Tropicana 2The high-pitched squeals of children wake Sean and I barely three hours later. Blurry-eyed and disoriented, I can’t instantly place myself, but as my brain slowly comes back on-line, I realize I’m still in Vegas. I’m in Vegas and children are waking me up with squealing. I groan, roll out of bed and consider whether or not to call security. I figure they must have some sort of child lock-up facility somewhere in town – Alcatraz Kindercare, perhaps. This is one of the last remaining big kid’s playgrounds, after all. Sean shoves his pillow over his head and starts to snore again, so I let it all go and hope the shower will drown the noise sufficiently.

Somewhat refreshed after my long shower, I get ready for another day in Vegas! The thought makes me so cheery that when I come out of the bathroom and note the kids are now, for some reason, kicking the wall between our two rooms, I actually laugh while playfully pretend shooting the little rascals repeatedly with my finger gun. *BANG* kids, *bang* *BANG*!

We decide the time has come for a big breakfast and wander on down to the Island Buffet’s champagne brunch. By our second glass of champagne, John, Melissa and Brian have joined us at our table and we discuss trekking northward to Fremont Street. Sean decides he’d love to take the bus, because he’s never seen the entire strip. Melissa and Brian gamely agree to that adventure and John says he, Liz and Jim will take a cab and meet us down there. He waves goodbye and I hear him laughing as he walks away. Buses crack John up.

The Strip in the Day 2The bus ride certainly allows us to see more of the strip than we ever have before. We learn things. For instance, we learn there is a huge area on the north strip populated entirely by pawn shops, wedding chapels and ugly, boxy, cinderblock buildings devoted to the day to day functions of a city (the courthouse, the electric company, etc…).

Pioneer 2Personally, I don’t think Las Vegas should keep that kind of stuff out in the open. It’s too jarring. Who wants to think of glamorous and glittery call girls standing in line at the DMV? Or magicians in traffic court? Or that bottle flipping midget bartender dealing with his utility bills? This is exactly the type of reality all of us visitors are fleeing. So, if they absolutely have to have these types of buildings to keep their city running, they should take a page from Disneyworld. Either make a huge underground city where all the mundane stuff gets done in secret or, at the very least, disguise municipal buildings as giant slot machines or paint the outsides to look like dice.

I bet I’m not alone in this viewpoint. No, seriously. I bet $200. Ok, $150. Come on! *sigh*

It takes us about 45 minutes to make it from the front of the MGM to Fremont Street and, although I probably won’t choose to do that again, it isn’t a bad ride and we get some good chat time with Brian and Melissa. So, double dog bonus on that.

Stephanie, Melissa and Brian 2Fremont Street is pretty much deserted, as one would expect it to be in the early morning hours of a Saturday. We check out the old Vegas signs display and take some hammy pictures before hooking up with Jim, Liz and John. First stop, Binions and the famous Binions poker room.

Wedding Information?For some reason, Binions always disorients me. I think it might be all the mirrored walls, which I smack into at least once every time we go in there. Why a casino would set up hazards like that when most of its patrons have had little to no sleep and are zombieing around half drunk, I do not know.

We manage to make it back to the poker room and quickly check out the day’s tournament scheudule. Binions has four poker tournaments on the schedule and a special super satellite (I can’t remember all the details, but I think the super satellite was part of the Ultimate Poker Challenge show filming this year at Binions). At any rate, they are allowing alternates to buy-in to the super satellite for $140, so Melissa, who has HUGE balls, decides to go for it. She pays her money and the floor manager escorts her to her seat, leaving all of us standing in her wake, watching her go, mouths agape in awe.

Binion's Poker TableMelissa comes into the game with about 30 players left. The top four at the end of that game would go on to play in a second tournament late that night. The final table of THAT tournament would come back Sunday to play it all out on television!

The excitement of the moment stuns us all and we walk in circles for the next few minutes, confused. Brian shakes it off first and finds out that the 10 am regular tournament is underway, so he buys in and leaves us. I consider buying in, but don’t quite have my feet under me yet, so I decide to go wander the casino and save my money for a buy-in later in the day, possibly the 2 pm Binions tourny (just a note: I totally puss out of this tournament, even with Sean reminding me that I PROMISED last year I’d play this year at Binions. Binions scares me.)

