Thursday, August 18, 2005

Okay, so I've been back from Vegas for some time, and all I've posted here are some obituaries (I thought Barbara Bel Geddes was in Strangers on a Train as well as Vertigo, but apparently I was thinking of Pat Hitchcock--but if you're only going to be in one Hitchcock movie, Vertigo is the one to pick!) and a Japanese logic puzzle (which I've gotten bored with, as I thought I might). The main culprit in the delay is that most of the time I'm on the computer, I'm playing poker, and don't need the distraction of writing this. But my luck has been rather vile of late, so I'll take a break and end my silence.

The trip was a bit boring. I flew out Sunday night after work, in order to get an extra night in Vegas. But the flight was an hour late arriving in San Diego, and then we were kept waiting on the tarmac for almost 90 minutes, so I didn't arrive at the Las Vegas Hilton until close to midnight. Considering the time I spent waiting at the airport before my flight, it would have been faster to drive (though I don't relish the thought of driving through the desert in the dark, especially with thunderstorms raging). The flight was bumpy, but not really that bad; my dread is much worse anticipating flying than it is when I'm actually strapped into the plane. A taxi from the airport cost me $17 with tip, which isn't unreasonable.

I played a bit on Sunday night with little luck, and went to bed. The room at the Hilton was nice. This is the second time staying there, and I was not happy with my room the first time, but I didn't notice the thin walls and bizzare noises from the plumbing that bothered me last time. I had a view that included both part of the Strip and the mountains, which was nice (I hoped to watch some thunderstorms in the mountains, but never saw any). Bathroom is okay, but the vent over the shower was slightly creepy, in that it had wide slids in it, and looking in as one bathed, one couldn't help but think how easy a large camcorder could be concealed in it, when one wasn't wondering what that asbestos-looking compound was. There is no light switch in the bathroom; the switch is on the wall outside the bathroom, set back enough that it's not easy to reach around and hit, so I ended up peeing in the dark a lot. There was a large empty space in the room, suggesting that a couch is usually present. Apparently they knew of my penchant for throwing couches out of hotel room windows, and took precautions. I've certainly stayed in nicer rooms, but I don't really have any complaints about the room, either. Except maybe the $3 charge to use the room safe. Paying someone $3 a night not to steal from me irks me a bit. I just don't enjoy extortion.

Of course, I didn't anticipate paying the $3. I figured if I played enough, my host could pick up most of my food, and I could use my players club points to pick up the rest of the charges, like the room safe. I also was looking forward to receiving $100 in promotional chips from the casino after playing for four hours. Which would come in handy, as my luck wasn't that great. I was up at some points, but mostly was down a small amount most of the trip, except when I was down a whole lot Tuesday night. Made a comeback, though, with no help from the promotional chips. I received them, bet one $25 chip, won the hand, was paid $25, and the dealer took the chip. When I'm given a promotional chip, I consider it mine to play with until I lose. It can't be redeemed for cash, but it can be played as many times as you can win with it. So that irked me, as it cuts the value of the chips in half ($100 in promo chips the way I understand them to work are worth $100, assuming you were going to gamble anyways...the way these chips worked, they're only worth about $50). Now, the strategy for these chips is to bet them at roulette on long odds, since the chips really only have value if you lose the bet. But I'm not sure if they would accept the chips at roulette--the offer, I later noticed, said, "Receive $100 in promotional chips worth up to $100," which makes me think they were only good for even money bets. As it is, I played them at blackjack, and I belive I won two hands, and lost two chips on one hand when I doubled down. That left a slightly sour taste in my mouth, however.

