Viva Las Vegas
Contributed by: Joe
Las Vegas glitters and glows in the American Southwest, as conspicuous in the parched desert landscape as a diamond in a goat’s ass, the perfect perversion and logical end game on the road to the American Dream, the ultimate come-on whose payoff never matches its implied promise, where Orwell’s minions have excised “excess” from the dictionaries and too much is never too much. Las Vegas, a city whose myth is matched only by its reality, run by steel-hearted whores whose payday comes not in your hotel room (although you can get that, too; just ask your friendly cab driver) but on their smoke-choked gaming floors.
I packed my iridescent green shirt and my leather pants and caught a plane, more than ready to loose myself in the bacchanalia.
Arriving completely sober in the town the Bugsy Siegel made was out of the question. I mean, shit, let’s be realistic. At the Quizno’s grill and bar in the
“Oh, honey, I’m from there. Get outta there,” she said, wagging an index finger back and forth across her throat. “Get outta there. It’s bad.”
Well, hell, I think. That can’t be good.
I called buckweaver to relay Dia’s warning, visions of Pruitt-Igoe-like disrepair and lawlessness dancing in my head. But screw it, we decided to stay. How bad could it really be?
While talking to buckweaver, I walked to the end of the terminal and watched as crews de-iced a plane’s tail. I went to my gate and asked the girl behind the United counter if we were still on schedule, and she said it would probably be another hour or more until crews could get our plane de-iced. Shit, I thought, take your time – in fact, take all the time you need. De-ice that fucker good. De-ice that fucker so good that we could take a little detour to the
I went back to the bar.
An hour and 45 minutes late we lifted off, and to celebrate I had a double vodka tonic and took a little nap.
Buckweaver picked me up at McCarran, which always looks like somebody just kicked the shit out of an anthill, people everywhere, wide-eyed optimists arriving, sleep-deprived losers departing. The jingle and jangle of slot machines (unofficial McCarran motto: Tightest slots in Vegas!) announced unequivocally that we weren’t in
We hit In-N-Out Burger, which is apparently required when you head west and cross over the Continental Divide.
We cruised the Strip, went downtown and found the Gold Spike. We opened the hotel’s dark-tinted glass doors to the dimly-lit interior, and smoke assaulted us, a full-on smack to the face, and I think my nose started running immediately. Aw, shit.
The Gold Spike, where the locals sit at slot machines, smoking and nursing their drinks, growing older and more wizened by the minute, looking for all the world as if life has beaten and ground them down. The Gold Spike, where they go for work when all their other options are exhausted, the last refuge of casino workers, cocktail waitresses and front desk help after the Strip has used up their youth and vitality and spit them back to the city’s seedy underbelly.
The Gold Spike, the saddest little casino in
But, hell, the Gold Spike was plenty good as a two-day base of operations as buckweaver and I caroused downtown before the rest of the SportsJournalists.com gang – cadet and sportschick and OTD and BNwriter – showed up. We checked in and hit the town. I got a beer, the first of many that day and night.
I was my fourth trip to
I got another beer.
As night began to fall, we started looking for a place to play blackjack. We checked out most of the casinos, indecisive. Finally, we settled on a $5 table inside Binion’s. Five hours later we left, a combined $900 richer.
We each bought in for $100, I got a beer from the cocktail waitress and we settled in to our seats. We played for probably an hour or so, just treading water, and then we each dropped a few hands in a row, leaving us with about half of our buy-in left. We nearly got up and left the table. We’re both thankful we didn’t because then the table started heating up, the dealer busting often enough to make it more than interesting.
I won back the $50 I was down and kept climbing. I no time, I was playing with $100 of the house’s money. Then $200. Buckweaver was up $100 or so, and the guy two spots to his right had about $300 in front of him. And then the pit boss began to take notice, standing next to a post and keeping an eye trained on our table.
“Ride the wave,” I told buckweaver. I got a beer nearly every time the cocktail waitress came around, and as I got drunker, I began to say it about every 15 minutes.
