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


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 January 2, 2005. 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 seven, Thursday, December 16, 2004

Before heading to bed last night, I sorted my dirty cards. It was horrible having to flip through all of those cards, look for doubles, and then determine the best way to sort them. Lots of decisions to make. How do you approach it? Alphabetically by the girl’s name? …implants or no? …effectiveness of stars and dots intended to cover naughty bits? This was a true challenge and there were simply no right or wrong answers.

Finally, I finish up and find that I have 62 different cards.

As we get ready for the final complete day in Vegas, it’s probably time to tell you about the monorail.

You might recall that on Saturday morning… day two… we took the shuttle over to Harrah’s. We were still trying to figure out how we wanted to move around. Shuttles? Cabs? Monorail? Stuff like that. Our driver pointed to the monorail and told us that while it’s running, it wasn’t really running. The cars were empty. Not really elaborating about who is requiring this, he explained that it needed to pass 700 runs without an incident before it could carry passengers.

A few days later, a different cab driver told us that a wheel fell off. The test runs are for that problem. I believe these wheels weigh something like 50 to 60 pounds each. Nothing to ignore when the monorail is running right over your head.

I mention the monorail story here because often in Vegas you never get the full story. Never the complete picture. Much like a streak, good or bad, at the tables… what happens one day isn’t a sure sign about how things will go the next. You might get part of a story on one day, and if you do get the rest of the story it could be days… weeks… months later.

Where the heck am I going with this? Well…

We’re about to visit Cheryl again at Caesars Palace. Do you remember Cheryl? She’s the one that we were told was expecting us on this trip, and specifically we had been told to head over to meet her on Wednesday.

Now I’m sure there are people that like Cheryl. I’m sure she gets fine evaluations and people at Caesars love her. Or maybe they don’t… maybe her evaluations stink and no one wants to be near her. However, the important concept here is that chances are that we only have a portion of the story when it comes to Cheryl. Maybe, after not hearing from us on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, she figured we had been blowing her off or had left town. I doubt it… she had been given a number to use if she wanted to contact us, and she could have called Tigg’s friend if she had to. She never called. But still… it could be true.

The point is, our experience shouldn’t tarnish your thoughts. If you like Cheryl… or like Caesars Palace… take this for what it is, just our version of the story.


When we called on Wednesday… from inside the property… she blew Tigg off by saying we should come back on Thursday and she’d get us a meal someplace. In the interest of fun… never truly expecting things to go wrong with Cheryl a third time, when she had personally told Terry to return and they had agreed on a time… I began a running journal of notes when we got there today. Just for giggles. Here’s what happened…

11:20am – We arrive at Caesars and Tigg calls Cheryl. She says she’s working on New Year’s Eve stuff and needs a couple of minutes. She asks if we can meet her at the high limit slot area in fifteen minutes. No problem…

11:22am – Ellen, Tigg and I know where the high limit area is, and with ten minutes plus until we meet Cheryl, have wandered into an Elton John gift shop.

11:27am – We start heading back over toward the high limit slot parlor, and I stop at a roulette table. I don’t really win, and trying to collect gaming chips, I stop when one losing spin leaves me with about three dollars left. Like most casinos now, there are no single dollar chips at many of the tables here. We’ve found that’s almost always true for blackjack, but at times roulette and novelty games too. They give out coins instead. While Tigg, Ellen and Richard head over to the high limit slots, I begin looking for a cashier.

11:36am – I finally find an open cashier window. When I ask if they have any dollar chips I could have instead, I find out that Caesars doesn’t use dollar chips at all. “Not even the craps tables?” I ask. Nope… not according to these cashiers.

11:40am – I find Tigg, Ellen and Richard. No Cheryl. They asked, and no one has seen her in the area for hours. Been just about twenty minutes now for us, and I’m off to a video blackjack machine to wait.

11:42am – Thinking this isn’t going to be a long wait, I put just $2 into the machine.

11:50am – Hovering around $3. Can’t see them from here. Oh well, they know where I am.

