Las Vegas: June 2007 Trip Report

Summary & Ratings:
  • Hotel: Wynn - Resort Room (10)
  • Restaurants: Zoozacrackers (Wynn) (6); Okada (Wynn) (9); Golden Steer (.001)
  • Casinos: Wynn (10); Riviera (0); Sahara (7); Venetian (4); Bellagio (6); The Palms (6)
  • Games: Blackjack; Let it Ride; Video Poker; Slots; Craps; Race Book
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Having just been to Vegas in April, I fully did not expect to return for at least six to twelve months. Would I go sooner if an opportunity presented itself – absolutely. And that, my friends, is where this story finds its beginning, middle and end – a wonderful opportunity that fell right into my lap . . . one of the best birthday gifts ever.

Let’s start with the players – this was definitely not a trip with the crew, only one of them made it this time. Ole $5k, Mr. Whale Jo in more recent episodes, was the crew representative on this trip. We also were lucky enough to travel with two beautiful, sexy, smart, playful, and very fun women. This put a slightly different bent to the trip – but one I’d welcome anytime. Their presence in Vegas added a whole new dimension that I’ll not soon forget. I’ll need names for them . . . just not sure what. Don’t think they’d like Chick One and Chick Two . . . I guess I’ll come up with the names at some point while I write this TR.

On with the show.


Small issue – seems my name matches someone else who is on a TSA watch list. What does this mean? It means every time I book a flight, I cannot print out my boarding pass at home and must check in with an agent at the airport. Same thing usually happens, I give my ID, the agent thinks they’re just going to print out a ticket, but then a little red flag pops up on their computer. This happens right at the moment they are trying to hand me my ID back – and then they promptly pull it back. Some agents are used to this and handle it with aplomb – others get quite flustered and try and mask what is really happening – “Uh, sir, there’s a problem with my computer, I’ll be right back.” Then they scurry off to security and run my info through the “system”, which I’m proud to say, comes out CLEAN. So anyway, I got to impress my lady guest with this – I think she secretly found it sexy that I might have a dark pass – though she didn’t buy my line about being ex-CIA.

So we go through this charade and then proceed to a bar to lube up the mechanics before boarding the plane. Whale Jo was with us and added to the nice pre-flight banter that goes well with overpriced and overwatered airport drinks.


No first class – but only a couple seats behind, so good enough. Flight was uneventful – just the usual airplane gambling between Whale-Jo and myself. Tried to do a Suduko contest – but that’s just too much thinking on a Vegas trip. We settled on no limit Hold Em, seven-card stud, and eventually some hybrid monkey game that cost me most of my $1 juice bills. Costly, but fun.

I’m sure most of you know that this time of year, flying into Vegas is like riding a bucking bronco. Obviously people get a little scared in this turbulence – especially when you see the cragged peaks below that would rip open the plane like a rusty can of tuna. Making matters worse on this flight? The stewardess who thought she was being funny by coming over the loudspeaker in an ominous voice and saying, “Having fun yet?” – if she had somehow followed that up with music from Phantom of the Opera, I think I would have wet myself.

Plane landed fine, end of story.


Nothing new here – same anticipation that I feel on every trip – just want to get through as fast as possible. Whale Jo’s companion was meeting us in baggage claim. We found her, got our bags, and met our driver. Part of the reason for going on this trip had to do with Cinevegas – one of our group has, er, “connections” (I’m trying to be purposefully anonymous here) and it allowed us a bit of inside access to this – including a free ride in a nice brand new Escalade from the airport to Wynn (Whale Jo and his gal were staying at the Palms – that’s where the main film stuff was happening).

Arrival and Beyond

OK, after getting baggage, getting semi-lost, the driver got us to Wynn. This was my first time staying here and I didn’t know what to expect. I’d gambled here before, read the good reviews, but really wasn’t prepared for what we got – excellence all around. This property makes the Signature look like the Motel 6 – seriously – I don’t think I’ll be staying anywhere else on future trips – which I kind of like – I think it’s about time I found a home base in Vegas. And what a home base this is.

Most of you have been there by now – so I won’t bore you with the details of color schemes, walkway design, airy light spaces, etc. Bottom line – I think this is the nicest property in Vegas.

In any event, check in goes smooth and we finally get to go to our room. Having just been gravely disappointed by the Signature, I didn’t have too high of hopes for the rooms at Wynn. I expected something nice, but nothing to the scale of what I walked in. Beautiful. We were in a Panoramic room up on the 52nd floor with a view overlooking the golf course – absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, time was short, so we had little time but to get the bags down, put money in the safe, and hit the ground running. Destination: The Palms. We had a private function at Ghostbar that we were supposed to hit. I think it was about 4:30 p.m. at this point – surprisingly, no cab line at the Wynn. More importantly, traffic between the Wynn and Palms was light and we made it there in about ten minutes.

