Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Liquid Las Vegas Vacation

Las Vegas is an awful lot like that crazy ex-girlfriend that we’ve all had. You know the one. When you first met her, you thought she was out of your league. “Why is she into me?” you asked yourself. But you didn’t want to ruin it because she was smokin’ hot and funny and gives a great blowjob. Things go well for a while and the two of you start getting pretty serious. Then, she starts showing her dark side. She starts weird arguments.

You: Hey baby, how was work?
Her: Why are you home so early?
You: I didn't feel like being there any longer so I left.
Her: I’m thinking about heating up some leftovers for dinner.
You: You go ahead. I had a sandwich when I got home, so I’m not very hungry.
Her: What? Really? Why would you do that?
You: I didn’t have lunch and I was hungry. That's all.
Her: Is there something wrong? Why didn't you want to wait for me? Are you mad? I don't understand!
You: Calm down. It was just a sandwich.
Her: Is there someone else?

The next thing you know, she’s throwing a shoe at your head. And this isn’t an isolated incident; it starts happening more and more frequently. So you break it off. You tell her you’re done. You call her “crazy”.

And then, a short time later, she calls you up and apologizes and invites you over to talk. She sounds sincere, so you go. And when you get there, she shows up at the door naked. And remember, she’s smokin’ hot.

This whole scenario happens over and over again until she sneaks into your apartment and breaks all your shit.

Yet, after a while, you start thinking about her…

My good friend Snyder and I had been planning this trip for several months. You see, he was unable to attend our annual drinking trip, Booza-Palooza, back in June. So we decided to take the long Labor Day weekend and turn it into a liquid holiday in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is exactly 400 miles from my house in California’s Central Valley, but they’re 400 very hard miles south through the agricultural heartland of California and then east through the desert. Those who are gifted at math can easily figure out that it’s a six hour trip by car. Of course, there are discount airlines that will fly us there in less than an hour, but when you book a flight during a holiday weekend, the discount disappears.

So we drove.

There were no real set plans for the weekend except that we were going to stay downtown at the Plaza Hotel, drink, and possibly visit the Mob Museum. I also wanted to cash in $300 in chips that I forgot to collect on when I was in town back in April. I had won the chips at the Imperial Palace, which is down on the strip. No big deal, we would just make a quick stop when we got to town - and before we started drinking like the professionals that we are.

If you are unfamiliar with Las Vegas, it’s important to understand how the city is laid out. As you come into town from the south, you will find yourself in the neon shadows of huge resort-style casinos and hotels. Places like Caesar’s Palace, Paris, New York New York, The Mirage, Treasure Island, The Venetian, and Bellagio. All of these monoliths and many more are located within the four-mile strip of Las Vegas Boulevard. Three-miles further north on Las Vegas Boulevard, visitors will find Downtown Las Vegas, also known as the Old Strip. That’s where the big neon cowboy greets you to an area filled with smaller and outdated casinos and hotels. Places like the Golden Nugget, Las Vegas Club, Binion’s Horseshoe and the Plaza.

We arrived on Friday night at about 9:00 PM. I’ve driven over the gentle hill that separates California from Nevada dozens of times and I never get tired of the view. There is nothing more spectacular than making this journey at night. You can see the glow of the magical city for miles and miles. Since there is no other place like it on the planet, it seems unreal and otherworldly. It is truly magical. This trip was no different. We made record time through the heavy holiday weekend traffic, yet we were a little beat by the long drive. We were certainly ready to drink.

But when we arrived, we found that the Imperial Palace’s Parking Garage was under construction and could not be accessed. Again, no big deal. It’s located right next to the Flamingo. So I parked in the Flamingo’s parking garage and we walked down, through the Flamingo’s Casino out the front door, down the sidewalk and into the Imperial Palace. There was a bar located just inside the front door, so Snyder ordered us a couple of drinks while I went to the Cashier’s Cage to collect my $300. There was a slight issue with the exchange of chips because the Imperial Palace had changed its name to The Quad during the past few months, but it was only a slight hiccup and I was back at the bar with Snyder and a 16-ounce Captain Morgan & Coke within ten minutes.

