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Her name is Reno, and she dances at the Sands

Bowling, Gambling, HBO, Las Vegas, My-Sugar-Na, Nostalga, Poker, Reno, Restaurants, USBC, Vacation, YouTube


Like sands through the hourglass, when the calendar turns to May, another trip to the USBC Open Championship must be at hand.  Shall we get started?


Friday, May 9 - I have really learned to hate flying out of Milwaukee at 6:30 AM.  In theory its great to get to your destination early in the day, but the logistical challenges are many.

Like, when do I start drinking coffee?

Its bad enough that the alarm goes off at 4:00 AM (Side note; the fact that there IS a 4:00 in the morning, too, is just outrageous!) but no matter what time I go to bed the night before, the anticipation of the trip prevents any really significant sleep... that and waking yourself up every 40 minutes or so in terror that you've slept through your alarm.

And scratch that last long run-on sentence...  I was awake sans-alarm at 3:45 AM, so I just pried myself out of bed.  My ride to the airport (and big thanks to Senor Chick-fil-A, who works third shift and left on his lunch break to get me there) was to arrive at 4:30, leaving me 45 minutes of... sitting in the recliner trying to stay awake.  I had considered asking Senor Chick-fil-A to run through the McDonalds drive through for coffee, but if I wanted to sleep on the first leg of the flight, 591 cubic centimeters of coffee would be counter-productive.

So how did I function at 5:00 AM without coffee?  I tried to go through security at the D concourse, when my flight left out of C.  Sigh.

At some point after my last trip to Las Vegas (and the unreported happenstance of having a phone seemingly always out of juice) I purchased a portable, pocket-sized battery pack.  One known phone-battery-life-sucking opportunity is sitting at the airport for that hour before boarding (and the 20 minutes on the plane).  As I walk to the gate, I am already figuring that battery pack would be the perfect solution and would be needed shortly after I arrive in Reno.

Then I see this...

How brilliant is THAT?  With airplanes getting squishier and squishier for the ample-carriaged gentleman, I am glad that somebody is doing something to make travel a little more friendly.

With that said, within two years there will be pay boxes on those.

I've learned that one way to combat time zone shock is to set your watch to the destination time as soon as you are seated on your originating airplane.  I set my watch for, gulp, 4:15 (again). Now not only do I greet 4:15 AM once, I get it a second time, too.  But the avoidance of coffee worked its charm, and I believe we are barely in the air when I doze off.

I wake up, look at my watch and see that it is 4:50.  Sigh again.  Maybe I slept 20 minutes.  I tried to nod back off, but it wasn't happening.

So with about two hours of time to kill, I pull out my DVD player and fire 'er up.  I've decided to rewatch Treme (thanks to receiving seasons 1 thru 3 from Jendy Wo for Christmas last year). 

If you were one of the other four people to watch Treme from the beginning, one of the complaints you've heard from everyone else (and maybe battled through yourself) is that there were so many characters to be introduced to, and that nothing seemed to happen.  I can happily report that on rewatch, since we know all of the characters already, that drag doesn't seem to exist.  We know that Annie T and Sonny will have a rocky relationship, he will rediscover his love of heroin, Annie will shack up with Davis (ew) then eventually be a recording star and Sonny will clean himself up on a Vietnamese fishing boat and will end up marrying the fisherman's daughter.  Knowing how their stories ended made watching the early episodes more enjoyable.  Instead of wondering "who is that again?" it became, "Oh, so THAT'S why Antoine stiffed every cabbie in town".

We land in Denver, I pee, then we leave for Reno.  Then we land in Reno.  Sorry those three hours weren't as exciting as the first three.

