Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday night fever (unedited)

"It's a Saturday night, and I'm looking for some party action. I don't care about getting laid, I want some quick and easy satisfaction." -- The Donnas, "Rock 'n' Roll Machine"

Two weeks ago I went to see a band other than L.A. Guns. I went to see Cinderella. I have seen Cinderella twice during the past decade, as part of the Poison summer tour. Monica is a big Poison fan, and I enjoy their music, even if I'm not a huge fan, so I've been to a few Poison concerts with her over the years. A couple of times Cinderella was part of that summer tour, and I found their performance to be better than Poison. So finally, after all these years, I saw Cinderella headline a club show here in Minnesota. They played at the crappy Medina Entertainment Center, which can pack more than 1,000 people in its upstairs ballroom. It's a huge room, but not a great concert venue when the place is full. But I decided that this would be the year I finally see them headline a show. They don't tour as much as Poison, so seeing them headline a show is an opportunity that doesn't come around very often.

They put on a good show, playing all the requisite hits from their heyday, and continue to put forth a quality live product. This band isn't held in the same regard as Bon Jovi or Motley Crue, but they are an exceptional live band that isn't as cheesy as Poison or Warrant. They didn't hurt themselves by playing a marathon set, but what the did do, they did well.

I bought the ticket when it went on sale a couple of months ago, so I was committed to the show. As it turns out, that was the same night as the annual fundraising dinner for my sister's workshop. My sister is mentally retarded, (a term that is politically incorrect, evidently,) and the workshop program where she spends her days has an annual fundraising dinner. I went to it with my mother a couple of years ago. My mom tries to go every year to support my sister's workshop, and she doesn't want to go by herself, so she buys two tickets. I could have attended both the dinner and concert, I just didn't want to run around that much. Instead my mom took one of her friends to the dinner, I'm sure.

My Halloween friends were also having a party that Saturday night. I wasn't heartbroken to miss the party, but I would have been there had there been nothing else going on.

And to top it off, the day of the concert I received a Facebook message mentioning there was going to be a poker game that night in Minneapolis.

I had four different things I could have spent my Saturday night doing. When it rains, it pours. I also knew that I'd end up with little to do the following weekends, and I was right.

The following Saturday was the night before Easter. Unlike Christmas, the world doesn't come to a halt on Easter eve, but not to my surprise, there was nothing going on, at least nothing that I was invited to.

And last night was no different. I spent my Saturday night at home, doing nothing memorable. I might as well get use to it.

They say there are five stages of grief. I'm not sure if I believe it. I'm still grieving the fact that I was duped by my ex-girlfriend and tossed aside like a sack of garbage.

I didn't have much of a denial state, if any. And although acceptance is the final stage, I accepted the unexpected kick to the curb almost immediately. There's really no bargaining involved in my grief. I haven't tried to get the ex-girlfriend to reconsider kicking me to the curb.

The only things I've dealt with are anger and depression. I'm angry that I was little more than a rebound boyfriend to her. She may not have considered me to be merely a rebound boyfriend at the time, but subconsciously she knew I was just a crutch until she was ready to move on with her life. Hard not to be angry.

The depression is a result of knowing that even though I'm a less than perfect person, I cared more for her than I cared for myself, and in the end I was disposable. There's a part of me that was always prepared for that day to come, but I fooled myself into believing this time it would be different. I'm an idiot, and I'll be spending several Saturday nights hating my life during the next several months. That's depressing.

When I have been tossed aside so freely and easily in the past, it has crippled me. I guess I'm a stronger person in my old age. I don't feel crippled. I'm angry and depressed, but it isn't crippling me. Perhaps that's because in the past I didn't see any options to a lifetime of loneliness. I had nothing to hope for.

Today I find myself right back where I was two years ago. I had hope I didn't have in my late 20s and early 30s, and thankfully I still have it now. I no longer have to fear a lifetime of loneliness, and I have to cling to that in the months to come. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and I am optimistic I will reach it.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Just when you thought you'd seen it all (unedited)

Earlier this week it was announced that Friendster is purging much of its user-submitted content as part of a rebranding of its site.

I'm not sure how many people know the name Friendster, but everyone knows Facebook. Friendster was Facebook before Myspace was Facebook. I had a Friendster account many years ago, thanks to my friend Monica. She's a social butterfly, and social networking is an ideal platform for her flights of fancy. She invited me to join Friendster, so I did. I don't know of any other friend who had a Friendster account, but I thought the idea of a social network was intriguing. I rarely dabbled with the fresh, new and exciting concept, but I was there, at the forefront.

Flash forward a few years, Myspace takes the world by storm. I eventually climb aboard the bandwagon, and use the fancy new social network a bit, but find that I hate, absolutely hate, how ridiculously it is run. I disliked Myspace so much that I deleted my account.

When I did that, I'm not sure if I had heard of Facebook, but eventually I reluctantly joined what would become the most successful social network of all time, expecting to hate it as much as I hated Myspace. I joined it as a means to stay in touch with the Halloween friends I made working at a local haunted attraction in 2007. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it, and now I log in 75 times a day.

There are online stories about how Friendster beat Myspace and Facebook to the social network party, yet shot itself in the foot. It's a fascinating read. (Friendster somehow evolved into the social network of choice in Asia, so all is not lost.)

In some cases being first to the Internet with a concept means you'll come out on top, but not always. Friendster may not have been the first major social network, but if had a significant presence long -- by Internet standards -- before Facebook.

