A Las Vegas diary… the group returns in 2008
8 days in Nevada and Arizona…
Days six, seven and eight (and nine)


So you’ve left on a trip. You arrive at the destination and go to pick up the rental car. And as we all know… that means it’s time to dance.

No… no… not a fun dance. A figurative dance… a shuffle dance… a step this way, swing back that way dance.

See, no matter what kind of reservation you have, the conversation once you arrive at the rental counter almost always seems to turn into some strange exchange in three-quarter time…

“Do you have a reservation” two… three…

“Yes” two… three…

“Would you like to upgrade for just a few dollars per day” two… three…

“No” two… three…

“How about our insurance” two… three…

And the dance moves on.

More than a decade ago, Terry and I went on our first trip with the boys… 1997 to Disney World. When we arrived at the car rental counter, they offered me an upgrade for something like $3 a day. I wasn’t thinking straight at the time… had apparently turned off all parts of my brain associated with math… and I agreed. (A slightly bigger car with my best friend Chris just days away from his arrival and adding a fifth person to the car? Count me in on a bigger vehicle!)

What did I get for that extra money?

A whole additional 1.8 cubic feet of passenger space!

Yeah… and… umm… as it turns out, $3 a day for an additional 1.8 cubic feet of space for an 11-day rental turns out to be $33 worth of pissing in the wind. (Because it’s not bad enough to have pissed that money away, there’s the additional bonus thrill of the constant reminder for 11 straight days that 1.8 cubic feet of space is the rough equivalent of a Rubik’s cube per person.)

I don’t know what I was thinking at that time, truth be told. If you could have seen the luggage Terry had assembled for this 17-day trip that was to later include Key West (different car there) and, as noted, also involved a friend of ours arriving to join us a few days after we arrived, I firmly believe you might have looked for an additional foot or two of cubic space as well.

Lesson learned.

Over the years I’ve had them try to tell me things such as my reserved car wasn’t there, that the free upgrade wouldn’t cost much, and that a loud noise roughly the equivalent of the axle snapping in half while the wheels sheared off was perfectly normal. (And they actually work hard at making sense out of their explanations. The upgrade not costing much? That representative went on and on talking about how the upgrade wasn’t charged, but the state mandated bend-you-over-the-counter-and-tourism tax had to be applied to the higher fee and… well… I stopped listening to her.)

I have witnesses to these great moments. In fact… I’m probably lucky to still be alive after the sheared-wheel-lie-to-the-wife-proof-of-great-insurance-coverage incident of 1999… and Ellen and Richard witnessed that one. (Hmm… like the 1.8 cubic feet of wind blown pee… and the previously unmentioned here November of 2005 double-van rental… that one also took place in Orlando. I’ll have to remember this when Orlando plans get debated again in the future.)

Usually, about the only thing I actually consider these days is the fuel option. Beyond that… thanks, but nope, nope, nope. (In that fuel-option case, I fully understand I may still be pissing the money away, but at least the convenience of not having to find a gas station on rental return day makes it feel like I’m pissing downwind.)

The fact is… Seinfeld got it right. I don’t know that it’s the representatives fault all that often. I honestly believe that occasionally company policy has them figuratively handcuffed. The problem is… I really don’t believe that the representatives understand the “why” and “how” involved. And by that I mean…

They know what they are supposed to do. But they don’t know why they are doing it, or how to react to the customer that questions any of it. (Go ahead… find a search engine… enter Seinfeld… car rental… reservation… “I don’t think you do”…)

In general, business practices will tell you why a reserved car may not be there, to use that as an example. Cars don’t get returned on time… or, if you want to decide to believe negatively that the company is trying to get you to spend more… and we could go on and on. The end result is simple though… car rentals will throw you curveballs at a higher percentage than virtually any other comparable transaction. (And, in fact, car rentals have no comparable transactions.)

On Saturday, April 19, 2008, I encountered a new one. I had to fill in all sorts of details about my insurance coverage just so I could sign a line at the bottom saying I understood they didn’t care about my insurance.

I’m not kidding.

(Ok. Longer version.) Basically, they asked about my insurance provider. And then, once I told them I had insurance and had proven that it covered rentals, they informed me that they didn’t deal with insurance companies and I would be responsible for any damage at the time the car was returned.

(I will pause for a moment in this story here to remind you that as I wrapped up the second installment of this travel journey, I told you about our Wednesday night return from the Grand Canyon… and the rock that hit our windshield.)

When I was younger, I seem to recall a time when the additional insurance… that pay this and we’ll take care of everything and you won’t need to call your personal carrier at all if something happens… was like $5 a day or whatever. These days… $20 to $30 per is not just common, those figures are low. Over a week, the additional insurance can reach a figure higher than the rate you’re paying to rent the darn car.

Before I signed the acknowledgement I paused for a minute, tallied up the total charges for the… ahem… nominal daily fee over the course of a week, shook my head in disbelief and signed the waiver.

