Thursday, March 31, 2005

A week from Saturday, I will be attending opening weekend at Petco Park, watching the Padres play Pittsburg from the comfort of a skybox behind home plate, as an invited guest of Valley View Casino. I'm looking forward to it, I've yet to go to a game at the new stadium, and this will be a fun way to check it out, get some nice free food, see fireworks afterwards. It's a bit odd to have to drive up to Escondido to go to a Padres game (they're driving me and my guest to the game from there), but should be a good time. It's hard to find a reason to drive all the way up there to gamble, even though they have good video poker (the tables stink), but with the good freebies they send out, they definately have something going for them (a fantastic buffet, as well). Just wish they were closer, and had better blackjack (double-deck with some decent rules).

On a related note, Harrah's sent out my offers for the month of April, and they weren't bad, either. $30 free slot play every week, two two-night stays in the hotel (Sun-Thurs, of course), and some free food. When I called to book the Padres game, my host at Valley View signed me up for "comedy night" later on in the month (sounds painful, but I'm curious to see where they put on a show in their tiny casino--are they closing the buffet for the night?). So I thought I'd see if I could get a room that night at Harrah's. No, they told me, they don't have any free rooms available that night, but they would be happy to sell me a room for the night for $129. That just bugs me so much. If you think you can get more money for a room that night then you can generate from my gambling, just tell me the hotel is booked solid. Don't try to sell me a room. Because I'm not paying. All you've done is just pissed me off, so that when I go up to Valley View, I will probably go to Harrah's, play my free $30, and leave. I hate Harrah's. As I'm sure I've said here before, I'm dreading the day their merger plans with Caesar go through.

I'm home sick today. I actually feel better than yesterday, though I still managed to go to school yesterday. But there was no way I was getting out of bed this morning. I slept in until about 10:30, and went for an afternoon run, which I cut short at twenty minutes, but which energized me for awhile. I'm feeling a bit worse now, but I think if I get a good night's sleep, I'll be okay tomorrow. Just feeling lethargic, without much of an appetite. I'm blaming Mom, for making me get up at an ungodly hour for sunrise service (though it was a nice morning for it, weather-wise).

Before I write about this quarter at school, I should note I posted another 4.0 performance for last quarter. Just more fuel for my paranoid delusions, that some vast conspiracy of professors and administrators want me to graduate at all costs. My final paper for my history of criticism class was horrid (of course, I could just go to the office and pick up the paper, see the professor's comments, but I don't). I have the professor again this quarter, but haven't been able to pick up on any strong tells of his opinion of me (though I've pondered the slightest reactions when he calls my name during roll, I've not reached a conclusion as to the significance).

But regardless of the elaborate scenarios I establish to justify my grades, I have high hopes about this quarter. My classes interest me more than last quarter, and the workload seems managable, and spread out more throughout the quarter, with more smaller papers and tests, rather than highly significant term papers I can put off to the last moment. As I mentioned, I have one professor I had last quarter; I also have a professor I last studied with in 1996, my first quarter at the university. And during roll, she remembered me, which was unsettling. I have to wonder, does she think I am taking the class for fun while completing my doctorate, or does she think I'm an undergraduate on the ten-year plan (I've lost track, but I believe I've only been a registered college student for about six of the last ten years). Taking the class forced me to reflect a bit on how long it's been since I first arrived at the university with high hopes, and is slightly depressing. But the end is in sight, my days here are beginning to come to an end (hopefully). There are very few courses I still need, and if they are all offered promptly, I could potentially graduate next spring.

My schedule works well, a nice block of classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday. For the New German Cinema class, we got sprung with a film lab the evening of the first day of school, which made it a rather long day, especially since I wasn't planning on it, but at least the film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God was interesting. Overall, I'm looking forward to this quarter; there have been many quarters where by the end of first week, I've been eager for it to be over, but this isn't one of them.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

We are a few hours away from Easter, which means my spring break is fast approaching an end. As usual, I accomplished precious little this week, though I suppose I didn't have too much more free time than usual, working my usual schedule, and having jury duty on Monday. And I picked up Katamari Damacy this week, and that ate up a lot of time later in the week. Really addictive, uprooting buildings and mountains, viewing your destruction from an almost-borg-like detachment and drive, except for the colorful rainbows and delightful pop music. Lots of fun, highly recommended.

