems like the entire trip, I would go way down, make a miraculous comeback, but can't get into positive territory. Granted, "even" is way better than losing, but I could have done without the wild swings.
I get dressed and get to the National Bowling Stadium, first for a practice session, then for our Team tournament squad. This isn't a bowling forum so I will save the boring bowling-speak, but I averaged 220 for three games (which is really good in that setting) and $170 in side action returned $415 to me. I don't count those as gambling winnings (they are a separate category of bowling wins, as I will be 1099ed on my total amount of wins). The rest of my team also bowled well in the Team event, and we probably had the highest Team score (3045 for a five person team) that I've been involved with. For perspective, though, that score is a full 500 pins south of first place.
When we set this trip up, my wife had planned on bowling the Women's tournament (which is concurrently being held in Reno). But after nursing a sore elbow all season, she finally had an MRI which revealed a torn tendon, and surgery had been scheduled for a few days after we get back. Since her injury was not going to allow her to bowl, Ain't B was recruited to bowl as her sub. Unfortunately for me, that meant that after me spending the better part of six hours at the Stadium doing my own bowling, I was going to be stuck for three hours at the Convention Center watching my aunt bowl.
My wife and Ain't B had left the Stadium earlier so that they could get settled into the Convention Center, so my Uncle and I drove over when we were done bowling our tournament. On the way, we decided to go to a gas station for some sodas. Just to the left of the front door was a line of five or six penny slots... and four of the machines have players.
Which of these scenarios is more likely?
- The customer went in for gasoline (or convenience items) but is such a degenerate that s/he couldn't get past these machines, OR
- The customer is such an addict that he got an amount of money, and couldn't wait the extra six blocks to get to the nearest casino (the wonderful Atlantis Resort) but instead selected this particular gas station as his destination of choice.
My uncle and I concluded that there was only one answer... "C'mon...."
My aun't squad was running late, so lucky for us, Bowling Uncle UJ and I get there just in time to watch the entire event.
Having had exactly one hot dog since breakfast, when we got done watching bowling, my wife and I found the In N Out Burger on the south side of Reno (a 2 x 3, extra toast, Animal Style with Animal Style fries, please).
After dinner, we went back to the hotel and basically right to bed, as I had a 5:00 AM wake up call to hit the lanes at 7:00 AM the next day.
Evening came and morning followed, the third day.
Tuesday, May 14 -
Morning came really early, and my bowling shift was scheduled for 7:00 AM. We bowled two three-game series. My first series of the day was a very consistent 651, however because it was doubles and my partner, Bowling Uncle UJ, bowled like a 70-year old man at seven in the morning, we will cash, but not for a lot. I then bowled my three games of singles like a 70 year old man, destroying a potentially nice 9-game score. My decent 9-game All Events score of 1841 will still make some money at the end of the tournament, and I did turn $200 in side action into $395, so I guess I am happy. It was also my third highest All Events score in 20 tournaments. But I was also happy that the bowling was complete.
Every year, I get so excited about planning Nationals, and every year I can't wait to be done, as it gets in the way of a vacation. Doesn't make sense to me, either.
We were done bowling by 10:00 AM, and eventually all went to the Eldorado to use a free breakfast buffet coupon that the bowlers get. However not all of us arrived before breakfast ended, and the coupon is also worth $5 off at the cafe, a group of us ended up there (and as it was, it cost me $100 in VP waiting for them to arrive). I had a surprisingly good burger, called the McReno Burger, which had pepperjack cheese, bacon, deep fried onions and jalapanos and Russian dressing on a big, fluffy bun.
Shoulda Brought the Invasion, Smokey Bear and I (and possibly Bowling Uncle UJ and Ain't B) had discussed going to the Reno Aces baseball game, which started at 11:30 AM (it was "Education Day" with events geared at students). Unfortunately, everybody bailed on me but I went to the game anyway (I do love watching baseball). I bought the best seat available, seventh row behind home plate. I was a little surprised to pay $22 for a minor league ball game, but I had bowled well so I decided to treat myself.