We now return to the story already in progress…

Day Six ~ Thursday, April 24, 2008

I wake up this morning and start making phone calls. I’ve never been involved in something like this with a rental before, so I’m sort of half expecting them to take the car back. You know… what I would consider normal and rationale fears… I can’t be trusted with the toy, so they’re taking it away to protect their investment. And, without rambling on and on about it… I would actually understand that. I would understand if they insisted that a vehicle with damage be returned immediately and even went so far as to deny replacing it. Oh I’d hate it… wouldn’t be even remotely near the zip code of happy… but I’d understand it.

I’m also making these phone calls remembering the autograph I gave on day one… that they expect me to pay for the damages and deal with my insurance on my own. And in a strange way, that’s where all of this gets so hysterically funny.

See… my auto insurance includes full glass coverage. No deductible on that. And my first call… to my insurance provider… confirms what I’m thinking. I’m covered.

My second call is to my credit card. Yup… rented it with one of those fancy cards that provides insurance on auto rentals when you use it. Amazingly funny thing though… after saying “you’re covered” in all those commercials and brochures and such… guess what they actually cover in the fine print that you shredded and threw away after signing the back of the newly arrived card? Turns out, in that fine print (likely in some mailing I have filed away in a drawer at home and not actually shredded), they let you know that the coverage is actually the amount your insurance doesn’t cover. In summary… the credit card doesn’t cover the full incident.

They cover the deductible.

(Again… I will pause for a moment. This time so you can go back just a few lines to the part where I mention my insurance covers glass without applying the deductible.)

Ok… I made these two phone calls for a very important reason. Not that I wanted to debate my responsibilities to the rental agency… but rather so I would know exactly what I was up against once I got home. I’d pay. No problem. But I wanted my claim to go smoothly later on. Was I going to need certain documents, receipts, or estimates in order to satisfy my car insurance claim? Before driving in to the rental agency, leaving the car, and never getting the paperwork or my insurers required independent estimate (or whatever might be involved), I just wanted to know.

Turned out… between the two… I was good. Whatever I had to pay, they were going to be fine with the process, and I was essentially going to get it back. (This is always an important piece of information to know when proceeding down a frustrating path.) And for the most part there wasn’t anything I’d need beyond the rental car details.

Easy enough.

Or so I thought.

I call the car rental agency’s office. I have pages and pages of notes, all from a separate notepad, for this part of the story alone. Names… dates… quotes… exact outlines of what to do. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say… I was told that I didn’t need to bring the car in, they would check it out when I dropped it off, and I would be given the total amount of the repair bill when I left it on the final day.

“Hold on” I essentially say to the representative… “stop right there” because I’ve got a question. “I’m leaving it at around 4 or 5am. Someone will be there to tell me exactly what I owe?” (And here we go… notice the quotes already?… yeah, more coming up…)

“A supervisor will be there and they will determine the repair costs. You will have to pay for the repair costs at the time of the return.”

I must have asked if he was sure, because the next line is another quote.

“The supervisor will know if the damage can be repaired or if the windshield needs to be replaced. And either way they will give you the exact repair cost.”

“So all I need to do is tell the person about the windshield and ask for a supervisor?”

“Yes. Just ask for a supervisor when you return the car.”

I’ll leave this part of the story for now. We’ll come back to it on the last day. For now… just know that either Advantage needs to train these people better or change their trouble-shooting guide. The representative knew what to tell me. (That I would be charged when I returned the car.) What he didn’t know was how I would be charged (asked to provide a down payment seemingly pulled out of the air) or why I would be asked to pay that amount (you already knew this one… there is no supervisor there at 5am and they have no intention of quoting repair costs during the return process, especially before sunrise).

As I hang up the phone, I look over at Terry. She’s crying. Before I can find out why, she asks me to closer the door to the closet with the washing machine. It’s too loud and she can’t hear the television.

(Are you ready for this one? I’m not sure you are.)

Turns out she’s watching The Waltons. And yes, that’s why she’s crying. She’s watching a show that was first aired some thirty years ago and she’s managed to become emotionally involved.

I’m starting to think this is going to be one strange day.

We’ve decided to head back over to The Orleans for breakfast. When we signed up for our player cards we got buffet comps. And, after the experience with margaritas and appetizers, we’re all willing to give the place another meal.

This was a mistake.

We arrive and go to the French Market Buffet. I have no idea where the name came from, but there is absolutely nothing to remind you of a French market. (Not that I’ve ever been to an actual, in France, French market. Just… you know… trust me. Unless some miraculous transformation takes place around dinner service… yeah… umm, no. Nothing French market-y.) It’s a sterile environment… lots of tables… and several buffet stations. And while everything looks fine in general, the reality is that the entire production could have used some modifications… some upgrades… some changes in… oh… say… 1983. Seriously… it reminded me of a cafeteria from junior high school that needed alot of work.

