A Vegas diary… Terry, Bob, Ellen and Richard on tour in 2004
8 days in Vegas… days three and four


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Three: Las Vegas.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on December 30, 2004. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Day three, Sunday, December 12, 2004

“Is it 9 o’clock there? It’s 12 o’clock here.”

That was the observation... from Tigg’s mom... that woke us up this morning.

After well over 14 hours on the strip last night ended at about 1am, along with a couple of shows on television when we got home to unwind before heading to sleep… a 9am wake-up call from Terry’s mother.


I have to be honest, I never expected to get a wake-up call in Vegas. I don’t think they even offer such a service at any of the hotels out here.

I will give her credit though. When she calls us, it’s usually 9am on a Sunday morning. At least she recognized the time change and didn’t wake us at 6am.

Some news about sports that I offer for a strange reason… I’m completely cut off from the world I know at home. Tigg… Richard… Ellen… none of them really has much of an attention span for sports. (I know... and I don’t understand it either.) Now… expand that concept into Vegas and the possibilities of a sports book. I’m looking for places to sit down for the game and they’re walking past every television, lounge, or sports betting location as if it’s in the way, just taking up space (if they notice it at all). The end result is that with the exception of perhaps five minutes of television late at night or when I first got up, I wasn’t getting much news. So…

I’m missing the sports packages of home. The only game on as Tigg gets ready is Minnesota-Seattle. See? Most of you are nodding with me in sympathy. Out of Tigg, Richard and Ellen, I don’t think any of them know Seattle’s team is called the Seahawks.

We meet up with Ellen and Richard, and find out that they are having more fun with their room. Evidently the thermostat is broken. It’s been about ninety degrees in their room for most of the night. They were delayed while waiting to get in touch with maintenance.

Time to catch the shuttle to the Rio.

When we finished off this day, Tigg, Richard and Ellen felt that the Rio was the most fun casino they had been to… ever… and felt that same way at the end of the trip. Overall I would agree. Between the parade in the sky (we saw the Christmas Holiday Show in the Sky) and the staff interacting with guests, the Rio easily went beyond what we saw from any other casino property.

We ate lunch at the Sao Paulo Cafe. It was alright. Nothing outstanding. Out of six lunches we ate in Vegas, it probably would rank no higher than sixth. I do notice one thing though… our waiter deliberately went to the ladies at our table first. I hadn’t been paying attention at the other restaurants so far, though I do recall seeing them served first before. But here our waiter took their orders, served their drinks, and placed their food on the table first. And now that I am watching, it is a practice that continues at every place for the rest of the trip.

I was distracted. There wasn’t much room at the blackjack tables, and I wasn’t in the mood for roulette. What I was in the mood for was football. So, after lunch we split up and, with the sports book packed and no seats open at all, I took off for the keno lounge. I played a few games over the course of the next ninety minutes, watching three different games on three televisions located in the lounge.

About the parade…

We have reservations for dinner at 7:30pm. Those are at the MGM Grand, for a restaurant called Fiamma. With the parade in the sky taking place at 4pm, we are planning to watch it, catch the shuttle so we can head back to our rooms to change, and then head over to dinner. There’s plenty of time to do that, but not enough time to waste much.

The parade was pretty good. Continuing the Mardi Gras approach to things, the performers give out beads. They have about five floats suspended from the ceiling. They are on tracks, and they come out of a section of the wall and then move around above one of the gaming zones. They also put on a short stage show. And this is where it gets interesting…

As the show ends, it becomes evident that they are going to have a photo session on the stage. There’s a shirtless man with a few beads, and also two beautiful girls. Ellen and Richard are standing near me, and while I may be wrong I am almost positive I heard her say to him: “If you want to go have your picture taken with the girls, go.” He didn’t. I on the other hand asked Tigg if she wanted to have her picture taken. Once she said no, she told me to go ahead. And I did.

As is the case with so many places today… theme parks come to mind as the best example… Las Vegas is filled with “have your photo with” opportunities. And, the picture taken of me with two lovely ladies does come at a cost… plus, unfortunately, it won’t be ready to look at for about 45-minutes to an hour. Yikes… no time!