11:56am – Increasing my bets when I win. A couple of decent runs and I’ve managed to crack $5.

12:03pm – Up to $6.25 right now. Big decision time. If I go down to $6 I’ll leave… or if I pass $7 I’ll play until I lose a hand and leave. Huge wagers demand tough choices.

12:04pm – I can’t win… I can’t lose. Ellen walks over to me. Tigg is getting ticked off. Apparently she’s tried to call Cheryl two more times now… one operator told her that Cheryl wasn’t answering her pages, couldn’t be reached, and when Tigg explained that she had already spoken to Cheryl just a few minutes earlier the operator just brushed it off. So Terry hung up, waited a few minutes and tried again. A different operator said Cheryl wasn’t answering. Tigg has effectively confirmed she’s being ignored… since there is no doubt Cheryl knows someone is waiting for her… but she’s moved into a zone where she wants to meet this witch. I hit $7 and cash out.

12:10pm – Finally found an automated redemption machine that worked… almost had to walk all the way back to the cashiers… and I’ve reached Tigg. She’s livid. Mostly, she’s upset because she doesn’t even want to be here. It’s a classic dilemma now. Should we stay or should we go, while topped off with we didn’t want to be here to begin with. Meeting Cheryl dropped off our radar screen that first Saturday. Caesars was fine, but didn’t interest us that much. We made our plans to go to different places and hadn’t thought about returning. The friend kept insisting though. Cheryl… when contacted… kept making arrangements. The invitation from Cheryl yesterday had brought us back to Caesars today. Now we’re stuck… we’ve invested enough time waiting that it seems wrong to leave, but we simply have no desire to stay.

12:20pm – Tigg heads into the slot area and I see her talking to someone.

12:23pm – Tigg comes back to me. I was put in charge of watching her purse when she left and she’s back looking for a business card. She says she was talking to someone in the slot area that had no clue where Cheryl was, and Tigg has decided she’ll just leave a business card and then we could go. The woman said she would give the card to Cheryl, but then Tigg realized her purse was out here with me. Card in hand, Tigg goes back in.

12:25pm – The woman Tigg had been talking with comes running… literally running… out of a side door of the slot area, turns a corner into a doorway, and quickly disappears. That’s funny I decide, and note to Ellen that she must have read Tigg’s business card and realized that this just might be important enough to get Cheryl.

12:28pm – Tigg comes out. I was way off… what actually happened was that the woman disappeared and Tigg couldn’t find her. Apparently she left for some other reason. Now, especially after I tell her that Ellen and I saw her duck off the floor, Tigg has had it.

12:32pm – We go to a desk… I think it was the bell captain, but didn’t see any signs. Tigg has asked if she can use their phone… the other one she had been using was way down the hall and she isn’t walking any more for this. They let her. The operators can’t find Cheryl. The people at the desk assure Tigg that she has been waiting at the right place, and Tigg gives them a small tip for helping her out and letting her tie up their phone.

12:40pm – We leave Caesars. Hideous taste in our mouths.

I was talking to someone a few years ago about gamblers. He is a very knowledgeable, respected and significant someone when it comes to understanding casinos and players. He said something very interesting… whether it’s a $5 player, a $50 player, a $500 player or a $5000 player, the emotions are the same. The chips or money in a way is irrelevant. The thrills… the frustrations… the excitement is the same for any player regardless of the size of the bet. For the casino property, there are obviously differences between levels of play, and you would treat a returning high-roller differently than you would someone that walked in just wanting to take a look and only lost a few dollars. But those emotions… that’s the key to the business side. Because there are more people losing $5 a hand than there are losing $5000, and you want those $5 people to feel appreciated and come back again and again as well.