Trouble should have been expected when the orange juice we ordered was just awful. Hideous. Really, really bad. But the story about trying to get a glass of something else really drives the lack of a recommendation for the place home. We’re a pretty easy-going group. If we’re going to go hunting for an employee at a restaurant… for whatever reason… chances are that magical line in the sand between adequate service and downright inexcusable service was crossed quite some time earlier. To that end… a play, in four short acts…

Get me some Orange Juice, Act 1… We arrive at our table, sit down, and the waitress takes our drink order. All of us leave to begin getting food from the buffet stations. I get back to the table first. I taste my OJ and, as noted, it’s on the wrong side of disgusting. As the others begin to arrive back at the table, I mention it. I don’t know… maybe their beverage station mixes it or something and the cartridges or canisters or whatever were empty and needed to be changed. Whatever. I’m getting up for something, and I ask the others to be on the lookout for our waitress… and if they see her, get me an apple juice… a water… a new orange juice if she has a reason for that one glass being bad.

Get me some Orange Juice, Act 2… I return to find that temptation won out, the others have tried their juices as well, they all stunk, and now everyone is looking for the waitress.

Get me some Orange Juice, Act 3… Now it’s just getting silly. We don’t see any waitresses. Not just a waitress for our table… but no one coming through our entire section. All four of us have finished second plates, and no one has cleared the dirty first plates (that Terry neatly stacked on the end of the table).

Get me some Orange Juice, Act 4… Richard mentions something… he’s noticed that no one has been seated around us in about thirty minutes, even though some sections nearby have had several new arrivals. In those nearby but actually distant areas, wait staff are bringing things to the tables. We’re debating whether or not to leave a tip, and finally Terry just has to know… she stands and waves to get the attention of the closest waitress. When asked if something happened to our waitress, this one informs us that she had gone on break.

Before we end this little play… a bit of meandering observation. Near as we could time, the waitress was gone for at least 45 minutes. It was a few minutes before we started the clock… and it was 37 minutes between our first glance at a watch and the time we left without putting a tip on the table. (Yeah… we were really ticked.) Now, I’m not one to tell The Orleans how to schedule breaks for their staff… but help me out here… if she did go on break, and all of the other servers knew she was on break, and the others knew to the extent that the host station wasn’t sitting any new customers in her section for a half an hour, call me crazy but having someone else at least make a pass through the section seems like a reasonable expectation.

The Orleans is a leaky ship. Great Mexican food and experience for that lunch we had… but everything else was below average. (Why… oh why… do I want to return to the place? Must be Don Miguel’s.)

Breakfast out of the way, we’re gathering our things and preparing to hit some new stuff. It’s off to the Wynn.

This building hadn’t opened when we last visited Sin City, but everyone was talking about it. I suppose that shouldn’t have been a surprise… once Steve Wynn becomes involved in a Las Vegas project, expectations grow to legendary proportions. And so, on this visit, we were looking forward to experiencing what all the fuss was about.

And now… having been there I can honestly say… I still don’t understand the fuss.

That probably isn’t too fair. After all, this building was never about blowing the Las Vegas can-it-or-can’t-it-be-done limitations away and soaring to new heights. This property is about a new level of service, class and atmosphere. It is not about water cannons and volcanoes and bringing foot traffic to a dead stop. I suppose you could say it was about creating an experience for a few and not a destination for many. (Sure… I’ll try to explain.)

When someone tells you they are going to Orlando… quick… where are they going?

Some of you, a few of you, may have said “Orlando” while wondering what I was trying to prove with a dumb question. Many of you, most of you, said “Disney World” and proved my point.

Let’s face reality… “we’re going to Disney” is not only interchangeable with the expression of “we’re going to Orlando”… most people just tell you they’re going to visit the Mouse and might not even mention the city at all.

My point being… if you’re going to Vegas, the Wynn property isn’t necessarily the first name that will come to mind. And it’s not even automatically a second or third option crossing the lips Vegas status the way Universal Studios or Sea World might be when discussing Orlando. Wynn is way in the background, very visible and nice and beautiful and elegant, but not trying to make itself memorable to everyone or take over as the iconic property on the strip. And I kind of think it likes that position.


If you stay at Wynn… spending a few days there… really looking around the property and taking in all it has to offer… I’d be willing to bet that you had an amazing experience. I’d guess you found amenities beyond those offered at most properties. I’d believe the food was awesome and the staff incredible and the unique features bordering on a trip to Oz and Candy Land combined.

And see… we arrived for a short period of time, expecting to be impressed as if it were a destination for a quick visit.

We arrived, parked, and walked around a bit… but felt somewhat disoriented. Why? Well… near as I can tell… I sort of just told you…

The place isn’t built for a visitor… it’s built for a guest.

There is a good chance you’ve heard that Wynn contains a luxury auto dealership. And yes… it’s true… Ferrari and Maserati. When the place opened, most material I have been able to find says that people were allowed to visit the dealership and car exhibits free of charge. But… it was always packed. Too crowded to be enjoyable. So… they initiated a fee.

See what I mean? Stop the tourists. Thrill the guests.

I have zero doubt that if you stayed in the hotel or were a premium player, the Wynn would afford you with a fabulous experience that, seriously, could not be topped. But for the casual Vegas visitor… the ones watching pirate battles and collecting dirty cards while taking pictures and looking for low-limit tables… yeah, not so much.

We’re heading on to Fremont Street.