It was 80 degrees in the shade, I had a cold beer in my hands, with baseball less than 100 feet in front of me... and fought to stay awake for three hours. It hadn't occurred to me that getting about 4-1/2 hours sleep before bowling for three hours would make me a wee bit tired by early afternoon, and having a beer didn't help. Having Reno running up the score over the Iowa Cubs made for a non-interesting game, too.
I did manage to wake up in time for the game to end, went back to Harrah's to take a proper nap, and met up with my wife. We decided to take a walk aimlessly, and let the wind tell us which casino to end up in.
As the Indian casinos have begun sprouting up in Northern California, Reno's casino industry has taken a beating, causing downtown to fall into an odd mix of vibrant casinos (Circus Circus, Silver Legacy, Eldorado, Harrah's and Cal Neva), closed casinos and vacant storefronts and panhandlers. Well since my last visit to Reno two years ago, one thing that got really cleaned-up was the panhandlers. I did not see one in three days in Reno.
Another thing the city did was to create a river walk along the Truckee River, just south of downtown. My wife and I walked about a mile of it, coming across and watching instructors teaching a whitewater rafting class. Being so close to downtown, it was nice to be completely separated from the casinos for a while, and just see all the locals walking, biking, taking their dogs out, etc.
But being tourists, we did get to the Siena casino to lose some money. The Siena is a hidden gem, but just far enough away from the Big 5 casinos that it doesn't seem to get much action. On this night, we were the only two people playing table games. The Siena does have a promotion where they reimburse up to $200 in losses, but the reimbursement comes the next day so we couldn't use it before we left. They said the reimbursement stays for one year, so we might use it next year if we schedule our bowling dates properly.
After doubling the Siena's monthly revenue, my wife and I decided to head to Rosie's Diner in the John Ascuaga's Nugget to finally try their Awful Awful. I thought it was excellent, but not having had the Nugget Diner's version in a couple of years, I still can't make a comparison about "which is better". Both are damn good.
After dinner I dropped my wife off at the Convention Center so she could watch my Ain't B bowl her doubles and singles events, while I went to the Atlantis and played three hours and lost exactly $1 (and certainly I had a dollar's worth of entertainment). I got the text that everyone was done, so I picked up my wife and headed back to Harrah's. But when I got back to my room, I still had that gamblin' itch (apparently I didn't lose enough at the Atlantis to satisfy the jones).
I headed down into Harrah's casino, and it is good to know that the pattern held. In very short order, I was down about $200 playing a range of slots, VP and a little craps (didn't take long). I dug back into my pocket for a third bill, cringing at my luck, and already kicking myself for the pocket dive.
Considering that I don't really like slots, I did find a penny (and I really hate penny slots) Quick Hit that was kind to me. I hit a 6-Quick Hit progressive of about $75, then the very next spin got me some free games. I cashed out, found a $0.25 Blazin' 7s and had given a little too much of that Quick Hit money back when I hit three mis-matched sevens for $50. Pulled that out and played some dollar VP and won a little more, getting almost even for the night. I breathed a big "Whew" and headed towards the room... until I saw a midi-Baccarat table with two Asian players playing for thousands of dollars per hand.
These two players were doing all of the things that makes the game fascinating to watch... keeping the paper, not playing a few hands (and I never knew this, but the players can have the dealers deal hands that nobody has bet on... but the score is still kept) and handling the cards. The funny thing is that they had an amazing knack of when to bet huge, and when to sit out... and even when to play the Dragon side bet. After not playing it while I was watching, one player (playing the $2K table max) put $50 on the Dragon, and won the hand 9-0, winning $2000 on his hand and $1500 on the side bet.
