the details and dissection of my trip

Getting up at five a.m. is never easy. Getting up for a flight at seven is even harder. But if that flight is going to Las Vegas, then somehow you don’t seem to mind. Eight of us, on a morning flight to Las Vegas, drinking Bloody Mary’s and finding it impossible to sleep during that four hour flight. We were all richest during those first hours there, but we wouldn’t know it. There was always the possibility that one of us, or all of us, could strike it rich at any moment, and that’s what keeps you going. That’s what makes you drop in every dime, every quarter, every fifty-cent piece. I mean, come on, what else are you going to do with a fifty-cent piece?

Vegas will take your money. It is designed to take any and all money that you bring. It can take the money that you didn’t bring. They will give you cash on your credit card without you knowing your pin number. It will overdraw your bank account, and give you more money than you have in your account. They will buy your plane ticket home. If you need money, they will find a way to give it to you, so that you give them more money, and you take even more just to give it back. The cashiers have no personality. They aren’t there to be your friends. They are merely human ATM’s.

First let me say that I am not a gambler. I could be… I easily could be a gambler… but I am aware of my addictive tendencies, and have not allowed myself to experience too much of a gambler’s high. My experiences in Vegas can be broken into these easy topics:

  • The Rides
  • The Food
  • The Gambling
  • The Shows
  • The Spa
  • The Hotel

The Rides

When I go to Vegas, my first fix is on the rides.At first we thought that the ride was closed. It looked like our favorite roller coaster wasn’t running. “Maybe it’s just too early in the morning,” I said.

“But isn’t this the city that never sleeps? How could it be not running?” The Founder of the Grand Butte of Arizona, Cathy, asked.

“That’s New York,” Eric said.

“This is Sin City,” I said.

“Hello? We are standing under New York, New York.” she smirked with her save.

“So, I guess we are technically at the City that never sleeps in Sin City. That damn roller coaster better be working.”

And it was.

New York, New York’s Manhattan Express is one of the best roller coasters I’ve ever been on. My first twenty dollars in Vegas is almost always plunked down on riding that machine three or four times. Unfortunately the price rose this time from five to seven, so it was one less ride than usual.

Next we goof off in the arcade, playing overpriced video games. Some of us spent money on The Shocker, which is a machine shaped like an electric chair, where you sit down and put your hands on these silver poles that come out of the chair and you hold on while the poles vibrate faster and faster. If you hang on enough for “2000 Jolts” you “Anger the Shocker” and you win the game. It makes a lot of noise and people watch you play the game because it sort of looks like you really are being shocked.

Next we go onto the Stratosphere to ride the Big Shot. I cannot describe how exciting this ride is. Every time we go Eric and I say it is the scariest thing we’ve ever done. Every time we go we convince someone else to get on that thing, too. It’s one of those rides where you are more scared after you are done. It is like bungie jumping 1000 feet in the air. The strip looks like legos at your feet. It is so quiet and amazing and scary and fun. If you go to Vegas, the Big Shot is well worth your five dollars. Only pay for one ticket, because you may end up peeing on yourself. If you don’t, it’s only three dollars for another ride.

The Food

I know a lot of people say you should never go to Vegas and pay for any of your meals. I’m not a big believer in that, as I’ve found Vegas to have some of the best food. A usual stop for me is Sir Galahad’s in the Excalibur. I know, I know, it’s a silly, silly casino, but the food is really good. Prime Rib to die for. Unfortunately they have seemed to have changed their hours, so when we all walked over to the restaurant, it was closed for the entire time we were there. I was, to say the least, disappointed. We went to some stupid buffet instead, because we were starving at that point, and it was cheap. But it sucked. I hate buffets, generally.

