Holiday Road – Part II

Vegas Vegas Vegas Vegas Vegas! Anyone who knows me (or even knows of me really) will know that there are two things to my life – politics and gambling. And gambling has been a part of me for a lot longer than politics. My first official gamble started when I was 16. For my 18th birthday all I asked was that we go to Star City casino – and we did. And for years I’ve been saying as soon as I turn 21, I’m going to Vegas. I turned 21 last year, and here I was, walking down the Vegas strip.

The drive there began early in the morning in Anaheim, California. Our tour group gathered at the bus, met our driver Marcus and our guide David. They would prove to be the two best people we could ask for. Marcus was great company off the bus, and obviously performed his job behind the wheel. David was extremely knowledgeable about everywhere we went, a hoot after hours, and just an all-round great guy.

The drive isn’t long (by later stages of the tour standards), and we started introduction games by rotating seats. Meeting the people we were traveling with and what-have-you. It was good enough, but being hopeless with names to faces, I’d only remember oddities or stories about people. Similarly, I’m a rather shy person in new situations, and around new people, and especially around women. I’m sure this showed during the introductions thing, but would be thrown out the window come the night.

We stopped for lunch at McDonalds, where I got what would you would normally get on a McMuffin here, but they serve it on a ‘biscuit’ – which is, I swear to you, just a scone. It tasted strange, but I wasn’t in any position to complain. It was just the first difference of many novel ones.

We were dropped in Vegas to entertain ourselves for an hour and some, then meet back at the bus to go to our hotel, then out to dinner and to some clubs. Stepping off the bus and onto the street, I was hit by a wall of heat. Not humid, but really dry and really sharp. You knew that you’d be getting skin cancer if you stood outside of shade for too long. I think we determined that the sun sent down a bunch of heat, and the reflection off the millions of windows and the thousands of pounds of concrete bounced it in all directions, but the pollution that hovered above the city (like Los Angeles) trapped the heat in. Either way, our days in Vegas were hot.

Walking down the Strip, I headed straight for the Bellagio casino, watched a fountain show, then headed in. I found a $25 table and sat down, played for a little, and moved on … right next door and a 2 minute (no more) to Caesars Palace. I gambled there for a little, then had to move on because I would otherwise miss the bus. Walking down the strip, I noted where I wanted to go, and planned accordingly. I would have to expend myself in such a way that defied not only jet lag but recommended sleeping hours as well.

We were driven to our hotel, I met my first roommate, and we then went out for dinner to an Italian restaurant. The food was plenty, and good. I sat with various people, only on the basis of whose name I could remember (and I remembered 4). It was enjoyable enough. The restaurant was decorated rather interesting too – as if to be in a vineyard outside, but with all sorts of posters and newspaper clippings covering the walls. A strange mix.

After this, we went on a driving tour of Vegas. It was rather good, the sun setting after we all got the crucial photo of the famous Vegas sign. To drive all around Vegas takes a long, long time. Seriously, we were out and about for near on 2-3 hours. I took a heap of snaps, soaked it all in, and continued to plan my next day’s adventure. I was grateful for the tour because I wouldn’t have seen 3/4s of Vegas has I not gone out on the bus. We stopped to watch a giant show on the roof of a hotel. It’s something to see. What was obvious was that even thought I thought it was busy when we first arrived, there seemed to be more and more people on the streets as the night wore on. I wondered if the whole of America had headed for America’s playground.

From there we were going to our club for the night – Studio 54 at the MGM Grand. It was a Saturday night and the line to get in was huge. Apparently it’s ‘the place to be’ if you’re young, hip, and in Vegas. David, our guide, ‘knew someone’ and after paying the entrance fee, we jumped straight to the front of the line. Inside it’s like a fancy club – multi-story, dancers, loud music and many bars. The drinks were not cheap – ~$10 after a tip – but they were alcohol filled. They have, well, very few alcohol service laws in the US. At this bar, they used free-pour for spirits. That’s where they pour 3/4 of the glass with spirits, then the rest with ice and the tracer. And the glasses aren’t like tumblers here – they are a tick under the size of a schooner.

Now, I drink gin and tonics back here, and can generally manage 4-5 before I should slow down. Even watching them pour out way more gin than tonic into my glass, I still thought I could keep up with my home routine. I was wrong. Oh boy was I wrong.

After about 7 of these gin and tonics, the night begins to be a bit, well, hazy. I can remember making the smart decision to stop drinking gin and tonics and rest on a beer for a while. I remember doing that for 1 beer, then going onto gin and tonic again. Finally I come to a point in my memory where I just can’t remember what happened. That’s roughly 10pm.

Whatever I did, I did it in such a way that I was rather popular from this point on in the trip among some people.

I’ve been told various things of what happened: That I became a social butterfly and introduced myself to other tour people, conversed with them and what-not, and made quite the good impression; that other Studio 54 guests were taking photos with me because I was (and not my words) ‘cute’; that I danced (which is a very dangerous thing) for all hours; and that I didn’t stop drinking at all. The last person can account for me after 1am, when I told him that I was going to get another drink. He saw me walk off, but not to the bar, rather the exit.

The next part of my evening that I remember (because I remember none of the above paragraph) is going to Excalibur casino. It must have been around 3am, maybe 4am. I can vaguely remember sitting down at a blackjack table, definitely remember that it was $25 limit, and remembering giving advice to people on the table. As my friends know I may or may not be able to count cards. I remember winning a couple hands. I also remember proclaiming that I was succeeding because I was counting cards. A hand later, I remember being pulled out of my seat and shown the door. I was accused of being a cheat by whatever security guard was ‘helping me out’, and that I protested wildly. I must have taken offense at being called a cheat too because I can remember a scuffle, and then (to no surprise) being pushed to floor, down a flight of stairs, and the taste of blood.

For the next week, I had battle scars around my right eye and face in my photos that I have to cheerily explain away to family now. This, later on in the trip with some friends, became the point of amusement between us – trying to figure out how I could tell this story (and another one later on in the trip) to my family and not be banned from traveling again.

Anyway, walking around in a still drunk state, I went to the Tropicana hotel to find my room. There’s a problem with this though – I wasn’t staying in the Tropicana hotel. I thought I was, but I certainly was not. I remember wandering around there for hours looking for my room. Slowly I was sobering up, but not until 6:30am would I realise I wasn’t staying at this hotel. I found room 140 and tried my key. I was shocked that it didn’t work!

There’s nothing notable to recount here – it’s simply me walking around the Tropicana hotel trying to find my room. Eventually I realised that it was two buildings further down the road, and I made my way down there, found my room and conversed with my roommate for a few minutes. He was wondering, not worried, where I was, and why I wasn’t home at 7am in the morning. I rambled and slurred a bit of my night’s tale, then just passed out from exhaustion.

Only days later would I realise that I had been up for 30-something hours the day before, got 5 hours sleep, woke up at 5am, and been active for the next 26 hours, finally getting to bed at 7am on the 29th. I had, in effect, been active for more than 56 hours, running on 5 hours sleep. Had I known this before going out I might have taken it a little easier.

But I’m glad I didn’t.

Thomas.

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