Every year, there is a different cast of characters.  This year is no exception as our team was part of an overall group of six teams (29 other bowlers and some spouses).  Seems like every time I turned a corner, I saw a different part of our group.  The first odd coupling was on the shuttle ride from the Reno airport to Harrahs... I was with the Virgin (who had just taken his first ever commercial flight) and the guy affectionately known as The Skoog.  The three of us decided to kick off the trip with an Awful Awful at the Nugget Diner (A big ol' burger on a ton of fries)

The diner is tucked in the back of the Nugget slot parlor, and hasn't been updated in 50 years.  Kind of smells like it, too.  But we're not in Reno until the first Awful Awful is down the hatch.

I bid adieu to the Virgin and The Skoog and head over to the newly-opened Siri's Casino.  The last time we were in Reno, Siri's Casino looked like this...

Now a relative of the owner of the Cal Neva has purchased the building and rehabbed it.

The casino is far more exciting than a boarded up building, but when it comes right down to it, is another slot parlor.  They have a bar and a coffee shop in the back, but I didn't partake in either... I had to learn how to bowl.

OK, I guess I do know how to bowl, but I can get better.

In 2010 I took a lesson with famed instructor (and former PBA Champion) Mike Jasnau. I was really looking forward to this lesson, as what he told me four years ago made a difference... and this year was no different.  Though his assessment was that my approach was significantly better than four years ago, many of my current issues are because my third step is too short... it causes my swing to be late, which makes me "muscle" the swing, which adds speed and naturally causes my wrist to rotate around the ball early.  All that because one (of five) steps is 12 inches too short!  Now, to implement that change...

My lesson ended around 4:00 (the good one... the one I'm SUPPOSED to be awake for) and I contacted Bowling Uncle UJ and Ain't B to hang for a while.  I donated some money to the Harrahs Reno Benevolent Fund (aka Every Slot Machine I Fed a Bill Into) then the three of us headed to dinner instead of going to the Reno Aces game (the Aces were in town all weekend and I could have gone to two of the games.  On this particular evening, it was too cold... maybe about 50 degrees).

As Reno's downtown experiences a bit of a rebirth, more and more of those "with a twist" restaurants are popping up, and Noble Pie Parlor is a pizza place that has opened in the otherwise-shabby Hotel El Cortez.

Noble Pie has all sorts of interesting pizzas, like the T-PANE (caramelized fennel-apple-onion, granny smith apples, sausage, sharp provolone, aged pecorino) and THE REZA SPECIAL (sun-dried tomato, roasted garlic, jalapeno, red onion, pine nuts, spinach, chevre).  So we had cheese / sausage / half-mushroom.  I didn't say that my aunt and uncle were adventuresome, did I?  But the pie was very good if not a little expensive (16" pizza and three sodas were about $35).  On a scale of 1 to 5 meatballs, I give it a 3-1/2... in part because of our plain pizza that wasn't a good value.

The relatives headed back to their condo, while I went back to Harrahs to catch up (as in chase my losses) and look for Shoulda Brought the Invasion.

Very quietly, I had lost about 1/3 of my trip bankroll, which is fine on a two day trip, not so much on a four dayer.  I run into Shoulda Brought the Invasion after awhile, and even though I've already exceeded my stop-loss for the day, he invites me to sit down at the Pai Gow Poker table with him, so of course I do!

I play for a while and beg off for bed... down a few more bucks.  GO TO BED, you might say.

But this is Day One in Nevada, you crazy?

Just like last year, my hotel elevator is right next to the midi Baccarat table, and just like last year, I am captivated by the players at the table.  The table limits are $15 to $2000, and luckily I have between those amounts so I sit down.  I buy in for $60 and promise myself that I can't lose it and that this is the last stop before bed.  I flat bet the Player at $15 a hand... and watch player after player (all Asian) play for thousands of dollars for some hands - not all - as if it was petty cash.

The pageantry still entertains me... especially watching the players handle the cards.  I found myself doing the same thing - and getting pretty good at it - but I couldn't bring myself to cheer for a 10 or a face card by yelling "Monkey!" when I needed one.  Near the end of the shoe, the pit critter pulls the old "Get the White Guy Off The Table" trick by raising the minimum to $25 at the beginning of the next shoe.  By the time the current shoe ends, I have $150 in front of me.  GO TO BED, you might say.