I must have watched about 10 hands when the pit critter suggested that I sit down. I was almost embarrassed to, but I did so and played the table minimum of $25, and I just played the player every hand. About an hour later, the two Asians decided to stop playing, and Billy Sherbert-like, the pit boss suggested somewhere private to count the money. He didn't offer to count my money in private, but the dealer did color me for a $75 profit, which was nice, considering I was almost $300 down at one point in the gaming session.
Evening came and morning had already begun, the fourth day.
Wednesday, May 15 -
This is when the trip started getting rough.
As my wife and I were packing to leave Reno (she coming home to Milwaukee, me back to Las Vegas for what was supposed to be one more night) I got a phone call from Pinhead back home. Grap, one of my very best friends (who had been fighting cancer) had been given Last Rights and wasn't going to get through the day. I had seen him ten days earlier (Freckles and I had dragged him out of the house for a birthday lunch) and he looked bad... I had presumed the end was coming, but to hear that today is the day was startling. And to top it off, I was on vacation. Very rough mourning a friend (who had been to Reno with me about a half dozen times - including this time where he was featured prominently - and twice to Vegas with me) when I was supposed to be having fun.
My wife handled the rest of the packing and the drive to the airport while I called the people I was responsible for, then managing the texts from everyone asking if I had heard. When I turned off the phone in the plane, he was still with us. But by the time I got to Vegas...
Upon arrival in Vegas and once we got the rental car, I checked into the Flamingo. I wasn't in the mood for the "Very Pleasant Smile and Request Trick", though I believe that I mumbled something about a Strip view. Lo and behold, Grap pulled a couple of strings Up There and I was given a Go room. It was quite lovely, and had a 20th floor view of both Caesers and the Bellagio fountains.
(Did you catch the temperature on May 15th at 5:00 PM?)
Shoulda Brought the Invasion (who was staying at Harrahs) was going to meet me in about 90 minutes after some naps, but between phones / texts / Facebook messages about Grap, I never did get a chance to relax. I was sure to be ready at 6:00 PM to check in for my flight on Southwest. And I was still trying to check in at 6:05... and 6:10... and 6:15. After double and triple checking my confirmation number, I called Southwest to find out what might be happening. I finally get through at 6:30 (and now certain to have a C60 seat assignment). The agent very pleasantly had said that my flight wasn't until FRIDAY night.
Hmmm. I am sure my confirmation said Thursday night.
I call back. I get the same agent (which, I am certain is a first in the history of phone banks) and she was quite humorous in telling me that she is really, really sure my flight is Friday night.
One of the perks of Caesers Total Rewards program is that once you accrue enough points, you can trade your points for an airline voucher, redeemable only through their travel service, Caesers Passport Travel. It was the travel agent that errantly made the reservation for Friday, and sent the confirmation that said Thursday.
I was in quite the spot; I didn't have a room set up for Thursday, and had to make arrangements at home too. And, oh yeah, I was still fielding calls and texts about my friend who had died.
I first went to the Total Rewards desk at the Flamingo, and I knew I was in trouble when none of the three clerks had ever heard of trading credits for airfare vouchers. I then went to the front desk to get my reservation extended. Completely non-plussed about my tale of woe, the best I could do was to get a different room for $50 a night. I reserved the room to make sure I had something, but was not planning on paying to fix the travel agent's error.
Once that was done (and way, way past the allotted 90 minute "nap" time), Shoulda Brought the Invasion and I headed off to Tacos El Gordo, in a strip mall near Encore. Wowie! That was good. I had the Taco Adobada and wow. Just wow. If you guys get tired of me raving about $30 dinners; for two bucks a piece and a fountain pop, it was probably the best $10 I spent all week.
Now concerned about having enough bankroll for an extra day, I talked Shoulda Brought the Invasion into playing a poker tournament at the Hard Rock, as we could get a lot of play for a finite amount. We join the tournament and go to our table, right below the Godsmack display. Since Godsmack was Grap's favorite band, I saw it as a sign that I was supposed to win the tournament.
