Monday, November 22, 2004

Just came across this article from election '04: The Plot Against America comes to Texas.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I've been meaning to post about my most recent trip to Vegas, but I've been back a week now, and still haven't. But no time like the present...

I left for Vegas Friday afternoon, and had an uneventful drive, making pretty good time for a Friday. My sister and brother-in-law were flying in, so I had a few hours by myself to check in to the hotel and gamble. I was staying at Bally's, and hoped to get a room upgrade upon check-in. This seemed to confuse the clerk for some reason (I would think that happens quite often), but she was helpful and got me a junior suite. Not really a suite, in my view, just a larger room, with a few extra amenities (the refrigerator came in handy), including a nice chaise lounge. But it was a nice room, with a nice view. Being in the north tower, any view of the strip will be obstructed by the other tower, but we had a nice view, right between Paris and the south tower of Bally's, of the Eiffel Tower, which was quite sharp around sunset. The bathroom was a bit small, and the walls seemed a bit thin (I've never noticed this at Bally's before), but overall I was happy with the room. A nice plus, the room wasn't ready when I checked in, so I gambled a bit while I waited for housekeeping to put a rush on it, and won a nice chunk of change. So the upgrade actually made me money.

I was on my own for dinner, so I walked down to O'Shaes to eat at the Subway. My credit card was declined, which was a bit embarassing (fraud hold due to suspicious activity), but the food was fine. I ate half there and was bringing the other half back to my room, when I heard an announcement coming from within Barbary Coast announcing that Big Elvis was taking the stage. I had heard very glowing reviews of his show, though it sounded a bit odd to me, but figured I would duck in and watch a few minutes of the preeminent morbidly obese Elvis impersonator/illegitimate child in all of Vegas. I ended up watching the entire show, and had a blast. He doesn't dance much, but compensates with lots of audience interaction, and even invites people to rush the stage mid-show to get their picture taken with him. He takes requests, and does sound a lot like Elvis. And this show is completely free. I think he could become a new Vegas tradition for me (the old tradition was shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate as I listened to the piano, but I haven't done that in at least six trips).

Michelle and Eric arrived around 9, and met me at Bally's, where I was playing blackjack (and winning a bit). They wanted to walk the strip, so we went down to the Venetian. The tables were too full, so I played nickle slots with them. I hit one for about $250, then played it down to about $200 on some nearby video poker. They didn't fare as well. I'd been in the Venetian before, but never really walked around it, and was impressed by how nice it is. The blackjack game seemed fair, as well (I always thought their double-deck tables had perpetual $100 minimums, but I saw a packed $25 minimum table). I felt a bit out of place amid the well-dressed Europeans, but I could see playing here again sometime. Michelle and Eric decided to play a bit at O'Shaes, so I walked back to Bally's and played there and at Paris until the wee hours, winning a very nice sum of money before going to bed.

The next day, Michelle and Eric were going to a wedding, so I had most of the day to myself. But we did have breakfast together, at the Paris buffet. I had a comp for all three of us, which usually means we don't have to wait in line. But the hostess said that, unless we had a line pass, we did. So Michelle and Eric got in line while I went to seek out a line pass from a pit boss. While I did that, the hostess reported that the wait was over 45 minutes, at it would no longer be breakfast by the time we were seated. Fortunately, I got a line pass with no difficulties, so we didn't have to wait. My sister said a highlight of the trip was cutting to the front of the line and looking at the dirty looks we received (I avoid eye contact, but was told the guy behind me was livid to have a kid in a dirty T-shirt cut in front of him). So that saved us a lot of time, and meant we were seated before the switch from breakfast to lunch, so we could sample from both. I wasn't very hungry, but had plenty of food nonetheless. The waffles were quite good. They both enjoyed the crepes, but the line was long and I wasn't hungry enough to down one. Enjoyed the lox and bagels, and the bouillabase from the lunch menu. Dessert, as always, was the big disappointment, but for a breakfast buffet, that's understandable.

While Michelle and Eric were at the wedding, my project was to go to the half-price ticket places and see if I could get them tickets to Star Trek: The Experience (I've done it twice in the last two years or so, and decided to sit this one out--though it is great fun). The one closest to Bally's had tickets, so I waited in a reasonable line there and got two tickets. The half-price places are great, especially if there isn't one particular show you want to see. They had a great selection on a Saturday, including tickets for O, Celine Dion, and some other high-profile shows at 10% off (not half-price, but a great deal for shows that often sell out weeks in advance).

So I gambled for the rest of the day, and played at the Hilton while my siblings enjoyed the Star Trek attraction. My luck turned sour, but I managed to stay up slightly for the trip. I even managed a stop at the Spa at Bally's to use their fitness facility. $12 to run on a crappy treadmill for 20 minutes. I had enough on my player's card to cover it, but still. I was very underwhelmed...I guess they didn't want you to confuse them with Bally's Total Fitness. But I was proud of myself for trying to exercise, though with the poor diet and unhospitable climate of a Vegas vacation, I was not performing my best. The next morning, we had lunch at Paris, and JJ's Boulangerie. Their lunch specials are fantastic and really reasonably priced. $5.99 got me a stuffed croissant with soup and a soda. Again and again, I am really impressed with the food values at Paris, especially compared to other casual dining options on the strip.