But this is Day One in Nevada, you crazy?

I stick it out at $25 a hand and it lasts me exactly nine hands.  The Banker started pounding the new shoe, I never switched off the Player, and I end the day a full $200 past my stop-loss.  But I don't have a problem.  I stopped.  I went to bed!

Saturday, May 10 - We coordinated brunch at Harrahs Buffet for 9:30 AM with Shoulda Brought the Invasion, Smokey Bear and his wife, Water Slide.  Unfortunately, the buffet didn't open until 10:00 AM.  What's a boy in Reno to do?

Ah-hah!  Caught you!  I didn't lose this time... I actually won about $50 waiting for the restaurant to open!

From left, Water Slide, Smokey Bear, Shoulda Brought the Invasion

After brunch we had a practice session with our team and one other at the National Bowling Stadium's Kingpin Club set up for Noon.  Not including the lane installed in the pro shop for lessons, the National Bowling Stadium has 88 lanes.  The first 66 are for the Open Championships, two are out of play, 10 are for the Storm Bowlers Journal tournament and 10 are for practice sessions and the 40-Frame game.  Those last 10 were just installed before last year, and the area looks nothing like the main Stadium.

The Kingpin Club looks like it is a private club, or in somebody's basement.  Very cozy and relaxing... especially as we're assigned Lanes 79 and 80.

We finish up a little after 1:00 PM, and we have to bowl at 7:00.  Hmmm, what's a boy to do in Reno? GO TO BED, you might say.

But this is Day Two in Nevada, you crazy?

Last year on our trip to Reno, My-Sugar-Na and I spent some time at the Siena Casino.  Last year I typed "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."  Kinda indicates we lost, no?  I amble to the slot club desk and merrily ask how much free play I have available.  The lady punches some buttons and tells me that I won $14 last year.

No way.  No effin' way.

I taught them... I only lost a little over $100 in their casino this year.  Hopefully it doesn't net me a 1099-G.

I decide that I want to take a nap so I head back to Harrahs.  I had checked weather.com before I left, and it was supposed to be 75 and sunny all weekend.  On the walk back, the temperature (according to my phone) was 48 degrees, and it was raining sideways... I had just brought the Midwest out west!

Too cold to walk outside, I took a short cut through the Cal Neva.  Three blocks is a long way, so I sat down, and it just so happened that a slot machine was in front of my chair.

Boom!  I won something!  Take that, stupid Karma.

I get back to my room at Harrahs (but not until I pay the toll of $234 walking through their casino) to relax, but I can't do that.  I contact the group and coordinate dinner at Men Wielding Fire, where My-Sugar-Na and I had dined in the past.

Other than all of the sauces being KC-style sweet (as in, no Carolina Mustard or Texas spicy) the food was great.  I had a pulled pork and slaw on a sweet roll with beans (that was more like chili) for about $12 and was very happy.  On a scale of 1 to 5 smoke rings, I give it a 3-1/2... it was very good, but downgraded for lack of sauce options.

After a quick change of clothes back at the hotel, it was off to the National Bowling Stadium for the USBC Open Championships Team event.... the reason we were in Reno for the fourth time in five years.

From left - Big Daddy, Shoulda Brought the Invasion, Bowling Uncle UJ, (Sponsor's Name Here), Smokey Bear

All the practicing we did, in league, in bowling centers upon conclusion of league, the Kingpin Club... the less said the better.  One of us (ahem) averaged 196, the rest, well, not 196.  There will be no money (and we got crushed in side pots and brackets).  It was disappointing, since as of this moment there are three Wisconsin teams in the Top 7 as I type this, and four in the Top 15.