The creators of Hot or Not, a website where you rate the attractiveness of people who submit their pictures to the site, were pioneers of the concept, although not the first, according to Wikipedia. When Hot or Not blew up, there were imitators, (the one I used most often was, defunct for many years now,) and the concept is replicated to this day by dating websites and other online destinations. But many of the early imitators are long gone, yet the owners of Hot or Not outlasted their imitators -- and outlasted the initial buzz that made them a trendy online destination for a few weeks -- before selling out a few years ago.

The creators of the website were brilliant in parlaying their 15 minutes of fame into something lucrative. They added the "meet me" feature, which allowed users to peruse photos by geographic region and contact the subjects of photos who consented to receiving e-mail from their admirers. The admirers paid a nominal fee for the privilege of sending a private message. I spent a few bucks making contact with a few local users, and ended up dating a woman through the site. This happened despite the fact that I have never been a big fan of the online dating concept, for several reasons. But that's another blog for another time.

I have perused a few online dating sites, and I know people who have had memberships at eHarmony and Match. I've never had a membership to any dating site that has a monthly fee, and I'm not about to start. (I have wasted my time with the best free dating site I know of, Plenty of Fish.)

On Sunday night as I was driving home I heard a commercial on the radio for a site I had never heard of: Cougar Life. Cougar Life claims to have more than 1 million users, and it must be doing something right if there's a radio ad campaign. The commercial sounded like a parody ad you'd see on Saturday Night Live. I couldn't resist perusing it when I got home, and my findings left me less than impressed.

I found one decent ad on the site, and thought that the woman was worth contacting. In order to contact her, however, I had to either buy a one-month membership for $40 or sign up for a three-month membership, billed in monthly installments of $30. I am not poor, and I'd have no qualms about spending $40 for dinner or drinks, but I'm not going to gamble $40 on the come, especially given my belief that the woman has been inundated with responses. Unless I stand out, I won't even get a response for my $40. Good luck to you, Susan, I will not enter the derby.

For a few years now radio stations have been promoting half off gift certificates to local businesses through their websites, if you're one of the first 100 to log in and complete a purchase when they go on sale. I've purchased several of those deals.

Then along comes Groupon. Just when you think you've seen it all, somebody comes along with a new concept for marketing retail discounts.

Earlier this week, completely by chance, I stumbled across a tweet for a new dating concept. The concept combines online dating and Groupon. Each day InboxCupid sends a personal ad to its membership, and the idea originated here in the Minneapolis area. Just when I thought I had seen it all...

I have no doubt the concept will be nationwide before long -- it has started with ads for singles in the Minneapolis market only -- or that there will be imitators putting their own spin on the concept. I like some aspects of the concept, but question others.

How it works: Singles can submit their photo and bio to the site for free. The bio will be sent to InboxCupid subscribers via a daily email, and will also be posted at the website. I'm guessing that your window of opportunity to contact the single of the day is limited to a finite period of time. To contact the featured single of the day you send a private message. To do that you purchase the privilege. It's just $1 to send a message. You can buy five message tokens for $4, and unlimited access during a one-month period for $10. Unless the site is going to build a more traditional database of singles, or you're desperate enough to send messages to everyone who is delivered to your inbox, the $10 monthly access rate seems unnecessary.

I really like the idea that you can establish contact with somebody for the low price of $1. Had Cougar Life offered a one-shot access fee of $10 or less, I probably would have paid it and sent Susan a message. Seeing nobody else worth my time, $40 was a bitter pill to swallow.

InboxCupid left me with a few unanswered questions. How do they know that the picture and profile submitted are legitimate? Do they have a way to verify the authenticity of the submitted material? Conversely, how do I know the ads are legitimate?

Given that dating websites have been known to fabricate profiles and responses in order to tempt users into paying for access to the site, how can I know that InboxCupid won't fabricate an ad to generate revenue?

I have no reason to suspect the site will engage in any fraudulent activity, but I'm naturally skeptical when it comes to online dating. I guess if the concept takes off, user interest will negate any need for the proprietors of the site to jeopardize their credibility.

I will assume every ad I see on the site is legitimate. If I deem a woman to be worth responding to then I'm sure she will get truckloads of responses. When that's the case, there's a good chance she'll never get around to responding to me. That's why I think the $1 access fee to send a private message makes a lot of sense. Most people will be willing to gamble a buck, I suspect, if they like what they see. And if they strike out, it's just $1 to try again. (I might argue that they priced the cost of sending a message too low.)

Would I consider submitting my profile or responding to an ad? No.

Many people use online dating sites to shop for a mate, and I'm not opposed to it, but I'm not crazy about the idea, either. Given that I'm no prize, I don't need a lack or responses to my InboxCupid ad to lower my self-esteem.

I suppose there's a small chance I'll spend a buck or two to respond to the daily email if I find an ad I deem to be highly intriguing. But I have little expectation I'll stand out from the crowd. I stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd, but that's another story.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

People #4 (unedited)

Coworker D is quite a character, and it will be interesting to see how her life turns out.

She's young, early 20s, and a bit wacky. I don't know much about her life, but I have been told she has had some legal troubles related to underage drinking.

When I first connected to her via Facebook, her profile suggested she was going to school at some post-secondary institution. She didn't strike me as the type to go to college and study, but that's just me being a jerk. I'm not sure where she's at with her studies.

I do know several months ago, or perhaps a year or more ago, she became engaged. At the age of 21 or 22 she was engaged. It happens, and sometimes people who get engaged that early in life have met their soul mate. But I'm increasingly convinced we don't really know who we are until our later 20s or 30s, if then. So I am skeptical of people who get married at a young age. Never mind the fact my grandparents were 18 and 19 when they got married and remained married for 57 years until my grandmother died. It's a different world we live in.