It seemed really profound at the time.
They raised the table minimum to $10, but buckweaver and I were grandfathered in at $5.
And then I was up $300 and feeling no pain. The pit boss acted like he thought we were counting cards because we kept raising and lowering our bets. I was routinely betting $30 a hand, but if I won three or four in a row, I would drop it down to $10, figuring the house had to win some of the time. The pit boss made no pretense of watching any table but ours, but nothing was cooling it off. Nearly every other hand, we each played $1 for the dealer, our karma slowly filling the tip basket as the night wore on.
All wasn’t perfect in paradise, however. The smoke was playing hell with my allergies, making my eyes water and my nose run like a motherfucker, and those fucking Kleenex® brand tissues in every bathroom and hotel room in Las Vegas are only slightly better than 1,000-grit sandpaper when you have to wipe you nose every five minutes. And, man, I gotta take a piss. Thank god the dealers shuffled each shoe by hand, giving me just enough time to tap my bladder without missing more than a hand or two. Did I mention the table was hot?
They raised the table minimum to $25, and we just laughed.
Buckweaver was up at least $200, maybe more, and I was up about $500 when our friendly pit boss was joined by two others during a shuffle, all scribbling something in their notebooks before stalking away. Shortly thereafter, a security dude came by, raised the table and shook it a couple of times. Buckweaver and I looked at each other and snickered. We were winning so much that even our female late-40s Asian dealer was acting pissy toward us, acting like maybe we were gonna cost her her job or get her kneecapped or something.
We completely lost all track of clock time, our time measured in hands and shoes and steadily growing piles of chips. My lasting image of that night is of betting $100 and drawing a 10 to the dealer’s … something … had to be less than six. Anyway, I doubled down for the single biggest bet of my life, eight green $25 chips stacked in front of me. And drew the ace to complete my 21. Oh, holy shit.
Buckweaver decided being up $300 for the night was good enough and left the table. I played a few more hands, and then I had piss so bad that I decided to call it a night and colored up, getting seven $100 chips. As soon as I got up from my chair, they swooped in and closed the table. Buckweaver and I went to the cashier and collected our $1,100 combined, giddy with the best blackjack winning night of our lives.
Starving, we hit a McDonald’s for some way-past-3 a.m. breakfast biscuits. We navigated our way to the Gold Spike without getting mugged, and when we got back to our room, buckweaver took a picture of me holding my $700.
It’s … beautiful.
After crashing at about 4 a.m., buckweaver and I managed to crawl out of the rack before 11 a.m. Friday morning for our craps lesson at the Golden Nugget. Our soft-talking instructor got us up to speed on the game’s intricacies, which basically meant that we had just enough knowledge about the game to lose our asses – as did the 20 or so other people crowded around the table. I mean, why the hell else would they give free lessons on every game they run? It sure as shit ain’t out of the goodness of their cold little hearts. Anyway, after winning big at blackjack, buck and I figured we could spend a little at the craps table that night.
Buckweaver was damn near starved, so we hit the Nugget’s buffet, which cost about $26 for the two of us. When the city decided to clean up the Strip a dozen or so years ago and make Las Vegas a family vacation destination, the days of the $3.99 all-you-can-eat lobster and prime rib buffet died like Joe Pesci in “Casino,” bludgeoned to a pulp and dropped in a hole in the ground. Ain’t nothing cheap in
Buckweaver has an encyclopedic – like, Britannica, and hell, maybe Google – knowledge of baseball, and he never passes up an opportunity to see a game. The Cubs and Mariners were playing one of their last spring training games that night at Cashman Field, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team, the 51s.
We went to Cashman, figuring we could scalp tickets. In no time we found a guy, and buck pealed off $100 for two. Because it was cool at night, I decided I wanted my jacket that I conveniently left in our room, so we started to walk back to buckweaver’s truck when we were accosted by two rent-a-cops riding bikes.
“Are you a patron, sir?” the big dude asked, an accusation in his tone. His Mexican sidekick said nothing.