Did I mention that up to this point I had yet to gamble . . . that has to be a first . . . two hours in Vegas and not a bet laid. Needless to say, I could feel myself starting to get twitchy. Luckily our friends weren’t quite ready when we got to the Palms and me and my gal had time to sit at a VP bar and chit chat and gamble. I gave her some cash to play around with and I stuck a $100 in the machine. God that felt good. As I became comfortable with my surroundings I began to get a grip on the Palms vibe – “low roller frat boy heaven” – as Whale Jo puts it. Hmmm. Better check my driver’s license – not sure I’m in that demographic anymore. Whale Jo had a funny story about being made fun of in the elevator by some young guns . . .something about seeing him at the slots at 5 a.m. . . though now that I type that out, it doesn’t sound funny and I’d like to go back there and give those joes an Inglewood Jack . . . OK . . sorry . . . off topic.

Nothing eventful happened on the VP machine – I almost lost the $100, but as Whale Jo and Whale Joette (trying out names here) walked up I hit a string of payoffs and was able to walk away even. I took this as a major sign that things would be going good.

It was time to hit the Ghostbar – I think the event was the Hollywood Reporter party – I hadn’t ever been up there, so I was kind of excited to see what was going on (and who might be there).

After getting our ID and passes, we were ushered up the elevators to our destination. Walking out of the elevator and into Ghostbar I almost lost my lunch – the view. Wow. If you don’t know, Ghostbar sits almost at the top of the Palms. The inside bar area is OK, but it is the open air deck outside that is really cool. The view of Vegas that high up is incredible. So the four of us merged into the crowd. Most people there were associated with Cinevegas in someway – a director here, an actress there. The heads of Sundance were there checking out the show . . .Dennis Hopper showed up – unfortunately I was getting drinks at the time and didn’t get a chance to catch up. Spoke with the writer of Babel – what an intense looking dude. Met some other people – definitely a fun crowd.

So we ripped it at the Palms for about two hours and then Whale Jo and I decided it was time to show our gals some of the Vegas we experience on the boyz trip. Next stop: Sahara.

Of all the old school properties left, this is the only one that is on my “must visit” list. It still has some life left in her.

Really, the action is pretty good, most of the dealers are personable, the clientele is fairly jovial, and it’s just dark and dirty enough to bring out your inner pimp. Plus, it really doesn’t take a whole lot of action to get the attention of the pit bosses and seem like a real whale. Exhibit One – my friend Whale Jo. Watching him lay $100+ bets at the Casino War table was something special. As he tells it, at one point, after milking six hands in a row and accumulating a nice brothel of benjamins, he attracted the attention of not one or two bosses, but had five or six of them circling around his action. I believe he was told by a casino host that “whatever” he wanted he could have. He asked what the suites were like . . . and was told they sucked. Oh well.

I think I did well enough playing some blackjack. My gal went off to the craps table – something she never really has done before, but by the end of the trip was a craps junkie. I went and tried, yet again, to extract money from the Monopoly machine. Curse you Mr. Monopoly – curse you!!!!! It just isn’t fair how you look so innocent, look so fun and yet are so wrong, so dirty, soooooo bad. I swear the Monopoly games are programmed exclusively to make me feel like I have a rusty saw cutting into the webbing of my toes with a little green toad pouring salt into the cuts.

Sorry, I indulged too much in creative license there.

Anyway, some of my hard earned money left me and I got up and made my way over to my gal to explain how much of a moron I was. That was fun.

Thankfully, it was time to go to dinner. Destination – Okada. Which also meant, some gambling at the Wynn.

I’m sitting here desperately trying to remember how I got from the Sahara over to the Wynn . . . I can’t. I hate that. I know as soon as I get this part of the report posted, I’ll remember. I’m certain I did not walk, did not drive, did not take a bus, did not take the monorail, and I definitely did NOT fly. I think we took a cab, check that, I know we took a cab. I just can’t remember if this was the trip with the Russian driver who imports cars to some area in Russia around the Black Sea. No, that was later.

Anyhoo, we got back to the Wynn and I felt elated. We had about ½ hour before dinner, so we got some chairs at the bar in Okada and drank. I’m mostly a beer and wine guy, but I stepped out of my shell and went for a Macha-tini . . . .at least that’s what I think it was called. All I know is that it had green tea, sake, some other stuff and looked like chopped up grass juice. But it was gooooood. I mean so good I wish I could have slept with it good. Unfortunately, also very strong. So I had two.

In between drinks, Whale Jo and I decided to get a taste of the gambling floor – our gals were chatting nicely together, why not step outside and see if we could make enough for dinner? We stumbled over to a VP bank of machines and put in a bill apiece. Next thing you know, lucky ole Whale Jo hits something and cashes out for $800 . . . wow. I, on the other hand, lost. Not wow.

As we headed back to the bar, I noticed people had begun to line up for something about twenty-five feet or so away from the entrance to Okada. Turns out these hipsters were waiting for Tryst to open . . . . and bejesus, by time the doors were open that line was long and full of good looking people. Maybe something to hit next time.

