The Dark Passenger Trip Report - Las Vegas, September 2010



     I believe it was around the 4th of July when the germination of this latest trip began. I knew Whale Jo’s 40th Birthday was coming up in September and wondered what he had planned. I don’t know which one of us mentioned Vegas first, but once it was out there, forget about putting that idea to rest.

     The next two or so months of planning took on a life of its own. The initial plan was just to have me and Whale Jo head to Vegas, but that seemed a titch too Brokeback Mountain, so we opened up the invite list. In the end, the participants on this trip (the Vegas portion anyways) numbered six. I know in previous reports I’ve described some of these players, but in case you haven’t read through some of the old articles, here’s a summary of the crew for this trip:


Jaco: Me. What do you need to know about me? Just turned 40 this year, quit my job (lawyer) earlier in the year (best decision of the decade) to chase a dream.  This is an odd feeling sitting here trying to type words that describe who I am  . . . as if this were some sort of B.S. job application.  Let's see . . . I have an active imagination (I believe in things that go bump in the night . . . and Santa Claus) . . . I love Vegas (obviously) . . . and I don't think things get much better when you are having laughs and good times with friends and family.  I don't mind crying at corny cheese ball sentimental shite (America's Got Talent) and I don't like ants.  Or spiders.  The picture over there is me getting in my favorite car - the Wynn Phantom (taken 10/2008).





Whale Jo: The birthday boy. Turned 40. Been one of my best friends since 6th Grade.  That's a long time.  We have a ton in common, including the same first names.  He's just one of those dudes that I know has my back, as he knows I have his.  He’s got a generous, crazy, frenetic energy about him.  Case in point . . . we were fishing one time and upon landing a really big salmon, he got so excited about the whole thing that he sunk his teeth into the surprised creature and tore out and ate a chunk of its flesh. He enjoys crying as well.  This is a pic of Whale Jo going uber-bonkers outside the private jet.


Smooth Chazz: The affable southern gentleman. We went to law school together. Solid character. Though only a few years older than me, I can’t help but notice that in photos he looks almost 60.  In life though, you'd call him "Babyface."  Must be the camera.  If you want a guy that can tip back quadruple makers marks, watch SEC football, and be a good wingman while you flush black chips at the tables . . . this is your dude.  This is a pic of Chazz sulking in the Phantom as we leave Encore for the airport.



Frankie Styles: Another polite southern gent. (though to be honest, I think both him and Smooth Chazz were born and grew up in places far from the south). Another lawyer. And a damn good one. Frankie provides some of the most gut busting moments of the trips with his amazing wry and poignant sense of humor. He’s also likes being carried like a baby (as you'll see from another picture I'll post later on in this report).  Knows his wine.  Excellent skill to have when the five other dudes at the table are all 1/2 in the bag.  This is a pic of Frankie taking care of business atop the Chateau Marmont. 






Hee-Haw aka Lone Sioux: My brother in law. Smart, solid and down to earth guy. Enjoys Vegas and enjoys going on long walks by himself in Vegas.  Thank god I like this guy - he's married to my sister after all.  Very handy.  If a flood was to ever hit Vegas and we needed an ark to get out of there - he'd be the one that could build it out of bath soap.  He doesn't like the nickname Hee-Haw, so that's why I'll call him it.  :)  This is a pic of him at the Chateau.  Don't know what he's looking at . . . I'll have to discuss that with him at the next family dinner.






Scooter: A new member of the crew this trip. A H.S. buddy of mine (and Whale Jo). We go a long ways back. Another very smart dude. Observant and genuine, he brought a lot to this trip and hope he makes it on future trips.  Loved the fact that he's a veggie, but took a timeout to try the beef at Carnevino.  Shipit Scooter.  This is a pic of Scooter trying to tell Whale Jo that it isn't a good idea if he tries to land the plane.


     So there you go. That’s the cast – we’ll see if any of them demand that their bylines be rewritten after reading my descriptions.  If you're reading this boyz, changes will cost you $25.

     Anyway, so back to the planning. I don’t know any other way to represent start to finish the change of plans that occurred during the trip planning process than to lay it out in a list. Here’s how the trip changed from beginning to end:

(1) Fly into Vegas on Thursday and meet up with Whale Jo and leave Saturday a.m. for home;

(2) Same as (1), but include the Vegas crew in the party;

(3) Same as (2), but add a helicopter tour of the strip at night or arrange to play a private poker game with Daniel Negreanu (here's some INFO on him in case you don't know who he is) or Jean Robert Belande (here's INFO on him as well);

(4) Scrap the copter ride, instead what about playing with Negreanu or Belande and/or fly to LA to meet Whale Jo at airport and fly on his Southwest flight with him;

(5) Wait . . . why not fly out on a private jet instead?

(6) So now choice is, fly into LA Thursday a.m. and the fly out that morning on private jet or play poker with Daniel Negreanu.

(7) Screw you Negreanu, private jet trumps you.

(8) Why wait until Thursday morning? Fly into LA Wednesday night, surprise Whale Jo and take him to private jet and fly out to Vegas that night.

(9) Wait. Can’t just touch down in LA. Must party. So fly in to LA Wednesday night, have dinner, then sleep, fly out on private jet in a.m.

(10) Nah. Excitement and surprise level needs to be upped. Fly in Wed. early evening, meet up for a birthday party at Chateau Marmont, then fly out on private jet at midnight.

(11) Oh, and when we check in to Encore, it’s not into a 2BR Parlor Suite as Whale Jo thinks . . . nope . . . instead it’s a 2BR Apartment Suite . . . . shipit.

(12) And as an afterthought . . . stay Saturday night as well.

     Props definitely need to be given to Mrs. Whale Jo for making this possible. What an incredible wife to put together such a mind-blowing experience for her husband and his buddies. If you ever read this Mrs. Whale Jo, the boyz can never thank you enough – Mr. Whale Jo is one lucky SOB to have met you.  The effort you put into all this was exceptional.

     So there are the short strokes on where this trip began and where it was going . . . . so without further ado, let’s dive right into it, shall we . . . the water is warm, as they say (though not quite sure who “they” really is or are . . . )

Day One: Wednesday

“Upgrade Day”

     Total amount of people on the flight to Burbank heading to Whale Jo’s birthday party: 13 (8 adults, 5 kids – ages 6-10). It was a bit different starting off the Vegas trip with wives and kids in tow. Definitely a little lower key.

Sitting in the airport waiting for departure, I got this e-mail:

*****
To: Jaco
From: Mrs. Whale Jo’s Assistant
Date: 9/15/10

Re: New tail number for tonight’s flight

Hi Jaco-

[The jet charter] just let me know that tonight's flight has been upgraded to a larger, nicer aircraft. The new tail number is xxxx. Please inform the driver as he approaches the airport, and I will be reachable if you have any questions!

thanks, and see you this evening.
******

    Sure, I’ve been upgraded from coach to first, from a regular room to a suite . . . but an upgrade on an entire plane? Now that was something definitely unique.  I let out a little tiny whoo-hoo.  How could this not be an unforgettable trip?

     Now, if you are wondering why there were wives and kids accompanying the fellas on the trip, here’s the scoop. During the planning process Mrs. Whale Jo asked if the ladies wanted to come down and hang out in LA. The plan would be to go to the birthday party, stay at the Chateau for a night, then the next day take the young gals to the American Girl Experience and stay at the Mr. and Mrs. Whale Jo house for a couple days. Why not? Girls are entitled to have fun! And, as it turns out, they had a blast – worthy of its own trip report.  I'll make sure to plug in details of their trip in this report . . . here's a teaser though . . . at the movies with an A-List Celeb . . .

     I can’t remember if I mentioned it before, but everything we were doing was supposed to be a surprise to Whale Jo. He only knew that we were meeting in Vegas and that maybe he had some dinner plans with his wife the night of his birthday. In order to keep up the ruse, I e-mailed him from the plane, trying to convince him that we were not in LA and that I was back home taking care of domestic requirements.

     As some point during the e-mail exchange, I received this e-mail from Whale Jo:

*****
To: Jaco
From: Whale Jo
Date: 9/15/10

Re: Birthday

just left you a message - just got a free upgrade to the penthouse suite at the Chateau!!!!!!!!!!

oh my god

I wish you were here

I am on top of the world
*****

     Another upgrade?  Ship that.  Of course, at this point he thinks he is staying in that room at the Chateau. In fact, at one point during the flight, I received an e-mail from Whale Jo with his idea of what surprises were in store for him:

*****
To: Jaco
From: Whale Jo
Date: 9/15/10

Re: Birthday

so sick

at least 3000 square feet on top of the hotel facing the entire city wraparound views

so fucking VIP

[Mrs. Whale Jo] says every big actor has stayed here and had parties here


I still can't believe it

and now she is cancelling my flight so I know something is happening in the morning

that's why I think you are coming here

plus she was frantically cleaning the house - obviously someone is staying there!

I think you and [Mrs. Jaco] are already here and [Mrs. Jaco] is going to palm springs with [Mrs. Whale Jo] and you and I are taking a private plane to vegas in the am and staying in a penthouse suite at encore

that's what I think

call me from your home phone

then I will know you are still [at home].
*****

     Dang! He was getting kind of close . . . at least with the private plane idea. But way off on me already being down there. Also off on the plans for the wives. I had to laugh. Though he did kind of put a checkmate move on me by requesting a call from my home phone – no way I could accomplish that at 30,000 ft. somewhere over southern California. Oh well. Best I could do was tell the truth. So I e-mailed him and swore on everything I hold holy that I was not presently in LA and that everything would be revealed by tomorrow.

Smooth Chazz in the limo
to the Chateau, wondering
if I'm going to boot on him.

     Arrival into Burbank was smooth. I had pre-arranged two 10-person BLS limos for us all. They were waiting for us and promptly whisked us off to the Chateau.  Our driver took an odd circuitous route to the Chateau . . . at least one I hadn't been on before.  A lot of corners . . . I kind of started to get car sick.  But, thankfully just before I was going to boot out the window, we arrived. 

     The Chateau.

     Let the fun begin . . .

     For those of you who have not been to the Chateau, it is really kind of impossible for a limo, or really any large car, to actually drive up the driveway to main entrance/garage, just too tight.  So, the limos dropped all of us off, along with all of our bags, curbside just down the hill from the hotel and we all proceeded in what must have looked like some odd parade.
 
     The Chateau Marmont, at least to me, has a very old school feel to it.  There's nothing overtly modern day fancy about it - more like a classy old dame.  We got the girls checked in and they went to go check out their room.  The guys went up to stow their bags in the penthouse suite.
 
     Wow.  What a room.  Here are a few of the lame pics I took - they don't really do the place justice:
 

The Living Room - Chateau Marmont Penthouse

Entry Hall - Chateau Marmont Penthouse

Looking into the dining area and kitchen
Chateau Marmont Penthouse

The view from the terrace . . .



Another view from the terrace


     The five of us, Smooth Chazz, Frankie Styles, Hee-Haw, me and Scooter, milled around the suite and took in the sights while the party was set up for Whale Jo's surprise party.  We were being served humbow, chicken wraps, and some sort of shrimp chip with dipping sauces.  The food was amazing and I hope nobody noticed that I might have ate too much before the party started . . . .ooops.  Drinks for the evening consisted of three of Whale Jo's personal favorites:  7 & 7, Mont Gay Rum mixed with cran and orange, and red wine.  Knowing that a long night was ahead, I tried a few of the rum drinks, then stayed with straight cran (though I do think maybe I pulled some beers out of the mini-bar down in our gals' room).