“What?” buckweaver said.
A look passed between us. What the fuck is he talking about? It was like he was speaking a foreign language.
“Are you a patron, sir?” the big dude asked again.
A patron? What the fuck?
“What?” buckweaver said again.
“Are you a patron, sir?” the big dude asked a third time.
“I don’t understand the question,” buckweaver said. “What do you mean?”
“Are you guys going to the game?” the big dude asked, finally making sense.
“Yeah,” buck said, pulling our tickets from his pocket and showing the rental, who looked them over for a second and then handed them back.
“Are you selling any tickets?”
We walked away. What the fuck was that? You, sir, are the patron saint of assholery. The way that fucker acted, you’d have thought we were trying to sell a little anthrax or Ebola or something. I was more than a little pissed.
We got my jacket.
Back once again at the stadium, we decided to take a look around. And as soon as we walked around a corner and headed in the opposite direction of folks arriving, two different rent-a-cops rode up, right on our heels.
“Are you guys selling tickets?” one of them asked.
I was more than a little pissed, and I wanted nothing more than to knock the motherfucker off his bike and kick the shit out of him. But that probably would have ruined the whole
“No,” we said. In pissed off voices.
Fuck it. I finished my beer and we went into the stadium. Christ, what a bunch of assholes.
I wanted a 51s souvenir, something with the big-headed alien with the giant eyes. We made our way through the obnoxious Cubs throng and entered the size-4 store in a size-16 world. It was wall to wall, packed tighter than a fraternity house basement during a keg party where drunken Tri Delts are milling around looking to get laid by a trust-fund son of America. With all those people inside, it was brutally hot.
They had two checkout lanes running, but it might as well have been one because the guy running one had to ask the woman working the other one about every fucking purchase. I am not exaggerating. Every fucking purchase. I stood in line long enough, I could have checked folks out quicker than he did. And I have no idea what the dumb fucks running the stadium were thinking by having someone cash-register disabled working one of them on the biggest fucking weekend they’ll have all year. Great fucking planning, geniuses.
The game? Ah, a Cubs blowout, proving not so much that the Northsiders are any good as much as it showed just how bad the Mariners are. We left early and headed to the Golden Nugget to put our craps knowledge to the test.
Playing craps proved one thing: Buck and I should just pass the dice when they come to us. Basically, we sucked throwing. Thankfully, other people at the table didn’t, so I walked away $300 richer and buckweaver walked away up $315. When we got back to our room at 3 a.m., buck took a picture of his winnings. It’s … beautiful.
And with that, our two days of batching it were over. Later that day, the rest of the SJ.com crew either got into town or was in transit, and our hotel hopping went into stage two.
Cadet, sportschick, BNwriter and OTD, come on down.
Saturday morning, Buckweaver dropped me off at the gym, picked up cadet and they checked us into the Holiday Inn Express, which meant we were good to go Sunday if somebody needed help with a little brain surgery. The booze seeped out of my pores at a stink-inducing pace while doing my hour of cardio, and I felt almost human after my shower. Buckweaver — with whom I worked in SoCal — picked me up at the gym, and I met cadet, the first of four new SJ.com folks I met that weekend. Cadet was properly sarcastic, so I knew we’d get along just fine.
We had plans to watch that day’s Final Four men’s games at the Caesar’s Palace sportsbook. The three of us cabbed it over about an hour before the games started, and we discovered that we should have been there four hours before if we wanted a seat in the sportsbook because it was packed with dudes betting horses, which is fun if you’re actually at a track but just seems sad if you’re watching the simulcast. Cadet somehow found us a table in a packed-to-capacity bar that looked like it had been puked fully formed out of the late ’60s or early ’70s, very mod and close to the sportsbook but way too far away from the nearest bathroom. In that bar, we ran face-first into the difference between downtown and the Strip because two beers and cadet’s Jack-and-ginger cost $22.50 and I damn near swallowed my tongue when the bartender gave me the total. Shitfire. Even with buckweaver and me up $1,500 total, we really didn’t care to spend $50 every two rounds of drinks, tip included. I mean, hell, $1,500 was only 60 rounds, and that wouldn’t be nearly enough for the rest of the weekend.
