by Matt

You can read it here or download the longer, not necessarily better, PDF version to enjoy while you're sitting on the john, or to annoy your spouse with.

Part 3 of 6 - Filling the Belly with Fire, and Meatloaf
Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I set my alarm for 9:00 with the plan to meet the others in the casino at 9:15. I woke up at 9:14 and only then realized that I had set the alarm for p.m. instead of a.m. I don't know how that happened because not understanding how to set remotes, alarm clocks and cellphones is an old person's problem. I didn't shower, shave, had fallen asleep in my clothes and my room was one flight of stairs from the blackjack pit. So I was only two minutes late to meet my friends.

We talked about the evening before: about Drinky and Mom, Mike chucking the dice and hitting the stickman in the face, and comparing cocktail totals. Phil said nothing. He just poked at his porridge with a spoon and moaned. Nobody brought up The Hoodlum, so I did.

"Remember how I was about to kick that punk's ass? I would have slapped him so hard he'd have been picking teeth out of his spine. And I would have pulled his hair until he cried."

The dim and foreboding Circus Circus Casino.
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I laughed. Phil, Jerry, Mike, Robert and Steve didn't. So I laughed even louder to make it sound like we were, on average, very amused.

We're going to play downtown tonight, right? asked Steve.

"Back to the Joker, baby," said I.

"We'll be safer downtown."

"Joker's a dollar table," I countered. "Downtown's three."

"You're saying we should risk our lives for a few measly bucks?" asked Robert.


Robert pulled out a napkin and pen. He did some quick calculations. When he finished he nodded. "The math works out."

"We're going to see The Hoodlum again," warned Jerry.

"Fight! Fight! Fight!" screamed Robert, slamming his fists on the table so hard Phil's porridge went airborne and landed on the floor.

"What if Mom's not there this time?" asked Mike.

"Then we won't make out and have babies."

Mike said, "I meant to protect you."

The retro-futuristic Planet Hollywood Casino.
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"Ooo, I'm soooo scared," I said sarcastically. "Waaa waaa, you're really making me afraid. I'm being sarcastic, in case you didn't know. Booga booga."

"Booga booga what?" asked Phil, snapping out of his fog.

Steve asked Phil, "What's bugging you, Phil? And I ask not because I care for your welfare, but because you're seriously bumming me out."

"Oh, I don't know," Phil moaned. "It's just, we've been to Las Vegas so many times and we always do the same stuff."

"Because it's fun," I said, but I thought, because it's what we did when we were young.

"Don't you ever--hey, where's my porridge?--don't you ever wonder if there's something more out there? Something with deeper meaning?"

"No," said Steve and Mike.

Jerry: "Not really."

I shook my head.

Robert added, "It's an all-you-can-eat buffet. What more could there be?"

Phil sighed. Actually, it was more of a honk, and abrupt enough that it startles a lady at the table next to us and she fell out of her seat. "I don't know, I feel like we're missing something."

After breakfast we all went our separate ways to review hotels and casinos. I wrapped up Planet Hollywood in the afternoon and I needed to get to the Cosmopolitan to meet the gang. I walked across the street, went upstairs and settled into a chair in the Cosmo's third-floor "game room" and connected my iPod Touch to the outside word through the hotel's free property-wide wi-fi. The game room, which isn't really a room, is an open space among the hoity-toity restaurants. There's a free pool table, a bunch of board games and some comfortable chairs. There's another similar area elsewhere that has a book theme with a bunch of old hardbacks, the kind set decorators buy by the pound.

Steve got there early, too. Rather than join me and hear more about the beatdown I was gonna put on The Hoodlum later, he stayed in the casino. He got a cocktail, played a slot machine and hit a $400 jackpot. He texted the news to me.

I texted back, "How much do I get?"

Steve celebrates his Cosmo jackpot with a girl drink.
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He didn't reply.

Eventually, Robert, Mike, Jerry and Steve joined me. Steve was physically heavier because he had taken his jackpot in quarters. Steve told the others of his big score. Everyone asked, "How much do I get?"

Phil moped in a few minutes later, his eyes red, either from crying or an allergic reaction to his makeup. When we told him of Steve's big win, he practically exploded. "You think I care about that? Don't you understand how trivial and petty that is?"

I had to admit to him that, no, I had no idea.

"Someday you'll learn," he grumbled.

We explored the Cosmopolitan. When Steve and I visited in December I thought I'd dislike the place like I have the other new properties that are more like ritzy shopping malls than fun places to screw around. Places like Encore and Aria aren't fun. They're just expensive and snooty. They have fancy stuff to look at and overpriced places to eat, massive casinos and snooty bars with $17 chocolate martinis, but no imagination or flair.

