Saturday, October 22, 2016

Trip report: VIMFP 2016

The D is always so welcoming
to us Vegas nerds.
(Curious how this went at previous VIMFPs? See my 2014 and 2015 blog posts.)

I've told several folk that this was my 16th trip to Las Vegas, but I've mis-counted. This was my 18th trip, and I'm still trying to figure out if this was a great trip, or if it was the greatest trip. I thought people were friendly at VIMFP 2015, but this was even better.

Thursday, October 13: The flight is uneventful, although I made the financial decision to connect through San Diego instead of flying directly from Seattle to Las Vegas. It added about 90 minutes to the flight, and the connection was tight, but it worked out fine. I'd recently received a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and this was the first time I'd used them. They worked great at minimizing the aircraft noise; they're now a must for all future flights.

A bar in Seattle served a bourbon/ginger beer drink to me a few weeks ago that was surprisingly good. I tried the same thing on the plane with Wild Turkey and ginger ale, and it was surprisingly bad.

My luggage arrived at McCarran's baggage claim quickly. Despite my knowing exactly where the Uber pickup area was, I still had a little trouble finding my way to it. Signage needs work. I didn't bother to ask my driver to avoid the freeway or the tunnel -- at 9 PM, I knew the Strip and roads close to it would be congested, and I was looking forward to getting checked in and heading out of my hotel ASAP. Airport to Golden Gate: $19.95. Still cheaper than a cab.

View of the Plaza from my "loud" room.
I checked in, and in what I'm sure was a bit unusual of a request, I asked for a loud room overlooking the Fremont Street stage. Really, I wanted to avoid the terrible "courtyard" view I had last time, of the side of an HVAC unit an arm's reach away. A little typing, a suggestion of an alley view (no. garbage truck noise at 5 AM is a deal-breaker), and she found me a corner room overlooking the Plaza's entryway. Good enough.

I unloaded my stuff, checked the Twitters, and found that partying had already started at The D's Long Bar. I moseyed my way through the freak show that is Fremont Street, met three of my favorite podcasters (two of whom remembered my name!), and proceeded to lose $70 on video poker. I re-met a few other listeners I'd bumped into before, socialized a bit, and decided to head back. Friday's going to be busy. I swing through Golden Nugget (slot win), Binions (slot loss), and the ABC Store (water water half dollar) before calling it a night.

Friday, October 14: I wake up, and I'm craving Spam, which is quickly cured by a walk over to the California and breakfast at Aloha Specialties. I then head across the skybridge to the best tourist video poker at Main Street Station. I end up ahead a little, and give it back to their slots.

I had mentioned to someone on Thursday night that the Fremont offers $3 craps, and decided to head over there to check it out and confirm that to be the case. It is, kinda. I played for about 90 minutes, almost doubled my buy-in, and then just after noon they raised the table limit to $5, with no grandfathering of players. Time to cash out.

The VIMFP shenanigans are due to start around 1:00, so I head back to Golden Gate. I'm a little early, so I put $20 in everybody's favorite Wonka machine, and soon hit the Wonka bonus. Taylor and Tara arrive as the Oompas are Loomping, and cheer on my $120 win. Nice. 

I watch Mark from the You Can Bet on That podcast teach craps for a short time (I hope to be half as good at teaching it as he is), then head over to Bar Prohibition to socialize and play video poker. I give my Fremont craps win to the Golden Gate's VP machine, but chat with several other attendees.Soon after, Chuck and Hunter give their opening remarks, and we literally parade from Golden Gate to the back of The D, where we reaffirm our our oath to call out any BS spouted from the Vegas media. I meet my good friend Lou from the UK who I've never actually met. I gift her a bottle of gin from Seattle; she later gives me a dozen packs of potato rings, a snack I haven't had in 20+ years, and which hasn't been available at home in 30+ years. Tastes like nostalgia.

Upstairs at The D, I sign up for tomorrow's slot tournament, pay Lou for my share of the Sigma Derby tournament, and hang out playing video poker with Scott, Taylor, Tara, and (if I remember correctly) Angie, who bequeathed me a panda sticker for my name tag and made me an honorary Asian. Yet again, the VP gods are cruel. The four of us plan to meet up for a late dinner at The Cal for Korean food, but those plans fail to materialize later.

Fremont Street Experience,
decked out for Halloween
Lou appoints me as the Sigma Derby jockey, and this year is my worst performance to date. Out of my 20 bets, only one hits. We're nowhere close to the finals. I skulk off to Oak & Ivy in the Container Park, were there's been chatter of a Vice Lounge Online cigar meet-up. I'm there at 6 on the dot, but only Mitzula is there. He says that he assumes the rest of the group is still at El Cortez getting cigars, so I tell him I'll be back in a bit, and head off in search of a light meal. 