Even though they ask people not to take any other pictures, I had Tigg and Richard ready to snap some shots when I was on the stage. Richard got a decent shot, but it’s from a distance and I can’t tell how good it might be. (Ellen and Richard have never used our digital camera before.) So… trust in Tigg to have some great shots, or buy the pictures? I trust Tigg very much... and I also want to buy them.

But there’s no time right now.

I check in the store and find out that they hold the shots for 24-hours. So, I have until about 4pm on Monday to get back to the Rio and pick them up.

We head back to the hotel and change, then catch a cab over to the MGM Grand. We arrived just after 6pm. Tigg checks our reservations at Fiamma and then I head over to claim my two winning NFL wagers. I made five. I’m seriously considering killing my planned article on football bets for the web site. 2 out of 5 is not exactly the record to go with for that. But hey… an even record would work if I could reach it. Seeing the combined over for Kansas City and Tennessee above 50 points, I placed a bet on the under for Monday night’s game.

Back to Fiamma for dinner.

Our waiter’s name was Aaron, and he was absolutely fantastic. The menu was a bit different… more formal… based on three courses, not including dessert. He talked with us about wine selections. He ran through the menu with us, and when we ordered he made some suggestions about possible alterations and options. There were a couple of mistakes made… a wrong entrée for Richard, a lost drink for me… but Aaron very quickly and efficiently took care of them. Here’s a thought that sums up his fabulous service… when there are a couple of problems with the meal and you still come out of the restaurant thinking you’ve had a terrific dinner with extraordinary food, then you can just about always bet the service was outstanding.

And the food was too. Here are some notes about our meals…

Antipasti ~ I had a bresaola, which was a thinly sliced and cured beef tenderloin served with arugula, parmigiano, pine nuts and olive oil. It was alright, but I should have gone with my first impulse… mozzarella. The trouble was, Ellen, Richard and Terry all expressed their interest in the mozzarella appetizer too. I made the mistake of thinking they would share… which the greedy bastards really didn’t… and I wound up just tasting a small smidgen of Tigg’s (no… I’m not really mad… and they aren’t greedy bastards… I just know now, having had a small taste, that theirs was much, much, much better).

Pasta ~ I have always wanted to try Kobe beef. So, with Kobe beef meatballs on the menu, there was nothing to debate here. Ellen and Richard felt the same and went that way. They were very good, served on a bed of delicious fresh pasta.

I’m not going to mention anything more about the menu or our specific orders for the secondi course, since the mozzarella and Kobe beef were the two big things and everything else was good enough that I feel comfortable recommending it no matter what you select. I do want to mention two final things though. First, Tigg and I decided on a single side dish… mascarpone polenta. It was great. We made a mistake once years ago, in a restaurant that offered several dishes a la carte, of ordering two or three similar ones and leaving most of the orders behind. Well, here we ordered just one and it was more than enough for all four of us to taste and have decent portions from. (Well, go figure, I shared my side dish with all three of the greedy bastards. But again, I’m not bitter.) Second, save room for dessert.

We walked out of the restaurant and passed by the lion habitat. Every time we were in MGM during this trip, we found we were too late to have our pictures taken with lion cubs. The habitat opens in the late morning and stays open until later in the evening. It seemed to us that the picture with the cubs opportunity was held when it first opened and in the very early afternoon. Can’t say anything more about it… we missed it, but wished we hadn’t.

Across the street to New York – New York.

We didn’t stay here too long. I happen to love the real New York City. I find it pretty easy to get around once you orient yourself. I found this casino version to be uncomfortable and cramped. We were in and out of the property in about 20 minutes or so and never returned during our stay to find out if that first impression was wrong. One very neat thing about this property though… there is no mistaking it. Between the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Statue of Liberty, and even the Brooklyn Bridge, it is very easy to recognize.

On to Excalibur.

It’s actually not one of the oldest properties in Las Vegas, having opened in 1990, but it sure feels older. Nestled between the Luxor and New York – New York, the Excalibur does not present the flash and glamour found in many of the newer properties. I was very surprised to learn that it cost $290 million to construct. That seems low to me for a 1990 property such as this.

