It all started with a Secret Santa present. I go to the local casino with a coworker of mine and play roulette, maybe once a month. I picked him for Secret Santa so I went to the casino and put $10 on black as his present. I took a picture in case I lost. I won and gave him $22 in table chips (extra $2 because I still owed him from fantasy football). While I was getting ready to leave I put $5 in a slot machine and hit a $50 bonus. I took that to the poker table and two hours later I had $190. The next weekend I did better and in two weeks I had turned $5 into $450.
I had just made the dean’s list at school and had the weekend off before classes started again on Monday. My last semester of college. The last chance I would have before I started my career and worked full time again. I knew what I had to do. I was going to Vegas, baby!
The first day of my impromptu vacation did not start well. I was nervous about the trip and mostly terrified to be going alone. I wanted the freedom to do what I want on the trip but that also meant that I would have no one to rely on. I was truly on my own.
I left around seven in the morning. I had a bad breakfast and was tired so the first two hours stretched on and on and made me question my recklessly impulsive decision-making abilities. I was thinking about buying a Nintendo Switch instead of going on the trip and now all I could think about was “I could have been in Hyrule.”
I found the audiobook for Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five” for about $2 online, so I listened to that on the way to Vegas. I was pleasantly surprised! The book was entertaining and very unique. I loved the non-linear storytelling and the twists and turns. I was sad that I did not get to finish the whole story before I got to my hotel (my cell phone died), so it goes.
I had made it to the hotel and I learned a valuable lesson quickly, do not smoke up in the parking lot and then try to check in to your hotel. I pulled out my vape pen in anticipation of the lights and sounds that can only come from Las Vegas and got to work on my cartridge called “gorilla glue”. By the time I made it into the hotel I was grinning like an idiot from ear to ear. I immediately made the wrong turn and ended up walking down a hallway of conference rooms. I then made a right and retraced my steps and found myself headed toward the fading daylight of the strip. Annoyed and tired, I finally found the self check-in kiosk which may be my favorite piece of technology in Las Vegas. The less human interaction for pointless tasks the better! Unfortunately my rewards card would not scan so I had to stand in line and talk to an effeminate man who smiled as he judged my every move. Or maybe that was just in my head.
I made it to my hotel room, texted my wife to tell her I was safe and I passed out for three hours. This was the view when I woke up:
I was elated. I always get the cheapest room available when I go to the strip. I only use the room to sleep. As long as it has a bed, I am good. I was pleasantly surprised by the view this time. I usually have a great view of the backside of another hotel from my room, which I really do not mind. This was great.
I woke up around 7 pm, starving. I had already promised myself I would have steak on this trip and seeing as my only companion was social anxiety, I ordered take out. I found out there is an Outback Steakhouse on the strip and when I picked up my NY Strip (I thought it was appropriate) they gave me actual silverware instead of those flimsy plastic ones. Instant Souvenir!
After eating my small buffet (they give you a lot), I decided to commence the real reason of my trip. To play some cards. I had become obsessed with poker in 2003. Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker from an online buy-in of $30. He beat the pros and turned a small investment into millions. I had done the same on a smaller scale with my $5 investment turning into $450 and I was ready for the big time. I left Bally’s and headed to the Flamingo to play some limit poker. I played a few hands and lost a little money but the good news was that the waitress assigned to that particular poker room was great at her job. I think I had 3 or 4 red bull and vodkas in less than an hour. I was feeling great. Unfortunately that spelled disaster for my bankroll. I found out that a tournament was just about to resume when I got up to stretch my legs and late registration was still available. I cashed out of my boring limit cash game, bought in for $70 (way too much), and lost on the first hand. Who knew Queen 10 was bad?
I realized I was a little too drunk to play poker well and left the tables to walk around for a little bit. I saw a procession of hot rods make a ton of noise on the main road passing Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio. Attention hogs in Vegas? No Way. I also took some pictures in the Bellagio because it is the prettiest casino. I saw a policeman training his K-9 unit which was fascinating. He was so focused and I thought to myself that he looks better at his job than I am at mine.
I was excited to see the Chuly exhibit in the hotel and the art display in the giant flower room. I had seen the Chuly exhibit at Catalina Island in November for my wife’s birthday and I found it to be very colorful and pleasing. This did not disappoint either as it looked like glass flowers were sprouting out of the ceiling. What did disappoint was the new exhibit that was under construction. I always look forward to the display at the Bellagio but my timing was off. I should have known that this was foreshadowing of the highs and lows this trip was yet to bring.
I slept in. Oh boy, did I sleep in. I think I woke up three times and each time I had the same routine. I took an ibuprofen, drank a lot of water, and went back to bed. I finally got out of bed at around noon. I decided today was the day of the great relaxation.
It was a nice day to write and watch some sports. There were the NFL playoffs after all. I discovered last time I was in Vegas that sports betting is probably the best return on investment in terms of entertainment vs. money spent. Here is a picture of my very extensive statistical analysis courtesy of NFL.com.
