Wednesday, October 29, 2014

VIMFP, Aliens, and quads, quads, quads (Days 7-11)

(See my report for days 0-6 in my earlier post)

Day 7:
Pilot must've came too fast, never pulled out.
We slept in a little bit on Wednesday morning, and then hit the road back to Vegas. Travelling at a much more leisurely pace than the previous two days, we made several stops to check out some neat spots.

First, we stopped in the ghost town of Goldfield. At least, the guidebooks call it a ghost town. The residents would probably disagree.  We stopped in Beatty, finding a geocache in an old airplane marking the entrance to the Angel's Ladies brothel ("Free all night truck parking!"). We then took a side trip to the real ghost town of Rhyolite, where we encountered unexpected artworks, an abandoned town, and fenced-off gold mine shafts.
The Last Supper, with fiberglass ghosts.


A miner and a penguin, probably 20 feet tall.
Minecraft porn. The curtains match the rug.
We continued south into Pahrump, where cell phone signal allowed me to ask, "Hey Siri, where's the nearest Quizno's?" Answer: McCarran airport. "Hey Siri, where's the nearest Subway?" Answer: "I found three train stations" -- and gave me monorail stops. Sigh. Using other phrasing, we found two Subways in Pahrump, and decided to go to the one not in the WalMart. I shudder to think how quickly I'd have been able to fill out my People of WalMart bingo card in the Pahrump WalMart.

Red Rock Canyon has red rocks. Who knew?
We continued on to Red Rock Canyon, where we'd planned to take a 1½-mile hike to get one of the oldest geocaches in Nevada, but after so many caches, and after driving the canyon loop, and the sun going down, and knowing that I'd be giving Erik and Abby a walking tour of the strip that night, we decided against it. The loop drive itself ($7 admission fee required) was amazing, peaceful, and with the sun getting low on the horizon, full of color.

We headed into town and picked up Abby's car from the Golden Nugget valet. Abby dropped me off at the McCarran rental car center, and we all met back up an hour later at the Silver Sevens, where we'd each booked rooms for the night (mine was comped). Into my rental, and our first stop was the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. It took me 13 trips, but I finally stopped and took my photo there. 

I stashed my car at the Mandalay Bay valet (after lying to persuading the valet to let me leave it), and I walked Abby and Erik through the casino, into Luxor, and into Excalibur. It was Abby's first time on the strip, and Erik's first visit in 20+ years. I'm such a Vegas nerd, I talked non-stop about everything that came to mind, most of which I learned from the VIMFP podcasters and other excellent blogs (such as Vital Vegas and VegasChatter). Erik, having driven more than 900 miles in the last three days (not to mention the drive down from Seattle just to get here), seemed pretty overwhelmed. Abby was similarly showing signs of sensory overload. I, now in my element and always lacking in the ability to pick up on social cues, pushed them onward. I talked of TheHotel's change to Delano; of the shabby hit-your-head-on-the-windows rooms, the de-theming and structural questionability of Luxor; and of the dangers of Excalibur's buffet, Fun Dungeon, and Criss Angel.

We crossed the street to Tropicana, where I rambled about hate that redundant name!), finally realizing we had to walk all the way back to the front, outside, to get to it. Pizza was good though.
the remodel, the casino scents, and the anal light fixtures. We stopped to unsuccessfully search for a geocache outside, and then crossed over to MGM. Somehow, I could tell they were wearing down, so I merely pointed into the casino ("the largest in Las Vegas") and explained the concept of bottle service to them ("lots of dollars, little sense").  On to New York New York, pointing out the once-slated-to-be-closed Coyote Ugly, the roller coaster ("it's real!"), and the dueling pianos at Times Square. Heading on to Monte Carlo, I pointed out The Park construction, comparing it to The Linq, which they had yet to see. We walked through Monte Carlo looking for a snack at 800° Degrees (I

Onward toward Aria, and Abby and Erik were really dragging. I pushed them, and showed them the Chuhuly gallery, the water wall, and the silver Colorado River sculpture behind the reception desk. I marched them through Crystals, across the boarded-in skybridge under the Harmon (explaining the rebar lawsuits and the impossiblity of implosion), and into the Cosmopolitan.

The Cosmo is my happy place. For some, Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. For me, it's descending the escalator down to the Cosmo casino floor, the thumping of Bond behind me, the hip classiness of Chandelier to my right. For Erik and Abby, it's when their sensory overload took full effect. 

I don't remember everything I rambled to them about Cosmo ("terrace suites, fountain view, secret pizza, free foosball, used to be a record player here..."), but they glanced at Liberace's car and we headed for the door, through the thumping gyrations of Bond. 

Once outside, now four hours into the tour, we re-assessed the plan. Bellagio, High Roller, and that's it for the night. Fair enough. At the top of the Bellagio escalator, we stopped to watch the fountains. On the way in, I recapped Steve Wynn's story, from the Golden Nugget, to the Bellagio, to the $28 million Popeye statue. We wandered the conservatory, looked at the Chihuly artwork in the reception, and headed through the casino (me: "Hyde's a great place for early evening drinks.") to exit on the Bally's skybridge.
From there, we made a beeline to the High Roller (with my commentary fading into the desert air,"the fugly Bally's Bazzar roofs," "Giada's new restaurant," "never eat at the Flamingo," "Imperial Palace to Quad to Linq"...)

