3 - It's Too Damn Late
By the time we cashed out our winnings from the
Eldorado, bragged to each other about how much we won, stopped
Flanders from biting the cocktail waitress and drove back downtown
it was after one a.m. My headache had returned and I had that
floating, dreamlike feeling where you don't realize your motions
until you're already doing them.
Being sober, I drove but it was one of those
times you don't remember anything about how you got from A to
B, but somehow you managed it safely. Neither could I remember
how that chunk of turf and "Yield" sign got stuck in the grill,
but they did. Weird.
Back at the Cal, the eight of us went up to our
small room, unfolded the portable poker table, dished out chips
and started a mini-tourney for $5 a head. Flanders had done drunken
math in the car and presented me with a piece of paper that he
claimed proved the blackjack side bet "Royal Match" was a positive
expectation bet. I couldn't make out most of what he'd written
except "a woman's vagina." I asked him.
"That's--that's from something else."
We put the table between the two beds and pulled
up the footrest and desk chairs. We started with 600 chips each,
5-10 blinds and ten minute levels. People say that poker on TV
has slowed the game down because amateurs act like every simple
decision is life or death, just like they see on the World Poker
Tour. Really, the TV hacks have nothing on bleary-eyed drunks,
who not only ponder everything like it's a Freudian dream featuring
their mother, but also get distracted halfway through their decision
by the color of someone's shoelaces or by remembering an amusing
pet name. Add to that the number of chips that were spilt, and
trying to shuffle cards after you've forgotten how your hands
work, and the ten minute levels turned out to be about two hands
At first, Flanders sat next to me on the bed.
The only advantage of this was that he showed me his cards every
time he looked, even after I reminded him to protect them. Later,
he decided he would rather play while crouched on all fours with
a glass of water clenched in his teeth.
not adjust your screen. It looked this blurry to us, too.
Most of my friends don't play a lot of poker
because they have lives and friends and stupid stuff like that,
so they play loose-weak: limp into any pot and fold when someone
bet on the flop. Very few chips changed hands at first. At the
25-50 level, things finally started moving. A couple of chip stacks
had shrunk and a couple had grown to 900 or so. I was a middle
stack when I got dealt JJ, raised it to 200 and Shakes called.
He had thus far seen every single flop. The flop came Ace high,
I made a continuation and he folded. Suddenly, I was the chip
leader. A few hands later, I got AK, raised, got two callers and
hit a king on the flop. I bet and both of my friends folded. I
now had a decent stack of chips.
The blinds were 50-100 and it became all-in time.
Stinky was the lucky recipient of a couple of big pocket pairs
that held up and two people busted out at his expense. He took
the chip lead. Meanwhile, I raised a couple of marginal hands,
got called and crushed on the flop and my stack was back down
to the buy-in.
A headache throbbed in my skull and I really
wanted some alcohol. When the blinds jumped again, only five of
us remained. I had about four big blinds in front of me on the
button when I was dealt A-9 suited. Like a braying jackass, I
limped instead of pushing. The flop came rags and I folded to
a bet, leaving me with little to play with. I want to blame fatigue
for the mistake, and for the record, I will. I went quickly after
that, as I deserved to.
Finally, and mercifully, around 3 a.m. Stinky
broke Stevie and the tournament ended with Flanders on his back
under the desk, cackling about something none of the rest of us
could understand. The game broke up. Hilary and James retreated
to their swanky digs at the Golden Nugget. Shakes wanted to go
get a Binion's late-night steak. Flanders didn't want food, but
he went with Shakes anyway.
At least once on every trip, Flanders heads out
with someone and doesn't return. We'll see him later, and we'll
be unsure of whether he got lost, how his hands got dyed blue,
and with fistfuls of pornography. Once, he got lost walking from
one end of Fremont to the other and we ultimately found him in
the Transit Center, sitting on a curb, crying. I wondered where
he'd end up tonight.
I was walking dead. When I stood up the exhaustion
made me list like the Edmund Fitzgerald. I needed sleep badly.