So Coworker D has been engaged for a while, but that ended recently. According to the one reference I glimpsed on Facebook, he ended their relationship. I have no insight into their relationship, but I was intrigued by the fact that Coworker D's engagement ended. On the one hand she's a super cute girl who is easy to get along with, for the most part. On the other hand she's a bit wacky, and seems like she could be more than a handful to deal with on a regular basis.

Perhaps Coworker D proves, yet again, that beauty is only skin deep. I hope I find out some day that she's as beautiful on the inside.

Monday, April 25, 2011

People #3 (unedited)

Coworker C is a guy I've wondered about.

When I first got to know him, he had a girlfriend who also worked at our haunted attraction. Within months after I first met the happy couple they split up, and she eventually moved out of state. For the past three years Coworker C has dated a few people, to the best of my understanding, but hasn't had a long-term relationship. At least I don't think so. I don't keep up with the social statuses and gossip of my Halloween coworkers, so I'm often out of the loop most of the year.

I started learning this past year that Coworker C had a girlfriend. This was confirmed during the Halloween season. They became engaged around New Year's Eve and were married in Vegas weeks later. It's his first marriage, I am certain. She has children, but I don't know much more about her background.

Coworker C went to college for some sort of computer design degree, and now works as a laborer. He couldn't find work in his field of study and wound up working in a warehouse. He also has a passion for photography, but it's nothing more than a hobby, as best as I can tell. Making a buck as a photographer is tougher than ever thanks to the availability and ease of digital photography. The skills of a photographer who knows what he is doing are priceless, but most people are willing to settle for less than expertise since cameras and film are cheap in the digital age.

In the past year his father died. His parents live in the south, so he didn't see his parents very often in recent years.

His life probably didn't work out as he planned several years ago, but now he's happily married. I asked one of my Halloween coworkers what she thought of a seemingly sudden wedding. She thinks that the fast-tracked relationship and marriage was in response to the death of his father.

Whatever be the reason for his marriage, relationships don't need to drag on for five years and culminate in a big, elaborate wedding. Perhaps Coworker C and his wife happened to be what each other were looking for, and they recognized it immediately.

Maybe their Vegas wedding was the culmination of a two-year relationship, and I didn't realize it has been going on that long. Perhaps it wasn't as sudden as it seems.

Personally I'm a bit skeptical about the long-term viability of the marriage, but that's in part because I'm skeptical any marriage will stand the test of time. Conversely I think that two people who are committed to each other and committed to making things work will find a way to do so, if their intentions are pure when they make their commitment to each other. I hope for the latter, obviously, and wish them the best of luck.

Friday, April 22, 2011

People #2 (unedited)

Three Halloween coworkers have been on my mind lately.

I work at a local Halloween attraction each year and have known all of these people for four or five years.

Coworker B is the one I have known the longest. We worked in the same maze during my first year. I have long been a fan of her work.

She's younger than I would have guessed. I'm not sure how old I thought she was when we first met, but I know I thought she was a little older than it turns out she was.

In the past year she moved out of state, got engaged to her boyfriend and is about to move back to Minnesota, months before her wedding here. I have no idea where she met her fiance, where he's from or why they lived in Colorado. I have never met her fiance, but from pictures I have seen on Facebook and the few things I have gleaned from them, they seem like kindred spirits.

Coworker B is a performing artist, which is a vague way of saying that besides her Halloween work, she's a regular in the Renaissance festival scene. She makes her own costumes, has a unicorn costume she dons periodically, according to her pictures, owns snakes she performs with occasionally and does some sort of dance or performance involving fire.

I was infatuated with her five years ago, but that has worn off over time for a combination of reasons.

Even though we're not close friends, I'm invited to her wedding this summer. It sounds like it will be a non-traditional, casual ceremony, and I know a bunch of the Halloween gang is invited as well. This will be the first test of my October 2008 resolution to never attend another wedding. I haven't been invited to one in more than two years, and this is the first one I have to turn down if I stand by my resolution to never go to another wedding.

I wasn't surprised when Coworker B announced via Facebook several months ago that she is engaged, although the way she spoke of it sounded like she was less than ecstatic about it. But maybe that was just shock. Maybe the proposal came out of the blue. Nonetheless the planning and discussion of the wedding began.

And then, a few weeks ago, her relationship status changed from "engaged" to "it's complicated." About 24 hours later her status changed to "single." Several people offered comments of support, and Coworker B started posting rather pessimistic, depressed status updates. All of this happened after announcements that the happy couple was moving to Minnesota and buying a house. And within a week, her relationship status was back to engaged and plans continue for this summer's wedding, as well as the impending move back to Minnesota.

I'm not sure why Coworker B needed to air her relationship issues for hundreds to see via Facebook, but she did.

I think it's clear I don't know her well, but from everything I know, my gut instinct is that the odds are against eternal happiness for Coworker B and her fiance. Considering the divorce rate in this country, I'm not exactly betting against the odds, and I have no reason to root against them. I just have a bad feeling based upon what little I know about their relationship.

Will they be together five years from now? Stranger things have happened.

If it kills me, I'll find time this weekend to write about Coworker C and Coworker D, whose lives have taken two different paths in 2011.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vegas adventure (perpetually under edit)

Written in the early morning hours of April 10:

A week ago at this time I was dreading everything I had left to do before departing for a five-day vacation in Vegas. And as usual, it was my fault.

I spent several hours playing poker here in Minnesota on Saturday, April 2. My friend Rush wanted to play poker, and somehow going by himself is not an option, I guess. We were supposed to go the weekend before, but he was sick, and despite my pending trip to Vegas, he figured we should still go. I consented.