We hatched a plan to move to someplace — anyplace — where the drinks weren’t so freaking expensive. Cheap? Maybe. But, hell, buckdub and I still had bungee jumping on the agenda, and I wanted pictures so I could make a new Christmas card.
The three of us caught up with BNwriter at the bar and shared a pizza that cadet and buckweaver snagged in Caesar’s food court. Sportschick was flying in, checking in at the Holiday Inn and meeting us at Caesar’s, but after the pizza buckweaver and I bugged out to find a less expensive watering hole where we could watch the second game. O’Sheas fit the bill.
Buck and I snagged a few chairs at the bar and were pleased to find that longnecks were $2.50. Ahhhhh … that’s more like it. Two, please.
A half-hour later, cadet, sportschick and BNwriter rolled in, and we weren’t all together more than 10 minutes before sportschick started in with a weekend-long refrain: “I want a pink frou-frou drink. I want a pink frou-frou drink.”
After the game, cadet and sportschick wanted to hit a nightclub. They went back to the hotel to change into club-hopping attire and rock the hotness, but buck, BN and I stayed behind … somewhere. Buck and I dropped $100 each at craps, kind of souring us on the evening’s gambling, which is sad and really a little pathetic. Buck and I weren’t going to be able to accompany the girls, basically because I’m not sure buckweaver owns any clothes that would get him into a club in Las Vegas, and if he does, he sure as shit didn’t bring them with him. BNwriter was game, but not so much after finding out that going to said club meant music at ear-splitting levels, with the bass deep enough to rattle your bowels. He retired to his hotel for the evening, and buckweaver and I went back to the Holiday Inn
With a dancing adventure out, the girls — still dressed in their Saturday-go-to- clubbing clothes, cadet in black, sportschick in a blue silk blouse infested with glitter — buck and I headed downtown. We were in the bar for almost one full drink before cadet started feeling not so great. We cabbed it back to the Strip, and found a casino restaurant that was still open past midnight.
We all had drinks, the discussion at the table was stream-of-semi-consciousness flowing, and I have no idea what precipitated it, but at one point sportschick said loudly and with conviction, “I am NOT talking about bestiality.”
And just like that, I had my pet phrase for the rest of the weekend.
It was probably 2 a.m. by the time the four of us got back to our hotel room. Buckweaver sat on the bed and immediately was attacked by sportchick’s glitter, which she kindly left behind earlier while the girls were changing. It was all over him, his chest matching the twinkling
With the four of us sharing our room, there was no more lounging around in boxer shorts. I changed out of my clothes and put on a pair of cargo shorts to wear to bed, the uncomfortable bastards, crawled in and was peppered with glitter. It wasn’t near as funny when it happened to me. Wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt and probably more than a little glitter, sportschick crawled into bed, her on the left and me on the right. The middle one foot was our own personal DMZ, land mines not included.
The answer is no. I’m too old (by, like 13 years), not scrawny enough (by, like 50 pounds), have no tattoos (but some cool scars), don’t wear a beard (but have a pornstache) and I shower daily. So, no.
Thank god I didn’t snore. The rest of the room was thankful, too.
Their plan was in the works for months via PMs and message board posts.
Sephora … Their incantation.
Sephora … Their destination.
Sephora … Their Grail.
The girls had shopping to do.
Buckweaver and I were excused, charged only with checking all of our shit into The Palms and finding a place to watch the women’s Final Four games (for the X chromosomes) and the Cardinals against the Mets Opening Day game (for the Y chromosomes).
We went to
A half-hour later, the girls showed up with BNwriter and OTD in tow, and finally the gang was all together.
Cadet asked the bartender to change the channels, and they were promptly switched to our preferred stations.