We pull in to the parking garage at Binion’s and… well, let’s just say Otis was proudly displayed on the elevator. So… you know… it was broken. We hit the casino floor and finally settle in at a blackjack table. All four of us are playing… we’re not winning, but not losing too fast, and we’re having a pretty good time with Cindy as our dealer.

After a good amount of time at the table, Ellen and Terry decide they want to wander around a bit. I lose at a different blackjack table… Richard won a bit playing roulette… and we finally find Terry and Ellen playing roulette as well before we leave.

We cross the plaza and enter the Four Queens. And… someone grabs my ass. (I’d like to thank her again now, but since I only saw her leaving the property while giggling with some friends, I can’t. It was the highlight of my day.) And, of course, with that as the start of my visit, you know I played blackjack and ended up winning.

Out on the main walkway, we stop to get a picture drawn. We’re at vegascaricature.com and Kathy is taking care of us. We decide to have something done with all four of us playing cards. (Ellen and Richard have the resulting masterpiece.)

We head back in to the MGM Grand for dinner… we’ve got reservations at Fiamma’s tonight. And, I’m sorry to say, it was good but not the same as our first visit.

The main problem was our waiter. He was… well… there. As in really there. As in… all… the… time… making conversation and just giving off an amazing air of phoniness. Here’s a funny example of what I mean.

During dinner, he decided to tell us about a special promotion they were having. It involved a bottle of scotch, that came in a collector’s special bottle, and was only a few hundred dollars, and… well… I’m no more interested in that bottle of scotch today than I was that night. None of us had ordered much to drink… I think two glasses of wine were on the table. No hard liquors, and I don’t recall any of us making eye contact with him when he tried to discuss scotch or his experiences in going to a tasting so he could talk about scotch. But… he insisted… on talking about scotch over and over… and over… again.

And that was just a portion of it. The thing is, it wasn’t that he was a bad waiter. Truth be told, he was fine. But he was just so annoying. And while most of the meal was good, the food was lacking the dynamic impact we had felt during our first visit.

Now… understand something… it was a very good meal. All of us would gladly return to Fiamma’s again (and again). It simply was good to very good this time, when it had been extraordinary before.

I played a few hands of blackjack… doubling my $30… and then we prepared to move on to Mandalay Bay.

Ellen had heard about this place called The Mix. It’s a lounge at the top of THEhotel… one of Mandalay Bay’s latest additions.

Here’s what I can tell you about THEhotel and The Mix… I won’t ever be heading back.

It was boring… very boring… and it wasn’t friendly. I don’t mean the people. Tim at the valet was excellent. And most of the staff smiled. I mean the facility itself as a property wasn’t friendly. I felt like I was driving around in circles trying to navigate to the parking. (And as annoying as entering the property and finding parking was, I had even more problems figuring out how to get out and back on the street when we left.) Everything about driving around the property was filled with speed bumps and bad signage and… a royal pain in the fanny.

We asked a few people for directions, and got sent in circles to find the elevators up to The Mix… most members of the staff either didn’t know how to get there or didn’t know if it was open, and in one case didn’t even know it existed. And the only reason we kept asking people for directions was because the previous person we spoke to had directed us to yet another dead end. The reason we finally found it? Not because of great directions from a good employee. Instead, we stumbled on a rather bored looking girl standing next to an elevator and it turned out she was telling people when they could get on that elevator to go up to The Mix.

Amazingly… this absolutely mirrors the experience we had when we visited the Mandalay Bay property back in 2004. Difficult to navigate… never satisfying. (I don’t need this on vacation. Two strikes… Mandalay Bay is out.)

It wasn’t all bad. Once we got on the elevators we were in for a bit of a treat. I wish I had a proper camera… because the night view down the strip was incredible.

Other than that though… maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’m just not young and hip and in touch with the world. Maybe being ignored by multiple members of the staff is the way you are supposed to be treated in hot spots these days. The interior was dark and uninviting, and the music was so loud you couldn’t have a conversation. My notes say all of us ordered a specialty drink called a Violet, but I don’t note whether or not any of us liked it. Obviously pretty memorable.

We had our drinks and went back to the elevator. Out to the valet area, get our car, and I get lost finding the Strip. Ok… not really… but I’m not kidding, the driving around this place is horrendous.

We end up heading back to the Grand View and crossing the street to South Point to finish up our evening. Fair enough… I needed a few drinks. It’s a good finish to the day for Ellen and Richard, as they win a few dollars. Terry and I don’t lose much, but… ok…

I sat down at a blackjack table. Over the course of one shoe, I drew seven blackjacks. And, I am not making this up, every one of them turned into a push when the dealer pulled a blackjack of his own out of his backside. It got so bad that I was wincing any time I saw an ace show up as the first card in front of me, and the others at my table were making insurance bets when I drew a blackjack but waving off the option any time I didn’t have one but the bet was offered.

Day Seven ~ Friday, April 25, 2008

This morning, after taking a shower and meandering around the room I find Tigg in front of the television… you guessed it… looking for The Waltons.

