Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Thursday, June 24, 2004
I left early Friday morning, hoping to make a screening at the CineVegas film festival. But that didn't happen, I'm afraid. Traffic was not too horrendous, but just bad enough that I couldn't make it on time. I had planned to stop in Victorville for lunch, but continued on to Barstow, since somehow I figure that if I stop for lunch later, I get there faster. Which I guess makes since if a later stop means I don't need a bathroom break later. But I hit Barstow right about noon, and the place was packed. So it took me forever to get my food, and set me back even more. So I was a bit later in arriving than I had hoped. Los Straitjackets, Lyle Lovett, and the Bottle Rockets provided some of the soundtrack for the drive, and I also listened to a David Cross album. Stopped at the outlet mall at Primm. I forgot a coupon for $10 off Penn & Teller, and was hoping to replace it at the visitor's center there (no luck). Also, and more importantly, I forgot to pack underwear. So I looked around for some there, but all I could find were boxers at the Old Navy outlet, and they all had little wacky novelty designs. I almost bought the one with popcorn boxes on it, but I didn't relish the idea of wearing slightly irregular underwear. Though it did occur to me that, if they're going to have novelty designs, maybe underwear brandishing the slogan "slightly irregular" might sell well. I did buy a new pair of running shoes at the Reebok outlet (motion control shoes, see if that helps with my foot pains), and some shorts. I eventually managed to find a Wal-Mart to buy some undies with a side of shame (when I got home, I had a solicitation in the mail from United Farm Workers, so I sent them a donation to regain a shread of my Union Yes! integrity).
My itinerary began with a two-night stay at Green Valley Ranch. I've always been a fan of the place, and still love the hotel. The casino is nothing spectacular, but I do enjoy playing at a "local's joint," since the clientele seems to be more interesting and less obnoxious. After winning a little bit of cash Friday night, I went up to my room and saw that room service had delivered a complimentary fruit basket, which kept me well-nourished for most of the trip. I was invited to a $20,000 invitational blackjack tournament, which I busted out of in the first round. I had to stick around for awhile Sunday for the wildcard drawings, for a chance to get back in, but even after they had to redraw a lot of times because people had left, I still never made it back in. I lost quite a bit of cash Saturday night, took a sushi break, and then returned to clean up at the tables (still down, but within striking distance). Sunday I lost a little bit more, then asked to talk to my host. After giving them a not insubstantial amount of action over the weekend, I figured my request that she comp a $17 check from the sushi bar would be handled rather perfunctorily. But I was told, in a rather condesending manner, that that was simply impossible, since they casino had already been so generous as to give me a room for the weekend. Considering the action I gave them, and considering the amount of money I lost just while we were having this conversation, I found the host's refusal a tad surprising. I could understand not wanting to give me a comp ahead of time, since it would have been easy to run up a $75 bill or more there, but to turn me down at the end of the weekend, when my only request of the host was one reasonable room charge, was annoying. And her attitude made the matter far worse. It only served to magnify little problems I'd noticed along the way: about half the buttons on the remote control didn't work, and the TV itself seemed to be having problems; housekeeping was remiss in replacing used toiletries, cocktail service was slow. And, of course, Green Valley Ranch's biggest problem: Location. If they were going to stiff me on food comps on the strip, I could just play a few hours at another casino to get food. But when I stay at Green Valley Ranch, I tend to gamble there exclusively. So by refusing me a few dollars, while affecting a smarmy attitude, my host forced me to recognize Green Valley Ranch's limitations, and wonder if I really want to stay there again.
After my weekend there, I spent two nights at the Imperial Palace. I can't remember exactly why I chose to stay there, but I think my logic was something along the lines of, at least I'll get on another mailing list, another source of free rooms. But the place was a dump; if my displeasure at my host wasn't growing in my fertile mind, it would have made the Green Valley Ranch look like Shangri-la. The room itself is simply underwhelming, like a decent Motel 6 room. The table and chairs in the room were one step above lawn furniture. But I didn't expect much from the room, and so the room was satisfactory. The hotel as a whole was the problem. The hotel apparently expanded in fits and starts, so there are several attached towers, and my room was in the back. The hike to the casino was bad enough, but it was getting to my car that really got me hating the Imperial Palace by the end of the trip. Construction on a monorail station was on-going, and so one had to maneuver through confusing hallways and detours, so that sometimes it took me close to a half-hour to get to my room. It was especially bad on Monday, when the construction workers got back to work. And driving into and out of the garage was confusing, as well. I can say with some confidence I will never stay there again.
