Friday, April 02, 2010

Vegas. Baby.

I’m not superstitious, but I should have known our Vegas trip was not going to end in riches when our hotel booked us into rooms on the thirteenth floor.

While we were looking forward to our first road trip with Yann and Felicie since Provence there were omens that luck was not with us: the enjoyment of our night gawking at the Strip was considerably reduced by Earth Hour, during which most of the major casinos turned off their ridiculously garish light displays in the spirit of environmentally sustainability. Who the hell goes to Vegas to be reminded about the needless excesses of consumer society?

The untimely restraint meant that the hour Amynah spent waiting for the famous Bellagio fountain show was wasted* – we gave up our primo viewing spots five minutes before it started, meaning we only caught a glimpse of it over a bunch of frat boys heads. (*Not entirely wasted - she found people's reactions to the gang of pamphleteers with their "Jesus Saves You... FROM HELL!" t-shirts to be pretty entertaining).

Strip with the lights on. Upon reflection, a less clichéed photo would have been the Strip with the lights off. Maybe next year.

As long as Sana was with us we were a little reluctant to enter the casinos either. Regretfully, the abundant smoking, drinking, and scantily-clad go-go dancers (not to mention the surfeit of Tea-Party types in town for a protest) didn’t seem conducive to creating and atmosphere for responsible parenting.

Of course, bare flesh was hard to avoid: every corner on the strip was populated by half a dozen guys handing out calling-cards for “professional companions.” At one point, Felicie complained that no one was trying to give her one, so I – chivralrous gentleman that I am – took one for her.

This was a big mistake: as soon as the rest saw that they had a willing taker, I was swarmed by half a dozen card snapping prostitute-proselytizers, shoving pictures of naked ladies in my face, into my hands, even directly into my pockets. For those keeping score at home: Susan, Veronica [the lone brunette], Kimberly, Mariah, Tina, and Victoria and Tiffany, who appear to be package-deal twins. To my disappointment, there wasn't a Honus Wagner in the bunch. It occurred to me that Vegas would be a very strange city in which to go through puberty.

Felicie awaiting her Philly Cheese steak. That tower on the table behind her? Beer.

That’s not to say we avoided sin entirely. On our first night, we inadvertently enjoyed quite possibly the most American – or least French, anyway – dinner of our lives. It was at a NASCAR-themed restaurant, with filled with March-maddened college basketball fans yelling at the half-dozen large screen TVs. Felicie and I had Philly cheese steak sandwiches, Yann had a pound-of-beef burger, and Amynah – eating light – had a Southern-style chicken sandwich with what appeared to be a hectare of fries. Though we were tempted, we refrained from ordering the two-foot long burrito that was the restaurant’s “challenge dish” – finish it, and you eat for free. “Bathroom breaks are monitored - vomiting voids the competition” said the announcer, drily.

Yann and his pound-of-beef burger

When Yann and I finally managed to hit the tables, we were a little tired and overwhelmed. Our practice games of Blackjack had only left us certain that we wanted to be the house. Nonetheless, (once Amynah had retired with Sana) we found a table with a sympathetic looking dealer, close to a lucky-looking go-go dancer, and bought some chips. Felicie went upstairs to change, but promised to return.

Somehow, despite our attempts to look worldly and Euro-sophisticated, the dealer, and our fellow players, spotted us for the hopeless rubes we were immediately. Every second hand, when one or the other of us would tap for another card, the dealer would look us, puzzled:

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” we’d reply, full of machismo. And then we’d lose.

At one point, Yann was up nearly one hundred bucks, while I was down to fifteen – the minimum stake for the table. Then he drew a pair and –with considerable guidance from an exceptionally inebriated man with horn-rimmed glasses – split it. I had no idea what was happening, and I’m pretty sure Yann didn’t either, but between Friendly McDrunkerson and the helpful dealer, Yann basically had his hand played for him. He lost. Then he lost a few more times, and pretty soon he was out.

Me, I went up as much as $45 dollars, but mostly floated between $15 and $30 – winning a little, immediately losing it, then winning it back. I never had as much as Yann did at the dizzying heights of his success, but I played longer. In the end though, I lost just as much, burning through my stake.

And while I tried to play it cool, Yann and I were both itching to get back on the tables: Yann’s goal was to win enough to pay off a parking ticket he’d incurred the day before, while I wanted to show that I could walk away even with “only” a fifteen dollar win (which, incidentally, would have required winning back my initial stake as well). We were both convinced – all evidence to the contrary – that we were on the verge of a breakthrough. We headed out of the casino, towards a bank machine. On the way there, we ran in to Felicie, on her way to join us.

“You’re done already?” she asked, incredulously.

“Errr…” we said, suddenly realizing we’d blown through our stated limit in less time than it had taken for her to change her pants. Perhaps, we decided, it would be better to simply have a drink, watch the go-go dancers without the distractions of babies or cards, and then turn in for the night.

However, if there’s a next time, I’m requesting a room on a different floor.

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