Tigg and I sat down at a roulette table. Nick was the dealer and he was very good. I was sitting at the far end of the table, and he quickly picked up on my bets around the area of the first twelve numbers and within three spins was placing them for me. I didn’t win a lot, but we left the table ahead when Nick hit a break. (I can get uncomfortable if I’m playing roulette, winning a little bit, and the dealer I’ve been playing with reaches a break. I don’t know why. This is especially true when I’m only planning on staying at a property for a short time. I either change my bets completely or leave the table. I also have to have a drink with ice cubes in it. But… umm… I’m not superstitious or anything.) So Tigg and I left and moved on to play some single-deck blackjack. Trouble was, it was a full table. Completely full. So, we were only seeing one or two hands per shuffle though the table minimum was higher as a premium for the single-deck option. Tigg and I were both up about $10 when we decided to call it a night.

Interesting last thought about the Excalibur. For the first time on this trip, I saw a coin redemption machine at a cashier window. Up until now, every slot machine I’d seen… playing and just watching… paid out with tickets.

Day four, Monday, December 13, 2004

Must get to the Rio by 4pm...

Must get to the Rio by 4pm…

Must get to the Rio by 4pm…

It’s our third morning in the Fairchild Resort, and we are soon three for three in morning problems. First it was the open door. Then it was the thermostat. This time, it’s in our room and the first of our fires.

Tigg put an English muffin in the toaster and then went off to dry her hair (or something… I rarely pay attention to her morning make-up, hair drying routine… in any event, she’s in the bathroom). I’m looking for a glass so I can get some juice. I look down at the toaster… and…

I see a flame!

Ok… I’ll grant you… it’s not a big one. Not a stop-in-your-tracks, get-out-of-the-room, call-911 fire!

It’s a burning muffin.

But I ask you -- How many hotels have you stayed in over the course of traveling in your life? And the total number of fires you have encountered… big or burning-muffin-small… would be?

Ok… back to our story.

“Tigg, you started a fire.”

“Cut it out.”

“No… really… fire.”

(Coming around corner) “You’re too calm for a real fire.”

“It’s your muffin.” (Pulling it from toaster)

“Oh… guess I’ll have a donut.”

End of emergency. Back to the day.

We have an interesting problem ahead of us… if you want to call it a problem. Because of show tickets we already have, our only two free nights remaining are today and Thursday. Not wanting to make specific plans for the last night, we have decided to head over to Fremont Street tonight. So, between getting to the Rio and then heading over to Fremont Street early but after dark (somewhere between 5pm and 6pm), we aren’t sure exactly where we want to head for the afternoon or what we want to do to eat. Also, after ripping apart our plan of visiting sections by walking the main part of the strip virtually top to bottom on Saturday, there are lots of places we want to go, but nothing that we haven’t already seen a bit of, that we really want to do, and that will also work in a three or four hour window.

The plan is finally made based on the Adequatefield Resort shuttle. We plan to go to the Rio for my souvenir pictures, and then get dropped off near Harrah’s. (Side note… our resort runs a shuttle that goes to the Rio and to Harrah’s, and there’s also another shuttle running between those two properties. There are shuttles and connections between properties all over the place. Learn them… find them… huge help once you understand them, especially when the new monorail isn’t running, which I’ll get to.) Once we get dropped off at Harrah’s, we are going to walk through The Mirage, and then go see Treasure Island and The Venetian.

Nothing too eventful happens until we get to Harrah’s. (I did get my picture… and it is fabulous.) A restroom break leaves me wandering around an area of shops, and I start looking at some jewelry. A pair of earrings with a matching necklace catches my eye. Tigg likes longer chains, and I’m not sure if she’ll like the earrings. So, when she comes out I show them to her.

She loves them.

“Ok, let’s get over to The Mirage,” I say as Ellen and Richard join us.

“Right,” Terry agrees, “because you have to win me $150 so you can by me some jewelry!”

Eddy is dealing blackjack at a $5 table when Tigg, Richard and I sit down. I’m pretty sure he’s been dealing blackjack since before I was born. In about an hour, Tigg and I are up enough combined to buy the necklace and earrings, along with our lunch. I like Eddy.