The casino was okay. It tries to be a low-roller's oasis on the center strip, but falls short of Casino Royale on that point. And I'm not really looking for a low-roller joint, anyway. They have a "Dealertainer" pit, with celebrity impersonators dealing the games. During peak hours, they have dealers who look like the celebrity they're supposed to, except, inexplicably, the Elvis impersonator (they couldn't find a good Elvis in Las Vegas?). On other shifts, they don't try as hard. "Lookie here! She's wearing a cowboy hat...It must be Patsy Kline!" I gambled here a little bit, in their Champagne Pit, where the dealers are dressed as old-time New York gangsters, apparently, and where you win free beads with every blackjack. I lost a little bit and left.
The most serious gambling I did on the strip I did at the Stardust. I like the ambiance, the loose comp policy, the onion rings and root bear float at the coffee shop, the pit boss that reminds me of Lunchlady Doris and exudes Vegas from her leathery, smoke-tanned skin (she did her Vincent Price impression for me, probably the high point of the trip). And their games aren't bad either. I lost a nice chunk of change, however. Still, I'm always glad to spend a little time at the Stardust. Word on the street is Boyd is going to fix the place up after Wynn's new casino opens across the street; I hope they don't ruin it like Harrah's (and Becky Binion-Behnen) did the Horseshoe (I walked through it briefly this trip...very sad).
So mostly I've talked about losing, so let me turn it around now. The Las Vegas Hilton recently added a new attraction to the Star Trek Experience. In addition to the old motion ride, they now have a movie based on the Borg. They call it 4-D, which means not only is it in 3-D, but your seat vibrates and prods you, and mist blows in your face and stuff. It was very much an homage to William Castle, in a way. The 3-D effects worked pretty good, once I got the 3-D glasses aligned with my eyeglasses. I prefer the original ride (with a paid admission you can go on each attraction once), and I think non-Star-Trek fans would be disappointed with the Borg feature, but overall I had fun. But what is worth noting is what happened beforehand. The Las Vegas Hilton was sold by Caesar's, and the sale was being finalized the day I was there. I wasn't quite clear on what this meant for the player's card, but as I read it, it seemed I was going to be given a comp balance with the new Las Vegas Hilton player's club equal to my balance on the old card (and keep my old balance at the other Caesar's properties). So I waited in line to get a new card, and once I get up there, they can't find me in their system. No big deal, I was hoping I'd have enough to comp the Star Trek ride, but seeing as I'd never gambled at the Hilton in my life, I'm not going to make a fuss over it. But they sign me up for a new card, and I decide I'll gamble a little bit, see if I can get on their mailing list. I generally refrian for mentioning dollar values in my discussions here, more because it sounds gauche than because of any privacy concerns (and maybe a bit of a desire not to sound too much like a degenerate frittering away obscene sums). But for this discussion, I think it's necessary. I found a double-deck table with one player. It was a $100 minimum, however. That's a wee bit pricy for me, but I figure, what the hell. I buy in for $500, and hope to double it and run. Twenty minutes later, the casino brings in a new dealer, and I have over $6000 in front of me. I have had some nice wins in the past, but I have never won that much, that fast. Had a little crowd of gamblers standing behind me, watching. Also had a nice crowd in the pit watching me. I decided to cash out, and the pit congratulated me, told me to be sure to come back soon, because it's just that easy....if I ever need a house payment, just stop by. I ask if I can move into the penthouse suite like Howard Hughes. I cashed in my chips, did the Star Trek thing, and went back to my room to reassess my position. I was down a fair amount, so this wasn't all profit, but I was still up a staggering sum. I decided to switch to tourist mode, and set aside a few hundred dollars to play around with, just in case lightning might strike twice. It didn't--I didn't have a winning session after that, but I still made it home with a nice cash infusion.
