Sunday, February 19, 2006


Sin City with the Freeloaders

I recently returned from my favorite (who am I kidding? my only) vacation spot. This trip had a significant twist: I was meeting two dozen people I knew only from the Internet. We had met on the message boards, and in the course of hundreds--in many cases, thousands--of posts, had formed a friendship that spurred us to get together in the place for which we share a special affection.

Interesting, isn't it, how humans form communities, even in cyberspace? We have our crusty old curmudgeons, a few real jerks, and some overeager young drunks, but the overwhelming majority are good-hearted, decent people...just like in meatspace. We christened ourselves the Freeloaders, because we chat on a free message board. The website has a subscription service that provides access to paid message boards, which apparently are not nearly as much fun. Many of the Freeloaders are paid members, who spend most of their time hanging out on the free side. I wouldn't know, because I am a true Freeloader.

The following is a blow-by-blow description of how things went down. I will employ usernames whenever possible, to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Uneventful flight on Southwest from Austin. I took a shuttle downtown, eschewing convenience for economy. It was about an hour long ride, but I was in no real hurry, as I had many hours before I could check in. Dropped the bags at the bell desk and walked down to Main Street Station for the buffet. Did I mention it was National Buffet Week? A dangerous time for me to be in Vegas, indeed. Went back to the Plaza to play a little before checkin. Sat down at the same Star Wars slot machine that had treated me well my previous trip, and was up $80 in three minutes. Cashed out and took a hundred to the blackjack table. It was gone in twenty minutes. That's gambling for ya.

Checkin was quick and painless. Got up the Room 2145 South Tower and sure enough, no safe in the room. Later, I take my camera and most of my Franklins downstairs and park them in a box. The room is about what I expected: plain, a couple of cigarette burns in the carpet, a bathroom Callista Flockhart couldn't turn around in. The bed was comfy, though, and I had a nice view of the North Tower and the grim pool deck. Housekeeping was a bad joke. We saw the maid once, while we were in the room. She kindly offered us towels. The beds never got made in a four-night stay.

Met JPeterson at the Four Queens, and we hopped the Deuce (the new double-decker buses) to the Freeloader meet, which was being held in the brewpub at the Monte Carlo. She wanted an escort, and since I was the only other Freeloader not staying on the Strip, I was happy to oblige. It took over an hour--the Strip was totally jacked up. The party was more or less in full swing when we got there. Drinks flowed, lame food was consumed. The Freeloaders turn out to be a fun and fun-loving bunch. My wingman, Dan, called to tell me he was delayed in Phoenix. People started drifting out to the casino around 10:00, and I watched them for a while, but I just wasn't feeling it. I decided to catch a cab back downtown and wait for my wingman. He got to the Plaza around 11:30, and after working all day and flying half the night, he wasn't good for much. I took him to the Golden Gate for their famous shrimp cocktail, we wandered around for a while on Fremont Street, and called it a night.

FRI 2/10
Took Wingman Dan to MSS for the buffet and to show him the Berlin Wall in the men's room. No kidding--the urinals are hung from actual slabs of the wall. Then we made a "bandit trip" all over Downtown. Made $45 at Fitzgerald's playing blackjack, took a look around El Cortez (but didn't play-not really sure why), and wound up at the Gold Spike, which is a dive, but has low table limits suited to our bankrolls and Dan's blackjack skills. There was only one seat open, so I let him have it and sat down at a .25 Wheel Of Fortune slot machine. I got six bonus spins in an hour, but none of them were large. I hate that. Cashed out up $20, though, and that's a nice way to kill an hour, given the quality of the people-watching in this joint. We poked our heads in the Lady Luck, not knowing it was closing the next day. Then we went back to the Plaza to prepare for the party bus.

Navymom had made the arrangements for this bus, which had a plasma TV, awesome stereo, disco lights, stripper pole...everything you could want. Got to Hogs and Heifers (a real dump that wishes it were Coyote Ugly) around 8:15. Dan nursed a beer, but I wasn't in a mood to nurse anything. OK, maybe the bartenders. They were scantily clad and full of attitude. Four 151 and Cokes later, the bus pulls up, and I notice they hadn't exactly waited for me. I head back to the bar for a shot of Rumple Minze (freshens the breath, dontcha know) and we soon move on.

