The warm night air and the panoramic view were refreshing. We could see the sparkling lights of the Plaza, and the dancing neon all the way up Fremont Street. Down below, in the Gold Spike parking lot, a man jimmied the lock of what we presume to be his own car.

We came in over Las Vegas well before the sun set. The daylight revealed every pimple and pockmark on the city's surface as the plane passed over miles and miles of same-looking terracotta-roofed townhouses, aqua swimming pools and dying, crooked palm trees. I was anxious to get off the plane long before we landed at McCarran International Airport because the young girl beside me had spent the entire flight whimpering and rocking back and forth. My hand was already on the safety buckle as the plane settled onto the runway, and as soon as the captain gave the signal I jumped over the elderly woman on the aisle and bolted for the front of the plane. My wife Amy was a few rows back, and I impatiently waited for her to emerge through the gate.

Mike and Steve, friends from Orange County, California, picked us up from the airport. To show my gratitude I let them drive Amy and me to Boulder Station to redeem the casino's Internet coupon for free buffet dinners. We headed east on Tropicana with my three companions discussing the latest fashion and movies. Something I saw in the window of a Hollywood Video triggered a distant memory in me, and I sat in silence, contemplating why my life had been so insignificant and such a miserable failure.

By the time we reached Boulder Highway, I was determined to make up for thirty years of complacency, all in the next couple of days. I thought that if I made up for it all real quick, then I could take another thirty-year break before making amends again. There were three things I had to do to make things right in my life. Number One, I had to apologize to my father for the years of grief I've caused him. Number Two, I had to make a Herculean effort to make one person's life better and expect nothing in return. And Number Three, I had to win the MegaBucks Jackpot, which stood at over $17 million, enough money to allow me to buy a nice race horse for every day of the week. Steve, who was driving, must have sensed that I was a little down because he broke into my silent reverie. He reminded me that I was not in a rental car and asked if I could get my greasy nose off his window.

The Boulder Station snapped me out of my blue mood, and my mind returned to the real reasons I had come to Las Vegas: eating free food and wreaking havoc with impunity.

Boulder Station sits on Boulder Highway, north of Sam's Town, south of Nevada Palace. It's a big locals casino with a dazzling array of video poker games, including some with double, triple, super, magic and lucky in their names. The buffet, titled "The Feast," was a big, mostly empty room at 8:00 p.m. on Friday. It was seafood night, meaning the casino jacked the price a couple of bucks and filled the steam trays with soggy fried shrimp, small clams, and flavorless snow crab legs. Of course, we had the coupon and ate for free, but given my druthers I would have rather dined for free elsewhere, like maybe Palm or Emeril's. As I do whenever I feel a buffet or meal is not a fair value, I stuffed a lot of flatware down my trousers, which made for a noisy and painful exit. Our waitress stopped me on the way out and asked if I had a lot of silverware in my pants. I just smiled and said, "Why, thank you. "

Steve, who had been studying to take the bar exam until the sirens of Las Vegas lured him away for the weekend, spent the entire meal picking apart his food and piling up bits of shell, bone and gristle. "This stuff is gold," he told me. "To you this is just debris and garbage, but to me, every little piece is a potential lawsuit just waiting to go down the wrong pipe." When he finished his food, he took a big forkful from the pile and brought it to his mouth. He held it stiffly, trying desperately to get his mouth open, but just couldn't force himself to put it in. "Damn," he sighed, "Some days I feel like I'll never be more than an amateur."

 After dinner, we headed downtown to our suites at the Gold Spike, where we were meeting three more friends. It was nice to be back in the familiar,acidic and smoky confines of the Spike. I checked in to one of our penthouse suites and stepped out onto the spacious balcony.

The warm night air and the panoramic view were refreshing. We could see the sparkling lights of the Plaza, and the dancing neon all the way up Fremont Street. Down below, in the Gold Spike parking lot, a man jimmied the lock of what we presume to be his own car.