Well, almost. Shoulda Brought the Invasion ended up splitting 1st/2nd place. I guess he and Grap were friends, too.
It was a very long day, and I didn't even want to gamble when I got back to the Flamingo. I returned a few more phone calls and texts, and tried to use the in-room DVD player to watch a movie. I could get the movie loaded and on the screen with sound, but I couldn't figure out how to maneuver the menus to actually START the movie. I am certainly not afraid of technology (I mean, my DVD player at home has the correct daylight-savings time - give or take a minute - I mean, I am not OCD.
Gotta pause and wash my hands.
OK, I think I got it.)
So I give up on the DVD and take some time to reflect on Grap. I am normally one to sleep with a room as dark as possible, however in 2006, he and I shared a room at the Stardust for Super Bowl weekend, and he insisted on sleeping with the drapes wide open so he could see "His Town". In his honor, I leave my drapes open and try to remember as much as I can about that trip.
I think I get as far as (dream sequence starting...) Grap and Ray Sunshine had gotten to Las Vegas the night before, but Grap knew I was coming in on the first flight, and to meet me at the airport by 9:00 AM. He wasn't there, and when I call him to find out why he wasn't at the airport, he says that he just got to bed from the night before.
I know we did a lot more that weekend, but I was asleep before I could remember more.
Evening came and morning followed, the fifth day.
Thursday, May 16 -
For the first time in five nights in Nevada, I can feel that I am getting a good nights sleep... until I hear my phone continuously vibrating. I presume that it is either friends to contact me about funeral arrangements or Caesers Passport Travel about my screwed up flight. Or both. I look at my phone and it is 7:15.
Drat. I was so tired.
I begin listening to my messages when (and you're gonna love this) one was from the travel service, with the message saying "If I don't hear from you in the next hour, I will make the change so you can fly out tonight". It was a good thing that I decided to listen to my messages. Long story short (I know, why start now) she told me that if I didn't change my flight, she would make sure I was comped at a property (which turned out to be Harrahs). I had checked the flights, and by not changing it back I saved them over $300. To date, I have not been offered any compensation for their error, despite my requests. Hopefully they can offer a travel voucher or something.
Though I chose to be "stuck" for an extra day, I did have a dwindling bankroll, so I told Shoulda Brought the Invasion that I wanted to eat as many meals in the Caesers family as possible, so I could pay in rewards points. We choose breakfast at Hash House A Go-Go at the Quad. I had heard that the restaurant was hard to find, and I concur. Go down this hallway, past this construction area, around that corner, down that aisle, then up the elevator. I again have the blackberry granola waffle with bacon and coffee. I hand the waiter my Total Rewards card and he says that their computer wasn't working and couldn't accept points (this was the second time on the trip that I heard that story... one more to come). I didn't feel like making a big deal for about $20, but it did defeat the purpose of eating at a Caesers property.
Next was a quick stop at Terrible's (not yet Silver Sevens) to cash out my sports betting account. I absolutely loved the phone app (compared to the train wreck that is the Cantor Gaming's app). What I didn't love was that apparently I don't follow baseball as closely as I thought I did. I decided that instead of losing more on sports bets, I'd take the cash that was left and use it to bankroll the extra day of vacation.
While waiting for me, Shoulda Brought the Invasion won some money on a slot and was looking for a redemption machine. While I was waiting for him, I decided to blow $20 in a Jacks or Better video poker machine, and on the third or fourth hand, got a four of a kind. This was the third four-bagger I had had on the trip, and none on the money shredding Double-Double Bonus version (with a really big 4oaK payout). Sigh. But a win is a win, so I am happy. Just not really happy.