We stop briefly at the Vegas sign for pictures that unfortunately did not turn out, then on to the Klondike. I didn't even go in, preferring to stand around outside the bus and smoke. The ride to Lucky Joe's is interminable; I think it's in Pahrump. It is a basic little neighborhood bar, but it has a bathroom, and I am grateful. I've been drinking heavily.

We pull up at Green Valley Ranch at 1:00 am, and Navymom tells us we have to be back at 2:00. That's not a lot of time at a place this big. I'm certainly not going to sit in the Drop Bar and pay for booze; I'm already plastered, and it's time to gamble. I stick $100 into a $1 Megabucks machine. I get a bunch of small hits and cash out up $132 in 20 minutes of play. I then sit down at a $15 blackjack table, Route66 joins me, and we get the right cards for another 20 minutes or so, winning another $85. I am now totally, abjectly in love with GVR, but it's time to go.

We get dropped off at the Plaza, but it is nowhere near my bedtime. I play blackjack at the Plaza for an hour, dead even. This is when I learn that they have eliminated the option to double-down after splitting a pair. For the uninitiated, this makes a small, but critical difference. When I realize that I'm up $262 for the day, and that it is nearing 5am, I stagger off to bed.

Had a blast at the meet and on the party bus. Yes, someone passed out, and someone threw up, but neither of those people were me, and I have too much class to talk about other people's bidness. I enjoyed meeting everyone.

SAT 2/11
I am a shell of a man, after last night's excesses. Wingman Dan and I head to the Carson Street Cafe inside the Golden Nugget, where the food is reliable and reasonably priced. Also, it's the only place I can think of (in my condition) where we can order breakfast at 1pm. Feeling somewhat restored, I drop almost fifty bucks in an Aliens slot machine on the way out...the first of many losses on the day. Seeking a little hair of the dog, we stop at Mermaids for a Mudslide. Made with Everclear, they pack an enormous wallop, even in a small Dixie cup for $1. Dan has two sips and his tongue goes numb. Mine does too, but that doesn't prevent me from finishing his drink later. Waste not, want not.

We return to the Plaza just in time to get bets down on our beloved Longhorns -20.5 vs. Nebraska. The book is pretty full, so we watch the game in our room. And if just ONE of those scrubs we had in there at the end could have made just ONE jumper...#@*&#@&*#*&#*!!! We win by 19, and we each kiss eleven bucks goodbye.

Tonight is our night for sightseeing on the Strip. We catch the Deuce to Mandalay Bay, one of many megaresorts Dan has not seen. I told him, "I don't want to stay in Mandalay. I want to LIVE in Mandalay." On the way to Luxor, I try to get Dan to eat at Burger Bar, but he cannot imagine paying $15 for a hamburger. We wind up in the food court at Luxor. Because its pyramid is black, you don't get a sense of its enormity from the outside, especially at night. But inside, the world's largest atrium will take your breath away.

After eating, we pound pavement all the way to the new Hooters Hotel and Casino, which is predictably packed. I get a player's club card, and we each drop $20 in a Star Wars slot in no time flat. We were both impressed with the 50's-vintage diner. The fixtures and the waitress uniforms were so authentic, Dan said "I feel like I should be watching this on TV. In black-and-white."

We moved on to MGM, the world's largest hotel. I was amazed that a place this big could be this full. It looked like the mall on Black Friday. "Fix bayonets and CHARGE, boys!" The lions they have on display were sleeping, so we made one lap of the place-which took about half an hour-and caught the Deuce up to Bellagio.

Bellagio was perfectly lovely, as usual. We got there at the end of one fountain show, and waited for the next. Then we went inside and checked out the Conservatory and its Chinese New Year display, which was cool, and wandered through the casino and the toney shops. We crossed the street and caught another fountain show from there, then went up to Flamingo to catch the Deuce back downtown.

We should have called it a night right there, as our dogs were barking. But we don't have enough sense for that. We drop a little more money in .25 Wheel Of Fortune slots at the Plaza, then go to the Golden Gate for another shrimp cocktail. We sit down at a roulette wheel, and I hit a number immediately, and then give it back. I'm lucky to get out of there even, but I just have to go into the Vegas Club, where there is an empty craps table. What the hell, I took a class this morning. Ten minutes and $98 later, I limp out of there and back to my room.

