1 - Poker and Booze Should Mix Better Than This
I landed in Vegas at 6:45 on Thursday night and
managed to work my way through the crowd of giddy tourists who
were just damn sure they would win this trip. I packed everything
in one backpack, including a big bottle of asparagus-tinged piss
to sprinkle around in front of Binion's Friday night. Got my mid-size
rental car from Thrifty and headed for the glitz. Glitter and
vomit of downtown.
One group of friends were arriving from Southern
California, a 280 mile drive that I have managed in 3 hours and
36 minutes. They left at 11 AM and still hadn't arrived when I
checked into the California hotel. I got hoodwinked by the Cal.
Everyone does. Before you can say, "I'm a strong boy!" the front
desk hands your room key to a bellhop who takes you to your room
and shows you how to turn the water on, and how to flush the toilet,
complete with a demonstration of how to pee first. I handed him
three bucks and finally got to learn my secret room number.
The room was just fine: newish furnishings, clean
bathroom, nice blankets, an alarm clock with the correct time.
The showerhead was at navel level which meant getting on your
knees to wash you hair. The room view was out over the railroad
tracks where the bums in most cities would live. Not in Vegas,
though. They live in the radiant warmth of the porte cocheres
of the major resorts.
Once my friends, Stevie Fine Print, Flanders
and Mikey, arrived, we went downstairs to the Pasta Pirate. This
place isn't a hidden gem like Lotus of Siam or Lindo Michoacan,
but it is a great value. The food is okay, but huge, cheap pasta
meals come with a salad, bread and a free glass of either wine
or vinegar; I couldn't tell for sure. I had the steak and lobster
with pasta for $12. The steak was tough, the lobster was fine,
the butter was clear and the marinara was a little sweet. Still,
a fine deal. The waiters at the Cal are always confused by customers
paying with cash. The vast majority of its customers are Hawaiians
on junkets that include vouchers for all meals. So, we waited
a while for the check, and then, with our bellies sloshing full
of meat and starch, we wandered around downtown looking for a
The Lady Luck is about to die, but for now it's
more like an 82-year-old emphysemic on life support and oxygen.
It wheezes, stinks and has an ashen pall over it. A few stragglers
banged away at slots, the ding-ding-ding of which sounded depressing
in the cavernous vacancy. Two table games were open with a few
players slinging red chips. I can't say for sure, but I swear
the dealers stopped the deal occasionally to mix drinks. "You
want a cherry in it?" "Yeah, and I want to double down." "Okay,
I'll be right back to the table after I find the crushed ice."
Next door, the Gold Spike is not closing no matter
how hard it tries. It's more like an 82-year-old emphysemic on
life support and oxygen at the Bingo Parlor: secretly hopeful
and determined to survive, at least until the $1000 "Blackout"
game. The stench has never lifted, and a friend once described
it as "an ashtray filled with rotten sausage stuffed into the
pocket of a dead man." The smoke is heavy enough that you can
clear a path by windmilling a hand in front of you.
The Spike has reduced its inventory of table
games from four to three, with two crowded good-rules $2 blackjack
tables, and an empty $5. No wonder. Hell, you can play with vagabonds
in an alley on the Strip for five bucks, so why settle on the
Spike? The alcove called the Copper Mine is the last place in
the city with slots that accept real pennies, the metal kind.
Usually, it's packed with hopefuls, but tonight only a few homeless
The once glorious
Plaza continues to decline.
There are four of us and not four open blackjack
seats, so we keep moving, past the condemned Crest Motel, surrounded
by a chain link fence and with stenciling on the walls that reads
"Closed by LVMPD." Can't imagine what a seedy, scary motel around
here would be doing to get the cops to close it, but I'm sorry
I never got any of it when I could. Beyond the shuttered Crest
is a rubble pit the size of an entire city block. There were once
shiny billboards surrounding the site that advertised luxury condos
in a modern skyrise. But the billboards are defaced and shambly,
giving a glimpse inside of the absolutely nothing that has been
done. I suppose that no matter how much the promoters dressed
up the locale, off-downtown next to a failing shopping mall was
not attractive to the wealthy. Even if you call the area something
fancy like Skid Row Heights, it's still sort of like an armpit.