I had a coupon for two free passes, and Abby splurged for one more ticket. It was just the three of us in the pod for half an hour, and while I could feel my Vegas energy continuing to build, I could tell -- despite my lack of social instinct -- that this was the end of Erik and Abby's tour. The ride was great, but I'd only do it again if it was free. I provided a little commentary ("There's Wynn and Encore. That's where the Silver Sevens is. That's the Flamingo timeshare building."), but mostly just listened to the in-cabin broadcast.
I can see my happy place from here!

Half an hour later, back on the ground, we took a cab back to Silver Sevens. We said our goodbyes, and I stayed in the cab to go get my car from Mandalay. I donated $20 to their slot machines as penance for abusing their parking, headed back to Silver Sevens, donated another $45 to their slot machines, and called it a night. The room was clean, comfortable, a bit worn, but definitely a decent place to sleep and shower.

Day 8:
I had food credit to use at Silver Sevens, so I had a basic breakfast there. It wasn't bad, wasn't great, just a typical casino coffee shop breakfast. For free, sure, why not. I played a bit of video poker, churned through some freeplay Silver Sevens gave to sweeten the deal, and then headed to the Mirage to get a free ticket to Cirque du Soleil's Love Beatles show. Sitting in the car in the Silver Sevens garage, I read the fine print, and realized I needed to phone MyVegas to redeem the ticket, and then go to Mirage to pick it up. I called. Their computers were down. The operator was stuck. The second operator was also confused, but finally, 20 minutes later, they gave me a confirmation number.

I drove to the Mirage, and left the car with the valet, but the box office line was fairly long, so wandered a bit until the line shrunk down. Once at the counter, the clerk couldn't find my ticket, so asked for my confirmation number. It's in the car. No matter, she says, and searched for it a few other ways. After about 10 minutes of searching, she found it -- the phone operator had both issued it and then cancelled it. It took another 15 minutes and two other people to figure out how to issue the ticket. It's like nobody ever redeems their MyVegas points for big ticket items.

Frustrated with the Mirage, I pulled up the PokerAtlas app on my phone to find out what low buy-in tournaments were coming up soon. The Quad 2:30 tournament looked promising, so I headed over there and paid my buy in at around 2 PM. I dinked around on slots and video poker, losing a little at both, and then returned to the poker room. Only one other entrant -- they cancelled the tourney at 2:45, refunding my buy-in. Now what? Luxor at 3:30? Could I walk there in 45 minutes? I tried, but was 10 minutes late. No matter; they allow late registration. I bought in, survived through the first break, and with seven of the original 28 players left, got knocked out when I was in danger of being blinded out and ran into my opponent's flopped top pair.

I slowly moseyed my way back to the Mirage, and thoroughly enjoyed Love. Again, a bit on the nerdy side, I was mezmerized as much by the theatre mechanics (the curtains, the screens, the lighting, the rope work, the tracks) as by the acrobatics. As my first Cirque show, I now understand and agree when people say there's not much of a plot, a thin thread running through the whole thing, and that there's not a bad seat in the house.

When I turn my phone on after the show, I've got a voice mail. It's the players desk at The Quad. Apparently, they have a pair of High Roller tickets for me. They say I printed them but never used them. Really? The ticket in my pocket I used last night disagrees, but whatever. I'll stop by tomorrow.

I'm now part of a large herd of show attendees at the valet. I head back in for a bit, lose a good chunk of change at the slots, and head back out. Still crowded. I hand over my ticket, ask how long it will be, and the valet says "not long... most of these people are here to watch the volcano." I sit, watch the 9:30 volcano show, and wait, and wait, and after the 10:00 show, I ask the valet how much longer. "Oh," he says, "it's parked right over here." Must've been watching the show instead of my car.

Here's a random photo of Vegas I took on
day 8. Day 9 was too full of moseying to
spend time taking pictures.
It's still early, so I turn left and head to SLS. Formerly the Sahara, it underwent a $415 million renovation, and I wanted to see how it looked. It's funny -- it feels kind of the same, but completely different, like moving from Windows XP to Windows 7. I signed up for the players club and got $6 freeplay. I grabbed dinner at Umami burger, and took the chef's recommendation of ordering it medium rare. Usually, I like my burgers well done, but it was really good. The sweet potato fries were even better, with a cinnamon-sugar coating, a taste I'd never considered, but definitely on my to-make list.

I hit the video poker at SLS (winning), the slots (winning), and the craps table (winning). SLS is a winner in my book. Too bad it's still so far away from everything else.

It's about 1 AM as I hop in the car, thinking I'll head back to Silver Sevens and crash for the night. Then I realize it's still early in Vegas. Half an hour later, I'm in my happy place, giving Cosmo the money I took from SLS. I finally crash into bed at 3 AM.

Day 9:
Friday in Vegas. My wife, Kim, is due in tonight, so I'm moving to Aria. First, though, I check out of Silver Sevens and head over to Mandalay Bay to use a MyVegas breakfast buffet comp. Still feeling bad about persuading the valet to leave my car there on day 8, I opt for the self-parking instead.