Neither of us won playing on the low-roller table at the card room. In Rush’s final hand, a dude had pocket fives. Rush had an ace. Board flopped an ace and at least one over card to a five. Joe bet, guy called. This continued each street. And of course on the river the guy caught a five, winning the pot because he wasn’t going to give in with a lousy pocket pair. That was the kind of day we had.

I was up until 5 a.m. packing and preparing for my trip. I slept for about four hours before stumbling out of bed Sunday morning, running to the office and finishing as much as I could in preparation for my absence. That’s the kind of dedication to excellence I have. Of course I should have finished all of that on Saturday, but I’m the idiot.

Sunday meant no shower for me since, for the third time in a week, a rolling blackout left me without hot water. That’s one of the many drawbacks of living in a low rent district. I left plenty of messages for building maintenance and management that afternoon. It’s bad enough I live alone yet am subject to scalding hot water when another apartment decides to flush a toilet, but at least I should have access to the hot water when I want. Or am I crazy?

I didn’t have time to get a haircut on Sunday, (which of course should have happened on Saturday,) and I was annoyed by this. I wasn’t about to pay $50 the privilege of a haircut at a casino property, so I wasn’t sure if and when the haircut would happen. Turns out they have a place in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport that provides the service for a reasonable fee. I was checked in 2-1/2 hours before departure since Rush was dropping me off and had to do so early Sunday afternoon. After a sandwich at the airport it was time to board the plane.

I flew Delta for the first time in a long time. I bought several of those “free” drink vouchers online prior to my trip. (Turns out they were free, but that’s another story.) I ordered two drinks during the first service run by the flight attendants, and when I offered two coupons for it, the male flight attendant told me to save them for the next one. I was confused by what he meant, but it soon became clear that I was a cute guy, as he gave me two drinks free.

I ordered another drink a while later, and gave a different flight attendant my coupon, which he accepted.

I ordered one last drink, and the original dude again told me to save my coupon for the next one. So I had four drinks and ended up using only one coupon. I took that as a good sign for my upcoming week at the blackjack tables.

After arriving in Vegas I took the shuttle bus to Orleans, an off-strip casino. The driver drove that rig like it was a Ford Mustang. I was his last stop in a series of six, and the dude made excellent time between each one. I was worried somebody would get hit as we pulled out of each casino.

Check in at Orleans was instant after 10 p.m., and since I was still in limbo regarding Tuesday night, I inquired about the cost to extend my stay. I had the two weeknight comp offer, and adding Tuesday night cost me $37 total. It was hard to argue with that.

I grabbed a 16-ounce aluminum bottle of Bud Light for $3.50 and headed up to my room.

The room, overlooking the hotel entrance, was on the sixth floor. Not much to see, but I care little about that. As advertised, the room is spacious and well maintained. It was my first stay at Orleans, and almost certainly won’t be my last.

I was looking forward to checking in and finally taking a hot shower, but despite the fact it was 12:30 a.m. back home and I was on four hours of sleep, the lure of blackjack was too great. I found favorable table conditions in the blackjack pits and played for a few hours, slowly building up a $100 profit. By 2 a.m. Las Vegas time I was dead tired. It was 4 a.m. back home, time for bed. But I was also hungry, which wasn’t a surprise given I had been drinking on the plane and at the blackjack table.

I went to the food court and ordered a Fuddrucker’s burger, noticing a skinny blond woman dragging a small child through the food court at 2:15 a.m., a site that pisses me off. I am probably way off, but my assumption is that this young woman got pregnant by mistake and now her young child is paying for the fact mom has yet to grow up. Seeing people drag kids around Vegas in the wee hours of the morning always irritates me.

Day 1 (Monday)

I woke up early, surprised to learn I had left a light on in the bathroom. I was sure I had turned off all lights before I went to bed. I soon discovered what I didn’t notice on Sunday night, the shower window. The window is opposite of the shower head, which I missed on Sunday night.

My shower window gave me a glimpse of Excalibur and Luxor, if I angled my view slightly.

I had lunch at the Orleans buffet. I had a $10 food comp as part of my deal, and lunch was less than that. The buffet isn’t spectacular, but it’s OK. I found enough to make me happy, especially given the price. It was rather busy on a Monday afternoon.

My friends Mike and Misty, along with their son, were spending a week in Vegas. They got a great airfare deal for booking a Tuesday to Tuesday trip and had a mini-suite comped at Palace Station. Since they had their son, they had to find things to do outside of the casino, and had a rental car. They wanted to check out the Pinball Hall of Fame and waited until their last day to go, so I could go with them. But first they were going to go to the Ethel M chocolate factory. Since I hadn’t been there, I agreed to go with them to that, too. They picked me up at 2:30 p.m. and we were off to the chocolates.

I was quite underwhelmed by Ethel M. The short tour you get of the factory has little to offer if they’re not actively producing product, which they weren’t when we were there, and the cactus garden outside the factory was cute, but nothing worth going out of your way for. I was also unimpressed with the one piece of chocolate sample they offered.

The Pinball Hall of Fame turned out to be a bit of a buzzkill. I quickly scoured the location of my favorite pinball machine, Tee’d Off, and didn’t see it. I scoured the rest of the building and couldn’t find it. I asked the volunteer on duty and she had no idea what became of it. But Tim, the guru of the museum, was due in, I was told. After he showed up I asked him about it, and he noted that it’s at Riviera, along with other machines. This was a nice consolation prize, but I’d rather have the machine where it belongs.

I spent less than $5 during my two hours at the museum. I spent a little time talking with Mike and Misty about some of the machines, and took a few pictures along the way. I always feel like I’m stealing when I’m at the museum.

