January 11, 2004

"My blogger went to Las Vegas and all I got was this lousy entry"

There is a place in this world called a "Sports Book" and it is heaven on earth for a guy like me.

There are huge TVs and medium sized TVs and small TVs. And they are all tuned to a sporting event. Football and basketball and hockey and soccer and cricket (yes, cricket). College and pro. When there aren't enough games being played to fill all the screens, there is SportsCenter, ESPN Classic, ESPN News, NBA TV, the NFL Channel and Fox Sports Nets from around the globe.

The area is filled with guys sitting at tables and in booths, smoking cigars and talking sports. There are scantily clad women walking around, offering drinks and occasionally even conversation.

If you decide to actually get up from where you are and walk a few feet, you have nachos and deli sandwiches and hot dogs and cookies at your disposal. Oh, and there are Krispy Kreme donuts too. And lots of them.

One can, if he is so inclined, get up and walk about 15 feet, to a place where he can place a bet on whatever team playing in whatever game in whichever sport he wants. $20 on Green Bay minus 7.5? Done. $50 on LSU to win? Done. $200 on Santa Clara +16.5? You got it. You want 50-to-1 on the Padres winning the World Series in October? You can get that too.

A ticket is printed, money is exchanged, and within 10 seconds you have placed a completely legal bet with someone whom you know is "good" for the money.

Then you can go sit back down, with your booze and Krispy Kremes and nachos and buddies, and watch that very game, free from distractions (other than those scantily clad women offering you drinks, of course).

I imagine, aside from places that involve some sort of sexual interaction with women, there are very few places in this world the average man would rather be than inside of a sports book in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I spent much of last week in that very place, sitting at those tables in the above picture, watching an endless amount of games on those very screens.

Of course, I did some other stuff in Las Vegas too...

DAY ONE:

My flight left at 7:10 am Sunday morning, which meant I had to get up at about 3:00 am so I could get to the airport in plenty of time. After I got there I realized I hadn't flown since 9/11, although I have heard people talk about the increased security. I have to say, I was surprised at the lack of security. It was, if anything, just slightly more than I remember from my various pre-9/11 flying experiences. I was a little disappointed that I didn't even have to take my shoes off (although the people around me were certainly pleased).

Once on the plane, I could see a few post-9/11 changes. For one thing, we were informed over the loudspeaker that it is now illegal to "congregate" near the bathroom. Our pilot made a very lengthy speech about how he would be forced to turn the plane around if people stood near the bathroom. As someone who has never, in 21 years on this earth, gone to the bathroom on an airplane, this announcement suited me just fine.

Speaking of the pilot, the flight attendant in charge of making all the pre and post-flight announcements could not, for the life of her, say his name correctly. She attempted four times - three before takeoff and one after - and botched it each time.

"Ladies and gentlemen, your captain today is Captain...Lund...der...ger...en...?"

After the first one she got some looks. After the second one people smiled to themselves. #3 resulted in some laughs. Then we took off for a three hour flight. We landed and she botched it a fourth time, which got a full-on laugh out of everyone.

Here's something you don't want to hear upon arriving in Las Vegas from Minnesota: "Ladies and gentlemen we are now entering Las Vegas. The local time is approximately 8:30 am and the temperature is 32 degrees."

The MGM Grand is monstrous. Perhaps this is the Midwestern boy in me talking, but I walked into the lobby and had to do a double-take. Also, for those of you interested, check-in time at the MGM Grand isn't until 3:00 pm. However, a slyly placed twenty in the hand of the right person can get you into the room in time for you to put your bags down and make it to the sports book to put money on the NFL game starting at 10:00 am.

Of course, not only could that $20 have been better spent (although I'm not the one who spent it), I actually would have been better off if I hadn't been able to bet on the NFL game, since I took Green Bay minus 7.5 over Seattle and they won...by six.

Green Bay fans are everywhere. The MGM Grand has one of the larger sports books in Vegas, but there were a total of two groups of Seahawks fans in the whole place, and a minimum of a dozen tables full of Packer fans. I, of course, was wearing my "TC" Minnesota Twins hat. One guy came up to me and said, "The Vikings, huh?" and then just walked away. I couldn't have said it any better.