And, of course, I had to deal with the Terri Schaivo coverage all week, which made me about as angry as any news story ever has. Especially over the weekend, when it wasn't yet clear that the Senate's meddling was going to be ultimately ineffective, and it wasn't as obvious I was in the vast majority in being supremely pissed off with the government violating the rights of families and ignoring the rule of law. I donated blood Monday, and was told I was ineligible because my blood pressure was too low; I was afraid my blood pressure would be through the roof from watching the news (turns out they just put the sleeve on my arm wrong). The whole situation is aggravating from so many angles, but I think what drives me nuts is that the far-right Christians talk about the government having contempt for life and about the forces of evil at work in our society, and they want to give government more power, and allow it to trample the rights of the family. Does it not occur to these people that human history suggests their beloved Republicans won't be in power forever? Do they not tremble at the thought of resurgent Democrats taking a break from their Satanic rites to send jack-booted government thugs for their children, to take them off to be raised in some village by Hillary Clinton? If you think the rulings by--what is now, thirty-something?--judges proves that this country gives no value to life and takes pleasure from watching people die, why do you want to give that government more power, power that might be used against you? They seem opposed to cloning, why can't the government demand the DNA of a dying relative in order to guarantee them a chance at further survival? Why is not disrespectful of life to take a pass on the miraculous possibility of cryogenics? After all, if death is so terrible that Schaivo's life now can be seen as precious, it must be worth taking any action to avoid. That certainly is the message of Easter in the Christian faith; death sucks so much, Jesus couldn't even stand it. Nothing for us in the afterlife, avoid at all costs.

If there is one thing about this that really pisses me off, it is the statements I keep hearing from protesters, that it is illegal to starve a dog, but we're starving a human being. Hello? Since when was there a law, anywhere in the planet, that requires anyone, when caring for any non-human animal suffering from mental or physical deterioration to the point that it cannot eat or drink, to surgically implant a feeding tube and keep supplying nutrients for 15 years? You put the animal down as quickly and painlessly as possible, and you do that on humanitarian grounds. How can you conclude human beings deserve any less?

I could say more, but I've probably said too much as it is, as I'm sure everyone else is as sick of this case as I am, and I'm writing this as it appears the family has finally just about given up (if Jeb Bush gives in to their requests and seizes her from the hospice, I belive my head will finally explode). I'm dreading tomorrow, as I've agreed, again, to go to sunrise service with my mom at the cemetary. It's a lovely place, and if today's weather is any guide, should be a nice morning to watch the sun rise. But I've already warned my mother, if they bring up Schaivo, I'm gone.

But enough of the unpleasantness. I got a haircut today. I think it looks pretty good, same as I always get, pretty much. I've been getting dandruff lately, which I've never had a problem with before, so I was hoping a sporty new 'do would nip that in the bud. Maybe I just need to air my scalp out or something.

Jury duty Monday was exciting. Sat around reading until 11:30 or so, when they sent us home. I didn't want to get on a case, becuase I knew we'd be busy at work this week, but after watching their little motivation film they show you, I was eager to do my civic duty. So when they discharged me, I called the blood bank, and they squeezed me in that afternoon. As I mentioned above, there was some uncertainty about my blood pressure, which made me nervous, thinking about my family history of blood cancers, but common sense told me my blood pressure was probably not 80/50, and they tested it again, and it was normal. But there was some debate over whether they had to go with the first reading regardless. They decided I could give, though; they said they needed the blood, as I was the only apheresis donation scheduled that day, but I think they were just eager to try out their new machine (I'm not positive, but I think I was the first person to use it at the East County branch--though apparently they've had the machines for awhile at some of the other branches). Which is fine, I was looking forward to trying out the new machine. I was a bit concerned that, unlike the old machine, no saline is added to the blood that is returned to you; I always figured that the added saline, and the diminished concern of dehydration that brings, was an advantage of apheresis donations. But the machine worked pretty good, and supposedly was faster than the old ones. The old machine would collect blood for a few minutes, then return blood for a few minutes; the new machine only takes a small sample of blood, takes what it needs, and then quickly returns the rest. I would think since less blood is out of the body at any one time, that must be better for you. And the machine calculates the best donation for you to make, so you can give as much as you can. For me, this meant, instead of the typical platelets and plasma donation, I gave double platelets (I think it was double, my memory may be failing me), as well as some red blood cells. The new machine has a helpful screen telling you how much time is remaining, and how much has been collected. I gave about 450 ml of red blood cells, and 450 trillion platelets. I did notice I felt dehydrated even the next day; I don't know if that was due to the lack of saline or the removal of whole blood as well as components, but I will have to be careful to drink more water next time. And I'm always glad to do my part. And it gave me an excuse not to run that day.