We went to dinner at Ellis Island. I had long wanted to try it, and Monday was the day. My friends were also open to trying the steak dinner special. We had to wait an hour for our table, but we spent some of that time getting the kid a Big Gulp next door at 7-11. We haven’t had 7-11 in Minnesota for many years, yet somehow the kid knew of the Big Gulp, and wanted one, so we got him one while we waited.

I signed up for the EI players card and ran $10 through a poker machine to earn my $20 in free play at a later date before we headed back to Palace Station.

I signed up for the PS players card, too, and got $3 in free slot play! (In theory you could win up to $500.) We all played blackjack together for a while as the kid watched TV upstairs in the room. I broke even, my friends crapped out. At that point we went upstairs before Mike drove me back to Orleans.

At Orleans I played blackjack for a few hours. Nobody was winning at my table, and I was in the hole all night. Only one guy made money, a dude who sat down, bet big and won all but one hand. In 10 minutes he raked in $500 and quickly left. Another guy at our table noted he didn’t tip the dealer. Lord knows none of us were, as we weren’t winning. I finished the night even, having played until 4 a.m.

Day 2 (Tuesday)

I was cleaned up and on the shuttle to Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall at10:30 a.m. as I was meeting my friend Monica, a flight attendant who worked her schedule to have layovers in Vegas during my stay. We went to Caesar’s Palace so she attempt to have her iPhone fixed at the Apple store. After 30 minutes the geniuses there couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. It works, but it has a glitch when it comes to recalling her contacts.

Having no definitive itinerary, we decided to take in a couple of afternoon shows. We went to Mac King and Nathan Burton.

Two “free” tickets to Mac King cost $27 or so. The $10 “one drink minimum” and other fees make the tickets $13.50 each. I paid the extra $5/ticket for a seat close to the stage, so I paid $37 for the two tickets.

The first time I was in Vegas, January 1997, I saw King at the Maxim. Monica swears I was with her when she saw him many years ago. I’ll take her word for it.

King puts on a good show, and is well worth the money. (The bartenders slinging the cocktails sure didn’t act as if they worked for tips.) Some of his tricks were reminiscent of what he did years ago. I remember his opening rope trick and his new variation of the hidden $20 bill, but others were different. I know I haven’t seen his tent trick.

We had lunch at the Harrah's buffet thanks to a two-for-one offer and then headed to Flamingo for the 4 p.m. Nathan Burton show.

We got our Burton tickets before heading over to Caesar’s Palace. If you want free tickets to the show, you have to get them days in advance, which for most people probably doesn’t work. It was a Tuesday and I think we were told the earliest free tickets available were Saturday, but we could get $10 tickets for Tuesday’s show. So we decided to do that.

Burton does big stage illusions and was on the first season of America’s Got Talent. (I didn’t know this, not that it mattered.) He does good illusions, but if you’ve ever seen one of those secrets of magic exposed shows on Fox, you can figure out what is happening in many of Burton’s tricks, but it is impressive how quickly and flawlessly they perform them.

I was surprised by the size of the crowd this show draws. We were initially seated in the back of the main floor, but got moved to a table closer to the stage. I didn’t order one of their $14 cocktails. Seriously, they think the privilege of a cocktail at the show is worth $14.

The show is OK, and I didn’t mind paying $20 for our tickets, but I’d go to King before I’d go to Burton again. Burton is personable, and they build him up with the pre-show video clips from America’s Got Talent, plus clips of some David Blaine type stunt he did in Vegas, but I was underwhelmed.

Burton's show is sloppy. He has some cool tricks, but his showgirls/dancers must be working for peanuts, and the choreography is lackluster. The girls aren’t anorexic thin, which is refreshing to see, but they’re not the best talent Vegas has to offer.

The worst part of his show is that they have some dude -- who is apparently connected to another show elsewhere -- come out and do about 20 minutes of comedy. He’s not telling jokes, he’s pulling dudes out of the audience, having them wear masks and participate in a silly stunt. It goes on forever and it’s not that funny. Worst part of the show.

They also had a dude come out and do balancing stunts for about 5 minutes. These were impressive although his costume was ridiculous.

After Burton we redeemed my Groupons for admission to the wax museum. Some of those wax figures are amazing, others aren’t the best replica of the celebrity. I don’t know how you put a value on an experience, but I wouldn’t go back if I had to pay full price. For $12 I’d argue it’s worth the price of admission. For some reason the museum includes a short haunted house with a couple of live actors in it. Not sure why that’s part of the admission, but it’s weak.

We took a cab back to the Westin, where Monica stays. She needed a siesta before flying out on a red eye. I walked back to Bill’s to catch my shuttle bus.

As I was waiting for the shuttle I saw a guy coming toward me from across the street (Bally’s) wearing a maroon polo shirt with a gold M on it. I assumed this was a guy from Minnesota, as this was obviously a Minnesota Gophers shirt. As the guy got closer to me I realized it was Judd, a former city council member who I covered for a few years at my newspaper job. I see him at the Minnesota State Fair most years, as we both work out there each year. And I knew he traveled to Vegas occasionally, but I don’t talk to him regularly as he moved out of my coverage area a few years before I changed beats. Nonetheless we crossed paths randomly on a Tuesday night in Vegas. We talked for about 30 minutes before he headed off to grab dinner. Small world.

Back at Orleans I played blackjack for more than four hours, again struggling to get out of the hole. On a double deck table we went more than four shoes without the dealer busting once. It was ridiculous. And it may have been five or six shoes, we didn’t immediately notice the trend, but we all sat dumbfounded as it continued.

A couple of morons sat at our table and proved they didn’t know how to play, burning through $100 buy-ins in short order. I cashed out even, again.