We got back to Okada and found our tables were ready. What a great setting – seriously – this place had a nice zen, peaceful, you’re not in crazy Vegas anymore, kind of feel. As best as I recall, we had some sort of half booth that allowed me and the girls to sit on some comfy type bench seat, while Whale Jo had the pilot’s seat at the head of the table. Our view was of the lush gardens and waterfall outside the restaurant – if you’ve only seen pictures, they don’t do it justice. I could cry.

Our server shows up – a real nice fella – looked like he just finished a run in a half pipe at Park City . . . yet wasn’t dressed in ski clothes. Not push – which I like, but full of good ideas if asked. Drinks were of course ordered. I opted for my favorite sushi drink – beer, straight up. Turns out Whale Jo’s gal was a hot sake fan (as am I), so that was added into the mix as well. Let’s just say at this point the engines are firing on all cylinders, plus an extra three or seven. Now it was time to order.

I’m not gonna lie to you, I like to go large with sushi ordering. Couple that with the buzz and vibe of Vegas . . .forget it. Game over.

I looked at the menu a little while ago to see what exactly I ordered and here it is:


Robata Grilled Alaskan King Crab . . .extremely savory. You want the taste of crab with a bit of robust mushroom type overtones. . you’ve found it here.

Lobster Toba-Yaki with Garlic Soy Emulsion. Yikes – sounds intimidating, but forget it, this was another home run. Especially the cooked sea urchin – I could close my eyes and feel like I was sitting at the bottom of some rocky bay with cold brackish water.

Spicy Popcorn Rock Shrimp . . . for years now I have been looking for and trying recipes that would create the perfect popcorn shrimp . . . that task is done. This was so good we ordered more.

Kobe Beef Carpaccio . . . gotta have some raw cow with the raw fish right? Absolutely – the cooked quail egg added just the right amount of contrast that made this dish a freakin’ delight.


For my money, the sushi was the absolute best part of this meal. I swear there were still muscle twitches goin’ on with my fish – that’s how fresh this was.

Japanese snapper – very light, with a hint of the sea – probably would have been better if I ordered it sashimi style. . but still awesome.

Toro Chu and Toro Oh . . . Oh yes. The more delicate part of the tuna . . . you get a little more fat content with these pieces which gives it a richness that envelopes you like a silk blanket of taste bud nirvana.

Tuna – the little stepsister of the mightier Toro pieces – so red, so fresh . . . I almost started barking like a seal when I ate this.

Salmon – though I love fishing for this species, I’m not the biggest fan of eating it, usually. The pieces I had here only had the faintest wisp of salmon flavor – just enough to remind me what I was eating, not enough to overpower me to the point where I’d want to be called Brother Bear.

Kampachi – Baby Hamachi . . . I can’t even find words for this one . . . I know people say kids shouldn’t be in Vegas, but thank goodness for these little guys – I don’t even think I bothered picking them off the plate . . . I just pushed my head down and ate pig style.

I also had albacore and yellowtail . . . but I’ve run out of superlatives. They were good.

The only black mark on the whole dining experience was some off the menu dish that the waiter pushed. He did such a hard sell . . . came up to the table and told us, “Hey guys, I really wish the main chef was here because he does this incredible dish that I know you would love . . blah blah blah” He goes on to describe this concoction where the chef puts some miso sauce in a brandy glass, burns it with a mini-torch, lays tuna on the smoking mess, then covers the glass with parchment. We had to get it.

I almost threw up.

But, when the waiter comes back and asks how it was? “Oh, that was the best dude, thank you!” Whale Jo and I caught a little flack for not being honest – but why tilt the ship at that point.

My saving grace – I ordered one last thing – uni (sea urchin). When uni is good, when it is fresh, I don’t think there’s anything better. Okada’s uni was orgasmic. Seriously. If this board didn’t have family value posting requirements I would extrapolate . . .expand if you will . . . rise up and tell ya’ . . OK . . . hopefully you get the picture.

Check came to something near or over $600. Someone else paid. I am truly blessed to have such good friends.

Now it was time to get my game on.

“We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces, singin’, whiskey for my men, beer for my horses!”

Have you ever had one of these moments in Vegas? Commonly happens at a blackjack or craps table, where for one shining moment each player is united in extreme good luck, I mean really good luck, like where you all simultaneously win for an extended run. Then, when it ends, you just feel like you’ve been through battle and you want to join hands with these fellow gamblers and yell out some cheese ball song lyric in unison and . . . .

Naaaaaah, me neither. Unfortunately, ‘Beer for my Horses’ was playing on my iPod and that was the visual going through my mind.

So back to the trip.

Dinner was finished at Okada. It was time to gamble . . . at least it felt like that is what I should do. I should tell you that a piece of me wanted to see if I could get into Tryst and see what the dealio was. As we passed by this line, I noticed every once in a while a small entourage would be lead by some formal looking person and completely bypass the line. I wanted to do that . . . . . . but the allure of gambling was too strong. Maybe next trip involves some clubbing . . . (wow, as I type that word, freakin’ Culture Club pops up on the iPod . . . now I am envisioning myself at Tryst . . . lights dark . . . fog rising . . . . then bump bump . . . .the music goes off the hook and I’m flying across the dance floor doing the worm . . . ).

