A Weekend in Las Vegas

In the old days, Las Vegas was really far away. It was something that happened once every two years or so and there would be a huge buildup and each trip had its own memories and its own personality. These days, living in LA, Vegas happens more often, and the trips become less distinct. And though they're still fun, they've lost some of the novelty and giddiness that they used to have.

My typical Vegas routine would consist of a main course of playing poker well and usually winning money, a side of losing that money playing blackjack, and a dash of the occasional spontaneous meltdown at the roulette table.

This routine has worked pretty well for me for a lot of years. In high school, my friends and I got really into poker and we all got good. In college, I played a lot of poker-- at Foxwoods, with friends, and online-- and I usually won. Since then, my poker playing has become much more rare, limited mostly to Vegas visits. But since most people who play poker in casinos are bad, if I play disciplined for a reasonably long sitting, I'll usually win money.

At that point, I leave the poker table, satisfied with my winnings and determined not to lose it playing blackjack. A few minutes later, I decide to "just play one hand" of blackjack, "just for the hell of it," and I do this standing up to emphasize that I'm not "sitting down to play some blackjack," but rather "playing just one hand, for the hell of it." Then I either win the hand and remember that blackjack is deliciously enticing, or I lose the hand and get upset that I just lost money for no reason. Both situations lead to the "second hand of blackjack." This is purely an extension of the first hand of blackjack and is also done while standing up. This is normally followed by "the next 75 hands of blackjack," which are done sitting down, and during which I lose the money I won in poker.

That's the basic routine. There are special times when blackjack has been especially mean to me when I'll go for the rare "Spontaneous Roulette Meltdown." SRM's go like this: I am walking through the casino floor, sometimes to go to bed for the night, sometimes to cash in my money, sometimes on the way to the exit with my bags on the way to the airport, always after losing money and always feeling a bit self-loathing. It is in these special instances that I may embark on one of my trademark SRM's. An SRM consists of making a sudden change in my walking direction and heading straight to a roulette table, where I take $100 out of my wallet and put the bill itself on black. The dealer, who knows all about SRM's, usually avoids eye contact. Then one of two things happens: 1) Black hits. When this happens the SRM is usually nipped at the bud. I take the two black chips and continue my original walking course. 2) Red or green hit. When this happens the SRM continues. Depending on my new level of self-loathing, I put either $100 or $200 on black. In either case, a black roll will usually quell the SRM. A red or green roll will leave me in a very dark place. In these times, I either continue the SRM or continue my walking path with my mind full of things like, "Something's got to change in my life," and "At least I'll be dead one day."

And that's how Vegas goes for me.

Now one thing that has never enticed me is craps. Craps is frightening and complicated and yucky. There is no room to stand around the table and there are all these upsetting markings on the table and people are putting chips everywhere haphazardly and the whole thing is just unappealing to me.

But this past Friday, as I drove to Vegas with some friends, everything changed.

The friends I was with all really like craps and spent a large portion of the car ride explaining the rules and nuances to me. Suddenly, it seemed less impenetrable and I figured what the hell and said I'd give it a try. We arrived in Vegas around midnight. The weekend went like this:

Friday night: We arrive, and a half hour later we're at a craps table. Just standing there, I was immensely struck by the sheer value of the stacks of $5,000 chips at the table. A 20-stack is worth $100,000, and there were about 10 stacks, or a million dollars, just sitting there. I was tempted to grab a stack of them when the dealers were looking away, but I never managed to find the right time.

Anyway, craps was a phenomenally good time. It's great to have the camaraderie with the fellow gamblers, and unlike blackjack, the dealers are friendly and personable. The superstition is my favorite part. Idiots holding dice this way or that, shaking them this many times or that many times. My friend Tony has a thing with saying "seven" at the craps table, claiming it's horrible luck, and our friendship nearly ended when I said it at one point by accident. He wasn't "haha" angry-- he was legitimately pissed off. Of course, right after I said it, we ran into a terrible string of bad luck. I wanted to acquire an invisibility cloak as I watched bad thing after bad thing happen. I felt like Grady Little watching Pedro give up hit after hit in '03, knowing it's all his fault.

I also find it amusing that when you're the roller and good things happen, everyone at the table is patting you on the back and high-fiving you and genuinely likes you. But when you have a bad roll, everyone is avoiding eye contact with you and trying to hide their genuine disdain for you-- and not just for you as a roller but you as a person. You actually feel like a loser when your rolls suck and like a general life winner when you make a good run with the dice. Gotta love craps.

Anyway, I was well-trained to get as much money as possible at "true odds" (casino has no edge) by playing "behind the pass line" and backing up new points established by bets on the "come." I had no idea what any of this meant a couple days ago either.

So after a 30-minute up-and-down rollercoaster, the dice started being extremely friendly and pleasant as we all won a ridiculous amount of money over a four-hour span. I was up $950 when I went to bed.

Saturday morning: Thrilled with life in general, we all say screw it and head to a place called "The Gun Store." The Gun Store is a gun store, where you can buy guns and ammo, and they have a shooting range. Now you know how when they show the political breakdown within states? (Check out this delicious collection of maps to see what I'm talking about.) And you know how Vegas is blue and The Rest of Nevada is red? Well upon walking into The Gun Store it became immediately clear that we had apparently crossed into The Rest of Nevada.

