Friday afternoon, I picked Wendy up from work and we drove to our house to meet Matt and Amelia. We headed to the airport, parked in the long-term parking (it’s kind of funny any time airport parking is cheaper than cab rides, but for a weekend trip that’s definitely the case), and went to get in line at security. The line was pretty long, but we jumped in the experienced traveler lane and headed right to the front behind only four or five other people.
While we were standing there waiting, a lady loudly demanded to know why this group of people got to jump right to the front of the line. The TSA agent explained the rules in a defeated way, making sure to mention a few times that it was “self-selected”. For some reason this seemed to set her off even more, even though she clearly could have chosen the lane herself. Plus we were all in compliance, with our small carry-ons and shoes and plastic toiletry bags at the ready. We stood there laughing amongst ourselves as she threw a fit to anyone who would listen, and finally got past the agent and to the scanners. And for the first time ever, I didn’t get the pat-down after my body scan!
We went to grab food for the plane, then met up with Wendy, Amelia, Jumi and Josh at the extremely crowded gate. For the first time, Matt and I got to take advantage of my reclaimed Delta elite status and board the airplane early. We had economy comfort seats in the front, and the difference was kind of amazing. The seats are larger, and there’s much more leg room. Having access to those is a pretty excellent benefit.
Matt and I decided to celebrate, since we were heading to Vegas for his birthday. I’m very classy, obviously:
We arrived in Vegas 40 minutes early, got the bus to the rental car center, and headed off to find our super-sexy minivan. It took us forever to find it in the lot, and then Josh spent what felt like an hour taking photos in case of insurance claims. I was dying sitting in the parking lot way too far away from the Strip. Finally we headed out, and drove up the Strip to the Flamingo, our hotel. There may have been some yelling out the windows along the way.
We stopped at Sin City Brewing on the way to the front desk, because we’d been in Vegas for close to an hour and hadn’t had a drink yet. We ended up with individual pitchers of beer, which solved the not-having-a-drink problem but quick. We passed by the huge line at check-in and went to the automated kiosks instead. They even let us pick our own rooms! We all headed upstairs, with plans to meet again shortly.
We’d all booked the Go rooms at the Flamingo, since Matt and I loved them so much last time. (Not just because the bathroom mirrors have TVs in them, but it’s a plus.) We dropped off our stuff, finished our beer pitchers, and met up in the lobby to go back to the car. We piled in, and Josh got on the freeway to downtown Las Vegas.
We parked and headed off in the general direction of the Plaza, which we’d never been to before. There was the typical Fremont Street Entertainment along the way, including sexy saxophone man playing on a truck:
There was also a shot stand, of course.
We got to the Plaza and headed to Hash House a Go Go. I’d heard that it was awesome, but had no idea that all of their food arrives in portions of this quantity. Holy crap, everything was gigantic and awesome.
After dinner, we wandered back down Fremont in search of some gambling. We stopped into a tiny casino just to get Mardi Gras beads, then decided on Binion’s. Matt and I found a blackjack table, and everyone else wandered off for other forms of betting.
We had a really entertaining Italian dealer, and for most of the time it was just the two of us at the table. That session resulted in one of the scariest bets I’ve made yet: I split a pair of threes, and was dealt an 8 and another three. I doubled on the one and re-split the other, and ended up with $60 on the table. The dealer busted. WHEW.
Matt and I had wanted to visit the Downtown Cocktail Lounge, so we notified our friends of the plan and headed down toward the other end of Fremont. There were people ziplining above us (that was new since our last visit), and the Fremont Street Experience was showing giant QR codes in the sky. We got a table at the cocktail lounge and ordered drinks. It was particularly exciting, because Vegas has not been known as a mecca of good cocktails until really recently. This was our kind of place.
Josh, Jumi, Wendy and Amelia arrived a bit later, and we found it hilarious watching them try to open the door of the bar and fail (the handle is hidden). We had another round of drinks there, then headed back to the hotel for the night.