My running has been going pretty good. I don't think I mentioned the Walk for Autism, a few weeks back. Poorly organized, but it's for a good cause, and I think it was the first year, so I can forgive that. Started fourty minutes late. But once it got going, I did okay. 24:05 isn't going to get me in the record books, but at least it shows I'm gradually getting my fitness back. I had hoped to push myself a little harder on my run this morning, but about a mile and a half in, I started having muscle spasms in my right calf. Tried to run/walk most of the way back to my car, and it cleared up enough that I ran the last seven minutes or so no problem. But I hope that's not a sign of a larger problem. The Race for Literacy is only about two months away.

Saw the American remake of The Office Thursday. Must admit, I was surprised, I didn't hate it. Didn't really like it, either; it reminded me of The Onion's list of least-essential albums every year (I don't think they did that this year), in that it was pretty much a remake of the first episode of the British series, adding little. All I could do was watch and mentally compare the two (which seems to be the critical impulse--this review did a good job, and I found the Annie Hall analogy quite apt), and make snide remarks about the "pretty boy," and other casting missteps. But the show wasn't terrible, and I understand future episodes will be more original, and draw less on actual scripts from the British version. So I'll give it another chance.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned in this space my friend who was moving to Japan to tutor students learning English, but I don't think I've mentioned him since he left. He left for Japan March 1; March 8, I get a call from LAX, that he has abandoned his job without telling anyone and fled Japan in the dead of night. Not surprised he failed, but surprised it was that fast. Out of a need for teachers, they apparently skipped his two-week training period, rushing him into the classroom after about two days, and at one point had him handing out fliers for eight hours straight on a street corner in the snow. To be fair to them, his main criticism of them is that they dared critique his performance (apparently, his habit of keeping his hands constantly in his pocket left the Japanese unsettled). But so he is back, and may be moving to Vegas, which is exciting. Though it's probably the last place in the world he should live (though gambling is pretty easily available in San Diego these days, and at least in Vegas he'll find lower limits and better games).

So, I'll wrap this up now. Can't help but feeling I'm forgetting something, but I can always post that later. I've just been avoiding posting, since I figured I'd have to mention Schaivo, and knew it would get my blood boiling. But now I'm caught up, and free to write what comes to mind in the future. School starts Monday, I'm sure I'll have something exciting to report from that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Bollywood for the skeptical. A nice collection of MP3s.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I saw Bat Boy: The Musical last night. I must admit I was a bit disappointed; it picks up in the second half, but the show never really quite gels. It's message of tolerance falls flat when it is expressed primarily through mockery of southern ignorance (the northern liberal hypocrisy of Randy Newman's "Rednecks" is evident in much of the play). But if you forgive the play this, and get beyond the cornball humor, there are enough little gems to make for an entertaining evening. The education of Bat Boy, as he is assumed into his adopted family, is amusing, sort of The Foreigner meets My Fair Lady. And things pick up in the second half, as the plot takes a turn into Frankenstein territory, and Mrs. Taylor, a character initially hobbled by the extermity of her stereotypical redneckness, draws more from the nuanced tradition of the southern gothic, as tragedies pile up, the ultimate one which she brings upon herself. The climax, where Bat Boy's secret is revealed through a filmed 50s sci-fi parody, is fantastic; if more of the musical had achieved this tone, it would have been amazing. It is a bit unfortunate that Bat Boy's secret is telegraphed late in the first act, taking a bit of the sting out of the big reveal. And the ending is a bit sudden and underwhelming.

The whole show is a bit of a mess. The first half-hour or so is also rather dull. But once the plot gets moving, at least it's a fairly fun mess. For all it's problems, I had a pretty good time. It's painful to think of what might have been with such a strong premise, but what we're left with is pretty fun to watch.