Or maybe beer. Probably sleep, but I wouldn't know if the beer
would help unless I tried. I steadied myself by propping an arm
on the wall. I talked Stinky, Stevie and Mikey into going downstairs
to play a bank of decent nickel Deuces Wild video poker machines
I had seen.
After pushing a few Hawaiians off their seats,
the machines were available and we sat down. Unlike craps, video
poker is a nonsocial activity. Well, shit, it's not even really
an activity. It's sitting on your ass and pressing a few buttons.
When sober and conscious, the decisions you have to make are automatic.
Draw two deuces and junk, drop everything but the deuces, etc.
When drunk or semi-conscious, the decisions can be artistic, based
on color, misreading numbers and letters, strictly by feel, or
by which buttons your forehead hits when you slump unconscious
against the machine.
While waiting for the cocktail waitress to bring
my Budweiser, we tried to involve each other in our hands to make
it more interesting. At first, I'd call Stinky or Mikey over when
I had three deuces and a card to the royal. They'd call me over
for a pow-wow to decide whether to keep two nines, or dump them
to go for the straight flush. After a while, I thought it was
funny to call them over for every single hand, no matter how lousy.
They disagreed with the humor content.
It takes a waitress ten minutes to bring a drink,
and only five minutes to get bored out of your skull with video
poker. I couldn't see the numbers clearly, so I punched and slapped
my machine as though it were my misbehaving child and I were a
mom in the snack aisle at K-Mart. That strategy seemed to work
and I won back the five dollars I dropped initially.
When the waitress returned I tipped her with
enough nickels to make her tray dip. The beer made the game more
interesting and I wanted to play at least until she brought me
Which she did, and around 4:45 I slid off my
stool and then couldn't get off the floor. That didn't bother
me so much, except that the carpet smelled like orthopedic shoes
and I couldn't reach my beer. Plus, the Hawaiians were starting
to wake and they gave me dirty looks as they stepped over me on
their way to breakfast. At least now I knew where the orthopedic
smell was coming from.
I called it a night. The waitress helped me to
my feet, rejected my wedding proposal, and accepted more of my
nickels. I staggered to the elevator and somehow made it to bed,
not really drunk, but already mostly asleep. As I drifted off,
I swore I wouldn't make the same mistake as Thursday night and
get less than three hours sleep.
I slept until ten, a solid five hours. Plus,
when I woke, I had no headache, no hangover and no self-pity over
what a shitty poker player I am. That made me hungry.
I called down to Stinky's room. He was already
up and sounded showered. He asked if Flanders had slept in my
room; I looked around and said, no, unless he slept under the
boxspring with the dead hooker. Shakes had returned but not Flanders.
Once awake, Shakes shed what light he could on
Flanders' disappearance. "We were walking down Fremont when he
said he had to pee. He walked into Mermaids, and never came out."
"How long did you wait for him?"
"Eh. About a minute."
The problem with Flanders is that he's a Luddite.
He has no cell-phone or pager, barely a car, and almost no interaction
with the Internet. He likes his porn hard copy, his television
over the air, and his liquor aged in oak barrels. I had to be
at the airport in seven hours, so I had the choice of spending
that time enjoying myself and working, or chasing down a wayward
friend I couldn't call.
So, we headed over to the Nugget to get our free
slot play with a new slot club sign up. My ten in play turned
into three in cash. Stevie hit some sort of jackpot for $50, and
Stinky made like $17. Everyone else went bust or made a few bucks.
We took those earnings to the Upper Deck at the Vegas Club. This
is not a great coffee shop, but it's serviceable and one of the
few where you won't have to wait at 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
During breakfast, we recalled the trip where
we challenged Shakes to eat three Baskets-o-Burgers. This was
back when the Plaza was the Union Plaza and we came to town regularly
to scam Bob Stupak's Vegas World. Shakes could eat more than a
horse. He could probably eat a horse. When we were college roommates,
he regularly kept a dozen or more boxes of cereal in stock. He
ate a loaf of bread for lunch. He would go to Souplantation at
closing time because they let him take over the day's leftover
baked goods. It was also negative EV, as I learned, to go in 50-50
with him on toilet paper.