My favorite moment from the Green Bay/Seattle game came seconds after Matt Hasselbeck threw the game-deciding interception to Al Harris of the Packers. A middle-aged man who had been very quiet all game stood up, grabbed his beer off the table and his jacket off the chair, and said, very loudly and calmly: "Oh f--- you Hasselbeck." Since the Seahawks still covered the spread, I can only guess he was either from Seattle or he had Seattle and the "money line."

After the Packers game, I was planning on putting some money on the Colts minus three over Denver. After my first loss of the trip though, I was a little gun-shy, so I went to play black jack for a while instead. The Colts beat Denver 41-10, of course.

I actually won quite a bit at black jack and then went back to the room for a little nap. Getting up at 3:00 am and then flying will do strange things to a person's ability to stay awake, even in Las Vegas.

I woke up around 5:30 pm, ate at the big buffet in the MGM Grand (very good spicy chicken) and then went back to the sports book and put a good chunk of change on Oklahoma minus 6.5 over LSU in the BCS "championship" game. It was quickly 21-7 LSU, so instead of killing myself I played some more black jack. I of course lost all the money I had won there earlier in the day, as well as a whole bunch more.

I went back to the sports book to watch the final 25 minutes or so of the football game. It was enough to give me a little hope in order to make me even more depressed when LSU eventually won.

The sports book was pretty much split down the middle for Oklahoma and LSU, which is how I figure it must be almost all the time when Green Bay isn't playing. The theme of the night with the guys sitting around me was the complete and utter inability to comprehend Jason White winning the Heisman Trophy. White was absolutely horrible in the Big 12 title game against Kansas State and he was all over the place against LSU. Well, I shouldn't say all over the place. He was actually either high or low. "All over the place" would suggest that he was on target at some point.

The moment of the night came in the middle of the fourth quarter, when a guy who looked to be about 22 years old got up from the booth he and his buddies were sitting in and proceeded to skip around the room, his hands raised above his head, shouting "Yeeeee!" every few moments. The guy sitting next to me leaned close, gave me a serious look, and said, "Son, that's what booze can do." He then leaned over the other direction, grabbed the waitress by the arm and ordered another Corona.

So, Day One ended with me back in the room, chomping on some Krispy Kremes. I lost on Green Bay, I lost at black jack, I lost on Oklahoma. I had some quality nachos, ate at a good buffet, checked out the MGM Grand and New York New York, and saw some guy prance around a sports book. Oh, and I also heard that Britney Spears got married at the Palms the night before I got there. I had been in Vegas about 15 hours and I was already a day late and a dollar short.

DAY TWO:

Day Two consisted mostly of some more black jack. I have decided that the key to winning at a casino is picking the exact right time to step away from whatever table/machine you are at. At various points over the last two days I had been "up" at a machine or a table, sometimes by quite a lot, but I always stayed that extra few minutes, and that always cost me a huge chunk of whatever winnings I had.

I walked the strip Monday night and took a bunch of pictures. The amount of digital cameras in Vegas is staggering. There are people taking pictures everywhere, and everyone is dodging one another so they don't end up in someone else's shot.

The amount of billboards in Las Vegas is also staggering. Not just on the strip, but on the way from the airport to the strip. There is one just about every mile or so, all of them featuring one of Vegas' many shows.

The interesting thing is that Vegas seems to be almost like it's own world. People who are "B" celebrities, old stars who ceased being relevant 20 years ago, and essentially nobodies anywhere else in the entire country are superstars in Vegas. Penn and Teller, Gladys Knight, Rita Rudner, Wayne Brady, Tim Conway, Carrot Top, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, Vikki Lawrence, David Brenner.

These people couldn't make it as the first guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live, but they're getting $60 per person for two shows a night in Vegas. Some guy named Clint Holmes who I hadn't heard of prior to arriving in Vegas is an absolute superstar there. His picture is all over the place - on buses, on taxis, on billboards, on magazines. He's been named "Best Singer in Las Vegas" for four years in a row, apparently. People talk about him like he's the second coming of Sinatra and Elvis.

I really missed out as far as the good shows go. I looked through every "magazine" I got from the hotel and checked all over the internet, but I didn't find one decent comedian/singer that I wanted to see. Meanwhile, in the month or so following my trip, guys like John Mayer, Chris Rock, Johnny Lang, Dennis Miller and David Bowie are all in Vegas. I should have been born about a month later, I guess.

