the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected
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.
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.
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.
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.
~ ~ ~
seven, Thursday, December 16, 2004
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.
I finish up and find that I have 62 different cards.
we get ready for the final complete day in Vegas, it’s probably
time to tell you about the monorail.
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.
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.
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.
the heck am I going with this? Well…
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
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.
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.
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…
– 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…
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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
– Thinking this isn’t going to be a long wait, I put just $2
into the machine.
– Hovering around $3. Can’t see them from here. Oh well, they
know where I am.
– Increasing my bets when I win. A couple of decent runs and
I’ve managed to crack $5.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– Tigg heads into the slot area and I see her talking to someone.
– 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.
– 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
– 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
– 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.
– We leave Caesars. Hideous taste in our mouths.
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
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.
we weren’t important to Cheryl… and by extension… we weren’t important
to Caesars. It happens. I hope she treats other people better.
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.
off to the Riviera.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
cross the street and go in to Circus Circus. (Time for another
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.
still have that mug.
any event… I feel good about finally arriving here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
yourself… stupidity alert…
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.
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.
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.)
mean think about this for a second.
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.
sorry sir, but the total of your bill only allows for the 10%
deduction to be applied.” Nope… didn’t say something like that
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.”
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.
wouldn’t let me.
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…
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.
we go to Nobhill.
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?
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.
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.)
was time to put a ribbon on the gambling for our visit.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
the $10 drinks at the Hollywood Theater… I like the MGM Grand.
eight, Friday, December 17, 2004
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.