So allow this trip report to slip into tourist mode now. I intended to see the new sexed-up Pirate Show at TI and the dancing fountains at Bellagio, but only made it to Bellagio. From a distance, I heard the climactic track of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, "Ecstasy of Gold," playing, and kicked myself for missing it. By the time I got there, "All that Jazz" was playing, rather underwhelmingly. But then, about two minutes later, "Ecstasy of Gold" starts up again, with the fountains shrouding the lake in fog as it slowly builds to a stunning finale. Really amazing, reminding me why I love to watch the Bellagio fountain. The next show was the Star-Spangled Banner, which didn't really work with the fountains that well. Tha was at midnight, and I thought it was the final show, so I left, and as I was crossing over to Barbary Coast, I hear "Ecstasy of Gold" again. So I guess it must have been a new addition to the rotation they were really eager to show off. Or maybe some high-roller just kept demanding to hear the western one again. In any event, I enjoyed seeing it, and I enjoyed hearing it again as I left.
Monday I went downtown and looked around, gambled a little at the Plaza, was saddened at the Horseshoe, had a deep-friend twinkie, and used the Las Vegas Club's internet kiosk. Nearby, the LVC had a small arcade, and I saw Simpsons Pinball Party standing alone in a corner. I got a buck in quarters and began to play. They had it on a much easier setting, and so I was easily able to win quite a few free games. More exciting to me, I was able to complete all the missions, and play the climactic Alien Invasion mode, which I've never made it to at the Boardwalk. After playing for an hour or so, I had to walk away, leaving a free credit for the next person who came around.
Monday night, I went to the Rio to see Penn & Teller. That had been my tourist-goal this trip--it's usually a real effort to get me away from the tables to see a show, especially when I have to pay for it. But I made it this time, and had a great time. Sometimes I wished Penn would talk a bit less, so they could get to the next trip. His juggling routine went on way too long, for instance. But he's such a funny guy, it's easily forgivable. I'd seen most of the routines before, but they're still fun. For their opening act, Teller escapes from a locked trunk, and rather then put a screen up, they go by the honor system; if you want to believe it's a miracle, just close your eyes. While other acts (for instance, "burning" an American flag) seemed a bit preachy, I thought this a nice gently subversive way to make their point about the degree of willful ignorance in this country. I was excited to see Teller do his act where he cuts a flower's shadow, and parts of the real flower fall off. He also put on a nice shadow puppet show based on a Shel Silverstein poem, which was really awesome. And the closer of the show is the magic bullet routine, which is always impressive. I'm really glad I finally saw them live.
Tuesday I got up early, checked out, and had the Plaza's horrendous breakfast buffet, and left down. Took bathroom breaks and bought a drink, but skipped lunch, making it to San Diego around 3:45. Some construction in the desert slowed me down a bit, but overall it was a pretty smooth drive. Deposited my cash in the bank, got my mail, and went home to see a very excited dog. Again, I was left cold by a few things this trip, mostly related to my accomodations, and the fact that I paid for a lot more things than I'm used to in Vegas, but I did enjoy getting away, I did enjoy winning a lot of money, and I did enjoy seeing the sights. Can't wait to go back. (August? Sooner? Only time will tell.)
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Season Four of The Simpsons is now out on DVD. "A Streetcar Named Marge" is probably my favorite episode of the series, so I was excited for this to come out. I haven't had much time to watch it, but I watched "Streetcar," and some of the supplemental stuff on that episode, including a featurette about how that episode offended the good people of New Orleans.
Well, I really should go get ready for my drive. Plan on getting a fairly early start. So hopefully the next time I post here, I will have a nice winning story to tell.
Speaking of mistakes, turns out both the earthquakes I mentioned in previous posts were responsible for Tuesday's rumblings, both struck within a minute of each other, explaining why if felt like such a long quake.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Thursday, June 10, 2004
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
Sunday, June 06, 2004
Saturday, June 05, 2004
Thursday, June 03, 2004
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
And in fairness, it's easy to make fun of Oprah, but if the woman can get millions of housewives to read Anna Karinina this summer, I think she deserves props for that. And looking at her web site, it appears that One Hundred Years of Solitude was the previous selection; that's pretty cool (though I would have thought Love in the Time of Cholera would have been more suited to her audience).