The buffet comp went much more smoothly than the Love comp. I grab pizza and eggs from the buffet, guzzle down some coffee, and go back for seconds.  When I come back to the table, everything's cleared off, including the coffee. No matter. I commandeer a fork from a set of silverware on the table behind me, finish my French toast, and leave, no tip necessary.

I play a bit of video poker, losing quickly. Next, to the Aria, where I check in, and the $20 trick gets me an upgrade to a city-view room, but that's all they can do -- they're booked up pretty solidly.  I wander from there to The Quad to find out about those High Roller tickets. They confirm that yes, somehow they've got an extra pair of tickets for me. I point out that I used them yesterday, but they say the computer says I've got two tickets coming, so I get two for Saturday, hoping to hand them off to a fellow FiveHundyite.

I lose a little at Flamingo, and then head over to Caesars. Kim and I plan to check out the Shania Twain show on Saturday, and I've been trying to find cheap tickets, but have had little luck. Tix4Tonight didn't have any listed, and it makes me nervous to put it off until the day of the show.  It took me until just now to remember that I might have enough Total Rewards points on my account to buy one of the two tickets. To my surprise, I had enough to get both. Cha-ching!

I'd been wanting to try the drinks at Cosmopolitan's Book & Stage for years, and knew they were comped when playing video poker at the bar, but I'd never worked up the gumption to actually try it. Today was the day. "I hear from some podcasts that you make some great cocktails, comped when I'm playing," I ask the guy behind the bar. He confirms that's correct, when playing at least $1 a hand, which is what I expected. "What can I get you?" he asks. "I'm craving something with blackberry, and I'm not a fan of ginger." He comes back a few minutes later with a tall dark purple drink. I'm excited to try it. "It's got blackberries, St. Germain, whiskey, ginger beer..."

Hmm. Ginger? I'll try it anyway.

It was great. Maybe this is my new happy place.

I continue to play video poker, chatting with the older guy next to me. He's here in Vegas nine months out of the year, much of the time sitting in that stool. I tell him that I'm in town maybe twice a year, and that this is probably my favorite spot.

Then I hit four aces for $200.  I affirm to him that yes, this is indeed my favorite spot.

I pocket the money and head to the car. Where to? I'm feeling rich. I'm feeling big. I'm feeling like 25¢ roulette at the El Cortez. Wait? What?

I drive downtown, and quickly realize that it's unlikely that I'm going to get there quickly. The Life is Beautiful festival starts tonight, and several streets are blocked off. I've left my downtown players cards in my room at Aria, so the El Cortez guards won't let me park there, which is understandable when parking appears to be $20 nearby. I give up and head back to the strip. Where to? Riviera, I suppose. They've gotta have cheap gambling.

As I turn left on Riviera Blvd. to get to their parking area, the Westgate sign looms in front of me. In 13 trips, I'd never been there. That's my new destination. I explore the casino, which is smaller than I expected, but reminds me of a run-down Caesars Palace. I think they were built around the same time, so it kinda makes sense.  I played a little video poker, a little on the slots, watched a little of the World Series, and left. Meh. I don't know if I'll head back. Maybe if my little play results in some good offers. Otherwise, probably not.

Kim's flight arrives in a couple of hours, so I aim the car towards the airport, and stop at the Hard Rock. For a Friday night, the place is dead. I lose a small chunk of change on video poker, and a larger chunk of change on the slots. Still, I'm up for the day. I head to the airport, pick up Kim, and head back to Aria. She was up early, had a full day of work, and crashes into bed. I'm still energized, and it's Friday night in Vegas, so I head back out, wander up to Encore and back, and crash into bed about three hours later.

Day 10:
Kim and I rise slowly on Saturday morning, and stagger down to the Aria café for breakfast. Good, quality food, but crazy expensive for what it is. We've got $100 resort credit to offset it, so that helps. We play some slots, play some video poker, and lose on both.
Always take in the Fountains of Bellagio with
the love of your life. Always.
We mosey down to Caesars by way of Cosmo ("that's where I hit aces for $200 plus a tasty drink!") to see if I can upgrade our Shania Twain tickets. Nope -- the tickets are from the casino comp pool, which are non-upgradable. No big deal. We go explore The Linq, which was barely open when we visited in February, and which I zipped through when I was dragging Abby and Erik with me. Kim enjoys the retail experience, so we take our time and pick up a few gifts for folks back home. I remember the Sprinkle's cupcake ATM, and get a tasty chocolate cupcake out of it.
Just like the one in L.A., which had a line two
blocks long when I considered stopping

Dinner is at Giada's, where we both order the tasting menu. Being from the northwest, the Coho sounds like an everyday food so we opt for the lamb. Although the amuse bouche was excellent, and the bread was superb, and the blackberry tiramisu dessert was among the best I've had, the lamb was merely "pretty good". Service was over the top, but not intrusive. Perfectly executed.

The Shania Twain show was fun, pretty much exactly what I'd expected. She played all of her hits, a few of her more obscure songs, and interacted with the audience quite a bit. Although we were up in the top balcony, the seats still had a great view.

After the show, Kim and I wandered a bit, losing money in slots at Planet Hollywood and Venetian, and I won a trifle at Treasure Island. The video poker at Encore put $20 in my pocket. Back at Aria, as a late night snack, I used my final MyVegas comp for pizza and a beer at Five50. The pizza was greasy and seemed like it had been under the heat lamps for a while. It might be that Pizza Rock spoiled me the previous weekend.

