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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Saturday, April 16, 2005

A Las Vegas Story

It was 8:00 on Friday two weekends ago, and I was doing laundry. I'm a pretty cool guy, I know. Then one of my friends on the hockey team dropped me an IM.

"We're going to Vegas in a half hour. Wanna go?"

"It's tempting," I told him, "but I'm in the middle of doing laundry and I would need to shower, and besides, I have some work I need to do for school this weekend."

"Come on, it's only law school."

How could I argue that? One of the reasons I came back to school was because I wanted to do things like this. So I told him that if they'd wait until 10:00 to leave, I was in. And so I showered, packed for a weekend, finished my laundry, and at 10:00 I was pulling my car out of the garage. I was driving because my car fits five people, and we were now a party of five.

I had picked up three people and we were on our way to get the final member of our group. Suddenly, as I drove along Barrington Ave. across San Vicente, my car died. The engine stopped, and the power steering failed. I pulled the car over, threw it into neutral, and my friends pushed it onto a side street. I tried to start the engine again. It turned over and then died again. The battery wasn't the problem; the headlights and CD player still worked fine. I called AAA. By midnight, my car was loaded onto a tow truck. Not to be so easily deterred, we go to plan B. After all, Vegas is a 24-hour operation, and, planning to party the night through, we only had a hotel room for Saturday night.

Since we were still just a couple blocks from my friends' house, they walked back and picked everyone up in an Eclipse. It was a little cramped, fitting five people in a two-door, but we'd suck it up for four hours. We had made it to the 210 in Glendora, about 45 minutes into our trip, when the rear right tire began thwack-thwack-thwacking along the freeway. We got off at the Sunflower Ave. exit. Looking under the car at the tire, we saw that the side wall of the tire had ripped apart. Three hours into our trip, we hadn't left the L.A. sprawl and we'd killed two cars. Two guys put the donut on the Eclipse and drove it verrrry sloooowly back to L.A.; meanwhile, the remaining three of us got one of the guys' girlfriends to come out and pick us up and bring us back to L.A.

At this point, one of the group decided to drop out. I considered following his lead. But I'd already sacrificed my car for the cause, and my options were to spend the weekend in L.A. carless and doing cite checking or to spend the weekend in Vegas. I stuck with it. Besides, I was hoping all the bad luck was spent at this point. We got back to L.A. at 2 a.m., when we should have been arriving in Vegas. We had a midnight snack at Subway, and took a three hour nap. Then, at 7 a.m. we got back on the road, this time in car #3, one of the guys' Dodge Dakota.

Although there were only four of us, a pickup truck is barely suitable for transporting people. We crammed the passenger seat as far forward as possible, and both passengers on the right side of the cab managed to fit themselves in by bending their legs as acutely as possible. Meanwhile, the other passenger in the back of the cab had to sit across the narrow bench-like seat, facing his seatmate. It was far from comfortable, but at this point, I would have folded myself into a crate and shipped myself there; I could deal with this for a few hours. Besides, if this truck, which had racked up 130k-plus miles traveling between California, North Dakota, and who knows where else, couldn't make the 250-mile trip to Vegas, nothing would.

Sure enough, we hit the strip around 11 a.m., only nine hours later than planned. We grabbed lunch at Bourbon Street, which lured us into its two-star facilities with promises of a $7.77 steak and lobster entree. We passed on that, though, considering that lobster so priced in the middle of the desert probably didn't go well with beer, of which we planned to drink plenty. We all got burgers and Coronas. Then it was off to the casinos.

We eventually settled on Excalibur, about which I haven't heard much good other than that it's cheap and has a decent poker room. I hit an ATM up for $200 (which I should have done in L.A. and avoided paying a $3 fee), $100 for gambling and $100 for food, drinks, etc. I took my Franklins to a $5 blackjack table and laid one down, receiving 20 chips. Meanwhile, the rest of the group went to the poker room to put their names in the queue (by the way, my property professor pronounces this word "kwee").

Back at the blackjack table, I was getting slaughtered. The dealer was hitting 20 over and over; I kept busting or staying on 14 (when I should have been). Basic strategy was losing consistently to basic bad luck. I'd get a pair of fours at the same time the dealer would. Somehow the dealer parlayed that into 21. I probably busted. It got to the point where, holding a 16, I was glad to see a dealer blackjack, since it meant that I wouldn't have to bother drawing another card and busting. When my friends returned from the poker room, I'd lost all six hands I'd played. "Get up," they told me. "Get out while you still can." I decided to play until I was down $50. That didn't take long. I lost hands seven and eight. Down $40, I figured I'd double my bet to $10 for hand nine. After all, I couldn't keep losing. Right? Wrong, of course. After losing the only nine hands I played, I colored out, took my two $25 chips, and got the hell away from that black hole of a blackjack table. The odds of losing nine straight blackjack hands are roughly 500-1. Of course, the odds of needing three cars to get to Vegas are probably even narrower.

