Thursday, March 25, 2010

Vegas 2010

The challenge of writing about Vegas is that I've done it so many times with similar parameters necessitated by tax bracket that there's not much new to say. The trip that began with Bill and I has grown to include five total (Bill's friend and colleague Andy and then two of Andy's friends). But we still stay at the Stratosphere, because we can get a room for $22 a night, and that includes one weekend night (even during the NCAA tournament), and because that place has the $5 and $10 table limits that fit our budgets, as well.

So this year, it's coming in superlatives form ...

Quote of the trip: "Vegas does not suck."
Random Israeli dude who we met while walking through the Stratosphere. This was his first time in Vegas and immediately he was playing craps with Andy and Bill and lost almost all his initial betting money quickly before he got lucky. As he was recounting his vegasgamblingvirgin drama he kickered it with "Vegas does not suck."

Best question someone asked me: "Is this your invention?"
City Center is the latest and last-on-the-horizon mega casino/hotel complex. While the 90s were about outsizing each other (Bill believes three hotels were briefly the largest in the world) the expansion since then starting with the Bellagio has been about out lux-ing one another. Bellagio—with its nod toward Renaissance Italian Classicism—begat Wynn/Encore (grossly, Steve Wynn's idea of lux is red velvet motif)—which begat the Palazzo addition to the Venetian (more Italy and an obtrusive constant floral smell inside)—which begat The M (way south on LV Blvd, think dark colors, geometric lines and iron rectangles)—which begat City Center (similar inside to The M but all reflective glass towers).

City Center features Aria (the lux casino), which was actually pretty cool and even had $5 Craps during the day (WTF, Strat? Why were your limits $10? Aria gamers actually wore suits, well some. By contrast, there were lots of denim shorts and some long-sleeve denim shirts at the Strat). City Center also has The Crystals, which is the name of its extremely high-end retail mall. One of the attractions are the illuminated water tornadoes—lucite cylinders of varying heights that sit atop colored lights in the floor and inside each are literally tornadoes of water.

As we were walking around and taking pictures of the tornadoes with our cellphone cams, I spotted a twoish-year-old little kid who was mesmerized by the spinning cones of water. As I smiled and waved at the child trying to give that look that says "being curious is cool," the grandmother asked me "Is this your invention?"

"No, but I wish it were." Interesting point here, I kinda had a wannabe-a-dad moment right then. I imagined how cool it might be to pass along an appreciation for something so sciencey and cool and ultimately simple and beautiful.

Favorite Nickname: "Ferrari"
While walking The Crystals at City Center, one fellow patron jumped out at us. This 5-foot-6-ish, 50s-looking skinny man was wearing a yellow hat, a black t-shirt, short (almost Bill Clinton jogging shorts short) bright yellow shorts that said "Ferrari" on them, black socks and formerly gleaming, but still faded canary yellow Pumas. But though it's been said that the clothes make the man, in this case it was the walk. He had a swaggered gait that I can't really describe. There was a slight swinging of the hips and an almost imperceptible bounce when the balls of his feet hit the ground, almost as if his heels never quite touched. This guy OWNED his look and appearance.

Stupidest person: Me.
I've been coming to Vegas since 1999. I started as a black jack player (I already knew the rules, and learned enough of the etiquette from TV and Swingers that that was where I felt comfortable as a first-timer), but over the years have added Pai Gow Poker, Spanish 21 (when it's the only thing available) and even Bacarrat (see last year's trip blog for that story). But the game I've always wanted to play was Craps. It's always THE SCENE in the gaming area. Strangers high-fiving, whooping, jumping and attracting looks from everywhere. It's the TV-scene moment. This year Bill and I resolved to play, so we each spent a few weeks learning online and we were ready.

My first two forays were your typical gambling experience. I started hot, got up between $40 and $70, hit a cold spell, failed to recognize my doom and ultimately flushed $100 down the casino toilet. The good/bad part of craps is that at any given time even a small-scale bettor like me playing at a $5 table can have upwards of $50 on the table. That's good when you win only. Before playing the third time, I promised myself and even told Bill out loud that if I got up like $50ish right off then I would take a break for a little while so as not to Press. My. Luck.

Do I even need to say what happened? I got up, I even set aside enough chips that I would end with a $20 profit. But the problem was that a new shooter came up and to support my basic bets of a Pass and two Comes, I needed to dip into my set aside. Of course, that was the Pandora moment. I got wiped out on all those bets and then I felt like I had to play one more "just to make it back." And well, I said I was the stupidest person. I lost everything, even though I had promised myself I had learned my lesson.

Craps, btw, is the heroin of gambling. The rush from the crowd going nuts, especially when you're the shooter, blows away everything else, because it's the only time that you're "responsible" for someone else's winnings! And when you're friends are doing well, you feel compelled to stay at the table with them. And since space is often tight you're not allowed to just "stand there" so you end up playing the money you had promised yourself not to spend. DAMMIT. Of course, I can't wait to get back and play Craps again.

Saddest sight of the trip: Two Super Bowl rings (at a pawn shop)
Andy and Bill love Pawn Stars, the History Channel (did they forget WWII happened?) reality show about the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. They love it so much that Andy had already GoogleMapped it out and learned that the shop was just a little more than a mile away from the Strat. Of course, this means we visited.

The place was packed with people, like sold out show at the Troubadour packed. And this was during actual business hours. So we were shunted to shuffle along counterclockwise lengthwise through the ringed area inside the display cases. There were lots of rings, a few guns, some swords, weird random stuff (that we weren't allowed to photograph) and yes, two Super Bowl Rings. Giant, Gawdy, ass-ugly, diamond-overloaded rings. A Patriots ring from what appeared to be the first Super Bowl against the Rams and Broncos Super Bowl ring from the against the Packers.

Though these rings could have belonged to a secretary or assistant trainer or some other low-profile, normal-paying position (typically everyone in the organeyezation gets a ring), and the person was merely unloading this ass-ugly, unwearable piece of scheit for some scratch ... I couldn't help but get depressed staring at it through the cheap glass display case sitting on the old-velvetish geometric pyramid that looked like it was used from a derelict mall jewelry store. I mean, if it was the non-player we had imagined they wouldn't pawn it, right? Pawn shops always give you way less than something is worth, simply because they know you need cash IMMEDIATELY. A person who just didn't care about the ring would sell it on eBay or through a real auction site like Sotheby's or anything but a pawn shop. I mean fucking selling it at a garage sale would earn more money, right? right? Am I crazy?

Best food find: Noodles Asia
Remarkably uncreatively named, but very tasty little restaurant in the Venetian. Noodles Asia featured a great Dan Dan Noodles plate with spicy chicken peanut sauce. Mmmmmm. Highly recommend. It was the alternative to CraftSteak that we couldn't afford.

Worst decision: a buffet crab leg.
Last year we suffered the consequences of eating the Circus Circus buffet. It was such an awful experience, that I proposed we spend assloads of money on one great dinner this trip. Unfortunatley our collective Crapping the bed playing Craps scuttled those plans as too many of us felt too light to pay the $70ish per at CraftSteak. Now, the one disadvantage to the Strat is that you're not within walking distance of any good restaurants. Strat restaurants are OKish, and there's an IHOP. That's it. So Sunday we were starved after finally rousing ourselves and we just decided on the Strat Buffet. Honestly, it was good. Fresh fruit, good breakfast potatoes, eggs benedict. And of course since it was lunch already, there were all-you-can-eat crab legs. I tried one, just because ... it's free crab. Bad idea jeans. It was pretty gross and made me feel pretty grosser.

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