     Whale Jo was out to dinner with his wife and his family (who had also flown in for the event).  I was pretty sure he thought that I would be meeting up with him at dinner.  His head must have really been spinning.  It wasn't too long after our arrival that we got word that Whale Jo was in the building.
      
     Take your places everyone . . . lights out.

     At this party, besides those of us that had flown in from out of town, were a cool collection of Whale Jo's LA friends.  The plan of attack for the surprise was to have them inside the suite when Whale Jo walked in.  Then, after that surprise had subsided, he was to be lead out of the suite to the terrace, where we would then casually walk around the corner and give him another surprise.

    I heard him walk in the room and the people inside, true to form, yelled out a hearty SURPRISE.  He went bananas.  I watched carefully through a crack in the blinds from outside.  Lot's of hand shaking, hugs and well wishes. 

     Then, Whale Jo was lead to the terrace.  He marveled at the set-up.  But he had no idea what lurked around the corner.

     We waited.

     And waited.

     And waited . . . .

     Then as a group, we casually sauntered into his field of vision.

     Surprise!

     He was floored.  Absolutely floored.

     "I knew you were here dude!"  Whale Jo screamed out as he gave me a big bear hug.

     Then he began to realize that more of the crew had made it down.

     "Frankie Style!  Chazz!  Oh my god!  Scooter?  Hee-haw?"

     He was even more surprised to see the little people and our lovely wives.  I wish I had gotten a pic of that smile on his face (though I do suspect someone has it and I'll add it in after the fact).  Whale Jo was one happy dude.

     "What else is in store tonight boyz?  Are we going to Vegas?"

     What was I going to tell him?  The truth?

     I don't think so.

     Smooth Chazz and I then proceeded to tell Whale Jo that while we might be going to Vegas, it certainly wasn't going to be tonight.  Not even tomorrow.  Nope.  Tomorrow we (including Whale Jo) were all going to the American Girl Experience!  We were all there to see him pick out his daughter's first American Girl!

     That's also another picture I wish I had - his face when he realized that we weren't necessarily joking.  It made sense after all . . . .our wives and girls were there . . .

     Little did he know what was really about to happen.

     For the next three hours, all of us out of town folks mingled with the LA crowd and had a genuinely good time. It was fun to get to know some of the friends Whale Jo has made in LA since moving there permanently. The young girls had a blast at the party and had even a better time heading off for a little late night swimming.

     Then, eventually, it was time.

     Whale was informed to have his bag ready by 11:15. We were getting picked up.

     “Where are we going? Are you serious? We are leaving tonight?!?!?!?!?”

     As he bounced off the walls, I made sure to let the other fellas know that departure time was near. Once 11:15 rolled around, we all headed down to the lobby and to the curb.

     “Seriously, where are we going?”

     “Private Jet”

     As much as we had tried to keep the cat in the bag, this secret was just too big to keep any longer. Whale Jo’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

     As we waited for the limo, Scooter suddenly scooted across the street. WTF? Turns out he wanted a picture of a taco joint . . . Pinches Tacos . . . apparently “pinche” can be a nasty word in Spanish and Scooter found the irony picture worthy.

     Finally the limo arrived and took a much more direct route back to Burbank airport. During the drive, we finally had our first pre-Vegas gambling moment.

     Since none of us had flown in a private jet before, we weren’t sure whether there would be booze on board. And for goodness sakes, who needs a dry plane when you flying out to Vegas at midnight? So we had the driver pull in to a random AM PM so someone could run in and get beer. Hee-Haw took charge. But before heading out, Smooth Chazz and Whale Jo made a bet on the over/under for the amount of time it’d take him. Whale Jo predicted over 2 minutes, Chazz under. As soon as the limo stopped, Hee-Haw was out like a bullet. And in 1:12 he was back in the vehicle with a ½ rack of Corona and another ½ rack of something else. Job well done sir.

     Here’s a pic in the limo right after his run.



     Ahhhh. I cracked open a cold Corona and watched the lights go by. The limo got a little silent as we approached the private hanger where take off would occur. It actually kind of reminded me of heading into a federal detention center . . . high chain link fence, razor wire, security gate . . . .but once we cleared the entrance we saw all the iron on the tarmac . . . and then our plane . . . lit up . . . stairway down . . . it was really happening. Vegas baby.

     Here are all the pics I took during the plane ride. I have a video of the landing, but unfortunately I was a little too amped up when I shot the video of us landing and didn't have the wherewithal to actually hold the camera in one position . . . it looks like the plane is flipping over . . . I'm trying to fix that.  Anyways, check these out, and then following these pics I will try and put words together than can accurately describe the experience.

Yes, Whale Jo, that's your plane!

Laugh it up chuckle monkeys, we're going to VEGAS!


Guess this bird will fly itself . . .

This plane is, um, shipit?

Oh, look, a cup holder!
I'm going to tackle Frankie Styles.

















  
Vegas, coming into view . . .

View of Vegas through the cockpit.
 
Screen telling us where we are.
     
Arrival.  Welcome back boyz.
























Best plane ride - EVER.

      It really is like a dream. Stepping out of the limo and seeing the white, gleaming jet just waiting for the six of us to hop aboard and fly to Vegas. The two pilots greet us with strong handshakes (don’t want someone with a fish hand shake flying my plane!) and tell us that as soon as we’re all on board, we’ll take off. There are a ton of “No ways!”, “This is so cool”, “Shipit”, “Can I ride on the roof”, being shouted about as we board.

     The plane?  A Hawker 800XP.  The interior. Soft colors, not too unlike the Wynn color scheme, accented with gold trip and gold cup holders. Soft supple lazy boy like seats. The cabin interior measures about 5.75 feet by 6 feet. Plenty of room. Oh, and it turns out they do have drinks. Anything you want. Beer. Wine. Booze. Some light snacks are in a goodie basket. And there’s a bathroom! That’s the first place I head – but takes me a while to figure out where the actual toilet is. It turns out it’s hidden underneath what looks like a normal bench. Guess when things get really crowded, a person could spend the ride in the john.

     Here's a pic of the interior layout:
     Here's a stock photo of the plane in flight (obviously I couldn't take this)

    
     Once we’re all done bouncing around the plane, we tell the pilots that we’re good to go. Almost immediately we’re moving. And nobody tells us to put the seat belts on. Though I decide to. Just in case. We’re opening beers, doing toasts when suddenly it’s take off time.

     My goodness.

     It’s probably the closest I’m going to come to riding in a rocket to the moon. This plane has POWER. Forget the long windup of a 767 lumbering down the runway. This pony went from zero to hundreds of miles per hour in what seemed like 2 seconds. The force was so abrupt and powerful that Chazz’s beer literally flew out of the cup holder all over the side of the jet. If he hadn’t been buckled, I imagine he would have flown through the air all the way to the back.

     And then we’re in the air. Lifting effortlessly, quietly, can’t believe how quiet, into the air. The lights of Burbank and LA beyond zoom out, turning from identifiable buildings and cars, into tiny little LED lights in some old school hand held video game. On the wall in our cabin was a nice big video screen that showed exactly where the plane was, airspeed, altitude and outside temperature. Kinda cool to watch.

     This particular part of the trip is something I will never forget (and someday hope to experience again). The conversation was light, tons of laughter and by far the smoothest plane ride in the history of my universe.  I still can't get over how it didn't feel like we were flying . . .

     And then Vegas came into view . . . and what a view it was.  So close . . . so close . . .

     Watching the lights of Vegas creep closer and closer was completely mesmerizing. One minute a blurry fuzz of yellows and oranges, and then suddenly the strip in all its brightness reveals itself. We approached the strip and runway from the east, and then turned abruptly south (at least I think that’s the direction – strip was on our right, and we were moving towards MGM). The anticipation for touching down was epic, electrically epic. The wheels hit, cheers erupt and the pilots can’t get the planed stopped fast enough. We roll towards the private hanger, door opens, stairs down and we head out into the Vegas night.

     I take my first breath of desert air and smile once my eyes settle on the Wynn limo waiting on the tarmac to whisk us off. I look at my watch. A little after 1 a.m. Plenty of time to have some fun. We were in Vegas!



Thank you Steve for picking us up . . . Encore here we come!
     Our bags get stuffed into the limo trunk and we’re off. No stops lady. Encore Tower Suites entrance pronto. As we move along towards our destination, I suddenly need a restroom.

     “Just go in here. You paid for it.” Chazz deadpans.

     No, that would be quite disrespectful. And messy.

     With only about two minutes left in the ride, Chazz decides it’s time to do stage dives in the limo. Another perfect picture opportunity lost. Don’t think anyone got bruised.

     Then we are at Encore. Getting out of the car, I can smell the distinct tropical notes of the seasoned air inside the resort. Time for Whale Jo’s final surprise of the night.

     The Two Bedroom Apartment Suite.

     He thinks we’re checking into a Parlor Suite . . . but thanks to his wife, she’s upgraded him to a big boy room.  Happy birthday buddy.

     Oh is he surprised.

     We need to get up there, take in the room, then hit the floor. All before we hit the proverbial wall. We were on the clock.

     The rest of the boyz got checked in and a few of us decided to meet up in the room then head back down to the pit.

     The room was amazing. Huge. Maybe too huge? 3,500 sq. ft. is a large space to fill. I only managed to snap a few pics of the suite, and here's about the only one that was in focus.

Standing at windows and looking in towards the living room. 
Encore Two Bedroom Apartment Suite
     I did take some vids and will try and get those posted later on - probably not until after this whole report is done.

     I’ll try and give a verbal tour of the room.

     You enter and are standing in a hallway, to your right is a massage room, something decorative to your left. As you move forward towards what appears to be a massive living room, you notice that the entryway T’s into two perpendicular hallways, all told about the length of what seems a bowling alley. If you travel to your right, you’ll pass by a rather large guest bathroom, a room that butlers or robbers could enter through, and then into one of the two massive bedrooms. In the bedroom is a king bed, a chair, a number of dressers, and then a faux bureau from which a decent sized (42?) flatscreen rises out of. Walking straight into the room, the bathroom is on your right. It has a large Jacuzzi tub, a two sink pimp up area, a large closet (with safe), a separate toilet room (w/ phone – really who uses that?), and a giant glass enclosed shower. The shower can be used as a steam shower – in addition to more conventional uses, like cleaning the shorts I soiled during takeoff. Kidding.

     As you go back out the room, passing the living room, now on your right, you head towards the other bedroom. Once past the entryway, you’ll see on your left the kitchen area. Nice stainless steel completely empty fridge, microwave, and sink. Then, you hit the other bedroom – large, same layout as the first bedroom – just a titch bigger.

     The layout is a lot like a Salon Suite w/ a connecting room – just bigger and nicer appointments. Not a bad place to call home for two nights . . . well, I guess three: Wed., Thurs., and Friday. Checkout of this room would be Saturday – I’d move into a Tower Suite King then.

     I do have some video of the room – but gotta figure out how to cut down some of it so it fits on blogger. Guess I’ll have to post that later.

     Maybe because it was 2 a.m. and maybe because of all the excitement from the previous hours’ activities, there just wasn’t enough energy to give the room its proper hello. Nevertheless, I gave a silent bow to St. Steve, threw my bag in the corner, put some cash in the safe, then joined Whale Jo to go make the first bet.