The SDSU cast was uniformally quite good. The role of Bat Boy is, of course, pivotal, and Jakko Maltis fills the ears admirably. As Dr. Parker, Jan Cranford is probably the most notable among the fully human castmembers. Nothing to fault in the rest of the cast, the band, or the sets and costumes, all are top-notch. And much of the crowd seemed to enjoy the festivities much more than I did, so I suppose it's just a matter of whether you connect with the material or not.

Friday, March 18, 2005

School is now done for the quarter; handed in my last paper yesterday. Not much to do during finals week, most of the big stuff was due tenth week, but still I allowed myself to fall into the gentle lull of inertia and accomplish approximately nothing during the week. But now it's spring break, that exciting time of jury duty and blood donation, maybe even a haircut. Time to cut loose! Then I get to go back to school!

Tonight, Dateline has a full roster of very exciting exposes. Apparently, they have launced major investigations, which have revealed that travelling to third-world nations for cheap cosmetic surgery might not be the best idea. Furthermore, it appears some fraternities may encourage binge drinking (Hillel, I'm looking at you). But I thought I'd tear myself away from those shocking discoveries to finally write about my Vegas trip. It's been awhile now, so it's not that fresh in my mind, but I'll try to cover all the bases.

I left Thursday morning, around 10:30, a bit later than I planned. The drive was pleasant enough, especially as this was my first drive to Vegas since getting my iPod. I was surprised by the amount of interference I got with my FM transmitter, even in the open desert, but I managed mostly to get a pretty good sound. Idiots on the road, as ever, but I've certainly had worse drives. It definately helps to leave on Thursday rather than Friday. I had to stop by the Las Vegas Advisor's offices to pick up my coupon book along the way (I'm beginning to wonder whether it's worth the cost of a membership anymore--great if you use the 2-for-1 buffet coupons and cheap hotel room coupons, but I don't, and the gambling coupons are really getting chintzy), but was in my hotel room at Paris before 4:00. First time I've stayed at Paris in a room with one King-size bed, instead of two Queens. Which enabled me to compare it better with the rooms I've had at Bally's next door. The Paris room was very nice, with a nice little couch and overstuffed chair. The bathroom was very impressive, with a decent tub (which I don't think I ever used) and lots of room. I still think Bally's holds its own pretty well, though, and is the better value if you're paying for your room. I was only there one night, but had a good time. Great luck at the blackjack tables, if I had just left Vegas the next morning, I would have made out like a bandit.

Part of the reason I stayed at Paris the first night of my trip was to see a few of the sights on the strip. I wanted to check out the Conservatory at Bellagio, which I never seem to find the time to see. This time, I made a point of getting over there, and they were redecorating it for the season, so it was closed. But I did stop by Jean-Philippe Patisserie and check out the huge chocolate fountain, and get a crepe (with banana foster topping) and cafe au lait. A bit underwhelming for the price, I thought, but not bad, and not that outrageously priced by Bellagio standards. Next time, I'll bring a bottled water with me and skip the overpriced coffee.

For the evening entertainment, I decided to take the monorail on my first visit ever to the Sahara Casino. As I anticipated, the casino is kind of crappy. Nothing terribly wrong with it, it just pales in comparison to the strip. It's like being downtown, except everything is priced like it's on the strip. Except for the free entertainment, which is what brought me there. I had heard good things about the Casbar Lounge, and wasn't disappointed. I've checked their schedule the last few times I went to Vegas, but this was the first trip my visit coincided with one of Lena Prima's shows. Lena is Louis Prima's daughter, and performs a 90-minute tribute to her father. The show is absolutely free, with no drink minimums (there's no cocktail service, you have to bring your booze with you--there's a two-for-one drink coupon in the fun book you get for joining the player's club). At the price, I can recommend it without reservation. I wasn't blown away by the band at first. They were good, but Vegas is overrun with very talented musicians. But they grew on me, and when they tore into "Sing, Sing, Sing" (who knew Louis Prima wrote that?), you could tell there was real talent there (you can't fake a drum solo like that). Lena Prima herself is just okay, again a very good lounge singer in a city teeming with excellent lounge singers. But again, she too grew on me a bit. I really enjoy Louis Prima's music, and I imagine that your opinion of his songs will determine if you enjoy the show. They show lots of clips from Louis' television appearances (most of which also include Lena's mother, Gia Maione), too many, in my opinion. There was a rather large block of footage from Ed Sullivan, which was all good material, but probably could've been broken up more through the course of the evening. But hey, the show's free, and a lot of fun, so why nitpick? The lounge was about 80% full on a Thursday evening, so no need to get there too early to get a seat (maybe fifteen minutes early if you've got a group and want to get your own table). I did notice the crowd was on the older side, though a few people my age eventually stumbled in and seemed to enjoy themselves.