I lost my sure bet on the Chiefs game (Mariota gets a fucking touchdown throw to himself, are you fucking kidding me?!) but I won with my risky bet on the Falcons. I made a cool $13 in five hours of football. I think I may quit my day job and go pro.
I also found out a neat trick for cheap food. I went to a pizza place in the faux outdoor cobblestone streets before Paris Casino. I found a good deal on 2 large slices and a soda for $10. I used the rewards points on my card and basically got breakfast and lunch for the day for free.
After my incredible win at sports I thought I would try my hand at poker again. I played limit at the Mirage and a little bit of no limit at Bally’s. I found out that the true entertainment in Vegas is the crazy people you will meet at the card tables.
The limit game at the Mirage was pretty stale until a group of three black guys showed up looking to have fun. They brought the energy up at the table and got the action pumping and the chips moving. I won a couple decent pots off of them but the best part was their stories. This is the best one that they told me:
The chubby guy sitting next to me was completely broke earlier that day and walked around New York New York for an hour. He was watching people playing Baccarat and an older white guy in a suit was losing, bad. The black dude approached him and said that he was really good at Baccarat and never loses. The guy did not believe him but listened to his advice anyway. He said that he helped the guy win 22 out of 25 hands (is that what it is called in Baccarat?) According to the guy’s story, the man tipped him $700 and left. The black dude was treating his friends to an all expense paid trip to the strip club and they were playing poker while they waited for the limo to show up to take them to the land of titties. They left a short time later and the table dried up again. I left as well.
I then went to Bally’s and tried my hand at no limit. I am good at no limit but cannot stand the possibility of getting out drawn and losing all of my money so I rarely play. I made a little after playing limit so I thought I would give no limit a try. I am glad that I did. I ended up winning back my stupid $70 one hand tournament from the night before and an extra $100.
There was interesting table talk at this table too but there was a huge difference. The interesting part wasn’t what was said but what was left unsaid. It turned out that a couple people at my table were in Vegas for an artificial intelligence convention. They talked a lot about things I did not fully understand. Words were being thrown around about bots, shopping cart abandonment, and Skynet. The part that was interesting though is when they asked an older Asian man in a leather jacket about what business he does in A.I. He played coy and tried to avoid the question but a drunk white guy next to me would not leave him alone. He finally said that he builds certain kinds of chat bots. The guy next to me had a shocked expression on his face after the man said that but then a husky guy across the table from us sat up straight and said “Careful. Depending on what your next words are I may have you kicked out of this casino or worse. Try me if you don’t believe me.” The dealer said that the husky man was not joking and they never spoke of it again.
I walked around some more, not wanting my Vegas experience to end. I saw some humorous sights, things that seemed too cliche to exist and would just come across as bad writing. Lucky for me I have the proof. There was a drunk guy that climbed into the fountain at Caesars Palace. A Christian anti-gambling protest at 1 in the morning. There were businessmen casually talking about losing 40 thousand dollars the night before, drunk women wearing tiny dresses who did not know where they were, and homeless people drinking full bottles of vodka straight while sitting under a bridge singing atonally. It was perfect.
I got back to my room and found that I still had a descent bit of money left. In my drunken state I did two pretty shocking things:
- I took the coolest picture of my life
- I booked a hotel room the next night in Tempe, Arizona.
I had originally planned to come home on day 3 and have an extra day to recover but Drunk me had other plans.
Let the road trip resume! I packed up my belongings the night before and hit the road at 9 am, which is surprisingly early for me.
I currently take classes at Arizona State University but I take them online from California. I have taken classes at ASU for the last three years but I have never set foot on the campus. I decided to change that. I wanted to visit my school. In my drunkenness the night before, I booked the cheapest room near campus I could find. I know now that that would be my downfall.
I took the long way and drove through the Hoover Dam and Sedona on my way to Tempe. I had seen the Hoover Dam when I was a kid and it was exactly as I remembered it. Huge but really just a wall of concrete. What I was blown away from was Sedona and its deep red mountains and lush forest. I cannot wait to go back and really spend some time hiking there. It was more amazing than I had anticipated.
A couple funny moments did happen on the road before I reached Tempe. I stopped at a gas station that was far more entertaining than a small town gas station should be. On the road passing in front of the gas station was a truck that was pulling an SUV by a chain. Somehow it ripped a tire off, which dragged and created sparks. A family was playing soccer in the middle of the pumps while refueling. I had to make an emergency stop to piss and found the Joy Cone factory (coincidental because my last name is Joy). Last but not least, my Prius achieved over 100 mpg for 14 miles while driving down the mountains of Sedona. Here are the pictures:
It was a fun and beautiful drive but by the time I got to Tempe, admittedly getting lost a couple times along the way, I was exhausted. I pulled into the Ramada which looked like every other cheap but decent hotel that I had ever been to. But I was wrong. So very wrong. This was the HOTEL OF SUFFERING AND FRUSTRATION.
I left all of my belongings in the car. I just wanted to secure my room for the night so I could go out and get dinner and a beer and immediately retire to bed. I was starving and could not see straight from driving seven hours straight. I walked in to the reception area and found a heavy set hipster girl working the register. She smiled and seemed nice enough when I approached. I gave her my name and she found my reservation. Then she looked nervous and began walking around her clustered work area, looking for something. Without saying a word to me, she disappeared to the back room. I was getting annoyed but kept reminding myself that beer and food was coming soon.