Saturday morning, we met Wendy and Amelia and walked down to Paris for our usual brunch of French rolls, fruit, and cheese at JJ’s Boulangerie. We then went to the gigantic slot machine at Bally’s to lose $1 apiece, then decided to go wander around Planet Hollywood for a while. We walked through the mall, made the required stop at ABC Stores, then went into the casino to see if there were any good tables open. There weren’t, so we went to get drinks at the bar instead. Amelia had gone to play slot machines, so we searched for her for a long time, and finally found her in the back.
We set a time to go meet Jumi and Josh (who were apparently at the Las Vegas swap meet that morning), then stopped to get Amelia a drink at Sammy Hagar’s bar before walking over to Bill’s to check on the tables there. Matt went to go get himself a birthday scotch while I found a Pai Gow table, and convinced Wendy to try it out (thus beginning a long obsession). Amelia went to find a slot machine. I was doing well after a while, so I went to cash out while I was up. Then it became time to go get our ride, so we gathered everyone and went to find the van waiting at the Flamingo.
We met Josh and Jumi and headed back downtown for our tour of the Neon Boneyard. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I heard about it a few years ago. We parked, and along the way found somebody’s manifesto on a lamppost.
The Neon Boneyard was everything I hoped it would be. (My entire photoset is here.)
The Neon Museum is in the process of being built next door to the Boneyard location, but it won’t be up and running until late 2012. In the meantime, they just have a huge empty lot full of old Vegas signs, and they also curate the exhibits along Las Vegas Avenue and Fremont Street. Out front of the museum is the Silver Slipper sign that Howard Hughes believed was monitoring his thoughts, so he bought it and took it down.
The tour lasts about an hour, and is totally worth your time. Especially once the museum is open, I imagine.
On the way back from the Neon Boneyard, we stopped at In-N-Out Burger for lunch, something which all of us (even me, the vegetarian) were way too excited about. While Matt and I were waiting for our food, a guy came up to him, pointed at the logo on his shirt, and said, “Pleepleus! Drink!” He was referring to the mascot logo for the show ‘Drinking Made Easy’, and he was so excited to find someone else who knew about it that he insisted on having his photo taken with Matt. Hilarious.
We had lunch outside, making sure all the local birds got extra-fat on french fries. We then went back and parked the van at the hotel, and it was time to go gamble. After stopping for drinks at Margaritaville first, of course. (The bartenders are very proud of their flair skills there, and they were admittedly pretty impressive.)
We all walked over to Imperial Palace, where there were celebrity impersonators singing karaoke on the stage in the middle of the casino floor, and all the pit bosses were going table to table handing out Mardi Gras beads. (It’s my kind of casino.) We managed to find a Pai Gow table where five of us could play together (Amelia still wouldn’t be convinced of its awesomeness), so it was perfect. Josh and Jumi didn’t know how to play, but the dealer was more than happy to teach them.
Josh had an incredible run of bad luck, and kept getting cleaned out. The dealer even had him trying old superstitions involving getting up and circling his chair clockwise three times, which didn’t work so well because he was crowded against another table, went the wrong direction, and only made it twice. Most of us were doing pretty well consistently, and the dealer even convinced me to start playing the fortune bonus, even though I know what a sucker bet it is. I managed to hit it several times, though, and often made up there what I lost on regular hands. I realized I was consistently over my original stake, so I started shoving chips in my pockets whenever I won. After a while, I got up to use the restroom, and realized that I was going to spill chips all over the place if I didn’t cash out. I did that, and saw I was already up $75.
Back at the table, we were all many free drinks and strings of beads into the afternoon. We kept rotating between two dealers, both of which were awesome and had us rolling on the floor laughing. After Wendy made a “winner, winner, chicken dinner” joke, she started yelling things like NO CHICKEN FOR YOU, BABY!! and CHICKEN FOR EVERYBODY!! It was basically the greatest gambling experience ever, and I was sad when we realized we had to leave and start getting ready for our dinner plans. I cashed out my chips again, and was doing far better than I ever have in Vegas.