Day 11:
We both woke up feeling less than great. Kim had been fighting a headache; I think I was feeling sad that this was our last day.  We checked out of Aria, burning the last of our resort credit on some incredibly overpriced peanut brittle. I considered heading to Westgate to watch the Seahawks game, but it had already started, and Kim wanted somewhere more quiet. I suggested Wynn, so we drove there and left the car with the valet -- but Kim noticed the Disney Store sign on Fashion Show Mall, so that was our first stop. Lunch in the food court, a few hours of wandering, and back to Wynn. We played some slots (losing), and then some video poker. Kim and I were both down a bit, and then I hit four aces. Booyah!

The $28 million dollar man
Still, it was too loud and overstimulating. I know a great, scenic, quiet spot. I took Kim to Red Rock Canyon, this time stopping at the visitor center and several viewpoints. From there, to the airport and an uneventful flight home.

My longest Vegas trip ever has come to an end. My next trip might be in January, another will definitely be next October. And I'm looking at hotel rates in November, just in case.
Until next time, Vegas. Keep my money warm.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

VIMFP, Aliens, and quads, quads, quads (Days 0-6)

My longest trip to Vegas will also be my longest trip report. Eleven days, five hotels, one amazing time.

The back of La Bayou's facade.
I think that's an old wall from Coin Castle just left of center.
Day 0: 
On Wednesday, October 15, I Ubered out of work, off to SeaTac, and caught the last Southwest flight to Vegas. I checked in to the Golden Gate around 11 PM, and dropped my stuff off in my room, which was small, worn, low, had a terrible view of the roof of La Bayou, but was nonetheless clean. I knew from online reviews that it was going be loud, given its proximity to the stage at Fremont and Main, which gave me an excuse to start gambling early.

Another reason to start: Golden Gate had a promo with $10 freeplay twice a month: the 1st through the 15th and the 16th through the 31st. If I wanted the first $10, I only had an hour to use it. I used it and losed it, and lost a bit more. I had similar bad luck at Four Queens but made some of it back at Binons. Around 2 AM, I was too tired to go on.

Day 1: 
The D, ready for Saturday's Sammy Hagar show
Thursday morning, after sleeping in I wandered down to Eat for breakfast, and had the best pancakes of my life. I then hopped across the street to El Cortez, where I won money on a slot machine, lost it on pop-o-matic craps, and then made it back at 25¢ roulette. I wandered Fremont Street for hours, losing at the Plaza, Main Street Station, and the California. I'm still learning how to play craps, so I also spent time at The D, losing a few bucks at their craps table, the first of several losing craps sessions this trip.

Around 5 PM, I headed over to the new Downtown Grand. I'd heard from the Five Hundy by Midnight podcast that the casino's Art Bar has some great happy hour specials, and they were right -- 50% off of everything, including the very tasty French dip sandwich I ordered.

I then lost some change on video poker and slots, and put $20 on the Patriots to beat the Jets by at least 9.5 points. The Pats only won by 2, so goodbye, Andrew Jackson.

Later in the night, I wandered back to Fremont Street proper, and over to the Container Park. I thought it would be pretty cool, but no, it's pretty much just hipster retail. Sure, it's got the fire-blowing praying mantis out front, but that's pretty much the only thing that interested me. I then headed back toward the Golden Gate, stopping by the Fremont casino. I won a little on slots and a little more at their $5 craps table, and called it a night.

Day 2:
Friday was the first official day of the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic schedule, but first, unofficially, was a craps meetup with the hosts of the You Can Bet On That podcast. Two hours later, two thirds of my day's bankroll was gone. While I was playing, Derek Stevens, owner of The D and part-owner of the Riviera, walked by and commented "Nice jacket". I was wearing a cheesy Riviera silk jacket I'd bought on eBay for the occasion.

Sigma Derby: wagering on mechanical plastic horses
VIMFP started with a meetup at The D's Longbar, followed by an opening ceremony ("I am the Vegas Internet Mafia! We are the Vegas Internet Mafia!") interrupted briefly by a homeless guy trying to upstage the hosts. Then a group of about 75 of us paraded along Fremont Street, up the external escalator of The D, and into their upstairs Vue Bar, interrupting a live sports radio broadcast.

Next it was over to the Sigma Derby machine for the first round of the VIMFPtucky Derby tournament. I got knocked out early, eating up most of the rest of the day's bankroll.

"Why weren't you playing 25¢?" people asked me.
If I had been doing that, I wouldn't have
survived long enough to hit the royal.
When you're on Fremont Street, and you're running low on funds, there's one place to go for cheap gambling: back to the El Cortez. I played $1 pop-o-matic craps, and while there, watched a catering cart full of White Castle sliders topple over. The fuel gel also dumped onto the carpet, starting a small blaze, which got extinguished when a craps player dumped his drink on it. Amused but still losing money, I then nursed a $20 bill for a few minutes on a 5¢ video poker machine (25¢ a hand), and hit my first royal flush for $200.

Dinner was at Pizza Rock, some of the best meatballs I've ever had.