     First order of business for me was to hit the Survivor slots. I just wanted to see if there was any indication from the gaming gods on whether or not this would be a winning trip. We both put a hundo in. Nothing. Another hundo. This time got a few bonus rounds and was able to earn enough credits where we walked away up a hundo. OK. So no hand pay. At least I was up.  But something wasn't feeling right.

     We moved over to the Wizard of Oz machine. Nothing doing on this one. A couple lame Glinda bonuses where she only put out one wild and we left the machine down about $50. Hmmm. Was it too late in the evening to muster up any fun winnings?

     We tried a Jaws slot machine. Got one bonus round. But our money got chewed up.

     Monopoly old friend! How about you? Any money for ole Jaco?

     No.

     Then a warning light went off in my head.  I was out of gas. Whale Jo however was still raring to go. I bid him adieu and laughed to myself on the way up to the room. All this build up. All this hype. All the events leading to the moment I found myself in . . . and I was down. It was probably about $600 or so that I had lost – not that much – plenty of fire power left in the safe. But for some reason, there was a sudden dark and foreboding feeling wiping the laughter from my thoughts. As the elevator ascended, the colors seemed to drain a bit, the sounds muted, and when I walked off that elevator I knew exactly what was happening.

     The Dark Passenger had arrived.

     Those of you who are Dexter fans know what a “dark passenger” means in the context of that show. For those that don’t – basically it is the virtual demon within the main character that compels him to kill.

     Let me be straight with you before you get any strange ideas -- my Dark Passenger ain’t that DARK. Not even close. I can barely muster enough cajones to smack a fish in the head, let alone contemplate anything far across the morality line. I just like using the name.

     I guess within the realm of Vegas, I find that if I don’t win, there’s a certain brooding mood I can fall into. Sure who doesn’t. Nobody likes to lose. Just so happens that to help with this mood swing, I found identifying the term “Dark Passenger” keeps me from sinking to the bottom of the pity pit. When it hits, suddenly I can’t really talk (well, more like really don’t want to), can’t laugh, and would rather crawl into the dark corner of a room and sleep.

     So, there I was, walking down the hallway, trying as fast as I could to get to the room and hide under the covers. It was too early in the game to start feeling any remorse about the losses. Tomorrow was a brand new day.

     As I shrunk under the covers, I looked at the clock. 3:30 a.m. Christ that’s early. It must have taken another ½ hour before I finally went totally black . . .

     The first day/night in Vegas was over.

     And there were many more miles to go . . . the journey had just begun.

Day Two: Thursday

“Attack of the Friendlies”

wham.

Wham.

WHAM.

WHAM!!!!

     I don’t know any other way to explain it than to say when I woke up this particular morning it was like riding through some sort of transcendence turbulence that blocked the normally easy pathway between dreamland and reality. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to open my eyes.

     But, of course, not being a weenie, I did. The clock said 7:30. But it was pitch black. No.

     No, no, no, no, no.

     I had not just slept through an entire day. Not in Vegas. Not on my first real day.

     I took a deep breath and looked around the room.

     What was that? A crack in the darkness?

     Wait a sec . . . .

     I fumbled for the massive remote control, Betty, and stroked her buttons.

     It was just the shades! Light poured into the room as all the curtains drew back.

     7:30 a.m. suckah!

     No way I should be up. But I was.

     No way I should be hangover free. But I was.

     No way the Dark Passenger should be hanging around.    

     But it was.

     I shook my head. Just cobwebs. That’s all, just cobwebs. I’ll get myself some coffee, maybe a snickers bar, some water and . . . and . . .

     And what?

     Exactly . . . and what? This unanswered question caused an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I couldn’t complete the sentence . . . couldn’t get past the “what”. I was really starting to psyche myself out and I had barely had any action on the gaming floor.

     I decided to bury the feeling deep inside. Internalization. I’m good at it. My only hope was that I had buried the ominous, bad luck feeling deep enough.

     Three deep breaths, a half hearted smile/smirk, and I jumped out of bed. Let’s do this.

     It was Choose Your Own Adventure time . . . I thought of three possible choices: (a) head straight out to the gaming floor and tackle the Dark Passenger head on; (b) order a massive amount of room service then hit the casino; or (c) let the casino wait, go outside and get the cabana your host reserved for you.

     I chose option (c). Cabana. I knew exactly what would happen if I undertook gaming at this juncture.

     Having come up with a plan, I proceeded to make use of the steam shower amenity in the suite. I fired up the steam shower in my bathroom. I turned the shower up to 118 degrees and after about 7 minutes or so, the hot box was ready.

     Oooooops. I wasn’t ready for the heat. I felt like I was on Venus. But I figured if there wasn’t any sort of safety governor on the temperature control, well, then it couldn’t be that hot. 

     I lasted all of about 3 minutes before I reached for the regular shower controls and turned on the cold water tap. Sweet heat relief. I did this for another minute or two and felt completely alive and rejuvenated. Yessir. Time to enjoy time. 

     After throwing on some clothes, I looked towards Whale Jo’s room. Door closed, but a note on the handle. 

     Late night. In at 5:14 a.m. Meet you at 11 a.m.  

     Git er dun Whale Jo! I hoped my friend had fared well at the tables. 

     The jaunt down to the pool was quick enough and I didn’t even feel the urge to just give a little tester to the machines. Good sign.

     I went to the towel desk and asked for a cabana host. Tommy Towel checked his books and, sure enough, my name was on the reservation book. Almost immediately, two cabana hosts showed up to take me to my little oasis. 

     Cabana #4. Right back by the European Bathing section of the Encore pool. Nice, this would do. It was about 9 a.m. and the pool area was basically empty. The music was softly muted – which I knew in a few hours would change. I sat back, ordered a coffee, took a few complimentary Gatorades out of the mini-fridge, and, for lack of a better word, chilled. 

     I took a few pics just to record a moment in time where I felt content . . . safe . . . relaxed. Of course I knew that would all change too.

Looking into Cabana #4

Looking out at the Encore Pool

Looking up from the cabana.




















     I then noticed a little pad of paper and jotted down some notes of the previous nights events . . . as I write these words in this trip report I’m looking at those notes . . . my last entry corresponds with what I said above . . “Cabana – coffee – empty POOL” . . . don’t know why I made pool all caps – maybe I was proud that I still could spell. 

     I had just gotten a new phone and the only number I had in it was Chazz’s – so I called him. Woke him up from a deep slumber and told him to meet me in the cabana. He put an order in for some breakfast and a bloody mary and was down in about fifteen minutes.

     Eventually we track down all the other guys and one by one they came in and out of the cabana during the morning early and afternoon. Nothing too exciting happened – just some good conversations, a few laughs, and, at least for me, a nagging feeling scratching the inside of my head. 

     I decided to finally give in. Time to start testing the machines and see if I could do some good. 

     My first go at it wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t great. Instead of wasting time playing Survivor, I sought out something new, something fresh. 

     The Amazing Race slots sucked me in. 

     They were big, lots of blue (favorite color), and loud. I had to give them a try. 

     First couple spins didn’t do much for me. But then I noticed that there was some sort of multiplier in play . . . 3x . . . 4x . . . 5x . . . 10x . . . it kept going up depending on the rhythmic thumping of the Max Credit button. I never quite figured out the key . . . but once I got it to 10x, I seemed to be able to keep it between there and 15x. 

     Here’s a pic of the big board above the actual game screen.


Amazing Race Slot Machine
     As I’m plodding along, I finally hit some sort of bonus round. Kind of exciting, the host of the show suddenly appears on the screen and begins explaining how the bonus round works.


Let's do this Phil F-ing Keoghan!!!!

     Basically the bonus round (at least the first one I hit) consists of a bunch of free spins. If a “Mileage Meter” comes up, you get, yep, miles.


Mileage Meter!  I'm going to Australia!

     Then the miles are added up and if you reach a certain level, you earn the progressive bonus.

Wow!  After 1/2 hour of work, $20.  I can now
buy a souvenir pen and have change left over
for a taco or fries at the airport.
     I have a video of the bonus round that, when I took it, seemed super exciting. But after watching it back, I about fall asleep. Once I get it compressed, I’ll post it.  

     Oh, and another feature of this game is that it’s a community game. Meaning if you get in the bonus round, so do the other players. But, since nobody was sitting next to me, I did this one alone.

     However, it wasn’t long before a nice old Korean lady sat down next to me. She started playing and I got the feeling we were going to have fun.

     Boom. Bonus Round.

     Only this time it was different. I think it’s called Golden Ticket . . . or something like that (I don’t watch the show). 

     This has got to be the silliest bonus round ever invented. The idea is that there’s a golden ticket buried in a virtual sand pile and you have to touch the screen as fast as you can to uncover it. The longer it takes you to find it, the less valuable the ticket becomes. 

     I could tell the woman next to me had done this before. As the countdown started she raised her arms and hands up to sort of a “kitty cat about to pounce” position. I, of course, mirrored this.

     3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . GO!

     Sigh, again, another moment in time that should have been recorded. 

     Both she and I frantically clawed at our respective machines, both hand flying in the air, digits pounding relentlessly against the glass. I started grunting as the pressure was getting to me . . . ugh . . tap tap tap tap . . ugh . . . taptaptaptaptaptap . . . can’t go any faster . . .

     Ding.

     Done.

     I looked over at her and made an appreciative nod. She shrugged her shoulders and gave me a pout face. Or maybe that was her way of smiling. Hard to say. For her efforts she had recovered 967 credits. $9.67. I had 3500 . . . $35.  

     I continued to play, hoping to hit that ticket bonus round again. I was addicted. Seriously addicted. I sit here typing this and I’m trying to pantomime the whole scene out again and it gives me withdrawal chills.

     Unfortunately, I flushed my money.  

     Then I realized I had only played slots so far. Time to find a table game. 

     The only thing that felt “right” was roulette. I had a predetermined set of numbers I wanted to play and figured now was the right time. I bought in for $100 and placed some chips.  

     31. 

     Sweet. Right off the bat. Take that Dark Passenger. Shove that up your A . . . .

     Sssssssshhhhhhhhoooooooot.  No.  I had forgotten to cover that number. 

     OK. I sighed. Relax Jaco. Tons of time left. You can do it. 

     Best I could manage was hitting a number when I had a chip on a four-way border. 

     Some bloke from Manchester sat down, it was his 21st birthday. I wondered where his mates were – but I was in no mood to talk. I did tip my hat to him though and watched while he hit a bunch of numbers, sometimes two in a row. I, of course, went bust and headed back out to the pool. 

     “The Dark Passenger is right behind me boyz” 

     They knew what I was talking about. 

     “Shake it off Jaco, enjoy the sun” 

     Yep. That would do. 

     Whale Jo had finally arrived at the cabana and was updating us on his journey into the wee hours of last night. Turns out he had quite a bit of fun. I think that was the night where he ran into a bunch of Canadian gals at Wynn and was betting on their hands at a Let It Ride table. There’s a post from one of them at the bottom of the blog page.  

     Finally, the blackjack tables at the pool bar opened up. Before playing those, however, I went inside to try one more run at the slots. 

     Stupid. Lost again. 

     I came back out and joined Smooth Chazz and Whale Jo at a table. Things weren’t looking good. Whale Jo was bordering on tilt. I watched a few hands and cringed as Whale Jo was flayed. Maybe I could change the luck of the table. 

     Nope. At least not the first three or four hands. By then, Whale Jo had been busted and left in a rush to reload. I expected to see him back in about ten minutes. 

