Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Trip report: VZZZT 2016

Welcome, VZZZTers.
Unlike last October's VIMFP, this spring's VZZZT was a mini-VIMFP. No competitions, no official pre-arranged meet-ups, just three podcasts and a bit of history.

Thursday, March 31: I took Uber 10 times this weekend, the first of which was from the airport to the Golden Gate, where I'm staying. The rides were all uneventful, but because the Academy of Country Music awards were on Sunday following a three-day concert series, most drivers took the freeway to avoid the traffic. It cost a little more, but time is money when you're on vacation.

I checked into my room at about 9:30 PM, ditched my stuff, and within an hour, I was at The D, where I hit a $157.50 win on a 40¢ bet. Buffaloooo! I wandered down to the Container Park and had a chicken burrito at Pinches. The internet tells me that it has really good Mexican food. My taste buds told me that I'm lucky to live in an area with a lot of really good Mexican food – Pinches was OK, but not special.

Then it was on to El Cortez, where I played video poker and left up $30. I went to Binion's, where I hit another huge slot win: about $140 on a 75¢ bet on some weird Dracula-themed slot. And then I played craps at the Golden Gate and ended up ahead another $110. Scatter in a few slot losses at other properties, and it's still an amazing start!
What a view!

Friday, April 1: I woke up early, because Vegas. I threw open the curtains, and basked in the glorious view of... an air conditioning unit. I get it. I bought the cheapest clean, safe, and comfortable room on Fremont Street. I've stayed here before. I know not to expect much from Golden Gate's lowest tier rooms. I just kept the curtains closed for the rest of the trip.

Next, I headed over to Main Street Station for some of the best video poker in town. Down $100 after about an hour, I wandered around thinking about breakfast. Instead, I played some random "999.9 Gold" machine, got a wheel spin, hit the +1x multiplier five consecutive times, and walked away up $164. It just keeps happening! How about I go play craps at The D?
Wow. Time to take a break and go to the Mets/Cubs game. Charles A. was kind enough to arrange for tickets, and we walked from The D to Cashman Field. The distance isn't bad in 76° weather, and the neighborhood is OK in the daylight, but that pretty much means this isn't a walk I'd want to do any time between May and October.

Hey, batter batter batter
I don't have a horse in the race, but I like rooting for the underdogs, so I cheered for the Cubbies while baking in the sun. The stadium offered free sunscreen, which I took advantage of, but forgot to put it on my face. It didn't feel like a bad burn, but come Monday, it started to peel. The Cubs lost, 8-1, but I still had a great time. 

As the game ended, the YouCanBetOnThat podcasters tweeted that they were ready to start meeting listeners at the Bellagio craps table. Although the Bellagio table limits are usually more than I like to play ($5 is good; $10 is too rich for me), I figured I'd still play, but reduce my number of place bets.  I hopped into my room for a few seconds, freshened up, put on a brand new shirt (it's lucky!), and headed to the Bellagio.

Once there... things didn't go so well. Mark and Dr. Mike had some profitable morning play, but when I arrived, I think my "lucky" shirt was the kiss of death. I walked away only down $26. They lost a lot more. "Let's go play at the Cosmopolitan. Travis, do you know how to get there?" Yup. I suffer from a short attention span when I'm in Vegas; there's always something else to do, see, or consume. A good night in Vegas consists of me walking from one end of the strip to the other, stopping in all sorts of spots along the way (see, e.g., tomorrow night). Bellagio to Cosmo's a piece of cake. Go out of the hotel lobby. Turn soft right. Go up the escalator. Follow the path to the strip. Cosmo's on your right.

The new sportsbook at Cosmo looks sleek, sharp, and shiny, just like you'd expect. We didn't stop, but headed straight to the craps tables. It's Friday night. Not surprisingly, the table minimum is $15. Ouch. OK, a passline bet, no odds, and place the 6 or 8. Eight shooters later, not a single point has been hit, and I've hit my $200 loss limit. Stupid shirt.

My happy place
Mark and Dr. Mike head back to Harrah's, and I head to the Chandelier bar at Cosmopolitan. Tasty drinks. Overwhelmingly hip environment. Bad video poker. Lost $50. It's still my favorite place in Las Vegas.

As happens to me frequently on vacation, I realize that all I've had to eat today is a bag of Cracker Jack at the baseball game. So that's why these drinks seem so strong. Well, Cosmo's got lots of excellent food, but I'll be back later this weekend. Instead, I head across the street to Planet Hollywood, wander for a bit, and, unplanned, sit down at the bar at Gordon Ramsay's burger joint, BurGR. I have his Five Spice Chicken Sliders, his Uber Cheese Burger, and a beer. The sliders were meh, a little overfried, but the burger was one of the best I've had in town. I paid for it with Total Rewards points, so at free, it's even better.

Back out on The Strip, I head into Paris. The Britney Spears slot machines treated me well all weekend, starting here. But the slots at Bally's took that back and then some.

Listener Taylor tweeted that he was ready to do a midnight craps meetup at the Downtown Grand, so I head there. I'm still a bit tipsy, Taylor is, too, and he introduces me to Angie (also enjoying the booze) and Kim, our cocktail waitress and new best friend. 

The table limits are $10, which after the pain of Cosmo seems a bit much, so I sit down with Angie and Taylor at a bank of video poker machines. I pull out my wallet, get ready to play, my cocktail arrives, I tip the waitress, I turn back to the screen, and it says "Bill stacker error. Call attendant." Dang. Didn't like my money, I guess. I hit the "service" button, and while waiting for the attendant, insert my players card. This clears the error, but it's showing $0 credit on the machine. The attendant opens up the machine, checks the bill acceptor, and there's nothing sticking out of it or otherwise unusual. I begin to doubt myself. Did I really put $100 in there? I think I did, but the whole wallet/tip/error message/booze thing has me confused. Taylor thinks I might have, but his back was turned.

The attendant offers to have surveillance check the tapes and see if I put money in, but it'll take about 20 minutes. Sounds good to me! I play for a while, losing slowly, and the attendant returns. I hadn't put any money in the machine. The error was on-screen before I got there. I felt foolish, but the attendant handles it like it's no big deal. With all the management issues the Downtown Grand has had recently, good on them for handling this so professionally. 

It's time to call it a night.

Saturday, April 2: A tweet from YouCanBetOnThat gets me out of bed at around 8:30, and within the hour, downstairs playing craps with Mark, Dr. Mike, Brad, and others. The table is cold as ice, and I'm lucky to walk away up $5 after moving to the dark side. We agree to meet up later at Downtown Grand.