Next we headed to the Mob Museum. I had originally planned on doing this with my lovely bride on Saturday but we never got around to it. On this day, however, I was looking for a non-casino activity and this worked perfectly. As I've read many places, there is a LOT of reading... actually more reading than artifacts. I loved it, soaking up all the details. About halfway through the second (of three) floor(s), I get a text from Shoulda Brought the Invasion that he was at The D. To each his own, but he wasn't as, um, thorough as I was, was he? My favorite part of the whole museum, surprisingly, was going through the same courtroom where the Kefauver hearings were held. Not sure why, maybe because it offered a place to sit down.
Once I finish my four hour (and I will certainly be glad to do this again) tour of the museum, I decide to fish Shoulda Brought the Invasion out of The D and work on plans for the evening (Side note; When I am in Vegas with my wife, we have each hour planned in stone. When I am there with my poker buddies, we don't always know which game is next, but we do know that we are going somewhere to play poker. I don't do "Freestyle Vegas" well. Kinda unsettling).
As I walk toward Fremont Street, I pass the former Lady Luck casino. The Lady Luck has been shuttered for about seven years, but is going through a complete remodel that will resurrect the property as the Downtown Grand. Artists renderings of the facade show that it will look like this. But as of this day, it has a way to go...
After I find him, he wants to play some Let It Ride. That's not my favorite game, but I told him I'd sit with him. The D had no tables with two seats, so we walk around and find a table with two open seats at Four Queens. While playing and with $5 on the Three Card Poker bonus, I was dealt a straight flush for a $200 payoff. I decide I like this game a little more.
While playing Let it Ride, we agree to play the evening poker tournament at the Planet Hollywood, and we decide to eat at Gordon Ramsay BurGR (which is conveniently located inside Planet Hollywood)
Once we get to BurGR, there is an hour wait, so we decide to take the meal to-go with plans to eat it in the lounge adjoining the restaurant. Our food was ready in 15 minutes, so we made the right call. But when we try to pay with points, the server again had all sorts of problems with the computers and would only take $10 off my bill in reward points. I know I had over 40,000 points on my card at the time, and at this point I am starting to smell something fishy (it wasn't the food, it was a metaphor). I actually managed to convince the hostess to follow me to a slot machine so I could prove my point balance, and told her to use some of those points. She was quite pleasant about it, and after running the card again, voila!
The bacon jalapeno poppers were phenomenal. I think the Hell's Kitchen burger was good, too, but my wife had called with some family issue, so I wolfed the burger down while on the phone with her. I remember my nose running and me sniffling, so there must have been some heat to it.
After dinner, Shoulda Brought the Invasion and I buy into the poker tournament and I have a good run. There were 27 entries and once we get to the final three (with the top three spots cashing) I have the chip lead. Sloppy play cost me that lead, and before I could bleed any more chips, we all decide to chop the money and I make $344. Between the Let it Ride hit and the poker tournament, I feel that bankroll is no longer an issue.
But this is Las Vegas, and I am an idiot.
I find Shoulda Brought the Invasion and tell him that we may as well stay. He is already firmly entrenched in the Three Card Poker table in the Pleasure Pit, so I don't know if I actually had any choice in the decision. I first find a $15 blackjack table that paid 3:2 and thought I was pretty bright. One shoe and $150 later, who's laughing? May as well have been 6:5 for all of the blackjacks I got.
I find one of the community Monopoly slots and decide to but Benny in there. Playing max credits, I was bound to hit something, right?
Ten minutes and another pocket dig later, I find a traditional reel dollar slot. If the cartoons take my money, the reels would pay back, right? Yeah, right.
I assess the damage, and I have lost all of my poker money already. I work almost three hours to win it, and less than an hour - really, only an hour - to lose it all.