I took some time off of gambling to go to the VIMFP "Undercard" event, which consisted of some hilarious Q&A of the Vegas Gang podcast folks and other contributors to VegasTripping.com. Following that, Tim and Michelle of the Five Hundy podcast took the stage; Tim took topics from the audience to rant about. Also, as a counterpoint to Doctor Dave's wisdom tomorrow, @Misnomer took a few minutes to tell us the Poorly Researched history of Las Vegas. Much fun.Well worth a listen if you have a few minutes.

Up big after my El Cortez win, I took the winnings to the $5 craps table back at the Fremont. I made back even more. Finally, getting late, I lost a portion of it back to the slots at Four Queens. Time to call it a night.

Day 3:
"Steve Wynn is so confused... for the last
four months he's been polishing his wife
and ___blanking___ a Popeye statue.
Saturday, October 18th was the day of the VIMFP main event at The D. I had breakfast at the D Grill (nothing special), and attempted to figure out if there was any play in Keno that had a lower house edge than any other. I settled on six-spot Caveman Keno, but after being down $5 without hitting a single win, I was bored and moved on. I headed back to the Fremont, giving back a little at the craps table, and then grabbed a box of Dunkin Donuts for the main event.

The donuts bribed my way to a front table seat for the Vegas Gang podcast with Global Gaming Business Magazine publisher Roger Gros (seemed very knowledgeable and in tune); a presentation by Doctor Dave on the history of The D property; a live Five Hundy podcast (one of several trip highlights; they recommended Eat -- did they go based on my review?); and Vegas Tripping Match Game (just as hilariously raunchy as the Match Game panels at PAX).

I skipped the Sigma Derby finals, since I was knocked out of them the day before, and headed back over to the Downtown Grand. After losing back all of my craps winnings and more at the dice table, I sat down to play some video poker, and for the second day in a row, hit a big win on a 25¢ progressive machine -- quad aces for around $250, I think.

"Right now, you're making tomorrow's memories."
Back over to The D for a bit, and then a block away for the Sammy Hagar/Chickenfoot concert. It rocked hard and loud. He did my favorite Van Hagar song, "Right Now", along with a re-imaging of the video playing behind him.

Ears ringing, voice hoarse, I headed back to Fremont Street, grabbed a FiveHunDog (two dogs, one bun) from American Coney, and called it a night.

Day 4:
One cache was at Coyote Springs, a 2008 housing development
where, according to Wikipedia, "progress has been stalled further
by various legal battles, and there is skepticism as to whether
homes will ever be built."
I slept in a bit late, which probably saved me a good chunk of change betting on NFL games. I checked out of the Golden Gate, and headed to breakfast at Eat, again. It was that good. Most of the day was uneventful: minor losses at El Cortez, Downtown Grand, Fremont, and Four Queens. At around 6 PM, I met up with Abby and Erik for dinner at the Triple George lawyer restaurant. The place has great reviews, but they severely overcooked the fish -- it was almost like eating soft, dry rice cakes. They comped the bad food with no hesitation, and the cocktail and appetizer was tasty. Just an off day, I suspect.

We stashed Abby's car at the Golden Nugget valet, and Erik drove us out to the desert, 100 miles north to Alamo, grabbing two caches on the way.  We arrived at the Windmill Ridge hotel after closing, but Abby was smart enough to look in the mailbox, finding three envelopes with our three names on the outside and our keys on the inside. The room was clean and big, in its own separate cabin, and I fell asleep quickly.

Day 5:
Erik at the start of the ET Highway
It's ET Highway day! Officially State Route 375, the ET Highway and surrounding dirt roads contain 2500 caches -- one cache every 0.1 miles for 250 miles. Some geocachers who come out here to do the ET Highway series hope to get all of them. We planned to get several on the paved segment before sunset, about 600 or so, and a handful of neat spots on side roads.

After I did the running for the first 20 caches (jump out of the car, find the pile of rocks, swap out the unsigned cache with a signed one), Abby did the next 20. At that point, the three of us looked at each other, realized this was a pretty dumb pursuit, and decided to get 50 51 for the area and call it good.

Shortly after cache 51, as we drove deeper into the desert, Erik's radiator hose split, 10 miles from the corner of Nowhere and Nowhere. Fortunately, a passing pickup truck carried Erik into cell-phone range, where he was able to make contact with a tow truck, which had us back in Alamo for most of the day, waiting on the replacement hose to arrive. At 4:30 PM, the hose arrived, and we were on the road by 5 PM. Hitting cows on the road after dark is a serious hazard in this area, so Erik slowly and deliberately drove the 161 miles non-stop to Tonopah, facing into the sun until it set.
2 + 2 + 2 + 9 + 2 = $250

Tonopah is one of the darkest areas of the continental U.S., so it was perfect for catching the Orionid meteor shower. I was worn out and hungry, but still spotted three meteors on a short mile hike from the Jim Butler Hotel (clean, friendly, a bit worn) to Tonopah Station casino, where after about 20 minutes of play on a video poker machine, hit a set of four deuces for $250. A great way to end the evening, on a long day I didn't even expect to be gambling much.

Day 6:
We missed nearly a full day of geocaching yesterday, and had some good caches scheduled for today. Our revised plan: get 'em all today. Can we do it?