If it was just one encounter with Cheryl, maybe… and I think I’m reaching here in an effort to be gracious… maybe you could forgive it. An emergency came up. Something happened. It’s life people, welcome to it. But two days in a row Cheryl blew us off. She could have sent someone else with a message. She didn’t. She could have made arrangements with us by phone… Tigg spoke with her twice… and just said she was sorry she couldn’t meet us, but here’s what she had done. Heck, she could have told us there was nothing she could do. But she didn’t. No apologies… no messages… no arrangements. In fact no follow-up either, and again, the number was at one time on her voice mail. And… as I’ve said… we were there today at her encouragement. We weren’t going to go there on Wednesday… Tigg’s friend called Cheryl and told us to go see her. We weren’t going to go there on Thursday… Cheryl told us to come back.

Evidently we weren’t important to Cheryl… and by extension… we weren’t important to Caesars. It happens. I hope she treats other people better.

Between waiting for her and making the trips to Caesars that we hadn’t really planned on, Cheryl had now wasted over three hours of our last two days.

We’re off to the Riviera.

We hit the World’s Fare Buffet for lunch. In general, I didn’t think the food was as good as the Pharaoh’s Pheast we went to at the Luxor. And yet… it was far less expensive. We paid about $10 a person for lunch. And the food was good. The desserts were outstanding.

After using our free slot play, we begin to drift around the property. Tigg and I find a single-deck blackjack table and sit down. Once again… Tigg hates this version. There are too many people at the table to really be able to do anything with a single-deck game because the shuffle is coming every other hand or so. Also, the payoffs on blackjacks were less than the 3 to 2 offered on a regular table… coming in at 6 to 5 as I recall. I understand the old idea of beating an 8-deck shoe, but the fact is that we felt better gambling on those tables… even the ones with automatic shufflers.

We do get one dealer that made it a bit fun… Carolyn. Tigg falls out and doesn’t want to buy back in, but she stays there with me and I’m putting up a good fight. We end up staying for about two hours before the two of us give up a whopping combined total of about $60. (Ah… but there’s a difference today.)

I have told you in past sections that every morning for the past few days I was waking up with about $250 in cash. That was how I knew I was ahead. I might buy jewelry or gifts with cash… $250 the next morning. I might be using cash on meals, taxis and tips… $250 in the wallet the next morning. Well, as we began our last complete day I was starting out with only about $100 in cash. I had paid cash for Battista’s and most of the things the previous day. And, I had barely managed to tread water on the tables. For Tigg it was about the same. So, not wanting to hit the ATMs, money management was important for the last day and $60 was quite a hit for the first real stop.

We cross the street and go in to Circus Circus. (Time for another side story…)

About fifteen years ago I worked at a hospital. I used to head up to Syracuse, New York two or three times a year back then to visit some friends, including an annual pilgrimage for the state fair. A nurse I knew at the hospital one time jokingly said I should bring her something from the fair, and I did… some cheap, tacky thing I found. Well that started a crazy tradition where for a couple of years any time she or I went on vacation, we would get an inexpensive present for the other person… because if you can’t go on a trip the best part is getting presents when the other person gets back. This got a bit out of hand -- in a way that I have always loved -- because on the third or fourth trip I made I decided to buy something for her kids instead… kids I have never met… and they began to remind her and her husband when they hadn’t gotten anything “for Bob” on her trips. Nothing like the kids spending vacation time looking for presents for some guy they don’t know. One time she went to Vegas, and they stayed at Circus Circus. One of the things she brought back was this huge, plastic, yellow mug with a handle.

I still have that mug.

In any event… I feel good about finally arriving here.

Over to the player’s club, and when we get there a wonderful girl named Ching takes care of us. She was the only one there at that time, and she never flinched, even with the line getting longer and others walking up to interrupt with questions.

They had a slot tournament while we were there, and we played. Ellen kicked the rest of our butts, and when we left our session she had the third highest score of the day… which if it held up for the afternoon would qualify her for a place in the big wheel spin for money at a special 6pm drawing. I convinced her that if she won the big money she should treat for dinner. I don’t know why she agreed, but you might be able to imagine my disappointment when her score was passed and she didn’t qualify.