Having said that, our second night we ate at a terrific buffet. At the Rio there is a seafood buffet that had all of us saying, “Hooray for Crabs!” Anyway, it’s about $25, but it’s all you can eat lobster tails, crab legs, mussels, oysters, clams, shrimp, prime rib, and there’s a grill where they will prepare your food any way you’d like. The service is fast and friendly, and the desserts… We decided that we were going to get our money’s worth on this buffet, to make up for the crap we ate the night before. We decreed that only seafood could be eaten, and anything that was a side dish was strictly forbidden. “Is that rice on your plate? Are you insane? Get rid of that! Chuy! Put down that roll, it’s purely filler!”

“That’s how they getcha,” Eric kept repeating. He had it all figured out, you see. He knew exactly how they got you, and how we were going to get them back.

We waddled away from the Seafood Buffet to enjoy our show (more on that later).

The Gambling

So, as I said before, I’m not a big gambler. But I have a good time sampling a bit of everything. Usually I do okay, breaking even, or just being down a little bit. I’m not sure what happened this time, but I lost most of my money the first day.Well, our first day was very long. We got into Vegas at nine in the morning, and didn’t go to sleep until after three in the morning. That’s sort of like two days in Vegas, so I shouldn’t be too upset. But we spent a bit here and a bit there. I won playing roulette (Eric said, “Hey, baby, put a dollar on 33,” and it hit right as I put the chip down.). I won a bit playing craps (but I only win when I’m rolling, and I always lose right before it’s my roll, so all I do on my roll is break even). I lost playing black jack, I lost playing the slots. I lost a bit of money playing the slots. I won a bit back playing black jack. Won a bit back playing the Wheel of Fortune.

For me, it depends on the casino. I win in some, I lose in others. But I never learn. In a group of eight, sometimes you are going to be at a casino where you aren’t winning. I am one of those people who plays in boredom. “Ih, I’m sick of just sitting here. I’ll put ten dollars in this machine and try and win a hundred.” And then it all adds up, and three machines and nine Keno games later you’re broke. And that’s what happened to me this time. We spent a lot of time waiting on others, looking for others, planning with others… and extra time by a machine leads to you emptying your pockets into it. “I look at this as not a quarter, but an opportunity,” I joked. The worst pit-in-the-stomach feeling came when we happened upon a craps table where a group of young gentlemen and a young lady where whooping it up. They had these silvery chips we hadn’t seen before.

“I wonder what kind of chips those are,” Eric said.

A man turned to us from the end of the craps table and mouthed to us, “Thousands.” We gulped. They had to have seven, eight thousand dollars lying on that table. The man at the end of the table walked over to us.

“They just cashed in a $40,000 marker. I figure they’re either rap stars or in the mob.”

“Well, whatever they are,” I said, “I’m going to see if they need anything.”

“Seven out!” came the cry from the table. We watched the stick men pull down about fifteen thousand dollars from these guys. They just sucked their teeth, shook their heads a little, and started throwing the thousand dollar chips again.

All my debts could be paid off if they had just given me that money instead of handing it over to the casino. Amazing. Amazing what people will gamble.

We had all decided to sit around and have a few drinks and play Keno. On the way over Jeff and Chuy and I stopped at a dollar slot machine:

[scripty]
JEFF
Hey, we should take our money back and change it in at the cashier, doncha think?

CHUY
No, it’s way over there. I don’t want to walk. Walking sucks. It’s just a couple bucks. Put it in the machine.

JEFF
Okay.

CHUY
Oh, maybe it doesn’t take the coin. It just spit right back out.

PAMIE
It does that sometimes. Put it in again.

CHUY’S BRAIN
Okay, Miss Smarty Pants, let’s put it in again.

Chuy puts in his dollar and spins the wheel. Music starts to go off. He has won eighty dollars. Jeff and Pamie begin to shout and scream like the Titan Cheerleaders from Saturday Night Live. Chuy is just staring at the machine. Suddenly, he loves slot machines. He loves Vegas. He loves his wife. He loves coffee shops and Radiohead. Dammit, he even loves those cute N’Sync boys. The world is fine, and he is just happy to be a part of it. Three Asian women stare at us from three feet away with a glare that shoots down into my pancreas. It is apparent that they had been playing this machine for hours and stopped to take a small bathroom break only to return to find that all of their work had been wasted on these screeching kids.