As I fingered through the crisp bills in my wallet, I couldn’t help but feel like a momma bird getting her babies ready to fly. I felt sad knowing I probably wouldn’t see these guys at the end of the night . . .and at that point, yes, I should have gone up to the room, but even the loser’s attitude couldn’t deter me.

First, I had to take care of my gal – she was ready to start playing craps, so I peeled off some dough and watched her glide to one of the $25 craps tables. I silently whispered a gambling blessing and began the task of finding something worth losing my money on.

At this point I caught Whale Jo out of the corner of my eye . . . wow, he’d gone straight from neutral to sixth gear. Black chips, money plays, the dude was hitting it big time. At some point during his run he had garnered enough interest that he got a Wynn casino host to come over and give him his card. Tight.

As for me? The night just wasn’t on my side. I was extremely slow from the Okada feast and, frankly, was thinking more of getting to bed. I actually do not remember any specific gambling feats of strength (or weakness) . . . that is, unlike previous trips, I never laid out a bet bigger than $50 . . . maybe $100 . . . I was very proud of this fact. However, even $100 bets can add up over time and come midnight or 3 a.m., my little birdies had indeed left the nest and I couldn’t stomach the thought of going up to my room and taking more cash from the safe. Part of this had to do with my gal – well, let’s be honest – it had everything to do with my gal. She had managed to make about $400 at the craps table – not bad for her first real run at the game. Also, she was looking incredibly sexy.

I, er, um . . . let’s skip ahead.

Hello morning! Ahhhh, nothing like having the sweet sound of a back up beeper crawling into your head and violently shaking each and every dehydrated blood vessel in your brain. At least it was sunny. And, well, what do you know, I wasn’t alone.

To be honest, the construction sound didn’t really bother me at all. There was no way I was going back to sleep – I was in Vegas and wanted to get back to the action ASAP. But, my body didn’t want to cooperate, so I ended up laying in a near catatonic state from about 6:45 a.m. – 8:45 a.m. Thank the Vegas gods, but I had the miracle of miracle recoveries at 8:45 a.m. – the hangover just vanished. Don’t know why – don’t care. I had a new lease on the day (this also meant I didn’t have to go through what is becoming an increasingly long Vegas hangover cure ritual . . .)

We ordered some incredible room service. Me, I had the eggs benedict, side of bacon, wheat toast, cranberry juice, and berry smoothie with some sort of energy supplement stirred in. I smothered everything in butter and inhaled it. She, she had something else that I can’t remember – but I know she liked it. We sat right by the window, overlooking the golf course, watching the morning sun begin its baking cycle of the Las Vegas environs. Life was, heck, is good. I’ve just got to make a quick comment on the eggs . . . I think they were cooked by magic unicorns – they were that good, that perfect.

After breakfast, it was time for a quick clean up then a call to Whale Jo and his girl to see what their plans were. There was some initial thought of spending the day at the Palms in a cabana, but we opted for the more relaxed atmosphere of the Wynn. They’d come over and meet us in a few hours.

I quickly called the pool to see if they had any cabana openings . . . . I wanted to see if the charm of Jaco could somehow swing us a deal . . . I also called Whale Jo and mentioned he should call his new host to see what he could swing . . . . I figured the double team would have to work.

It didn’t.

But, we did get lucky – with a quick tip to the pool boy, he was able to direct us right to the last four chairs sitting in the shade and in a relatively private spot. If you are going to the Wynn pool anytime soon, head straight back towards the European bathing section, as you get close to the outdoor bar/casino, take a quick left . . . the seats are right against the back of the bar wall. What’s so good about this spot? You get the benefit of the misters inside the bar area . . . the overspray tends to hit the chairs.

“Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling.”

- Walt Whitman

What is it about Vegas that has the sun put on its high beams? My goodness, put an ant under a magnifying glass and you might start a nuclear reaction with the amount of heat generated.

That’s a few of the thoughts running through my head as my gal and I headed from the relative comfort of the air-conditioned Wynn to the outside pool area . . . a full panoply of sun worshipers and hangover dodgers. Though crowded, there were plenty of areas around the pool where you could indulge yourself in relative anonymity. As I described in my last trip report, I think the best spot is right against the outdoor bar/casino.

As we settled into our chairs, and thankfully underneath the shade of some tree, I couldn’t help but smile. This was nice. Really nice. The only thing that would have made it better was being in one of the hundred or so empty cabanas. Unfortunately, I was not able to get one of these for this trip – but I don’t quite understand how the hotel could say none are available, yet as I walked up and down the pool promenade, there were dozens of empty spaces . . . . oh well, nothing really I could do about it.

This was a brand new activity for me – relaxing during late morning hours in Vegas. Usually, past trips had Whale Jo and I speeding off to go on a casino hunt – trying, usually to get a jump start on the gambling day to try and recoup the previous night’s losses.