I managed to quickly drop $20 on a roulette table. Tigg played some blackjack over here and did fairly well for a short time. But with the 6pm you-must-be-present drawing approaching, a different gambling emotion took over… frustration. She had bought in for a total of about $40 at the table. Well, after putting in her second $20, she wasn’t going anywhere. Up $10… down $10. Never more than $30… never less than $10. So, wanting to head over for the drawing, she tossed her entire stack out. And lost.

So it goes.

Once the drawing was over, the dinner conversation began. We based our choices on getting to Nobhill for a cosmopolitan. Sticking with MGM, we selected the Rainforest Café.

Tigg and I have eaten at Rainforest Café locations in several places… at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Downtown Marketplace in Orlando, Florida… at Towson Town Center just outside of Baltimore, Maryland… and at Plaza Forum by the Sea in Cancun, Mexico. We like the place. Also, our family members are debating a trip to Florida next year, with exact plans still being worked out. What seems apparent is that Tigg and I, along with some group of people, will be in Orlando before the end of 2005 and a Rainforest Café stop is likely.

The Rainforest Café offers a membership program called the Safari Club. Become a member for $15 and… you get an option of 10% off your bill or a free appetizer (up to about $8.00)… you get 10% off retail purchases… you get other special things such as birthday surprises and priority seating. And, we are told, there is no renewal fee as long as the card is used once a year.

So… with locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts that we could go to… with someone still in Baltimore that we plan to visit… and with a trip to Florida in the works that would take care of the 2005 renewal… I think you’re getting the idea that we figure the $15 investment on this visit will take care of itself rather quickly.


There is no way that we are going to spend enough on this meal to make 10% of the bill be larger than the deduction of the cost of an appetizer. See, Tigg and I had already asked for separate checks from Ellen and Richard. I had ordered a sandwich, and Tigg had gone with a soup approach, planning to also eat from the Awesome Appetizer Adventure we got. We told our waiter that it was fine if everything was just brought out at the same time.

Brace yourself… stupidity alert…

When our waiter returns to clear our table, we tell him we want to join the Safari Club. Now, they tell you that you can use the membership right away… that night… that visit. But he tells us (I mean it… stupidity… sit down) that we can’t use the appetizer deduction. Why? Because he entered our order into the computer as coming out at the same time, so technically the Awesome Appetizer Adventure appetizer was a meal.

Yes… he really did say that. No debate about what was ordered or such. He flat out told us it would have been an appetizer and would have qualified if we placed the exact same order but allowed it to be served first. Served at the same time? It counts as a meal.

He said that.

I have witnesses.

When we question this, he tells us he will talk to his manager, explaining that he has a way of talking to him and thinks he can get the appetizer deduction approved. (I didn’t say this out loud… but as he was telling us about his interpersonal skills with upper management, I was thinking that he could save himself some time and just send the manager over to me. Because I was 100% certain I could get the deduction taken from our bill too… especially once I told manager what he just said about it being an appetizer or a meal based solely on when it was brought to the table and not what was ordered.)

I mean think about this for a second.

“I’m sorry sir, but because only one entrée was ordered by a party of two, I can’t deduct this item as an appetizer.” No… he didn’t say that.

“I’m sorry sir, but the total of your bill only allows for the 10% deduction to be applied.” Nope… didn’t say something like that either.

What he did say was something like this: “You did order an item that qualifies for the discount. But because I brought your sandwich, her soup, and the appetizer platter out all at the same time I can’t deduct it.”

Guess what? He returned and told us he smoothed it over with the manager, and had the $7.99 deduction made. I wanted to tell him that Tigg and I had already decided on his tip... and unfortunately we had to stick by our decision because it was made at the same time he told us the deduction couldn’t be done.

Tigg wouldn’t let me.

We head in to the gift shop. Tigg finds a few things on sale (which will be getting mailed to Australia soon). She walks up to the register and decides to pay with cash. The total comes up, and she is 13-cents short. You’ll never believe what happened next…

There was a staff member named Chris working in the store at the time. As Tigg was putting her cash away and getting out a credit card, he tapped her on the shoulder, reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter and handed it to her. She ended up not needing it when I came around the corner with change, but we were all quite impressed by the young man.