     After he left, I was able to go on a little mini run with about $75 remaining in my stack. Each time I won, I felt a little bit of the Dark Passenger being whittled away. Finally, Smooth Chazz declared he was done and cashed out. I followed suit and was happy to receive a Barney and a black chip. 

Hello my little friends!

     OK! $600! That took away some of the pain from the morning slot debacle. I decided to give the gaming a rest and just hang out at the cabana. Got a little Sammy, had some brews, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon.

     The plan for the evening was to have all the boyz up to the suite around 6 p.m. for cocktails and then head out to Palazzo around 7. Dinner at Carnevino was set for 7:45 p.m.

     As the afternoon wore on, both Scooter and I noticed that Whale Jo had not returned. Hmmmm. I texted him. Silence. I called and left a message. No return call. 2 p.m. . . . . 3 p.m. . . . . 4 p.m. . . . around 4:45 Scooter and I headed up to the suite. Maybe he’d just decided to sleep through the afternoon. 

     The room was empty. No sign of him. Scooter tried calling him. No answer. 

     Hmmmm. Very strange. 

     Not much I could do though.  So, to pass the time, I picked out my threads for the evening.  Whoops.  Should have taken them out of the suitcase sooner.  They were very very wrinkled. I looked around for an iron and couldn’t find one. So, I just turned on the steam shower and hung my clothes in there. 

     Presto! Wrinkles gone. 

     I came out of my room at 5:45 . . . no sign of the Dark Passenger . . .

     “Scooter, any word?” 

     “None” 

     “Uh-oh” 

     “Uh-oh is right.” 

     Whale Jo was MIA . . . .

     But not for long.

     He appeared in the room right around 6 p.m. Big smile on his face.



You did what!?!
      “Well?”

     He flashed a bit of green. Grinned.

     “Down, but not too bad”

     “We thought you ended up in a ditch or went home.”

     Turns out anything but. Based on the brief interview we had with Whale Jo in the suite, it seems when he went back to the room to reload, he made a straight line to the Wynn casino. Not having much luck there with anything, he decided to change his game. Always a lover of poker, he headed straight for his personal poker mecca – the Ivey Room over at Aria.

     What is the Ivey Room? It’s the single table high limit room over at Aria . . . .I think they play the highest level regular cash game in Vegas now . . . not as high as back in the day . . . but you want action, this is where you go.

     Sounds like he had a great time playing at the table and made some new friends. Oh, and apparently stopped the bleeding too. Maybe we could all go over tomorrow . . . .

     And with the good news that our birthday boy was OK, it was time to high tail it over to Palazzo and our dinner at Carnevino.

     Before we could even get in the elevator to head down, the gambling juices took hold of Whale Jo and Smooth Chazz. $50 if Whale Jo could hold Frankie Styles for 2 minutes. Whale Jo hoisted Frankie up in his arms.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

     Unfortunately for Whale Jo, he lost the bet as he decided to drop Frankie before hitting the ground floor.

     After footing it over to Palazzo, we had a good ½ hour in which to try some of the games. I had only been to Palazzo once before in 2008. It felt like a big warehouse convention hall then and still feels like that now. Oh well.


The crew, on our way to the Palazzo.
     We found one of those giant Ebay games and five of us sat down to play. I wish I could say it was magical, but it really wasn’t. We hit a couple of the community bonus rounds which elicited some “shipits” and “I’m selling my kid’s bicycle!” shouts, but nobody really won anything. Some of the boyz headed off for the tables. I just stuck to the slots. The table players lost. I stayed about even. Man, when would the gambling excitement start?

     I met up with Smooth Chazz and Frankie Styles at the bar in Carnevino. My kind of place. Dark wood, dark colors, just the right setting to gnaw on some cattle and whatnot. Chazz proclaimed that he was drinking the best Manhattan EVER. I took a sip and was amazed that he was correct. So I ordered one.

     “Try the cherry”

     “Huh?”

     Chazz pointed at the garnish.

     “The cherry”

     I’m not much into bar garnishes, but since he was right about the Manhattan, I figured he must be right about the cherry.

     I put it in my mouth.

     I don’t know why . . . but I was immediately transported back in time to the first time I kissed my high school girlfriend . . . such a stereotypical couple we were . . . me the senior football player . . . her the hot junior cheerleader . . . met in a tent . . . never knew what she saw in me . . . wrote me notes on strawberry scented paper . . .

     But enough of that digression. Chazz was right, the cherry was good.

     I slurped down the Manhattan and had time to order another by time the rest of the boyz appeared. We were then led to our table.

     Our table was set in some sort of alcove off of the main room. Very cozy and very cool. We immediately asked if the adorning curtains could be closed. Half smile – obviously not the first drunks to ask such a thing.

     The busboy/waterboy/pre-server (not sure exactly what his job title is) filled our waters and took our drink orders. 

     “I’d like to order the hostess”

     I won’t mention who said that.

     But that seemed to be a new one. And by his smile, the dude did not disagree on the veiled assessing comment.

     Then, the busboy was replaced by our waiter. 

     Oh, our waiter. 

     I know if Chazz or Scooter were writing this portion of the TR they would give some serious critical remarks and bad grades to our server. 

     Me? I liked the guy. 

     He’s what I would call a “professional” steakhouse waiter. You know the type. Serious granite block face. Script meticulously memorized (complete with hand gestures), a little round in the belly from snacking on raw meat . . .  

     Here’s an approximation of his introductory speech . . . well, maybe I took a little creative license with this:

(I can't format this like a proper screenplay - so this is as close as I can get it)
FADE IN:

INT. CARNEVINO - NIGHT

Six men, 30s - 40s, sit two by two at a large square table. KARL, their waiter, begins his introductory speech.

KARL
Gentlemen.
(nods)
Welcome to Carnevino! Have any of you had the pleasure of dining in our restaurant before?

Silence.

KARL
Well then, gentlemen, you are in for a fantastic experience tonight.
(gestures)
I see Juan -
(cold glance at Juan)
- has already taken your drink orders. Before I begin tempting you with the culinary creations from our twenty seven star award winning extraordinary menu tonight, may I interest you gentlemen in some -
(with Greek accent)
Hudor
(Vietnamese accent)
Nuoc
(Korean accent)
Mool
(German accent)
Das Wasser
(Cherokee accent)
Ama
(Italian accent)
Acqua
(pauses for effect, then a strong whisper)
Water!

WHALE JO stirs as if about to speak. Karl puts his hand in Whale Jo's face.

KARL
We have the finest, absolute finest tap water in all of Vegas. Gentlemen, unlike other restaurants in Vegas, our tap water is run through the finest Chilean copper piping and finished at a perfect 37.789 degrees. The water, gentlemen, pours out of an iron faucet hand forged by albino water dwarves and runs virgin pure through a Danish stainless steel screen mesh. Holes on this mesh screen, gentlemen, were made by our own circus trained Middle Eastern bees, which, by the way gentlemen, can be rented out for entertainment if you so desire.
(a deep breath)
All water at Carnevino gentlemen is served in glasses made especially by Mr. Batali's good friend, Dale Chihuly. Break one and you will owe us $600.
(laughs)
Or, as I see you are a serious crowd, perhaps you would prefer a more refined H2O beverage. Gentlemen, it's September and you know what that means?

Silence.

KARL
Glacier harvest season in the Transantarctic Mountains. If you so prefer gentlemen, we have water that originates from a solid piece of a glacier, hand carved by our own special team of military trained indigenous terns. Gentlemen, this glacial shard is held in our firefly tank and melted gingerly for 65 days. As if an angel cried love tears into your cup. Gentlemen, water -
(beat)
Just
(beat)
Does not
(beat)
Get any purer.
(dramatic pause)
Of course, looking around this table, gentlemen, I see each of you must be very successful. In which case, I would not be doing my job if I didn't tell you about our off the menu water special.
(whispers)
Mr. Batali happens to have a distant cousin who works in the antiquities department at the Vatican. Just this past Easter while sorting through the Pope's chocolate egg collection, this cousin stumbled across a very special cache of ancient water.
(pauses for effect)
Gentlemen, we are the only restaurant in town to offer this water. You are the first customers this year that have looked special enough to offer this too.
(outstretches arms)
Bath water. Little tiny bald baby Christmas Jesus bath water.

Nobody moves.

KARL
No water? Fine. Gentlemen, now let me tell you about the three hundred and thirty seven varieties of table salt offered this evening.

     I think you get the idea. But you know what, even though I poke fun, I really like the waiter. Turns out he is a Freemason. Even took his magic ring off and showed it to Whale Jo (claimed it was the first time he’d ever done that). Once he was done with his performance, we commenced ordering. First, we started with some appetizers: steak tartare, fried calamari, grilled octopus, and prosciutto di parma reserve (aged some ridiculous amount of time. Let me describe and grade each:

Steak Tartare: A+. As I’ve mentioned in other reports, I have an ongoing love affair with this dish. Mainly it stems from the fact that way back in the day when I was a waiter (Denver, CO), I worked in a restaurant that allowed me to prepare it table side. Being a drama major in college, I enjoyed the performance aspect of it. And I loved to eat it. So, I order it any chance I get. This particular tartare was sublime – probably the best ever (topping the previous best which oddly enough was served in some out of the way restaurant in Asuncion, Paraguay). The texture, which is usually a little dense (which should happen when you mix raw egg and raw meat together) was mind-blowingly light. I was surprised I didn’t float off the table. The flavors were perfectly melded together and I was seriously depressed when I finished my serving . . . I considered asking one of the boyz to regurgitate their portion but since I didn’t know what they had eaten earlier in the day, I decided against it.

Fried Calamari: A+. Another home run. I don’t know what type of squid was used, but wouldn’t be surprised if Batali had a secret stash of them that he harvests on the dark side of the moon, in pools of asteroid dew. Undeniably brilliant. The complete package of texture and salty goodness taste.

Grilled Octopus: A+. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wanted to make sweat love to this dish. I have never in my life had anything that tasted like this dish. Yes, I’ve had octopus. It’s a very tough ingredient to do perfect. Undercook and you’ll be picking sticky cephalopodan bits from your teeth for years. Overcook and you won’t be able to tell the difference between your octo snack and a mushy brown bag soaked in dog piss. But, do it right, and apparently there’s a sweet spot within the “do it right” range my friends, and the gates of gastronomic heaven will open up and let you into a little back room filled with sensory nirvana balloons. My first bite I expected the typical resistance of an undercooked octopus – but it literally melted in my mouth. I couldn’t keep the “oh my god” out of my throat and, for all I know, yelled at the top of my lungs. I want to write frickin’ poetry to this dish.

Prosciutto: A. This dish probably felt a little bit like a neglected guppy in a tank full of magnificent angel fish. But thank goodness I didn’t pass. I’d be lying if I tried to tell you how long this was aged – it was a long time – 8 months? 48 months? Whatever. It was old. And it tasted so good . . . so mature . . . I imagine I’d get the same feeling I got from eating this if I sat in an old leather chair, wrapped myself in a blanket woven by my great grandmother, and smoked a pipe filled with Natural Cavendish . . . oh, and it was a melt in your mouth dish.

     I don’t recall any salads. I think maybe there were some pasta dishes and I think they were good. There was definitely wine . . . a lot of wine . . .

     Then came dinner. Meatpolooza. 

     We decided to go with three pieces of meat to be divided up amongst the party. This works at this particular restaurant because the meat is carved table side. We ordered the ribeye, the porterhouse, and I believe a bone in New York. Sides were ordered, I think. I was only interested in the meat.