The View from the Gold Spike's penthouse suites

While I took a good long look at the strip off in the distance, Steve and Mike got into what was the first of at least one hundred arguments about whether professional wrestling is real. I looked at my watch just as the small hand touched ten and Mike asked, "What about the Figure Four Leg Lock?" Steve conceded that that particular move had to be real, but they could not agree on how much pain it would actually inflict on someone. I promised to apply it to Dan when he arrived because he had a low threshold for pain and could express his agony quite vividly.

It was time to meet Dan, Robert and Jeff in the lobby.

Dan's Story:

I knew from the start it would be a good time because I had a rumbling in my tummy, and I was ready to dip my paws in the honey jar. With the new push toward family-style entertainment, Las Vegas has gotten a lot less geriatric in the past decade, and that means, young, fresh flesh. I am by no means a womanizer - I don't have the right chin - but I do like to flirt, and since Matt was planning a cocktail soiree, I figured it would be the perfect time to indulge in some smooth conversation and witty double-entendres. So, while Robert and I packed into the crowded plane at the awful San Francisco International Airport I smiled with the thoughts of all the suave shmoozingI was going to perpetrate in the big, bright city. I hardly noticed Robert sitting next to me telling me everything I never knew about the CEO of Southwest Airlines, Harry or Harvey something or other.

When we landed at McCarran, I was hot to go! I strolled right up to the Megabucks slot with a shiny quarter in my steaming hand; but Robert said it would be bad form to gamble in the airport, and I had to agree. We had to meet my friend Jeff who was coming in from Sacramento. At the gate, there was a Los Angelean-looking blonde. I winked. Were I not the man I am, I might have mistaken her look for disdain, but I knew better and proceeded with my come-on, saying, "Is this the flight from Sacramento." She said, "Yes." You can't get much more affirmative than that! Note to the gentlemen readers: you can use that line if you want.

Jeff arrived shortly, looking crazed with gambling lust. We hoofed it quick from the airport and made big tracks to Alamo where we picked up a shiny black Mirage, which we proceeded to drive past the Mirage. Ironic and serendipitous both.

Before any of us could even catch our breath, we found ourselves gagging on the uniquely dense air of the Gold Spike. Jeff said, "It looks more like the Gold Splotch." Matt, Amy, Mike, and Steve found us in the lobby/casino and we exchanged touchingly intimate greetings of "hey." Instantly Matt had me in a headlock. It was not to be the last of the trip.

We went to the rooms upstairs to stash our possessions, and found a lavish set-up of two suites with four adjoining rooms. I was all for each of us exiting through different doors, mimicking that great scene from that Beatles movie where they all live in the attached flats, but I was alone in my desire. Robert complained ofhunger. He wanted steak. Jeff was also hungry. He too wanted steak. Not to be unmutual, I conjured a strong hankering for a gristly slab of demi-fresh beefkill, and we were off to the Las Vegas Club.

Dan and Matt exchange warm greetings.

If you haven't been to the Las Vegas Club recently, then you haven't seen their baseball theme made phat. What used to be no-man's land is now the sports book - good news for sports fans because the vig is low at the Las Vegas Club. The decor is like a turn-of-the-century ball park with frescoes of ladies and gentlemen fans in the stands; altogether Americana in effect, further enhanced by beef dinners. Jeff was the first to point out the manner our waiter had that seemed to say, "I'm not really a waiter, but an actor on the verge of something big, big, BIG, I tell you!" Therefore, we asked extra of him by way of menial tasks, such as removing ketchup from our socks, or singing parts of "Mame". As Robert pointed out, struggling artists who work as waiters are twice as compliant because they never know if they are serving the talent scout or producer that might make their career. Robert put on a bolo tie to make himself look more like a mover/shaker, and sure enough, the waiter brought us more ketchup, more jelly, and two kinds of steak sauce in four different trips. Jeff and Robert were not satisfied with one overcooked stripof char, and decided to split another steak dinner between the two of them. As for me, I am more Epicurean in taste, so I just sucked out the jelly packets and waited for them to finish.