We walk into the El Cortez, our trusted home,
and where they know us by name. Patty, the septugenarian cocktail
waitress retired on our tips, and not before she got cable so
she could see us on the Discovery Channel. But the pit crew is
surprisingly loyal. The dealers are a revolving mix of break-ins,
but the managers and supervisors know us. The El Co has spiffed
up something remarkable. The story I heard was that owner Jackie
Gaughan had been taking tax deductions for capital improvements
for decades, and the IRS finally visited and noticed they'd been
had. So, he sunk a bundle into the casino floor and rooms. The
rooms are quite nice now, and it's harder than ever to find cigarette
burns in the blankets. The casino is downright fancy, with digital
table minimum signs, new chandeliers, marble on the floor and
clean carpets. No more Big Mouth Bill yBass on the wall by the
craps pit, or "Win a Ford 500" casino promotion buttons used as
buttons in the poker area.
The craps, which had been 25 cents only a few
years ago, jumped to a dollar recently, and now up to $5. Jesus,
for that I can get my hair cut, and you won't see me doing that.
The pit boss promised that if our whole group came in, he'd drop
it to $3, still with wonderful 10x odds. Good, single-deck blackjack
with 3:2 payoffs was $3. My friends settled in at a table and
I hightailed it to the airport to pick up Stinky.
Stinky arrived from Chicago on Southwest without
having eaten. He said he wasn't hungry, and that came back to
bite him in the ass. Downtown, we returned to the El Co and grabbed
a couple of seats in the two 1-3-6 spread hold-em games. I had
been watching earlier as a Vietnamese woman in a Green Valley
Security blouse bet every pot, almost always with nothing, and
kept dipping into her purse for more cash. Her pattern became
very clear: bet pre-flop with any face; bet any flop regardless;
check the turn if she hadn't hit yet; bet the river if the other
player checked the turn as well. I got in a seat at her table.
Stinky moved into the other table, with a scary-looking biker
and a crazy non-stop talker.
The security guard Loosey was as sour as grapefruit
out of season. She flung her unimproved cards when called on the
river. She snapped at other players and the dealer and rarely
tipped when she won. Her arms were as thin as a sapling branch,
and her long creepy fingers were capped with long, curled finger
After a half hour my $100 buy-in was down to
$97 from two blinds and a tip for a Heineken. I don't think I
had seen a better hand than 9-3. My first pot was a limp with
A-J that hit on the flop. I bet out and it was folded around for
a $3 profit. Ten minutes later I realized I was playing too tight
when I couldn't get a single caller out of the limpers with my
pocket kings on the button. I lost when I raised with A-Q and
Loosey called. Flop came K high and I check-raised her. She called.
Turn was a king, and rather than check, she bet, so I got the
hell out and she scolded me for folding her powerful K5. A-J held
up a littler later for another small pot. I then called a raise
from the Vietnamese woman with A7 suited. The flop came blank
and she bet, I called. She checked the turn, so did I. River,
she bet $6 and I called with my A high. It held up. She threw
her cards, said something not very nice in Vietnamese, and left
It was now after two a.m. and I had about three
Heinekens in me. I was spending an unusual amount of time thinking
about how little I needed to piss. The beers and fatigue were
working their charm on me, though, and my game was getting looser
and more reckless. An Internet dandy in his late 20s sat down.
At first he pretended he didn't know how to play poker, but did
a horrible job of acting. The joke was, though, that he didnít.
Only, he was the only guy who didn't realize it. He played aggressive,
raising pots and re-raising with what I was sure was trash. He
smoked Camel Lights, cradling them between his fingers like they
were rubies. I don't know that he ever actually inhaled. How could
he when he wouldn't shut up?
