Livin’ La Vida Vegas

Yes, that’s right. I spent this week’s silent period in Las Vegas with my good friend Mr. Jon Pech. Let me just summarize our three days there by saying: it rocked.

We flew in early Tuesday and got taken for a ride by cabbie Steven Schwartz. After arriving at our hotel, The Stratosphere, we checked in, dumped our stuff and wandered around the 80,000 square foot casino. We agreed it was just a little intimidating to jump right in, so we decided we would go for a cheap lunch, on the advice of my friend Jesse:

You can get a hot dog the size of your arm for a buck at Slots of Fun, but it is a trashy place.

How right he was. The mammoth ½ pound hot dog (a bit bland and salty) was $1.29 (better: the ¾ pound version next door at WeHo for 20¢ more) and the crowd was a morose bunch. Still, we were by then itching to get in some action so we started to play slots. My second machine displayed “Credit: 125” after I inserted just one coin, so I followed Pech‘s advice (“Cash out, dude! Cash out!”) and officially had my first profit in Vegas.

From S-a-F, we moved up the Strip to the better places, stopping first at Westward Ho to enjoy a 99¢ 27oz. margarita (while waiting, I found another unplayed $1.25 in the machine at the bar) and then the Stardust, where we met Kimberly, the slightly trashy dealer whose job was to teach players any game they wanted to learn (from 10-6, not counting frequent breaks.) After some craps instruction, we played with fake money — and lost. I asked Kimberly why she was doing instruction and she said she was being “punished” for her “potty mouth.” There’s a shock. But look for Kimberly in your local Blockbuster soon; she’s working to put together an instructional video. Maybe it will have an uncut version.

Soon we hit the more impressive, storied casinos that make up the southern end of the Strip. I had my first comped drink at The Venetian, my favorite casino. (Check out a QuickTime VR movie [from here] of the shops upstairs. Yes, it’s indoors.) The Venetian was also the only place I played table games. I expected to try out a little BlackJack at several other places, but it was not to be. Perhaps because I lost my ass.

On the second day, we decided that trekking the 2.4 miles from our hotel to the good casinos was just not going to stand. So we rented a 2003 Mustang GT convertible. One of the nice things about the car (which was never driven with the top up) was that it lacked a ‘rental’ marking of any kind. There were no stickers or anything, just temporary dealer plates. The resulting impression was that we not only owned the car, we’d just bought it.

Fellow drivers in two states were subjected to that illusion when we cruised out to the Hoover Dam and dipped our collective toe in Arizona by stopping at a rather freaky gift shop that sold used license plates and Ding Dongs individually wrapped in tinfoil. Then it was time to zip back to LV to cruise the glittering Strip at night, while also giving impromptu acceleration clinics (gray Hyundai, if you read this: what were you thinking?)

The car gave us the chance to view at street level what we saw from 1,100 feet on the Strat‘s roller coaster. Even better, having the top down meant we could hear when some (fairly attractive, fully drunk) girls yelled out to us: “Hey guys! Stop, stop!” (Pech: “What a day for you to be gay.”)

It also of course allowed us to drop top and roll out to any casino, since all of them had free parking. So that we did, and often. In fact, when all was said and done, we visited some 23 casinos (Bally’s; Bellagio; Caesar’s Palace; Casino Royale; Circus Circus; Excalibur; Flamingo; Harrah’s; The Luxor; Mandalay Bay; MGM Grand; Mirage; Monte Carlo; New York, New York; Paris; Rio; Riviera; Slots-A-Fun; Stardust; Stratosphere; Treasure Island; The Venetian; Westward Ho.)

Thursday morning, following our Vegas-is-better-at-night theory, we eschewed the city to drive out to Mt. Charleston and marvel at the contrast between the scraggly-ass pseudo vegetation at the base and the fragrant pines and cold snow that covered the ground more than a mile up. Who thought that a trip to the Vegas would include this?

We (Pech in particular) hustled back from the mountain in order to give back the GT in time. For our 24 hours of rental, we put on a hair over 200 miles. Some of those were even under the speed limit.

Anyway, all in all it was a very good time. Pech and I make good traveling partners and have found our mutual unemployment makes scheduling (if not paying) a breeze. Who knows where we’ll go next, but I hope it’s soon.

And as for the gambling: I won $400, so all of the above was effectively free for me, and I came back to Chicago with a couple more dollars in my wallet than when I left. Yes!

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