Walking the strip you come across guys handing out "cards" for strip shows/hookers/whatever like every three feet. They slap the cards together so you look at them, and they then mumble something, usually in Spanish. I would show you some pictures of the cards they handed out, but they aren't exactly "kid friendly" (or work friendly).

I had two "vodka and Sprites" at the baccarat lounge in the Bellagio. I was saying how disappointed I was that I had been there for two days and hadn't been carded a single time, so the waitress there carded me. She said I looked older, probably because of my Twins hat. I said "you probably just don't care enough to card people, right?" and she quickly replied "Oh no, we have to card a lot." I don't buy it.

(That's me with my first drink)

After drinks, we went to the buffet at the Bellagio. Very solid baked ziti. I heard from the waitress that "Ben and Jen" were there (the hotel, not the buffet) a couple days ago.

When we got back to the MGM Grand there was a cover band doing a show at one of the lounges. They were about to do an Aerosmith song, so the lead singer said, "Okay everyone, how many Aerosmith fans do we have here tonight?" There were at least 50 people in the audience and not one was willing to fess up to being an Aerosmith fan. Kind of sad.

DAY THREE:

It was right about here that I started to think Sunday-Friday was too long to stay in Vegas. Particularly when you are getting ABSOLUTELY KILLED at every type of gambling you try.

I probably should have had a daily limit on losses, but I just figured I wouldn't hit the worst dry spell of my entire life during the first three days I was there. I was wrong. If I had a daily limit, I'd be on Friday's money right about now. Oh well.

I was looking at the hotel announcements on the TV during the morning and saw that "the Toronto Blue Jays" were having a meeting in room 109, from 9:00-4:30.

I'm not sure why, but I walked over to the Convention Center and saw where they were, but the door was closed and I didn't feel like trying to be sneaky. I assume there weren't any players there, just front office types and perhaps scouts. The only two faces I would recognize would be J.P. Ricciardi and possibly Keith Law. Of course, they wouldn't recognize me, which would have been a problem.

I asked some of the guys over at the Batter's Box, the best Blue Jays website on the internet, why the Jays would be in Vegas and one of them thought that maybe they were "trying to turn a $50 million budget into a $100 million budget." I hope they had more luck than I did.

I put most of what little I had left on the Timberwolves minus seven against the Shaq-less Lakers. I caught the end of the game (the Wolves covered) and then went to Catch a Rising Star at the Excalibur, had myself some more vodka and Sprite (now The Official Drink of Aaron's Baseball Blog), and saw some incredible stand-up comedy.

Before the comedy started, I was standing outside the club waiting in line. Apparently the same theater also houses a show called "Thunder from Down Under," which looks like a Chippendales-type show with guys from Australia. Anyway, it let out right as I got there to wait in line for the comedy and the lobby was filled with about 50 girls in their early 20s, wearing their Tuesday Best. It was quite a sight.

And in the middle of all of them were three guys from the show, dressed in jeans and t-shirts. AND THEY WERE SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS. Easily one of the most amazing things I saw in Vegas . Completely random, totally unknown Australia guys who look good without clothes on, signing autographs for dozens of extremely hot looking girls. And I, of course, fully clothed, watched from behind a velvet rope.

Then someone announced that other guys from the show might be coming out in a few minutes to sign, so most of the girls waited there to see them. When I went into the club there were at least 20 girls still outside. I'll say this, if I were an Australian guy with six-pack abs and long hair, I could have done some serious damage that night.

Sadly, I'm just some jackass from Minnesota with a keg and a Twins hat. So I had to settle for having three people make me laugh while I drank vodka.

Mike Saccone was the headliner and he was about as good as I've ever seen a comedian be. Incredibly confident, extremely calm and just damn funny. It genuinely seemed like he had just walked up on stage and decided to do a little talking. There was a group of drunks from, coincidentally enough, Green Bay, Wisconsin (I kid you not), right up front and they gave all three comedians trouble all night. But Saccone was brilliant with them. He let them babble on and on and he had a joke to counter each and every thing they said.

He eventually worked them into his act too, which made things even funnier. At one point he got one of the drunk women to stand up and pull her bra out from under her shirt, through the arm hole. Saccone was a definite "10" on any scale and the first two acts (Jackie Kashian and Charlie Viracola) were awesome as well. Viracola came on in the middle as a "special guest" and did perhaps the tightest five minutes of comedy I have ever heard. Every joke was funny and he was gone in a flash.