Golf Maniac, lines up another imaginary birdie.
He jabbered incessantly, with the most unwanted
advice for me when I checked down a pot out of the blind with
2-6 offsuit, and won because the only other person called with
2-5. He kept telling the other players how much he loved the El
Cortez. What he meant was not that he loved it, but that he loved
that he pretended he loved it. He thought he was a character in
a John Waters movie, surrounded by actors hamming it up. But these
are real, hard, dirty people trying to have fun. His insincerity
and frequent comments about what a dump the El Co is didn't land
too softly on the ears of players who come here often because
it's the place they like and can afford. Slumming it by pseudo-hipsters
is pretty fucking unwelcome.
I tangled with the Dandy Fop once, when he raised
from the cutoff and I had K-J in the blind. I called and the flop
came K-J-3. I checked, he bet. I pretended to think and do a little
calculation, then raised. He re-reraised and I re-raised again.
$29 in the pot and $3 more for him to call. He folded. I should
have just called and hoped for a brick so he'd think I didn't
hit whatever I was drawing for.
Things get fuzzy for me after that. I played
horribly and started losing. The only thing coming my way were
more Heinekens, and they were catching up with my bladder. I had
an urgent need to pee every ten minutes, and I pissed a lot every
time. A few players left and we combined the two tables. Stinky
sat across from me and gave me a few notes on his fellow tablemates.
He told me one short Mexican fellow would call down to the river
My next big hand was AQ, which I raised from
the button. The Mexican called and I was in heaven. The flop came
Q-high rainbow and I bet. The Mexican raised. I re-raised and
he called. On the turn I checked, he bet and I re-raised. I looked
at my friend and asked, "Does he raise all the time, too?" Stinky
shook his head. Fuck. He flopped a set of sixes and I was sunk.
My skull now had enough Heineken sloshing around
inside to make every bathroom run an adventure in navigation.
I don't know how the maintenance staff move the slot machines
around so quickly, but they did. My buy-in was dwindling, I was
getting bored and I was losing. So I played looser and looser,
limping in with any A or gapers and never getting rewarded. Everyone
else got paid on middle pairs, but not me. Of course, I was far
enough into the bag that my focus had narrowed to nothing more
than the two cards in front of me and what was in the middle.
I was too tired and buzzed to think about the other players.
After 5 a.m. I saw the first good cards in a
while: JJ. I raised and it folded around to a mountain of a man
who re-raised. I called. By mountain of a man, I mean he had approximately
the same total mass as a huge granite outcropping, and his thundering
man-boobies could have provided shelter for eagles. The flop came
J-K-3 and the other man bet. I re-raised and he called. It wasn't
until the turn, when I had put the remainder of my small stack
in that I even considered he may have KK. He did, and my set lost
I immediately stood up, ripped my jacket off
the back of my chair, and made a dash for the bathroom. Man, I
had to pee. Returning to the table to wait for my friend, I got
plenty of advice from strangers about how they knew he had kings
and I had jacks. I smiled as politely as I could and just said
as graciously as possible, "I'll cut you open from your ass to
your mouth if you don't shut the fuck up." Really, I was mad at
myself for playing so loose and badly. But why beat yourself up
when there are others around?
Stinky cashed out with a nice profit after pockets
Ks turned into set for him twice and his pocket Qs turned a full
house against another player's trip nines. I thought his ability
to make a profit while I lost $100 was rather rude and called
his mother a name.
We walked back to the California around six a.m.
Well, mostly we walked; sometimes I crawled. The sun wasn't up,
which pissed me off. The least that stupid thing could do is start
rising if I make the effort to stay up this late. Stinky was now
drunk, starving and on his 26th hour without sleep, so he didn't
say much when I kept punching him and asking for some money.
On to Part 2