Saturday, September 18, 2004

Captain Marbles Meets Las Vegas, Volume Two

It was a nice invitation from my brother, Captain Marbles: Meet me in Las Vegas in September. I’ll stay at the Westward Ho, he said, and you can stay for 2 nights for free at the Stardust. Unless you’d rather stay at the ‘Ho? No thanks. While I had never stayed at the Stardust before, it had to be better than the ‘50’s motel decor the Westward Ho served up to its loyal customers.

Even though I had met Marvin and his wife before at the casino, he still took me on the tour. This is where he had won a tournament. This is where he had won a huge jackpot. He showed me all his favorite machines. But in deference to my tastes, he showed me all the nickel slots in the small casino. I remembered them, and saw, with some dismay, that some had been displaced by other, newer ones. Still, there seemed to be enough fun ones to enjoy.
So, on that first day, I won some, I lost some, mostly keeping even while I played Monopoly, I Dream of Jeannie, even Reel ‘Em In, my favorite. I discovered new ones at which I did very well, like Alien and Rich Uncle.

I went to bed, exhausted after the first night, at about 11 pm. Marvin kept gambling. When I saw his wife Hide that next morning, she said that he had won big after she and I had left for sleep. Sure enough, I saw him in the early afternoon, talking to various staff members in the Westward Ho, telling them about his big score.

An incident that happened to Hide last visit came to light: a maid apparently took her blouse, as she couldn't find it when they were leaving. They complained to Westward Ho management when they got home, and the customer service rep told them to see him when they came next. When Marvin asked me if I wanted to go shopping, I thought it was for souvenirs. Little did I realize I was going with Hide to find a replacement blouse.

We met Jim the Customer Service Rep at the progressive dollar slots. Jim showed Hide and me to his personal Mercedes, and drove us the 5 minutes it took to get to the mall. He told me he thought it was a nicer response if he would take her shopping than just mail her a check for the blouse’s replacement, and he was certainly right. He asked her if she wanted Nordstrom’s when we got to the, she said....Macy’s? Yes! she said. Macy’s was her favorite. This was definitely an upscale Macy’s, with personal shoppers galore. Jim, who was dressed nattily in a suit and matching silk tie, chatted with me as we waited for Hide to make her choice of blouses. Jim, whom I recognized immediately as a brother, served many purposes at the Westward Ho and beyond. He worked on the slot tournaments and promotions as well as customer service at the casino. He was promoting the new Westward Ho which was being built, ready to open in about a month. “The old Westward Ho appeals to clientele who go to bed at about 10 pm,” he said, referring naturally to the Westward Ho’s aging clientele. “This one will bring in those who stay up a little later.” As we walked around Macy’s, he was looking at outfits that had size 0 written on them, trying to figure out what would work for his models on a photo shoot he was going to do in two days. Jim also has his hand in other endeavors, as he pointed out two shows on the Strip which he had choreographed. "I was a dancer for the first 10 years I was in Las Vegas," he said rather wistfully. "I have since grown in other regions," pointing to his waistline. "And these 19-year-old dancers look at me and say, 'God, you're old!'"

When Hide found a blouse -- a $90 one to replace her $12 blouse -- Jim paid for it with his Visa card, and we were on our way back to the casino.

Marvin was feeling good, having won the previous night and was winning so far that afternoon with two $400 jackpots, and so he said he was taking Hide and me to a nice steak dinner at the Riviera. We crossed the street to the Riviera at about 6 pm, but couldn’t get out of the entrance. As soon as you go in, they rope you in for a spin at their wheel. Now, Hide and Marvin know the spin very well, but they love freebies, so all of us stayed in the line a good 20 minutes to win a mug or a deck of cards. Marvin had ANYBAR-ANYBAR-ANYBAR, though, at the big slot machine, so he won some sort of lottery ticket. That meant we all had to go to the player’s club to see if he had won. He did not, but he got another freebie: a 2nd troll doll, surely the ugliest prize in the place.

We made it to the steak house, which is called Kristoffer’s. It was nearly deserted at that early hour, easy to get a table without a reservation. As we walked in, Marvin threw over his shoulder at me, “Do you want white wine or red?” Oh, wow, this is going to be a great dinner! I replied, eagerly, “White!” After he asked the hostess to re-seat us to another table away from the walk-by traffic, he said, “Do you want French wine?” He must’ve hit it big! I said, “No, no -- I prefer wine from California.”

The waiter handed him the wine list. We argued about which white wine. I wanted a nice Chardonnay, while he argued for Blue Nun. “Blue Nun?” I said, haughtily. “Blue Nun is so 30 years ago.” I picked out a Chardonnay, and we asked for two glasses. Marvin took one sip, and reacted. “This is too vinegary. I can’t drink this.” He then asked for a bottle of Blue Nun, as they didn’t serve it by the glass. The waiter, Bobby, seemed determined to get his tip; he said, “Blue Nun is very...consistent.” And that’s what the Captain wanted.

After I drank the two glasses of Chardonnay, I hazarded a glass of the Blue Nun. It’s easier to describe what it isn’t. Not crisp. Not oakey. Very sweet. I found that it helped having the other two glasses first.

The steak was absolutely delicious. I will remember that steak house.

Afterwards, we went to the Nickel Slots adjoining the Riviera. Marvin, probably to keep me company, played Monopoly nickel slots alongside me, but was frustrated because he couldn’t get the bonus round. I kept getting to the bonus rounds, however, on my machines, and was having a good time racking up the points. But after awhile, the 3 glasses of wine and all the food had a definite effect on me: I was falling asleep. So I went back to the Stardust, alone.

I knew I was checking out the next day, so I thought I should play there a little bit, maybe get a comp offer later for my play. I played Monopoly, and quickly won over 1,000 coins (nickles) on two machines. As I waited for the slot people to come over and pay me off, I played a machine I had never heard of before: Quackers. The point of Quackers was to get as many of the same pictures in a row, of course. The bonus round consisted of trying to hit ducks with a plunger, a real crazy, whacky kind of game. I liked it because it was a penny machine, and although I could’ve changed the denomination, I didn’t bother, figuring I could figure out what 1000 pennies are. Better yet, Quackers paid off in a ticket so you didn’t have to wait for manual payoff.

It was late on a Wednesday night, and still no slot people to pay me off for the Monopoly machines. So I kept playing Quackers. Finally they came and I could stop playing and go to bed. So I bet as much as I could at Quackers to play my money down. All of a sudden, I hit a bonus round that had huge numbers to it: 30,000 here, 20,000 there. And then there was another bonus round right after that. When I finally looked up, I was 110,000 points on the board. I thought, “Oh, a hundred dollars.” Then I stared at it again. Nope. Over $1,000. On a penny machine.

This trip must be about three that I’ve actually returned with casino money. Combine that with a shopping trip with a show choreographer and a fight over Blue Nun, and, well, you have a winning trip.