“Tits are currency in
“I want a pink frou-frou drink,” sportschick whined, practically stamping her little foot. “I want a pink frou-frou drink.”
She got her pink frou-frou drink, three feet worth of strawberry margarita. That shut her up. Well, about wanting a pink frou-frou drink, anyway. She got a little tipsy, which was cute.
We sat in the restaurant for hours, paying intermittent attention to the games unfolding, more interested in getting to know each other, bitching and dishing about our jobs, commiserating in the way only people who work in the same industry can do, knowing and truly feeling each other’s pain. (Yeah, it was shop talk, but the fun kind. The bitchy kind.) The conversation waxed and waned, shifting topics and featured speakers, the six of us acting like old friends getting together after years apart.
We learned that cadet and sportschick dropped some serious coin at Sephora on whatever women buy at Sephora. And that sportschick nabbed another pair of heels to add to her collection the would make Imelda Marcos blush. She modeled them for us later that night, and they were quite fetching.
OTD and I discovered that we went to the same university, graduating about 10 years apart. He knows the traditional food haunts in town, and I was able to tease him about it after I came home, hitting each one in succession.
Finally, the games were over or close enough, so we paid our tab and got ready to leave. I had to use the bathroom, and before I left the table I said, “I’ll meet y’all outside.” As in outside the restaurant, I meant. I figured that was understood. Oh, I was wrong. Because when I got done with my business and walked back to the restaurant, the gang of five was nowhere to be found. As in gone. As in left my ass behind.
I walked around
I walked outside to a street overpass that looks down upon the miniature
Long story short — if that’s possible at this point — we all got separated like a group of schoolkids turned loose at
I walked down the Strip, went into a casino and started playing blackjack, still kinda pissed off about being left behind. Here’s a tip: Don’t play blackjack when you’re pissed off. I was up close to $275, and my voice of reason told me to collect my winnings and get the hell out. I didn’t listen. The cards turned mean, and I lost everything in front of me in 15 minutes. I dug out another $100, bet it all and lost. I dug out another $100, bet it all and lost. In 20 minutes, I went from having my $375 in front of me to being down $300 for the night.
It was time to go.
Besides, sportschick was locked out of our room at The Palms and needed me to come let her in. Except I didn’t have my room key, which I discovered when I got to our door. Shit. SC called buck and cadet, and they rescued us.
We all went downstairs for a late-night meal, and they stuck us at the ass end of the restaurant. About 10 minutes after we were seated, this couple in their 20s came in and sat at the table next to us. The chick immediately started nodding off, but she never completely went down for the count and finally got up and walked to the bathroom. Her date, Carlos, took that opportunity to pass out. The girl was gone so long, we figured maybe she left his drunk ass. The girl was gone so long, a Palms suit showed up and started saying, Sir? Sir? Are you all right? Sir? He gave up and walked away. Carlos eventually came to long enough to wolf down breakfast, but man, I bet he was hurting the next day. Well, it was already the next day, but you know what I mean.
Day 5 (and 6ish)
We slept in. The girls went to the pool and drank cosmopolitans in
We went to Slots-O-Fun, which had $2 craps tables and $3 blackjack. Patrons — patrons! — made their fashion statements by wearing camouflage (standard jungle and Mossy Oak) and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation T-shirts. Buck and I dropped $40 or so each on single-deck blackjack, I bought a couple $1.75 longnecks and we got the hell out. Dinner reservations were waiting.
We all gathered for a meal at Garduños in the Palms and nearly had the place to ourselves — which meant we never had to wait long for that second (or third, or fourth) drink to arrive; yes, our waiter got a nice tip — before heading to the sportsbook to watch the championship game.
It was fun to sit back and listen to everyone talk, making a comment here and there but generally letting the other five have the floor. It was an interesting mix of people, ages ranging from 20s to 50s, all brought together through the power of an Internet Web site, which is kind of amazing. People who most likely never would have met got together and shared — if not intimate, at least personal — details about their lives to complete strangers and weren’t the least bit self-conscious about it. At least, I wasn’t. And the group dynamic was interesting. Cadet and sportschick generally took the lead and set the agenda, but when we were all together, I think everyone looked to OTD for affirmation, for his nod of approval, Don Vito Corleone to our Michael, Sonny and Fredo.