     A+

     I have tears in my eyes as I type this. It’s like thinking about a long lost friend who I know I’ll never see again . . . though I’m sure some of the meat has to still be lodged somewhere in the ole colon, so all is not yet totally lost. I don’t think engaging in a litany of superlatives would do the meat justice. Did I French kiss the meat? Maybe. Did I get farther than first base? Come on. That’s a bit private, friend. Just go to Carnevino, order the meat.

     Oh man, I almost forgot. The meat came with Madagascar Shrimp. These suckers are HUGE. And they are good. I need to find a place around here that can supply me with some of these . . . or maybe there’s some online deal I can join and raise them in my back yard. Order this as well. Just don’t pick it up and wave it like a piece of bait in front of one of the good looking waitresses. Or yell out “coochie coochie”. Just saying. 

     All told, the bill, including tip and tax, came to around $1,560. So know going in it ain’t gonna be cheap. But, this was the beginning of the trip and throwing in $260 of my gambling budget was OK by me. Well worth the price of admission. 

     And that was that. Dinner. Over. 

     We met up with a couple who knew Scooter and lived in Vegas. Turns out I had met the gal years back . . . still trying to remember when though. They were nice and wanted to take a peek at the suite.   I think we gamed for a little bit.  I have a foggy memory of being at the ATM and trying to let this elderly gentlemen go in front of me.  He stood next to me instead.  First he gave me a stripper card from some nasty skin house.  And asked for a tip.  Decline.  Then he pulled out a giant bag of reefer . . .looked like he had it stuck on Popsicle sticks.  Sorry gramps.  Probably some sort of poisonous garden weed.  

     And then an idea formed. 

     Don’t know who said it . . . maybe it was just whispered . . . but suddenly I heard the boyz discussing Sapphire. Don’t know what Sapphire is, plug in “Sapphire Las Vegas” into Google, Bing, Yahoo or whatever . . . then come back. 

     The boyz were going to Sapphire (plus the girl). 

     Jaco was about to meet a new breed of Las Vegas creatures . . . the Friendlies . . .

     Oh - and I totally forgot to add this in.  But if I take you back for a minute to when Whale Jo arrived back in the suite, I did manage to call Mrs. Jaco to find out how the girls' day went and what they had planned for the night.  They were going to a movie.  Not any movie mind you, but the LA screening of "The Town" - techinically not the premiere since it had shown earlier in Toronto . . . but a nice event for the gals nonetheless . . . .



     I called later to find out how it went.  Sounds like the gals were a tad late and somehow Mrs. Jaco was sent into the theater while parking was found . . . or something like that.  First person she sees upon entering the joint . . . Ben Affleck!  Ship that.  As you've probably already read in a lot of reviews - it's a good flick.

     So back to the Vegas portion of the trip.

     Cut to Jaco, Scooter, and girl getting into cab at Encore. (somehow Whale Jo, Chazz, Frankie, and Hee Haw and flown ahead of us and were already on their way to Sapphire in a Rolls).

     “Um, Jaco, maybe you’d like to sit up front?”

     Indeed. This poor gal who I’d only just met was looking like unhappy sandwich meat scrunched in between Scooter and me. It had seemed like a good idea when I pushed her in . . .

     “Sorry.”    

     I moved myself to the front and off we sped. No crazy hi-jinx. I spent the short cab ride grilling the driver on whether he had ever heard of a place called “Club Exercise” and if not, what he thought it might be. (Reader’s note: Club Exercise is a place that Frankie and Chazz stumbled across last trip when they were coming back to Encore from Sapphire – go read the Thunder Rolls TR for further elaboration). The cabbie had no idea what I was talking about, but said pointed to some shops in a strip mall and said that likely it was “one of those kinds of places.” What kind of place? The kind where you pay for some “private conversation” . . . wink wink . . . nod nod . . . Ohhhhhhhhhhhh.    

     We reached our destination and headed for the door. I was wary of entering the establishment, for fear of being attacked by vampire strippers, as had happened at Rhino in January. 

     Surprisingly, it was very low key. Though billed as the largest strip club in Vegas, Sapphire had a relatively low key feel about it. Could have been due to the fact that it was ½ empty. But since I was able to walk under my own power and not have skin urchins dragging me towards a pleasure booth, I already knew I was going to give this place a higher grade than Rhino.
    
     We were led to a little circular cocktail table. It was kind of hard to make conversation because of the noise, so I just sort of pretended I was talking with Scooter and the gal. 

     “Hi, what’s your name?” 

     What the . . . .   

     There was someone sitting in my lap. And she was talking really loud in my ear. And her hand was on my shoulder. 

     “Jaco” 

     “Hi Jaco, I’m Crystal. Don’t worry, I’m not here to suck your money.”  

     No, of course she wasn’t.   

     “What are you doing here Jaco?”  

     “I don’t know.”   

     Conversation killer. Cue awkward silence, lady sitting on my lap.  

     “My name isn’t really Crystal. It’s Tara and I really trust you and just want you to know that my boss sent me over here so I’m just going to pretend that I’m trying to sell you a dance, but you don’t have to do anything. I’m not after your money.” 

     Friendly. But why was she shouting in my ear? 

     I nodded. What the heck was I supposed to say? 

     She leaned in for more shouting, “Could you lean back a little in your chair?”  

     Uh oh.

     “How about you buy me a drink.” 

     I used my polite inside voice, “No thanks.” 

     “Really?”  

     I smiled, probably looking now like Forrest Gump, “No thanks.”    

     “But you have to buy me a drink if I’m sitting on your lap and you are at this VIP table.” 

     I kept smiling, “Um, no thanks. This isn’t a VIP table. And if it is, I’ll just leave.”  

     “Really, it’s gonna be just like that.”  

     I shrugged.  

     She gave a little “Ugh” sound and extricated herself from my lap, melting into the darkness of the club.  

     I leaned forward to tell Scooter and the gal what had happened. But then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and there was a very tall gal smiling at me. 

     “Hi what’s your name?” 

     Friendly! 

     I mumbled something she didn’t hear and she leaned closer.  

     "Do you want some company?”  

     I pretended I didn’t speak English and pantomimed “no” . . . she left. 

     This back and forth battle with the friendlies continued on for another ½ hour, all the while I kept a look out for the rest of the crew. Then I finally spied Chazz sitting at the main stage dollar table and I went to join him. 

     I ordered myself a $15 Bud Light and tried to understand why all these dudes were throwing dollar bills up on the stage at this dancer – and seemingly enjoying it. I wondered what the dancer thought of it all – since best I could tell, the vast majority of dudes looked like they’d be comfortable having their face on a Most Wanted poster. As far as the “talent” goes, I didn’t see anything that special about the girls at Sapphire. Some had cute faces, but questionable gear . . . others had the streamlined look of a Porsche, but a face that would better fit at a wax museum. Not trying to be mean – I’m sure they are all good people – but since this is a shop that was selling a certain type of product, that’s why I’m reviewing.     

     Enough time passed where I needed to get out of the place. Thankfully I ran into one of my buddies who was also ready to leave. However, this buddy wanted to introduce me to a friendly. I said hi. She leaned in. I thought she was going to whisper something stupid.    

     OUCH! THAT FREAKIN’ HURT!

     She Mike Tyson’d my ear. Not a little mosquito nip, she full on clamped down with her teeth on my lobe and would not let go. Really? You had to do that? She smiled. I frowned. 

     “That was bad!” 

     She smiled more, “I’m a bad girl. Do you want to [censored] [bleep] [censored].” 

     I left. 

     On the way back, I again asked our cabbie whether he had heard of Club Exercise. Another no. Then I asked him who the worst cabbies in Vegas were. 

     “The Chinese.” 

     He was from Eritrea mind you. 

     I nodded. 

     Then he pretended he was Chinese. Wow. That was a first. Very racist. I would have said something, but my ear hurt and I think I was in shock. 

     Back at Encore, where suddenly I felt very safe, very at home, very relieved, we tried a little gaming. Nothing would hit. But, despite this, I didn’t feel the onset of the Dark Passenger. Hmmmm. Curious. It was now close to 2 or maybe 3 a.m. I had an 11 a.m. massage booked and wanted to get up early and relax in the spa. I decided to shut ‘er down. 

     Stumbling up to the room, I felt relaxed and calm. I still had not done any major gaming, and though down, tomorrow felt like the time to make my move.    

     I left open the darkness shades so that when morning came, the sunlight would gently wake me up. Then, with the soft sound of classical music playing in the background, and a slightly pulsating throb in my ear, I slept.



Day Three: Friday


"The Third Eye Awakes"

     Hey now! I bolted upright.

     Another day in Vegas. Ship that. 

     I looked over at the clock. 7:30 a.m. Dang, a little earlier than I had hoped, but that’s what I get for letting the sweet sunshine come in. Oh well. I channel surfed a bit, flipped and flopped around the bed, and then eventually it was close to 9:00 a.m. and I figured it was time to get moving. I had a good feeling about today. First order of business was to get to the spa. 

     However, I was really grooving on the steam shower in my room, so I set the temp to 110 degrees and sat in there for a few minutes, letting the thick cloud of warm water vapor peel sin off of my body. Aaaaaah. 

     As I got my gear together (cash, chips, TITO slips, players card, ID), I got a text from Chazz saying he was already at the spa. On my way out I noticed Whale Jo’s door was still closed. Hope my buddy had fared well. 

     I was really looking forward to the massage. In January I had procured my first ever professional massage – a four hander at Encore – and absolutely loved it. For this trip I had scheduled a basic Fusion massage, but added on something called the Shirodhara Stillness. What is this? According to one website, it’s described as:  

“A rejuvenating and nurturing treatment creating a pool of stillness in the mind. Shirodhara is the icon of Ayurveda in America. It is a luxurious application of Ayurveda to the body, mind, and spirit that deeply relaxes the nervous system. A warm stream of herbalized oil is gently and slowly poured on the client’s forehead. This stimulates the pituitary gland and marma (vital) points. A deep state of relaxation occurs as stress melts away and a profound meditative state is experienced. Successive shirodhara treatments result in the mind systematically achieving an even deeper state of stillness. Here, more healing occurs.” 

     Okay then. Basically, the way I figured, I was going to get hot oil poured on my head by a total stranger and this would somehow give me supernatural powers. Ship that. The casinos wouldn’t stand a chance. 

     So, I walk myself to the Encore Spa and breath in the tranquility that wafts through the air at the check in desk. I’m led back to the men’s portion of the spa, disrobe, put my stuff in a locker, and put on one the tiny little baby robes (note to Steve Wynn – get larger, not so femme robes). I go sit in the dry sauna. Hot. Drain a bottle of water. I see Chazz out in the Jacuzzi, wave, and then get in one of the strange shower machines. Tons of buttons, I spend most of the time pressing them and getting confused. I’m supposed to be relaxing, not figuring out how to stop the damn trash compactor from squishing Princess Lea. 

     I then go to the steam room. I had already had a steam this morning, but I figure there’s nothing wrong with having a little more time washing away the scent from last night. Chazz is in there and we share a few knowing laughs concerning the events at Sapphire. We wonder how the other boyz ended up – no word from them yet. 

     I then proceed to the freezing cold plunge pool. Let’s do this.  

     YIKES. 

     Man that’s cold. But it feels good. I start to dunk my head under, then realize that any number of naked dudes had been in the pool. Unclean. I don’t want to boot, so I slowly remove myself from the water and go take another shower. 