My friends then informed me that they had put my name down on the 1-3 limit list in the poker room. I've never played poker in a casino, and I definitely didn't get the poker-playing gene that my brother has. Apparently cursed with a desire to lose $100 as fast as possible, I sat down at a table anyway. I figured I could just play conservatively and at least hang out at the table for a while, watching the Illinois-Louisville game on the big screen and get a few free drinks. Again, I was wrong. I quickly learned that when you play low-stakes limit poker, people stay in with crap, and more often than not, you'll lose with what seems like a better hand. I lost with pocket queens and ace-king suited. I lost with pocket aces when some guy with pocket fives picked up another five on the turn. I can't bet him out because of the limit. And once again, I was out my $50 without winning a single hand.

At this point, it was 3:50. I then proceeded to do something very lame. I left the casino and went to one of those convenience stores on the strip that advertises Internet access and bought myself 50 minutes of time. My fantasy baseball draft was happening online at 4:00 and I figured I might as well avoid having my team autopicked if I wasn't going to be doing any more gambling. Although I was happy with the way my team turned out, I lost my first series of the season, 3-6-1.

Then I returned to Excalibur, where my friends were still at the tables. One was up about $70, although the other two weren't cleaning up. Around 6, I was on my way out of the casino with one of them when he decided to stop at a roulette table. He pulled out a $20 and asked, "What number are you feeling?"

"I don't think you want my advice today," I responded.

He pressed on, and I told him red 21 would hit. He looked at me, thought about it for a second, then put his $20 on one of the colors. Sure enough, red 21 came up on the first spin. For the first time all day, I got something right. Unfortunately, I hadn't bet anything on it. That $20 would have made my friend $700 if he'd listened to me. We stayed at the roulette table for another hour or two while he tried to get me to correctly predict more numbers (I did one other time) and I mooched free drinks off him. Finally, we left the casino to get dinner at some food court with really crappy pizza.

We returned to our room at Imperial Palace (by the way, it's a long walk from IP to Excalibur and back), where we showered and began our pregame for the night. At some point here, we heard some girls shouting in the hallway, so one of the other guys and me stuck our heads out the door to see what was going on. Across the hall, a room full of girls in cowboy hats who were clearly getting ready to go to Coyote Ugly were being generally giddy. One, a somewhat ample girl wearing a t-shirt that said "Hug A Canadian Today," told us that they were from Toronto (they were actually from Hamilton, but they figured nobody would know where Hamilton was). We asked her how many hugs she'd gotten today wearing that shirt. Considering that we were in Vegas, you'd think a girl wearing a shirt advertising hugs would have said at least 10, probably more. But her friend, standing at the elevators down the hall, heard the question and screamed, "Three!" And the girl, instead of lying and artificially inflating her hug count, responded that at least two of the three weren't ugly. Hardly a ringing endorsement for this girl. We returned to drinking in our room.

Eventually, we made our way back down the strip - walking again - past Excalibur and to Luxor, where we planned to hit up Ra, a club where another friend of ours from the hockey team already was. Buzzed on beer and caffeine at this point (I'd had a few of those B to the E things), I played around with the slot machines past which the line into the club wound, emptying my pocket of its change. I excitedly would win two dollars and announce that I was only down $98 on the day, then I'd just as quickly lose the two dollars. Finally we made it through the line to the door, where I had to fork over $20 for the privilege of seeing the inside. Then the bouncer negged one of my friends because he was wearing sneakers. I believe he spent the evening at the roulette tables. The club was a lot of fun, and normally I hate clubs, especially here in L.A., which this place reminded me of, but I had a good time at Ra. I'd go back, which is saying something.

[Portions omitted. Some of what happened in Vegas is going to stay in Vegas.]

The next morning, after losing an hour of sleep due to Daylight Savings, we somehow got ourselves up and out of bed just in time to check out of the hotel by checkout time. We folded ourselves back into the truck and drove to Buffalo Bill's on the state line, where we attacked a cheap (and correspondingly bad) buffet for lunch, and then we suffered through miserable traffic, finally returning to L.A. after 8:00.

By the way, my car's still not fixed. The fuel pump blew out and the new part's on backorder from Germany.

So that's my Vegas story. Yep, the luck was terrible, but it was a great weekend and I don't regret it at all. I'd do it all over again...as soon as my car gets fixed.

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