Binion's Through the GlassJim and Liz go to the bar to grab a drink and John, Sean and I decide to wander the floor. We find a $5 Pai Gow table with seats open and buy in. The dealer is really nice, as are the other patrons at the table. The older woman next to me jangles every time she moves and I look over to see that she is wearing about 10 pounds worth of bracelets. She notices me looking and gives me a rundown. I believe most every semi-precious gemstone known to man had representation somewhere on her body.

We all play for quite awhile, I cash out about $10 down and tell the boys I’m going to go check on Melissa and Brian. Back in the poker room, I spot Brian pretty fast and see he has a decent chip stack in front of him. Good! But, as I search for Melissa, I note that her table is completely deserted! Something flutters in the corner of my eye and I turn. Melissa is standing outside, smoking, waving both arms at me and jumping up and down. I meet her outside and the poor girl can barely verbalize.

“Ohmygodohmygodohmygod…*squeak*…”

“Mel! Sheesh, calm down! You are going to hyperventilate. Deep breath. Deeeep.”

“Ohmygodohmygodohmygod…”

“Deeeep breath.”

“Oh. My. GOD!”

[Deep breath]

“I made the final table!! *squeaaaaak*!!”

“Holy SHIT!”

“*squeaaaaaak*!”

We jump up and down, hugging and Melissa tries to give me a rundown on the action. I get a few words, miss most but get the gist. She’s playing tight, has had a few good hands, hasn’t really lost anything and has a good chip stack at the final table. She’s made the money. Squeak, indeed!

She inhales the rest of her smoke and runs to the table just as the tournament director announces the end of the break. Beaming, I hurry back out into the casino to share the news with the gang. Everyone is dumbstruck and we all hurry back to the poker room to watch and cheer her on. Sadly, we can hardly see her from the rails, so we decide to wait elsewhere so we don’t distract other players.

I’m too excited to play anything, so I sit with Liz at the bar and slow-play some 5/4 Jacks or Better for a free drink. When I say free drink, I mean I actually paid $20 dollars for my weak ass drink using the video poker machine as a go-between between me and the bartender. And THAT is why you play 9/6 or better.

Brian and MelissaLiz and I chat excitedly about Melissa, revisit manta-poking just to make sure we haven’t forgotten our technique and have a grand ole’ time just hanging out before deciding to head outside and walk about a bit. We gather the gang and make it down the street a block or so when I get a text from Melissa, asking us to meet her back in front of Binions. Before we can even get there, she comes bounding out of the casino followed by a smiling Brian. She made it to 4th!! We all cheer, hug, become verklempt, twirl her around, rub her head for luck, etc…

Here’s how it went: When someone got knocked out in 5th place, Melissa decided to make a deal with the person. Instead of going on to play later in the evening, she gave her 4th place spot to 5th place and took the $575.00 5th place pay out!

We all discuss the merits of her decision, sure she would have won if she’d stayed in, but she holds fast, saying that she didn’t really want to come back down and was very happy with the money. I think she made a very sound financial decision, but even so, my personal thought? I think she had a hell of a chance to win that sucker!

Truth in AdvertisingWe finally get around to asking poor, ignored Brian how his tournament went. He says he played well against the circa 80 player field, but went out about half way through. He gets lots of hugs too, for possessing the second biggest set of cajones in the group.

I’ll say this now. Hell or high water, next year I play at Binions. There. I said it. I fully expect to go down early, but I am going to pony up and play in that room. And, I’ll just go ahead and put this in writing as well – I am NOT playing any Wheel of Fortune. Riiiight.

Golden Nugget 1The next hours on Fremont blur by. We all have a good contact high from proximity to Little Miss Winning Poker. I’m actually so full of hope and good vibes, I sit down with Liz and John at a packed Let It Ride table, maybe in the Golden Nugget. I cash out $40 up after hitting a straight, but the game still scares the shit out of me – the house edge is just a bit too insane.

Melissa shows us a tourny sheet she picked up outside a strip casino called O’Sheas the day before. The buy-in/blind schedule looks pretty good, so we decide to play that at 9 pm. Liz and Jim head back to the Trop and the rest of us meander around Fremont Street for the rest of the afternoon. At 5 pm, Brian, Melissa and I decide to catch a cab to the Trop so we can freshen up before the O’Sheas tournament. Sean and John stay on Fremont.