Let's all dine like the birdies dine,
Eat, eat eat, eat eat.
After last night, I know I really should pay attention to actually eating, so I am in search of breakfast. Dupar's is legendary for its pancakes, but Eat's are even better. I'd eaten at both of them on my previous trips, so as a third option, I opt for the Paradise Garden Café at the Fremont. It's serviceable, and felt like eating in the Enchanted Tiki Room, without the birds. 

After breakfast, I wander around Binions and The D, winning a little, losing a little more, and when the tweet comes in, I head to the Downtown Grand. Mark, Dr. Mike, SkyyOnTheRocks, and TwoWayHardEight are there, too.

The Grand is currently offering no-commission buy bets on the 4 and 10. In English, that means that a bet on the 4 or a bet on the 10 has no house edge whatsoever. This won't last long, I'm sure. Still, most of us lose a chunk of change there, and step away from the table to stop the bleeding.

Onto The D, and three hours of podcasting goodness. The VegasTripping guys asked and answered the question, "Hey Doritos-munching fat nerds: are we delusional when it comes to Vegas?" Dr. Dave talked about working security for Donald Trump's Taj Mahal. Vegas Gang interviewed ālon's CEO, Andrew Pascal, about his new casino project, the MyVegas app, and the challenges of leadership. And Tim and Michele detailed their experiences seeing Billy Idol, touring Wayne Newton’s Casa de Shenandoah, and eating multiple times at Therapy, an East Fremont joint.

I was so looking forward to this, and the podcasters did not disappoint. The crowd was subdued, mainly because it was so much smaller than VIMFP, about 20% of the size. Andrew Pascal was fascinating, and Tim and Michele were hilarious as ever.

Dinner was Pizza Rock, where I had the world's best meatball and a great slice of pizza. Shortly after, my phone's calendar buzzed me. Oh yeah! The Life Cube gets set ablaze at 8:00 tonight. I head over there.

There's not much to say about it. For several weeks, an open two-story wooden cube is in a parking lot. Art supplies are provided to write wishes on it. Today, 10,000 hipsters and curiosity seekers show up to see it set on fire. 
The blaze is set. 
We don't need no water.
All those wishes, now embers floating with a quadcopter.

OK, that's out of the way. Tonight's the night I plan to walk the strip. My daughter and her boyfriend will be 21 next year, and I plan on giving them a grand tour. The last time I gave a tour, my victims started at Mandalay Bay and, four hours later, had only made it to Cosmopolitan, from whence we rushed to the High Roller and then called it a night. I'll consider this a test run for next year. I started at the Tropicana just before 10 PM. I wandered through, played some slots and video poker (losses), and then headed onto the tram to Mandalay Bay. 

From there, I moseyed through Luxor and Excalibur, and then realized I should have started at MGM. I skipped the Lion, and instead continued my wandering through New York New York, Monte Carlo, Aria, and into Cosmopolitan. I stop in the gift shop – I want a pair of dice to teach my daughter craps with, but they don't have any. Back in my seat at Chandelier, I down two blackberry bourbon juleps, break even, check my watch, and it's just after midnight. I'm making good time, I think. Then, with a bit of a buzz, I completely lose track of time. 

I head across to Planet Hollywood, then to Paris and Bally's. "OK," I think to myself, "on the tour, I'll cross to Bellagio, head south to catch the fountain show, then head inside, and go onto Caesars. Today, I'm just going to cross over to The Cromwell." I play slots for a few minutes there (+$20) and then wander up through Flamingo/Margaritaville (is the Margaritaville restaurant closed? is it that late?), The Linq, and Harrah's, and stop in at Casino Royale to check out their new bar and sports kiosk. It's a bar. And a sports kiosk.
I lose a few bucks on the slots there (love that giant Wheel of Fortune), and then head next door to the Venetian. The money I win on slots here is lost – and then some – after I wander through Palazzo and Wynn and play slots at Encore. I never seem to do well there. I check the Wynn gift shop for dice: $12.99. I don't think so.

From here, if I was thinking clearly, I'd have decided to cross over to T.I. and Mirage to conclude my tour planning. Instead, I'm thinking that it's late, and I should be heading back to downtown. I don't check the time, though.

My Uber driver picks me up at Encore, and takes The Strip and Main Street back to the Golden Gate. He mentioned that he likes working late night, because the people are a lot more fun. None of this – the light Strip traffic and his comments – registered to me that it was really late. I arrive at Golden Gate, and am a little surprised that the podcasting crew aren't hanging out at Bar Prohibition. The craps table is open and only $5, so I play for a bit, lose a little, and enjoy the loud, thickly Baltic-accented birthday singers at the bar behind me.

Hey, the freaks gotta sleep sometime.
I'm a little tired, so I check my watch. 

It's 5:30 AM.

"Siri, what time is sunrise?" 

"Sunrise is at 6:23 AM."

Challenge accepted. I head out to Fremont, the sky is still dark, and the streets are almost empty. I head back inside, play slots for half an hour, and then head back outside. The sky is lighter. I head into Dupar's for pancakes, look at the other two parties there, and realize in the game of "just up or still up," I'm the only "still up" person here.

Sunday, March 6: I wake up around 11:30 AM, and decide I'm going to make today much less of a marathon and instead keep it easy. What to do? I check the list of poker tournaments in town, and nothing nearby starts soon or at a reasonable buy-in. Instead, I head over to the Plaza, play video poker for a bit, play slots for a bit, look for dice (reasonable price, but not from anywhere cool), and spotting a sign mentioning their 1 PM bingo session, decide to try it out. I haven't been upstairs here before. Just past the bingo hall is what looks like convention space remodeled to be a lobby for timeshare guests. Trudging along with tired looking couples are faux-upbeat timeshare salesmen, "offering a great discount today" of "40% off" and making me feel dirty just breathing the same air. 

I head into the bingo hall, buy a dobber from the vending machine, and pay $8 for 14 games. My cards never get close to winning, but it's still a good time, and now I know I've got a cheap option for fun if my daily gambling funds ever run low.

A little something to remember my losses by.
Back on Fremont Street, I check one of the $4 t-shirt stores for dice. $2.99 for Cosmopolitan dice? Jackpot! Time to celebrate by going to ... Mermaids? Yup. I've never actually been in there, and while the drink service was indeed fast, I think it's the closest I'll ever feel to playing slot machines in a Las Vegas WalMart. It's not the space, it's the other clientele. I leave with a 2¢ profit, plus a Captain and diet to go.

