Friday, January 4, 2008
6:09 p.m. American Pacific Fahrenheit Standard
Time, steady rain. /////
LOS ANGELES,CA—It's 4:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve afternoon, and I am rushing up and down the stairs from my apartment to the Car of the Week (Short 'splanation: I write about cars also, so I drive something different every week), tossing my suitcase in the back seat, and my MacBook in the shotgun seat.
It's 7.5 hours to midnight, and I have 240 miles to travel to Las Vegas. My buddy Adrian has more money than sense (sometimes), and has booked an extra room at the Renaissance Hotel....
With no one to go with, I had decided to stay home, and not fight the traffic east. But Adrian is on the cell phone every hour: "Dude, there is NO traffic! What are you gonna do? How you gonna act? ..."
I am a guy in the world. No one waiting for me to arrive. No one waiting for me to return. I am going to Vegas, baby, Vegas.
I see I am starting wrong. Let me begin again.*
6:57 p.m. American Pacific Fahrenheit Standard
Time, steady rain. /////
LOS ANGELES,CA—The city is 78 miles behind me. High winds are pushing hard across the Cajon Pass on Interstate 15, the main highway to Las Vegas from Southern California. It's a steady climb up north and out of San Bernardino County to the Mojave Desert—when the winds blow, the air funnels through the pass like a jet stream. Through the traffic headlights, I can see tractor trailer trucks either parked on makeshift shoulders or completely toppled over on the side of the road, their axles and transmissions exposed like intestines.
The winds are pushing the front end of my car left and then right, and I have to keep my speed down. About 200 miles to go before I hit Las Vegas.
I am driving to meet friends for New Year's Eve in Vegas, something I've never experienced, and clearly, I am a guy who needs to experience stuff. As I have said to Adrian more than once, "Full tank of gas, satellite radio, money in my pocket, I'm rocking the house..."
Other than that windjam on the Cajon, I am sailing along at a steady 80 per, the XM radio scanning stations every 30 seconds, and the miles peel away. ...Devore... Barstow.... Baker. I am closer to sin every moment. Soon enough, the lights of Sodom appear, a huge splash THISBRIGHT! on an otherwise dark desert palette.
This is my first drive to Vegas actually. I had flown in on previous visits, and while I like knowing my way around lots of cities, Vegas isn't yet one of them. Streets are closed for celebrations all over the city and when I finally arrived, it took another hour to actually locate the entrance to my hotel from the freeway. (Don't ask)
I got on the Vegas Monorail from the Convention Center Station on Paradise Boulevard, just outside the Renaissance. Like clockwork, a group of tourists from Dorkstick, USA, board the train and pile into seats in the rear, all lit up and talking strategy. One of the mullets says to his drunken friends, "Oh man, I am like the Casino Whisperer!" Oh man, you're like the president of Jackballville. They're in for a long, long night.
I can just picture it: Got paid yesterday, took out 600 bucks, that goes in the first hour; drunk on free drinks, he gets more credit card cash, that holds him until about 5 a.m. At 6 a.m. he is smelling like nachos and vomit, weeping copiously at a cashier station about some chips he dropped in the toilet. At 7 a.m. as the sun rises over Las Vegas Boulevard, he is holding his head in his hands, explaining to his wife, on a borrowed cell phone, why she needs to come pick him up and bring "at least $200. I'm on a hot streak, Louise!"
Okay, back to me. At 11 p.m., I found my friends at the packed Hilton, dancing and partying like it was, um, 2007.
"Eddie, I won 1400 dollars," Adrian laughs, a silly hat on his head. He adds quickly, "And I still have it."
By now, he knows the rule: "Don't spend your winnings." That's how people go home with barely enough cash for the gas home. Here's the thing: No matter how much you bring, THAT's what you play with. You win, you put it aside. You win, you put it aside. I know, it's way easier said than done. But if the next day, you have enough for the breakfast buffet, a tank of gas, and say, a pair of sunglasses, you're ahead of the game.
He had apparently sat patiently at the KENO table with his friend, Meli, drinking and laughing, steadily pushing the "Play Again" button, as his hundred dollar credit swooped and dipped. Then, the jubilant DING DING DING DING DING as his matching numbers piled up. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 thousand quarters were being rung up on the counter. (Coins don't pour out anymore..you get a paper voucher, but you HEAR coins spilling out like rain on the pavement.)
But, in the meantime, midnight snuck up on us, and we watched the City's fireworks on a dozen huge TV screens in the bar. Then we all head off in search of dinner. That Adrian is paying for.
Then out again to the casino floor. I put 20 clams in a Keno machine, selected six numbers, and just steadily pushed the PLAY button, as the funds slowly and steadily dwindled away. I stopped with ten dollars left.
I had set aside 20 bucks for a one-time toss at the Roulette table—one number, whatever happens, walk away or put it away. I met Adrian at the tables, where he was looking for an empty one for "luck."
Thing two: There is NO luck. NO System. NO Strategy. EVERYTHING is random. Once people learn that......
Adrian has learned that. From me. (Influencing the EveryDay around me, you know?)
So, he gives me the briefest roulette explanation I can stand, and I put my money on the first group of numbers, specifically "11." (No reason, no significance.)
"If the ball lands on any of the numbers in that group, you win," he says.
That seems too easy. And like he's reading my mind, he says, "Roulette is the hardest game to win at."
The ball rolls. And rolls. We watch it on a TV monitor.
"Eddie, you won $90," Adrian says.
"Do you wanna leave it there?"
"Of course not," and like a good scout, I pick up my chips and start to walk away. But Adrian wants to play one more round.
"OK, but not with your winnings."
After an explanation that I don't understand half of, he selects his number and color, and BingBangISawTheWholeGang, he wins $400. It's about 3 in the morning.
"Let's go," I tell him. "Now. You're the big winner. The only one in the casino. Let's jet." And we do.
He drives home way too early the next day, and I slept in, the icy desert sun fighting to break through the window shades.
Headed home, I fill the tank at a casino gas station and go looking for a breakfast buffet before I get perfectly lost on the way home.
You should see the cool sunglasses I bought.
* F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise