Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happiness and Fun in Las Vegas -- A Zak and Kat Vacation

Hey everyone! Come look at my boring vacation post!

Okay, okay. I don't mean to be cynical about it. But a blog post about a vacation is the modern day equivalent of inviting guests over to see a slideshow of your family trip. It's absolutely of no interest to anyone other than yourself, and yet you inflict it on anyone who's willing to look. The great Louis C.K. has a hilarious routine about posting videos of your kid's school plays and talent shows on Facebook and thinking that anyone will ever actually watch it, but I digress. Here is a little log from the short but fun vacation Kat and I took to Las Vegas last weekend.

It was not a typical vacation-start morning. Both Kat and I are busy people, and both of our respective jobs had us doing job-like things that morning. I had a couple of meetings and deadlines to knock out of the way to make sure I could be as footloose and fancy-free as possible while we were out of town. We'd gone to Vegas together a couple of times before, but it was usually in conjunction with a trade show, so I'd be half-working, half-playing. No trade show this time; just a few days to relax and be stupid, Vegas-style. Kat arrived at about 1PM, and a half hour later, the SuperShuttle was here to pick us up to head toward LAX. Neither of us had flown Virgin America before, and I have to say, everything about the process was pretty smooth and fun. Check-in was fast and easy. The plane itself was new and nice. And I'm not sure if the pilot had a hot date later that day, because I've never flown from LA to Vegas as quickly as we did this trip. It was ridiculous. The flight is scheduled for about an hour and ten minutes. We were there in like 40. Crazy.

Landing early at just before 5PM, we caught a cab to our hotel, the Luxor resort, which is toward the south end of the Strip. We've stayed there before; it's cheap and still has the amenities you want in a Vegas casino, and a good central location to go casino hopping. I should say a couple of things to people who might want to stay at Luxor. First, they always hit you for more than you expected to pay. Hotels are becoming like airlines, charging you for things you formerly expected to be included in the cost of the stay. Luxor has a "resort fee" of about $22/day that they nail you with on check-in, claiming it's for use of Internet and other confusing aspects. I was already aware of it and didn't feel like arguing about it with the check-in clerk. The other thing is that like all casinos, you will likely constantly be bombarded by people trying to sell you tickets to shows. These folks work on commission, and you can't blame them for trying. But you will find yourself making up any number of excuses to turn them down, or avoid them entirely. Enough on that.

We went to our room in the pyramid-shaped hotel via the always-weird inclinator (an elevator that goes up and down diagonally), unpacked, and then headed downstairs. There are many things one can do in Las Vegas. Kat and I like to put money in machines that go "Beep!" and "Bloop!" and then try and make us happy by occasionally giving us some of our own money back. So, we started some gaming at the Luxor casino, and then sauntered through the connecting mall area to Mandalay Bay, and did more of the same. By the time we got back, we were feeling pretty peckish, but not in the mood for anything huge. We headed upstairs to the food court area and ate at Nathan's, where I had a cheesesteak and Kat had a chicken sandwich. After that, we did a little more gaming, including a visit to the Playbar. Most casinos have these; it's a bar usually located near the sports book that has gaming built into the bar itself, as well as a view of whatever sporting events are on at the moment. We had a couple of cocktails, and then called it a night.

Ahhh... the feeling of waking up on the first full day of a vacation, with no plans or responsibilities. It's a very rare treat for me, and for Kat as well. We kicked back for awhile, in no hurry, other than the grumbling of our stomachs and our need for caffeine (which is actually a pretty good impetus to get out of bed and get moving). At first we were just going to grab coffee at one of the 10,000,000 Starbucks that seem to be located every few feet in Las Vegas, but then we walked by Luxor's Pyramid Cafe, a place we both enjoy from previous visits. It didn't disappoint, let me tell ya. We ended up there that morning and every other morning of the trip.

Our waiter was a friendly guy named Wilfredo, and the service was quick and great (starting with a ton of coffee, water, and orange juice to get us feeling perky). Kat, in an effort to overindulge in hedonistic vacation style, had steak and eggs, while I wolfed down a western omelette. After breakfast, we did some more gaming at Luxor, and then headed out in our usual tour of that part of the Strip. The whole thing, for those of you who don't know, is interconnected. You can basically navigate everywhere through various walkways, escalators, trams, and pedestrian overpasses on Las Vegas Boulevard. So, we headed over to Excalibur (and stayed and gambled), to New York New York (gambled), and to MGM Grand (and gambled some more). A side note: for whatever probably nonexistent superstitious reason, Kat seems to win more often at MGM Grand than any other casino. I certainly don't; that places screws me every time, so I guess it all balances out. Heh.

While we were at NYNY, we got hungry, so we ate at their Greenberg's Deli. We both had egg salad sandwiches and shared a container of matzo ball soup. I have to admit, as cheesy and schlocky as many of those theme restaurants are in Vegas, the food was really damned good.

After all that, we headed back to Luxor. That's when I got my first decent-sized payout on a machine, hitting four aces on a video poker game that paid out about $100. Not too shabby, I must say. On an overall note, Kat and I have a simple rule about gambling: we take a reasonable amount of money, and fully plan to lose it all. It's the cost of entertainment. If we manage to break even or come out ahead, we're all the happier, but our vacations in Vegas aren't contingent on our being big, successful gamblers. We're there to have fun and relax.