I placed three $10 bets and made sure to actually look at my claim tickets so I wouldn’t get screwed out of winning a bet like I did at Caesar’s when I wanted the under on Greg Oden’s individual stats but instead had a ticket for the over. And of course he got two fouls in the first four minutes of the fucking game, guaranteeing I wasn’t going to win that one. With the bets at the Palms came tickets redeemable for a free drink, which was just peachy with me.
After we snagged a table in the sportsbook, I excused myself, went to our room and changed into my black dress shoes, leather pants and iridescent green shirt. I’ve had that rock star ensemble for 10 years, and I’ve worn it exactly three times (although I wore the shirt in New Orleans during 1999 Mardi Gras, and the chicks absolutely loved it), but wearing it in Vegas was by far the most appropriate venue. I was full-on ready for the rest of the night, a shit-eating grin plastered across my face when the gang first got a look at me. The girls had to touch the pants, and I hated that something fierce. I think the guy sitting next to me on the long, curved bench seat we commandeered thought I was gay because he gave me a funny look and left shortly after I asked him a question about parlay bets. And good lord, our cocktail waitress was a knockout. OTD said she looked like she had a few hard miles on her, which was undoubtedly true. But who cares?. I tipped well, and the drinks kept flowing.
After the game, we piled into OTD’s car and hit In-N-Out. I was more than a little drunk, and it seems like I took a beer into the restaurant with me, but maybe I only dreamed that; after nearly 12 hours of steadily bending my elbow, the details got a little fuzzy. We stopped at a gas station on the way back to the Palms, and I bought a 12-pack of Fat Tire for the sitting-around-and-shooting-the-shit session back in our room. OTD had a room coincidentally right next to ours, but BNwriter was at a different hotel, and at some point we parted ways, the first physical manifestation of our trip’s fast-approaching end, the first little tinge of sadness you feel when anything is drawing inexorably to a close.
OTD joined us, everyone sitting on a bed’s edge, drinking Fat Tire while the conversation bounced around the room, nothing and everything, the night stretching into the early morning hours. And then it was time for him to go to bed, the second of our group to take his leave, our circle of six reduced now to four. (And he took the damn beer, so I went down to the never-closed convenience store inside the hotel and bought three more for the rest of the evening. Shit, man, talking is thirsty work. The toilet flushed just fine.)
Not long afterward, cadet curled up on a bed and went to sleep as buckweaver, sportschick and I kept going, our liquor-loosened tongues talking politics and sports, art and economics, love and lust and heartbreak — and Iraq, of course — identifying and solving some of the world’s problems in the black of the night. Buckweaver put it best: It was a late-night dorm room session. I was back in college, back to a time when I was young and still idealistic, not yet completely cynical, back to a time before the weight and senselessness of the world broke a little piece of my heart. I think all three of us were there.
And then it was time for buckweaver to take sportschick to McCarran for her early morning flight back home, our three-day circle of four finally broken for good. Cadet was awake, and as we talked, Las Vegas glittered and glowed through our ninth-floor window, the sum of our time together somewhere out there between and inside the lights, the reaffirmation of old friendships and the formation of new ones, the making of memories not soon forgotten. As we talked, the first faint traces of gray began to streak the horizon, subtle and muted, not yet light but not as black as a minute before. As we talked, we stood at the window and watched as Steinbeck’s time of the pearl came and went, subtle as a whisper and as soft as your first kiss.
It was time to go home.
Till next time,
May 10, 2007
Postscript: As we talked, I “fell asleep” in mid-sentence, crashing after 20 or so hours of nearly nonstop drinking, going down for the count in a chair by the window, my leather pants and iridescent green shirt now topped off with gym shoes. I wore that shit all the way home.