If I was in town again and Lena Prima was performing, I might go back and see the show, but I'd have to think long and hard about it. I hate the Sahara. Like I said above, it's Downtown grime with Strip prices. After the show, I was starving, and figured I'd just buy food there then taking the monorail back to Paris and seeing about a dinner comp. The cafe looked alright, but a bit overpriced, and the mexican place was way too expensive (competitive for Mexican food in a Vegas restaurant, but I refuse to pay $5 for a taco, when I know it will be disappointing compared to the $1.50 taco back home). So I decided to get a personal pizza at the coffee shop. $6.50, I think it was. I asked how much a soda was, was told $2.50. So I asked for a glass of tap water, and was told that would be fifty cents. I was so stunned, I just said okay. That's the sort of think that would send me out the door back home, but I was on vacation and didn't want to get into a thing with the guy, and was starving and didn't want to leave, so I just said okay. The pizza was okay, but I was pissed off when I realized later that I had a 20% off coupon in the fun book the casino gave me earlier. I did win $10 in the casino, though I gave the dealer a $5 tip because I felt sorry for her working in such a dump (I actually won quite a bit at that table, after losing my money at video poker). And the monorail cost me $6 (they no longer offer discounts on round-trips). So the show wasn't exactly free. But I had fun, and am glad I went.

I got up Friday morning, checked out of the hotel and loaded my luggage into the trunk. Then I went and had Paris' breakfast buffet. Wasn't real hungry, but still got more then enough food to make it worthwhile. Since I had a crepe for dinner the night before (the cost of the crepe alone at Bellagio pays for about half the breakfast buffet), so I got an omelette instead, as well as a bowl of mixed berries with yogurt, some cantelope, french toast, smoked salmon and bagels, coffee and lots of other breakfast foods, any one plateload of which would cost as much as the buffet at any strip eatery. Paris doesn't have a lot of 99 cent specials, but I still think they have some of the best food values on the strip, when you want quality food. Sadly, I didn't go to the buffet close enough to lunchtime to enjoy the changeover and get some lunch foods. I always like to have the bouillabaisse, which has an almost spiritual resonance with me, ever since my dad and I went there and we both couldn't get enough of it. But no bouillabaisse this time. But that's okay, it's still one of the best ways to start your day.

I was spending the weekend at Green Valley Ranch, so I began heading in that direction, stopping at the Hard Rock Casino along the way (I meant to stop by the Westin on the way, as well--they have a great deal where you get $60 in slot play for $30 when you join the players club--but I forgot). I thought I'd been there before, but once I was inside, it all looked new to me. Not bad, as far as the gambling was concerned. I found the decor a bit tacky, and the place is definately about an "American Idol" version of rock and roll. And I got my clock cleaned at the blackjack table. But if I ever got a free room offer in the mail, I might give the hotel a shot. A bit away from the hustle and bustle of the Strip, but just a few blocks away if you want to check it out.

