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 these are your memories for tomorrow."
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?
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.)

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