In a trip report on the Five Hundy Facebook group, Lori R. mentioned the Italian American Social Club as a great dining destination. I planned to give it a try. They're only open a few days a week, and only from 5-11 PM. I arrived just after 5, and the place was mostly empty. As I had dinner (a beautiful caprese salad, a great chicken parm, and a heavenly tartufo dessert), the room filled up, as did the volume level and my enjoyment.

I then headed to the Linq for their evening poker tournament. Grrr. The guy in seat 1 was such a noob, he constantly folded when he could have checked, and the dealer was placing chips from his stack into the table for his blinds and calls. I get dealt KK, he bets, I raise, we get a caller, and he calls. We get a low rainbow flop, he bets, I raise, caller folds, noob calls. Worthless turn. Noob checks. I bet. He shrugs and calls. The river isn't dangerous. He checks, I bet, he calls, and turns over AA. Really?

A few hands later, I go all in on a low flop with top pair/queen kicker. I'm called by AK. An ace falls on the river. I'm done. I wander a bit more, then catch a ride to El Cortez for some 50¢ roulette. I play for about an hour, and leave up $20. Around midnight, I decide it's time to call it a night.

Monday, April 4: I wake up around 9, and feel like yeah, it's time to head home. Five days may be a little bit too long. What am I going to do today? Nothing is striking my fancy. OK, maybe some video poker. Time to head to Main Street Station.

It's not going well, I'm down about $80, and then I hit quad 3's. That (plus a $2 scratch ticket!) brings me back above my starting point. I'm bored, and for some reason I'm craving a Hawaiian breakfast, so I head over to the California, where I get some very reasonably priced eggs, spam, and rice at the Aloha Specialties restaurant. It's too much food, but hits the spot. 

I wander across the street into the sad back room of Binions. What once was the most respected poker room in the world is now a whole lot of empty tables and 80% off shirts. Out to the street and over to the Fremont.

There's a spot open at the $3 craps table, and everyone is having a good roll. That is, until I get the dice my second time, make hardway bets for myself and the crew, and seven-out immediately. I cash out up $60, and bid farewell to downtown.

The $2/$4 limit game at the Flamingo seems to be pretty beatable. Play halfway decent hands for cheap, bail out if the flop doesn't hit, or hit the accelerator if it does. Two hours of play, +$66. Is my start-of-trip luck coming back? The slots at Linq disagree, but at Cosmo, the slots give a little back. I take a little break, and talk my way up to the Boulevard Pool to check it out. I'd been up there in a January, just after Cosmo opened, but I hardly remembered it. Still very nice.

Then down to Secret Pizza, which is the best pizza in town, even above Pizza Rock. It's the slightly crispy crust that does it for me.

At around 4 PM, I sit back down at my happy place, order a little muddled blackberry magic, and start playing video poker. About 45 minutes later, the bartender, Soni, asks how I'm doing. I'm down a little bit, but mostly staying steady. She makes me another, and instructs me, "you need to get four deuces." Thanks. That's what I've been trying. My phone buzzes. My flight's been delayed 30 minutes. No big deal. That'll give me a little time buffer that I was hoping for.

And then, soon after, I get this:
"You need to get four deuces." "OK."
Cash out. See you later. +$225. This morning's feeling that the trip might be a little to long? A distant, distant memory.

Always a great place to end a trip
Bellagio is my final stop. I play some video poker at the sportsbook, knowing that the final NCAA basketball game is on, but I know I won't be here long. This schedule shows that my favorite fountain show starts at 7:00. I head outside, grab a near-center spot at 6:50, and wait.

As before, the music stops, the nozzles rise, the strings swell, and "Quando sono solo sogno all'orizzonte," sings Brightman and Bocelli. I grin ear-to-ear, and drop a few joyful tears into the lake. See you in October, Vegas.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Trip Report, VIMFP 2015: All the friendly people

Welcome, VIMFPers. 
(Miss my VIMFP 2014 post last year? Here you go.)

Last weekend was the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic, a gathering of about 300 Juggalos fans of the podcasts for Vegas Gang (casino design, culture, and history), VegasTripping (deep thoughts on a single Vegas topic), and Five Hundy By Midnight (Tim and Michele's Vegas news, reviews, and rants straight outta Minnesota). You think I'm a Vegas nerd? I've got nothing on most of these folks.

Also new this year were the podcasters from You Can Bet on That (tips for recreational gamblers) and Denton Dallas and Beyond (Texas and Vegas food, bars, and travel). It was my 16th Vegas trip, and easily the most fun I've had downtown.

Thursday, October 15: After an uneventful flight on which I used up my final Southwest Airlines free drink ticket, the line for the McCarran rental car shuttle line was the longest I've seen it. The folks managing the line, however, were on top of their game, loading the shuttles super quickly three buses at a time. The Dollar rental car counter, however, was not, with four people behind the desk, swapping in and out so effectively having only two spots open. An hour later, I'm in a third line in the garage waiting for instructions on which car is mine. I pile into a blue Yaris (small but speedy) and head to Westgate.

Thanks, FHBM listeners, for letting me know I can redeem tickets at the cage when the sportsbook is closed. At 11 PM on a Thursday, the cavernous Westgate is quiet, but the line to the cashier was long and slow. Sigh. Got my money, took $10 more out of their slots, and headed to the Golden Gate to check in.

The room's small. I knew that it probably would be. It overlooked the Plaza's taxi line. I'm pretty sure I was getting noise from the Fremont Street stage, noise from the traffic on Main Street, and, being on the second floor, noise from the casino music downstairs. That's OK. It's midnight, it's Vegas, it's not time to sleep yet. Instead, I walk down to The D and win some money off their craps table, giving a little bit back in video poker.

OK, fine, I've gotta be up for a 10 AM meetup. Time for bed. I normally sleep pretty well, but the noise from outside, along with the loud hallways, made for a mediocre night.

Mark from You Can Bet on That
holds court on Friday and Saturday
Friday, October 15: I'm up early. I don't know if it's the noise or my brain going "Vegas is out there! Go! Go! Go!" I head downstairs and grab a couple of pancakes and toast at Du-Pars. Meh. I think Eat has spoiled me for breakfast. Thanks a lot, Chef Natalie.

Next up and a few steps away: craps lessons at the Golden Gate with the You Can Bet on That guys. Dr. Mike is at my table, making all kinds of crazy bets (bet the world, parlay it to the horn high yo, feeb the whee and zond the hoober with max sparl). Mark is at the other, closed table, teaching craps to other attendees. About 20 minutes later, maybe because of my drowsiness or maybe because it's just a reflex, I reach for my phone to turn off the podcast I hear accidentally playing. Must've butt-dialed it, I think. I get it halfway out of my pocket before I realize no, it's not my phone -- I'm hearing Mark at the other table, and just thought it was my phone. After an hour or so, down just a little, I cash in and head back down to The D. Good choice. The slot play was profitable, and I broke even on video poker.