Day 3 (Wednesday)

I slept in a bit before cleaning up and heading out. I had three American Casino Guide match plays for Orleans, and I had one left to play on Wednesday morning. I went downstairs and sat down at a Super Fun 21 table for a few minutes. I’d never play one of those tables for an extended session, but for a few minutes I decided to play alongside a woman in hopes of scoring a quick $25.

I was up two chips after bouncing up and down and decided I’d either win $30 or nothing. I lost my hand, going 0-for-3 on the match plays.

Off to the Riviera, where my room was free for two nights. My cab driver asked me why I was staying at Orleans, then he asked me why I was moving over to Riviera. He also asked what I had to do to get a comped room at Orleans. It was rather weird questioning, I thought. I didn’t mind answering, but he was an odd dude.

Check in at Riviera was ridiculously slow. They had no more than a couple of people doing check in. There were tons of machines for self-check in, but they weren’t in use, for whatever reason. Really dumb.

I waited about 50 minutes to check in, and was told that since I was comped, I was considered a casino guest, and could have been checked in immediately by using the casino guest line. Live and learn.

I hadn’t eaten since lunch Tuesday, so after checking into my room I went next door to Peppermill. I ate at the counter since I was flying solo. I forgot how much I love this place, and remembered what a pervert I am. Cute waitresses, especially Crystal. My pastrami burger was huge. I could barely eat it all. I love that place, and I may never eat there again. (Do they have a kid’s menu? I need to order off of that.)

I spent my afternoon at Slots-A-Fun and Circus Circus. Man, the heyday of Slots-A-Fun is long gone. I sat down at a $3 blackjack table and was reminded why playing low-roller blackjack is so wrong. After dropping $20 and listening to some moron next to me make baseball analogies and not taking his hits, I walked. There use to be a buzz of activity in that joint years ago, now it’s like a morgue. They do, however, have tables you can use to play beer pong. That’s what it has come to, trying to attract beer pong players. How the mighty have fallen.

I dropped $30 on blackjack at Circus Circus. Not feeling it, I moved over to Let It Ride. I dropped $60 on that table, watching a guy next to me draw a set twice in 30 minutes. The first time the board paired, so he won $155 on his $5 bets. The next time he drew the fourth card on the final community card, winning $750. Obviously not my lucky day. (I never saw him tip the dealer.)

I cleaned up and took the bus down the strip, heading back to Westin. Monica had a short layover on Wednesday night.

We went to Ellis Island for dinner. I had the steak dinner again. I don’t expect a lot for an $8 dinner, and after two steaks, I’m not dazzled. Not a bad piece of meat, just nothing special. I might order off the menu next time.

Back at Westin Monica converted her $10 in free slot play into $10 cash, gave it to me along with a $10 match play for the tables. She wanted me to win her a fortune. I wanted to win her $50. Before heading to the bus I foolishly sat down to play solo at a blackjack table. I bought in with $35. I managed to lose Monica’s $10 and match play on a hand, as well as my $25. A fitting end to an unlucky day of gambling.

I stepped inside Bill’s before heading to the bus stop. Kids were sure having fun at the karaoke/dance party going on at the stage. I’m too old to enjoy such frivolity. Maybe I’m just a 40-year-old curmudgeon.

I took the bus down to Sahara. Given it was after midnight I couldn’t redeem my $25 match play. It was rather dead in the casino. I was there on a Wednesday night in January 2007 and the casino had action. The place didn’t look like it was ready to collapse, but the men’s room stunk like fermenting urine.

I left without gambling, took the bus back to Riviera and went to bed, not liking the table conditions at Riviera.

Day 4 (Thursday)

Thursday was my day to sleep in, watch TV and contemplate life for a while. I opened the curtains so I could get a glimpse of Stratosphere from my bed. My room had a nice view of the casino roof and Circus Circus, but again, I didn’t care. The room was in decent shape. Not as nice as Orleans, but not as bad as I feared.

By the way, remember how I mentioned that the Pinball Hall of Fame had machines at Riviera? They had a bunch of them, and there were several old video games, too. They had about 10 classic pins of the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as another of my favorites, Cue Ball Wizard. One problem, Tee’d Off wasn’t working. The machine I love the most -- and would have dumped a bunch of money into -- wasn’t working. I was crushed. Had it been working, I’m sure my stay at Riviera would have included several sessions playing that machine.

I’m not sure how the arrangement between the Riviera and Pinball HOF works, but there’s no reference to the HOF at Riviera. There should be some sort of ad for the place.

The games are near the food court, which was always dead whenever I passed by. I know a weekday in early April is not the best barometer of how well the casino is doing overall, but I have to wonder how many of the businesses within it are surviving.

There’s also little sign of poker action at Riviera. Both Wednesday and Thursday afternoon I saw a dealer sitting at a table, waiting for players to sit down. When your casino doesn’t have any poker action, you’re in trouble.

It was a super windy Thursday in Vegas, and I took the bus back to Sahara. I had two of those crappy $1 hot dogs, saw a couple of dudes attempting a six-pound burrito in the middle of the afternoon and claimed my casino guide match play, hoping to cash in quickly by getting $25 ahead. I made my lone concession to playing a single deck 6:5 blackjack table because my only other $5 options were jumbo shoes. I sat in the hole for quite a while. I finally got a nice run during a brief heads-up session against the dealer. By the time I was up $25 I played the match play and proceeded to lose. That made me 0-for-5 on match plays. I was there far two long and finally departed with a consolation prize of two $1 chips.

By the way, the Sahara poker room, which I remember having been rather lively in the past, had no action on Thursday afternoon. One dealer was sitting there, waiting for table action. They might as well shut the poker room down at this point.