Interesting side note about Tigg and I gambling on this trip... which you can use to occupy your time while the two of us go back across the street to buy the necklace. I don’t know exactly how much we won in Las Vegas, but we were up on our gambling. And here’s how I know…

After winning at the Monte Carlo on Saturday night, Tigg and I started paying for most of our meals in cash. Ellen, Richard, Terry and I had exchanged some thoughts about not wanting to go to an ATM and pay outrageous fees to withdraw money. We also wanted to try and keep our losses controlled. So, we talked about which of us would pick up which check so things stayed balanced between the couples on shared expenses, and planned to use credit cards for purchases in the gift stores and at restaurants. On Saturday night, as we ended day two, I had about $250 in my pocket. Tigg wasn’t using any of her money really, and that total didn’t include the money we had brought but saved as a backup. It was just what I had after the first full day in Vegas. The next day… after paying for lunch and our portion of the Fiamma bill in cash (again… great restaurant… but expensive)… I went back to the room and ended the second full day with about $250 in my pocket. It made some sort of funny mental note in my mind… I hadn’t planned on deliberately not using credit cards, still I hadn’t used them, and look at that… still at $250!

Now, two hours out of the hotel room on the fourth day of the trip, I have my pictures from the Rio, Tigg has a necklace and earrings, and -- as I put away my change from buying the jewelry -- I have over $250 in cash in my pocket. Between meals and tips, and t-shirts and pictures, and cab fares and gratuities, Tigg and I have been using cash and haven’t been charging much. We aren’t earning thousands, but every time I take out my wallet… it seems to have $250 in cash when I put it back. We are definitely holding our own so far.

Ok… necklace and earrings in hand… Tigg and I were back with Ellen and Richard at the White Tiger Habitat. The tigers are pretty active right now, and three of them are playing. There has been some fruit and vegetables placed around the pen, and there is a watermelon floating in the water. With a quick lunge, one tiger tears a chunk out of the watermelon. Another swipes at it with its paw. We spend a good twenty minutes taking pictures, videos and just watching them.

Over to Treasure Island for lunch.

Ok… I’m going to save you some trouble. Treasure Island likes to abbreviate its name as “TI.” Get it? Treasure Island. T-reasure I-sland. I know, I know. Seems pretty simple actually. But… (1) I have spoken with friends about Vegas, and they have never, ever, referred to Treasure Island as “TI.” Never. It’s always the full name. (2) There is a huge sign out front, and while MGM, Caesars, Paris and Bellagio have interesting things on theirs, Treasure Island has this almost cartoon-like “TI” logo. I hated it. A friend of mine and I were talking about it in the past few days, and he agreed with me, but had a possible explanation. He pointed out that Treasure Island was one of the first of the “new” properties. And as such, that kind of tacky presentation was still in. The formal glamour was still a few years away. (3) In any event, it would still be two more days before I realized that the “TI” in the Sirens of TI (the pirate show in the lagoon with the sinking ship) meant the sirens from Treasure Island. And when I did realize it, I thought the whole thing was pretty dumb.

Memo to Treasure Island. The whole pirate thing is a good theme. But this “TI” abbreviation idea? I say drop it. It doesn’t sound as warm, swashbuckling and exciting at “Treasure Island.” And I don’t know anyone in Vegas regularly that uses it. Go with the full name. Ok? (I have absolutely no illusions of this happening. Chances are good that it’s hip and stylish and the young money-spending party goers love saying TI. Oh well.)

Time to eat. And we are at Kahunaville. Lunch is alright, and in reality nothing so special as to bring us back to this place again, or to direct you to it in the future. Except for one thing…

Down at Disney World perhaps a decade ago, I found Tonga Toast. I believe it was at the Kona Café in the Polynesian Resort. (They started serving it around the property at other places. Doesn’t matter where they serve it, you must get it at the Kona Café.) It’s French toast stuffed with bananas. Served hot and fresh it’s not delicious… it’s something beyond that, in words of delight and satisfaction and pleasure that are hard to express with your mouth full, eyes glazed over, and mind swimming in a hazy paradise.

Now… again… lunch at Kahunaville is nothing more than ok. They advertise some great entertainment for the evenings… performing bartenders and such… which we later see on Wednesday night while waiting to attend Mystere. But, realistically, it’s nothing you couldn’t find in some fashion at every other resort. I’ve said it before… it seems as though if one resort has something that works, every resort has a version of it. (Different names. Same girls with large chests wearing little fabric.) Ah… but I just made a Disney reference. And the reason I did involves why Tigg and Ellen start discussing breakfast before we can even order lunch.

