Have you ever been to Vegas?
Let me describe it to you. People will tell you that Vegas is like Disneyland for adults, but the thing is, Vegas only looks like Disneyland for adults. Like Disneyland, everything looks a bit fake; it’s all too pristine and oddly disproportionate. Like Disneyland, people walk around in costume and there are rides, and bright lights and loud noises. Like Disneyland, you can explore different worlds: The Venetian, Excalibur, Ceasars Palace, Treasure Island! (Interestingly, there is also a Treasure Island in Disneyland.) And adults get just as excited about going to Vegas as kids do about going to Disneyland. So yes, Vegas is like a Disneyland for adults. But that’s not what it is. Vegas is a giant pit where people go with stacks of money, preferably big bills, and then they throw those stacks of money into the pit and watch the bills flutter down to join their brethren.
So when a friend called a few weeks ago to ask if I wanted to go to Vegas I said yes, yes I do. I figured, I was unemployed, I'd go to Vegas and make money! Because, here’s the thing: I thought that if you were wily enough (and few are), you could find your way into the pit and grab armfuls of cash to bring home with you. And of course, I assumed I was one of the blessed few.
I was wrong.
Once decided, I had to plan. As you know, I made myself a list of things that I assumed happened during every trip to Vegas, so I knew to pack only the essentials: a zebra striped dress, two pairs of high heels, a bathing suit for the daytime, a pillowcase (for the dimes I would win), something blue (for the wedding), sneakers (for the chase). I never did locate the Acapulco shirts and I ended up deciding against the fedora. I didn’t even bring anything to sleep in because I assumed that no one ever slept in Vegas ever and that hotel rooms were just a formality.
By some miracle, I wore pants and a sweater on the plane because it turned out to be a solid 60 degrees in Vegas, with a chance of showers, for the entire time I was there.
Sadly, wearing that sweater was the best real luck I had all weekend.
I knew that luck wasn’t on my side before I even got on the plane.
I will be the first to admit that I have a time management problem. But, with a 2:30pm flight, I’d given myself plenty of time to catch the bus to the airport. And yet, somehow, I still managed to miss the bus downtown to the airport bus. I tried to walk and ended up having to book it in 80 degree weather. By the time I found the bus stop, I was blistered, dripping in sweat and too late. So I had to take a cab. And that, right there, was the first place I lost money.
But I got to the airport on time! I checked in and joined the line for security. 1:50 pm. Perfect. My flight was scheduled to leave at 2:25. Perfect. Then I looked up at the departure board. Those angry flashing red letters read LAS VEGAS - 2:15: NOW BOARDING. Shit! SHITSHITSHIT! When had they pushed the departure up? Shit! I panicked for another 10 minutes before calling over a security guard and asking him what to do. “Will Southwest keep the door open until 2:15? Do you think I’ll make it?” He basically told me to start asking people if I could go in front of them. Most people responded kindly to "MY PLANE IS BOARDING!" A few people did not. But either way, I jumped the line, raced through security, sprinted to my gate, fumbled for my boarding pass and shoved it into the hands of the man standing at the (thankfully) still-open door. The guy took one look at my ticket and he goes “No, you're over at THAT gate.” Confused, but convinced I had no time to argue, I ran over to THAT gate and looked at the sign: El Paso - 2:25. Wrong. I’m not going to El Paso, I’m going to Vegas. So I ran back and said "NO! I'm going to Vegas!" and he looked at me and said, "Obviously you have a layover in El Paso because your ticket says you're going to El Paso." I look down. So it does. That’s right. Damn.
The topper? My flight was delayed and we didn’t end up boarding until 2:40. I slumped down in a seat, trying to hide from anyone walking by who I'd cut in front of in the security line.
NOT a good start.
But despite all this I made it to Vegas, hoping beyond hope that I’d just run through my allotment of bad luck.