     Then it’s time to relax on the heated tiled loungers. But first, we need some coffee. Turns out they don’t have any in the actual spa area, so we head out to the workout room where there is a little juice bar. Lots of people pumping iron and running on treadmills. None of them are wearing little girl bathrobes though. I am. Chazz is. I can’t get out of there fast enough.  

     For another 20 minutes or so, I sip on my coffee, read the paper, and try and imagine what I’m in for. I just hope the masseuse doesn’t have hairy man hands. Or cat paws.   

     Then, five minutes before 11 a.m., I head into the massage waiting room. Such a spot of tranquility, so quiet, subdued, almost like a university library, except woman come out and call your name and lead you away to a secret back room.  

     “Mr. Jaco?” 

      I look up. Ahhh. No man hands or paws. I recognize her from January, but I think she was one of the other fellas’ masseuse. She’s about all of 5’2” (I’m 6’2”), blond, and exudes such a peaceful energy that I know I’m in very good hands. She asks some nice polite questions as I’m led through what has to be the most relaxed “hallway” in Vegas. Oddly, they’re similar questions that I was asked the night before at Sapphire . . . name . . . where are you from . . . . what do you do . . . she does not ask to sit on my lap. 

     We get to the massage room and, now having two massages under my belt, I know the drill. Take robe off, get under sheet.  

     But wait until masseuse leaves room. Otherwise it gets a bit awkward. 

     So I lie on my stomach, close my eyes and breath in as Amy (can’t remember her name – this may or may not be it – but she needs a name – easier to write about) sprays some sort of mist in the air. Relaxing little pixie dust I think. Then she asks if I have a preference as to how deep I want my massage. Light? Medium? 

     “Hon, take it as deep as you can go.” 

     I don’t know what that really means, but I say it anyway because it sounded good. Though I should have been careful what I said.  

     Thankfully I have a high pain threshold, because she did things to me that might be classified as assault in some jurisdictions. But I loved it. Every blessed second. It felt like she removed my skin and muscles, stretched them out, ironed them, and then gently replaced it all back onto my bare skeleton. From head to toe, Amy really did an amazing job. I’m guessing there was an involuntary smile on my face the entire session. She had me turn over and worked her magic on the front side. Oh mama was I relaxed.

     Then it was time for the oil. 

     At this point I didn’t care what happened – she could have poured melted jolly ranchers over my body – whatever – her massage had transported me to the cross section of Calm and Happiness – do whatever you want.

     My eyes were covered with some sort of warm bean bag thingy. One tiny surge of panic took hold as I wondered whether she might waterboard me. 

     Nah. 

     Then I heard her setting up some sort of mechanical contraption. I never saw it; wish I had, because it sounded complicated. Metallic twisting, inserting, pushing, pulling . . . then it started. 

     Hot oil. 

     Muted thwacks upon my head. Right where the mystical third eye is supposed to be located.    

     Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

     I sure hope this is oil.

     Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

     It’s warm and viscous and I can feel it running off the back of my head.

     Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

     There’s a certain rhythm to it. And then I can feel some sort of resistance in my thoughts. Almost like I had hit a wall. But a soft wall.

     Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

     And suddenly I pushed through. While there was a part of me that certainly knew I was in a massage room at Encore in Las Vegas, Nevada, there was another part of me that went somewhere else. The space between dreaming and awake is the best way I can think of describing it. It’s a freaking large place too.

     Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

     Much like the strong current of waves pushing and pulling, my thoughts wavered between conscious and subconscious. I would hear more oil being poured in the machine behind me . . . then as the drips started . . .

     Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

     I was in the space between.
    
     All sorts of strange things occurred in that space. Good strange things.

     And then the dripping stopped.

     I was back.

     For another ten minutes or so, Amy massaged my cranium. She has to have gone to angel school. That’s the only thing that would explain her touch.

     Angelic.

     “How do you feel?”

     Oh my god, it was over. No. No. No.

     The first thought that pops into my head is that I want to hit the casino floor and try out my new superpowers – I want to know if I can see through cards.

     “I’m sooooooo relaxed. Thank you so much. That was the best experience ever.” Or I said something to that effect.

     She left the room so I could put my wee little gnome robe on. Then she led me back to the waiting room. I shook her hand and again spouted all sorts of nice adjectives describing her skills.

     And then I was in the locker room.

     Had that really happened? I saw Chazz and Frankie.

     “How were your massages boyz?”

     “Great. Awesome.”

     “Have you seen Whale Jo?”

     Chazz smirked, “Oh yah. He just came out. He said his massage was so good that he wept like a little baby on the table.”

     I could not wait to hear about this.

     Turns out that Whale Jo’s masseuse went deep. So deep that it must have unleashed some things he had buried deep inside of his head. He says that it just got to the point where his emotions just boiled over and he curled up into a fetal position and wept.

     Cane that shite brother!

     Now it was time to hit Country Club. Best post massage lunch ever. At least it was in January. Would it be again?

     First order of business was heading back to the room with Whale Jo so he could grab some dough. Of course, based on the relaxed state of being we were in, it was only logical that Whale Jo hit the Encore high limit room and see what was what.

     I wondered to myself if I really did have the third eye. If I did, would I get back roomed?

     Whale Jo laid his money out.

     “Are we going to shipittown Jaco?”

     Based on the cards that followed, no.

     But instead of feeling the ominous Dark Passenger pull up a seat next to us, I felt more like I was channeling Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (1984 version). I nodded at Whale Jo and he nodded back. More money on the table.

     He wanted me to call the bets for him. At this point it’s just purple chips in play.

     I decline. I find myself thinking that it just isn’t the way the third eye works. It’s more encompassing than that. More of just a general feeling. The right energy.

     Call it whatever you want. It worked.

     Whale Jo crushed the table – got his money back plus a little extra. Time for lunch.

Thank you third eye!
     The boyz were all at the bar at Country Club. I sidled up and ordered a Stella. Mmmmmm. Man that tasted good. Scooter met us (he did not partake in the massagefest). Oh, and I forgot to mention earlier, Hee-Haw flew out in the a.m. So we were down to five.

     Country Club knocked it out of the park, again. I had the Cobb Salad, backed by some more Stellas. Great conversation with the fellas about nothing in particular and the obligatory “It doesn’t get any better than this” toast.

     Then came the question. What do we do now?


Meow!  Have fun at Aria boyz!
      The answer?

      Take to Rolls down to Aria.

     Whale Jo had been in touch with one of the players at the Ivey room and the big game was on and he wanted in. I figured I hadn’t been to Aria yet, and it’d do me some good to get a little change of scenery. The other boyz agreed. But . . . I was supposed to meet up with Mr. and Mrs. Pigbob from the Tripadvisor Las Vegas forum over at the Eastside Lounge at 3:15. In hindsight, I should have gone and met up with them, then hightailed it over to Aria to catch up with the boyz. But, when you are in the middle of having a good time with the crew, it can be very hard to break away. Especially in Vegas. Plus, I’m shy and I’m sure that played a part in my decision.  Next time.

     Aria. Here we come.

No, I can't do 200 mph on the strip sir.

     Ahhhh. That moment in time deserved to be frozen. Post massage, post lunch, pre gaming. In the Rolls. No better feeling.

     Aria.

     I have no idea where we were dropped off. But my first impression was that I had walked into some fancy airport, with a casino. Huge. Cavernous. Some of the boyz didn’t care for it. But something about the place worked. I liked it. I might even stay here some day.


This way to the Ivey Room boyz.
      Whale Jo took us to the Ivey Room and we said hello to the poker players, watched Whale Jo play a few games. When you are in the Ivey Room, you can get pretty much anything you want (which we’d find out later). There’s a cocktail waitress that just stands there waiting for someone to order something. There’s also a manager usually ballyhooing about. It was fun watching the tenor of the room change once Whale Jo started playing. Upon initially walking in, the mood was very subdued, nobody talking to each other. But after about five minutes of Whale Jo’s banter, the table mood had lightened considerably and I even heard some of the players laugh.

     After a few cocktails, it was time for me to hit the gaming floor. As I walked out, Whale Jo tossed me a $500 chip.

     “We’re going halves Jaco. Make us some money.”

     Shipit. I had a mission.

     I figured with a cool grand to play with, I could do some damage on some high limit slots. I wandered into the high limit slot area and plugged a lot of hundos into a $10 machine.

     Oooops.

     I didn’t hit a thing. Flush-o-rama. I had a few hundos left and proceeded to dump that down the toilet as well. Maybe I didn’t like Aria so much.

     I contemplated heading back to the Ivey Room and telling Whale Jo that I was taking off. But . . . I had firepower left in my wallet and decided to make a go of things on my own.  I decided to try and find some new slot machines.  Ones that didn't know my name.
  
No idea what this was.  Definite money sucker.




Yes.  I ground it out on the penny Sex in the City Machine.



















An Airplane! slot?  Really?  This machine
freaked me out.  Big time.  I think the buttons
are laced with LSD.

Another type of bonus round on the Airplane! slot.
Whoever made this game should be fired. 
    Oh my goodness what a bad idea.  Well, at the start it was a good idea.  I'll admit to you dear readers that I quite enjoyed the Sex in the City slots.  Though I certainly got some sideways looks when I clapped like a light loafered boy toy from Bangkok whenever I hit a bonus round - especially the one where you pick shoe boxes.  "Ooooooooooh!  Shoes!  Goodie!"

     As I wandered around looking for other machines I spied a slot game based on the movie Airplane.  WTF?  That brand still works?

     Well it did for me.  I sat down, plugged a hundo in and hit a few bonus rounds.  Normally I like bonus rounds.  But these ones spooked me.  Especially the ones where the little captains that looked odd phallic, did what a phallic symbol should do . . . expand.  What were the game designers smoking when the came up with this?  Then the other bonus round seemed to revolve around being able to pick passengers out of their seats . . . I got really bent out of shape at this bonus round.  Then I realized perhaps I had overdosed on slots.  Time to move on.

     I found a blackjack table with one person playing – a nice looking woman in her 60s from Orange County – and bought in. The table went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. I’d get up. I’d get down. I’d be back to even. Then up. Down. Roller coaster. But never enough of a downturn that I got completely drained. Eventually the nice lady left and was replaced by two Mexicans. I knew they were Mexican because I asked.

     Turns out they were in town, as were a lot of other Mexicans, for their country’s independence day. Cool. These two fellas were from Chihuahua and seemed to enjoy screaming “Monkey” at the cards with me. After twenty minutes or so, I was up and decided to walk away.


     I felt OK. Bad that I had lost Whale Jo’s $500, but felt good that I had been able to make some money back. I looked down at my watch and noticed it was about 6:30 or so. Wow. Where did the time go. I was kind of hungry and remembered being told that food might be ordered in the Ivey Room.

     I walked into the room and relayed the bad news to Whale Jo that I had lost the money. It looked like he was holding his own and was still in a good mood.

     “You want to order some sushi?”

     Whale Jo handed me a menu. Bar Masa.

     “It’s all free”

     Like I mentioned earlier, food and drink is free if you are in the Ivey Room. Food and drink from anywhere on the property. Cool.

     I scanned the menu and picked out some pieces of maguro, toro, kampachi, and uni. Oh, and a roll or two.

     The cocktail waitress came in and I asked her if I could get a Japanese beer. She said no problem; it would just take a few minutes for her to track one down from the restaurant. While she was at it, could she get some hot sake? No problem.

     Scooter found his way back to the Ivey Room and ordered as well. We chatted, enjoyed some Kirin and I lit up light a Christmas tree when the food was brought in. It looked so good.