By then, it was time for dinner, and you can't go to Vegas and not eat a big-ass buffet. It's part of the experience, and always has been. The Vegas buffets used to be known for their insane cheapness ("$4.95 All You Can Eat Prime Rib!"), and while it's not the case any more, it's still fun being a complete ridiculous glutton when going back for your third fill of beef, potatoes, crab legs, shrimp, desserts, and more. The buffet at Luxor, by the way, is called "More". Appropriate. Speaking of "more", after dinner, it was more gaming (when it was Kat's turn to get a nice pay-out by hitting a straight flush), more cocktails at the Playbar, and finally up the inclinator to bed.

What's something you can do while on vacation with no tight schedule or responsibilities? How about sleeping in until 9:00? Yeah, that's right. As long as we were reveling in greed, lust, and gluttony, how about some sloth? If you don't hit on every one of the seven deadly sins in Vegas, you're just not trying hard enough.

We dressed and headed downstairs. Having pigged out the entire previous day, we decided to keep things light for breakfast, or so we thought. Once again, we hit the Pyramid Cafe. Once again, Wilfredo serviced our table (and impressed us by asking Kat if she wanted her steak and eggs from the day before). But instead, we ordered a bagel and lox plate. It arrived and was completely decadent... bagels, cream cheese, lox, capers, roma tomatoes, red onion... whew. Good stuff. After we finished and rolled out of there, we spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon doing some gaming in various places. Then we headed back upstairs to take a rare break from everything. Kat and I both spent some much-needed quiet time away from the frantic sights and sounds of the casinos in our room. We had another reason to step away for a bit: Kat's best friend from her early life Karyn lives in Vegas, and Kat had arranged to meet her while we were in town.

At about 4PM, Karyn and her teenage son Chance showed up at Luxor, and we had an informal lunch with them. I'd heard so much about Karyn over the years and this was my first chance to meet her, and I enjoyed it very much. After eating, we took a stroll through Excalibur over to NYNY; Chance wanted to visit the Hershey chocolate store and to go on the roller coaster there. I stepped away for awhile so Kat and her pal could catch up and hang out. I was busy losing money, in any case. Mot long after, I met them all to say goodbye to Karyn and Chance, and then Kat and I did some more gaming, both there and at MGM Grand.

I should mention something here that Kat was quick to notice and point out: each casino has its own fragrance. I'm not talking about the smell of cigarettes and overly-applied cologne and desperation odors; those are universal. I mean an actual smell that is unique to each place. Apparently, the olfactory senses are not ignored by the casino designers, and when you hop from place to place, it's easy to tell the difference even if you're blind and/or deaf. Kat decided that Luxor smells like a hospital, NYNY smells like cilantro, and MGM Grand smells like an old lady's perfume (leading me to start calling it "MGM Grandma", but I digress).

We didn't want to do anything too involved for dinner that night, so we headed to the Backstage Deli at Luxor. I ended up having a reuben, and Kat had a patty melt. The real cost of this Vegas trip may end up being the cardiology bills from our bypasses. We once again finished the evening with a nightcap, and didn't get back up to our room until well after midnight. We were really having fun; both of us usually love our sleep.

Just for some perspective, I get up every weekday at 6:00am. Even on the weekends, it's rare for me to be able to sleep past 8:00 or so. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was almost 10:00 when I blearily looked at the clock on Sunday morning. That was followed by the unpleasant realization that check out time was in about an hour. We weren't leaving town until later that evening, but we had to clear out of our room pronto. It really wasn't a big deal; Kat and I have done enough trips together that we have it down to a science. We showered, dressed, packed, and checked the room to make sure we weren't leaving anything behind in no time flat. Just before 11:00, we went downstairs, and saw a big line of people trying to check out. Across the lobby, there were zero people at the bell desk. We checked our luggage and were done in minutes.

Then it was off to the Pyramid Cafe once again, and yet again, our server was Wilfredo. At that point, Kat wondered aloud if there was actually only one waiter who was employed at the large restaurant. We never found out if that was the case, but Kat and I both loved our french toast that morning. Then we were off to do more gaming, at Luxor, and then more at Mandalay Bay. Kat has a new favorite game, by the way: it's the Monopoly slot machine. I don't think it's because we won a lot on it, but it was certainly fun.

Getting around the Strip that day proved to be a bit of a challenge. There was a race, some kind of 10k I believe, and the whole Strip was shut down. As a result, it was pretty insane just getting around town. People in running gear everywhere, and various pathways were blocked. I think both Kat and I had had just about enough Las Vegas by that point. We wandered about, and finally got a late lunch at Hussong's Cantina in the mall area between Luxor and Mandalay Bay. One final session of gaming, and then we were off to McCarron Airport. The cab ride there was perhaps the only down point of the whole trip; with the Strip shut down, we happened to get an insane driver who was speeding and dodging traffic lanes like a madman. It was truly harrowing. But once we got to the airport, things were smooth; another easy check-in, and we had plenty of time to chill before our flight boarded. Then, the fast flight home, and after getting our luggage at LAX, we hopped in a cab and got back to the South Bay by 11:15pm.

The trip was much needed, and we did all the stuff we liked to do while we were there. Despite the fun we had and the memories we made, this coming weekend, I'm just looking forward to a vacation from our vacation!

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