As I was tongue-deep in the orange marmalade, I saw HER.

But it turned out not to be her at all.

Matt's Story:

While Dan, Robert, and Jeff were at the Las Vegas Club, Amy and I high-tailed it to the airport to pick up Stinky. I dropped fifty cents into the airport parking meter, and we dashed into the terminal just as the TWA flight from JFK disembarked. There were tall people, short people, skinny people and fat people. But there were no Stinky people. And that is what we were there for; the stench of our pal Stinky. We watched as every last person got off, thinking the next would be Stinky, but alas, it was not to be. He had somehow missed his flight.

I called his Hell's Kitchen apartment from the airport at 3:00 a.m. eastern time and Stinky answered with a groggy voice. He made up some story about how the entire city conspired against letting him get to the airport on time. He told us of an angry German woman that practically choked his bus driver. He spoke of the late subways. And he berated the staff of Trans World Airlines. It never occurred to him to look in the mirror, or take a whiff, of the person truly to blame.

The trip out to the airport wasn't the first disappointment I had ever gotten in my life, but it was the first one for which I received a parking ticket. My fifty cents had bought thirty minutes, and by the time we got back to the car, the meter had clicked and the parking police had nailed

the black Mirage. No problem, I thought as I crumpled the ticket. The car is in Robert's name. He'll probably win so much money he won't even mind paying the fine.

I hustled Amy and myself back downtown to catch up with our more punctual friends before they started telling lies about me again.

Stinky's Story:

There exist a variety of simple and reliable forms of transportation between Manhattan and John F. Kennedy airport. Being uncommonly cheap, however, I elected to save myself $10.50 by taking the $1.50 subway/free shuttle combination. I left myself plenty of time, heading out of my apartment a full two and a half-hours before my flight was scheduled to take to the sky. It being rush hour, a train appeared almost immediately. I boarded and pushed my way into a spot against the door. I spent the first part of the ride thinking smugly about how I would spend my surplus $10.50 once in Vegas. Maybe I would get part of a hooker.

I realized after some time that I would have to switch trains, since the A line splits off way out in the boonies of Queens. No problem, I told myself. After all, it was still rush hour and there were still plenty of trains. I got off at a strategic stop and looked down the tracks hopefully, knowing my train would materialize momentarily.

After fifteen minutes of listening to the woman next to me yell, "Get back from the tracks!" to her spastic kid, I generously offered to take a rope out of my bag and tie him up. She grabbed her boy and moved quickly to the other end of the platform. I considered it a victory, but the sweet feeling was short-lived, as I checked my watch and realized how long I'd been waiting. No problem, I thought, nobody really means it when they say you have to get to the gate an hour before take-off.

Another ten minutes passed and I started to sweat a little. The kid was still trying to get past his mom so he could fall onto the tracks, and I was rooting for him to make it, because according to the movies, the train always comes right at that moment.

At long last, my savior, the A to Far Rockaway appeared out of the mist. Well, there was no mist, but the train rolled up and squeaked its brakes anyway. I looked at my watch: an hour and ten minutes until my plane would start taxiing to the runway, and on a good day, another twenty to thirty minutes left to the airport. Lucky for me I had no baggage to check.

Upon arrival at the Howard Beach station, I rushed to the free shuttle stop, where a guy with a Transit Authority shirt directed people onto the wrong buses. At least, that's what he seemed to be doing for the most part. When I finally figured out where to go thanks to the schedule posted on the wall, the bus pulled up. I sighed a big, fat sigh of relief. Before I could climb on, though, a short woman with a clipboard told the driver that it was time for him to be out of service. The driver changed his sign and drove on. A woman next to me, in a panicky, German-accented voice, asked what was going on. The clipboard woman told her to just wait for the next bus. At this point I was getting pretty nervous but was practicing my Vegas cool, so I shrugged it off.