The first sign was the collection of targets on the wall. The targets were all cut-outs of people, and very few of them were white people. Yes, whichever minority you happen to hate, The Gun Store can provide you a unique opportunity to shoot him. The second sign that we were in The Rest of Nevada happened when the guy who worked there automatically selected three Middle Eastern targets for me, and told me to "go kill some rag-heads." From there, we headed into the range, earmuffs and all, where I found myself clutching onto a machine gun. It was horrifying and rad all at once-- there were even shells flying out behind me, like in a movie. Afterwards, I couldn't figure out if I felt more manly or less manly than I had before-- more because I just shot the shit out of multiple machine guns or less because of how out of my element I was when doing so.

Saturday Afternoon: Determined not to let the house get back its $950, I vowed to stick with poker for the rest of the weekend. So I sat down at a no-limit table, listened to PTI on my iPod, watched the Red Sox game, and had a string of really bad starting cards. This doesn't mean you'll lose a lot of money, it just means you're sitting around doing nothing for most of the time. In 4 hours I played about 7 total hands but still came out up about up $70.

So for those counting, I'm up over $1,000 on the trip and ready to call it a weekend and leave rich. Yes, I had gotten old Vegas this time. Lady Luck and I were BFF and Craps was my new favorite table game at the casino. Life was good.

Saturday Night: After an excellent and lavish dinner that only people who the night before had dominated a craps table would attend, it was time for me to call it a night and do something other than gamble. Vegas had been good to me, and the last thing I was going to do was to tempt the Casino Gods by playing more games.

But then my friends started gathering around a craps table and placing money on the felt and one of them said, "Come on, play with us." But I held my ground-- "Nah, I'm done tonight. I'm heading up. See you tomorrow." But I ambled over to watch them play a roll or two.

Five minutes later I had bought in for $400 and had chips scattered all over the table.

What the hell could be the harm? We'd just pick up where we left off last night, right?

Well, as it turns out, no. No, we wouldn't just pick up where we left off last night. We would instead embark on a hideous tour of The Dark Side of Craps. The Dark Side of Craps is a lot less boisterous and friendly and lively than the craps I had grown to know and love just 24 hours earlier. No, The Dark Side of Craps is different. It's cold, and quiet, and depressing, and everyone loses a lot of money. The one thing that had a lively run was that number that Tony doesn't want me to say. We saw a lot of that number.

So after 40 excruciating minutes, four much less rich guys left the table. We headed somberly to cash in our chips. I had about $400 left and decided that a good decision would be to win back what I had just lost with my friends the blackjack dealers! They'd be nice to me. They understand me.

As it turns out, maybe blackjack and I are not as tight as I remembered. After 15 minutes of reckless blackjack bets and a bunch of great and horrible occurrences, I found myself still at about $400, and thankfully had the sense deep in my soul to call it a night and go to bed. Walking upstairs, I was up $400 on the weekend. This would normally feel really good. Not this time.

Sunday Morning: Waking up was better than going to sleep. Hell, I thought, it was a fun weekend, and I won money. I even slept well last night because Saturday was a lighter drinking night than Friday. Life, overall, was pretty damn good.

I packed up my stuff, and headed out of the room to catch a solo flight back to LA (I had to be back earlier than the friend car was going to permit). As I walked through the lobby, I even had a bounce in my step. "Vegas, you're a naughty fella!" I thought to myself.

And then-- as I was walking toward the lobby--

It happened.

I was walking through the roulette section when I made a sudden change in my walking direction and found myself at a roulette table. I took out my wallet and slammed $100 on black. I guess the last night's craps experience was still bothering me after all.

So the dealer, looking at anything in the room except for my eyeballs, replaced my bill by a single black chip, and spun the Wheel of Treachery. It went on for at least 4 minutes before the ball finally found its home. Its red home.

So I reached into my wallet once again, and pulled out not one but two $100 bills, and slapped them both down on black. The Wheel of Treachery is spun, and I can only watch in horror. I needed this one. The death ball clunked around, and eventually settled. In a red number.

Before the dealer had a chance to survey the room for my eyes to make sure his line of vision remained at a fair distance, I had slapped three $100 bills on black. Win this, I'm back to even. Lose this, I will leave Vegas down $200, $600 thrown away by a last second SRM relapse. It may become a very, very dark day.

The Wheel of Treachery spins once again. And it spins, and spins and spins. And I watch. Hideously.

The death ball clunks around, each clunk like a hammer pounding the life out of my soul.

And it clunked for the last time. Black.

As I took my six $100 chips to the cashier to cash them in, I felt like I had just emerged from a deep, dark nightmare. I somehow still had my money. I needed a cab. It was time to leave Vegas.

And so, that was that. As usual, a financial rollercoaster. As always, an emotional rollercoaster. Somehow, a good time.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad "the death ball" settled in black. I can only imagine how dark of a blog entry this could have been if it hadn't.

Anonymous said...

This was not fun reading for your mother.

Anonymous said...

I need to take a Vegas trip ASAP after reading this post.

Edwardo said...

Wow, that last minute relapse came out of nowhere! Hilarious!!! I'm glad you won some money back...

Anonymous said...

So,in other words you stand
there ,pissing it away and
then you sit down for craps

Kath n' Kim ,female lead on
The Office Spinoff ,where u
2 should play a role,Ivanka
helmed A7 ,perfect 123 push
for the female demo.

Melora Hardin ...

Jodie said...

Aww man. So sorry to hear about your lost bucks. I'm sure they wanted to go home with you.

Anonymous said...

Do you count cards ?

Or just basic strategy.

Anonymous said...

where did you eat a lavish dinner?

Anonymous said...

Do you know Mike Day?

Tim Urban said...

I don't count cards, I just watch while the dealer takes my money.

The restaurant was Bradley Ogden's in Caesars. Really delicious.

I know of no Mike Day.

Doc said...

And the night I decide to join in the craps "fun" was of course Saturday. Great trip though.