Jumi, Josh, and Amelia headed back to the hotel to do responsible things like clean up and nap, while Matt, Wendy and I went over to the Mirage. We grabbed couches at Rhumbar (their awesome patio bar), and noticed that they were showing the 3-point competition at the NBA All-Star Game. It took one glance at the menu to see what we were ordering: The Scorpion Bowl. It’s a tiki drink with three kinds of rum, gin, and rum-soaked cherries, costs $50, and has a two-person minimum. Wendy and Matt Tebowed at the sight of it.
The added bonus to being there was that we got to watch Kevin Love win the 3-point competition!
With a good amount of rum in our systems, it was time to go back to the hotel to change for dinner. It was Matt’s birthday, so we were all dressing up fancy-like and going to Jaleo (Jose Andres’ tapas restaurant) for dinner. We walked down to the Cosmopolitan, met up with the others, and got a table right under the luchador cow.
The food there was excellent. It’s always confusing when you get small plates, and you think you’re never going to be full, and then suddenly you want to die. (I could probably live on pan con tomate or their cheeses pretty easily, which was good since the menu wasn’t exactly vegetarian-friendly.) Their Sidecar wasn’t half bad, either, and Matt had the legendary gin & tonic.
After dinner, we went downstairs to drink at the Chandelier. We were really excited for everyone else to experience the joy of drinking inside a giant lamp. We had a hilarious server, and the drinks were great as always. (There was an elaborate one involving dry ice that was really entertaining.)
From there, we headed back up the Strip to do some more gambling. I was the only one who wanted to play craps, so I took up a spot at a table at Bill’s. The crowd there was interesting, and I made pals with the Australians next to me. While I’d played craps before, I’ve never wanted to roll the dice, but since I’d had maybe a few drinks, I decided to accept the dice this time. The first time, one of the dice didn’t make it to the far wall of the table. The second time, the same thing happened. I was getting pretty embarrassed, but the third time was good, and eventually I rolled the point again. (Watching other people throw later, I wasn’t so embarrassed anymore… half of them threw the dice off the table.) And again, I won a bunch of money but have no clue how much… I just grabbed my pile of chips and took them to the counter when it was time to go.
Matt and I eventually went back to the Flamingo, and stopped for a drink at Margaritaville. Neither of us had any idea what time it was, because our phones had been dead for hours. And who needs to know the time in Vegas, really?
I woke up Sunday morning, and it was time for the reckoning. We checked out, piled our stuff in the car, and drove up to the Stratosphere. We were running a little late, so we rushed upstairs and headed right to the SkyJump desk to check in. That’s because it was time to JUMP OFF THE STRATOSPHERE.
Wendy and I were the jumpers, and everyone else came along to cheer for us and cross their fingers that we didn’t die. I paid $110 cash for my jump, which I noted proudly was all from my gambling proceeds. They took us in back to suit up in sexy blue jumpsuits and a giant harness that was way heavier than I expected. We had to empty our pockets and leave all of our stuff in lockers, so I gave my camera to Matt. Then they weighed us, and wrote our weight on the inside of our wrists in Sharpie. To our relief, the weight was in kilograms. (Fun fact: the harness must weigh almost ten pounds, now that I’ve finally done the conversion math.)
We said goodbye to our friends and loved ones (and promised not to die), then headed to the elevator while they went out to the patio to watch our jump. We were led by a SkyJump attendant, and there was one other lady with us. She agreed to jump first so we could see how it went.
They led us right to a waiting pen in the observation deck, and closed the gate. People immediately started wandering over to see what was up, and asking us about how it worked. We watched them lead the other lady into the glass booth where two attendants were preparing people. It seemed to take forever, even though I think it was only about five minutes or so. Finally they led her out to the edge of the platform and she jumped. Once that happened, the people gathered around us started asking even more questions, and we really didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Waiting for it was the worst part.