Saccone did an amazing thing. After he came on stage, he did about three minutes involving Viracola's act. Not stealing from it, but just taking it and twisting it around, adding new stuff. It was pretty amazing. I assume he'd heard Viracola's material before, but it was still impressive. It was a good way to get in good with the audience, who just got done getting hit with an incredible, fast-paced five minutes of comedy from Viracola.

So, I have three recommendations from my experience Tuesday night:

1) Go to Catch a Rising Star in the Excalibur, particularly if Mike Saccone, Charlie Viracola or Jackie Kashian are there.

2) Do tons of sit-ups, work on one of those Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger-type accents, and grow your hair really long.

3) Practice signing your name with a felt-tipped pen on a Polaroid of you shirtless, while some 22-year old girl with a few drinks in her hops up and down smiling like she just won the lottery.

DAY FOUR:

This was my lazy day. I watched LeBron vs. Toronto at the sports book for a little while and put $20 on the Rockets +4.5 over the Pistons and Florida -2.5 over South Carolina. I decided that if I won those, I was letting it all ride on Sacramento -2 over Seattle later that night.

Some guy got kicked out of the sports book by the police because he was sleeping in one of the booths. A female cop got on her walkie-talkie and said, "We have a sleeper in the sports book." I wonder how often that happens.

Here's a quick observation I had: the cocktail waitresses at the MGM Grand during the day are far older and less attractive than the ones at night. It's as if the "B Squad" works the day shift, which is most likely exactly what happens. They get gradually younger and better looking with each passing hour, until you've got the All-Stars patrolling the floor at night.

A group of four guys were drinking and smoking in the sports book during the afternoon, at a table next to me. One of them started making fun of this older waitress. His buddies were being really quiet all of a sudden and then I noticed that the waitress was standing right behind him the whole time. He finally saw her and tried to say something, but she just said "schmuck" loudly and walked away. I can only imagine the stuff those waitresses have to deal with.

We went to Il Fornaio in New York New York for dinner and it was excellent, although I think our waiter was putting on his Italian accent. I ended up winning the $20 on Florida -2.5, but I lost the $20 on the Rockets. I decided to bet on the Kings anyway and I then watched them get absolutely destroyed by the Sonics. It was painful to watch. The game ended at around 10:00 pm.

It's weird being a sports fan here, because there are no "late games." One of my great joys in life is getting in bed to watch a 10:00 pm college basketball game or the second game of an NBA double-header on TNT. But here, those games start at 7:00 or 8:00 pm. Kind of weird and sad, because I'd love to sit in the sports book and root for Golden State +4.5 at 1:00 am or something.

Another good line overheard at the sports book, as a "full-figured" waitress stood nearby: "Hey, honey, how 'bout a Bud Light for me and a round of Viagra for my friends."

One more random observation: The amount of money people spend in Vegas is amazing. Not just the gambling, but the shows and just the overall nothingness that costs tons of money. A bottle of water for $3, a sandwich for $7.50, tickets to Rita Rudner for $60 - it just goes on and on and on. Even if a low-stakes gambler comes and wins $100 over a weekend, he's gonna give it all back on drinks and snacks and just meaningless stuff that eats away at your wallet. And the whole "Ah, what the hell, it's Vegas!" theme only helps to feed that.

On a lighter note, I found out that I could have had tickets to see Carrot Top for just $17. I assume it meant that I would have to pay them $17, although I wouldn't have gone for it either way.

DAY FIVE:

I lost pretty much all of my remaining money playing black jack. At this point I was down to a few lonely bills and some loose change. Oh well, at least it was fun.

One comment about the women here: they are fantastic. Every girl under the age of 30 gets completely dressed up just to walk around the casino and the end result is a damn good fashion show for bums like me who are sitting in the sports book or at a black jack table.

At the comedy club, I saw one of the best looking women I have ever seen, accompanying some guy in his 20s who was wearing a pair on jeans, a grey sweatshirt and a backwards Yankees hat. The girl was wearing a black cocktail dress that showed an incredible amount of cleavage, and she had on huge heels and lots of jewelry.