It takes forever to get a cab, but we finally make it back to the Trop. I go upstairs to relax for a bit and find out that, maaaajor bummer, I’d accidentally left our “Do Not Disturb” sign on our door that morning. Our room hadn’t been cleaned. Frick!

When I leave, an hour later, I happen upon a maintenance manager in the hall and admit what I’d done. I ask if there is any way, at this hour, we could get our room done. He smiles, says no problem and goes to jot our room number down on his pad.

“Oh, hey, room 5262?”

“Yeah?”

“Oh, well, you are already on the list for a check. Seems there is water leaking down from your room into the room below you.”

“Uh, I didn’t notice any water at all,” I say, slightly alarmed.

“Hmm, probably in the wall. Well, anyway, no problem at all. We’ll go in and check it over and give the room a clean while we’re at it!”

I try not to worry and thank the very nice man before hurrying down the hall to rendezvous with Brian and Melissa in the casino. Running a bit late, the three of us speed walk the 200 miles from the Trop to the monorail entrance in the far reaches of the MGM and then the next 200 miles through the Flamingo and down the strip to O’Sheas.

I swear to God, the casinos in Vegas are like the TARDIS in Dr. Who (thank you, John, for helping me remember that reference) – sure, they look big on the outside, but the insides go on for miles. They are way bigger on the inside than the outside could possibly contain. Anyway, finally, we arrive at O’Sheas with about 5 minutes to spare before tournament sign-up begins.

O'Shea's 1Let’s just say this – O’Sheas doesn’t knock our socks off. I am not going to dick on it for being small. I think its diminutive size is both quaint and a welcome relief from the mammoth proportions of most other strip casinos. And, well, I’m staying at the Trop, so the fact that O’Sheas is decidedly run down doesn’t really scare me either.

What spooks me as I walk through the doors (and I am fully aware I’m showing my age with this one) is the clientele. It looks like a giant fraternity party gone berzerk. John aptly starts calling it “Fratsino”. Everyone looks about 15 years old and on the verge of either falling over, ripping their clothes off, putting their head through a wall in a testosterone driven frenzy, being ill or, in some cases, all of the above. And the cover band. Holy crap. I have simply never heard a worse cover band in all my life.

As we walk in, the lead singer launches into Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believing”. On my best day, I loathe Journey. I only tolerate that song because when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series, some of the players jokingly made that their song and it stuck, so it brings back fond memories. But, damn! This guy gets through about 3 lines, tries to hit the first high note and blood starts trickling out of my ears. We search wildly for the poker room and run for it when we spot the sign, near the back of the casino, by a large, blindingly fluoresced mall-type food court with a Baskin Robbins and a Burger King.

I read somewhere, though I know not where now, that O’Sheas used to have two poker tables set up out front, literally on the sidewalk of the strip. The description was hilarious and said something like, “It looks like two decrepit poker tables fell off the back of a garbage truck one day and the O’Sheas employees rushed out, grabbed them and quickly set them upright before putting an “O’Sheas Poker Room! Open for Business!” sign on each.”

Thankfully, the poker tables are now in back. The poker room consists of four tables, packed edge to edge into this tiny, dimly lit alcove that smells faintly of strained peas. It’s an improvement of sorts, I suppose. We all stop and peer into the poker hole. I can tell from their expressions that Melissa and Brian are having a hard time not turning right back around and getting the hell out of Dodge. That’s certainly what I’m thinking. But a young man standing at the entrance catches us with his smile and waves at us, beckoning us over.

His name is Sean and he is the poker room director. He turns out to be a very, very cool cat. Thanks to him, we set aside our reservations and sign up for the tournament, noting John and Sean’s names already on the list. With two hours to kill, we beat feet out of frat party central back out onto the strip.

I get a text from Sean. He and John want to see the volcano explode at the Mirage. I head out to meet them there, but Melissa and Brian beg off as their feet are killing them and they just want to sit down somewhere and have a drink.

Volcano Erupts at the MirageI reunite with John and Sean in front of the Mirage minutes before the Famous Mirage Volcano Extravaganza. I note right off, Sean seems sheepish. John seems tired. I find out that they took the bus from downtown to the Venetian (John: “That bus ride is something I’ll never do again.”). Because it was rush hour, the ride was fantastically long. Then, they walked all over so Sean could take pictures.