Today is an open day for us… nothing planned… nothing scheduled… just a free day to kick around. So we decide to head over to Planet Hollywood… which was Aladdin’s on our last visit. It’s hard to explain what it felt like here. We enjoyed all of the nuances, but never really got comfortable.

It started with a trip to the player’s club desk. Denisha took care of us and she was fantastic. Friendly… energetic… and passing along tips on all sorts of stuff we should be looking at, from the free $2 million slot pull to a slot tournament later in the day. And for the most part, almost all of the staff mirrored Denisha’s personality. She was by far the friendliest during our visit… but almost all of them were smiling and seemed happy to see us.

During our first trip to Vegas, I couldn’t double-down while playing blackjack. If I did… on a 10 or an 11 with the dealer showing a stiff hand… I’d never draw anything above a 6 and some how the dealer always managed to flip the bottom card into a hand of 9… 10… or 11 and then finish me off. But if I didn’t double down, I consistently drew a 10 card and won the hand. I learned… don’t put up the extra money and take the win.

This time, I occasionally was finding single-deck games with dealers that were going more than one hand before reshuffling. And… I was getting pasted if I played. I couldn’t win.

After trying to win $2 million with our free slot pull and making the rounds to other places… including the sports book… we decide to have lunch. A group vote sends us on a short walk over to the Harley Davidson Café.

A surprise discovery in 2004, the Harley Davidson Café was a must-do for us on this trip. We had just really enjoyed it as different, fun and affordable. And unlike a few other places (we’re getting close to the biggest disappointment on the trip, at dinner tonight, but several locations just weren’t the same and had been noticeably less on this trip)… this time the experience was pretty comparable to our previous visit.

Stephanie was our waitress, and she was fine. Terry and I split an order of Santa Fe egg rolls and then she got the chicken fingers with fries while I had a BBQ brisket sandwich. Richard had a bacon burger and Ellen ordered her chicken fingers with mac and cheese.

The food wasn’t exceptional… but it was good. Seating was quick, service was fast, and the atmosphere was great. Very enjoyable lunch.

Back to Planet Hollywood for the slot tournament.

Are there any people out there impressed by the Planet Hollywood daily slot tournaments? Any at all? Because I was kind of looking forward to it, and man… was I disappointed.

See… I won.

And the prize was two Planet Hollywood key chains.

Are they kidding? Nope… because I got two key chains and that was it.

Not some dinner comp of some type. Not a $25 prize or free slot play. Not placed into some high-score-of-the-day competition I needed to be present to win later in the day. Not a coffee mug.

Two key chains.

We leave Planet Hollywood and head back to the Grand View for some canasta.

While playing cards, we begin discussing dinner options and quickly arrive at a decision to visit Batista’s Hole in the Wall. When last here, we really enjoyed our visit to this legendary Vegas restaurant. It wasn’t that the food was great or the experience amazing… but a strange combination of everything that made the last visit memorable. Good food… great prices… nice atmosphere… dazzling history.

I’m sorry to say I’m fairly certain we’ll never walk into the place again. Here’s why…

We arrived and it was busier than it had been during our visit a few year’s ago. No stunning surprise there actually… we arrived at dinner time for this visit, while in 2004 it had been almost closing time… and there is a difference you could expect between December and April as far as general business volume (not that I know this to be true, but it sure seems to me there’s a reason every place allowed top notch performers to take most of December off).

Instead, the surprises here came in different ways. For instance, because it was busier, we were sitting in a section where people were being seated at other tables. Last time, we were all alone, pretty much the last seating of the night. So it was really easy to see people arriving after us, ordering, and then being served food… not drinks, actual food… before our waitress had even made a first appearance at our table.

Next, a person came over to the table and asked where we were from. He was so kind and honest in his attempt to socialize that I feel bad mentioning this, but it was funny and it just dragged on and on. Upon hearing Rhode Island, we began getting a non-stop speech about boxer Vinny Pazienza. Usually I start getting ill any time someone even utters the one-syllable word “Paz” in reference to this clown. Can’t stand the guy. At all. But our new friend kept at it… on and on and on… how great Vinny was to him and what a class act and blah-blah-blah-please-won’t-you-stop-it.

And there we are… drinks not even at our table yet with service beyond any reasonable definition of slow… and stories galore about Vinny Paz… oh, this visit was off to a startlingly bad beginning.

It got worse.

After offering a quick sort of apology… “sorry for the delay” was what we thought she mumbled (even Mumbles himself wasn’t certain she apologized… no eye contact, muffled voice, seemed to have said to say it because it had to be said but for no other reason… you get the idea)… our food began to arrive. Terry went with soup… the rest of us salad. Ellen and Terry had chicken parm, while Richard had a steak dish and I ordered ravioli. Nothing special with any of the dishes… and in fact, nothing was impressive at all. Everything was borderline bland. Maybe it was the poor service… maybe the food quality… but we weren’t feeling too appreciated.

Still… it got worse.

The waitress came over to our table and proceeded to spill water all over Ellen and Richard. This was followed by an amazingly insincere apology. Now… I know that isn’t completely fair to call her apology insincere, but…

Have you ever had a moment when you just knew what a person was thinking? I mean… no doubt about it… an “I can tell that this is exactly what is going through your mind” moment?