We were done at the Stadium at around 11:00 PM, and headed back to Harrahs to forget about this evening.  Shoulda Brought the Invasion found a guy from one of the other teams, Oatmeal, and the three of us took over a particular Pai Gow Poker table.  Over the next 4-1/2 hours, we shared laughs, wins, losses and banter with a host of great dealers.  This time at the table (which cost me only $50) is EXACTLY why I love Vegas and Reno.  Just relaxing.  We tried to get drunk (my drink of choice was ginger ale and essence of Jameson).  While betting heavily on the Fortune Bonus, both Oatmeal and Shoulda Brought the Invasion hit straight flushes that each paid $250.  I didn't hit a bonus, but to pay $50 for that much fun?  I'd do it every time.

Around 4:00 (the wrong one again, but I was at least on the other side of the sleep cycle) I could no longer stay awake and headed to bed, while both Oatmeal and Shoulda Brought the Invasion played until almost 6:00 AM.

Sunday, May 11 - I celebrated Mother's Day by sleeping past Noon.  Although great for my disposition, I missed any shot of doing anything organized with anybody from our group.  Since I was apparently solo in Reno this day, (and though I didn't lose as much money on Saturday as I did on Friday, I still had to be cognizant of my dwindling bankroll) I would have to make it a Coupon Day.  I started with the Cal Neva as I found two coupons... One for a $5.99 Prime Rib dinner, and one for $20 gets you $40 in slot play.

I did the slot play in some Deuces Wild video poker machines, and when the $40 was done I had a cashout ticket for $46 (which was a $26 profit).  I headed to the Top Deck for the prime rib when I decide to look at the menu anyway.  Although it was only a sidebar in the middle of the menu, something caught my eye as if printed with nuclear ink; it said "MUST TRY - Jalapeno Popper Bacon Grilled Cheese sandwich with fries for $4.99".

What's prime rib?

It was as good as it looked.  If I had one thing that I would suggest, though, would be to dollop the cream cheese onto the bread while it is grilling.  The cream cheese was cold and it seemed that if it were gooyer, it would have been the best sandwich ever.  As it was, the peppers were enough to make my nose run.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I would rate it 4-1/2 sniffles.

Euphoric in my bacon peppery goodness, I deposit that TITO for $46 into some random slot machine, lose that and $40 more before I decide to head out.  As I walk out, I hear the call for the 2:00 PM poker tournament... it's almost as if they're saying "Hey, (Sponsor's Name Here), where are you going?  Don't go to the Sands Regency".  I turn around and sign in for poker (entry fee $15... that seemed, well, dangerously low).  I had to wait 20 minutes to start...Hmmm, what's a boy to do? GO TO BED, you might say.

But this is Day Three in Nevada, you crazy?

I buy into a craps game (alas, the only craps I would play all weekend) for $100.  And when they call us to the poker table, I take my $20 in remaining chips with me.

In most poker tournaments I enter, the cost of the entry fee is commensurate to the level of poker skill in the game.  With a $15 game, I feared the worst but I was pleasantly surprised.  The poker skill wasn't too bad, but the low entry fee allowed a lot of times when a player would make an otherwise foolish move, because if they were to lose, they could buy back in for another $15.

I played about two hours, lost a chunk of money when my pocket AA lost right before the break, and I lost in 7th out of 22 when my desperation all-in with AJ spades was beaten when the caller with 89 ended up with two pair.

I finally head over to the Sands Regency, where I have a $50 in slot play for $30 coupon.  I've never had a slot card from here, so I apply for one and am told that since I was a bowler, I can swipe at the kiosk for $5 to $100 in slot play.... and I win $50.  I now have $100 in play that only cost me $30.  I find a Back to the Future slot machine and get a spin with a lot of Michael J Foxes, and when I've played through I have a cashout ticket for $126.  I have 90 minutes before I have to bowl the Bowlers Journal tournament, Hmmm, what's a boy to do? GO TO BED, you might say.

But this is Day Three in Nevada, you crazy?

That $126?  All gone.