I arrived at Green Valley Ranch just a bit ahead of my 3:00 check-in time, but figured (correctly) I could get my room early. I've never been able to figure out where to park without hiking through the entire casino to get to the hotel lobby. I thought I was parking closer than usual, but ended up by the movie theaters and had to go up stairs and then through the entire casino. I guess I should just use the valet next time. But I suppose it helped burn off the Paris buffet, and I saved a buck or two in tips. I got a room in the new tower, which opened a few months back. I was glad to see I didn't need to sneak past the bouncer of the Whiskey Sky to get to my room, as you used to have to in the old tower. The new tower has a nice lobby, and shows all the class of the original tower ("tower" is the traditional parlance of Vegas, but these aren't really towers--the original is four stories, I think, and the new six--and while the service, I think, suffers from just a bit of a loss in the "personal touch" department, this is still a fantastic hotel that treats you right). I took the elevator to my floor, a spacious elevator of dark oaks, with a television monitor showing nature scenes and playing soothing new-age music. I suppose this is to calm people, like me, who get nervous in elevators. It showed an image of a dove in flight, except it seemed superimposed on a static background, so that he was just hovering, trapped at one level, unable to gain or decend, no matter how much he tried. The screens in the other elevator I took had apparently broke, so I got the far more soothing sight of exposed wiring, which always inspires confidence. Getting to my room took awhile, being a good ways down the hall. But it lived up the standards set by the original rooms. The layout is basically the same, though the little breakfast nook is now just along one wall of the main room. Nothing's changed in the bathrooms, with a deep, long tub and separate shower, a water closet and a marble sink. It's all very luxurious, and very spacious, and this bathroom is probably about 60% of what makes Green Valley Ranch my favorite hotel, in Vegas or elsewhere. The beds and pillows figure prominately into that equation as well (though I never sleep well on vacation, anywhere), and the new Bose Wave radios they introduced to the new rooms was a nice new bonus (I wouldn't pay $500 for one, but I was impressed with the way the sound carries, still sounding full in the bathroom). All in all, I was as impressed with the room as I always was by the old rooms.

One problem with Green Valley Ranch is it's location. When I stay there, I usually resolve myself to more or less not leaving, and this trip I never did. Which means you're stuck with the food choices here, which have never impressed me. I love Il Fornaio, and the Original Pancake House isn't bad. But the rest of the restaurants are rather uninviting, overpriced, and underwhelming. But I had a $100 food credit from the casino, so I had plenty of chances to reevaluate the dining options. I was especially excited at the prospect of gourging myself on sushi, as I remembered thinking Sushi + Saki was pretty good the first time I ate there.

For dinner the first night, I went to China Spice. It's a bit overpriced, I remembered from previous trips, but decent quality. I ordered the chow fun, and a bowl of hot and sour soup. I was surprised that the soup was actually quite spicy, which is as it should be, I suppose, though most places keep it on the mild side, in my experience. It had a strange flavor to it, but I enjoyed it. The chow fun was decent, not exciting, but if I wanted an exciting dinner I wouldn't have ordered chow fun. I ate about half, and saved half for a late-night snack. If you're at Green Valley Ranch and craving chinese food, eat here, but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat here.

Gambling the first night was a little rough. I lost most of my winnings from Paris, but rallied to win about half of it back. No real memorable hands from the first day spring to mind. Perhaps there were no hands of note that day, or perhaps one painfully memorable hand from Saturday night has blocked the rest out, I don't know. But I retired to my room around 1:00 and took a nice bath (I'm a tall man, and just love it when I take a bath and submerge my entire body from the neck down without becoming a contortionist), then slept well.

The next day I took another bath, hid all the toiletries in my travel bag so the maid would replace them, and went down to gamble a bit. I had lunch at Il Fornaio, and was again impressed. On a previous visit I had a tuna salad special that was amazing, so I again went with a tuna appetizer, a tuna-bean salad with arugula which was mighty tasty. I had the chicken cannelloni for the main course. I am usually more impressed, when dining in real classy italian restaurants, with the appetizers and desserts than with the actual pasta dishes. I guess it's because I'm from the Chef Boyardee generation, but I prefer limp pasta and sweet tomato sauces. But this meal was absolutely fantastic. The rotisserie chicken stuffing with sun-dried tomatoes and various cheeses was complemented nicely with the bechamel sauce. The only complaint was with the marinara sauce, which just tasted rather flat. But the marinara was not the focus of this dish, so it hardly mattered. Again, I have to conclude Il Fornaio is the only thing which makes dining at Green Valley Ranch memorable. I decided to skip desert, and maybe have desert at their bar that evening.

I went back up to my room, which housekeeping took care of while I had lunch. One strange thing: There was a burnt-out match on the floor of my bathroom. I had a non-smoking room, of course, and can't figure out why the maid would have lit a match in my room. I thought it could have fallen out of her cart from when she serviced a smoking room, but I think they usually have those on different floors. Of course, given my subsequent luck in the casino, the match could have been part of a bizarre ritual to put a hex on me (which seems out of line since I tip my housekeepers--I don't envy anyone who has to clean up after me). Sure enough, that afternoon the cards turned ugly. By the time I was getting hungry for dinner, I was down a pretty decent sum. But I remembered the last time I had sushi at Green Valley Ranch, I was losing, and then returned to the tables after dinner and won a cartload of cash. So I went to dinner with high hopes for the night.