After the water spilled on Ellen and Richard, I was positive the waitress wasn’t concerned for either of them. I honestly believe she was far more concerned for herself. Now… I won’t claim to know exactly what was on her mind. Maybe she thought her tip was absolutely beyond recovery. (It was.) Maybe having already given a wiseass “sorry for the delay” service apology previously, she was wondering if there was anything else she could do wrong at our table. (Thankfully, no.) But whatever the specific thought was, I am convinced she was more focused on why this inconvenience had happened to her rather than her two wet customers and the spill that needed to be cleaned up. Not a doubt of it in my mind.

I don’t want to go setting policy for places. I can’t say what Batista’s claims it will do for customers in situations like this. Ridiculously slow service… staff spilling water on guests… stuff like that. What I can tell you is that no one acknowledged any of it at our table. Management didn’t arrive offering sincerest apologies… in fact, management never made an appearance at all. There was no dessert-on-us offer. There was nothing.

Instead… the bill arrived quite quickly, and the processing of our payment was the fastest service of the evening.

Goodbye Batista’s. We won’t be back… and won’t be describing to others how to find you.

After deciding they were dry enough to stay out and not change, we went over to South Point to spend some time.

Terry left us to go see a movie. I proceeded to lose $50 so quickly at blackjack that I went immediately to the theaters to see if I could find Terry… thinking perhaps she would be no further along than getting her ritual bag of popcorn. No such luck… so I went to watch a baseball game in the sports book while Terry saw Baby Mama. By the time she returned, we were all ready to call it a night.

Day Eight ~ Saturday, April 26, 2008

We adjust our rooms. We’re heading in to the final night, and that means regrouping into a single unit for the last night. After sorting out the move, we’re quickly out and moving.

Ellen has arranged a surprise for Richard and I. We knew about before we even left on this trip, but today is the day we collect on her gift. We’re heading to Pole Position Raceway. We each get two races on the track.

Now… it was really cool… and both of us had a great time. That said, it wasn’t what I expected.

When we get there, it’s apparent some sort of league racing is taking place. I wasn’t sure of exactly what was happening, but teams were involved, standings were being kept, and overall it was evident these people spend quite a bit of time hanging around the Pole Position facility.

So right off the bat… really excited… we’re also standing to the side of the track taking it all in, and while I can’t talk specifically for Richard, I was really, really aware of the fact I was an amateur compared to these folks.

Time for a side story.

When Justin and Jason would get new video games, I loved playing along. But… for most of them… only right when those games first came into the house. Once they had invested hundreds of hours into a game, and learned every conceivable secret about it, I was too far behind them. They’d be bashing me in the face while jumping into moving vehicles and I would still be trying to figure out how to pick up a gun. I swear I would push the very button they told me to push… exactly when they told me to push it… but my guys never jumped into the jeep, never threw the ball, never found the secret passageway to the extra level, and… you see where I’m going. My participating amounted to target practice for them, and I wasn’t even creating a moving target.

In a way… it was a similar feeling standing by the edge of the track watching these people. I wanted to race… was expecting to have alot of fun… but I was wondering if people were going to be ticked at me because they were going for personal best lap times and I was in front of them with no clue how to get out of their way. I finally decide that if they can’t figure out how to pass me, they don’t deserve a personal best time.

We move in to get some equipment and our assignments, and I’m getting nervous because now I can’t breath. I’ve put the sock-like thing over my head and then the helmet, and I just can’t get any air. It turns out to be a temporary thing… because once the cart actually began moving, air began circulating, and breathing wasn’t a problem any more.

In the end we did pretty well. I’ll question the stats they keep forever… since Richard and I passed people that were listed above us on the race tracking sheets we were given… but we were easily in the middle or so of our groups. I think they did something with the way the group started… a staggered start kind of thing… and this somehow became a slightly uneven start as far as the timing was concerned. But… whatever… I can’t prove any of it.

It was alot of fun and I would do it again. But I still can’t shake the feeling that I was a bit out of place.

In the car we are on the main strip and trying to decide on a place to go. All of us are sort of debating places we’ve never been to… something different… and Richard and I finally win one.


We’re going to Hooters.

And… well… yawn.

(I know… Richard and I are both stunned about it as well.)

We walk into the property, and, we’re hungry… so we’re trying to find a place to eat. As we walk across the casino floor, looking around and trying to see what kind of options we have, it becomes apparent that the Hooters restaurant location is pretty much the only real choice available. We get in line, and fairly quickly (all things considered, since the line was decent but there didn’t seem to be alot going on) are seated.

Ellen and Richard went with Buffalo fingers. Terry ordered a bowl of chowder and some wings. I had a Philly chicken cheesesteak. Terry enjoyed her wings… and that is pretty much the only nice thing I can say about the meal.

We head over to the players club and Kenny took good care of us. In fact, I wished we had met Kenny earlier in the trip… because if we had, we probably would have spent more time at Hooters and I would likely have some pretty decent things to say. For example… he offered us really good show tickets with our new membership… but we have an early flight out tomorrow morning and no intentions of hanging around (or coming back) to see a show that night.