I find a different slot machine and insert new money (to chase after the dead money) and an older black guy (dressed like a preacher that had just finished service) sat down next to me, deposited a TITO and then got up and asked me to watch his machine.  I do so and he comes back very impressed that I didn't play or steal his money.

He introduced himself as Mr. Pervis, and we made general small talk.  Then he started telling me that syphilis was running rampant in Reno, and that since I am a nice guy, he wants to warn me to keep my willy in my pants.  I tell him that my wife (who he didn't know was 1800 miles away) appreciates him, I shake his hand, and RUN away from him.

I head back to the kiosk for a swipe, and I have earned a free buffet.  It will have to wait until after I bowl.

A month before I came out to Reno, I bought a "VIP Package" from the tournament  for a fee that included a number of goodies that I might normally pay for (one of which was the lesson with Mike Jasnau).  The singles entry into the Bowlers Journal tournament was one of those freebies.  There is a lot of money in prizes, including an on-the-spot $75 for a three-game series of 650, and the expected low-to-cash was 622 at the time.

So even though I was bowling basically for free, there was a shot at some real money.

The first game I throw a 211 (with an open in the 10th frame).  Then there was a delay when we moved to the next set of lanes.  It shouldn't have bothered me, but it did.  I left a split in the first frame, missed an easy spare in the second, another split in the third, etc, etc until the final score of 133 was shown.  From a good first game and a real shot of some cash to disaster in about 15 minutes.

The worst part wasn't that I had a bad game, its what that bad game represented... the lane condition for the USBC Open Doubles/Singles events were on that same lane condition.  If I managed a 133 in Game 2 of a practice session, what the hell was gonna happen when the REAL event started?

I sulk my way back to the Sands for my free buffet.  The buffet, normally $11.99 on Sunday was $14.99 for Mother's Day.  Was it $3 better?  No, it was worth what I paid for it.  It wasn't very good, the prime rib was passable, but even that wasn't remarkable.  I left full but unsatisfied.  On a scale of 1 to 5 stale rolls, I give it a 2 (with a lot of cold butter that I have to hold in my hands to warm up).

Tired of hemmorhaging money and with only two hours to kill before I we bowl the last event of the weekend, I head back to the hotel room.  I consider taking a nap, but I'm afraid that I won't wake up in time, so I watch a little TV, have a cup of coffee (remembering that the bowling begins at 12:30 AM Milwaukee time) have another cup of coffee, then make the walk of dread to the Stadium.

And proving how integral to the sport that the mind is, since I had that horrible game at the Bowlers Journal tournament, I started my doubles series with a 159 game.

I pulled it together and averaged 203 for my last five games, and with Big Daddy as my doubles partner we did manage a decent score for a cash of a hundred bucks or so.  But with the end of the tournament comes the yearly frustration.  I hadn't bowled poorly, per se, as my three three-game series were 588, 581 and 591.  Maddeningly consistent, but not good.  I've been doing this for 21 years now, I want better than consistent.  Which explains exactly why I will be bowling this tournament in El Paso, TX next May.

Physically and mentally spent (and at 2:30 AM in Reno) I say Au Revoir to my uncle, who is heading back to the condo and I won't see him before I leave, and also to Big Daddy, Shoulda Brought the Invasion and Smokey Bear, all of whom are catching flights at 6:30 AM.  I walk back to Harrah's and don't have any inclination to give more than a passing glance at the Baccarat table.  I do pass Oatmeal in Harrahs lobby, as he lives in Las Vegas and was going to drive back through the night.  I talk to him long enough to pilfer a Mountain Dew from his luggage... he probably saw it, but also probably didn't care.

I crawl into bed at 3:30, text the wife who has just gotten up with the dog and to get ready for work, set my alarm and fall asleep instantly.

