ยป Gallery / 2003 /

Las Vegas – May 2003

Wait’ll you see the airport, they all said. Reading the travel book it sounded like you had to negotiate the casino floor at all the hotels to get your bags from checkin to the elevators, so I figured the airport would be choked with clanging slot machines as well.

It’s not that bad. There’s some whimsical stuff in there too. On a big scale of course.

The Las Vegas airport has to have the world’s flashiest baggage claim, though.

We’d traded the wettest, coolest East Coast Spring in 35 years for a dry hundred degrees in the Nevada sun. Before dropping our bags of at the Luxor we decided to hit the Strip in the rental convertible – top up, AC on.

After settling into the room we headed down to the belly of the pyramid to find something to eat. Of course there’s a food court.

The Luxor’s like a giant indoor amusement park. Complete with giant drink cups… if they don’t call that one the Megarita then I have to get down to the trademark office on Monday morning. I started to get vertigo after finishing that off.


I hadn’t played blackjack in years and I was loopy from the megarita so I parked us at a $5 table and held on for dear life. We each plopped down a hundred bucks and actually stayed for close to two hours. I was up sixty or eighty at one point. A couple of guys from LA sat down next to us – one guy was trying to teach the other the game and they were pretty funny about it. A good crowd makes for an entertaining time at the table, especially if you can milk that initial stack of chips for a while.

The idea is to walk away with more chips than you sat down with. Or walk away with some number of chips greater than zero. At some point after the two guys left and the table went to a $10 minimum (we were grandfathered in at $5 but it just didn’t feel right anyomre) the bottom dropped out. Just like that all the chips drained away. I was ready for bed anyway but my gambling budget had taken a hit.

Over at New York New York I invested in a $1.79 pocket blackjack strategy card. At the brewery in the Monte Carlo I started relearning the wise bets.

After lunch we sat down at a $5 table. We each put down $50 and Melanie ordered a beer. By the time the beer arrived we were out.

Here Melanie poses with our $100 Bud Light.

Down $150 I was anxious to turn things around, start walking away with some chips for a change. After roaming the strip we foud a table at the Tropicana, plopped down fifty bucks apiece and proceeded to go right down the drain. We were still in it by the time our first drinks arrived but I hadn’t won a single hand. I was down to three or four chips, about to lose again; Melanie had been dealt a blackjack but she didn’t even know it because she was chatting with the waitress. Hey. Game going on. People are trying to think here.

She turned back to the table, saying something like “Hey, I got a drink! Did I win?”

“*@#% if I know.” I remember that pretty clearly.

A few hands later she was slipping me chips to keep me in the game. Then things turned around a bit. I repaid my loan and eventually got up from the table with $25 – I walked away with more than zero chips. A good start.

We revisited the Trop on our last evening. By this point I knew (mostly) when to double down, and after an hour or so I was up $35. The card started to pay off – I could tell when the guy next to Melanie was giving bogus advice (the dealer had to call out when the guy doubled on 12… guess that doesn’t happen too often). I walked away with more chips than I started with.

But man those chips are hard to hold on to. I saw a ten dollar table and decided to find out how far one chip would take me. Exactly one hand – I stood on 17 and the dealer got 20. I walked away, down half my gambling budget for the weekend. Guess I’ll call it a push.

Penn and Teller

I’ve been a Penn & Teller fan since their bouncing bagel appearance on Saturday Night Live twenty years ago. I always miss them when they come through town so I jumped on the opportunity to catch their Vegas show.

The best way to get tickets for a Vegas show is to order directly from the hotel box office – there are plenty of ticket brokers listing everything going on in town (vegas.com comes to mind) but the markups can be sizable. Even then, order early for the big shows. I watched individual Cirque du Soleil shows sell out online throughout the week leading up to the trip and when I finally committed to the remaining nights it turned out there were only single seats left for those shows. Shut out.

I was planning on seeing these guys even if we’d made it into Cirque.

Penn and Teller have taken up residency at the Rio, which is off the strip across the highway. We crossed to the industrial side of town to avoid the congestion of the strip, then ended up wandering the packed garage looking for a spot. Hint: go around the back to the vast parking lots. The theatre’s back there anyway.

I was getting a little edgy because you’re supposed to pick up the tickets an hour in advance or they threaten to give them away. We squeaked in under the wire and were told to be in the theatre in a half hour or the seats may go up for grabs again. What gives? We needed something to eat so we wolfed down dinner at the closest restaurant… just down the hall, but still.

There’s good reason to get to the show early. For one thing, you’re encouraged to inspect some of the props for the show. “But for your own safety, please do not attempt to get inside the boxes.” I won’t ruin the other surprise, one I didn’t even figure out until I’d gotten home and done a little research.

We hemmed and hawed a little up in the balcony, then rushed down to check out the boxes.

The show starts off great and ends great. Drags a bit in the middle, but on the balance it’s a fine ticket. At the end of the show the boys meet and greet the fans, and as usual I choked. There were about four things I could have talked about – the Saturday Night Live bit that made an impression on me, Penn’s ride in the weightlessness jet, his run-in with airport security – but all I came up with was a weak “Great show, can I get a picture?”

Penn’s a really big guy.

A few thoughts:

With all that money on display along the strip I wonder how much cash flows through Las Vegas over a year, a month, a night. For every dollar in blown glass and roller coasters and towers you have to figure there’s a dollar or more in the owners’ pockets.

We thought we’d see more Elvis-style cheese, but along Las Vegas Boulevard there’s not much room for nostalgia. Whatever’s gonna bring the most tourists now may be cheese tomorrow, but it’s money today.

I bet there’s always consruction going on. Half the strip is boarded up, and by the time that work’s done the other half will need to catch up.

Lots of ambulances screaming through the intersections at all hours. Draw your own conclusions.

Mandalay Bay has nicer rooms than the Luxor but housekeeping may barge in and flip the lights on twice around 2 AM. Demand to be comped something. Breakfast will do.

This book helped us plan our trip.

This is a timely article on Las Vegas’ attempts to distance itself from that “family-friendly” campaign it tried a few years back. “People enjoying the night life don’t want to be dodging strollers.”