Across the plaza, I climb the steps to Perch, where I have a tasty chicken sandwich and some iced tea. I'm feeling a little out-of-phase, perhaps from the drinks I've had throughout the day, so figure I should ratchet it back a little. The food is good, but not spectacular. I see the crowd has assembled at Oak & Ivy, and order a whisky smash once I arrive there. No cigars for me -- I'm a non-smoker, but still enjoy being around cigars. The drink was OK, with muddled mint, pineapple, and cucumber, but the mint was overpowering (and over-garnished), making it less of a fruity smash and more like a minty julep.

Back to The D for the World Series of Satin Casino Jackets at 8. I didn't participate this year, except as a cheering audience member. Good thing, too, since there were some amazing jackets from long-gone casinos, and several custom-made jackets for casinos that never existed.

From there, it was out to the event center to catch the Sublime concert. It was only 10 PM, but I was having trouble staying awake. Maybe it's the contact high from the potheads in the crowd below. Maybe it's that I'd had more drinks today than any other day in my life. Maybe it was just the excitement of VIMFPing again. Regardless, I left after the opening act, apologizing to Taylor and Tara for skipping out on dinner. I left as Angie was coming in, and apologized to her as well. She was so caring! "You OK? Anything I can help with? You sure? You gonna be OK?" *hugs* Yup. I headed back to the hotel and slept hard.

Saturday, October 15: A good night's sleep was all I needed. I'm up early and feeling good, and for breakfast I wander over to East Fremont to see what I can find. I'm saving Eat for my December trip, and end up at Glutton. They're apparently not usually a breakfast place, but they are on weekends. The open kitchen serves up some great eggs, bacon, and potatoes, and the cook chats with me briefly, trying to suss out whether I'm a local or not. I see a bartender from Atomic Liquors eating there as well, so even though this is only a block off of Fremont, I get the impression this is a local's joint. Good food.

I slowly mosey my way back to the Golden Gate, and stop at the Fremont Arcade for some pinball. It's the first time I've been inside of Neonopolis, and agree with everyone else who's mentioned it: there's so much wasted potential in this mall. The arcade is tucked away in a corner behind Denny's.

When I describe slot machine play to my non-gambling friends, I often point out that the house edge (5-10%) is the cost of entertainment. A 50¢ pull of the handle costs about 5¢ in the long run. Paying that nickel for the entertainment value of it is a fair trade to me.
Cannonball at the Beach Club Swap Meet
The pinball machines at the arcade? They have a 100% house edge. Still, the $5 I put into them is the cost of entertainment. I gradually make my way back to Golden Gate (stopping at Binion's Tasti Di Lite for a snack), grab a few things for the pool-side swap meet, and (thanks to a tip from Five Hundy By Midnight last year), take a shortcut through the back of the Golden Nugget.

The pool party is a lot of fun, though I got rid of nothing more than a Fitzgerald's player's club card and a Bill's Gamblin' Hall matchbook, in exchange for a Westward Ho matchbook and Hunter's lamps from the opening night at Aria. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do with those.
Dark, Stormy, flaming at Golden Tiki

I'm done there a little too late to go out on the multiple tiki bar run with a group of super-fans, but I do catch up with them as our Ubers arrive simultaneously at the final stop: Golden Tiki. It was great to meet Cherise (origins unknown), talk with Alistair (London) and Danielle (Seattle) again, to catch up with Ryan and Rebecca (sorry, Ryan, but Seattle's Capitol Hill is a gayborhood), and to meet Jason (Vice Lounge Online) after failing to acknowledge him at last night's cigar meet up. In honor of the storm-of-the-century which is currently failing to materialize back home, I order a Dark & Stormy, which comes complete with a flaming lime. Tasty.

Drinks complete, five of us decide that we can make it to Tacos El Gordo and eat in time to make it to the 7 PM slot tournament. It's going to be close. The four seat Uber arrives, so Cherise reclines on the three back seat laps. The taco stand is packed, the lines move slowly, and if we wanted pork and beef, we'd have needed to get in separate lines. We split up, the steak line moves faster, so we end up with a bunch of steak tacos.

Yes, I acknowledge that here in the Seattle/Tacoma area, we're spoiled with the quality of our Mexican food. Tacos El Gordo is as good as a typical mid-range street taco place at home, which means for most tourists, it's amazing. To me, it was OK.