I find Shoulda Brought the Invasion, who has a stack of green $25 chips in front of him. He gives me the "Too bad, Buddy" shrug, which tells me he is staying for awhile. To stop the bleeding, I decide to play Pai Gow Poker. There is one seat open, and it is next to a guy from DC who had gotten married the day before. His wife kept coming over for more money, and when she would leave, he would join me in staring at all the Beautiful People walking through the Planet Hollywood at midnight. I also get him to admit that I am the fattest, ugliest guy in the entire casino. He first disagreed with me, but I challenged him to find someone both fatter and uglier. He failed. I didn't feel bad, though, as it was my first win since ending the poker tournament!
I play for at least two hours until the fun group at the table start leaving, and when they do, I realize that I am not having fun any more. I find Shoulda Brought the Invasion, who never left that seat at the Three Card Poker table. His stack of greens is down to one, and I convince him to leave.
It's about 2:00 AM, and we decide we could use a munchie. I couldn't talk him into the Cosmopolitan secret pizza (or the more accessible Pop-Up Pizza at the Plaza) so we settle on the cafe at Harrahs. Actually, I settle (I told you that I don't do this Freestyle Vegas thing well, and I would never, EVER eat at a casino cafe on purpose). When they mention the steak and eggs special for $7.99, we each order one (minus the eggs for me). It takes for-ev-er for the meal to come, and when it does, the steak is like shoe leather. Now we know why the meal was slow to come out... they must have cooked the steak for the entire 20 minutes.
A little after 3:00 AM, I head up to my room, exhausted.
Evening came and morning followed, the sixth day.
Friday, May 17 -
For the second day in a row, I begin my last day in Nevada.
Since Shoulda Brought the Invasion has gotten into this poker thing, we decide to skip breakfast and hit an early game. Still concerned about my bankroll (remember, the funds from that poker tournament win barely lasted an hour), while also considering recon for my fall trip with the poker buddies, we head towards Sam's Town for their morning game.
Kind of a creepy game, actually. For $23, it is priced right for every senior citizen in the valley to play cards. Including, obviously, ones who don't understand blinds or can't tell the denominations of the chips.
But there was one player, a superstar with a hoodie, sunglasses and earbuds. At a $23 game. At the Senior Center. And the sumbitch busted me 90 minutes in with a set of Jacks to my top two pair.
From there, still in poker mode, we head to Mandalay Bay for their 1:00 PM tournament. And there it got a little weird. We arrive at 12:00ish, and they say we are the first two to sign up. So we head to the Burger Bar for lunch (and let me say that though I didn't plan it, I had some phenomenal burgers over the course of a week in Nevada) then back to the poker room right at 1:00 PM... to find that we are STILL the only two players that signed up. Shoulda Brought the Invasion was disappointed, I thought "Chop!" and my second tournament cash of the trip.
My flight (for sure, this time) was leaving at 6:00 PM, and I was a little concerned about playing another tournament and still getting to the airport early enough, but we decided to go to South Point for their game at 2:00 PM. Since we are there plenty early, we sign up and hit the casino for a little while before the game begins.
I have no luck at blackjack, so I find a Quick Hit penny slot, and manage to make about a hundred bucks before going to the poker room. That Quick Hit game has been a lifesaver throughout the entire week. I need a few bucks? I go to any Quick Hit ATM.
If a $23 tournament at Sam's Town draws local seniors to play poker, $60 at South Point draws local poker players to play poker. There were 10 players, and you know the saying... if you can't spot the sucker at the table, you're it? Well, I spotted Shoulda Brought the Invasion, and one more. Other than that, real poker players.
My game is good enough that I kept up for awhile, but I ran up against the guy with a huge chip stack, and I felt he was just pushing me around so I called one of his big bets. Turns out he had a real hand (this time).
I play a little more blackjack, and make a few bucks so that I can say that I turned a profit in the last casino before going back to the airport.
All told, with spending seven days and six nights in Paradise, I returned home with 20% of my bankroll. I lost more than I had wanted to, but I did have enough left to make a base for my savings for my October trip.
I have now bowled enough USBC Open Championships since I started this blog that I can justify linking to all of them to gain a perspective.
What perspective, is up to you!