     It was a little strange having a service cart rolled in with this unbelievable sushi and eating it in a corner while a bunch of guys were playing high stakes poker. But, whatever, it’s Vegas.

     I’ll state it now – the sushi created by Bar Masa is the BEST I’ve tasted in Vegas. Watch yourself Okada, you’ve got company. The quality of the nigiri was unbelievably fresh. And what I liked best of all, the nigiri pieces were about ¼ or 1/8 of an inch smaller than Okada's. Which meant instead of having every available space occupied by food when I stuffed a piece of toro in my mouth, I now had a little room for the food to move around.

     These little pieces of fish were like Olympic gymnasts in my mouth. This was some serious high end sushi. Did each piece melt in my mouth? Check. Temperature equivalent to water temp when fish was caught? Check. Perfectly textured and shaped sushi rice? Check. Me talking to each piece in a soothing loving voice. Check. I was kicking myself for not ordering more. Oh well, made me savor each tender bite.

     And then there was the uni.

     Yes. I love uni.

     I would bathe in uni if possible.

     I took a little shot of sake – YUM – and prepared my critical taste buds for uni insertion.

     The outward appearance clued me in that I was going to love it.

     My eyes still roll to the back of my head in recalling this distinctly oh-so-wrong pleasurable experience.

     If I was Catholic, I’d need a good hour of Padre Farmington’s time for a confession after all the thoughts that ran through my head after having the first piece of sushi. Bad bad bad Jaco.

     This is probably the only time in my life that I wanted to be Sponge Bob Squarepants . . . just for a day . . .just so I could live underwater and eat all the uni in the sea.

     I hoisted the other piece in . . . almost clipping off a tiny section to put in my pocket . . . but knowing that there could be smell issues down the road, I didn’t. Shipthat. I could have run screaming out of the Ivey Room – but likely would have run smack into the glass doors from pure shipit food blindness. Man oh man oh man. Lovely sweet delicious uni. While the night before I wanted to write poetry to the octopus dish, this night I wanted to write an opera . . . complete with stage fog, singing goats, and jewel encrusted sea urchins.

     That food caused a surge of energy to run through my veins. I was ready to hit the blackjack tables again. I stood up to go. Whale Jo turns to me.

     “Jaco”

     “Yeah?”

     “Take this. Turn it into $6k”

     I looked down, he’d palmed me $1,600 in chips.

     I nodded appreciatively, “Done.”

     And out I marched into battle. I had to find the right table . . . .

     And I did.

     $15 min. table. One dude playing. Very large jovial dealer dealing.

     This was my table.

     I asked the dude how things were going. He said so-so.

     Let’s change that.

     I bought in for $1k.

     I did OK. Up and down. Up and down. A lot like the earlier table.

     Then just as I was on an upswing, there was a dealer change. Dark cloud dealer.

     She took me to the felt. I threw in the last $600 of the mission money. Felt this.

     All black please.

     The table starting filling up. A nice couple from Arizona sat next to me (I was sitting at third base). They lightened things up.

     Then Mr. Fat Dealer returned. He looked at my dwindling chip pile and said he’d change that. I lost the first couple of hands and was down to $300. I pushed all in.

     6

     K

     Dealer showing Q.

     I got up. This was it. Time to go.

     Hit me.

     3

     At least I didn’t bust. But it’s not enough. Both legs are on the ground now.

     Dealer turns over . . . . 5.

     Next card . . . . I scream out “MONKEY!” . . . dealer slow rolls it over . . . the anticipation is killing me.

     K

     Bust.

     I took it to the nub and was not knocked out.

     “MEDIC!” I screamed.  The blood was pumping fast!

     A few more up and downs, the energy of the table had definitely turned in the players favor.  All of us together.  Then it happened.  The run. 

     Have you ever listened to the Mary J. Blige and U2 version of One?  The first two minutes of that song are pleasing enough to listen to.  A lot like how the table felt.  Good.  But then at about the 2:23 mark of the song, the intensity level starts going up, you realize something has changed.  For the good.  Then as you are riding that wave, boom, at 2:44 of the song, at least for me, pure raw energy is unleashed.  A cloak of goodness.  Seriously.  Just go listen to the song.  Fast forward to 2:16 and sit back and imagine yourself at a BJ table when the tide has turned your way.  Then imagine that high point stretching out in time.  Shipit.  That's the run I experienced at this table.  Funny enough, at some point during the run, Scooter sat down and rode the wave. In short, short order, I think he turned $1k into $2k and then left. I had no such intention. There were only two outcomes for me. Either I busted or I walked with $6k.  Come on MJB, don't let me down, keep singin' baby.

     I don’t know how many times I yelled monkey or medic, but I started losing my voice. Then I looked at my chips.  My basic math skills were obviously impaired, I should be able to count it out.

     So I did.

     And recounted.

     I counted again.

     Then pulled out some purple chips that the dealer had told me to stuff into my pocket when I had won them.  Smart dealer.

     Get the F out of here.

     I played one last hand. $200.

     Lost.

     Unbelievable.  But in a good way.

     I colored up.

     “Six thousand."

     Did I hear him right?

     “Sorry sir, I don’t have any $1k chips, only purple.”

     I should have screamed out or something.  But I was s-p-e-n-t.  I mumbled something and stumbled away.

     I did it. I really did it. I could not wait to show Whale Jo and hurried towards the Ivey Room, lest I be tempted to press my luck.

     “Whale Jo! What did you ask me to turn the money into?”

     “$6k?”

     “Here.”

     I proudly displayed the 12 Barneys. He gave me my cut. Ahhhhh. That felt good.

     And with that, all my energy was done. It was only about 12:45, but I knew I had to get back to Encore ASAP and hit the pillow. Scooter was ready to go and off we went. Whale Jo, of course, stayed behind to play a little more poker. He was leaving tomorrow and wanted to squeeze every last drop out of Vegas.

     Once back at Encore I burrowed into the bed, cut the lights, shut all the shades, turned up the classical music and floated off to sleep.

     Another day and night done in Vegas. And the Dark Passenger was nowhere to be found.

Day 4: Saturday

“Take it to the Nub”

Wow. Another morning in Las Vegas, Nevada. My last full day and night here. A city I love. But also a city I can very easily hate. Right now, Saturday morning, I love Vegas. I do a quick mental check in . . . still no Dark Passenger. Seems to me the demon is long gone.

I have no plans, no agenda. Only thing that needs to be accomplished today is packing my bag and moving to a Tower Suite King. My stay in the 2BR Apartment Suite is over – Whale Jo is heading home.

Speaking of Whale Jo, did he make it home last night? I sneak a peek out my room towards his door – it’s closed. He’s back but definitely no movement coming from in there. I turn on the TV and watch a little of the college football pre-game coverage on ESPN. Had to do at least a little preparation before laying down some money on a few parlay tickets.

It wasn’t long before the first game was going to air, so I headed downstairs to try and get a quick bet in. As I’m walking by the front desk, I remember something odd about last night.

When I went to go into the room, my Red Card had made a funny sound and had not unlocked the door. But, the door was unlocked – so I was able to get in. I decide to see if the front desk can’t make me another key.

Nope. A problem with the account. They needed to talk to Whale Jo.

But what about my stuff?

Give us your credit card and you can have a key.

Um, how about, no?

Now, I suppose I could have put up more of a fight or at least requested a security guard to come up with me so I could get my luggage.

Hwever, there was no need. I had left a paper in the door so that it didn’t lock. Wasn’t like I couldn’t go up the elevators.

So I headed back up. Bets would have to wait.

Once I returned to the room, I called Smooth Chazz and told him to come on up and watch football. Plan now was to chill out in the a.m., say goodbye to Whale Jo, maybe hook up with Scooter, and watch football over at the Wynn sportsbook.

It wasn’t long before Whale Jo lumbered out of his room. Fully packed and ready for home. No big news gaming-wise from him. He had stayed at the game at the Ivey Room over at Aria long enough to eventually bust out one of the poker stars. In fact, he tried to raise the stakes of the game at one point to 1600/3200 NL, but that was too high for the group at that time. I made a half-hearted plea to have him stay another night – but I could tell by the look on his face that he was done with Vegas and needed to get out of town. No good would be done by keeping Whale Jo around chasing the dragon.

So, Smooth Chazz and I walked him out to the front, man-hugged, and watched him head off. Shipit my friend.



Whale Jo departs.
 I went to the Tower Suite front desk and checked into my new room. It wasn’t quite ready, so I left my bag with the bellhop and Chazz and I marched over to the Wynn.

College football baby!

We found two seats right at the video poker bar at the sports book. Perfect view of many of the TVs that would be showing most of the major games throughout the day. I realized I hadn’t had anything of much substance to eat, so I ordered a bloody mary. Mmmmmmm.

I then proceeded to fill out my parlay cards and make some straight up bets. I did a five and two seven card parlays. I also bet on $50 on Alabama over Duke, $25 Washington +3 vs. Nebraska, and $25 Minnesota +12 vs. USC.

I ordered a beer, stuck a hundo in the $1 VP machine in front of me and alternated between playing video poker, drinking my beer and watching college football. While I watched my Washington pick get demolished, I was happy to see ‘Bama cover the Duke game easily. Also, as a nice little bonus, the two machines I played at the bar turned out to have nice personalities. As the pictures below show, I was able to get more than one four of a kind. Too bad these weren’t $5 machines . . . but I was glad to take whatever the gambling gods gave me.




I did order a chicken salad sandwich from the bar. It would be food prejudice if I didn’t do some sort of review for this dish, so here it goes.

It was OK. The only reason I remember it is because I took a picture. The only reason I took a picture was because the pickle was so big (that’s what she said . . . *cue cymbals*). Frankly, the chicken salad had the consistency of a non-Newtonian fluid . . . oobleck. If I chewed slowly, I could mash it into a swallowable mash. If I chewed too fast, it felt like I was chewing on a rubber ball. Overall grade? C-/D+. Edible, had some flavor, but whoever put the effort behind making the “chicken salad” – oh yes, it gets quotation marks – needs a refresher course in basic food prep. Next time I’ll just order a hot dog.



All in all, save for the chicken salad sandwich, it was a perfect lazy Saturday afternoon. Eventually Chazz, upon hitting the Vegas wall, left to go catch up on some sleep. I stayed at the bar drinking beer and watching football until about 4:30, then decided it was probably time to move into my new room and clean up for the evening.

The move to the new room was smooth enough. Had a nice strip view. I was located right above the beach club and could definitely hear the thumping bass. Didn’t bother me though. And I actually felt more comfortable in this room than the 2BR Apartment Suite. Maybe I discovered something about myself . . . there can be too big. I was gonna miss that steam shower though.

I met back up with Chazz around 5:30 at the Eastside Lounge.



We had a few cocktails and tried to figure out where we would go for the evening. Neither of us had heard from Scooter, so we decided it was best if we went over to Treasure Island and see if he was still alive. We were also in the mood for some Mexican food and turns out ole TI has a Mexican joint that has decent reviews on Yelp.

A short cab ride later, we were walking into TI. My first impression?

Something stinks.

Literally, the smell walking into that place was off. Not bathroom bad smell, but something stale and chemical. Almost like all the patrons in the entire casino had simultaneously used a can of cheap hair spray for three minutes. Oh well, like I said, it was off, not putrid.

I found a courtesy phone and dialed up Scooter’s room. No answer. Shoot, guess having him hang with us that last night wasn’t in the cards.

Chazz and I then made our way to Isla Mexican Kitchen. It was probably around 7 p.m. and there were plenty of seats to be had.

