Friday, September 10, 2004

Vegas ReDux: Sunday

Thunk... thunk... thunk... thunk...

What the fuck is that sound?

Oh goddammit, hangover. My head is pounding. At first I think that's where the thunking is coming from, but no. It's the toilet again. 6:45AM. I’m starting to think the hotel powers-that-be do this shit on purpose, though I can't imagine why. Get up, drink a bunch of water, and go back to bed.

Finally roll out of bed, a little less worn, at about 9:30 and we decide to check out Downtown, a.k.a. "old" Vegas. One of our missions for the weekend was to try to track down one of the old "Big Bertha" slot machines for my mother-in-law and play $20 for her, and one of our many helpful cabbies let us know that the only ones left are downtown. Plus, I want to at least get a gander at the place -- sometime in future I want to do an actual gambling trip here, and I hear that downtown is way friendlier to low-end (i.e. $5 blackjack) gamblers like me. So, yet another cab ride, this time to the Main St. Station to get a piece of their $10 champagne brunch buffet.

The buffet is pretty much what you'd expect for $10: really cheap champagne and a broad variety of non-descript fare. Filling, not horrid, but certainly not much to recommend it beyond "hey, it's only $10 and you can eat 'til you puke!" The hotel, however, if more along the lines of what I think of when I think Vegas: Very turn of the century train station/bordello. Lots of glass, brass, wood, ceiling fans, stamped tin, and so on. Fun place.

Then it's off to finally try to do a bit of gambling. I had considered playing some blackjack Saturday night, but on the Strip on a Saturday night you're lucky if you can get a seat at a $10 table which is way beyond this boy's budget. We head over to Fremont, which actually is pretty nice during the day.

Plenty of shade, music playing, lots of opportunities to buy tchotchkes, kind of a carnival/street fair feeling. Of course, at night it has the whole Fremont Experience thing going on, with the canopy all lit up with LEDs and video. Sadly, this particular part of the Experience will have to wait for another visit, as we don't plan on hanging out here all day long. For now, we need to find a Big Bertha.

No real luck on that. However, we do spot a casino named "Fitzgeralds." Now, my mother-in-law's maiden name is Fitzgerald, so this seems to me to be a clear omen. A sign from the gambling gods that THIS IS THE PLACE. So we wander in, plug her twenty into a $1 slot, and start playing.

Wham, we hit for 25. And then we hit for another 60 or so. Next thing we know, she's up around $110 or so on her initial $20. Since we've entered real "you can buy something nice with that" money, we call her to see if she wants to push her luck: she wisely declines, and instead we pull a few more times to get her down to $100 and then cash out. We have a winner!

So, clearly this means we're on a streak, right?


Without going into ALL the details, within an hour we were down about $100. Couldn't win at video poker, slots were of course worthless money eaters, lost $50 in about 15 minutes at a $5 blackjack table, lost a bunch at roulette as well. Any semblance of luck we had was devoured by my mother-in-law's brief winning streak. Frustrated and annoyed, we decide that going a looking at a free exhibit up on the Strip might be a better way to spend the next couple of hours. So, it's off to The Mirage to see the white tigers!

Hop in another cab. This time we have a really funny Asian cab driver. Cursed like a sailor the whole time we were talking. He and his brother often go gambling, he told us, and his brother always wins. Sometimes thousands of dollars in one night! And the secret (and no, it's not an ancient Chinese secret) is "you must make the dealer angry! The anger will scare his luck away!" Apparently, this method works for his brother, who tends to drink a lot, gets surly and mean, pisses off the dealer, wins big, and then gets thrown out of the casino before he has a chance to lose his winnings. However, while I would like to win some cash, I just don't see abusing the staff as the proper way to do it, no matter how much of my money they keep taking away.

Anyway, we arrive at The Mirage, which is quite pretty. Big aquatic theme going on, with an enormous fish tank behind the main desk in the lobby. Really, really beautiful. After meandering a bit we head over to see the white tigers.

Well, tiger. And he wasn't white, either. What a gyp. I mean, he was nice and pretty and all that, but I guess they're keeping all the white tigers over in the not-quite-so-free Secret garden and Dolphin Habitat these days. And while I'm sure it's lovely, I've been to zoos before and I'm not dropping another $30 just to wander through yet another zoo, no matter how pretty the animals and their cages are.

Instead, it's off to Madame Tussaud's for some goofy (but expensive, of course) fun clowning around with the wax celebrities. Here are a couple of highlights:

I wonder how much product it takes to get his hair to stand this high....

Christine REALLY dislikes wife beaters, and I don't mean tank-tops....

Geekin' out on Buffy.

After that, it's back to The Sahara to figure out our next move. We chill out for a while, drink a bottle of champagne and set to planning. After the disaster last night, we've decided to just sort of let tonight "happen." No big plan, certainly not buying any show tickets which will force us to rush from one place to another in a panic, and so on. We're just gonna try to have a nice night. We decide on heading down to the Venetian, grabbing dinner at one of the restaurants, and getting a romantic and fun little gondola ride. By god, there will be romance! I demand it!