SUN 2/12
Wingman Dan crawls from the wreckage at 12:45; I've been up for hours. I want to try the Sunday brunch at the Paradise Buffet in the Fremont. It turns out to be a good deal for $10 a head. In particular, the omelette station, the lamb and the shrimp bisque are outstanding. I also have a couple glasses of champagne, which I pour into orange juice for a do-it-yourself mimosa. For some reason, they won't just make you one. Dan feels the reason we did so poorly on Saturday is because we weren't drinking enough. I think it's coincidence, but who am I to argue? We resolve to drink more while playing today.

We bet on the over (69 points) in the Pro Bowl. Poormeadrink told me to . Actually, I'm not blaming him-I thought it was a good bet too. After all, the score was 55-52 last year. We get drinks from the bar and go up to the room to watch the first half. A defensive struggle ensues. We play a little VP at the bar during the second half, which only increases our loss rate.

We walk down to MSS, where Dan dabbles in craps while I get a player's club card and sit down at a video poker machine. He is done fairly soon, and is watching when I am dealt 10-Jack-Queen of diamonds. I am a complete newbie at VP, but even I know enough to go for the royal. I see the King of diamonds, and my heart skips a beat when I look to the other end and see...9 of diamonds. Oh well, it's a straight flush, and allows me to play for an hour and cash out even.

We go back to Golden Gate; we just dig the vibe at the oldest hotel in Vegas. Dan immediately finds a $5 chip on the floor next to the craps table. He makes it last for an hour, jumping back and forth between craps and roulette. I have sat down at a blackjack table, where a drunk girl is holding court. She's married, but we have a great time playing for four hours. The aging but pleasant waitress has ESP, bringing me a fresh Crown and Coke as soon as I finish the last one. Dan has long since gone to bed, because he has an early flight. Drunk Girl and I play until 3am, and I am up $135. I walk her back to the Nugget, because I'm such a nice guy.

MON 2/13
Wake up at 6am to make sure Wingman Dan makes his flight. He's fine, so I go back to bed after he leaves. I had arranged for 1pm checkout last night. I get up at eleven and take my time getting my stuff together. I have a long, leisurely lunch at the MSS buffet, reading the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Then I head back to that video poker machine, but no straight flushes are forthcoming. I cash out after an hour, down $50. I have an 8pm flight, so I'm in no hurry. I wander around Fremont, but am drawn back to Golden Gate. Unfortunately, my luck appears to have taken an earlier flight. I grind away for over an hour, but the $100 buy-in dwindles away to nothing. It's time to head to the airport.

My late flight is delayed another hour. Upon arrival in Austin, I cut a gash in the back of my finger, while digging through my luggage for my parking receipt. It bleeds like a stuck pig. When I get to my car in off-site parking, it won't start. It's 1:30am, 38 degrees, I'm bleeding profusely and my car is dead. The guys at the car-park provide first aid, and I get my car jumped, getting home around four. Good thing I'm only working a half-day.

Final gambling results: blackjack +65, slot +148.25, sportsbook -33, video poker -70, craps -98. Net +12.25. A win is a win.

Since returning, I have already received a flyer from the Plaza, inviting me to a free slot tournament in early March. I actually considered it for about four seconds, trying to figure out how to keep everyone I know from thinking I was a hopeless degenerate. I don't want to move there; I just want to go there...a lot. Why, oh why, can't I win the lottery?

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Super Bowl Pick

I went 2-1 on the championship games, finally producing consecutive winning weekends, though far too late. My season record stands at 47-61-6, which means I probably could have done better by flipping coins. Truly, that is pitiful. However, I realize that there may be interest in the pick of someone who was right 43.9% of the time, if only to go the other way.

A quick note: some of the most entertaining aspects of a Super Bowl, other than the ads, are the bewildering array of proposition bets, from total made field goals (over/under 3.5) to Pitt Panthers basketball (-37.5) versus Steelers points on the same day. For the most part, these wagers are for suckers and degenerates. The best one in my opinion is on overtime, which has never happened in the big game. You can get seven to one for that one in Vegas. Unfortunately, I won't be in Vegas until next week, so....

Seattle +4.5 vs. Pittsburgh: This is a little risky, as I can see a situation where the Steelers get ahead early and steamroll the Seahawks, but I can't imagine the reverse. I am assuming Seattle will survive the first quarter, matching Pittsburgh's intensity. I think the first-ever overtime is a distinct possibility, and in a close game, you must take the points. I also believe the line is slightly inflated by the Steelers' national fan base, which pumps more money into their side.

Enjoy what should be an entertaining game with the unhealthy foods and adult beverages of your choice. I know I will.

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