The five of us pile into a four-person Uber again, and by encouraging our driver to drive a little aggressively, make it just in time for the second heat of the slot tournament -- just in time for all but one of us. Unlike my previous slot tournament experiences, I do poorly in this one. I head over to Pizza Rock to console myself in a bubbling greasy slice of pepperoni.

The Main Event starts at 9, and Danielle, her husband, and I chat in line about the storm that's not happening back home. We're soon let in to The D showroom, and I take my traditional front row seat. The Vegas Gang conducted an entertaining interview of retired Las Vegas journalist Norm Clarke. Dr. Dave (UNLV Center for Gaming Research) talked about his oral history interviews of table game dealers (get his book! it's good!). Five Hundy By Midnight drank and ranted and had us laughing. And the VegasTripping Match Game's Trump-themed edition was incredibly hilarious. And then, just after midnight, the surprise event that had been teased for weeks was announced. "Go down to the Mannekin Pis statue, and find the guy in the grey suit."

I did. He handed me a slip of paper: "Ask the bartender at the Golden Gate 'Where is the nearest donut shop?'"

Prostitution: Unlawful.
Five-hour bar: Permitted
I did, He handed me a flyer for Admiral Donuts, "located in the heart of Glitter Gulch". The map on the flyer showed a side entrance. We followed the map. A pair of solid metal gates blocked the alley, but another VIMFPer found a button high to the left and pressed it. The gates swung open, and at the side entrance to the former strip club stood three bouncers and a velvet rope.

A bit of back story: Derek Stevens, the owner of The D and Golden Gate, has been a huge supporter of VIMFP for the last four years, not just hosting our shenanigans, but taking an active role in making our events as fun as possible. A little under two years ago, he bought and shut down the Las Vegas Club, and at last year's VIMFP, he gave us a tour of it, at which he said "if you see anything you want, take it." This last year, he purchased and closed Mermaids, La Bayou, and Glitter Gulch, which are adjacent to his other properties. La Bayou has already been demolished, and according to rumors I heard later in the trip, Glitter Gulch is due to be flattened within the next few weeks.

But tonight, the bouncer asks me for a password. I provide one, get wanded for metal, and the velvet rope drops to let me in. It's dark. I can hardly see. The 70s rock is subdued. But yeah, this is essentially a clean, abandoned strip club, with perhaps the most people in here in years. The sign on the bar announces that we've been welcomed to "Dark Bar", a five-hour pop-up bar which is the last event ever to be held in Glitter Gulch. We drink, we socialize, we just hang out. Some of the nerds, fully clothed, get up on stage and dare to touch the poles. I hope their shots were up to date. Fun, fun times.
Thump thump thump thump thump.

Sunday, October 16: Fifteen lucky VIMFPers, including myself, won the opportunity to go on a guided tour of the Mob Museum led by Dr. Dave, Vegas historian extraordinaire. The tour was educational, entertaining, and made me understand the world of some of my ancestors a little better (helped, in small part, by another tour participant who pointed to the photo of one low-level mobster and, noting my resemblance, asked, "a relative of yours?" It's certainly possible.)

Before the tour, I checked out of the Golden Gate and placed a few NFL bets, which overall broke a little less than even. After the tour, I stopped into the Fremont for a quick lunch, opting to stop at "Lanai Express," where I had a burger, fries, and what was perhaps my biggest gamble of the trip, a 99¢ shrimp cocktail. It was, somewhat surprisingly, edible.
And it was only 99¢!

As I'm eating, I get a text message from a Seattle friend of mine, Tim. When I booked this trip, Tim and two other non-VIMFP friends had planned to meet up tonight for me to guide a tour of the strip, and to go geocaching in the desert tomorrow. The two others backed out (with good reasons), and I hadn't heard from Tim, so I expected I'd spend the next two days on my own. "Hey, Travis, just got in ... are you up for a strip tour this evening or sometime tomorrow?" Tomorrow afternoon it is!

But today, at 2:00, I'm heading back to The D for the final official event, four more live podcasts. 88 Days to Macau recapped their trip and revealed an upcoming January trip; Vegas Fanboy explained what will help get millennials into the casinos (participation tickets when they lose on the slots); Denton Dallas and Beyond talked about Vegas food; and You Can Bet on That discussed Dr. Mike's encounter with a naked guy dining in the restroom.