It was my turn next. I wished Wendy good luck and headed into the booth while the people at the observation deck bombarded her with questions. She didn’t look happy about it at all. The attendant checked my harness for tightness, then checked my shoes and my earrings too. Next the other attendant came up and did the same exact thing, so they had a double-check of everything. They asked me a few questions, and then the guy took me out into the platform. He told me to hold the railing on the right with both hands while he attached the line to my harness. For some reason, I hadn’t expected it to be so windy up there, but it freaked me out a little. Once I was connected, he told me to step up with my toes over the edge, and to reach over and grab the railing on the left with my other hand. That railing seemed REALLY far away. Then he counted down from three, and I jumped.
I screamed for a second, but then realized that the line caught right away and it would be a smooth ride the whole way down. There was plenty of time to look around, but I didn’t really absorb any of it. I noticed that there were lounge chairs on the patio below me, and that the people in the lounge chairs were probably our friends. I spend the other few seconds of my jump picking them out and waving hi to them.
As for landing, the guy had told me to arch my back so I could land on my feet. I did that, and stood for a second before falling over onto my ass. It was a valiant effort! They sent me to get out of my jumpsuit, because there was enough time in between to do that and then watch for Wendy’s jump. I did that and went to hang out with Matt, Amelia, Jumi and Josh. I was shaking, and so adrenaline-filled that I couldn’t even manage to make a movie of Wendy jumping… I just kept turning the camera on and off instead of being able to work the controls.
Anyway, what I would tell you about jumping off the Stratosphere is to DO IT NOW. It’s amazing, and I want to go again.
After Wendy got un-suited, we were all dying of hunger, so we went downstairs to Roxy’s Diner for brunch. While we waited for our food, Josh got a gigantic milkshake in a souvenir Stratosphere glass, and used a straw wrapper to build a scale model of our jump from the top. After eating, we headed to the van and drove back down the Strip, with an extended stop at TI where Josh disappeared inside for what seemed like hours, picking up their show tickets for later.
Our destination was the famed Las Vegas sign, which we’d been meaning to revisit forever. Since our last stop there a few years back, they’ve added a parking lot and Vegas representatives there to take your picture and in some cases (like the showgirl), collect tips.
All but one of us knew what else was up with our stop there… Wendy was planning to propose to Amelia! And she did, in front of a long line of waiting people and the showgirl. It was awesome.
After the engagement, we piled back in the van and went to park at the Bellagio. Matt and I wanted to do our usual shopping trip at Caesar’s, so we all walked over that direction. Of course our shopping trip involved stopping at the bar in the mall for gigantic Long Islands, too, so we did that. Shanghai Tang didn’t have anything spectacular, and Matt didn’t see anything he needed for his birthday gift at the Nike store, so we went back to the casino. We wanted to find the barge-with-a-bar that Steve had excitedly reported about on a previous trip, so I used the magical power of Google Maps and their inside casino view to locate it. That still didn’t make finding it that much easier, especially with construction in Caesar’s, but we eventually got there and it was CLOSED. Jerks.
Matt and I wanted to possibly do more gambling and hang out at the bar, so we all made plans to meet up at the car later, and headed our separate ways. We used our two-for-one coupons at the Caesar’s bar (that’s the only way to make their drinks somewhat affordable), then went to the sports book across the way. (It’s my favorite, mostly because I’ve napped there before.) I picked Syracuse to win the National Championship (this was before Fab Melo got DQed, of course), and the WCHA to win the hockey championship. I’m too superstitious to bet directly on the Gophers, not that I could have at that point anyway.
I went to play craps again, but that $40 disappeared quickly. We decided to walk back to the Bellagio to see if we could get into Fontana Bar to watch the fountains, but couldn’t find it in the spot we expected it to be. We finally asked a girl at the podium outside a club, and she said it had been replaced. The club was opening in a bit, but we didn’t like the sound of that. We racked our brains about a good spot to visit, and then had our ‘duh’ moment: the Cosmopolitan was right next door, and the Chandelier Bar was the perfect place to end our visit to Vegas.
It ended as they all do… way too soon. We went back to the Bellagio garage and found everyone else waiting for us in the van.
Jumi and Josh had a later flight out, so they dropped us at the airport. Our flight was uneventful but late, so we didn’t arrive in Minneapolis til almost 1am. Thank god I’d told work I would be late on Monday.