Seems they’ve spotted the Kahunaville version of Tonga Toast… French toast stuffed with strawberries, cream cheese and somehow involving a custard. There’s no vote that will be taken, we’re all so curious and tempted we already know we’ll be coming back for breakfast at some point.

We stay for a little while longer at Treasure Island. Then we cross the street and head into The Venetian. And… we don’t like it.

Ok… as a complex it is incredibly beautiful. Bordering on indescribably beautiful. The casino floor is spacious. The shops are wonderful. (I actually found them to be more inviting and interesting than those at Caesars.) There is a river, with gondolas. You can get a gondola ride inside the building or outside. It’s expensive, it doesn’t run quite as long as you might think, but it is different and looks like a lot of fun. Absolutely one of the most beautiful buildings, and most of the staff we encountered were more than pleasant enough.

I had a friendly promotions associate work with me at the player’s club desk, and she hooked me up with all sorts of slot play and match play coupons. Ellen, Richard and Terry felt as though they were inconveniencing their associates when they registered for their cards, and more to the point, noticed they didn’t get the same offers I got. Terry had been near me and knew to ask, so she was given the promotions before leaving the desk. We learned that Ellen and Richard didn’t receive the same offers only after we had left the property.

So… ok… what was the real problem?

The place smelled funny.

They use a fragrance. It’s a subtle perfume. It is every-where. And it gave both Tigg and I headaches. Other than briefly walking around the shops, we stayed long enough to win about $15 on the slot machines and perhaps $25 on two hands of blackjack while using some free coin and match play promotions, and then we left.

Some of you know the Mom Bag story. (Which involves the bag that holds everything.) And of course, I brought the backpack with me to Vegas. The friend from home -- that I have mentioned a few times so far and that knows Vegas -- warned me about a few things in the desert. One was the temperature drop at night. We had days that were about 65-70 degrees and absolutely gorgeous. Like a scene from the movie Defending Your Life, every day the weather was very good and about as close to exactly the same as it could be. But at night the temperature bottomed out. So, I carried along the bag and had two light coats, cameras, film, gum and other odds and ends in it. It became the home of everything I picked up for the scrapbooks and from the gift shops. Well, between the pictures from the Rio, some great things we found on sale at the gift store for Mystere, and a couple of other items… it was full. We decide to head back to the Fairground to leave stuff in our room before going to Fremont Street.

The phone in our room rings. It’s Richard. He asks us to turn over our room key. Evidently they have a message, and the operator told them that the instructions for retrieving it were on the back of the key.

Nope. Just some information on how to insert it in the lock of the door.

While we walk over to their room, Richard calls the desk again, gets referred to the room key again at first, but finally gets someone to understand that he doesn’t have the instructions and needs someone to just tell him what to do instead of repeatedly telling him to check the room key. And the message is from? Maintenance. They want to make sure the thermostat is working.

We are off to Fremont Street, and Terry is mere moments away from meeting her favorite dealer in the whole, wide world… Ana at Binion’s Horseshoe.

Fremont Street is an interesting place. I think I mentioned my theory about how the big casinos came in over the past ten years or so and just took over the strip. Well, some classic properties, such as Binion’s, were left downtown and away from the new action in the deal and needed to garner some attention. So they built the Fremont Street Experience… an overhead video screen that stretches for about four city blocks. They rotate a schedule of some different presentations on it, and the shows last perhaps five to ten minutes. Add in street carts, special events, and other performers, and the area is pretty cool.

In general, I found the overhead display a bit less than what I had been expecting to see. That said… it is an impressive sight. The sheer size of the screens is incredible. And the area works much better as a collection of properties, since the size of each one and the distance between them is more easily manageable than the mega-resorts. But before that first show happens during our stay, we have about twenty-five minutes to gamble.

We get dropped off just after 6:30pm, and find out that the next show will be at 7pm. We decide to head in to Binion’s. After walking around, Terry and I sit down at an empty roulette table and I buy in for about $30. We start talking to Ana, the dealer at the table. An attractive young lady, Ana is quite pleasant and friendly. While she starts a fairly impressive run of hitting the numbers I’m betting on, she and Tigg are having a great conversation and the three of us seem to be having a fantastic time. Now… I mentioned when I was at the Excalibur in Sunday’s section that I don’t feel comfortable staying at a roulette table when I’m winning and the dealer goes on break. Just seconds before 7pm, Ellen and Richard tell us they’re heading to the street for the show. Ana gets tapped out. Tigg finds out she is on until 3am… so we cash in our chips planning to head out to the street and see the show. Turns out in under a half hour Ana did very well for us… my $30 buy-in is now comfortably over $300.