I took the bus downtown and headed straight to Main Street Station for the dinner buffet. On my way I was walking toward a guy hawking some sort of bracelet. He asked me if I had seen one of them before. I looked at it as I walked past him and said “I don’t think so.” He replied, “come here then.” I didn’t stop to waste his time and lecture him about being insulting in trying to hawk his goods. I wasn’t in the mood. That mood would come later that night.

It was steak and scampi night at the buffet. The steak had too much fat, but the shrimp was good. Overall it’s a good buffet, but I’m less of a buffet guy in my old age. I tend to eat too much mediocre food when I go to a buffet. I ate too much at MSS, but it was decent overall. I liked it better than the Orleans buffet.

I wandered throught the California and decided to sit down at a double deck table. Everybody there seemed to know Lynn, who was playing at the table. Before long her cousin Allison sat down. Allison was quite a bundle of energy. She had just arrived from Arizona, and after a few cocktails she was loud and a bit reckeless. She bought in with $100 and hit some nice payouts early. I think she pocketed several green chips before leaving the table. Her mom stopped by our table, as did another relative. I asked if it was a family reunion, and Allison said it’s always a family reunion in Vegas. I walked away three bucks ahead.

I then went to Fitzgeralds to play my favorite table game, Spanish 21. Nobody was playing, which irritated me, but I sat down and bought chips, hoping somebody else would sit down. I chatted with the dealer, a 23-year-old kid who has been dealing for a year. He’ll remain nameless. Nice kid.

Soon a woman named Cheryl sat down at the table. She was new to blackjack and it was her first time in Vegas. She had the most generic, basic strategy card I had ever seen. She didn’t have the strategy grid because she had trouble reading it, she told me.

I helped explain what she wanted to do, when and why as we played. We both lost a bunch of hands initially, but eventually things turned in our favor.

I won my only triple double down play, a $40 hand where I ended with 18. The dealer had a four showing. He turned up a 3. Then drew a 2. Any face card means he makes 19 and I lose $40. Instead he turns up a small card and then busts out, giving me the win. I think I was up as high as $130 on the table, playing mostly $5 hands.

Another woman, Sandy, joined us eventually, and she knew what she was doing, helping remind Cheryl when she should and shouldn’t hit. It was getting to be 1 a.m. and I was ready to call it a night. Cheryl had wanted to leave when she got $100 ahead, but decided to keep going for a while since she was doing well. She decided to leave the same time I did. I played the last hand of the shoe and bet for the dealer, hoping he’d win one more tip from me. We lost, and I finished $96 ahead.

I had kept my chips in $25 stacks all night, and had several pink $2.50 chips accumulated. I turned in $175 in chips, which was a bit confusing to count since I had about $30 in pink. The kid threw a $5 chip back to me and I figured I miscounted one stack. He counted it up as $150, and I thought that seemed off. So I asked to have it recounted. The pit prick came over and said it was $150. I still disagreed. I pointed out that one of the stacks in the $100 line didn’t seem right. There appeared to be an extra $20 stack. I questioned if I was seeing this correctly and he told the kid to push my chips back, as Cheryl was stacking up her chips. He told me to recount it and they’d cash in Cheryl. She cleared $225. I didn’t realize she had been doing that well. I was happy for her. I told her Spanish 21 is not the best table to be learning the game at since it has the bonus payouts and auto payouts, but she learned the basic strategey nonetheless.

I turned in $175 in chips, and this time they counted it correct. I told the kid I know mistakes happen and it’s no big deal, but I pointed out to him and the pit prick that they both had it wrong. The prick took offense to the idea he could have been wrong, pointing to the cage and telling me to leave. I told him to learn to do his job and get it right. He made a comment about me not being able to count. I just mocked his inability to do his job. I’m pretty sure he knew they both blew it when he insisted my chips be pushed back and recounted by me. I didn’t realize that was what he was doing at the time, but that’s my theory.

I suppose I didn’t have to be slightly obnoxious about the fact they got it wrong, but initially I simply pointed it out. The prick could have apologized, even if he thought he had been right all along, and defused the situation, but the monkey in a suit decided he needed to look flawless, no matter what it took.

On my way out the door I walked by the pit, waved to him and told him to learn how to do his job.

A quick bus ride back to Riviera found decent action in the party pit. The Riv’s party pit offer 7:5 blackjack and other bad rules, such as doubling only on 10 and 11. I had two free nights at Riviera and the casino never saw a dime of my action.

Day 5 (Friday)

I tried to get rolling as quickly as possible, but that’s easier said than done. I was in bed sometime after 2 a.m., but getting up before 9 a.m. was tough. I cleaned up, packed up, bought a couple of souvenirs and checked out.

As I was waiting to check out a dude in line told me, with no hint or irony, that he had a wild night last night, and did well last night playing blackjack in the party pit. He told me he more than doubled the $20 he started with.

From Riviera I took the bus to Tropicana and transferred to the 201, headed back to the Pinball HOF.

I played for a couple of hours, spending about $10, before heading back for my final night downtown.

On my way downtown I stopped at Harrah’s to look for a specific souvenir I didn’t find. I stopped in at O’Sheas as I proceeded down the strip. It was a busy Friday on the strip, and O’Sheas was like a frat party. O’sheas had beer pong, too. I also saw the new dice football game in play. I wasn’t about to learn the rules and join in the action. After watching it for a minute I headed back out to the bus.

It took forever to get downtown, but when I did I headed to Las Vegas Club, signed up for a player’s card and attempted to win cash playing solo blackjack. I won a couple of chips, bet my $10 match play and lost the hand, naturally. Make it 0-for-6.