Another bus approached momentarily, and again I thanked my lucky stars. Again, the clipboard lady barked at the driver and he drove off with the "Out of Service" sign mocking me and the antsy German woman.

It was my turn to ask the clipboard lady what the story was. She snapped, "these buses are almost out of gas, they wouldn't make it halfway to the airport." I sneaked a look at my watch and took a deep, reassuring breath. At this point, a bus would have dropped me off just as the gate agent announced general boarding.

The German woman started hyperventilating, and her companion tried in vain to reassure her. I decided to hope they weren't on the same flight as me. Finally, a bus pulled up and the clipboard lady let us all on.

Once I got settled in my seat and said a short, non-denominational prayer for a quick ride, the bus driver got up and went out to have a chat with the clipboard lady and the guy giving out bad directions. The German woman started emitting harsh, guttural sounds from her throat and her hands shook. I was less worried that I would miss my plane than I was that she would go berserk and choke me to death. Her friend started yelling at the clipboard lady, but she stuck firm to her story that the buses were running on a schedule that could not be broken. I reassured myself with the knowledge that TWA has a pretty crappy on-time record, and that there were probably mechanics duct-taping over holes in the wings at that moment, delaying the take-off.

The bus finally left, and by this point, every step on the brakes evoked a feeling of urgency not unlike a fist pressing against a too-full bladder.

At the terminal, the bus stopped and I leapt off, followed closely by the German woman and her friend. I dashed across the street, weaving in between taxis and airport shuttles, and through the door. I rushed through the metal detector, making sure not to make any jokes about carrying explosives, because they don't really approve of that kind of thing, as I learned once in an airport with Matt the big-mouth.

Joy! My heart rejoiced when I saw a plane parked at the appropriate gate. I ran smack dab into the ticket counter, I.D. in hand, and came face to face with what would turn out to be an incredibly petty and small woman. She informed me that I was late. I told her I was aware of that and asked a thousand pardons, and could I please just have my boarding pass. She said no. I was ready to fall to my knees and beg her forgiveness when the German and her friend rushed up behind me. The gate agent sternly told them that they, too were late. Between the three of us, we tried to explain that we were truly sorry, and that if there was any way to get on the plane, we would appreciate it. The woman with the tiny, tiny, rock-hard heart said that the flight was closed and there was no way she could open it up.

We persisted, even as she began boarding standby passengers, and were asked what flight we were coming from. The German woman's friend made the mistake of saying, "no flight, we're from here," which caused the agent to affect an even sterner tone that would normally be reserved for war criminals. She reprimanded us again for being late.

Minutes later, the agent made a call to the tower to see if the flight could be held to put us in one of the eleven remaining seats. I thought this was our ticket to ride. The tower said no dice, and the agent laughed an evil laugh as my heart deflated like a giant Budweiser can after the NASCAR races have all been run.

After much wrangling with another ticket agent, I arranged for a seat on the 6:30 a.m. from La Guardia airport and made a pact with myself never to fly TWA again, unless they offered the lowest fare.

After leaving a useless message at the Gold Spike that would never be delivered, I rode the subway back to Manhattan. In less than six hours I would have to turn around and get in a $37 limo, as transportation options are severely limited at that hour of the morning. Not only did I miss a night of action, but my $10.50 surplus, plus a whole lot more, flew out the window before I even started toward Las Vegas.

Dan's Story:

After eating, we walked slowly back to the Gold Spike. The pace began to gain some semblance of rational existence. We met up with the gang, minus the tardy Stinky, and upon seeing the crowded one dollar blackjack tables in the smoky Spike, decided to amble down to the Western for some of the finest ambience in town.