We see that they see us and want us to see that they see us. See?
Erik went above and beyond today, starting with the non-stop 130-mile drive to the first cache at the site of the famous (but now missing) Area 51 Black Mailbox. From there, we drove 12 miles down a dirt road, stopping for caches along the way, right up to the edge of Area 51 (Nellis AFB).  As we approached, an unmarked white pickup truck (Department of Defense security contractor) barrelled down the hill inside of the secure zone, turned away from us, and headed deeper into the secure zone.  I'm pretty sure he just wanted to make sure we knew we were being watched. Yeah. We know.

We left this dirt road and hit several others over the course of the day, hitting old mining operation sites, the Little Al'e'inn for lunch, and the two oldest caches in Nevada. In the end, we hit every cache we really wanted to, compressing two days into one, with Erik doing so much driving.
Flying saucers have radiator hose problems, too?
Jackrabbit!
Area 51, from the end of Mailbox/Groom Road.
Note the antenna hidden on the hill center left, and the truck on the hill center right.
(Part 2, days 7-11, is up now.)

Friday, January 03, 2014

And then there were two

Sahara's poker room, pre-2011 closure
Another sign that the poker boom is over: with today's announcement of the closure of the El Cortez poker room, there's only two places left on Fremont Street to play live poker: Golden Nugget and Binion's (the Plaza has electronic poker).

On the strip, the poker "room" at Riviera closed earlier this year.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vegas trip report: April 2013

Trip report:

Let me get this out there early: I'm a cheapskate. Especially on solo trips like this one, the cheaper I can make my Vegas trip, the better, as long as I'm not sacrificing time. Also, I get antsy staying in one place too long -- I always want to go! go! go! to the next adventure. That said...

I had a conference scheduled for work on Tuesday through Thursday of last week, and chose to pad both ends of the conference with a little Vegas vacation time. I arrived on Friday morning, grabbed a rental car, and drove to Cosmopolitan, because it's my favorite place on The Strip. I wandered through there, played slots for a few minutes, and won $10 freeplay in their "unlock & win" promo.

Next, I headed over to Bellagio and redeemed a myVegas reward comp for a "lunch buffet for 2" at the Bellagio. Redemption was easy. Although I asked, they couldn't change this into two separate buffet passes, so one of the two passes was burned. Not a big deal; I expected it. The buffet was OK but non-notable. Wicked Spoon has spoiled me.

I left Bellagio and went to Caesars Palace to buy tickets for the Matt Goss show that night, using a $10 off coupon from the "American Casino Guide". With the coupon, the cheap seat was a very reasonable $30.

Next, I crossed The Strip and wandered through The Quad. It's looking really nice, except for their (temporary?) plain tan carpeting. Every leaf or piece of lint seemed to show up, making it look pretty bad. I like the stainless steel and red lighting vibe they've got going, and the construction walls are designed and wallpapered well enough that it's hard to tell that there's construction going on once you're inside. I played some slots and some Three Card Poker, which put me ahead for what will turn out to be the only time this week.

I wandered down to Casino Royale, where their "fun book" slot bonus coupons have an additional restriction now: you have to play max coins. If I'm playing max coins anywhere, it's not going to be at Casino Royale.

Back to the car, and onward to my hotel: Circus Circus. Don't laugh -- the room for Friday and Saturday night, plus $50 food & beverage credit, was comped through a myVegas reward. The check-in line was long, but I saw a sign in the VIP area indicating "Players Club member check-in" and only one person in that line. I have a Circus Circus players card from nine years ago, so I hopped into that line. Check-in was uneventful, except for two things: the clerk didn't know how to handle the F&B credit ("go check at the players club", he suggested), and he never took a credit card for a room deposit, which I though was a little strange.

The West Tower room I received was clean and functional, although the blanket was a little worn. The view was of Fontainebleu and what looked like an old monorail track (any idea what it is? This book says it opened in 1981 and was still used as recently as 2009, but I don't believe it).

I headed downstairs to talk to the Players Club desk about my F&B credit, but the guy there had to call a manager, telling me to come back in 15 minutes. It was a profitable delay, as I pulled $30 out of a "Plants vs. Zombies" slot machine. The manager typed away on his computer, and then called *his* manager for additional help. She told him that the Players Club didn't need to do anything -- charge it to my room, and VIP services would credit the bill on checkout. Easy enough.

I crossed the street to Riviera to play single-zero roulette, and was bummed to learn that they'd gone back to double-zero last fall. I played and lost a match play coupon there. Back to the car, and valeted the car at Mirage. From there I walked to Caesars, where I lost $25 video poker, and caught the Matt Goss show, which was exactly as advertised: a Sinatra/Blublé-esque crooner with a great voice. I wasn't disappointed, but it's not a show that I feel I must see again. After the show, I wandered to Harrah's, Wynn (amazing people-watching on Friday nights!), TI, and back to the Mirage, and then drove back to Circus Circus in the early morning hours.

I hadn't had dinner yet, so I stopped at the deli to buy a sandwich. Because the front desk hadn't taken my credit card number, I didn't have room-charge privileges. Sigh. Back to the front desk to fix that, and then back to the deli for a decent French dip, which I ate upstairs.