Off we go to Nobhill.

When we head in we can’t find anyone that seems to know what Tigg means when she says that she was told to go in and order a special cosmopolitan. Their specialty drink is something called a cable car, not a specific kind of cosmopolitan. Tigg knows she was told a cosmopolitan though, and both she and Ellen get one. I decide on the cable car… which was great. Get one if you are there. Richard got a different specialty drink… a hinky dink’s mai tai. At least I think it was a hinky dink’s. I kept making fun of the name, and that sounds right. He thought it was good... and isn’t that all that matters?

Ray was our bartender during the visit to Nobhill, and we had a good conversation with him about vacations, drinks and other assorted things. Say hi if you meet Ray.

(Actually… say hi to Ray, Chris, Ana, Aaron, Melissa, Biljana, Nick or Adam at any of the places where these great people helped us out or took care of us.)

It was time to put a ribbon on the gambling for our visit.

We had adjusted our monies for the final hours in Vegas, and Tigg sent me off to the tables with about $100 and said she’d find me later. I went to a blackjack table and sat down. There were no other players there… just me and the dealer. And things went very well. I hadn’t been there long when my chips had essentially doubled. With $150 in green moved a bit off to the side and away from what I was playing with, I knew I was leaving ahead for the session. The only question was going to be how far ahead.

A few individual players came and went… breaking all sorts of unwritten rules of table etiquette along the way. They never acknowledged me, sat down mid-shoe, kept changing between a single hand and multiple hands, and were completely ignorant as to when to hit and when not to.

Normally things like that don’t bother me much… if you put your money on the table, I figure you have the right to make your own decisions, even if they are stupid ones. And, with an 8-deck shoe (at least I think it was 8), a lot of the actions you make are really going to be irrelevant over the course of time. I’m not saying the way you play is completely meaningless when it comes to future hands… folks there is a way to play blackjack, and there is a way not to play. But for the most part, trying to change up the deck is a psychological thing rather than a physical one. In short, consider -- if a bad player making stupid decisions can mess up the run of a good deck, then a bad player making stupid decisions can help create a run from a bad deck.

However… (1) I was winning when the table was empty, and I would just go back and forth when these people sat down. They were bothering me. They were interrupting the steady pace that the dealer had when giving me more and more chips. (Which I suppose brings an opposing view to the “it doesn’t really matter” idea. But more to the point…) (2) These people were idiots. The first hand one guy received was a 16 with the dealer showing a face card. I stood on a 20. The other player didn’t take a hit because he didn’t want to break. I thought that was very smart of him, especially since the dealer was showing a face card to start, and thought it was even smarter after the dealer revealed he had a 20 and then took his money anyway.

If you’re afraid to hit a 16 when the dealer is showing a 10-card, just hand your money over, take the souvenir coffee cup from the player’s club and go home.

So, what happens on this guy’s second hand? Another 16 for him with the dealer showing another face card. I stand on a 19. Did he learn his lesson? Nope. Instead, when he saw my nine come out first he muttered to his date that he would have broken -- always nice to justify stupidity. Once again, he doesn’t hit. The dealer flips a five over, takes a five from the shoe to reach 20, and then takes both of our bets off the table.

Never mind that he cost me money. Sure that matters to me, and that’s what irritates other people at a table when you play stupidly. Just look at his situation. He’s down $50 and probably should be even… all because he was afraid to take a hit and break. Hey, absolutely stand on a 16 if the dealer is showing a stiff. I’ve got no problems there. (A stiff refers to a hand where the face card visible indicates that the dealer should need to take a hit and you hope break as a result.) But see -- by justifying your move with the first card I get in the subsequent hand… “I would have broken anyway”… all you’re doing is validating your ignorant play and your losses.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. That’s why they sell the “how to” cards for $1.99 in the gift shops. Go out and look up and down the Vegas Strip. They aren’t building billion-dollar properties to set up blackjack tables that give free drinks and unlimited money to the players. Someone is losing money.