Ten minutes went by and the frustration was starting to get to me. She finally came out of the room and says “Sorry sir, I cannot find the key. I can give you a refund though.” I looked her dead in the eye in disbelief. She was serious. I chose my next words carefully because my wife says that I can be scary when I am mad. “I can wait, take your time but I am not leaving without getting the room that I booked.” She turned red and let out a sigh. She resumed lifting papers and searching her desk. An older man entered the reception area and asked the inept receptionist (ineptionist?) how she was doing. She answered honestly “could be better” and continued the search. Then he said “That’s too bad, Sweetie. Whatever is troubling you I can fix it for you.” He looked directly at me.
I was fucking ready to fight. I think he could tell because his eyes went wide when he looked at me and I turned to face him. He tried to laugh it off and told the ineptionist he would see her later and walked out of reception.
Just then, and I swear I am not making this up, she reached down on the desk in front of where I was standing and FOUND THE FUCKING KEY! She set the key down in front of me and gave a halfhearted apology. I kept my mouth shut for fear of losing my mind and walked directly out of the front door. I did not even go to my room. I just left and walked through downtown Mesa, Arizona to clear my head of thoughts of murder.
I did find a couple of interesting things. There were many statues that were spread out through the cookie-cutter small town streets. Here are some of my favorites.
I also found something that I had dreamed about one day seeing. Something that I had only read about or heard about but never seen in my hoe state of California. It was a drive-thru liquor store. Not only that! It was a drive-thru liquor store that is branded after the mascot of my school!
I got a sandwich from Subway. I got a cranberry juice to go with my vodka left over from Vegas. Then I went directly to my hotel room to retire to my rented shelter for the night.
And it fucking reeked!
I was promised from a sign at the front of the hotel and from their website that the entire hotel is non-smoking. It smelled like someone chain smoked a pack of cigarettes and then invited 5 of his friends to smoke cigars while they play poker for three hours in my hotel room and I just missed them. Oh my god! And I just came from Las God-Damn Vegas! I had been surrounded by cigarette smoke for two days and this was far worse. I ate my sandwich and tried to get used to the smell because I did not want to deal with the ineptionist or this stupid fucking situation again. I started to unpack but a voice rose up in my head.
“You are on your own. There is no one that will stand up for you except yourself. If you want something to change, you are going to have to be the one to do it. Demand the respect that you deserve.” I was going to be an entitled white person dammit. I grabbed my things and walked back to the hotel lobby.
There was a line that had formed and I patiently waited in the back of it. I practiced my line over and over in my head as the poor girl behind the counter ran between the telephone and the register, while answering a barrage of questions from a soccer mom behind the counter in sweat pants that would not leave her alone. I could only feel bad for her.
I waited for ten minutes while she finished helping the customers ahead of me. I stepped up to the counter and she had a look of recognition and fear on her face. I told her my room reeked of cigarette smoke and that I reserved a non-smoking room and would need another one for the night. She tried to remind me that they were a non-smoking facility but before she could I yelled “I know what your hotel is SUPPOSED to be but I promise you that someone smoked in my room and I need another one or I will not be able to sleep tonight.” She apologized and immediately gave me a new room key. I should have felt bad for the her but to be honest I was just proud of myself for speaking up. I patted myself on the back as I walked down the hall to my new room. I was exhausted by this point and wanted to lay in bed and watch the local news. This has become a habit of mine when I travel. I like to watch the local evening news when I am traveling because it is so familiar and strange at the same time. The format is exactly the same and the anchors seem like the ones at home but all of the roads and locations and businesses have changed. It is fun to me. Like peering into a parallel universe.
I got to my new room and admired the pool just outside of it. I put the new hotel key card into the slot and nothing happened. I try it again. Nothing. I try it six or seven times in rapid succession. Nothing. I picked my things back up and returned to the lobby. There was another line of four people that I walked right past and went directly to the side of the counter where the ineptionist was. The middle aged blond lady at to the counter gave me a dirty look but looked away when she saw my angry eyes glare at her. The ineptionist tried to ask me why I was standing there but I cut her off and told her my key did not work. I could tell that she was upset by how much she had upset me. She immediately excused herself from the blond lady and made me three new keys and said that she prays at least one of them worked. One of them did.
I finally had a new room that smelled of fresh paint and looked like it had been recently remodeled. I was so happy. I turned on the television and brushed my teeth. I laid on top of the bed with my phone in my hand. I fell asleep while I was looking for something to do while I was in Tempe for the night.
The last day was wonderfully uneventful. I drove through Arizona State University, which was beautiful and made me wish I took classes on campus. I got over it when I remembered that I would not be able to take classes in my underwear at 2 a.m. (true story). I drove straight home from there. It rained slightly, which fit the mood of having to return to normal life again. Here are the final picture of the Southwest Experience.
As always, Thank You for reading!
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