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.


Mark DeVol said...

Ah, the "lucky" shirt. That explains it. Things were going so well up till then!

Seriously, it was great to see you. Can't wait for VIMFP!

travisl said...

I look forward to seeing you then! I'll try and remember to NOT wear a new shirt :-)