I’m back from Vegas, exhausted and poor, but happy. The weekend held so many experiences that it’d take hours to write each one in sufficient depth. Besides being too exhausted to commit that much energy, I have no doubt that most of it would only be exciting to me. Vegas stories fall into the classic “you had to be there” category because, at its core, every Vegas trip is really just an exaggerated road trip. I’m going to laugh hysterically at the memory of these stories for years, but I understand that because you weren’t there, I’ll laugh harder at them than you. So I’ll sell the punch line early for each vignette. Once sold, I’ll stop.
I know budget airlines are all the rage, but please, if an airline wants to try the budget route, they must have a think on it first. To get to Vegas, I flew a combination of United and Ted. I haven’t flown United in years because Southwest is usually the cheapest alternative to everywhere I travel, but United had the best combination of price and schedule. Every trip flight this weekend revealed that United changed since my last experience. I don’t remember them ever trying to be a budget airline/Southwest, so their new endeavor surprised me. I did give it chance, but I hate it.
United/Ted somehow believes that I want to be treated like a cow in a herd. I don’t. When I board the plane, I want logic and convenience. Airlines such as United used to offer that, but it’s gone. The boarding process felt like Southwest without any thought process. Southwest’s boarding process is tedious, but somehow it almost always works. No matter when I board the plane, there is always a seat in the front, middle, and back of the plane on the aisle. Wherever I feel like sitting for the flight, I have the choice. I’m sure there’s a theory for why it works, but I don’t know it. It’s probably the same personal motivation people have for sitting in the same seat in a classroom or meeting. Seat assignments aren’t necessary, as anyone who’s taken a class in college knows. The seating just works itself out. It’s the “private market” at its finest. Until United/Ted implemented it.
When the easy check-in machine printed my boarding pass, I read my seat number printed on the ticket, along with my Seating Group. It should’ve been simple. Instead I learned the torture of the Seating Group. Rather than group seating by row number, United/Ted uses some bizarre combination of check-in time, seat price, frequent flyer status, and astrological sign. There is no logical purpose to this beyond a cheap, stupid imitation of Southwest.
My journey’s most glaring proof of this idiocy occurred Sunday night as I caught the red-eye from LAX back to D.C. At 11:30 pm, I don’t want to stand around until it’s necessary for me to board. I want to sit in the terminal, not scrunched up with people. I don’t like people that much, so the normal procedure is good. But my seat was in the next-to-last row, which meant I needed to board first. Except United/Ted disagreed. I was in the next to last group to board, even though I’d checked in five hours earlier in Vegas. That meant that everyone in the front and middle of the plane boarded first, standing in the aisle, blocking the line on the walkway back to the terminal for those of us in the back. Brilliant strategy.
Unfortunately, in an effort to be witty and hip, like Southwest, the flight attendants also tell jokes. Upon landing in Vegas, the stewardess commented about the casinos on the right side of the plane as we taxied to our gate. She opined this:
If you look out the windows on the right, you’ll see the casinos where you lost your money the last time you were here. (pause) Now, if you look out the windows on the right, you’ll see the 3 or 4 casinos being built with the money you’re going to lose here this weekend.
That’s not funny. She thought she was being amusing, but all she did was wave her little have-shitty-luck fairy dust over everyone. I’m superstitious with a healthy bit of intellectual skepticism, but I attribute every bad beat of the weekend to her. I even questioned my decision to wear my 2005 Phillies spring training t-shirt on Saturday because the Phightin’s had lost every time I’ve worn it. I gambled on the Phillies Saturday, so I wanted to eliminate every disadvantage I could. I wore the t-shirt, which is where the skepticism came in, but the game was much tighter at the end than it should’ve been, which is where the losing ways of the t-shirt still lingered. I credit the gambling with breaking the curse of the t-shirt, but it took my effort and thought. There was no way to counter that
stewardess’ waitress’ comment, though. My last 24 hours in Vegas proved that her torpedo hit its mark. After her comment, the only bet I’d win is the one that says my dollars will fly elsewhere in the future.