The walk from the Gold Spike to the Western is one that we have lovingly dubbed the Bataan Death March due to the real likelihood of not making it the entire way. Steve said, "The only thing that separates us from blackjack paradise is death."

Dan finds himself at a dead end in the bowels of the Plaza

We wandered east from under the lustrous safety of the Fremont Street Experience, past pawn shops, liquor stores, dealer schools, abandoned and vacant buildings, and just enough crackheads to make it exciting. On the way, Matt happened to glance into a planter-box outside the dingiest motel outside Calcutta. In it were about ten thousand poker-chip-sized cockroaches scrambling over one another to get into the cracks in the wall that led into the motel. Amy, an entymologist by training, examined them for a while, giving genus and species, and helped comfort my seizures of disgust with an engaging comparison of the different kinds of cockroaches around the world and their particular behaviorisms and breeding patterns.

Thus it was the perfect mood that surrounded us as we entered the Western through the big hole in its street-facing wall known as the front door. Immediately we attracted the attention of the locals. One man, with cracked spectacles and a grizzled look said, "If you're tourin', you came to the wrong place." When Steve asked him for more detail on that comment, the man said, "I heard an accent. " Mike assured the man that we certainly belonged in the Western. I said, "We're not just touring, we're Ali Farka Toure-ing." He missed my point entirely and instead lifted the corner of his shirt to show me the handle of his bowie knife.

Matt's Story:

The guy with the shattered glasses kind of made us uncomfortable. He sat possessively hunched over his favorite machine with a pack of Basic Lights and a Budweiser at his side. No matter where we were in the Western, his eyes, refracted into several small dots through the broken lenses, followed us. On this warm Friday night, even the dollar tables at the Western had pretty good action, and it took a while to find a seat. Our dealer was a young Asian man who would not smile no matter how hard I tried to entertain him. He kept looking at me when he thought I couldn't see. When our eyes met he always looked away.

On the other side of the casino, Amy and Robert had shopping bags in which they had stored a year's worth of pennies from home. They played the banks of penny slots, freely switching machines as luck directed. Now, I am not a jealous man, nor am I particularly protective of my wife. But, I did feel uncomfortable when she slipped from my view in the Western Casino. I wasn't afraid she would be kidnapped. Rather, I was afraid she would be gone just long enough for her hair to thin, her skin to shrivel and dry, some teeth to fall out and a jagged scar the shape of a broken bottle to appear along her chin. In short, Western-itis. So, as we played blackjack, I kept an eye out for her, even risking eye contact with broken-glasses guy who kept grimacing and saying something inaudible every time I looked his way.

My friends and I have a good strategy for getting to play Blackjack at the same table. I sit down first and clear out the strangers. See, I like to talk to people and I don't mind asking personal and disturbing questions. Five minutes after sitting down, my table mates had all left. One woman even took off in the middle of the hand with her bet still out. The dealer would not let me have her abandoned money, however, no matter how hard I argued that I was responsible for her leaving. The dealer still did not laugh at my funny jokes and puns so I tried harder. I was really cracking myself up, but not a single flash of the dealer's teeth, even after my joke about the constipated and horny Sunday school teacher.

Shortly after my friends and I took over every seat at the table, the pit boss came over. He was younger than me, but his hair was much shinier. He told us that they were closing the table in five minutes. We groaned and asked why. The pit boss just said "Federal law." I asked, "Can't you close any table? " To which the pit boss smiled and said yes. Finally the dealer cracked a smile. In fact he was downright giddy. He looked me in the eyes and said, "Sorry, funnyboy. You go away now."

On to Part Two

[Free Food] [Free Crap] [Free to See] [Eat Cheap] [Gamble Cheap] [Sleep Cheap]
[Lucky Ned] [Trip Reports] [Keno Jokes] [Vegas Haikus] [Encyclopedia Vegasana]

[Downtown Map] [Off-Strip Map] [Strip Map] [Lucky Links]

Questions or Comments?