And with that, the official part of VIMFP 2016 was over. You Can Bet on That announced a craps meet-up at Luxor at 8 PM tonight, I collect my bags, call an Uber, and climb into the car. I explain to the driver that this trip might be a little odd -- I need to stop by the drive-thru in the A Special Memory wedding chapel to drop off some trackable items into a geocache. "Oh, I understand," she says. "I'm a geocacher, too." I make the drop, give one of the trackables to her, and head south to Excalibur.
All/Tall/Small hits! 7.5% house edge,
but $246 back on a $3 bet.

Check-in is quick and efficient, and the desk clerk didn't hesitate when I asked if she might have some packaging tape to reinforce Hunter's lamp box. It's amazing to me how helpful and friendly and human MGM employees are when their management is actively taking steps to monetize the customer experience at every turn. This was reinforced at the craps meet up: 30 of us met for one $5 on a Sunday night, often an unheard of limit at a busy time. They opened a second table for us. They gave us free gift bags. And the crew was funny, talkative, skilled, and exuberant. Somehow, magically, both tables hit the all/tall/small bet, and I suspect everyone except the grumpy "don't pass" player to my left ended up way ahead for the night. 

Early morning, I bid Ryan, Rebecca, and Alistair good night, and headed up to my room in the Royal Tower. I've heard concerns about the room quality, but this was great, kind of an upper mid-range chain hotel, like a Hampton Inn. Nothing special, no complaints. 

Also, I forgot to eat dinner. I eyed a few food court stands in the Luxor/Excalibur walkway, but nothing sounded edible. No big.

Monday, October 17: I've been hearing about the breakfast wars in the Miracle Mile shops for a few years now, so this morning decided to check it out. In a short stretch, Blondies, Ketchup, and La Salsa Cantina each offer breakfasts ranging from $3.99 to $5.99. I opted for Blondies. Eggs, bacon, and hash browns for $4.99. I added toast ($2.99) and a screwdriver, and with tip, that upped the price to $17. I cringed a little, but then the waitress brought me a free mimosa "for the road" and all was right with the world.

I played a little video poker at Cosmopolitan, and a little more at MGM, then met SeattleTim for the start of our tour. Deep breath. OK. So we started at MGM, walked over to Tropicana, took the tram from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay, then walked Mandalay to Luxor to Excalibur to NYNY to Monte Carlo to Aria to Cosmo to Planet Hollywood to Paris to Bally's to Bellagio to Caesars to Flamingo to Cromwell to Linq to Harrah's to Mirage... and stopped for lunch at Carnegie Deli. The sandwiches were expensive, but piled several inches high with tasty meat.

After a breather for lunch, we continued on: Casino Royale, Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, and Encore. Now six hours into the tour, we agree to end it, and Uber back to MGM for drinks at Whisky Down. 
Chandelier drink menu

We chat a bit more, then I head back over to Cosmopolitan for video poker at Chandelier. As happened frequently this trip, the VP gods frowned on me, but not for nothing: I have three tasty drinks (including Becky with the Good Hair, a blend of exotic citrusy liquors).

I finish up the night with a slice at Secret Pizza, where I'm mostly ignoring the couple next to me. "You did not eat just two slices. That would mean I had three." "I only had two." "Well I only had two. Why is there one left?" They turn to me.

"We've got an extra slice. Would you like it?" Free Secret Pizza? Jackpot.

Tuesday, October 18: My last day in town. I've been meaning to get some real poker in, and I've slept in a bit, so the 9 AM Excalibur tournament isn't a thing I can do. I fire up the PokerAtlas app and find the 10 AM $45 tournament at Mandalay Bay. I'm good for an hour, and make it to the final table. My M is about 3, and my first hand, in early position, is A9 suited. I make the ill-advised move of pushing, get called with AK, almost make my flush, but that heart is really a diamond, so I'm out after more than an hour of play.
I was craving key lime pie.
This tart did nicely.

I catch an Uber to Harrah's, and then mosey over to Casino Royale for some craps. Somehow, after four shooters, I'm already down $74. Bah. I head back towards the Dismal Castle, with stops at Cromwell (break even), Aria (key lime tart at Jean Phillipe Patisserie), NYNY (finally a win on that Empire not-King-Kong slot), and the Bellagio fountains (the Winter Olympics song plays). 

I grab my bags and Uber to the airport. The TSA PreCheck line is uneventful, except that I have to remove my shoes after they set off the metal detector three times. I've got about 45 minutes before boarding, so I have time for a few last video poker hands. I hit a royal with deuces, my best hand of the trip (yeah, it was that bad), and cash out, perhaps one of the only people to ever come out ahead gaming at the airport.

Only 360 or so days until VIMFP 2017. I can't wait.
Magic happened here Saturday night.
Not that kind.

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!)