Cousin Eddie: I haven’t seen a beatin’ like that since somebody stuck a banana in my pants and turned a monkey loose.
During my first 24 hours in Vegas, I crushed the Blackjack tables. I lost my small bets and won my big bets. If I wagered $50 on the hand, the dealer would hit me a seven after dealing me a fourteen facing a face card. My streak was sick. I couldn’t lose. Every time I sat at a table, I doubled my initial stake within twenty minutes. It didn’t matter who sat at the table or how many people. I rocked. And then…
Clark Griswold: Twenty.
Marty: Twenty. It’s a push!
Clark Griswold: Hey, its a tie! I didn’t lose!
Marty: That’s it, Griswold! Now you’re freakin’ dead!
I played the $5 single-deck table, doubling my bet with every hand and returning to the minimum with every minimum. There’s nothing illegal about the strategy, and it won’t make anyone rich, but it’s a perfect strategy with a good bankroll to sustain it. Vegas casinos know this, so they set the table maximums at a sufficient level low enough to bust almost everyone on a bad streak. I hit that bad streak. I lost (a loss or a push) nine consecutive hands before busting my stake for the round. My actual loss wasn’t huge, but I’d built a 125% return on my stake before the streak hit. I could’ve left the table before the streak, but it came so suddenly that I missed the signs. When the sign hit, I tilted mentally. It’s a lesson I mastered the rest of the weekend, but I tilted at the sign.
What was the sign? I put my original table stake on a hand after a string of losses. The dealer flipped the cards around the table. (Casinos deal single-deck Blackjack face down to limit card counting.) I pulled Blackjack, with a payout of 6-to-5. Except the dealer pulled Blackjack, as well. With her Ten face up and her Ace face down, I couldn’t purchase insurance, which I would have done if the Ace came out as the up card. Instead of doubling my money, I pushed. When that happens, get. up. immediately. I didn’t and I lost the rest of the weekend.
I turned my luck into small gains with diligence, but then my own version of Vegas Vacation’s Marty showed up at the table to take it away. She pummelled me so badly that I sat down, ordered a bottle of water, and busted out before my water arrived. Tipping the waitress with the last dollar chip is not funny, not funny, not funny. Every gambler should learn that when his “Marty” shows up, he must leave the table. It’s not hard. Just stand up, push the chair back, and walk away. I wish I’d made the connection before; it would’ve saved
me from paying so much for a tiny bottle of water.
Craps Experiment 2005 was a bust. Unlike Mr. Papagiorgio, I threw three 7s on my first roll after the come out roll. After, not on, which means I lost. And lost. And lost. I’m convinced they made me play with loaded dice. I’ll play again, but sheesh, at least buy me dinner first.
I saw this Blackjack scenario, not once, not twice, but three times this weekend. I swear I wish I was making this up. That’s a lie, actually, because it was so awesome that I took actual glee in the bizarre reality of it. Consider:
Lois: I’m upset because you never listen to me. This is Atlantic City all over again.
[Lois and Peter at Blackjack table]
Dealer: You’ve got 20!
Peter: Hit me.
Lois: Peter, don’t.
Peter: Hit me.
Peter: Hit me.
Peter: Hit me.
Dealer: That’s 30.
Peter: Hit me.
I love quoting movies and TV shows during life’s random correlations, so I quoted that the rest of the weekend after the first time it happened. That I got to use it two more times made my head hurt in the same way it would if I’d finished a slushee in 30 seconds. Wow. Just wow. Vegas really is the land of dreams.
(For the record, the dealer didn’t give the next card once the players hit 21, but still… have you ever seen someone try to hit on 21? I didn’t think so.)
That was the weekend. I can’t wait to go back. I can’t afford to go back, but I still can’t wait.