Saturday morning, I grabbed breakfast at "Barista," a small place at Circus Circus. I then drove over to Palace Station and signed up for a players card, because they were giving away free digital coin-counting jars. The place was underwhelming, and the coin jar was, not unexpectedly, cheaply made. It did, however, give me a place to put all of the pocket change I collected during the week, which was nice. From there, I drove to Luxor, where I was unsuccessful in the 12:30 poker tournament. (Hat tip to AllVegasPoker, which is a great source to find out what poker tournaments are going on in Vegas at any time.)

I wandered to Mandalay Bay, caught the tram back to Excalibur, used a match play (losing again) at Hooters, lost money at Tropicana, and then redeemed a myVegas reward for dinner at Nine Fine Irishmen at NYNY. The food was good, but I ended up with a seat next to the kitchen *behind* the stage, with SportsCenter on a large TV to my right, which kinda ruins the atmosphere of the place.

I then drove up to Wynn, lost money there on slots, and called it a night.

Sunday, I woke up, grabbed breakfast at the deli, and grabbed three bottled beers to get to my $50 F&B limit. Upon check-out, surprising me not in the slightest, they had no record of the $50 F&B credit. The VIP desk clerk called the Players Club desk, they talked for about five minutes, and finally I think he gave up and just applied the credit on his own, not knowing if it was correct to do or not. (Hint: if you know the credit's got to come from somewhere, don't make the customer wait. Give him the credit and deal with the internal paperwork later.)

I drove to Cosmopolitan again (I love this place), played slots for a bit, and then headed upstairs to Estiatorio Milos, a Mediterranian seafood place with a $22.13 prix fixe lunch menu. Service was top notch, the tomato salad was the best I've ever had, and the lavraki (a European seabass) was spectacular. Heading to the other end of the spectrum, I next headed off-strip to Terrible's, whose roulette wheel gave me my single-worst session of the entire trip.

Now, I'm faced with a choice. I've got a "vintage" room booked downtown at El Cortez for $24, and I've got two nights booked at The Cannery (five miles past downtown) for free. Both came with $15 food credit, so I chose both. I first drove out to The Cannery, and the room was decent, much like a Comfort Inn or Best Western. Soap and shampoo were from liquid dispensers, which I'm not fond of, but otherwise, the room was fine. In the casino, I played video poker, slots, and, as part of the room package, got $25 in free slot play and a bottle of wine. Nice.

I headed from there down to Fremont Street, where I had low expectations for the El Cortez Vintage room, but it still fell short. The wire/glass window, the 1940's plaster walls, the rusty fixtures, the dim lights... I ditched my stuff there, knowing I'd be back a few hours later to grab it (and the soap, shampoo, and scratch paper) and head back to The Cannery for the night.

Dinner was the chicken parm sliders at Mob Bar that I've heard good things about on the Five Hundy By Midnight podcast. The sliders were good, but maybe my expectatons were too high, because they weren't *great*. I wandered Fremont Street to the Plaza and back, losing match plays at Plaza, Vegas Club, and Golden Gate. Construction of Slotzilla is really messing up pedestrian flow in the area.

After losing even more to slots at The D, I decided to call it a night and head back to The Cannery (grabbing my stuff at El Cortez first). Using my $15 food comp there, I had an early morning cheeseburger, which was decent enough.

Monday morning rolls around, and I've got to return the rental car. I pack up and leave The Cannery without checking out (in case something happens and I need a second night there). First, though, I need a haircut, so I fire up the GPS and head to a chain east of town on Desert Inn Road. Chop, chop, and then I drive to Planet Hollywood, check my bag at the bell desk, and then continue to the airport to return the car. I catch a cab to MGM, where I use my final myVegas comp for the champagne buffet. I'm still pretty full from the two dinners the night before, so I don't eat much. It's kind of a waste, but I'm on the company dime from here on out, so I feel I need to use it.

I wander the south Strip for a bit, and then settle in at the Monte Carlo 2:00 PM poker tournament. Two hours later, I'm knocked out, four away from the money. I walk back to Planet Hollywood ("the P-Ho"), where check-in is fast and I get a "Happy Days" themed room, with a view of the south strip.

As I'm settling in, I get a text from the vendor running the conference inviting me to join him for dinner at Todd English PUB at Aria. The place is loud and the waitstaff is jumping to keep up, but do a great job. The deep-fried pickle slices, as recommended by Five Hundy listeners, are as good as promised.

After dinner, I head to Cosmopolitan to lose money on their roulette wheel. I'm down a good chunk of change on the day, and with the conference starting the next day, I decide to be a responsible adult and get to bed before midnight.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, the conference runs until 6:00 each night, and my after-conference activities are fairly uneventful. Tuesday night, the vendor rented out Haze nightclub at Aria, so I hang out there for a couple hours, talking shop, eating their food, and drinking their booze. The place is probably quite amazing when its full of twenty-somethings of the Vegas party crowd, but with the middle-aged folks of the conference, it's pretty tame and a little dull.

After that's over, I catch a cab to and from the Hard Rock to get a ticket to Thursday night's Orianthi concert at Vinyl. Unfortunately, the box office is closed, and the cab fare was more than the Ticketmaster fees ended up being.

Wednesday night, I ramble and gamble my way up the east side of the strip (with stops at Paris, Bally's, Flamingo, The Quad, Casino Royale, Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, and Encore) and back down the west side (just TI and Mirage). It gets to be too late, and I'm craving Secret Pizza from Cosmopolitan, so I head straight there. It's as tasty as I remember.