One thing we do get is entry into a slot play tournament thingy that isn’t a tournament. And it annoyed the tar out of me… because I couldn’t win… and I couldn’t lose…

There was a section of machines that you could pick for your free play. Unlike several places that offer free slot play though, this never really turned into cash. You got credits… and you played until one of two things happened. (1) You earned enough points to reach one of their prize levels. (2) You ran out of credits.

Terry, Ellen and Richard were done in under five minutes.

I picked a triple double wild cherry machine and settled in for an hour of my life that I’ll never get back. At first it was kind of funny… I was bleeding credits before I even started. But then I hit a couple of minor wins… triple bars for credits but nothing major… and ended up finding a place right between a prize and zero. And I stayed there. And stayed there. And Terry came over to see how things were going, and I stayed there… wedged a few hundred credits from zero, and a few hundred from a prize.

I debated walking away.

Eventually the credits were gone… but so was the interest Terry, Ellen and Richard had in staying. They were done… I wasn’t really entertained enough to fight them on staying… and we moved on. You could very easily say that the slot promotion designed to keep me on the property effectively prevented me from actually spending any money there. I never played a table game or live slot machine.

We’ve been debating something for a few days. Actually… debate isn’t a good word. We’d easily decided that yes, we needed to do this. What we kept kicking around was where. In the car it starts again…

Where can we get a deck of dirty cards? In an extension of Dirty Card Day 2004… but this time I’m looking for a real deck of naked women. And actually… given our games of Canasta… I’m looking for three decks of dirty cards from Vegas. Having failed at some stores already… for god knows why since all of those stores seemed like decent options from the outside… we pick Fremont Street and head back out that way.

We find some cards in a store, but Terry and Ellen aren’t playing nice at all. They just aren’t capturing the spirit of this adventure to find naked women. I know you won’t believe this, but they’ve decided to buy some cards of naked men. Richard and I really didn’t care much about that part… what did annoy the two of us was that the cards of the men showed more than the cards of the women.

We stop by Binion’s… and wander out. Over to Four Queens, where Marilyn the dealer was very cranky. After Ellen buys a great Route 66 bag, we decide to wander in to a place called Mermaids. And you know what? We were afraid to touch anything in the place.

Back to the car and an old friend is spotted… In-N-Out Burger. Yeah dinner!!!

It’s still early when we get back to the Grand View, so we decide to head over to South Point for some final gambling and maybe to pick up dessert. It isn’t long before we head back to the room for some Canasta.

Day Nine ~ Sunday, April 27, 2008

The title for this entry in our travel journey is a bit misleading. I’ve been telling you all along it was eight days… when the fact is, it was nine.

Eight nights… nine days.

Either I miscounted the days when I was setting up the files (highly likely) or on some subconscious level it registered how the travel home normally doesn’t need to be documented for all time (less likely, but as a concept it is very true… since as an example, the snow on our trip back from Los Angeles a few years back didn’t exactly make for riveting reading).

And yet… looking back on it… to go with the big eight days, eliminate the final hours, and deprive you of the return of our rental car would mean depriving you of the joy of understanding why the mention of Advantage Rental Car will draw laughter from us in the future. And… why you might want to look elsewhere if considering Advantage for your Las Vegas travels.

A bit of sound thought to begin this particular story. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. What time does is add perspective. It allows us to look back at things and say “Screw you Advantage” to each other while realizing that overall, this was a great trip. And, it allows for me to honestly say that my experience with Advantage might be an isolated one, based just on the guy we are about to bring in to the story.

To sum up… we may not like Advantage… but Advantage may not be that bad.

Why try to offer this... well, almost a disclaimer... ahead of the story?

Well, for one thing, when I got home, I called Advantage immediately. I wanted to kick start the process on what happened, what we needed to do, where things were left… and basically bring to an end what you are about to read. And I got a fantastic woman on the phone at that time. If I dealt with her from the first phone call… or an Advantage employee similar to her… I am convinced none of this would have been handled so horribly.

And… paperwork started showing up from Advantage very quickly at our home… as in, a processing error on their part resulted in an actual check arriving in less than a week. (I didn’t deserve the check… had to call back to speak with the fantastic woman again and clear it up, then void and return the check. But the idea that Advantage actually processed a payment to me so quickly means they didn’t stall on things, and does speak highly in their favor.)

Also… keep in mind… I’m telling you right now I signed the rental agreement. I knew the windshield was my responsibility to pay for. All I wanted was an answer… a bill… or some sign that the people handling this knew what was taking place. Tell me what it costs and let’s move things along.

That isn’t what happened.

The sun hasn’t risen… it’s early… and we’re entering a parking garage to return the car.

As we’re pulling the bags out, I tell the guy taking the keys about the windshield and how I was told a supervisor would come over to check it out. He looks at me for a moment with a somewhat confused expression on his face, turns to look at the windshield, and then nods. He walks around the car looking it over, and a few minutes later he asks our group if we knew that the windshield is damaged.

