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!)