At one time tonight I drew a pair of eights. I split them (“always split aces and eights… always split aces and eights… always split…”). First card out of the shoe? Another eight. I split again. I had to. Not only does the gift-shop card tell me to, but it’s the right thing to do to improve my chances. I had a 16 in front of me. The dealer had a 20. I ended up breaking on two of the hands and then lost on the other with an 18. It happens. It hurts to watch three bets disappear. Still, it doesn’t change the odds of what could happen or what actions improve your position to win.

Speaking of which...

Double-down opportunities. If you have the chance to get more money onto the table in a situation that favors you… well… you have to try it. That might be the biggest secret of blackjack: getting more money on the table when the situation favors you. But for some reason, on this trip, every time I doubled I drew a low card and unless the dealer broke I was a piece of bread in a Fairbanks Resort toaster. Every time. But if I held back and didn’t double on a 10 or an 11, I always drew a face card. Every time. It was ridiculous. I had to keep telling myself not to put more money on the table.

Eventually Tigg shows up and I’m around $225 in chips. We’re having a ball. Drinks are being brought over. The dealer is breaking. The table finally fills up with fun people, and just about everyone is playing the same way… always a good sign -- good table karma that way. I get into the range of $270 to $290. Ellen and Richard show up… they’re done for the night. Tigg whispers to me that if I reach $300 I should think about cashing out. I believe in playing a winning streak until you lose, even at the end of a session. So, when a winning hand gets me just over $300, I leave my bet up. On the next hand the dealer takes everyone’s money by drawing a four and then a six to turn an 11 into a 15 and then a 21. I lose the hand and we’ve hit a shuffle as well, so I leave the table (and another woman gets up too). I finish $198 ahead.

Forget the $10 drinks at the Hollywood Theater… I like the MGM Grand.

Day eight, Friday, December 17, 2004

Tigg is one of the greatest packers I have ever met, but she is up against a wicked challenge this morning. Thanks to our decent run over the week, we did a lot of shopping we never intended to do.

We had brought one large bag and two smaller ones with us last Friday. Now all three of those were completely packed… with a tag-team effort on two of the bags to work the zippers. On top of that, one of the original carry-ons was going to be checked for today’s flights so that the numbers would work with the new bags we needed to carry.

We cleaned up the kitchen area… and made a couple of decisions based on some skepticism of the flights. We’re flying back on a different airline. The tickets have all sorts of stuff on them now… loading zones… meal service or sales. I’m doubting quite heavily that a free meal is going to be served. I have no intention of paying $30 or so for a couple of sandwiches. And to top it off, we have a very short layover in Cincinnati, meaning we are likely flying the entire way into Warwick with no meals. So, despite the space limitations we are facing, I put a couple of candy bars and some snacks into my backpack.

We leave the hotel, and I cringe when the driver opens the back of the cab at the airport… my backpack falls out and hits the ground… the Ring Dings!

On the first flight they are showing a movie… Shark Tale. I’d like to tell you I enjoyed it. I’d like to give you a review on the web site. But not only did Tigg fall asleep, so did I. I did get to watch Robbie the Reindeer in the Legend of the Lost Tribe… actually I watched it twice because they showed it on the flight from Cincinnati to Warwick as well… and that was really good. Blitzen as a villain, just released from jail. Classic.

Anyone remember the scene in Funny Farm with the apple? Well, Tigg and I got to live that out when Ellen started asking questions about the Ring Dings she remembered in our room upon our arrival in Cincinnati. (“I don’t know what you’re talking about”… “I’m not sure, maybe it was something we had left behind while packing”… “Why don’t you and Richard take the seats in the row in front of us”…)

We land, gather our belongings and leave the airport. Off to the car, we head out for one last meal together… we were all craving pizza, and decided to stop at Uncle Tony’s. (Not the greatest pizza, but it is really good and different… and if you’re craving their pizza, only their pizza will do.) I wish it was a more glamorous ending for the diary, but it’s not. The pizza was good though.

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