We meet up with Ellen and Richard and watch the show. I have since learned that this particular one was called “American Freedom.” I liked it, but as I just mentioned, I can’t say it floored me. It was very large… the entire scope of it is hard to put into perspective… perhaps because it is so large that they actually break the screens into sections showing similar clips. This show and the other shows are good, not really great.

We head in to the Golden Nugget.

We walk around the property and, frankly, it’s nothing more than a casino to me. It’s well lit, and a few tables are just being opened. It’s nice and all… clean… but…

Well, while our blackjack dealer was fine... not too friendly, but not too grumpy... Tigg has decided that she misses Ana. We lose about $60 between the two of us, and when Ellen and Richard show up at our table... fresh from an experience with a rude dealer... we decide the Golden Nugget isn’t worth staying in and head back out to the main street.

“I want Ana,” Tigg cries.

“I know you do.”

“So where are you taking me?”


“Ok. Ana’s there until 3. Promise we can go see her again.”

“I promise.”

Time for some Fremont Street surprises.

If the notes on their web site are accurate, it was a “Holiday in Motion” show taking place on a main stage area out on the street. And it was very good. Several years ago, back in 1999, Ellen, Richard, Terry and I went to see La Nouba… a Cirque du Soleil show that plays at Disney World. Since then, we’ve encountered many performers working with poles, sheets and other apparatus styles, and this performance reminds me of a Cirque-style show as well. And, it’s really pretty good. (We’ll get back to La Nouba in Wednesday’s section.)

There is a row of stands and booths extending down an outdoor walkway, featuring German arts and crafts with holiday themes. Tigg and I buy a few ornaments and a glass vase that we watched being made (yes… the vase miraculously made it home intact, as did all of the other glass items we purchased). We spend perhaps $100 on items along this street… including a fantastic incense burner. (It’s a figure of someone shopping for fruit with a pipe in his mouth. And, with the incense burning inside of it, the smoke comes out of his mouth. Should have bought more of them.)

I had seen a sign for Tony Roma’s. It’s not a place I would normally have been excited about eating at because I knew the name but not the menu. (There aren’t any near us… the closest ones are pretty much in Maryland or Ohio, with one in Amherst, New York.) We decided it was worth a try, and we loved it. Tigg found a steak and lobster combo plate, and I got a steak as well. Delicious. For some reason it was a very good meal at just the right time.

We went out onto the casino floor, and I had some time to waste. I bought a special keno ticket during dinner… five $1 games for $4… and they had only gone through two games. I saw a Kenny Rogers brand Gambler machine and decided to sit down. It happened to be a 1-cent machine, so I started playing five lines on it, and for $2 I managed to be incredibly entertained for about twenty minutes. I can’t really explain it. I normally hate video-style slot machines. Video blackjack and poker are fine… regular slot machines can be ok too… but not video slots for me. With five or more rows and multiple lines in play, they can be confusing and the screens/machines rarely explain payoffs that well. But this one was pretty cool. I have to say, the Fremont was a pleasant surprise. Not a do-not-miss, but not bad.

Ok… I’m out $2 and didn’t win at keno. Ellen is playing her video poker, and Richard has sat down next to her. Tigg and I find them and decide to play there as well. We win a few dollars playing video blackjack, but the time has come…

“Can we go back to Ana?” Tigg asks.

“Yes. Let’s go to Ana.”

Back to Binion’s.

Ana is at her table, and we settle in. Richard joins us this time, and while I’m winning a few small things… corner bets and a few other split wagers… he drops out and goes to find Ellen. It’s almost midnight now, and one of the supervisors tells Ana that when we leave he’s going to close the table down. Ana’s relief comes, and Tigg and I decide to take a walk. With the table closed, we never find Ana again… and Tigg’s favorite dealer is about to become a memory. We’re up again during our stay at her. It’s not enough to retire with… but we like Ana.

Now… bags of German ornaments in hand that were paid for in cash, dinner paid for in cash, more film for the camera… cash again… and we are ready to head back to the Passablefield Resort. When we got there, Tigg takes $100 in cash from me to reset her stash.