We were based in Excalibur: a GIANT toy castle filled with slot machines. Well, to be fair, there are other things besides slots, but I had a bit of tunnel vision. I don't know if you know, but I LOVE the slots – it’s almost a problem. I find that I did not blog about my disastrous experience with slot machines at a casino in Costa Rica. Probably because I was embarrassed about it. I ended up losing twice what everyone else did. I mean, when all was said and done, with the exchange rate and everything, it was really only seven dollars. But still, the memory of sitting in the blue glow of the video slot machine and mindlessly feeing it money, not even really seeing the screen in front of me, well, it’s shameful.
So it was a familiar feeling when I walked into Excalibur and my fingers started itching. “Just one sec guys, I’m just gonna… I’m just gonna be over here for a minute. Just at this slot machine here… Just for a minute.”
Inevitably that “minute” stretched for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
But that comes later.
That first night, after getting all dolled up (gotta look good for Lady Luck, right?), our little posse hit the casino floor in full Oceans 11 slow motion. Our game of choice? Craps. Well, I shouldn’t say “our” game of choice, because my game of choice was quite different.
See, someone told me that so many people lose in Vegas because they win a bit on the machines and then try to parlay that on the tables and end up losing big. With that in mind, I formulated my plan: I’d play it safe. I’d bide my time on the slot machines waiting to hit big money and then never play big on the tables. Also, I figured on beginners luck. I just always assumed that I’d be that person who casually drops a quarter into the machine on the way out the door and wins the jackpot.
So we devoted the night to wandering from casino to casino, collecting chips and free drinks and I spent the entire night sneaking off to play the slots.
Disaster struck sometime around 3am. After hours of walking around in heels and feeding on nothing but free booze, I wandered off, unsupervised. My feet were hurting so I sat myself at a video roulette machine. All-too-aware that there was no one around, I suspected this would be the perfect time to win big. Nearly alone in a giant hotel, just me and the machine. The tension was palpable and you would almost hear the showdown music whistling in the background while tumbleweeds danced.
Instead of finding myself suddenly in possession of thousands of dollars, I just sat there, feeding that stupid machine money, entirely unaware that I was placing $5 bets each time. In the space of 5 minutes, I’d lost all the cash I had with me. And believe you me, it was far more than $7.
Depressed, disheartened and defeated, I returned to the group, head hanging low and proceeded to mope until we returned to the room a half an hour later. And that’s the story of how I wasn’t allowed on the slots by myself for the rest of the weekend.
The next day, dawned surprisingly bright. After only a few hours of sleep we took to the streets of Vegas. I wore hangover sunglasses, but only for effect; I was feeling surprisingly light and chipper. Our little tour took us into a few different hotels, and to a few different craps tables and a few more slot machines to which I a few more dollars.
The good thing about getting up and out late, is that there is not much daylight to burn before it’s nighttime again and the adventure rages on in full force. Over margaritas and chips we planned. A review of the list revealed that, the night before, we had achieved not a single thing on it. Everything was left for that last night. Oh what a night it was going to be! On the way home, it appeared that my luck was turning. Someone cried “tiger!” and I wheeled around, beside myself with excitement and joy. Already we were going to cross something awesome off the list! But it was a cruel trick – I didn't find a live tiger, resplendent and roaring; I found giant stuffed tiger with a somewhat squished face.
And sadly, that's as close as I got to anything on the list.
I’ll skip over the last night, mostly because my memory does. I tried to take a power nap at about 1am and failed. Which I realized when I woke suddenly at 10am in that "too-little-too-late" frenzy, still in my dress from the night before, face smeared with makeup and the beginnings of the worst hangover I’ve ever had. Which, really is just how it should be after a night in Vegas, ammIright?bAnd while I didn’t cross anything off my list, I did get to enjoy my very own classic Vegas moment a la The Hangover: a trip down an unfamiliar memory lane looking through the pictures from the night before. My favorite is a picture of me hugging someone in a penguin costume. Why there was a penguin at Excalibur, I’ll probably never know.
On the way home, I lost $10 more dollars at the airport slots.
And you know what? It was totally worth it. All the money hurled into the Vegas pit, the hangover, the complete and total lack of showgirl headdresses, it was all totally worth it to get to spend three days with good friends. Plus, it was valuable reconnaissance. Because next time? Oh, Vegas better watch out for next time. If this weekend was legendary, next time can only be absolutely EPIC.