One night at the Union Plaza I told Shakes he
should get the Basket-o-Burgers, causing our waiter to shudder
and say, "Oooo, they're nasty." The challenge was born. We would
pay for the meal if Shakes ate one basket, comprised of three
burgers and a pound of fries. We'd pay and give him five bucks
to eat two. And he'd get $20 if he ate three, meaning nine burgers
and three pounds of fries. The catch was he had to keep it down
for at least a half hour.
Shakes polished off the first three burgers and
the giant bed of lukewarm, mushy fries. He slowed down on basket
number two, complaining that the cold fries were the killer. Before
basket three, someone slipped the waiter five bucks to make sure
there were enough fries to feed a Russian army this time. And
the basket came stacked as high and structurally unsound as a
Indonesian skyscraper. Shakes groaned, but dug in and finished
the job: nine burgers, four or so pounds of cold fries and a shitload
of water to wash it down.
Shakes moved slowly and deliberately. He was
a very skinny guy, and his stomach was bloated like the ones on
those poor kids in Africa with the flies buzzing around their
mouths. He made it through the half hour, though. Just barely.
As we walked downtown I declared Robert a winner and told him
I didn't think he could do it. He said "Neither did--rrrrrrooolllff."
All over Fremont Street. And as he vomited, a bum approached and
asked if he wanted to buy a Walkman for five bucks. Robert replied,
I told this story because the meal we ate this
time wasn't interesting in any way. Be thankful I didn't tell
the story of Flanders and his reunion with a Star Trek-obsessed
high school flame who, along with her husband, had become "Swingons"
and seduced him in full battle regalia.
After lunch, we all went our separate ways again.
Stinky and I headed north to review more off-Strip casinos. The
Cannnery was first. It's way the hell north of the Strip in the
middle of an industrial/low-rent area. There is almost nothing
interesting about the hotel, except that the craps has good odds,
and there is a half-assed WWII-era theme. Pin-up girls hang from
the walls along with a few references to war bonds. The poker
room is out in the open and not very comfortable. The $4-$8 action
looked as soft as Santa's belly, though, with several players
calling to the river with overs and no draw
From there we headed west to the Santa Fe, which
has removed the unspectacular Memphis Championship Barbecue franchise.
Otherwise, the place continues to be bland and smokey. The poker
room, though, is really damn nice for a small off-strip casino.
Next, we headed south on Rancho to the decaying
Fiesta with its embarrassing excuse for a poker room. The tables
are just an extension of the table games pit, right in the open
and not open that often. It's a prime example of the "me-too"
mentality of some casinos who think that all you've got to do
is throw a table out and people will show up. Maybe they're right:
people were playing.
Arizona Charlie's continues to be a filthy armpit.
That is the only way in which it is like a French woman. Otherwise,
it smells worse. It's cramped, run-down, popular as a whore at
a military convention and has the best-named lounge in town: The
Naughty Ladies Saloon. Charlie's has a franchise of the worst
pizza chain in the world: Noble Roman's, along with its own selection
of pretty crummy restaurants. The only reason to eat here is if
you're so damn drunk you can't tell the difference between a cheap
steak and shoe leather. In that case, the $2.99 steak and eggs
Driving, Stinky and I wondered aloud what happened
to Flanders. We weren't too concerned, because he always finds
his way home. Even the time we abandoned him in a rest area in
Utah after he had turned one too many Penthouse Forum letters
into a Mad Lib exercise.
Around this time I got a craving for ice cream.
I wasn't really hungry, and probably wouldn't be for a while,
but I wanted ice cream. I started talking about it non-stop: how
good it tastes; how filling it is; how easy it slides down your
throat; how it's like a frozen daquiri, but with milk instead
of booze. Finally, I got Stinky thinking ice cream, too.