And… well… you probably already know.

I find myself once again with more than $250 in cash on hand.

Not bad as day four draws to a close.

Ah… but before we arrive at that discovery, first we had to get to the resort.

We walked to the Casino Center Boulevard side of Binion’s and got in a mini-van style cab… number 2632 for a company called Ace. I’ve been sitting up front so far this trip when we pile into a cab, and this time was no exception. As the driver puts the vehicle in gear, it shows that he has it in drive, but it feels like neutral.

“Are we going to make it?” comes a cry from the back, offered in jest.

“Yes,” the driver responds, but I feel there is an obvious discomfort in his voice.

In order to bring us to the hotel, we have to head back toward the main area of the strip. The cab was facing… I think… south on Casino Center (might be closer to southwest if we investigated it closely). The on-ramp for interstate 15 is a few blocks behind us. So, in order to get there, our driver is going across Fremont Street and then into a series of three left-hand turns. And in that route lies a problem.

See… even though it was a tension-breaking joke about his transmission, I thought there was more to his response, and as the cab began to move every one of us felt something was wrong. As in… we knew something was wrong. But, we had no idea if it was serious, and no clue where we were once we got past Fremont Street itself. And, in the dark, the surrounding neighborhood was unfamiliar enough to us that… even if it was the safest area in Nevada… it sure looked like we had gone into the wrong section of town.

So, as he coasted past pedestrians, weaved from lane to lane, and stopped for traffic signals… we couldn’t tell if it definitely was the vehicle having troubles or just a questionable driver. Either way, the on-ramp was finally approaching, and the streets scared us enough to keep quiet and think positive thoughts... even while our questions about the vehicle were about to be definitively answered.

Oh, his skills weren’t that hot. But as we charged up the on-ramp at a blistering pace of just under 5 miles per hour… hey, it was an uphill ramp, he was doing pretty good… we learned that the vehicle was definitely shot. And, as this realization struck us with no room left for doubt, we topped 10 miles an hour and began a merge onto the highway.

I could go to Vegas a thousand times in my life… I could win a million dollars gambling there… and I don’t think there is any way that I will be quite as happy as I was when I saw the Rio and knew the cab was getting off of route 15. Taking a huge, deep breath of relief, the thought racing through my head was that as long as he made a turn… toward the Rio… toward Las Vegas Boulevard… didn’t matter… we had a chance to come to a stop in a place where all of us would feel safe while abandoning the vehicle. (And… I kid you not… I was not thinking about any chances of making it to the hotel. I was only considering where we would be safest getting out.)

Cab drivers on the whole are an amazing source of information, and I generally find them to be pretty personable. If you want to know about a town, talk to the cab driver taking you around. They hear it all… the excitement... the disappointments… the ins and outs of what is happening on any given day. And over time, probably as a way of keeping conversation going and offering some sort of amusement, many of them can be incredible sources of trivia and details. On one cab ride during our trip, a driver told us that the intersection of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard South is the busiest intersection in the world. And considering the constant flow of traffic around the clock, even without researching it, there wasn’t much of a reason to doubt him.

Guess which way our cab driver with the nearing death transmission goes tonight?

Yup. East on Flamingo, heading between Caesars and Bellagio for the main strip... and thanks to moving along in such a fashion that he didn’t need to brake and had just enough momentum… directly into the busiest intersection in the world.

He turns right onto the boulevard and coasts… yes, coasts, there is nothing left from the engine… to a stop about two-thirds of the way thru the intersection. He has managed to get into the left lane. And stops. 2632 is dead in the road.

We’ve had enough.

We get out of the cab.

Did you ever have one of those moments when you had no clue what to do? I mean, the cab was dead. Transmission shot. It wasn’t going any place without help, and we weren’t close to our destination. We had to endure the journey to the site of its demise, pretty much knowing from the very beginning of this ride that is was headed toward trouble. And there is no chance this driver didn’t know his vehicle was a rolling problem when he picked us up. Seems like a free ride should be in order. Right?

Well, his night was about to be worse than ours. I looked at the meter and quickly paid for the fare.

We managed to get over to a cab stand near the Aladdin and took another one back to the Decentfield Resort.

We were safely home. Our night was done.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com