The Twitters tell me that Mark and Dr. Mike have headed to Pizza Rock for lunch, so I join them and four other fans. I get the tasty, tasty meatballs. Others order a calzone, pizza, salad, and a meatball sub. It all looked great. The outstanding food made up for the marginal service -- everything trickled out of the kitchen one at a time; some of us were done by the time Mike's pizza arrived. No matter; the stories flowed and the time sped by. In the end, I still had to chase down our waiter in order to pay the bill.

Oompa Loompa doompity doo.
Don't know 'bout that, but there's something I do.
We split up and I head back to the Golden Gate for the VIMFP Icebreaker. The joint is soon packed. Anybody who's anybody in the Vegas podcasting scene is here, along with some of the notable fans and several more of us nobody fans. I grab a seat at Bar Prohibition next to superfans Taylor and Tara and finish off a couple of very tasty Not Your Father's Root Beers. It only costs me about $10 on video poker. Foggy Vegas historian, noted Wonka slot machine aficionado, and remarkable costumer Misnomer arrives, having gone full Oompa Loompa.

Soon, the crowd heads outside for the opening parade. Led by Hunter, Chuckmonster, and the owner of The D, Derek Stevens, a hundred or so of us weave our way down Fremont Street, cheering, drinking, waving at patio diners, and generally making a ruckus. Almost anywhere else, it would have been a bizarre scene. Here, well, #OhFremontStreet.

Next up: the annual VIMFPtucky Derby plastic horse race gambling tournament. There's around 35 entries and eight seats at the machine, so we're divided into four heats, with the top 5 finishers going on to the final table. At the end of the third heat, I'm feeling pretty good with my score of 40 credits. Unfortunately, a couple of longshots hit in the fourth heat, and superfan Danielle Michelle, with 41 credits, gets the #5 spot.

Good for her, bad for me and my in absentia co-owner Louise. Hopefully, Louise will make it to VIMFP next year and break our team's two-year losing streak.

Tony from Vice Lounge Online passes word that they're meeting at La Comida for dinner, so I join up with them, mark and Dr. Mike, also meeting Ryan and Becky, and a couple other folks whose names (sorry!) I don't remember. Service here was much better than Pizza Rock, except that the chips and salsa apparently means ¡All the Chips You Want! but only one little bowl of salsa. I order a chicken burrito; the burrito sauce is outstanding -- slightly sweet, mildly spicy, a fresh, smooth texture, with hints of chocolate without putting itself boldly out there as a mole sauce.

(Holy cow, I had Du-Pars, Pizza Rock, and La Comida all in the same day? No wonder I feel like I over-ate.)

My best hand of the trip. I tried to do better. Really, I did.
While the VLO crew heads over to Binions for what I hear were some outstanding cigars, I head over to The Fremont casino and play craps. It didn't go well, with my biggest loss of the trip. With my wallet a bit lighter, I head back to The D to prepare for the World Series of Satin Casino Jackets. Registration, socializing, and hanging out is at the Vue Bar upstairs. More alcoholic root beer was consumed. More video poker was played. And less than a dozen hands apart, I get the two best VP hits of the trip: quad 3s for $50 and a progressive straight flush for $143. It's all downhill from here.

The line-up for the WSoCSJ is set, and as I see my competition, it's clear that we're all winners, some just more than me. My sparkly Riviera jacket gets points for being closed, but it's got nothing on the jackets from Vegas World (closed 1995) and The Landmark (closed 1990); or Tim's outlandish Etsy-overkill generically loud "CASINO" jacket; or on Michele's well-accessorized Siegfried and Roy white tiger ensemble. Still, 20 of us strut down the escalator to the thumping music and across the casino floor lined with cheering VIMFPers, shimmying go-go dancers, and bewildered muggles.

Shortly after this is The Undercard, where Tim rants about kale, Misnomer historically sees a Mirage, and the Vegas Gang takes a Q&A. Good times.

Finally, at midnight, at American Coney island, Tim and Michele judge (in wig and robes) the Fivehundog eating contest: two dogs, one bun, judged on style, not quantity. Offensive hilarity ensues, but it's not the easy gags that win it. Nope -- that honor went to Mike E., who brought in one of the costumed weirdos off the street and got fed a Fivehundog by Edward Scissorhands. Do you think the chili stains will ever come out of his blades?

Tomorrow comes Vegas early. Time to hit the sack. I fight against the noise by installing a white noise app on my phone. A perfect night's sleep follows.

My Las Vegas Club souvenirs
Saturday, October 17: No need for breakfast; I'm still full from yesterday. I meet up again with the You Can Bet on That crew for their craps lessons at 10 AM. I'm up a little, down a little, even a little. It's a short session, because at 11:00 sharp, Derek throws open the doors of his recently purchased Las Vegas Club casino to 143 of us maniacs. He bought it two months ago, and he's still in the early planning stages. Anything the previous owner left is still there. I assumed he'd be, "here, sign this waiver, follow your tour guide closely, no photos, don't touch anything." Nope. Just the opposite. "Here, sign this two paragraph waiver, you're free to roam the lower floors, and if you see anything you want, take it." Wow. I scored three table games rule cards and a video poker backglass. Others walked out with tournament chips, procedure manuals, signs, holiday decorations, room numbers, operating permits, light fixtures, and ... Vagisil? #OhFremont.

Back to the room for a quick detox, and then to secure my spot in the VIMFP Main Event theatre, I swing by O Face Donuts and grab a couple of boxes to share. They're good, but a little melty. Not quite as good as Voodoo, but then, what is?

There once was a man from Regina...
Like last year, I get a front row seat to the main event. It's amazing. Derek is the special guest on the live Vegas Gang podcast, and he talks about his plans for the Las Vegas Club. Tim and Michele make suggestions from the menu at Chef Natalie Young's new restaurant, Chow (especially the General Chow's Chicken), and rant against kale. Dr. Dave releases his new book, Boardwalk Playground, and hosts a Q&A about Atlantic City. VIMFP Match Game is live on stage, with special celebrity panelist The Gazillionaire from Absinthe (and I begin re-considering whether a front row seat is a good idea.) The winner got free nights in a suite at The D. The loser got a large decorative trash can from the Las Vegas Club.