I left and went to Benny’s Bullpen at Binion’s for a burger and beer with my $20 Groupon. I ordered an appetizer, but should have saved my credit for another beer. I had too much food and was too full for a second beer at the end of the meal.

I went back to Vegas Club, sat down with another guy at the most liberal blackjack table in the world, or whatever they call it. It has special rules, which you pay for via even money payouts on non-suited blackjacks. We raked in a few chips and I pulled out my second match play. I finally hit one. I cashed out for $50. Final tally on match plays, 1-for-7.

Among the tipsters working Friday night was a guy who had a pretty good Pee-wee Herman impersonation. He invited two girls to take a picture with him, and one girl joined him while the other took the picture. He mentioned tips are appreciated, but they stiffed him. They were under 21, I think. Perhaps they didn’t realize why the hucksters were out there.

I saw signs with trick questions on them, testing your intelligence. I stopped to read them and was approached by a dude who asked me what I thought the answers were. Upon answering the first question wrong I realized they were trick questions. He continued to ask me for answers and then segued into his relgious pitch. He asked me if I thought I was a good person and I told him no, without a hint of sarcasm. I explained to him that I consider myself a lousy human being, and that didn’t seem to bother him, he just continued with his pitch about Jesus, heaven, hell, etc. I told him I’d likely die before him, (I think he’s older than I am,) and that didn’t seem to concern him, either.

I didn’t mind that this guy was quoting the bible and quizzing me, but it seemed like it would never end. I finally decided to cut him off and tell him I was on my way back to my hotel room to brush my teeth and use the toilet. He thanked me for listening, gave me a card of propaganda and let me be.

I then went to Fitzgeralds to play Spanish 21. There was a player already there, so I got in on the action immediately. A couple of morons from California sat down and proved they don’t know a thing about startegy. Our dealer was super slow, and the card shuffler was broke, so she had to hand shuffle after each shoe. I left $39 down.

With an hour to go I opted to try my luck at El Cortez, walking past the future home of Insert Coins. I played single-deck blackjack and had little luck. Nobody at our table seemed to have luck either. I dropped $60 there.

I had a red-eye flight home Friday night, so I headed to Riviera to grab my bags and a cab. There was some atmosphere in the Riv, but it was weak. I think the Riv is the next to go. My theory: the implosion of Stardust and the loss of Westward Ho has killed the action on the north end. People who want low-roller action will always go downtown or off strip. Just as Sahara struggled to keep people coming in, so has Riviera. If Sahara can’t win by catering to the rednecks of the NASCAR world, Riviera’s days are numbered. Stratosphere seems to be aggressive in marketing itself, and has an attraction that nobody else offers. Riviera offers nothing special in an unspectacular location. Free rooms are the only way they’re going to get me to stay there again, and that might not be enough. If I had to make a choice, I’d stay at Orleans before I’d stay at Riviera, despite the perceived disadvantage of being off the strip.

I got to the airport too early and had to kill time waiting for the flight home. I snoozed on the plane, which typically isn’t easy for me to do, so that made the red-eye flight relatively painless. Too bad I had to wait an hour for Rush to pick me up at the airport.

It was my 17th trip to Vegas, as best as I can recall. I doubt it will be my last, but I’m not the same 26-year-old guy I was when I first when in January 1997 and my lust for Vegas is not the same, for many reasons. I hope the next time I go it will be with Rush, who hasn’t been to Vegas in more than a decade, and wants to play in a few poker tournaments. Here’s hoping!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

People #1

I have been looking at people in a very different way lately. I've been scrutinizing them, actually.

I've been analyzing their relationship situation to see if I can understand why it is the way it is. I am sure this is a direct result of the sobering reminder I received in February that I'm not that spectacular of a human being and I'm destined to live out the rest of my days as a slightly bitter recluse. Keep in mind I'm fine with that. We can only play the cards life deals us.

Nonetheless I can't help but wonder why. Why is Person A married? Why isn't Person B?

It's a new game I'm going to play for a few weeks, or more. I'm looking forward to it.

Today I'll start with Coworker A. She's quiet. Really quiet, and seemingly devoid of personality. She is sort of cute, but she has a "lights are on but nobody is home" look in her eyes. I'm not sure if gangly is the best word to describe her, but that's the closest word I can think of. My guess is that she is in her mid 20s.

I have seen her smile, but she seems so detached most of the time. One of my theories is that she had a highly sheltered upbringing. But maybe she's just quiet. I can't figure it out.

I imagine her to be a boring sexual partner. I really struggle to imagine her having wild, freaky tendencies in bed. She seems so awkward just walking around the office that it's hard to imagine her as a sexual gymnast.

If she has any hobbies, I can't tell you what they are. It would be interesting to spend a "typical" weekend in her world.

So why is Coworker A the first victim of my cruel speculation? We recently learned she is engaged.

Despite the fact she seems so devoid of personality and is physically awkward in ways that are hard to describe, she makes somebody very happy. Somebody (I'm guessing it's a guy) thinks he wants his life to revolve around another person who appears to have the personality of a beached dolphin. Is this guy her male counterpart, or is she librarian Barbara Gordon by day and Batgirl by night? I would love to know.

By the way, the announcement that she is engaged came from a coworker who brought it up, not by Coworker A. Although I had a sense that Coworker A had a significant other, I didn't know for sure. It wouldn't have surprised me at all if it turned out that she was single.

Bottom line: she is getting married and I'm borderline dumbfounded by it.

Good luck to them. I hope it works out. Being devoid of personality around the office isn't a crime, and I am sure Coworker A deserves a lifetime of happiness more than I do.