Wednesday, September 23, 2015

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

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

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

Saturday, 4:30 PM arrival: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm wrong.

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

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