On the minuscule possibility that one of the VIMPFtucky Derby finalists doesn't show, I stick around in case I might be an alternate. I don't even think that would happen if there was a no-show, but it was fun to watch the start of the finals anyway. Then I got word through The Twitters that Mark and Dr. Mike were headed to Main Street Station to play craps. I met up with them there, lost some money, and we all decided to go to the Golden Gate to get away from the surly boxman. It was a good choice; superfan Victor had a great roll, helping me win back more than double my Main Street loss. The crew there was top notch, especially the dealer, Al, who acted as if he'd spent 50 years at the craps table and was still as pleased as punch to be tossing out chips, sliding the puck, and bopping to Ke$ha. I've skipped the Daughtry concert -- not my cup of tea -- and I think Al was entertaining as heck.

It's around 9 PM, and I realize I hadn't eaten since yesterday. Even before Tim and Michele recommended it, I had Chow on my must-do list. I wander down and grab a seat at the counter. Chef Natalie is seated to my left; that's cool, but I don't say anything. I order the General Chow's Chicken, which the menu describes as "crispy fried chicken, ginger, garlic, soy, rice vinegar, sweet and hot chili peppers". Not listed: it's also got bok choi and, ironically, kale. The chicken is perfectly breaded bite-sized chunks, almost like a popcorn chicken, but not as heavy. It's wonderfully spicy and savory. I also order the sriracha mac & cheese, which is simply amazing spicy, creamy, and lightly crusty goodness.

The VIMFP afterparty is at The D. I swing by El Cortez on the way, playing on one of their no-house edge video poker machines. I'm on the wrong side of variance, and leave down $20. At Longbar at The D, it's drunken hugs all around, dancing podcasters, loud music, and me losing badly on video poker. I talk with Ryan and Becky from Sacramento for a while, giving them advice for their upcoming trip to Seattle. The party moved on to Golden Gate, where again I end up shooting craps with Mark and Dr. Dave. Apparently, the open spot at the table I took was where Victor just left, and his luck rubbed off on the rail, because I had a good run myself. Apparently, many of the partiers don't remember much of Saturday night.

I had to root for the 49ers. And the Colts.
Sports betting makes me do weird things.
Sunday, October 18: I wake up and head over to the Plaza to make my morning NFL picks. Go Hawks. Oops. Go Redskins. Oops. Score low, Chiefs and Vikings. Yay! Let's keep it close, Chargers, 49ers, and Colts. Parlay! Back to the Golden Gate. Thanks for the tips, Sportsbook Tom.

Eleven heroes enter. One hero leaves, on a push.
With a $250 entry fee, the VIMFP Hangover Casino Challenge Cup was out of my price range, but it sure looked like a lot of fun. I hung out and watched the whole thing. It came down to the final blackjack hand between two players. Such tension. The cards come out, the short stack doubles up, but the big stack wins by a hair.

On to day 2 of the podcasting at The D, it's You Can Bet on That and Denton Dallas and Beyond. I gotta admit, I didn't hear much of their shows because I had bought two bingo cards and like most everyone else in the room, I was playing the heck out of it as the podcasters were on stage. Neither card won, but it was still a fun time.

Is it difficult to listen to a podcast and
play two cards at the same time? Bingo.
And like that, VIMFP is over. I hang out at Longbar for a while, playing video poker and watching the Seahawks lose. It's been raining on and off, and when it rains a little, it tends to flood a lot, or that's what I hear. Several times the football broadcast was interrupted by the Emergency Alert System warning of flash floods. Cool. You know, I've been in town since Thursday, and haven't yet set foot on The Strip. When Vegas floods, the news invariably shows footage of the Linq parking garage draining dramatically, as designed. There's nothing on my sources showing that flooding's happening yet, and I've got some freeplay at Palms to use, so I head there. On the way, I look at the Flamingo Wash. Yup. Dry. No flooding.

I play at Palms for a few hours, leaving with a few less dollars, and when I get out to the car, it's got raindrops on it. Maybe flooding is still possible? I cruise over to Cosmopolitan, the best parking garage in town, and wander around for a bit. The table games are still out of my price range, and most of the slots are the same as the ones on Fremont, but reportedly with a bit more of a house edge. I can't bring myself to play there tonight. I'm cheap. I cross over and wander through Planet Hollywood, Paris, and Bally's, and decide that I'm going to take my cheap self to Ellis Island. I've got $5 in free play and a coupon for a free entrée if I earn 200 slot points. Those 200 slot points cost me $60. Doh! That entrée better be good.

I order the chicken parm. I've been looking for a good chicken parm in town. The chicken parm sliders at Triple George were disappointing. The chicken parm at Battista's was crispy, but somewhat burned, especially one literally charred nub that had the audacity to poke up. The chicken parm at Ellis Island was... not good. Watery, slushy, soupy. This chicken parm may be the most flooding I see today. Ewww. Should'a got the steak. Or should'a eaten at Cosmo.

I wander back up through Cromwell, Flamingo, O'Sheas, and into the Linq parking garage to check for flooding. There's a flowing puddle, but nothing like I'd hoped for. It's around midnight, and I'm still raring to go. I head into the Linq, and ponder my next destination. Usually in this situation, I'll walk a loop of the strip, either up to Encore and back, or down to Mandalay and back. But I don't feel like walking. It's not for any physical reason, it's psychological. Maybe I'll cab it to Encore or Mandalay and walk back to the car at Cosmopolitan. No. I don't feel like it. Any gaming I'd do here would have better limits or odds downtown. I'm not motivated to see the sights. I never thought this would happen, but after being in town 13 of the last 37 days, I'm just about Vegased out. Yeah. That happened. I've heard about it, but never thought I'd reach that point.

I cab it back to Cosmo, walk a loop inside (the escalator down through Chandelier is still my happy place), and head back to Golden Gate. I loop Fremont Street instead. Four Queens still has a Twilight Zone slot machine! It takes $10. I play craps at The D, and lose another chunk of change. Finally, at around 4 AM, it's time for bed. Checkout time is noon tomorrow.

Big Wong. Oh my!
Monday, October 19: Up at 10, out at noon, I'm feeling refreshed. I head over to Main Street Station for video poker. The woman to my right hits quads four times, including quad aces. The guy to my left hits quads three times. Me? Zero. A couple full houses keep me alive for a while, but my buy-in eventually dwindles to nothing, and I head back to the car. Where to?