Not this time. Nope, I just had lay there, sip cranberry juice . . . .and . . . and . . that was it. I think I almost turned into a statute, not sure, but possible.

Eventually, Whale Jo and his gal gave us a call from the Palms to say they were on their way over. I hopped out of my chair after a few minutes and made my way towards the entrance. Yes, friends, I was going to get these non-paying resort guests into the pool area.

I arrived just as they were getting some serious attitude from the pool security guard about not being able to enter the pool area without a valid room card. I coolly slid up and flashed my Red Card like I was a seasoned CSI veteran.

“Sir, they’re with me” I looked him straight in the eye, flashed the “don’t give me any bull shid, or I’ll have your job” look, followed by a curt nod, in which I implied I was giving him his answer.

“Um, OK, go ahead.”

I smiled, “It’s OK?” I feigned an innocent, “sorry for the trouble” face. He nodded, away we went.

Whale Jo and I had discussed this earlier, but the plan was to leave the ladies at the pool, and we were going to finally hit the casinos. Of course we had both pre-arranged clearance for this activity from the gals . . . I believe they were most appreciative. To be honest, I don’t think my girl had any desire to start gambling before dinner and really wanted to just relax and sit by the pool. Win win.

So, we got our beautiful companions situated. . I made sure to let them know to put anything they wanted on the room . . . and Whale Jo and I made our way out of the pool area and towards the casinos.

Where to go . . . where to go.

The answer came to us as soon as we stepped out of the midday sun . . . . Wynn. A number of factors contributed to this ultimate decision . . . we didn’t have to walk or cab anywhere . . . it wasn’t crowded . . . we both loved the atmosphere of the casino . . . and the Belmont was going to be running in a few hours . . . better to be near a race book close to home base in the unfortunate event that the adult gaming activities caused me to part with my new day’s bills.

So, we walked around. Again, I found myself exercising incredible restraint. No large bets, no huge extended money sucking stays at a blackhole table. At some point, we started doing some bump and runs on $1 and $5 slot machines. Putting a couple bills in and waiting until we hit something, cash out, repeat process, watch profits come in.

We tread water doing this for a bit. Then I think I saw something click in Whale Jo’s eyes – he needed some big action. Sure enough, at some point walking between machines, he left for the tables . . . . things didn’t go so good. I found him sitting solo at a $100 baccarat table . . . .laying wads of bills down. . and losing. Laying yellow chips down . . and losing. Ouch . . .I’d been there to a lesser extent before . . .but this was a major meltdown. Yowza. As he got up from the table, he looked like one of those characters in a horror movie where all the blood’s been drained out and replaced with ants. It was spooky.

It was at this point where we decided to try and cool things down. Nothing says cool down like hitting a $5 VP machine. Heck, I’d graduated to playing $25 BJ . . .why not spend $25 per pop on VP? We pooled our money together and I stuck in $105. I’d have 4 chances to make something happen. Funny enough, I did. Two pair here, a flush there, throw in a full house and suddenly I’m up. I give Whale Jo some walking around money to see if he can’t hit it on the tables and I continued my quest.

I found myself thinking I was in some magic machine land where it was just me and this bank of VP machines . . . I knew there were a select few in the bunch that wanted me to play . .. . . but, there were others that were ready to crack me faster than an acorn in a squirrel’s mouth. What to do? Discipline. I would cash up if I got up $50 or $100 and cash out if I lost more than $50 . . . this was going fine . . . I was at about $300 when BAM . . . 4 of a kind. Sure, I’ve gotten this hand playing good ole $.25 poker . . .but $5 a credit? Oh yes baby . . . . bring on the benjies. I did a little tiny happy dance . . .nothing fancy, just a little hybrid hokey-pokey/tango/salsa move that I’m working on for the next time I’m at a wedding and have too much to drink.

I played some more, won some, lost some, and finally cashed out at around $1000. I took the ticket over to show Whale Jo that I had earned a nice little profit . . . .but he wasn’t quite ready to leave the tables, so I went back to the machines. Good luck strikes again. I cash out around $1,400 . . . now I really want to take the money and run. But Whale Jo comes over and says that I’m hot and no need to stop now. I agree.

I play.

I lose.

And lose.

And lose.

And cash out a ticket worth $1.25 . . . .

Someone check my underwear please?

Sigh. The only saving grace was, at least as I told myself, was that I had only really lost $50.25 . . . . that other $700 or so never really existed . . .

I looked at my watch. Holy craptown – post time wasn’t far away. No time to lament the loss – the ponies were about to run and it was time to get ‘er done.

Surprisingly, the race book was not crowded – at least the betting windows had no lines. All of the little booths had “reserved” signs on them and were filled with rows of 60 year old men who all looked like they’d flown in from upstate New Jersey.

Whale Jo and I walked up to one of the open betting windows and asked for the race card for the Belmont. The sweet gal behind the window gladly handed over hers. Prior to the race, I had already committed myself to laying money down on the #1 horse . . . don’t know why, but that’s the “feeling” I had. The gal told us that she liked 2, 3, and her sleeper was the #7 . . . the only filly in the race. Between us, we dropped about seven bills on this race . . . I’ll leave you in a little suspense as to whether or not any of the tickets we bought paid off.