The first table we were brought to was way too close to other tables. No thanks, can we get something were I’m not sitting in another customer’s lap? The hostess walked us around the restaurant and sat us at a table on the other side of the place. Still too close, but oh well.

The décor of the place is nice enough. Nothing fancy, I think they were going for a little bit of an indigenous meets IKEA type feel.

The waiter comes out and takes our drink orders – we both go for the giant $15 margarita. And we were both sorely disappointed. Where’s the booze? It tasted like they had just rubbed the inside of the glass with a tequila infused cotton ball and then filled it with cheap mixer. Minus points for that Isla.



Next up were the chips and salsa. Cute little tower of chips with different types of salsas. A little impractical if you ask me – having the salsa raised above the table and chips. Seems that each time I dipped a chip and brought it back to my mouth, it created a little bit of salsa rain on the other chips.

Finally, time to order. Again, Chazz and I order the same thing. Chicken enchilada.

You know what? Not too shabby. Nothing earth shattering. And certainly nothing different than what I could get at an Azteca or Taco Bell – but that’s not a knock. It was decent food done fast.

The total check was about $65.

Considering what I had dropped at Carnevino two nights prior, this was a bargain.

Overall grade. C+. Slightly above average.

And then it was game time. The last major session of the trip. What to do, what to do . . . . it was either stay at TI, head out somewhere else, or trek back to Wyncore.

We chose TI.

It’s funny, as I wrote the above sentence; I had originally typed “We chose to battle at TI.” Then I thought about it a little more . . . battle . . . really? I’ve probably used the phrase before and probably thrown out military metaphors in describing gambling . . . but in writing it this time, it bothered me. Sorry for the rambling aside . . .just felt like sharing.

Anyway. Gambling at TI. Engage.

Dang it. Did it again. Oh well.

The first bets we made at TI were on the slots. Chazz and I agreed to pool our money together and see what would happen.

Nothing. The slots were drier than the underside of a rock in the Atacama Desert. Flushed a hundo or two down without any success.

Next up was a $5 craps table. One shooter. He looked depressed. I watched him crap out and smiled as the dice came to me. One time. Let’s have a good roll, one time.

First roll.

7

Nice. I just made $10. I think about letting it ride, but pull it back. Why am I so tight at craps?

7

I should have let it ride. OK. Maybe this time? No, instead I throw out some money on midnight. Some for the boyz too.

11

Wow, am I getting hot? I repeat the midnight bet.

10

I put odds out and place $12 on the 6 and 8. I throw some money on the hardways, a $5 bet on the field. It’s gonna be a good night!

7

Great job. I shake my head. Maybe I should bet the dark side.

No – Chazz is up. He’s the master roller.

Chazz hits the 6. Good point. I spread more money out on the felt.

Next roll . . . .

7

Groan.

Should have left at that point, but instead I flush my buy in trying to back the next two shooters. Oh well, I still have firepower left in my wallet.

Blackjack time.

We circled the pit looking for a table and saw an empty $15 game with an Asian dealer named Tom standing dour faced and uninviting. Perfect.

Chazz takes third base and I sit right next to him. I spread 8 bills on the table, order a bud light from the cocktail waitress . . . or no . . . I started off with rum, orange and cran.

Play starts off choppy. Win some. Lose some. I’m probably betting about $50 at this point. Sometimes $100. After about ten minutes a host comes over.

“Mr. Jaco? Mr. Chazz?”

A very nice lady, she gave us both her business card and said that if we were ever interested in staying at TI, give her a call. She commented on our nice “action” . . .

I start hitting a run of good luck, start smiling, start laughing and then the cooler dealer taps in.

She does not smile. Not even when I tell her she has a pretty smile.

Come on, just one tiny smile for Jaco?

“That is my smile.”

Her initial deals were choppy. Then the table started filling up with players who would stay the rest of the night. One of those fun family tables.

At the head of the table was an Iranian couple, Persians they called themselves. The wife obviously loved eye makeup and the husband must have been mute. Next to them was a gentleman from Bangladesh. He had been visiting a client in San Diego and decided to pop over to Vegas for some fun. He seemed to always have a deer in the headlights look about him. Very nice fella. Next to him was a physical therapist from Seattle who was in town for her mother’s birthday. Her pops came in and tested the water for a little bit. She, I think, was my lucky charm.

But, there couldn’t be any luck if at first I didn’t get buzz sawed. The lady dealer basically depleted all my hard earned profit stacks. Then she started taking my buy in money. She took it all.

Not so nice!

I pulled out another $1,100. That money started disappearing too. Finally, I also asked the table if they wouldn’t mind if I requested a shoe change. No, none minded, I wasn’t the only one getting gouged. I asked the dealer to re-shuffle and that, of course, brought over a pit boss. Jonathon Grumpyface.

“Sir, we usually don’t reshuffle mid-shoe.”

“OK, so make an exception?”

“The house doesn’t request a reshuffle when the players are winning.”

No, that would probably make people a bit mad.

Despite the positively not wanting to adhere to my request, he must have found something humorous in the way I was asking and finally figured out I was definitely not a card counter and posed no real threat to the casino’s bottom line.

The shoe was reshuffled, and then Tom came back.

The tide starting shifting back to positive. But it took some real blind dumb luck to keep me from going bust.

Several times with Tom I got a little overzealous with the betting (I moved to just black chips) and found myself on the wrong side of a split/double down. I had the remarkable ability of losing any of these big hands. Which, several times, had me down to under $500. The nub.

My reaction, when I reach the nub, is to just shove it all in. Either I go bust or stay at the table. I remember one time having $400, shoving it in and getting up, ready to go.

Win.

Then something came over me. Not the Dark Passenger . . . no, I was sure it was gone for good. This feeling was more concentrated anger. Chazz dubbed it “Pro Mode”.

No more smiling. No more clapping. No more fist bumps with Bangladesh. I wanted to make something of my stack.

But nothing really happens. I continue the up and down ride.

Finally, the night is coming to an end. I can tell Chazz is ready to go. He heads off to the bathroom.

And I catch a good run. Averaging $100 - $300, I watch with satisfaction as my little garden of black chips grows into a respectable harvest. Chazz returns. It’s time to go.

I try counting it out. Again, math skills have left the building. I just push it out to Tom.

“What’s the final tally Tommy boy?”

Here’s what I walked away with.


$3,600. Not too shabby. Especially considering how many times I took it to the nub and held on. I had not been busted and that, for me, was a great result.

And as quick as it all had started, the trip was coming to a fast end. Chazz and I tried to rally a bit with some slot play at Encore. But my heart wasn’t really into it. What I really wanted to do was head up to the room, start a movie, eat some cashews and relax.

So that’s what I did.

At least for two minutes. I clicked on Predators . . . enjoyed the opening sequence, but the thumping bass of the Encore Beach Club helped me fall asleep. Another day done.

Goodnight Vegas . . .


Day Five – Sunday

“Departure Day”

There’s a quote from one of my favorite books, Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin that goes something like, “But as we part, there are certain things we can know.”

Don’t know why, but that was running through my head as I woke up. To the phone ringing.

Thank god I had the foresight to schedule a wakeup call; I was dead to the world and no telling when I would have stirred.

Certain things we can know . . .

I wasn’t “up” for the trip, but I wasn’t down big. Doing my usual Vegas math, employing all Enron accounting techniques, I figured I was about as close to even as I could be. My Vegas envelope has about $400 less than what had been in there when I had arrived. Take into account paying cash for several items (TI dinner, spa, taxis, etc. – which were paid out of the wad) I could even delude myself into thinking I was actually up.

Regardless of whether I was up or down, more importantly, I had experienced some pretty fun things. Things I’m not likely to experience again anytime soon.

Private jet?

Not unless my new career takes off beyond my wildest expectations.

2BR Apartment Suite at Encore?

Not sure I would choose to stay here again even if I could. Regular TS room seems fine to me. May even try a new property next time.

2BR Penthouse at Chateau Marmont? Only one scenario I can see where I get back there . . . who knows.

Take all of those elements away though and I still would have a trip to cherish. Why? Because I got to spend some quality time with old friends. I laughed. I almost cried. I had hot oil poured on my forehead. Just another trip that someday I’ll be able to share with nurses in the old folk’s home.

I packed my bags. Ordered some coffee and an English muffin for room service. Then proceeded down to checkout. Sigh. Back to reality (which nowadays ain’t all that bad!). I only had about $60 in freeplay earned on my Red Card, but I decided to play it on Survivor.

Won $60.

Watched as some drunks got cut off at the Eastside Lounge . . . turns out they’d been up all night.

Glad that wasn’t me.

Then went to the concierge to get my boarding pass printed.

Did I need a ride?

Um, sure?

And the last surprise of the trip.

A ride to the airport in the Rolls. Courtesy of Steve.

The END.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great blog! Say hi to Whale Jo from the Canadian girls at the Let It Ride table at the Wynn. We had a blast with him betting on our hands, though he stressed me out at the same time! I had my adrenal glands removed last year and I had to take extra medication to counter the lack of adrenaline rush! Great guy, awesome time!

Jaco said...

Sorry I didn't get a chance to meet up with you! I remember him telling me about the LIR table with y'all!

Cheers!

BeeeJay said...

just a classic report, i thing of beauty.

Anonymous said...

So just how much did you and your friend win on the scratch off lottery ticket? As an avid player/sucker, I too am hoping for the big one.

I really enjoy your stories! You are a great writer

Michael said...

I've followed your trip reports for a while now, just wanted to say I've enjoyed all of them and this one was no exception.

Jaco said...

Thank you for all the kind comments!

Scratch ticket had five zeroes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jaco.

Followed your reports for a while now, and I really enjoyed all of them. Thank you for taking time to write them.
Being from the UK I dont get to go back to LV as often as I desire. Its been 4 years now and im itching to get back! 2 young kids aint helping matters though.
Just 1 question. You willing to say what your new career is?
If you ever need a UK perspective, give me a shout.
Good work Jaco, thanks again.

Paul.

BeeeJay said...

I know there is a WA connection but even a pessimistic Husker like me probably wouldn't have taken Washington +3! j/k

nice work on that final day pullout. I'm that same way and get pissed and go all in when the felt nears. nice when it pays off with a big turnaround.

Anonymous said...

Best trip report ever (and there is some stiff competition from some of your other trip reports).


Get a great vicarious feeling reading your reports, can't wait for you to go again.

thanks

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report.
Always great to have a fun distraction.

j. packer said...

If you were playing with your TI card, I suspect you'll have another property to stay at any time you like, after that marathon run of $100+ hands...

Did I miss somewhere that you disclosed what your new career was going to be? I know, from the numbers you throw around, that you must have a tidy nest-egg from your years of lawyering, but I'm curious what your new dream job is...

Anonymous said...

Jaco- If your ever serious about Aria, let me know and I'll give you my hosts name. I'm sure he'll treat you well.

roper1313 at TA

HWBovay said...

Great report! Thanks for a little insite on a high rollers side of Vegas that I will never see unless I hit the PowerBall!!! lol

Sounds like a really fun trip for a bunch of long time buddies!

Enjoyed the read!

:) Helen

The Sports Baran said...

Best. Trip. Report. Ever.

Jaco said...

Thanks for all the kind words everyone! Glad you enjoyed reading it.

Cheers,

Jaco

Blonde4ever said...

Wow...what a trip!

Encore Parlor Suite. said...

Awesome Vegas post. Next time i go to vegas i will reserve the encore parlor suite