April 29, 2003
Day One. A half day at work, then a train, subway, shuttle bus, plane, another plane, and then...there it was. Glowing like a shimmering tiara on an endless expanse of barren desert, Las Vegas never fails to shock its millions of visitors, whether by land or by sea, when it first appears like a blah blah blah enough already GET ME OFF OF THIS FREAKIN' PLANE AND GET ME A STRONG DRINK TWO STRIPPERS AND A POCKETFUL OF CHIPS RIGHT NOW!!!
It always seems to take much longer than necessary to get off a plane, and never so long as when Vegas is waiting outside for me. All my carefully reasoned schemes about shuttle buses and finding somebody to split a downtown cab were tossed away as I threw my bags in the trunk of the first yellowish vehicle I saw and asked that all applicable traffic laws be ignored to get me to the El Cortez pronto! As I've mentioned, the ElCo was a highly suspicious $12 a night, with part of that low price explained by its location at the northernmost edge of Downtown, giving me plenty of time to get to know my cab driver, a former Newark cop who had driven the Pulaski Skyway more times than I've hot meals.
And what do you get for $12 a night? A decent enough room I suppose, especially considering that I didn't plan to spend more than 10 conscious minutes in it. And though I was exhausted from my early EST morning and my travels, of course I threw my bags on the bed and ran downstairs to start Vegasing it up. First things first: a little spin of the ol' Donk Roulette Wheel. I dutifully put down the 11 chips I had doled out, each matched up with a chip of my own. The ElCo croupier spun that little white ball and on behalf of all of you I watched that little white ball bounce around and land in good ol' #10. Hmmm, you're thinking, I didn't have #10; I wonder if anybody else did. The answer is no. We all lost. Oh well. I figured there'd be plenty of time to hang around the ElCo later, so I staggered out onto the street and headed over to the main Fremont Street drag.
I bounced around from casino to casino (unlike the Strip, the Downtown joints are very close to one another), from the Four Queens to the Golden Nugget to the California to the Las Vegas Club. I played a few hands of blackjack or a little roulette in each one, consistently losing whatever I tried. I forget the exact place, but the lowlight came when a roulette croupier stopped all bets before I had put down all of my chips, which wouldn't have been so bad except that I was the only one at the table. I stopped by Binion's with the hope of playing in a World Series of Poker satellite (a small tournament with the prize being an entry to a larger one), but when I realized I'd probably collapse in an hour I decided it wasn't a good idea to begin any longterm plans. I did stroll into the Golden Gate, home of the legendary 99-cent shrimp cocktail. I tacked on three more to their over 25 million sold, then headed back to the ElCo and bed, stopping only to let a Wheel of Fortune slot machine give me back everything I had lost so far. I slept like a shrimp-filled baby that night on my ElCo bed.
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