I mostly stayed at the Hilton, since I didn't have a car, but I did walk to the Wynn on Tuesday, where there was no double deck blackjack table with under a $100 minimum, so I just played some video poker, lost, and moved on to the Venetian, where I had the best luck of my trip, winning enough in three hours to rougly cut my losses for the trip in half. And the pit boss was perfectly willing to give me a comp for a late dinner, once I got his attention away from the table with the guy betting about $7,000 a hand. They gave me $30 to the Grand Lux Cafe. I knew the cafe was run by the Cheesecake Factory people, and that one should have an appetite. But I never have much of an appetite in Vegas. The booze is one factor, I'm sure, but even when I'm not drinking, I'm not often hungry in Vegas, even though I generally have only two meals a day, and maybe a dessert or two somewhere along the way. So I waited until after 11:00 to have dinner, and was beginning to get a little hungry. However, I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and when I went to dinner, I suddently found myself freezing. It was hot outside on Tuesday, though not outrageously so (the heat wave broke right before I got there, and it was in the 90s on Tuesday, and even lower on Wednesday--though still humid). But the casinos always keep it freezing during the summer. I ordered hot tea to warm myself with, and that eventually got my shivering under control. Per the pit boss' recommendation, I ordered the shrimp scampi, which was very good, with the shrimp having a gently cripsy texture that was interesting. I ordered banana cream pie for dessert, expecting a slice but getting an entire mini-pie. It was a generous portion, but as I prefer the filling to the crust, I would have preferred a slice. The bill with tax came to $30.49, so I paid $0.50 (and tip) for a lot of food. I ordered one of the more expensive entrees, beverage and dessert, and would say the price was reasonable; most entrees looked to be $10-12, with the basics available for a tad less. Desserts were slightly pricy, but reasonable given the portions. The Grand Lux concept somewhat escapes me; the restaurant is beautiful, but the menu doesn't look much different from the Cheesecake Factory's, at least as well as I can remember from my one visit to the local Cheesecake Factory. Apparently, the concept was cooked up to avoid a turf war with the Cheesecake Factory at Caesar's Palace, though it does serve some more complex dishes, especially on the high end of the menu.

If you're hungry, I'd recommend the Grand Lux Cafe at the Venetian, not as a bargain, but as a good value for the money. However, as I said, I was not very hungry, and the walk back to my hotel a bit after midnight was unpleasant, as the food didn't sit well. But I made it back in one piece (as I was at the Hilton, and never ventured south of the Venetian, I decided to save my money and skip the monorail, travelling on my feet instead). Besides that outing, I pretty much stayed at the Hilton until checking out. My luck at cards kept swinging wildly, but at least I got to play a lot of hours without dipping too deeply into my cash reserves. I did play a few slots, and hit one minor jackpot, but ended up pretty much break-even for the machines at the Hilton (down a fair amount when the Wynn video poker losses are included). I had several meals at the Hilton, none that blew me away, but few complaints, either. The coffee shop is fine, with prompt counter service, and all the basics. It's where you eat at the Hilton when you just don't care, which usually describes me perfectly. I light sandwich is just right for my Vegas-sapped appetite. I only had the buffet at the Hilton once, for lunch. A fine buffet at a fair price, but there are much better buffets in Vegas for not too much more. I filled up on bagels and lox, and was impressed by their desserts, especially a chocolate mousse cake. I had sushi at Teru Sushi, part of Benihana Village. It was very good, basic sushi, done right, and I was mostly impressed (the salmon was lackluster, the mackeral fantastic). But it was horribly overpriced. Miso soup and edamame are each $3.50, and the cheapest nigiri sushi items are $7.00. I really had no more than a snack, and the bill was over $30. I think it may be the best sushi I've had in Vegas, but that's not really saying a whole lot. I don't think I can recommend it for the price, unless you're on a comp.