We still had a little time before the race, so we stopped in at the nice little café/deli shop that’s right behind the race book. I don’t remember what it was called, but it was the absolute perfect place to watch this race. There are big flat screen TVs that you can look at from virtually any seat and most of them had the race tuned in. I got myself a big ole fat cheese steak, adorned it with some splashes of ketchup, sat back and was ready to watch magic happen.

Or at least that is what I was hoping would occur.

As I sank my teeth into the sandwich, I realized I had not had anything to eat since breakfast, earlier in the morning. It made the sandwich all that more scrumptious. So, there we were, getting some much needed food, sipping on some expensive Miller Lights, and waiting for the race to begin. Man, I love anticipation. Oh, and the meal was picked up courtesy of Mr. Whale Jo’s comps at the Wynn . . . .thank you sir.

All of our race tickets were spread out in front of us . . . I think we were really the only ones in the little café interested in watching the race . . .and then, THEY’RE OFF.

The little space in the café we were sitting in came to life.

“HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARD, RUUUUUUUNNNNN HARRRRRRRDDDDDDDDD!!!!!” I screamed this out as the race got underway.

I watched in dismay as the one horse fell behind the back.

“COME ON DONKEY!!!!! GET IT GOING NOW BEFORE THEY TURN YOU INTO GLUE!!!!!” Not sure that this comment was appropriate, but money was on the line folks. And my dismay turned to despair as the one horse fell even further back.

And then my dismay turned to sheer disgust as I watched the seven horse – the horse I’d been told I should put some money on - - started making its move.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” I ruined a few lunches by screaming at the top of my lungs. I hadn’t bet the seven horse, and the seven horse won.


I sat still for several second s and caught my breath . . . oh well, I could easily get that money back . . . .

But I hit the afternoon wall . . . you know, where you just can’t’ seem to muster the energy to go on? Thankfully we got a call from our gals and they were ready to move on from the pool and get ready for the night’s activities.

On tap? A repeat trip to the Golden Steer – which as you may know, did not turn out so well (which should have been no surprise based on my trip there in April). After the Steer? We were gonna try some gaming at Venetian and Bellagio.

I went up to my room, cleaned up, and put on my evening duds. Just some nice silk pants, silk shirt, and a pair of comfortable leather sandals. Most comfortable Vegas outfit I have. I grabbed all the money I had left stashed in the safe and in a loud and proud voice, told my gal, “Saddle up girl, we’re headin’ to the Riviera”

I sold going there based on the idea that it would be great to see this piece of history - real old Vegas - plus a little cheap craps gambling - a game she really started getting into. Mostly though, I wanted to see if I could exercise the demons from last trip when I vomited money in that place.

I couldn't have been more embarrassed of my choice - how drunk was the crew on the last trip that any of us liked this property? Was it dark when we were there? Were we on drugs? JC on a popsicle stick - we walk into the place and are met with an overwhelming stench fog laced with urine - I guess because most of the patrons in there had either wet their pants or were in the process of wetting themselves. Every table was empty and the dealers all looked like someone had cut their nipples off and replaced them with hot pepper tic tacs. I tried a few tables and lost about $20 in chips - but freakin' every loss I got this look like the dealer thought I had just compromised my last mortgage payment on my 1972 Double Wide Vinyl Express . . How bad was this place? One of the dealers was trying to push the freakin' chess championships they had going on. Compounding the problem was asking one of the zombie cashier people whether or not we could walk to the Sahara . . . "Sure, it no problem sir, just two block, two block down, you go, nice nice."

Yah, two blocks that encompass an entire two miles of strip property - 90+ degrees out - and having to endure the anxiety that every person we passed on that walk was going to jack us up if I didn't move off the entire sidewalk into traffic just so he could pass unabated. I can't wait until they blow that place up.

So, out we went into the desert heat and took the long hard walk between the Riv and Sahara. I don’t remember how long it took . . . at some point I began hallucinating that we’d been transported into Escape from New York . . . I half expected Snake Plissken to jump out from behind one of the several decrepit bus stops . . .

But we made it safely, if not a little dusty and definitely sweaty. Ahhhh, the pleasant sanctuary of the Sahara . . . I could tell she was glad to see me . . . . first order of business was to hit the players card desk and find out if I had racked up any cred from the night before and possible from April’s trip.

“Sir, you have $85 worth of credit to use”

Well tickle me Elmo and call me Grover, if that didn’t just put a little hip in my hop. I could now buy my gal and good and proper gift courtesy of the Sahara gift shop. I came out of the players card area, took her hand, and said, “Come on baby, let’s go shopping!”

It’s so funny trying to replay events in my head, at least from my perspective. How much of what happened is the real story versus what I imagined happened versus what I need as filler to continue the story. Next time I’m carrying two things with me at all times: (a) a pocket recorder; and (b) some sort of video recorder I can wear as a hat.