As we returned from the outer reaches of Vegas
we scanned the strip malls in search of a Baskin-Robbins or a
Dairy Queen. Mark saw a Coldstone Creamery, but I said, no, it
was on the wrong side of the street. Really, that was just an
excuse. I love their ice cream, but the workers scare the shit
out of me. Every time I go to one, the teenagers start singing
out loud and I've had a phobia about fake teen spirit ever since
this kid Jamie at my high school fell off the cheerleader pyramid
and landed face first on the sidewalk. I was in the dean's office
getting my ass chewed out for something when he came in, his teeth
shattered and his mouth spewing blood. Ever since then, peppiness
just gives me the willies.
Las Vegas is the desert. There's got to be ice
cream stands every block, right? Wrong. They're nowhere. We got
back to the Strip and headed to the new Hooters Hotel. Hooters
wasn't officially open yet when we visited. In fact, I don't know
if we were supposed to be there, but we had clipboards with us
and maybe blended in with all the activity. The casino was a week
from grand opening, but nothing was finished. There were loose
pipes, blackjack tables still wrapped in cellophane, restaurants
without tables or chairs and exposed tacks and screws everywhere.
In front, a bar seemed to be working and taking cash from customers.
But the deeper we went, the less real money we saw. On the few
unwrapped tables Hooters' girls were being taught how to deal
to other Hooters girls. Other girls were being shown how to serve
cocktails. And men were using fake chips to learn how to deal
craps. I have no idea why girls can work the blackjack tables
but not the craps.
Overall, the casino is a huge upgrade over the
old, dingy and shitty San Remo. There are hardwoods replacing
sticky old carpet, and nice pine paneling. The Dan Marino steakhouse
looks like it'll be sort of nice, maybe slightly steakhouse. Plus,
I heard that Marino himself will do a nightly tap dance. Still,
it's a mediocre place and it looks like the games will be as tight
as a Mexican facelift.
The biggest downside is that they don't serve
ice cream. And, holy crap, I wanted ice cream. My flight time
was nearing, so we continued toward the airport, and then past
it. Still no ice cream parlors. We cruised by the UNLV campus
and saw plenty of head shops, but still no ice cream. It made
me sad, really, to think what college has become. In Harold Lloyd's
"The Freshman" he treats the entire campus to free ice cream to
show them what a big shot he is. Now, I guess he'd have to treat
them all to nickel-bags.
seeing you, in old familiar places.
Finally, somewhere approximately as far north
as the Stratosphere, but east of the Strip on Maryland Parkway,
we found a Dairy Queen. I swung an illegal U-turn over a median
and into the parking lot. I ran from the car to the store and
basked in the smell of deep fried everything as I yanked the door
There was Flanders, sitting alone reading the
Nickel Ads and eating a Dilly Bar.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Stinky asked
"I was hungry."
"You're, like, ten miles from downtown." I said.
The sweet, sickly smell of Southern Comfort still hung on him.
"Are you still drunk?"
"Probably a little," he answered, and then giggled.
Flanders didn't explain how he had arrived there,
or where one of his socks went. I'm not sure I wanted to know.
I got the dip cone I 'd been craving, and Stinky got a Blizzard.
We sat with Flanders and silently enjoyed our ice cream. I needed
to be at the airport in a half hour, so I said we should go. When
we got up to leave, Flanders remained.
"You coming, Flanders?" Stinky asked.
He thought for a moment and said, "No."
"How are you going to get back downtown?" Stinky,
Flanders and the rest would be there one more day.
"Same way I got here, I guess."
We left him there and headed for the airport.
I got dropped off in front of my airline, checked in for my flight,
checked my e-mail using McCarran's free wireless, and boarded
As I flew back to Denver I thought of my friends
still in Vegas. Right now I imagined they were all standing around
somewhere downtown being noncommittal about their dinner plans.
They'd figure it out, though, and then they'd play craps, and
Flanders would show up, get drunk and probably write down the
cure for cancer on the back of a cocktail napkin, only to drop
it in the toilet.
I fell asleep and didn't wake until our plane
hit the tarmac. I drove home, went to bed, woke up and took my
Other Trip Reports