Monday, May 12 - I had a 12:30 flight, and had some time in the morning to pack and do some last minute things.  I had to run to the Sands to collect some money (all side pots and stuff from the tournament pays out at the Sands) and back to the Stadium to collect a shirt that was part of my VIP Package that was way, way too small (and I still haven't gotten it).  While taking a last walk through town, it occurred to me that I hadn't taken a lot of photos, then it also occurred to me that when you've been to a place as many times as I've been to Reno (this was my 9th trip in 20 years) most of the pictures have been taken.

Until I saw this...

And it occurred to me... these gorgeous old signs are all over downtown Reno.  As these properties are improved (or more likely, condemned and bulldozed) these treasures could be lost.  I've found a new hobby; honoring these old signs.  I can't wait to go back and not only improve on these photos, but to find even more old signs to photograph.

I got back to the hotel with just a few minutes before the shuttle pulled away, and I remembered that I had a $5 Match Play Ace for blackjack (which acts as a match play and an Ace).  I put out my bet and I am dealt an Ace... which was EXACTLY what happened last year.  Although I got a K and a K for a double win last year, this year I got a 4 and a 7, and the dealer had a 17, so I won one and lost one for a $5 profit. Ending my trip to Reno with a win.  I like that.

The trip to the airport and the flight to Las Vegas was uneventful, and I get to Las Vegas just before 2:00 PM.  Shoulda Brought the Invasion picked me up at the airport and we went to lunch at Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas.

From left, Shoulda Brought the Invasion, AAA Guide Book, Sgt Slaughter, Smokey Bear and Water Slide

The weather was perfect, the view was perfect, and with two new characters (AAA Guide Book is Smokey Bear's and Water Slide's daughter, and Sgt Slaughter is her fiance... and they've never been to Las Vegas before) the conversation stayed fresh.  Lunch was very good; I had the Sirloin Au Poivre which did not taste as good as AAA Guide Book's Lobster Roll looked.  On a scale of 1 to 5 baguettes, I rate lunch a 3-1/2, but the event a 4 (downgrades because the only sleep that Shoulda Brought the Invasion and Smokey Bear had was on the 65 minute flight from Reno to Las Vegas... and it showed).

Papa Bear, et al. went their way, and Shoulda Brought the Invasion and I started towards the airport... but not before going head-to-head with the Goldfish.  Within 10 minutes, I hit them for a $60 profit (sure, NOW my hot streak starts) and its time to leave Las Vegas.  I began to think that three hours is not a long enough time for a proper Vegas Vacation.

All I had with me was my carry-on, and there were exactly two people ahead of me at security (had I known that, I'd have had plenty of time to give the Goldfish their money back).  I get to my gate and see that due to the severe storms in the Midwest, our plane coming in from Austin, TX was late.  With even more time to kill, I make the circuit of slot machines and video poker near the C4 gates.  In about an hour of airport play, I am exactly dead even... that's like winning $500 anywhere else!

We board the plane and sit on the tarmac for at least 40 minutes... this will cause a problem back home. I had planned to take the city bus home, and with the originally scheduled 11:00 PM arrival, there wouldn't have been a problem.  But the plane lands at 12:25 and the last bus leaves at 12:45... leaving me 20 minutes to get off the plane, collect my bags at baggage claim, then run to the bus stop.

Well, I didn't get there on time.  I schlep over to the taxi stand and hit Facebook looking for a ride home, however, at 1:00 AM there aren't a lot of takers.  Because there were many delayed flights arriving after hours, the I was about 10th in the taxi line (in the rain) with many in line behind me.  There were just no cabs to be had.  I get my cab around 1:30 and $35 later (thank you, Goldfish) I am finally home.

And wide awake.


So while I was in Reno, My-Sugar-Na (who did not come with me for a variety of reasons) started to regret her decision.  I wanted to give her a trip, so we discussed various driving-distance weekend trips (like Door County, St. Louis, Dayton) but none moved the needle.

Until I remembered the Storm National Mixed Championships held - wait for it - in Reno.  So even though the USBC Open Championships won't return until 2016, I will be there another six months from now.

And won't we have fun!?!?!?!?

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