Now that I think about it, you know what I would really, really like? Some way to have a “theme song” played at certain points during the day. This could be a seriously delicious way of making some memorable exits and entrances in Vegas . . . heck, anywhere really.

Jaco strides confidently up to the doors of the Sahara casino. With five gold rings on his left hand and three silver rings on his right, he grasps the desert oasis themed door handles and throws open the doors as wide as they go.

-cue music-

Suddenly, music from Jaco’s teal and rusted crimson blazer pours out.

It’s Dido . . . ‘White Flag’.

Jaco fumbles furiously at his jacket and retreats back out the doors. The music fades. He gathers himself and, again, throws open the doors and strides through into the casino.

-cue music-

It sounds vaguely familiar . . . the song starts quiet, a blend of electronic synthesizers and drum machines . . . .then a British fellow starts talking . . . . then a muted guitar riff . . . ‘I get knocked down . .

‘Tubthumping’ from Chumbawama . . . .

Horrified, Jaco tears the jacket off and goes screaming into the fading desert summer evening.

OK. Sorry, it’s been a week since I’ve written anything and the urge to riff on some creative thoughts crumbling tumbling through my head is too tempting. I’ll try and stay on course for the rest of this report.

Back to it then.

I had just asked my gal if she wanted to go shopping . . . .but of course.

Unfortunately, I had to let her know that with my Sahara credit, our options were, um, limited. I had to remind her that this shopping experience was “free” – she really could get anything she wanted.

Just as long as it came from the Sahara Gift Shop and was under $15.00.
I mean, come on ladies . . . who wouldn’t want that.

The gift shop is all the way in the back of the casino – not sure what the planners were doing hiding this thing so far away, at least that was my thinking before stepping foot into the store.

“What the frick is this place doing here at all.” – that was my thinking after we entered this place.

Fake jewelry. Wow. “Hey sweetie, why not grab that gold covered necklace there – it sure looks good with those ear rings shaped like sea lions . . . or are they turds?”

Get past the fake bling bling (which I actually would not have minded buying and wearing in copious quantities – next trip for sure) and you find yourself perusing aisles of trucker hats, snow globes, Doritos, and collections of refrigerator magnets that wouldn’t hold a post-it to any metallic surface.

I sighed. Well, you gotta make do. So we just started grabbing random stuff. First, the necessities. water. Second, the splurge items: domino sets; random stuffed animals, chocolate; and personal electric hand fans. Yes, hand fans – I wanted to sit at a BJ table, pull the fan out and use my tongue to stop it. I of course would have put a packet of ketchup in my mouth beforehand and then screamed bloody murder as I pretended the hand fan was turning me into a mute.

Um. Let’s continue.

I also wanted a really nice lighter – and by george – I found it. I have it right here in front of me and I kid you not, it’s magic. I don’t know if it’s the fine faux chrome plating that reflects back my image in such a way that I look like an elf, or the six foot burner flame that shoots out of it . . .but I love it. It even has a name – “Chicken”. I love my little Chicken.

I just read that out loud – I need to rethink that name.

So we put all of our stuff on the counter and lo and behold – we were under budget. I can’t remember how much, but I’m telling you I cannot wait until I get back to Vegas and perform Shopping Trip Part Deuce.

I looked at my watch. Yikes. We didn’t have a lot of time . . . just enough to hit a video poker machine. I told my gal I felt lucky.

Well, maybe I would have been if I had not picked a machine right near some dufus talking extra loud on his cell phone about a repo man taking his car the night before.

The dude was pissssssssed. Scary pisssssed.

Thank goodness I was stuck inside a smoke-filled third-tier gambling joint, grinding it out on a video poker machine.

My gal? She was absorbed in a How-To-Play-Craps book purchased with my casino credit.

Ahhhh. Did it get any better than this?

No. Unfortunately, the tail end of this tale probably doesn’t even need to be written. However, I can’t stop myself. Even bad memories can be good ones in Vegas.

So I dump some cash in a video poker machine at Sahara . . . oh well. Thankfully, our time was short and I didn’t have time to engage in a full-fledged five alarm melt down, though as I watched my last credit disappear into the dirty JOB machine, I did feel the strings of self-destruction gently pulling on my psyche, probably just a quiet reminder that the tug could turn into a gaping sucking gravity smashing black hole at any time. This caused a mild coating of temperature cooling, body-odor producing condensation to wick through some of my snappy clothing. Hmm. Time to move to darker environs.

On our way out the door, I told my companion about the Golden Steer. I regaled her with tales of Dom Perignon, the best steak this side of the Colorado, service that would make a queen cry . . . . I also cautioned her that that particular experience had been over a year ago and that one about thirty days prior the Steer had not lived up to the first visit. Nonetheless, I was willing to write off the April experience as a minor blemish, easily curable, no permanent damage done.

For those of you who do not know, the Golden Steer is just about a block off the strip, due west (I think) from the Sahara. It sits in some sort of decrepit strip mall – I couldn’t even tell you what else sits there. We took a quick cab over there and I jumped out and ran to grab the door to open up this place to my lady.