When I was in line on Sunday for bingo/podcasting, the guy in front of me (sorry I don't remember your name! Craig!) shared a suggestion for a restaurant in Chinatown: Big Wong. The menu he showed me had nearly everything less than $6, and he said it was tasty. Sounds like a good place for lunch! It's in a strip mall with hand-written signs on the walls and just cleaned up enough to stay ahead of the health department. So, a typical asian restaurant, from my Seattle experience. I was seated quickly, and ordered the fried chicken over rice. It was disappointing. The rice was fine, but the chicken was on its own plate, and looked like whoever cooked it had tried to boil the breading off. I don't know much about deep fryers, but maybe the oil was cold, and they heated it up with the chicken already in it. Eww. Meanwhile, the cook was screaming at one of the waitstaff for something like placing plates in the wrong spot or moving something in the kitchen. I ate, paid, and left. No reason to return there.

Fried chicken should be juicy, not wet.
I'm itching for somewhere new. Red Rock Casino? I've been to Red Rock Canyon, but not the casino. It's a surprisingly long drive out there. I know some folks suggest it, but it's not for me. I'm a wanderer, and it's not wanderable from anywhere. Don't get me wrong, it's gorgeous, as if someone did a mashup of the Cosmoplitan, Palms, and M. I did well at the craps table and slots, and not so well at Four Card Flush. I just don't see myself coming back out here. That's driving time that could be spent doing more enjoyable stuff.

Time's running out. I'd planned on making my traditional final stop at Silver Sevens before getting to the aiport, but I only had about 45 minutes before I had to go. Traffic was light, so I went for it. I was there for less than half an hour, but the slots there were good to me, so I left on a happy note.

At the airport, with a few minutes before the flight was boarding, I stopped by Sbarro for a slice of pizza. They also had chicken parmesan. I pause for a moment. Should I? Yes, please. The guy ladles it out from under the heat lamp and presents it. It's soupy and a little squishy, not at all like chicken parm should be. You know what, though? It's still better than the chicken parm at Ellis Island.

So five days, and if you don't count Ellis Island, I didn't spend a penny on the strip. My MLife and Total Rewards players cards never came out of my wallet. The tastiest food, the most fun, the best people were all downtown. My last trip, when I had some of my highest gambling losses, was on the strip. This trip, which didn't have a penny of on-strip gambling, was one of my lowest losses. Coincidence? Am I a convert? Would I feel the same Strip burn-out if I hadn't spent essentially 40% of the last month in Vegas? I don't know. I'm hoping to find out in December. I'd been considering a December trip, and I saw a billboard on the way to the airport that Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox will be at Cosmopolitan on December 30. (Yes, I know they'll be in Seattle on December 15. Shut your mouth.) That may be what makes it happen.

(Epilogue: In the line to board my Southwest Airlines flight, a guy says to me, "VIMFP?". Mike (not Dr. Mike nor Mike E.) is six spots behind me. I plan to grab a seat and chat with him about the weekend all the way to Seattle, but when I board the plane, A4 is wide open. Can't get any closer to the front door. I take it, and apologize to Mike when he walks by. Hope you had a good flight, sir!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Vegas trip report: The fight, the rubber burrito, and the dragon

Welcome to Terminal 3. The joy of Vegas.
The feel of a medical clinic.
This is compiled from my trip report segments on the Five Hundy by Midnight Facebook group. It's long. It was a long trip. You've been warned.

The first third: The fight, the sportsbook, and the shantytown

Saturday, 4:30 PM arrival: 

I'm staying at Caesars, but I'm starting this trip by parking at Cosmo (the best garage on the Strip) on Saturday afternoon, planning to check in late and hoping for a "we're full" upgrade. I walked over to the MGM to check out the Mayweather fight crowd, and was not disappointed. There were meth grannies, dudes in kilts, bros, women dressed in Lil' Kim pasties, and several young bucks riding "hoverboards" around the casino. I think these are the irritating selfie sticks of 2015. I tried to talk my way into a cheap ticket in, but no luck. Lost $7 at Sigma Derby, then headed to Secret Pizza. You know, when I eat Secret Pizza, I think it's better than Pizza Rock. When I eat Pizza Rock, it's better than Secret Pizza. My conclusion: the best pizza is the pizza you have. 
My happy place
Back to Caesars. The $20 trick was rejected -- she put the bill back on the counter and said "no need, I'll still get you a complimentary upgrade." She did (Palace Basic to Palace Jr. Suite; just a little bigger and at the end of the hall), and I gave her the $20 at the end.
SundayI know nothing about sports betting, but that doesn't stop me. On the advice of Sportsbook Tom and Vegas Fanboy, I spent most of the day in the Westgate Theatre. Wizard of Odds says the best bets are on home underdogs, and Tom suggested the under on the Cardinals/Saints game. I went 2-for-7, and one of those wins was (*cringe*) a bet against my beloved Seahawks. The Westgate has also moved their video poker machines out of the sportsbook, but I found a playable one and lost $100 fairly quickly. Wonka gave me some of it back, but other slots took it again.
Leaving poorer but still having fun, I drove back to Caesars. Valet full. I parked in the self park and walked over to Cromwell. Roulette took another chunk of change. Over to Paris by way of the Grand Bazzar Shantytown. Maybe I'm the only one, but the shantytown isn't as bad as I expected. It's like the kiosks on the Excalibur/Luxor walkway, or the ones formerly in the back of Imperial Palace, or near Carnaval Court, and for now, they're clean and shiny and new and at 9 PM on a Sunday, appeared open. It's certainly nicer than the unmaintained turned-off fountain of porn cards that used to be here.
Sunday morning, NFL week 1. Everybody's tied 0-0.
Every game has zero points.
So much hope is about to be dashed. 

Paris took the rest of my daily budget. I had dinner at Yong Kang Street, which was good but much more expensive than it should be -- $40 for three items off the cart and a beer.
Training classes start Monday. There's no better place to take a class.

The second third: Uber, Fremont, and the rubber burrito

Monday was the first of six training days, so my gambling will be limited to lunch and after hours, which is good for the bankroll. Lunch on Monday was a profitable hour at the Casino Royale craps table. After class, I headed out on my quest to complete my casino chip collection, with stops at Aria, Stratosphere, and Circus Circus (which resulted in this shout-out from VegasTripping.com).
Fumigating? Remodeling?
Only her hairdresser knows for sure.
At around midnight, I was craving some quick Mexican food, and VegasMate said Chayo was nearby and possibly open, but no. Midnight was too late for "late night" on Monday. Instead, I hopped down two doors to Off The Strip. Their chicken parm was mediocre. The pasta was angel hair, which had clearly been pr-emade hours before and was reheated under a broiler, probably at the same time as the chicken, which had charred tips.
Tuesday lunchtime craps was at Cromwell. The crew was great, and I broke even. That night, I headed down to Fremont and played craps at Four Queens. It turns out that the couple next to me are also from my hometown, living about five miles away from me. Small world. For a late dinner, I headed to the Market Street Cafe for oxtail soup. Sadly, the kitchen was closed Tuesday night for deep cleaning. Instead, I wandered to Pizza Rock, got in just before they closed, and they gave me a discount on a slice because it was their last one and was missing the tip. Across the street Downtown Grand's sign was off and the place was looking mighty dark. When you can't tell from 200 feet away if the casino is open, I don't know how they expect to get Fremont Street foot traffic.
Last one out, please turn off the lights. But don't turn
off the sign. We already did that.