I didn't mind running up such a tab, since I hoped my host might pick it up, and if not, I could still use my points to pay the bill. I hoped my host would pick up the coffee shop/buffet tabs, and I'd use points for the rest. I earned about $40 in comps this trip, maybe a tad less, and I had about $14 on my card left over from previous visits. I went to see a host in the morning, and there was no one in the office, as they had been moved somewhere during remodeling. I asked a pit boss to call me a host, but apparently someone called in sick, and none would be available until 11:00. A bit after 11:00, I called the host on duty myself, and got his receptionist, apparently, who glanced over my bill and assured me there was nothing she could do for me. So I got the brush-off from a host's secretary. Which angered me. I got $30 in comps at the Venetian for 3 hours' play (though to be fair, that comp may be based in part on previous play there), and the Hilton gives me about $40 in comps based on about 14 hours' play. To be fair, I did get a room, and those damn chips. I think the chips did me in, they probably credited them as a $100 comp, which I had to earn before they would give me additional food comps. I used my points on my card, but still owed about $5, but I found out that, in addition to my comps, I had $20 cash back from my slot play, so that covered all my room charges, including tips (which are never comped). So I can't say that the Hilton screwed me or anything, but they were less generous than the last time I stayed there, and I thought I was entitled for a bit more in comps than they offered (and I felt that the promotional chip offer that led me to stay there was misleading). And I was annoyed that I didn't even speak to the host, just the woman who answered his phone. But while she did brush me off, she wasn't rude or condescending, like my host at Green Valley Ranch (who now works at Luxor, I'm told).

After being rebuffed, I decided I didn't want to play at the Hilton anymore, and went to the Riviera. I bought lunch in the food court, signed up for a players club card and played the $10 free slot play they give you for signing up, lost that, and played blackjack, winning a bunch, giving half of that win back, and leaving Vegas a little less of a loser than I would have had I not gone to the Riviera. I'd never played at the Riviera. It's not bad; it reminds me a bit of the Stardust, but with fewer double-deck games (and no games that stay on soft 17). I overheard someone at another table saying he was there for a gin rummy tournament. I found the tournament's website, and apparently it is operated by a third party, hosted at the Riviera a few times a year. $200 entry fee. Sounds like fun. Though I'm sure that I, gin rummy wizard that I am, would still be thoroughly out-classed.

I headed to the airport with plenty of time to spare, got through security in a jiffy, and read in the airport until my plane departed, avoiding the airport slot machines. The flight back was fine, and I enjoyed looking at the huge thunderheads in the desert. I still hate flying, and don't think it's a good value or a convenience in going to Vegas, but it didn't work out too badly for this trip (though the flight over was a bit unpleasant). Mom's car was at the airport, as she had just caught a plane up to San Jose for my sister's baby shower, so I drove myself home. Tanner was very glad to see me (I'm told he had been depressed).

This trip to Vegas was a bit boring. I suppose the Hilton is a bit of a boring place. I would consider staying there again, but only if I didn't have a better offer. I'm hoping to get some free rooms from the Venetian. I would love to stay there at least once. My first few visits I felt uncomfortable there, but it's grown on me a bit. I've had problems with Green Valley Ranch; I'm pretty sure I've mentioned a mysterious minibar charge they billed me for, and how they promised to refund me the $7.47. They never did, and I've had to dispute the charge with my credit card company (I just this very moment checked my credit card statement online, and see the refund posted today). The experience makes me wonder if I wish to stay there again. So I need to find a new home casino. I think the most likely outcome will be that I no longer have a home casino. Why put all your eggs in one basket? I always have a few offers, though the Paris/Bally's offers dried up even before the merger with Harrah's. I always have free rooms downtown, but they're crappy. The Hilton will still send me free rooms, I'm sure, and I can always spread my action around more when I stay there in the future, generate room offers. I'm pretty sure the Venetian will send me something, and the Riviera, as well. Stardust sends me free rooms from time to time, but seems schizophrenic in their mailings, sometimes giving me the moon, sometimes charging me ridiculous rates. I'm sure a host will probably hook me up there, but I don't like the uncertainty of hosts. I should stay there once, though, before they tear it down. And who knows, maybe the Wynn will send me something. That'd be sweet. In any event, I don't think I'll be to Vegas again for a few months. So that will give the casino mail some time to build up, and I'm sure I'll find a sweet offer.

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