The person sitting next to me at the club (he shall remain nameless, so as to not incriminate himself) also noticed this girl and suggested later that she may have been an "escort." We also noticed that the "couple" didn't really say anything to each other during the entire show and that the girl never drank the drink the guy got her from the bar. Verrrrry interesting...

I do wonder though, if you're going to get an escort, why bring her to a comedy club? Although I must say, if he was going to buy himself some female companionship, he did one helluva job.

I was going to take the Rockets +1 over the Knicks and Portland +8.5 over the Timberwolves, but sadly I didn't even have enough money to make that happen! Houston won by like 400 points, but the Wolves blew the Blazers out, so I don't feel so bad that I missed making the bets. Plus, I went downtown at around 5:00 pm, so I wouldn't have been around to watch the games anyway.

While downtown, I had dinner at the Golden Nugget buffet. It is much smaller than the buffets at the MGM Grand and the Bellagio, but still very good (and much cheaper).

The downtown area is very seedy. There are lots of pawn shops and check cashing places, and the whole area is just much dirtier and less glamorous than the strip. There are also a bunch of tiny little casinos that are just plain strange inside. One near the Golden Nugget was about the size of a large mobile home and the waitresses wore overalls and brought you drinks in flimsy plastic cups.

The sports book at the Golden Nugget was particularly pathetic. They have a little board with hand-written lines on it and zero televisions with games on them. I'm not sure why anyone would ever bet there. The downtown area contains about 95% of the same stuff that the strip has, but it somehow loses every aspect of what makes Las Vegas special.

On the way back to the hotel, the cab driver told me that "it's easy to make money in Las Vegas, as long as you don't gamble." Maybe I should try that approach next time.

DAY SIX:

The last day was very uneventful. Check-out time was early and all I did was gamble a little bit before heading to the airport. And then, of course, there were slot machines and poker machines at the airport. I didn't have any money at that point but if I had, I'm not sure those would have cleaned me out before I got on the plane.

I spent my last $5 for the entire trip on a bag of trail mix to take on the plane. I left Minnesota for Las Vegas in the wee hours Sunday morning, with so much money that it didn't even all fit into my wallet. I left Vegas on a Friday with not a single piece of green paper and not enough change to buy a newspaper.

Oh, and as if that weren't scary enough, there was a little excitement before takeoff. Everyone had already been seated for about 30 minutes and we were about 20 minutes past the scheduled takeoff time. People kept going in and out of the cockpit with cell phones and pieces of paper. Finally, some guy got on the loudspeaker and said the following:

"As you can see, there is a problem. We are having an issue with the plane's balance and we have taken four pieces of luggage off the plane, along with a pilot and a mechanic. We should be leaving shortly."

As you can imagine, there was an audible gasp followed by a whole bunch of confused looks. Is there a worse announcement you can make three minutes before an airplane takes off?

I guess maybe "the right wing is broken, but we patched it up with duct-tape and we should be good to go" would be slightly worse, but not by much.

My main question is this: if there is enough of a balance issue to hold up takeoff and to cause things to be taken off the plane, shouldn't more than four stinking bags and two people be removed? Let's say the bags weigh 50 pounds each and the people check in at 200 apiece - that's a total of 600 pounds. In the grand scheme of air travel, is that enough to make any sort of difference? And if you're going to take 600 pounds off a plane, wouldn't you start with the drink carts instead of people's luggage?

They took the four bags off the plane randomly and then read the names of the people whom the bags belonged to. The guy making the announcement then said, "We think the bags will be put onto the next flight, which leaves at around midnight." We think?! Around midnight?! I say it's 3-to-1 those bags never even made it out of Las Vegas.

We lived, so I guess I shouldn't complain, by my god that freaked me out.

All in all, it was a great trip. I would have liked to leave with a little money, but they don't build those big buildings in the desert because people win. I gambled, watched some sports, ate some good food, saw some good comedy and experienced the glitz and glamour of Vegas for the first time in my life.

I'll be back. Not even unbalanced planes and free tickets to Carrot Top could keep me away. By the time I'm 42 I should have enough money saved up to go for another week.

I'm Leaving Las Vegas

Lights so bright

Palm sweat, blackjack

On a Saturday night

Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving for good, for good

I'm leaving for good

I'm leaving for good


--- Sheryl Crow, Leaving Las Vegas


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