The news had broken Tuesday that Uber had gone live, so I cancelled the second rental car I had scheduled for later this week. At lunch on Wednesday, I dropped off the first car and Ubered back to the training at Caesars. The driver was apparently new to all of this, wide-eyed with high hopes, with Uber and Lyft placards to put on his dashboard and a low-numbered TNC permit decal in the front window. He was delayed a few minutes on his way to me when he got a $100 ticket for driving in the bus-only area, but he seemed to think that Uber would fight it. Not likely, I suspect. He also wasn't familiar with the streets, missing a turn his GPS gave him, and he almost took me to Venetian when he forgot where I was going. Still, only $17.40, and a better experience than I've had in some cabs, but if I wasn't aware enough to give him directions, who knows?
After training -- which ran until after 8 PM -- I headed out to get the final pieces of my chip collection. The Venetian craps table was jumping. The Wynn and Encore were dead. TI is feeling more and more bottom-tier every time I walk through. Casino Royale's $20 rebate on losses is still going strong, but after claiming my first $20 earlier this year, they require subsequent losses to be more than $100. I dropped $21 on the big Wheel of Fortune slot to test this out. No rebate for me.
I stopped at Chayo for dinner -- Wednesday was much busier than Monday -- and had a chicken burrito. It was OK, nothing special, a little rubbery, and although I hoped the sauce would be enchilada like, it was more like watered down refried beans. Still, it was reasonably priced and quick.
Paris has a new game, High Card Flush, and it's clear that the dealer was still learning the game, too. Her card handling was inconsistent, and she pushed back my $1 "straight flush" bet saying it needed to be $5 minimum. The table sign said that the table bet and Flush bet were $5 minimum, but "Straight Flush $1-$25". I didn't point it out, since I shouldn't be making those sucker side bets anyway. The game was profitable and friendly. On the way out, I played the Lord of the Rings skin of the Mad Men slot. Unlike other LotR slots, this time, I made it out without having my wallet jacked by hobbits.
Video poker has been mediocre so far. I'm spotting a few flaws in the cheat sheet I posted, and some of the games that I saw listed at VegasMessageBoard (particularly the 1-cent hundred-play 5600-royal CET ones) are nowhere to be found. Tonight, I think I'll head down to MSS or Gold Coast to play some more advantageous machines.

The final third: Dragons, drinks, and chasing the sunrise

Thursday, September 17, I spent my lunch break playing craps at The Cromwell again. I played craps at eight different properties this trip, and Cromwell is easily my favorite. The crowd's fun, the dealers are friendly and competent, and even though I lost, I feel I got good entertainment value.

After the conference ended for the day, I Ubered downtown to hit the 7:00 poker tournament at The Plaza. The driver was confused about where the Caesars Colosseum valet was, and missed two turns headed downtown, but these bugs are to be expected with a new system. They've probably got it working a bit better now. 

The PokerAtlas app listed the tournament as a $10 buy-in, which is technically correct, but given the choice of 3500 chips for $10 or 7000 for $20, I went with the $20. The Plaza uses electronic tables, which is fine -- the weak, loose players tend to play even weaker and looser. Around the table, some of the players were trying to get their friend to buy in late, because without a certain number of players, the $150 guaranteed prize pool wouldn't be available. They ended up with enough, but really, how can a prize pool be "guaranteed" if they require a minimum number of players? Seems sketchy.

Tight play and monster hands got me to the break with the chip lead, but I still spent another $5 for the 3000 chip add-on. The tournament went quickly at this point, and when it was down to the final three, the stacks were something like 31K, 30K (me), and 5.5 K.  We chopped it $60/$60/$30, so I'm counting that as a tournament win.

I played the 100.65% Jokers Wild poker machine at Plaza during the break, but it was an ancient coin-dropper with hazy graphics and finicky buttons, so I ended that experiment quickly. After the tournament, I headed over to Main Street Station for video poker, which quickly took half of the day's bankroll, but hey, tasty beer. Video poker was not kind to me this trip.

A couple hours later, I headed to The D and played craps for a few minutes. I had little luck, and bailed out fairly quickly.  Out at The D valet, I attempted to Uber a ride, but the cell signal was weak, probably due in part to the buildings' "canyon" effect, and in part to my phone's weak battery. I headed over to 3rd and Ogden instead (Pizza Rock/DT Grand), and successfully hailed an Uber from there. As I waited, I watched the street department add green bike lanes to Ogden with their special paint cooker cart. Kinda cool. 

Piff the Magic Dragon, Mr. Piffles,
me, and a photobomber.
Friday the 18th: I picked up a discounted ticket for X-Comedy and then played craps at Harrah's for lunch, but my loss was nothing special. At the end of the day's class, a couple of other students asked what I had planned for the night. Other than the show, I wasn't sure. They suggested that the $2/$4 table at Flamingo was profitable. Turns out they were right. I played for about an hour, and left with more than I sat down with, despite the lack of good cards. 

The X-Comedy show was OK, nothing great, although the only reason I went was to catch Piff the Magic Dragon's performance, and he was as hilarious as I expected. He did most of the tricks I'd already seen on "Fool Us!" and "America's Got Talent", but they were more entertaining in person. Unless you're going to see him, and you *really* want to see him, I'd skip the show.

"All you can drink wine."
Challenge accepted.
I was craving Italian food, and VegasMate suggested that Battista's was nearby. I went in with somewhat low expectations, given some of the reviews I've read here, and it was certainly better than I expected.  Salad, bread, chicken parm, unlimited wine, and cappuccino cost me $38, including tax and tip. The meal wasn't "oh my god" great, but it was certainly good, and for the price, someplace that's definitely on my list of places to return to.