So, with some trepidation we set out on our second attempt to have a romantic and fun night. Cab ride down to the Venetian -- this time we shared the rather lengthy (due to traffic) ride with a nice Asian guy from San Diego. Endodontist. Not sure why he was up at the Sahara, as he was staying at the Venetian, and why on earth would you go all the way to the Sahara, alone, on a Sunday night when you’re staying at The Venetian? Something odd was going on, though who knows. I think he was gay -- he was oddly evasive when I asked if he was in town alone and he replied "no, I'm here with a friend" and then he sort of changed the topic kind of abruptly. Or maybe he was a serial killer. Who knows.

So, we arrive at The Venetian around 7:30-ish and screw around in the casino for a while, playing video poker (blackjack was up in the $10 minimum zone) and getting a few comped drinks in. Then we headed over to the Grand Canal Shoppes, wandered along the "canal", and headed into St. Mark's Place to see what sort of waits the restaurants had. We wind up putting our names in at Postrio, which is a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, and then we head over to purchase tickets for a gondola ride. It's about 8:15 by now, so we buy tickets for a 9:45 gondola, assuming that will give us enough time to get a table, eat, and wander a bit.

Alas, the wait for a table stretches on for a while longer than we expect. We hang at the bar in Postrio (GORGEOUS bar area: all dark woods and art glass. And the bar staff is wonder to watch, moving precisely and efficiently, without any ridiculous "Cocktail"-style theatrics. And watch the time going by, our gondola ticket time approaching a little faster than we want. Finally, at about 9:00 I wander up front to ask if it will be much longer, and explain the predicament. As it happens, the manager is nearby and he swoops in, asking if it would be acceptable for us to eat at the bar. And while that's not really what I was hoping for, it'll beat going hungry and/or missing our gondola, so I say sure. He walks inside with us, says Hi to Christine (this guy is smooth, by the way. Sleek, professional, friendly but not overly so, every bit the ideal restaurant manager) and looks around. He spots a booth off the bar, away from the smoke, and voila! We are seated. Within seconds a waitress appears, and says that she won't rush us, but she has been told that we are trying to catch a gondola in a little while and so, if we want, she'll do things a little faster than they typically would.

Now, already I'm thrilled, because compared to our disastrous dinner at Il Fornaio this couldn't be going better. They're apologizing for rushing us, because typically they would never do that but they understand we might be in a rush. Great wait staff, beautiful room, cordial and accommodating management. So far, this place is great. But, well, let's get to the food.

It was astonishingly good. Nothing too challenging, really: I had fettuccine alfredo with chicken, mushrooms, other stuff, and Christine has some rotisserie chicken with garlic mashed potatoes. But good god, it was heavenly. The fettuccine was easily one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted, and Christine's chicken was perfect, the garlic potatoes so delicious we were scraping the traces of them off the plate. Within a half hour, we were finished, and although the meal was a bit haphazard and rushed it was by far the best dining experience we had. Postrio is a top-notch place and I couldn't recommend it more highly.

Then, off to the gondola! We wind up seated with another couple, some young kids from Missouri (married 1.5 years, they couldn't have been more than 22). Now, Christine and I, at this point, are positively giddy. The night, in spite of some obstacles, is turning out to be fabulous and fun. We're having a blast and just had an amazing meal. Oh, and we've also had a bottle of champagne and 3-4 drinks on top of it, to boot. So, we are ripped and rarin' to go.

I'm pretty sure we completely terrified them. Oh well.

The gondolier, on the other hand, loved us.

We had him laughing the whole time, we all sang Finiculi Finicula at the top of our lungs, I kissed Christine as we passed under each and every bridge (and laid a really good one on her under the faux Bridge of Sighs for luck, of course) and we laughed and laughed, long and hard.

Then, brief stop at Godiva to have some chocolates for dessert, and just for the fuck of it we stopped into Jimmy Choo's to browse the shoes. Man, check these out:

Those boots were almost $2000! I mean, they're REALLY cool, but $2000 boots? Unreal. Man, I wish I had the dough to blow two grand on some footwear.

At this point, the evening is winding down, so we decide to stroll down to the Bellagio to watch fountains for a while and then head home before something goes wrong to spoil our perfect evening. On the way I pick up an enormous margarita by Caesar's: the bartender seems to have decided everyone deserves extra tequila in their drinks that night, and I'm not complaining. And then, we're at the Bellagio. The fountains have these amazing fog generators going, and the entire lake is covered with a nice layer of fog, leading me to anticipate something mysterious and interesting in the music category for the next presentation.

And then ... what is that nose? A tin whistle? Out-of-tune bagpipes? A bleating goat? No, it's Celine Dion! Gah! The strains (and I do mean strains) of "My Heart Will Go On" pierce the air. I let out an exasperated "ugh!" and by the sudden chorus of chuckles around me I find that I am surrounded by a group of folks who feel much the same way pierces the air. The fountains are gorgeous, again, but oh good god that fucking song curdles my blood. Finally, it's done, and we opt to hang around, hoping the next one will be better. And it is: "All That Jazz," although they went with the entirely OK but not great Catherine Zeta Jones version. Sadly though, while the music is better, the fountain choreography (I don't really know what else to call it) isn't all that exciting for this one. But it's certainly pleasant, and a great way to end the night. With that, we grab a cab and head home.

Cab total: somewhere in the vicinity of $225-250.

Next chapter: Monday. The bitter end, and a recap.

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