If April was a minor blemish, let me start by saying that June’s visit was a full-fledged Jessica Simpson zit-fest. Forget it. This place is now dead to me.

First, on past trips, it seemed when you entered, you got this feeling of stepping back into old Vegas . . . and if not that, at least a feeling that people were having a good time. Not this trip. Walking in there reminded me of a funeral parlor. Long faces . . . quiet music . . . and a real sense of loss.

Whale Jo, in making this reservation, had told someone on the other line that we were going there for two special occasions and that we wanted the best table they had, plus a bottle of bubbly waiting for us. We were assured that the Frank Sinatra table was waiting for us and that they looked forward to seeing us, again.

When I politely inquired with the check in person . . .nada. No record of any reservation. OK, no problem I thought. There was only one table filled and they looked like zombies . . . I could live with that.

While my gal and I waited for Whale Jo and his gal to arrive, we bellied up to the bar and ordered a couple of drinks. There’s something so not romantic about being in a place that is devoid of any character, devoid of any vibe . . . . I began feeling guilty about having brought her here.

But before I could really do anything about it, in strode our friends. We were taken to our table and our waiter dumped some menus in front of us. We had this particular waiter back in April . . . back then he had been friendly and talkative to a point of being a nuisance. Now, well, it looked like someone had cut his, um, er, delicates off, and was holding them hostage back in the kitchen. No smile, no welcome, just a bunch of tired defeated sighs. Then he just disappeared.

Mr. Depressing No. 2 suddenly showed up at our table to take our wine order . . . then he disappeared. And Mr. Depressing No. 3 arrived asking if we’d like to order any drinks. I said we’d like some wine . . . and he left to get No. 1. No 2 shows up and we order the wine. No. 1 shows up and asks if we want wine . . . we tell him we already ordered a bottle and I am fairly certain he started crying. But, unfortunately, only half the lights in this place were on, so the streaks on his face could very well have been grease marks from him sitting in the back licking the floor clean in order to get his jewels back.

OK, enough. I’m just trying to get across the point that the whole experience was quite maddening. Not mad as in angry, I want to punch my fist through the wall – but mad as in people’s shoes are talking to me and telling me that they need to be untied and set free.

So that is how dinner proceeded – a cacophony of servers, all depressed, trying to make up for each other’s mistakes and misdeeds.

The food? I ordered a NY Strip . . . .medium rare. I honestly have no idea what they served me. Yes, it was a piece of meat. I could tell that from the grizzle and hair still on it . . . and the reddish looking fluid oozing from my first cut. Maybe they were really into free range stuff . . . I tried a bite. Gack. Gack gack gack gack. I couldn’t stop my throat from making this horrible sound. Best I could manage was spitting out the food into my napkin and dropping it to the floor – where I swear I saw other naught-chewed pieces languishing.

One freakin’ bite. That’s all I took and I didn’t even bother sending it back. What’s the point? When one of the waiters finally came to clean the table, he didn’t even bat an eyelash at my full plate. The look on his face more seemed like, “Yup, par for the course – don’t even bother with desert.”

I had to get some air. Whale Jo and I excused ourselves to go sample some fine tobacco products outside. The minute we walk up, some dude drives up in a crashed car – freshly crashed – I could smell the radiator fluid steaming through the bent grill – he looked at us – then dashed off into the darkness. Huh?

It was time to go. I picked up the bill, mostly so I could leave a low ball tip. This was something new for me – generally I tip 20%+ on the entire bill – booze, tax and all. Sometimes I’ll leave a little less if there was a small issue – but usually still 20%. For their pathetic efforts, I left 5%.

So, it was time to get out of there. We got a taxi and decided on our next destination – the Venetian.

The night was alive, despite the negative experience at the Golden Steer. Always the optimist, I fully expected that my lady and I would win and win big. I had even bigger hopes for Whale Jo and his lass.

Unfortunately, the gambling gods had other ideas.

The Venetian blew. Not only did the vibe here completely suck any joy out of the pleasure of gambling, it also sucked the money right out of my wallet.

We got out of there fast and decided to give the Bellagio a whirl.

Yuck. Though Bellagio had a nice little vibe going, the tables and machines were hard set against letting me win. Thankfully my lady had a little luck with some craps and blackjack – always nice to see that sweet smile on her face. I’d happily lose all night just to see that.

So, that closed the night out – me losing, she winning . . . me wishing that I wasn’t leaving the next day.

Morning came fast. My gal went shopping and I decided to try one more run at Mr. Wynn’s VP machines. And what do ya’ know, I got a little lucky. I put a couple bills in the $5 VP machine and turned it into about $800. OK, good enough.

I went over to the Red Card desk to see if I had acquired enough points to do anything – sure enough I had. Not enough to get a free room, but enough to get the regular rate dropped to the casino rate. Another win in my book.

And, that was that. Another trip in the books.

(note – sorry for the quick ending on this – I’m writing the last six paragraphs almost a year after this trip and, believe me, details are fuzzy).

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