Sean apologizes to John about 7 million times for dragging him all over hell and gone, until John finally pulls me aside and begs me to help him convince Sean that he isn’t upset about it and had he not wanted to walk around with him, he simply would not have done so. I think we finally managed to calm poor Sean down. For the record, Sean’s pictures blew us all away when we got home, so kudos!

As we soothe Sean, the volcano behind us sputters. We turn with the gathered crowd to witness the spectacle. For the next 5 minutes or so, a couple of gas jets that look like they might have been pilfered from some poor soul’s backyard barbecue spit flame and the speakers kick out a boom or two.

“Oooo…” John snorts.

“Ahhh…” I reply.

“Oh! Wow, well … that’s pretty!” Sean says, pointing as light beams through the side of the plastic volcano in a lame simulation of lava flowing.

“Gorgeous.” John says.

“Inspiring.” I agree.

“Jesus. Quit bitching. At least it’s warm,” Sean mutters.

Although the “eruption” is less than inspiring, we are all glad we can tick it off our Vegas to-do list. As we walk back to O’Sheas, we discuss possible improvements and finally agree that the show would be worth catching if a flaming Celine Dion shot out of the center and fireballed into the lagoon to the strains of the Titanic theme song. Sadly, we can’t find a suggestion box, so I’m pretty sure the eruption is still lame and Celine Dion is still alive and singing.

“So, what did you guys think of O’Sheas poker room,” Sean asks as we walk.

“Daaaaamn,” I groan. “We got in there and almost turned around and walked right back out.”

“Yep, that’s exactly what we wanted to do,” John laughs.

“Ah well,” I say, trying to sound cheerful. “What the hell. At least we’ll play some poker!”

We get back to O’Sheas right in time for the cover band to start, “Life is a Highway”, I shit thee not. I feel a vein in my forehead start to throb and offhandedly worry about a Tom Cochrane induced brain embolism. I head to the bathroom before the tournament and have to wait in line behind about 20 giggling, drunk, chattering college girls, half of whom either have just been sick or are just about to be sick. Man, I’m glad those days are behind me.

Surprisingly, all 27 seats have filled for the tournament. Melissa, Sean and I end up at the same table and settle in. We meet and greet our fellow players and, honestly, the group seems kind of diverse and fun. Our dealer sits down and he turns out to be a great guy. Tournament Director Sean signals the start and the cards fly.

Time Lapse of the Gondola at the VenetianI hate to even record this, but poor Sean just didn’t have a good tournament weekend. Very early into the tournament, he pushes all-in and gets popped – out in 25th place. As he gets up to leave, I can tell he is NOT happy. I exchange bummed looks with Melissa.

About mid-way through, John busts and goes to find Sean. We take a quick break some time after and I see the two of them at the dingy bar. I wince and head over, slipping my arms around my baby’s neck in a consoling hug. As it turns out, he’s pretty cheery. John’s been a champ counselor and has pretty much talked Sean out of his post poker-bust blues. They decide to hang around until the tournament finishes.

When we get back, the tables collapse and a super-tan, leathery looking old guy sits down in seat 7, two to the left of me. He seems pretty drunk and makes little to no sense, but prattles on and on and on anyway. We get a new dealer named Charlie. Melissa and I start to laugh and say, “Charlie! We’re going to Candy Mountain, Charlie!” in twin falsettos. Everyone stares as we crack up. Charlie turns out to be a great dealer, as one would expect from a grumpy unicorn.

Mr. Leather-face completely tanks the happy table vibe at one point by throwing a weird fit. Melissa takes him for a pot and after another hand goes by, he starts bitching and asking for the tournament director. Charlie calls TD-Sean over and Leather-face shocks us all by pointing over at Melissa.

“Sir? Sir? I have a complaint. This girl is cheating. She has chips that shouldn’t be here.”

Melissa looks around the table, aghast. She stares at me and I stare back. WTF is this guy talking about?!? Leather-face keeps going on about chips this and chips that and TD-Sean tries very hard to puzzle out what the hell this guy is upset about.