We stayed there and had a few more drinks before deciding it was time to start heading toward Downtown. But on the way back through the Flamingo, we decided to stop at Sammy’s Bar in the Casino. We’ve spent plenty of time at that bar over the years and couldn’t just walk by without stopping. Our plan was to have one quick drink and then head out, but we ended up having about five each. We were getting a little loopy and probably needed to find some food at some point in the not-so-distant-future.

We checked into our hotel without issue and decided to go out and find some cocktails. Within minutes, we were in a cab asking the cab driver to take us to Frankie’s Tiki Room.

Frankie’s is a unique combination of South Seas exotica and Las Vegas kitsch. It’s open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and it decorated in an elaborate tiki hut motif. They serve a variety of Polynesian drinks and have a terrific selection of rums. Of course, they have a full bar with every other type of liquor too. Generally speaking, I would normally hate this sort of place. But I have been there many times and each time is a new novelty and I keep going back. For example, the first time I went there, it was pitch dark and dead silent. There were people there but not a soul was speaking. Seriously, it was like that coffin where Uma Thurman gets trapped in Kill Bill II. It was also so dark that I had to feel my way around to find the fucking restroom. It was because of this that I broke the soap dispenser off the wall and stole it. I later gave it to a bum that was panhandling down the street…

But that was a couple of years ago. Now I was trying to get the cab driver to take Snyder and me back there so he could experience the place first hand. The problem was, the cab driver didn’t know where it was and had never heard of it.

“It’s on Charleston, on the other side of the Freeway,” I kept telling him. “Just head west on Charleston.”

“What the address?”

“I don’t know. Just head west on Charleston!”

I guess he didn’t believe me because he called his dispatcher for directions.

Cabbie: “These guy want to go to Frank”

The cabbie was talking to his dispatcher with the speaker on his phone turned up loud enough for us to hear the whole conversation.

Dispatcher: “I don’t know where that is. Take them to Cheetah’s.”

Cabbie: “I take you Cheetah’s”

Cheetah’s is a popular Las Vegas gentlemen’s club. Cab drivers receive kick-backs from the owner of the club for bringing drunk business men and other male tourists to their front door

Me: “No, we don’t want to go to Cheetah’s. Take us to Frankies. I’ll tell you how to get there… here, I’ll look up the address on my phone.” Of course, I was too drunk to operate my phone.

Cabbie: “I taking you Cheetah’s”

Snyder: “No let us out here.”

We were at the Stratosphere, a landmark hotel and casino with an enormous tower. As a matter of fact, it’s the tallest structure in Las Vegas and the second tallest freestanding observation tower in the Western Hemisphere. I’ve been there several times and I’ve never liked the place. This time was no different.

For some reason, as soon as we entered the lobby, the place seemed extremely small. We found a bar and set down. Most bars in Las Vegas have video poker games built into them. You certainly don’t have to play the games, but if you do, the bartender will comp your drinks. So Snyder and I usually each stick a twenty dollar bill into the machines and start playing. If all goes well, we will cash out at the end of our stay and walk away without losing money. And, we’ll have several free drinks coursing through our systems.

This bar was no different. We inserted our money and ordered some drinks. And then Snyder disappeared.

While he was gone, I stopped being able to focus on anything. Everything I looked at started throbbing. Getting bigger and smaller, coming closer and moving farther away. The video poker game turned into liquid and splashed back and forth in front of my eyes. I needed a smoke. That usually acts as a great equalizer for my nerves. I grabbed my pack and pulled one out. Oh fuck, all of them fell out and were rolling all over the filthy screen of the video poker machine. Who cares, I thought to myself. Alcohol kills these kinds of germs. I picked each and every cigarette up and placed it carefully back in the pack. It was hard. I had lost some of my motor skills. Finally, I placed one between my lips and lit it. It tasted like shit. I lit the wrong end.