Michelle and Eric found a friend who was going to the airport at the same time as them, so around noon Sunday I was on my own. I was spending two more nights in town, staying at the Las Vegas Hilton for the first time. But first, I stopped by the Stardust, for my injection of Vegas class. Now that the Horseshoe has been ruined and gambling downtown has actually gotten worse than the strip (except for the lower limits, and I suppose looser comps for low-rollers, I don't see what downtown has going for it anymore), the Stardust, for the time being, is the best source of Vegas nostalgia around. I fear for the future--rumors abound of major changes at the Stardust once the Wynn Casino opens across the street. I had a great streak at the blackjack table, and had lunch at their coffee shop (not bad...good onion rings). It was raining a bit when I got there, but must have really came down hard while I was gambling, because when I came out, the parking lot was flooded. Of course, this is the time I forget where I parked, so I had to wander in the rain, my feet getting soaking wet (the problem with wearing old running shoes is the venilation of the shoe allows the rain right in), before finally finding my car and debating if I could drive out of the lot. My brakes got wet , but I made it through the puddle, with a newfound respect for the danger of flash flooding in Vegas, even right on the strip. It wasn't raining too hard, but I decided it was worth it to use the valet at the Hilton, to be right by the front desk, the sooner to get out of my wet socks.

My room was in, if memory serves, the east tower, the farthest from the front desk. I was on the 17th floor, in a room right by the elevator. The room was adequate in its layout, a bit on the small side. The bathroom in particular felt cramped, though that was mostly due to the oversized bathtub. The bathroom floor was wet when I checked in, which vexed me, as did a piece of garbage sitting on the counter. The beds (I requested a single but they only had doubles) were comfortable, and the rooms had a sort of bay window, though the curtains didn't open far enough to take advantage of it. So I had a view of both the Stratosphere and, if I forced the curtain opened, the mountains (the curtains don't open all the way for your own protection, I assume, from the prying eyes of your neighbor at their bay window). I wasn't blown away by the room, and would later grow more and more disgusted by it, starting with the first time the elevator chimed, and I realized how thin the walls were. The elevator, the ice machine, and conversations in the adjoining room could all be heard in my room as though they were eminating from the bed next to mine. And then there was the squeal that would periodically emit from somewhere. I thought it was the air conditioning at first, but I eventually decided it was most likely a plumbing issue (to be fair, the air conditioning was actually quite quiet, and set at a reasonable temperature...which might be the problem; maybe other hotels have the same thin walls, but the blast of the air conditioner drones it out). I very nearly demanded a new room, but I don't like to make waves, and rightly concluded that I wouldn't be spending much time in the room.

The Hilton has some good games, but you wouldn't know it from my luck there this trip. One night, I was down a lot, and was down to my last chip, when I proceded to win about 20 hands in a row, for a spectacular comeback, which only served to keep my losses only slightly disturbing. So while I could have left Sunday and been a small winner, I ended up a pretty big loser, thanks mostly to the Hilton. But they still offer a good game, and I'll probably be back, the crappy room I had there being the one wildcard. I lost enough there that my host picked up all my expenses, so I'm hoping I'll get some good offers in the mail from them (I hear they're pretty good about sending out concert tickets to big losers such as myself).

In another effort to get good mail offers, I drove out to Lake Las Vegas, where Casino Montelago has been known to send out real good deals for the Ritz-Carlton out there, and I would enjoy the opportunity to stay at a 5-Diamond resort sometime, especially if I could do it for under $100. So when the weather cleared up on Monday, I decided to drive out and see the sights. It took me over an hour to get there, mainly because I didn't really know the best way to get there from the Hilton; if I'd taken the Boulder Highway instead of surface streets, it would have saved me a lot of time. It was really quite beautiful out there, and I would relish the chance to stay there sometime and take advantage of the hiking trails and stargazing and other programs the Ritz-Carlton puts on. And I put in a good deal of action at the casino, so I should get some good mail from them (I don't believe they comp the Ritz, but they have been known to send out $99/night deals). Too bad I didn't win anything. The table games stink, but the video poker was good.

But mostly I spent my time at the Hilton, losing my shirt at the tables, and enjoying some decent grub. The buffet was quite good, not a whole lot of variety, but what they had was first-rate. I had hoped to have sushi one night, but the sushi place was dark Mondays (even though it is part of Benihana's, which was open). Breakfast at the coffee shop was okay, though the lox and scrambled eggs had too much onion. Again, my only complaint with the Hilton was with the room. Which is a shame, because I had hoped to make the Hilton my new home, once Bally's and Paris get taken over by Harrah's. Guess I'll stick to Green Valley Ranch, or maybe see how the new Planet-Hollywood-owned Alladin turns out.

So to recap: Lost a lot in Vegas this time around, but got to act like a high roller in front of my kin, and saw Big Elvis for the first time. And next time I'm at the Hilton, I'll ask for a room away from the elevator.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Damn it. Well, at least Bush has to take the blame for the next four years. But I really thought Kerry would take Ohio.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Well, I had planned to stop off at the store on my way home from work, pick up a bottle of vodka to get through the night, but now I'm beginning to wonder if I need it. Feeling a bit giddy, reading the exit polls. And the stories of two-hour+ waits to vote, that's inspiring. Too soon to say, of course, just how this will play out in the end, but what I've heard all points in the right direction.
I voted this morning on my way to work. It was the first time I've ever had to wait in a line longer than maybe two people. There were about eight people ahead of me, and all the polling stations were full. I hope that's a good sign. has an interesting feature where you can check the financial security of your bank or credit union.