CHUY
Here you guys go. Here’s a small tip for each of you.

Jeff and Pamie take their silver dollar coins like Oliver and the Artful Dodger. “‘ank ya, sir! ‘Right kindly o’ ya, sir!”
[/scripty]

Those are the moments that make Vegas magical. So many “what if’s.”

“What if I hadn’t put that dollar back in?”

“What if I had played two dollars like I was going to?”

“What if we had just gone on to play keno?”

“What if we had kept playing that machine?”

“What if we win even more?” (That’s how they getcha.)

The Shows

I would say right now that I am probably not equipped with enough evidence to formulate a proper opinion about the shows in Las Vegas. I do feel, however, that I have seen the entire spectrum of shows available to a ticket holder with the two performances that I have seen: Penn and Teller, and Crazy Girls.Penn and Teller. Showmen. They keep you entertained, happy. The service is fast, affordable. The ticket price is not too terrible. They come and say hello to you after the show. They eat fire and juggle broken glass. They keep you on the edge of your seat. They make you laugh. They make you wonder.

Crazy Girls. Coke heads. They keep you open-mouthed, amazed at their lethargy. The service is nonexistent. You wait in a line for your plastic cup of beer. I get cleaner service at a Hockey Game. The ticket price is just as high as I spent at Penn and Teller and this time I got a chair. That’s it. No table. Just a chair. No smoking in the theater, either. After you wait in line to get a seat, you wait in line to get your beer. Then you have to sit and not move throughout the show. The Crazy Girls do not come and say hello to you after the show. They were barely aware we were there during the show. They lip synch poorly to songs they never bothered to learn. They sort of kick their feet around and point at their titties a lot. They keep you on the edge of your seat about to walk out of the theater, but you just can’t believe that you are actually watching the show, and somehow you stay put. They make you laugh… inappropriately. They make you wonder why you aren’t famous yourself.

After going to the strip club for the bachelor party, I really thought that going to see a Burlesque show in Las Vegas would be of that same quality. The Crazy Girls honestly were horrible. Their eyes were glassed over. Only one girl smiled. She was always in the center of every piece. She, apparently, was the star of the show. Every piece had all of the Crazy Girls dressed exactly alike, dancing in synch, all lip synching to the song. I couldn’t help but feel that the lethargy of the girls was intentional. They were like the Fembots in Austin Powers. They just spread their legs and opened and closed their mouths like titty puppets. It seemed that the uniformity of the girls made it okay that we were only looking at their butts. Since there was nothing going on in their faces, the eyes were drawn to the exposed flesh. Because they all looked exactly the same (even the African-American girl and the Asian girl were put in the blonde wig) the lack of anything original on their bodies kept them from reminding us of someone. They were reduced to fetish girls. Just moving blow-up dolls. The girls on the magazine moving around in front of you. They seemed just as vacant.Now, it was pretty obvious that some of these girls were just really whacked out. In one piece I saw a girl constantly out of step, and by the end of the piece, one of the other girls kept putting out her hand to steady the other girl and keep her from falling over.

Another thing that was baffling was the music that they were lip synching to was just as lethargic as they were. It’s one thing to have dancers without any emotion, but why would you have recorded pieces where the singers had no emotion either? Robotic women. It was like that scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where Truly Scrumptious has to act like the Girl in the Music Box “Turning around and around.”