Where the fuck is Snyder?

I looked to my left. There was someone else drinking Snyder’s Gin & Tonic. “Hey, there’s someone sitting there and that’s his drink.” I turned to my right and saw Snyder returning from the restroom.

“That guy just tried to drink your drink,” I told him as I pointed to the left with my thumb, like a hitch hiker. I turned back and realized that the guy standing to my left was actually about 15 feet away and had his own drink; Snyder’s drink was exactly where he left it.

Snyder sat down and started looking on the floor for something. “I had twenty fucking dollars sitting here before I left for the bathroom,” he grumbled. “This place is full of communists and thieves. Let’s finish these fucking watered-down abortions of drinks and get the fuck out of here.” He then took twenty dollars from his wallet and inserted it into the video poker machine in front of him. “Oh fuck. There it is.” His original $20 bucks wasn’t missing. He had already stuck it in the machine.

He cashed out his $40, we downed our drinks and headed toward the front door.

We went outside and quickly found a cab. This one knew exactly where Frankie’s Tiki Room was located and within minutes he was pulling into the parking lot. Before getting out of the car I noticed a rack of maps, coupon books, and travel guides located on the back of the driver’s seat. Never know, I thought to myself. We may need these. I took one of each.

As expected, upon entering the Tiki Room, it took a bit for our eyes to focus. It is very dark. Soon, we spotted two seats at the bar and headed straight for them. Just as soon as I sat down, the bartender came over and took our order and I accidentally dropped all of my maps, coupon books, and travel guides on the floor. Embarrassed, I jumped down and scooped them all up and crammed them into my hip pocket.

We had a few more cocktails and a couple of shooters and then headed out again.

Luckily, there was a cab sitting right outside the front door. It clearly belonged to someone else - or, at least, was dispatched for someone else. But, fuck it, it was ours now.

We headed to Binions to play a little Craps but could not focus on the game. So we sat at the bar until daylight appeared over the desert.

There's nothing quite like it. The sun comes up and you feel dirty and ashamed. There are only two choices at that point. Either draw the blinds and hide from the light like a vampire, or embrace it and find a dark building with plenty of booze and drink through it.

I woke up by 8:30 A.M. I was still dressed, but in my own room. I felt very refreshed, but still a little drunk at the same time. Snyder was sound asleep. I figured I’d head downstairs and find some breakfast and maybe some coffee. But I never made it past the Three Card Poker table. I figured the cocktail waitress could bring me some coffee there just as easy as me asking a bartender for a cup.

So I sat down and started playing. And drinking. I started with a couple of Irish Coffees and soon switched to Rum & Coke. I was having a great time.

Not long after that, Snyder showed up and told me that he was going to go over to the Sports Book to make some bets on a few college football games.

By the time he came back, I had cashed in my winnings and was waiting at the bar. He told me later about the conversation we had upon his return.

Me: “Did you find any good games to bet?”

Snyder: “No, I looked but there was nothing I was interested in.”

-Three Minutes Later-

Me: “Did you find any good games to bet?”

Snyder: “No. There was nothing good.”

-Three Minutes Later-

Me: “Did you find any good games to bet?”

Snyder: “Nope.”

We decided to leave the Plaza and visit a few of the other Downtown bars.

Back in the late 1980s, as the Strip continued to grow with newer and shinier resort properties, Downtown Las Vegas had fallen out of favor with a majority of gambling tourists. So, the City of Las Vegas’ Redevelopment Agency started making plans to reinvent the area.