I had peeked into the restaurant a few times earlier and found few people, but by the time I ate at 8:00, Sushi + Saki was pretty busy. On weeknights, they have an all-you-can-eat option that seems like a pretty good deal, but it's not available on the weekends, so I was ordering a la carte. A bit pricy, but pretty typical Vegas sushi prices. I waited about fifteen to twenty minutes for my food, and despite my previous experience, wasn't impressed. The asparagus roll was quite good, but the fish just seemed to be of poor quality, especially the tuna and yellowtail. Of course, I wasn't picking up the tab, so I didn't feel too outraged, but I still had to pay the tip on the $35 tab, so it did cost me something. If you're at Green Valley Ranch, have a comp, and want sushi, eat here. The all-you-can-eat deal seems to be a damn fine deal (haven't taken advantage of it yet myself). But I have to say, I was disappointed.

So, did the sushi change my luck? You could say that. I actually won a bit of cash soon afterwards, but there was one hand that would overshadow my wins. The blackjack tables at Green Valley Ranch (some of them, anyways) have a side bet called Lucky Ladies, where you bet a dollar up to twenty-five dollars, and if you get dealt a twenty on your first two cards, it pays four-to-one. There are other, bigger payouts, for suited hands, or hands of two identical cards. The biggest payout is for two Queens of Hearts, and if you get dealt two queens of hearts, and the dealer has a blackjack that hand, you win the big payout, up to $10,000 (if you bet $10 or more). This is an awful, awful bet, with about a 25% house edge, and you should never, ever make the bet. Of course, if you ever got dealt the big winning hand, you'd be heartbroken, but that will never happen. Yet it did. I pick up my cards, see I have twenty, then register that I have two Queens of Hearts. I turn over my cards and let loose with a chortle, poining out to everyone what my cards were. The table lets loose with gasps, which I thought were a bit much until I look at the dealer's up card, an ace. My chin drops, and I stare on as the dealer peeks under the ace and flips over the blackjack. A $1 would have paid $1,000, a $10 bet, $10,000 (they cap the maximum payout at $10,000, so when you see people betting $25 on the side bet--and people do--you can safely conclude they are morons). Now, this was a fun table, full of people junk drunk enough to be amusing but not aggressive or nasty. So we talked about the hand for some time (and the dealer assured me I'll be the talk of their break room for the day). Some people had been making the bet off and on (the guy two seats down from me had the bet out the hand I got dealt the two Queens), and we all concluded that, had one of them got the hand without the bet out, that would have been a tragedy, but since I never make the bet, it's not such a big deal. And it really wasn't a big deal, but it was fun to have the table ganging up on me with a bit of good-natured ribbing. And when I got home, I could tell people I lost $10,000. I played about an hour longer, then decided to ease the pain with some dessert. The bar was full at Il Fornaio, but there were plenty of tables open, so I had a seat and ordered the old standby, Tiramisu. Not the best I've ever had, but pretty damn good nonetheless. My waitress brought out the dessert cart, and everything looked great. Later, I began to regret I didn't order the Crema al Doppio Gusto, a sort of creme brulee combined with chocolate mousse. But there's always next time.

As I mentioned, the same session where I "lost" $10,000, I won a bit of money, and continued to win after my dessert break (and another bath). I got back to even, up a fair amount, and then played down to a point where I was ahead by a modest amount of money. I did have the interesting experience of having other people tell me my own story, as a player explained about the poor bastard that missed out on winning ten grand, embellishing a bit (apparently I tried to slip the bonus bet out on the felt when the dealer wasn't looking--I was waiting for him to get to the part where I drown myself in Whiskey Beach). I tried to explain to him, several times, that it happened to me, but he was too drunk to grasp that. Around this point in the evening, a cavalcade of obnoxious drunks began appearing at my table in a regular rotation. Few things annoy me as much in a casino as players who get angry with the dealer because they lose. No one is forcing you to gamble, if you want to be mad at someone, be mad at yourself. But again and again people would sit down at my table, lose two hands, announce that they have just suffered the worst losing streak in human history, and then claim that the dealer was born out of wedlock or a female dog, or just throw a few cards at her. So, in light of the annoying patrons, I figured I had a decision to make. I could decide my gambling for the trip was done, and not risk losing the last insignificant remnants of my once-mighty winnings, I could continue playing that night and try to build up more respectable winnings, or I could make my last stand in the morning. The last two were risky, not only because I could lose my winnings, but because, psychologically, I could go "on tilt," chasing after my losses to try to get back where I was, where I could have left town a winner, and end up losing a lot. I'm generally above such things, of course, but it has happened. So I decided not to take any unnecessary risks, and ended the gambling portion of my vacation. My plan was to have breakfast at the Original Pancake House and hit the road.