I was jonesing for craps, but $5 on a Friday night? Good luck. I eventually wandered down to Excalibur's table, where I lost a chunk of change but a hot shooter kept me from losing the rest of the day's bankroll. No, that was lost playing slots at Caesars just before bed. What was I thinking? (I Ubered from Excalibur back to Caesars, because I was exhausted. The ride was uneventful, except the driver told me that he'd witnessed a single-vehicle crash just a few minutes earlier near the Welcome to Las Vegas sign where the car had rolled three times before stopping. Eek.)

Saturday the 19th. Day 6 of class. Yes, this class extended into Saturday. They gave us a lunch break, but the hands-on labwork was so intense, I just worked right through it, finishing around 3 PM.  

Today's Vegas challenge: I wanted to see the sunrise, to be the "still up" instead of being the "just up." Could this guy in his mid 40s do it? My best approach: start with a late afternoon nap. Down at 4 PM, I set my alarm for 7:30 PM. And then for the next 90 minutes, I drifted from fully awake to barely awake, but the fact that I was sleeping while Vegas was downstairs kept me from actually falling asleep. Finally, at 6, I gave up and headed out.

There's a feeling I get in Vegas at certain points in some trips -- I'm dressed up, headed towards the hotel elevators, and I'm grinning. I'm looking good. I'm feeling good. I'm in Vegas. This town is mine tonight. I'm gonna see this night to the end. I've got no destination in mind, I'm just going to wander. As I'm riding the elevator down, I don't know if I'm going to head north or south. Do I want to walk up to Encore and feel the posh vibe there, or do I want to make it down to Mandalay Bay and see what kind of crowds Santana and fake Michael Jackson are bringing in? I get to the statue of Caesar by the bell desk, and without thinking, turn right. A few steps later, I realize, "well, looks like the south strip it is." 

I take the express mosey to Mandalay (Bellagio tram to Monte Carlo, Excalibur tram to Mandalay), and remember that I'd heard great things about the catfish sloppy joes at RM Seafood. I pull up the casino map and restaurant menu in VegasMate to find out where in this place is. Once I get there, I look at the posted menu, and then ask the hostess "I don't see the catfish sloppy joes on the menu. Are they still available?" No, she says, not since last spring, and then they were lunch only. Bah.

I wander over to Delano to check it out, and spot Della's Kitchen. Chuckmonster gave it a good review... but they're closed. Bah.

I'm close to being hangry now, so I'm committed to find somewhere else here at Mandalay to eat. Border Grill it is. It's quite a hike through the convention space to get to it, but let me tell you: it's worth it. The margarita was good, the chips and salsa were free, and the poblano enchiladas -- wow. For sitting at the bar watching college football, these three small enchiladas in green sauce were elegant, beautiful, tasty, light, yet filling. This may have been the best meal of the week; definitely in the top three. It's worth the walk.

Stunning drinks. Mediocre poker.
Inside the Chandelier; my happy place.
Time to mosey north. Things are uneventful until I arrive at Cosmopolitan. It's nearing 9, and for a Saturday night, Chandelier is still fairly empty. CliQue is still under construction, so I ask the bartender, "when I was at Book & Stage last January, the guy made me a great drink with blackberries, St. Germaine, and some other ingredients. Any ideas?" Yup. He can make the Stunning Man, but without the egg whites, which is *exactly* what I had before. I tipped him well, and when I finished the first, he made another. A few minutes into my second drink, I hit a wild royal for $21.25 (sadly, the best hand of my entire trip). The crowd was building, the vibe was rising, yet I decided to keep walking.

Craps at the Casino Royale is quite a contrast to video poker at Cosmo, but was equally profitable. The mix of people in suit jackets next to grubby t-shirts next to dude bros in town for a body building conference was what Vegas is all about. Good times. 

I eventually wandered up to Wynn, where, at 3 AM, I could barely make out the video poker paytables through my hazy eyes. Time to walk south again. My feet carried me directly back to Caesars, but my stomach carried me past it back to Cosmo. It's 3:30 AM, and I need Secret Pizza. The line is nearly out to the pool tables, but it's worth it. After a half hour wait, I scarf it down, and then with my mind starting to play tricks on me, decide that yes, it's really best to head to bed. Yet again, I was defeated in my challenge to see the sunrise. Check out time is 11 AM. I set my alarm for 9:30 and pass out at 4:30.

Sunday, the final day. I wake up at 9 on my own. Can't sleep. Las Vegas is waiting, down on the street below. It turns out it was a good thing, as I'd forgotten to toggle "PM" to "AM" on my alarm. I slowly and sadly pack up my stuff and drop my bags at the bell desk. (Aside: I think I left my stack of downtown player's cards in my room. Darn. I'll need to get new ones on my next trip. Think Caesars put them in lost-and-found, or would they just toss them?)

I walk through Bally's to the monorail and grab a betting sheet on the way. I'm too late for the morning NFL games, but maybe I'll make it to Westgate in time for the second half betting. Nope, too late for that, too, so my only bets are on the Jaguars, Seahawks, and the "total sacks" prop bet for the Seahawks/Packers game. Later that night, I win the Jags, but lose the other two.

Seahawks Poblano
You know, I don't have an Ellis Island chip yet. Time to remedy that. I Uber there with a silent driver, and leave 90 minutes later with double my buy-in and a yummy hefeweissen in me. The table was fairly empty, half un-staffed, and the pit boss was a grumpy micro-manager. I head back to Bally's, but realize I'm walking past the Westin Max, which I profited greatly from the one other time I played there. I poke my head in, and it's smaller than I remember. The VP paytables are weak, and they don't have a craps table running. Sorry, VegasFanboy, but I see no reason to play here. I hop across to Bally's, grab a froyo from their food court, and catch the end of the Jags game.

I've got about two hours before I need to grab my bags from Caesars valet and head to the airport. I should grab dinner. Where to go? I've been here nine days, and haven't yet had my traditional Salt Air Margarita and When Pigs Fly pork buns from China Poblano. It's what I do. I do it. So good. Sitting at the bar, watching the Seahawks game in the sportsbook across the walkway, I can think of no better way to end a long trip in Vegas.

I'm wrong.

Walking back to Caesars, I look at my watch. It's 6:55. To my left, the crowd is gathering for the 7:00 Fountains of Bellagio. I wedge my way in to the rail near dead center and wait. "What are the chances?" I think. "Really? I'm going to be seen off with Tiesto or Billie Jean or Titanic, right?" The nozzles rise form the lake. The background music fades. The fountains light up and begin to spray. It's quiet. Slowly, the strings swell. It's happening. 

"Quando sono solo sogno all'orizzonte," sings Sarah Brightman. My spirits soar. Andrea Bocelli joins in. The jets of water touch the sky. My eyes tear up. It's time to say goodbye.