It’s interesting that when women are presented as sex objects to “the common man,” quite often she is stripped of all intelligence. The Crazy Girls did a piece to Chicago, which I have already mentioned as one of my favorite musicals. In it, they performed my favorite piece from the show, “The Cell Block Tango.” This is a song with six women sassing about how their husbands were all accidentally murdered, and why “they had it comin’.” It is an early “girl-power” song about women standing up for themselves against the husbands who cheat on them. I assume that they did this piece because it has a couple of dirty words in it, and it is an all girl piece. But they took the brains out of the song. The song has six monologues in it, and in every single one of them they had the girls stand there and mime out parts of the song. They would also mime things that weren’t even in the song, just to have them point at their breasts or their bottoms. They pointed at their body parts during the dirty sections so that you never noticed that the girl who just shook her right titty at you is in that jail for poisoning her husband.

Is it trickery? Or is it just dumbing down a smart piece to have it fit in a strip show? Whatever it was, I felt terrible when the show was over. I felt duped. I had already lost seventy dollars gambling, and this show made me feel like I had sevened out with my degree on the line. What is being a performer all about, anyway? Am I a peer to these women? Does the choreographer of this show make more money than I do? What the hell am I doing with my life?

Crazy Girls made me have to re-evaluate my life situation way too much. Go see Penn and Teller instead. But I went so that I could experience a Las Vegas Girlie Show without the high prices. I got to see the scraps without too great of a discount. The show wasn’t even an hour long. That’s how they getcha.

The Spa

A tradition started when I first went to Vegas with Eric three trips ago. We had just gotten back from San Francisco, where we were treated to a massage and soak by our hosts. We enjoyed the pampering so much that when we got to Vegas we booked ourselves packages at the casino spa to be pampered and buffed nice and shiny. Of all the things in Vegas, the spa is one of my favorites. Everything is there to make me feel good. I get steamed and scrubbed and rubbed and buffed and puffed and creamed and smeared and heated and gooped and kneaded and soaped and feel oh-so-pretty when I’m done.

It’s my three hours of quiet and pampering, and I still have my San Francisco hosts to thank for showing me what fun you can have when you let yourself be treated. The spa is another place where Eric and I end up taking people who wouldn’t normally have gone, and they almost always come back happy. They charge quite a bit though, for their things, so you end up buying a package, so you are getting more for less, but still spending more than you would. That’s how they getcha.

The Hotel

And when I come back happy, it is to my hotel room. Where it is quiet, there’s a view, and there’s a bed bigger than any I’ve ever had. There’s pillows and clean towels and chairs and stationary. Growing up in hotels, there’s something about staying in one that reminds me about the little things in my childhood that most people didn’t experience. I thought every home came with a Gideon Bible, just like you get delivered a phone book. In fact, I thought that the reason there was a drawer by the bed was to keep that Bible in it. It was the Bible Drawer. I would put spare change in there, hoping that somehow it would become lucky money that would give me extra cokes in the vending machine… this was when I was a kid, not last week in Las Vegas. Last week in Las Vegas I enjoyed what the hotel room is really for. It was quiet and it was just me and Eric on our 21 month anniversary adjusting to another time zone and waking up to a different skyline. We were both pretty broke early our last night in Vegas, so we went back to the hotel and just spent several hours together, talking and drinking. We talked about the future, the past, our wants. And in that five or six hours or so, we had the best time, and I think we only spent about fifteen dollars. And that, my friends, is how we got them.

The trip, as a whole, was very successful. We all had a great time. We all got along, and for the most part everyone got to do what they wanted to do. That’s no small task with eight people. Vegas had a hard time seating us. They would look all deer-in-headlights when we said, “Party of eight.” We rarely all got to sit at the same table. Our cabs split up pretty evenly, though. We had four people on the trip that had been to Vegas before, and four that had never been. Beginners luck wasn’t on our side. Lady luck wasn’t on our side. 21 luck wasn’t on our side (in Eric’s younger brother’s age, our our anniversary). Group luck wasn’t on our side. The new year luck wasn’t on our side. We just gave them a bunch of our money. But we did have a really good time, and quite a few great memories. I guess we got ’em back again.

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