Smokin' Good TimesFinally, Leather-face says, “Yeah! She has chips that shouldn’t be in her stack! They should be in mine! Bwa-ha-ha!”

Hye-fricking-larryous.

TD-Sean admonishes the guy for wasting everyone’s time and Charlie deals the cards. The rest of us glare. Next hand, I get two queens and push in for 4 times the blind. The guy next to me folds. Leather-face looks over at me, laughs, pushes all his chips in and then tries to stare me down.

Oh. Yes.

I don’t even pause before I push my own stack in. I can’t even remember what he had, but it was lame. Leather-face loses and gives us a final bitch performance before leaving the table. Instantly, our good table vibe is back – everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

After awhile, we collapse down to final table and wonderfully, Brian, Melissa and I are all still in! We notice the high stack at the table has a monstrous chip lead and look him over. He has the whole poker garb thang going on – huge headphones, sunglasses, backwards baseball cap. As we start to play, I realize this kid actually knows what he is doing, despite the get-up. It doesn’t take long before he takes his first person out. He gets Brian next, finishing him in 8th place. And so it goes until it comes down to five.

We take a break and shoot the shit with Charlie the dealer and TD-Sean. When play resumes, I get K-Q low-stacked and flop a rainbow with a Q for high pair. I push all-in and the guy next to Headphones calls. He flips over A-Q and it’s all she wrote. No help on the turn or river for me and I go out in 5th. Headphones takes Melissa out shortly thereafter. Charlie and TD-Sean hang with Melissa and I for a minute and convince us to come back the next night. Will do!

Even though O’Sheas lacked any sort of tolerable ambiance, at least for our set, we seriously enjoyed that tournament and the staff. The competition was even pretty good, once we got a few of the idiots out of the way! All in all, a surprisingly good time.

ResistanceOn the way back to the Trop, Melissa talks Sean into playing a cash game back at home base. He reluctantly agrees and Brian, Melissa, John and Sean head into the Trop’s poker room to play a little $1/$2 no-limit. I need some poker downtime, so I play a little blackjack (lose $40) and come back in time to see John and Brian cashing out.

The three of us decide to sit at the bar and jaw awhile while we wait for Sean and Melissa, so I order us all shots of whiskey – Jack for John and Maker’s Mark for Brian and I. We clink glasses and upend. Instantly, my throat hits solar temperatures. I smell colors, regress to man-ape, shoot through the cosmos into the future and watch “Life is a Highway” come out of the speakers over my head as little dancing nun notes. I realize the 5 outer layers of my brain have just melted off.

I look over at Brian and John and recognize hazily that neither of them are breathing. We’ve all taken on a crimson hue. When we can speak again, about an hour later, we first wonder what the HELL we just drank, because it sure wasn’t whiskey! Second, we decide that they obviously cut both the Jack and Maker’s with grain alcohol and rocket fuel. Third, we order another round. Good times.

Sean rolls out of the poker room at about 2am and he’s smiling big. He’s up over $100 and so thankful that the gang, particularly Melissa, talked him into playing. It’s completely taken the edge off his hard tournament beat-downs. Excellent! I give him a great big hug and smooch.

“Jesus, hon, have you been drinking rocket fuel?”

“Why yes! I have! But, they call it Maker’s Mark here at the Trop.”

When Sean and I get back to our room, it is spic -n- span. Way to go Trop hospitality! Sean hides the “Do Not Disturb” sign from me while I go in to wash my face and brush my teeth.

And now, I will give you a little anecdote that illustrates why the Trop has such a kick-ass staff. I have this vitamin C powder, from Philosophy, for my face. It comes in a little vial with a little spoon. You take a bit of the fine white powder and mix it with your moisturizer in the morning to give you skin a little extra pep. It’s pretty good stuff.

As I walk into the bathroom, I see fresh, neatly folded towels and a sparkling sink and vanity, save for one spot – it seems I’d spilled a bit of my vitamin C powder on the vanity that morning. The staff had very kindly washed all the way around it, but left the little white line of powder completely untouched. Now, had I been someone else entirely, they might’ve saved me a hundred bucks. As it was, they just made me right proud. Kudos Trop hospitality!

We go to bed an hour later and drop off to sleep, even with the kids still kicking the walls. Who the hell lets their kids stay up until 3am?!?

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