Thursday night, I catch a cab from the P-Ho to the rental car center to get a $20 car for my last night in town. From there, I drive to Cashman Field in North Las Vegas to watch minor-league baseball: my home team Tacoma Rainiers take on the Las Vegas 51s. I hang around until the end of the fifth inning, when we're losing by something like 2-6 (apparently they had a 9th inning comeback to win 13-12), and head to the Hard Rock for the Orianthi concert at Vinyl. The concert isn't as packed as I expected, and the crowd trended older than I expected. Her guitar playing is reminiscent of Santana or Jimi Hendrix, although she's got several years left before she attains their level of skill.

After the concert, I head to the Gold Coast (yawn) for another losing match play, and then to Palms (match play loss *again*). I drive back to P-Ho for the night, hoping I'll have enough energy to wander the strip until sunrise, but I end up getting another slice of Secret Pizza from Cosmopolitan, hanging out there until almost 3 AM, and drag myself back to my room at P-Ho.

Friday's my last day in town. I sleep in, check out, and head to Ellis Island for my last match play of the trip. All others have lost, but this one wins. Finally. I also get $15 in freeplay for signing up for their players club. The casino is small and non-notable. I don't see any reason to return. From there, I head to The Quad for their 11:30 poker tournament, where I finally end up in the money, but go out in third place by challenging the big stack when he held AK. I should've suggested a deal.

A little more strip-wandering to finish out the trip (Venetian, Palazzo, Caesars, Flamingo, Casino Royale), and then it's off to the airport. I return home with only 1/3 of the bankroll I arrived with, but it was a fun, fun week -- totally worth it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Poker rooms closed in the South Sound

Because I'm not that observant and because I haven't played poker in a Washington casino in a couple of years, I hadn't noticed until today that Federal Way's PJ Pockets Casino closed more than a year ago, on January 31. My lack of observation extends to the fact that Fife's Freddie's Club closed on June 17.

Also closed since I last updated the blog: Bowlero Lanes (September 19, 2011)

According to the state gambling commission, there are currently 59 house banked cardrooms in the state. A little over three years ago, there were 73.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Edgewater House in Olalla is "not a good fit" for LGBT couples

KOMO News reports that the Edgewater House (Olalla, WA) told a relative of mine and her fiancée that the facility wouldn't be a good fit for their wedding. The Edgewater's reviews on Yelp are, appropriately taking a hit for it.

Surprisingly, there's nothing about it on their Facebook page yet.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Omaha at Bowlero Lakewood

I played poker at Bowlero in Lakewood yesterday afternoon, and I get the feeling that this could be a very profitable game, if I could survive the variance.

First things first: I'd previously tried to play there last Saturday night, but the room was closed up. The poker room manager, Lou, tells me the games usually only run from about 9:00 AM to 6 or 7 PM. I called in on Wednesday to ask about their 2:00 PM tournament. It was a no-go, and it sounds like they won't be going any time soon.

The reason: the only games they spread are Omaha variants. This is a great thing, because there's very few places in the state that spread anything other than hold 'em, and as far as I'm concerned, hold 'em players have gotten too smart. They've only got two tables, and When I arrived on Saturday afternoon, the table of 10 players was full and I was third on the waitlist. As would be expected, everyone seemed to know everyone else. Unexpectedly, there were regularly eight players to the flop and three or more to the river. In the two hours I was there, I never failed to see a showdown at the river.

In a rarity for the west coast, the house doesn't take a rake from the pot. Instead, every half hour, they charge the players $2.50 to continue playeing. Also, unlike any other poker room I've ever encountered, they don't have an employee dealer. Deal rotates around the players, and the dealer chooses the game. Etiquette seems to be that the games called will be one of four Omaha hi/lo variants: 2-card, 3-card (Tahoe), 4-card (Omaha), or 5-card (Omaha Bonus). All games are $3/$6, with a full kill. "Full Kill" has always meant to me that if a player wins two pots in a row, they post $6 the next hand, and the game plays as a $6/$12 game with $1 and $3 blinds. In Bowlero's version, "Full Kill" means this happens if a player drags a pot of more than $50.

Do the math: for a $6/$12 game, with $15 in the pot to start out and a table full of loose players, the next hand is almost always another kill pot.

The winner of the pot is expected to tip the dealer $4-$6.

Their ad in the Western Gambling Journal insinuated that the staff was running it like the games at Parkland's Paradise Lanes used to be. I wouldn't know; I never played there. However, the chips Bowlero uses appear to be the chips from Paradise Lanes (see photo).

I would think that a super-tight player could make this high-action game quite profitable. Game play is about 40 hands an hour, so you'll see four rotations, and a blind cost of $16. The house charges you a $5 seat charge per hour, so you're down $21. You've dealt four hands, so you're getting $20 in tips. Thus, you're paying $1 an hour to sit and wait for a monster hand, as I did with AKQQ, dragging down a $60 pot.

Unfortunately, after waiting more than an hour on the wait list, I only had 40 minutes to play, only dealt once, and loose river play on my part netted me -$22 for the day. I'm pretty sure I'll be back, though, if I can find another available afternoon.