Flamingo Entrance 3Four years have passed since the events that catalyzed my resolve to keep this blog. Not that I have been particularly prolific or profound with what I write here, but the simple task of writing down anything that comes to mind has been a useful project to me. I’ve employed this blog for a few notable projects: to chronicle my recovery from the brain injury, to catalog what I’m reading, and most recently to remark on the work and experiences involved with the 2008 political conventions. Sometimes I talk about travels and entertainment. I fear that mostly I just stumble from thought to thought to shiny thing before asking myself: isn’t that what life often is? So here is my post about Pink Las Vegas. Last week Whirl and I traveled to Las Vegas with several friends to mark the anniversary of my brain injury. The annual Las Vegas trip has transformed into a ritual for us. A woman Whirl and I met described the annual celebration as “a second birthday” after we explained why we were in town. In a lot of ways that is exactly right. It marks a second chance at life — my life’s mulligan.

This year we stayed at “Bugsy” Siegel‘s Flamingo on the Strip. We played a lot of Pai Gow. I got a last minute ticket to see Jerry Seinfeld perform stand-up comedy in the Coliseum at Ceasars Palace. Mostly we played Pai Gow. I really like Pai Gow. Huggee told me about it several years ago when I was working at Midway. I’ve played it a few times since then, but this year we amped it up a notch and got a good chance to see what the game is really like. Pai Gow is a fun, social, slow-paced game. And it helps with recognizing poker hands. Actually, I should stop here and clarify. There are two major versions of pai gow: the traditional tiles-based game and the Americanized version of the game played with a 53-card deck of playing cards. Only the tiles-based game is truly Pai Gow. The card game version we played is more accurately called Pai Gow poker. As we arrived in Las Vegas just a day after Chinese New Year, finding traditional tiles-based Pai Gow was not difficult. Understanding how to play it was a challenge of a different order. Smokes considered learning one night at Harrah’s, but decided against it when he saw the posted minimum bets on the table. They were considerably higher than the limits we were playing on other games. And for an unfamiliar game played almost entirely in Chinese, that was just a bit too much of a gamble — even for Smokes. Maybe next year we’ll try it. After doing our homework.

Pai Gow ApprenticeSo we played Pai Gow poker. A lot of it. And we realized something about our trips. Each year there seems to be a game that everyone gets hooked on playing. The game of the year. Last year, it was Texas Hold ‘Em. The year before that, Wheel of Fortune. This year, Pai Gow poker. The first year we went, the first year back from my brain injury, we didn’t really have a definitive game that everyone played, but then most of us were fairly overwhelmed by the whole experience — and I certainly was still in partial recovery mode that year and hardly played anything at all. Dr. Rob made a strong case for teaching everyone Blackjack that year, but it never quite caught on. But this year, it was Pai Gow poker. It was not at all uncommon for me to leave the last one of our group up slowly grinding away at a pai gow table and then to find someone else first thing in the morning sipping coffee and making hands at the same table.

The GreenbacksThe gambling high point of the trip came early when Itsy Bitsy hit a royal flush in video poker and in an instant turned 25¢ into $1000. Actually, Itsy Bitsy was the lucky lady of the whole trip. Every game she touched cashed out for her in a big way. Bizzarre Star Trek-based slot machines had Scotty yelling at here and then spitting out hundreds. Wheel of Fortune made true on its name. She couldn’t lose. It was great fun to see the promise of the big Vegas payout actually happen. Well, big by our standards. By no means were we busting Vegas — decidedly low-rollers are we — it’s the joy in the illusion.

Farmboy and Princess FixIT met up with some friends they met on Azeroth. A couple of them were actually Las Vegas locals and that fact provided us with a bit of insight into a side of Las Vegas rarely seen. Since going back to Las Vegas in 2006 I’ve wondered what day-to-day life there might be like.

Tsai Shen Yeh & FriendsOur trip was bookended by Chinese New Year at the front and Superbowl Sunday at the back. Midweek the effects of the current economic recession were palpable. The energy we’ve seen in years past was missing. Deals, free upgrades, enticements were everywhere. Limits were low across the board. Come Friday leading into Superbowl weekend that started to change as more people came to town for the game. And by Saturday night the Strip was as busy as I had ever seen it, packed with people. As Whirl and I flew out of McCarren Airport on Sunday afternoon, I wondered what the hangover Monday might look like.

I’ve now made four trips to Las Vegas in the past four years. And despite the uncertainties in the economy, the job market, the pains of publishing industry in general and Tribune Company in particular — despite all these things this was the most comfortable trip for me. It makes me wonder if all of the volatility has gotten me more accustomed to change. More tolerant of upheaval. Have I finally come to some sort of resolution with the events of four years ago when my life was completely redefined?

It makes me happy to think so.