(I wish I was kidding. I took a deep breath. You might want to do the same.)

I explain that I knew about it, and that was why I mentioned getting a supervisor.

He responds by saying that the cashier will handle everything. When I tell him that I called before and was told to have a supervisor check it out when I arrived, he tells me that there isn’t a supervisor working this early in the day and the cashier knows what to do.

(I’m beginning to feel a bit skeptical as I head over to the cashier.)

When it’s my turn at the window, our conversation starts with him telling me about the damage to the windshield and that he needs a new credit card from me because he tried to run a charge on the card they had on file and it was declined. In return, I asked him why he ran a new charge with me literally a few feet away from him, but before he had even spoken to me. He mumbled something about trying to get things started so he could get me moving along more quickly and airport congestion, and… I’m not sure… but I think he asked if I saw the episode of The Waltons before leaving the hotel, because that day’s was one of his favorites. I followed up his mumbling by asking John Boy how much he attempted to charge on the card. And… sarcasm to the back of the vehicle... he said...

(Wait for it. Wait for it. It will be worth it. Wait for it. Ok… here it is…)

He said he didn’t remember.

(What? Come on. What? He didn’t say he was just charging my credit card and now didn’t know how much he was charging it. Did he? I mean really. What the hell? What… the… hell! I’m walking from my car to his station, thirty seconds tops to cover that distance, waiting for a few moments at his window and watching the guy that checked our vehicle drop off the paperwork on our rental, and before he says anything to me not only does he decide to charge some random amount for damages to a credit card, but when he asks me to help him out he doesn’t know how much the figment-of-his-imagination is that he’s charging me? I’m beyond skeptical right now, and rapidly approaching ticked off.)

Apparently there’s some note in my file, on his computer, about my Thursday call. They actually have a record that I called. (I guess that’s a good thing. But wait… no… might not be.) As he was pulling up the information he saw that I had called in the damage, and then saw the report brought in from checking the car in, and he started charging the card on record or something like that because everything seemed so straightforward… he’s mumbling… and he looks at Terry and then at me… and as he tries to explain what happened, the fee he thinks he tried to charge begins moving between $500 and $700… and then he looks down and away from us… it could have been $500 but might have been $700 since it has nothing to do with the repair costs but instead is a deposit amount based on the damaged part of the car… and according to what he’s saying the computer does it automatically, not him… and then mentions something about a supervisor determining the amount between an actual damage charge as opposed to an initial deposit charge and… good lord… we stop him.

Let’s start over. Forget all of the computer did this and the fee fluctuates that. Simple question. Just tell us. I signed the agreement. I know I have something to pay. So how about starting there? How much do we owe?

He mentions something about $200… and then goes back to $700… and he’s hitting keys on the computer and really looking busy… and he’s looked nervous since I questioned why he didn’t know how much he was trying to apply to my card… and finally he stops typing and clicking his mouse and looks at me, then Terry, and says that he supposes we won’t be giving him a different credit card if he can’t give us a total.

(Wow… yeah… quite a thought there buddy.)

I repeat my request for a supervisor. He says he thought we’d say that since it says in the notes from Thursday I said I was going to ask for a supervisor. I tell him no… I was actually told to ask for a supervisor.

At this point you could have rolled out some of the greatest comedy acts to ever play in Vegas and none of them could have turned this sorry state of affairs into something funny. It was just ridiculous.

Frankly I was pretty damn impressed with myself and Terry. We had both easily moved into a level of pissed off that neither of us had experienced in quite some time, and yet we were both calmly speaking to him. We weren’t yelling… weren’t hysterical… and we’re making what I believe is decent sense considering the information we’re getting in return (or lack of information to be accurate). Let’s face it... this guy was winging it at this point, because there is no way he’s in the middle of some training script, responding with a formatted answer to troubleshoot a difficult situation.

I’m guessing it had something to do with the control we felt by having our credit cards securely in our wallets while he stammered and stumbled about the charges he couldn’t figure out. And when he finally started trying to give us a solid figure… the highest one of $700… Terry didn’t want to hear it. No supervisor… no idea what was going on… yeah… she wanted to talk to someone in management about this whole thing.

Now… get ready… because there is frosting for this cake…

Are you ready for what he told us? I am not kidding when I say this…

I had a cashier with notes in his computer saying I had called to report the damage. Those notes, according to him, did say the supervisor would tell him what to charge me. And… there was no supervisor there. He tried to charge my credit card an amount he doesn’t recall, though we’ve now narrowed it down to him claiming it was between $500 and $700. And now, with me waiting for him to either get me a supervisor or above to speak with, or some sort of written documentation showing what he thinks he’s charging me for, he comes up with this beauty:

“If you don’t pay me now, they’ll bill you.”

(I’ll wait while you try to grasp the true impact of his words. See… he was telling us that if we didn’t come up with a way of paying him some vague and nothing even remotely close to a specific amount… an amount that all of the computers Advantage has awake in Vegas in the predawn hours have been working on with him, but can’t set an exact cost for… then Advantage was going to send us a bill.)

(Yeah. That’s how we felt too.)

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