I was very wrong about the Cosmo. I'll probably never stay or gamble there, but it's pretty damn cool. The hotel itself was supposed to be mostly condos before the economic collapse, so the rooms are decent sized and some have kitchenettes. Most rooms have balconies. The closets have eyeball wallpaper. The rooms also have all the stupid electronic gewgaws and minibar overcharges of the other high-end Strip joints. That's the crap most guests rarely use but some love to have just so they can tell the neighbors back home about it.

Before we left the Cosmopolitan we filled our pockets with as many free ashtrays, pens, cocktails glasses and wall fixtures as we could. We then went to the much dingier and less cool Imperial Palace for dinner with our pants clinking and rattling.

The towering, sort-of-dull-from-the-outside Cosmopolitan.
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Not long ago, dinner at the Imperial Palace was on Amnesty International's list of human rights violations. Their restaurants brought back memories of summer camp cafeterias, after someone had barfed in the salad bar. There was the mediocre coffee shop, the brutal buffet, the drab steakhouse and some short-lived seafood joint named the Cockeyed Clam. I think that was supposed to have a naughty connotation like Pink Taco at the Hard Rock. Except, where Pink Taco sounds vulgar but relatively fresh, a Cockeyed Clam sounds like the bacteria-ravaged privates of an aging Tijuana prostitute.

Regardless, the Imperial Palace made a brilliant move by adding a Hash House a Go Go. Hash House is much-loved in Vegas with three outlets in town and another in San Diego. They're famous for breakfast, monstrous plates of bacon, eggs, sausage, French toast and pancakes the size of Paul Bunyan's head. Few can eat an entire meal, or even half of one. Those who do usually regret it.

What makes Hash House a perfect fit for the Imperial Palace is that the menu is familiar enough for its middle-of-the-road clientele, yet different enough to be interesting.

It was suggested to us by Justin and Amanda. They write the Vegas blog Hungry Wanderers. Mostly, they write about food, but they also write about other travel adventures too. In contrast to our site, theirs is thoughtful, useful and not nearly so full of shit. We met for dinner to size each other up and see if there were ways our sites could work together. Mainly, we wanted to see if they could sit through an entire meal of hearing me talk about myself. Phil, still mopey, went on tangents about closet space, board games and his favorite prime numbers.

Hash House was a great suggestion for a group of nine. My only complaint was that it was a sit-down restaurant. I would have rather gotten a corn dog at the 7-Eleven and eaten it on the way out to the Joker's Wild. As night fell, I could no longer keep my thoughts of The Hoodlum from creeping in and dominating my thoughts.

The Hash House menu has something called "American farm food". That means pork tenderloin, fried chicken with waffles, chicken breast over pasta, burgers and meatloaf. All are big and presented nicely with a garnish of sage or a drizzle of gravy. The waffles are stuffed with bacon and the fried chicken is piled up like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tenderloin is pounded until it's thin and covers half the table. The meatloaf is the size of a brick.

The dogs of the Cosmopolitan. They do not bite.
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Jeff from Arizona, the seventh in our crew, arrived as we sat for dinner. Justin and Amanda are like us: they've got regular old jobs and write about Vegas as a hobby. They appreciate good food more than I do. I'm happy taking five bucks worth of processed bread products from the Hostess Thrift and eating them in a storm drain. The Hungry Wanderers, though, cut through the flash and give some thoughtful analysis.

We spent as much time telling Justin and Amanda about our exploits in Vegas as we did trying to put a dent in our meals. Phil even found some common ground with them on some board game of which he was crowned king or lord or world champion. Whatever, it earned him a free trip to Columbus, Ohio. Forgetting that some people had to work, we kept Justin and Amanda way past their bedtimes just to tell them how great we are.

One of the problems with reviewing a meal at Hash House a Go Go is that by the time you're done eating the huge portion it's hard to remember if it was any good.

"Oh, my," Amanda said, "look at the time. We bett-"

"I like to rollerblade, blurted out Mike. He then told of his dream to one day 'blade across America to help stop badness.

My kitten makes mouse salami, Jerry started another tale.

Finally, Justin and Amanda escaped. That was all right with me because I needed to get back to the Joker's Wild.

In the parking garage, Phil vomited. That's the highest compliment he's ever paid any restaurant. We all pretended it didn't happen. First, if we made a big deal about it, the Imperial Palace might make us clean it up. Second, if he were actually sick, someone would have to take him back downtown and tuck him into bed and sing him lullabies and probably read him a story from one of the filthy magazines he brings. Third, what if he puked out of sadness? Sadness is contagious, so I try never to acknowledge it.

I wanted to face The Hoodlum. I wanted to look youth square in the eye and show it that I could not only keep up, but beat it. I also wanted to prove to my friends that I wasn't all talk and no action. I could prove them wrong like I'd wanted to do for years, through the thousands of times they had proven me wrong. Wrong about whether it was helium or spoiled ham that made your voice higher. Wrong about how much pressure it took to break a finger, and not quite correct about how many silent "r"s are in the word "excited". This time, I'd be right. That made me very, very erxcrited.

On to Part 4

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