In the morning, I wasn't really that hungry. Also, I noticed my host had already settled my bill for me, so I would have to go down to the front desk and settle the bill again if I wanted my breakfast comped, too. And I was eager to hit the road, so I just had some coffee in my room, and was on the road around 10:30. Driving out of town, it occured to me I had a coupon for a free champagne brunch in Jean, Nevada. So I decided to eat there. For free, it's a very good deal. The buffet is not much beyond a continental breakfast, so the strawberry blintzes were pretty good. But you also can order an entree, and the french toast I chose was fantastic. They describe it in the menu as though it was real haute cuisine, with vanilla and Grand Marnier amongst the flavors added to the batter, the same way many restaurants try to make their french toast sound unique. But in this case, the description fit the bill, it was quite rich and flavorful. And the mimosa wasn't bad. I think the cost without the coupon would have been $8.99, which while not officially a bargain, is not a bad deal, either. Yet another of those things where, if you've already stopped there, you might as well eat it, but don't go too far out of your way. Me, I don't like stopping in Jean because I'm either very close to arriving in Vegas, or just leaving Vegas and eager to make good time. But Jean has always had good food deals. And even with that unscheduled breakfast stop, I still made good time. There was traffic in the desert, but not bad at all for a Sunday. I made it home by 4:30, if memory serves.

Overall, a fun trip, though not particularly lucrative. But I did win money, had some good food, relaxed a bit before finals, and got a little story about losing $10,000 with which to amuse my fellow gamblers. Ultimately, I have to conclude it was poor timing for the trip. I had a lot on my plate the following week, and not enough time to do it all. I should have been working on term papers that weekend, not gambling. But to be fair, I booked the trip before one professor moved up a due date a week, to the Wednesday after I got back. So that messed up my plans a tad. We'll see, when grades come out, if I paid a price for the trip. But I don't really regret going. Lena Prima's concert, the Paris buffet, listening to Sam Bush on Prairie Home Companion in my room at Green Valley Ranch, lunch at Il Fornaio, a bad beat on the Lucky Ladies bet, brunch in Jean, and a bit more cash in my pocket than when I drove into town; who could complain about that?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The woman who first made my name problematic is dead. In addition to Halloween, she also wrote Clue, one of those movies I've seen a thousand times, have on DVD, but still can't resist watching from start to finish every time it's on TV. So I suppose everytime a cashier rings up my credit card and asks, "Where's your knife?" I'll just remember the writer of Halloween gave me many laughs at well.

I've been back from Vegas for awhile, but had to jump immediately back into school mode. Research paper due tomorrow afternoon. So I'll relate my Vegas tale (and how I lost $10,000...sort of) later.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The quarter is rapidly coming to an end, papers are coming due, and finals approach. So I am doing the obvious thing, and leaving for Vegas in the morning. Should be fun, and a chance to end a rather long losing streak. Fortunately, my losses have been relatively small and I had a few very large wins before the streak began. We'll see how it goes; in any event, I really need a vacation. Just wish I didn't have a lot of work waiting for me when I get home.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

I had a bit of a scare a week or so ago, when I dropped my iPod in the driveway. It hit the concrete hard and bounced a bit, and I was sure it was a goner. But other than some scratches, it seems fine. But then this weekend, I went to listen to something, and the hard drive was empty--no songs at all. It was strange, that it still showed 10 gigs of hard drive space were full, but no songs were available, like it was just the playlists that got erased. Unfortunately, to solve the problem, I had to upload my entire library back onto the iPod (which didn't really take that long). I was afraid that it was a delayed reaction from being dropped, but nothing has happened since. I uploaded songs to the iPod right before this happened, so I'm hoping there was a connection error or I unplugged the iPod too soon or something, but I'll be keeping an eye on it.
Justices abolish death penalty for juveniles.