They closed Freemont Street to vehicles and created a pedestrian mall that connects all of the old casinos. It worked. People started coming back. Then, about ten years ago, the City of Las Vegas started offering incentives for restaurants, bars and nightclubs to start opening in Downtown. I’m not sure how successful this was, but there are now a shitload of bars in the area. We decided to visit as many as we could. Most of them are pretty anemic, but they had liquor so we kept drinking through the evening and into the next day.

It was while we were at an Irish bar called Jameson’s that Snyder told me what really happened when we were at Frankie’s Tiki Lounge on Friday night. I was too drunk to realize what was happening, but I didn’t drop my maps, coupon books, and travel guides on the floor. “The bartender was a dick,” explained Snyder. “He looked like that comic book geek from the Simpsons. He walked over to us pushed your shit on the ground and said ‘Get that shit off my bar!’ Then, he was an asshole every time we tried to order a drink.” I guess I was drunker that I thought, because I have absolutely no memory of that at all.

“Fuck that guy!” I was pissed off. “Let’s go back there and beat his ass!”

“Let’s go.”

We found the first cab we could and headed back to Frankie’s. But the comic book geek wasn’t working. Instead, we met a great bartender, Tawnya, who served us drinks and entertained us with amusing stories for several hours.

Our next stop was The Double Down Saloon, a punk rock dive bar known as “The Happiest Place On Earth” that’s been around for over 20 years. There are always a few lunatics that wonder in and this time was no different. Within just a few moments of sitting down at the filthy bar, an older lady who had clearly been there for hours struck up a conversation with me.

“I have been reincarnated,” she said.

“What? Really? That’s cool.”

“Many times. I even met Abraham Lincoln.”

If she was really reincarnated, how and why did she meet him? Was it because the world was a much smaller place back then? Did everyone know Abraham Lincoln? That’s a pretty famous president. I’ve met plenty of weirdos and plenty of people who claim to have been reincarnated and I wondered why it is that they all claim to have been someone cool. Like Genghis Khan, or Napoleon, or Joan of Arc, or Cleopatra? Why did this lady think she met Abraham Lincoln and not some other president like John Tyler, or Millard Fillmore. Or just a congressman or a governor?

With this place, you can always expect the unexpected.

The next morning, Sunday, I woke up at about 9:00 and felt totally refreshed. It was my moment of total clarity. Snyder was still sleeping and I decided to grab a cab and head back down to the Flamingo’s parking structure to retrieve my car from where we left it on Friday night.

But when I arrived, my car was nowhere to be found. Fuck. I remembered exactly where I left it. I even remember parking next to a shitty orange Mustang. And the shitty orange Mustang was still there. One of two things must have happened. Either my car was stolen, or security had it towed because we were no guests of the hotel. But how the fuck would they know which car belongs to whom? Fuck. It was probably stolen.

I called Snyder and told him about the missing car and he replied “Do you think we may have driven it to the Plaza?” Good question. “I’ll go look in the parking lot and give you a call back,” he said.

I was still standing in the Flamingo parking structure when Snyder called back. “I don’t need to look in the garage,” he said, “I remember you driving on Friday night. “

I hurried back to the Plaza and met up with Snyder and started piecing together the details of the previous 72-hours.

There were at least four bars that I cannot recall visiting and one that Snyder has no memory of whatsoever. There is also some vague details about a conversation that we had with a tweeker that we met at a Downtown bar called the Griffin. Somehow, the guy struck up a conversation with me and let us know that he is a civilian employee doing maintenance work for the local Air National Guard base. He talked long and fast about how he works while loaded “all the time”. So, I seized the opportunity to start making up shit to scare the guy. I leaned in close, and in a low and slow voice, I told him “My friend here is Major Snyder. Don’t you recognize him? You are being extremely disrespectful and are about ready to lose your job…” He straightened up pretty quick, made several apologies to Snyder and me, and then made an exit.

We also remember eating a meal at the buffet in the Paris Hotel, which is down on the strip, but have no idea when that could have possibly happened.

The only thing we don’t know is whether or not we went to the Mob Museum.